Making green improvements to your home needn’t break the bank! Contrary to what many people think, there are plenty of affordable yet simple ways to make your new home an environment-friendly one.
Households, in particular, leave behind a sizable carbon footprint each year. Therefore, using some readily available eco-friendly building materials can help reduce water and energy consumption, and also improve the overall health and wellness of the people residing in them. For those who start early, the benefits of living in sustainable homes are multifold.
The green movement is prevalent in real estate: Sophisticated eco houses of today produce their day-to-day electricity through solar panels, while air-tight insulation ensures consistent indoor temperatures throughout the year. Some dwellings collect rain through rainwater harvesting and reuse it for laundry purposes, or use bamboo and cork flooring to reduce allergens at home. Additionally, with the availability of a wide array of smart home appliances and cooling devices, buildings can become significantly energy-efficient, which can cut energy bills by an average of 30%.
Thus, creating eco-friendly homes is gaining traction amongst developers and consumers alike because of their long-term health and financial benefits.
While it takes a lot more effort (and not to mention, money) to remodel or build a new house, here are some easy ways to save money while transforming your home into one that Gaia too will love.
5 Eco-Friendly Home Improvement Ideas For Your New Home
- Use VOC-free paint
- Power your home with solar panels
- Choose eco-friendly flooring
- Install LED light bulbs
- Opt for eco-friendly appliances
1. Use VOC-free paint
Conventional paints produce harmful fumes that can cause nausea, sneezing and headaches from the constituents present in them. In fact, a study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer reports that painters and home decorators face a high risk of contracting lung cancer.
What are volatile organic compounds, or VOCs?
Ordinary household paints include chemicals such as formaldehyde, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs for short. VOCs emitted during painting live up to five years, even after your brushes have dried. So, it’s no big leap to wonder how detrimental conventional paint can be for those living within them.
Introducing VOC-free paints
In comparison to these, the VOC-free paints are water-based natural paints that give off almost no smell. They comprise natural raw ingredients such as water, beeswax, plant oils and resins, plant dyes and essential oils and natural elements such as clay, chalk or talcum powder.
Thus, for the paint to classify as zero-VOC, it has to have VOCs less than 5 grams per litre in contrast to low-VOC paints, which contain less than 200 grams of VOCs per litre. Besides these, there are Milk paints, which emit no fumes and are considered safest for children, pregnant women and anyone with chemical sensitivities. They are also cheaper than zero VOC paints and offer a more rustic look than conventional paint.
So, using low or no-VOC paint helps reduce allergy-causing toxins and reduce the concentration of contaminants in the ozone layer, as well as groundwater and landfills. They are quick-drying, non-yellowing, and also easy to clean with soap and water. Their impact on air quality is minimal and are, therefore, thoroughly sustainable in nature.
2. Power your home with solar panels
Consider solar energy if you have a high utility bill and live in a prime location.
Living in Singapore, we have a single natural resource in abundance – the sun. A standard solar panel (also known as a solar module) consists of a layer of silicon cells, a metal frame, a glass casing, and various wiring to allow current to flow from the silicon cells. Silicon is a nonmetal with conductive properties that absorbs and converts sunlight into electricity. When light interacts with a silicon cell, it causes electrons to create motion, and they initiate an electricity flow called the “photovoltaic effect”. This effect is the general functionality of a solar panel.
Benefits of solar energy
- Solar energy generates zero carbon emissions and requires no fuel, so it contributes to energy security.
- Similarly, in Singapore, the peak energy usage is during the wee afternoon hours. This period coincides with the period of maximum solar energy output. Hence, lowering the peak energy demand can reduce electricity pool prices and also bring system-wide benefits.
However, there are three broad steps if you wish to install the solar PV (photovoltaic) device yourself:
1. Physically installing the solar PV system
Homeowners installing a solar PV system should engage a Qualified Person (QP) to ensure appropriate physical installation and compliance with regulations. A Qualified Person is an Architect with the Board of Architects (BOA) or a Professional Engineer with the Professional Engineers Board (PEB); and has a valid practising certificate issued by the BOA or PEB, respectively. Depending on the individual homeowners’ requirements, the QP may need to seek approval from various authorities.
2. Commissioning and turning on the solar PV system
Once the solar PV system is installed, the homeowner should engage a Licensed Electrical Worker (LEW) to commission and turn on the solar PV system, including applying for the relevant electrical licences and assessing the electrical connection requirements. The consumer may also need to apply for a generation licence and market registration if the solar PV system is 1MWac and above.
3. Sell excess solar-generated electricity (if applicable).
If you wish to sell any excess solar electricity to the grid, you may need to
- register with SP Services (SPS) under the Simplified Credit Treatment (SCT) or the Enhanced Central Intermediary Scheme (ECIS) by requesting the LEW to submit the relevant applications to SPS, OR
- Directly register with the Energy Market Company as a Market Participant OR
- Appoint another Market Participant (not applicable to residential consumers).
