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

Climate-related disasters such as floods, storms and heatwaves are a threat to us and our homes. Collective action is needed to create meaningful change and lessen our impact on the environment... and its impact on us. 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.

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 Energy Saving Trust, if you replace all the bulbs in your home with LED lights, you could reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by up to 50kg a year. 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.

Not too challenging

3 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. However, remember that not all food waste is suitable for composting and your heap will require a certain amount of TLC.

4 Fit loft insulation

According to Energy Saving Trust, 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.

5 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

6 Solar panels

Panels, sometimes called photovoltaics, are typically fitted on south-facing roofs and require an area of at least 10m2. It’s important to realise that this is a long-term investment. With installation costing several thousand pounds, it can take many years to break even.

7 Flood defences

Aviva research found that four in five people think it’s important to build homes that are resilient to flooding. Basic protective measures, such as flood gates on doors and windows, can help protect homes against flooding. They also help reduce the carbon cost of a flood, as the emissions produced when repairing flood damage are also reduced.

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. 

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