Nine home upgrades that could add value and help the environment

There are investments we can make in our homes that will lessen our impact on the planet, but which are worth the effort?

Steve Smethurst

While the world has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that we are still threatened by climate change. The number of climate-related disasters, such as floods, storms and heatwaves, has doubled since the early 1990s.  

Collective action is needed to create meaningful change and we can all make a difference. It doesn’t necessarily require a lot of effort and our own homes are the ideal place to start. 

Research from our Building Future Communities report  tells us that seven out of 10 people would consider how eco-friendly or energy efficient a house is when choosing their next home, so it’s an economic as well as ethical investment. 

We know that it’s already happening as a third of people who have moved home recently have switched to LED lighting, a fifth have installed loft insulation, while many others have planted more native flowers and collected rainwater . 

If you are thinking of making changes, then eco-expert Rae Ritchie tells Aviva the key is to think about a hierarchy of changes, starting with the easiest and building up to actions that require a larger investment. 

She says: “You could begin by switching over to LED bulbs and a renewable energy supplier, then introducing elements such as draft-excluding doors and windows, then loft installation and finally introduce items such as solar panels and heat-source pumps.

“For water saving, most water companies offer free devices that can help, such as bricks for cisterns and special washers for taps that will save water by reducing the flow speed. Outdoor rainwater collection is also a great idea. Getting a subsidised compost bin from your local authority will also do a massive amount to reduce what you send to landfill.

“Finally, a relaxed approach to lawn care can make a difference too, so not making it pristine with weed killer etc even if you don’t want to go the whole hog with rewilding.”

Here are nine ways to make a difference:

Quick fixes

1 Lighten the load with LEDs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs, so even though they may cost more, it’s a sound investment to replace old-style light bulbs as they stop working.

2 Harvest rainwater

Watering lawns, vegetables and flowers can quickly use up a scarce resource – one that is treated and pumped to your house, creating a significant carbon footprint. The installation of a water butt – essentially a large barrel attached to a downpipe from your gutters – means that rain is collected allowing you to use it on the garden. Your plants will also thank you as rain water is free from the salts, minerals and chemicals found in treated tap water.

3 Plant wildflowers and trees 

Aviva research suggests that 13% of homeowners have turned their front garden into a driveway. Not only does this reduce the ground’s capacity to absorb water, which can contribute to an area’s flood risk, it’s a contributory factor to the UK ranking 12th worst out of 240 countries and territories for biodiversity loss.  Instead, create a more natural environment with native plants and trees. It’s not only good for wildlife, it’s beneficial for your own mental health.

Not too challenging

4 Create a compost heap

Instead of throwing away your kitchen scraps and garden waste, why not turn it into compost? As well as reducing the burden on landfill, your garden will thank you for it. There are some useful tips here for creating this great garden resource, but remember that not all food waste is suitable for composting and your heap will require a certain amount of TLC.

5 Fit loft insulation

According to Simple Energy Advice, a quarter of the home's heat is lost through the roof in an uninsulated home. As such, insulating your loft, attic or flat roof is an effective way to reduce heat loss and reduce your heating bills.

6 Eco-friendly flooring

A wool carpet is considered eco-friendly as it’s from a natural source and sheep will regrow their coats. For other materials, it’s case of whether it can be recycled at the end of its (ideally long) life and how many chemical treatments have been used in the manufacturing process. Popular choices include FSC-certified wood flooring, linoleum (made from linseed oil and woodflour) and cork. The latter’s qualities include being hard-wearing, biodegradeable, recyclable, with soundproofing qualities and being soft underfoot.

Longer-term investments

7 Solar panels

Simple Energy Advice offers a comprehensive guide to solar panels, which allow you to reduce your carbon footprint and receive payments for the extra electricity you generate. Panels, sometimes called photovoltaics, are typically fitted on south-facing roofs and require an area of at least 10m2. It’s also important to realise that this is a long-term investment. With installation costing several thousand pounds, it can take many years to break even.

8 Triple glazing

The installation of triple-glazing (three panes of glass) is increasingly common in northern Europe, where eco-friendly new-builds tend to include it as standard. Is it worth the investment? Possibly, especially if you live in a cold climate and are already looking to replace your existing windows. However, the manufacture of glass is an energy-intense process so, as with solar panels, it’s a change for the long-haul.

9 Green roofs 

The introduction of a soil and plant layer to your home can reduce fuel bills by providing an extra layer of insulation. In towns and cities, it’s hoped that their introduction can bring down temperatures in the summer, boost the local eco-system and reduce the amount of water hitting streets during downpours. When it comes to installation, you may want to start small with a garage roof, as bigger areas may require specialist suppliers as well as ongoing maintenance. 

Why where your money goes matters

See why having a better understanding of where your money’s being invested can make a world of difference.