Solar system costs vary by panel type and installation size, but average costs per watt run between $3 and $4. Thus, the operating costs of solar panels are negligible, while their maintenance costs amount 0.5 to 1% of the installation costs.
3. Choose eco-friendly flooring
Floors and walls often take up the most space of a home interior. So, it’s a good idea to choose cost-effective green flooring options that’s stylish, functional and also friendly to the planet. We have summarised a few here:
Cork flooring (Average price: $1.50 – $4 psf)
Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree, is commonly found in the forests of the Mediterranean. The trees are not cut down to harvest the bark, which grows back every three years, making it an ideal renewable source. It has antimicrobial properties that reduce allergens in the home, is fire retardant, easy to maintain and acts as a natural insect repellent too. Cork, like wood, can be finished in a variety of paints and stains to suit any colour scheme or design style. Cork floors, depending on the quality, can last between 10 to 30 years.
Bamboo flooring (Average price: $2 – $5 psf)
Bamboo flooring is sustainable and made from natural vegetation that grows to maturity in three to five years, far less than the twenty years trees can take. Bamboo, while usually very light, is available in many hues. Plus, it is durable, easy to maintain and is easy to install.
Linoleum flooring (Average price: $2 – $5 psf)
Linoleum comes from oxidised linseed oil which is produced naturally from flax plants. This material is widely available and highly renewable. Linoleum floors can last for 25 to 40 years. When the linoleum turns redundant, it’s burnt as fuel. The energy produced by burning one square foot of flooring is roughly equivalent to the energy required to make the same amount of the material, making its life cycle a closed-loop system.
Vinyl flooring (Average price: $2 – $4 psf)
Vinyl can give your floors the appearance of wood, but without cutting down any trees! These days, luxury vinyl offers wood looks, textures, and colours that are so realistic, you won’t be able to tell it’s not the real thing. They have waterproof cores, maximum durability, and sturdy wear layer options.
Concrete flooring (Average price: $1- $5 psf)
Concrete is typically slab on grade. From creating a tiled effect with different colours to inlaying other materials such as glass, the design possibilities are endless. Concrete is exceptionally durable, easy to clean and never needs to be replaced.
4. Install LED light bulbs
Energy-efficient light bulbs such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use 75% less energy than traditional incandescents, and last 25 times longer than conventional light bulbs.
The fundamental features of LED lighting include
- Light Source: LEDs are small in size and use a mix of red, green, and blue LEDs to make white light.
- Direction: LEDs emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers that can trap light. This feature makes LEDs more efficient for many uses such as recessed downlights and task lighting.
- Heat: LEDs emit very little heat. In comparison, incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80% of their energy as heat.
The initial price of energy-efficient bulbs is typically higher than traditional incandescents. However, newer LED bulbs cost less to operate and last longer, saving you more money over the life of the bulb.
In Singapore, electricity is charged by kWh, which is computed from the watts and hours you use your electrical lighting appliances. Lighting contributes to about 30% of the electric bill for a typical office and household. So, if you consume approximately 135 kWh of electricity that amounts to $250 (based on the current tariff) every month, using LED lights can save you up to 25% on your electricity bill. The difference would result in saving $18.75 every month. Besides, if you opt for another green electricity retailer, your yearly energy savings could increase significantly.
5. Opt for eco-friendly appliances
While no appliance can be genuinely green, some options are greener than others. When buying or upgrading appliances in Singapore, it is necessary to look at not just the purchase price, but also the Energy labels affixed by the National Environmental Agency (NEA) and the Certificate of Registration (COR) for the model. Outside of this, consumers can also identify the more energy-efficient models through the Government’s tick-rating system, which enables them to determine the most energy-saving products on a scale of 1-5. One being the lowest and five being the most energy-saving.
These yellow-green energy labels are now available on air-conditioners, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, tumble dryers and televisions.
- In Singapore, air-conditioners and refrigerators amount to a household’s primary electricity consumption. So, upgrading air-conditioners and fridges to more energy-efficient models every ten years is a healthy practice to reduce carbon emissions.
- Turning down the temperature dial on the washing machines can help save almost 90% of the energy required to heat water. Modern detergents can efficiently work at temperatures as low as 30 degrees.
- Using dishwashers on “Eco” mode can help save water and energy, compared to washing dishes by hand.
- Similarly, drying clothes outside on a washing line is a better alternative to using the tumble dryer.
- Purchasing LED Televisions with the spot control technology that dim each pixel level according to the lighting levels available, are some eco-friendly options available in the market.
Household appliances used individually may not seem like a lot, but cumulatively, these products have a large carbon footprint. They clog up the oceans and pollute the air.
Thus, to create an eco-friendly house, you need to make some green living home improvements and adopt sustainable practices that warrant a long-lasting pay-off!
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Manasi Hukku wrote this article. Manasi likes to cover the intersection between research and relevance to help readers find a place they’ll love. She is a UX Conversation Designer, Medium Columnist and mother of two.