Anyone who cares about the quality of their home life knows that many of the most important domestic details are out of sight, such as the gizmos that make your kitchen drawers shut gently and quietly, the thermostatic mixer that keeps your shower at a steady temperature when someone turns a tap on and the wiring that lets you turn the bedroom light off from your bedside as well as at the door.
Such design details are not all that is hidden from view. Behind every switch and polished surface there is an on-going story of environmental impact that is all too easy to ignore amid the ups and downs of everyday life. Few of us think of climate change when we turn the cooker on or worry about air pollution when we have a carpet fitted yet everything we do has a wider impact on the planet and on the lives of current and future generations.
Happily, making your home more ‘eco-friendly’ is not difficult. Don’t worry if you don’t have the time or money for major works like installing solar panels. There are lots of ways you can make a difference, even on a small budget. Here are ten suggestions of cheap and cheerful ways to reduce your impact on the environment without sacrificing your quality of life.
1. Change your light bulbs. Energy efficient (compact fluorescent) light bulbs now come in all shapes and sizes so you don’t have to look at egg whisks all day. Energy efficient bulbs may be more expensive than ordinary bulbs but they will save you money because they use far less electricity and last much longer.
2. Use a clothes airer. Tumble driers use huge amounts of electricity and don’t do your clothes much good. If you have a bit of ceiling spare, install a drying rack that is lowered to load up the washing then raised to the warmest part of the room to do its job naturally.
3. Buy second-hand. Whenever you buy something second-hand you keep valuable resources in use and cut out all the energy and resources needed to make a new product.
4. Use a compost bin. If you have any outside space, get a compost bin to recycle all your uncooked vegetable and fruit peelings. Add egg boxes and cardboard to balance the nitrogen with carbon and, in time, you will have a crumbly soil improver for your garden.
5. Fit aerators to taps. If your taps have a screw thread at their outlet you can fit aerators that mix the water with air and give you a fuller flow for less water. If you are buying new taps, ensure they come with aerators fitted.
6. Collect rainwater for your garden. A water butt fitted to an external drainpipe will soon fill up and give you a good supply of water for your garden. Make sure the water butt is raised enough to make it easy for you to extract the water.
7. Draught-strip your doors and windows. It is easy to close up all the air gaps around doors and windows using the rolls of self-adhesive flexible strip sold through DIY stores. The difference this makes to your comfort and your heating bills can be remarkable.
8. Use natural, non-toxic detergents and toiletries. Like so much of today’s over-processed foods, ordinary detergents are stuffed full of completely unnecessary ingredients. Try out the gentler alternatives available and see which ones you like. This might take a bit of adjustment, so don’t be surprised if they don’t look, smell or foam in the same way. They will still do a good job.
9. Use natural paints and oils. These may cost you a bit more than the petroleum-based standard products but you won’t breathe any nasty chemicals and they don’t leave a trail of toxic waste behind them.
10. Buy local produce rather than imported food whenever you can; put a filled plastic bottle in your toilet cistern (not too big that it makes you flush twice); turn your thermostat down one degree and see if you’re still comfortable; recycle all the glass, paper, metal and plastics that your council will take; always carry a bag shopping and refuse the bags that are thrust upon you; use organic methods in your garden and grow plants for birds and wildlife; and if you’re buying a flat TV make sure it’s an LCD not an energy-guzzling plasma.
Finally, if you are up for a slightly bigger challenge, improve the insulation in your walls, floor and roof as nothing else will make a bigger difference to the environmental impact of your home.
Whatever you do, don’t try to do everything at once. If you make only one change every month, in a year your home will have been transformed. It will still look just as gorgeous/chaotic/quirky/charming (delete as appropriate) but, behind the scenes, your hidden stories of environmental impact will have found themselves much happier endings.