For the Passionate – Low Carbon Renovations
When it comes to renovating your home for sustainability there’s a lot to consider, says Alex Bruce from eTool. Are you going zero carbon, energy efficient, water efficient, high performance or all of the above?
Rather than getting hung up on the finer details like solar system sizes, double glazing and flooring, take a look at how the whole building will perform with your new addition to see how you can improve efficiency, save money and reduce your carbon footprint.
If you do a bit of research, low carbon renovations can actually be pretty straightforward and very exciting! Once you understand what low carbon design is really about you can put some simple ideas into action.
eTool is a life cycle assessment software company that helps home owners understand and lower the environmental impact of their new and renovated home designs. The company works on low carbon home designs every day and has put together our ten tips to help you renovate sustainably while maintaining the balance between capital outlay and return on investment.
1. Life cycle design philosophy
What’s this “life cycle assessment” (LCA) thing about?
Life cycle assessment can be used to calculate all the impacts of your design choices in terms of carbon, cost, greenhouse gas emissions, water, toxicity and more. Use it to measure, compare and improve your design before you start renovating!
2. Make it financially attractive
There isn’t much point making a house zero carbon if it costs the earth …
So invest in areas that are going to give you the best financial return and maximise your positive impact on the planet. Before you commit to any design decision, ensure you understand the capital outlay, cost savings and, importantly, the resulting carbon footprint.
3. Design for the future … make it last
Is your renovation a fashion fad or a timeless classic?
Unfortunately most houses in Australia are lucky to hit their 40th birthday before they are retrenched (knocked down), and never make it to retirement age. So it’s important to consider the following:
- Futureproof it – think ahead to what people might want after you’ve finished living there.
- Quality build – a house that is energy efficient, comfortable, functional, well built and well finished is going to last a lot longer than a dated, impractical, energy guzzling beasty.
- Durability – if you’re aiming for the house to live to a ripe old age then use durable materials.
4. Make it functional
The more people a house can house the less impact per person that house will have on the environment – it’s that simple! Plus, the more functional a building is, the more likely it will live to retirement instead of retrenchment.
5. Low embodied energy materials
Try to use materials that have zero environmental damage or aren’t responsible for too much damage in their manufacture. Think about where and how that product started its life and how it got here. As we transition towards renewable energy grids, the carbon impact of operating a house (e.g. air-conditioning it) will be reduced. So, renovating with materials that result in high carbon emissions becomes even more important as you can never get the carbon back.
6. Reduce, reuse, recycle materials
Yep, this old chestnut again! The 3Rs!
Reduce redundant materials and use raw or natural finishes such as polished concrete and wood flooring that don’t require ongoing maintenance.
Reuse whatever you can from locally retrenched buildings.
Recycle incorporate recycled and recyclable materials into the design.
7. Local, local, local – but sometimes not …
It makes sense to use locally produced materials and trades because less transport usually means less carbon. However, sometimes you’ll be looking at a compromise between a local material that is high in embodied energy versus an imported product that might be recycled. And when you’re considering transportation, investigate efficiency: could shipping from China be less carbon intensive than trucking from Perth to Melbourne?
8. Hot water (don’t land in it)
When it comes to running your home, hot water and appliances will impact your energy bills the most, so consider them right from the start. Hot water systems such as solar thermal shouldn’t be viewed as a “bolt on” or “wait and see if we’ve got the budget” item. Make an informed decision on capital outlay versus ongoing savings.
9. Renewable energy
We all love renewables. They can provide a great return on investment and at the same time lower our overall carbon footprint. That said, try not to fall into the trap of thinking “no worries, I’ll just add on a few more solar panels to deal with that”. The embodied energy that goes into making things can never be recovered so make sure you always go back to “where did it come from?”
10. Low carbon doesn’t always mean sustainable …
Reducing your home’s carbon footprint is only one metric of sustainability and it’s just as important to consider the way we behave in our homes. Technology such as real time energy monitoring and feedback has shown to reduce energy consumption by around 10% by improving occupant behaviour. That’s a bigger impact than upgrading your home from 6 star to 8 star!
Alex Bruce is a renewable energy engineer and co-founder of eTool, a life cycle assessment software company that helps homeowners understand and lower the environmental impact of their new and renovated home designs. Find out more about low carbon building design at eTool.
- Feature image credit to ©iStock.com/4774344sean