Are you someone that is very aware of the impact your lifestyle has on the environment? With climate change and other global concerns becoming mainstays in the global conversation, it has become more and more difficult to ignore how unchecked consumerism can have enormous repercussions for the world at large. Because of this, more and more people have started examining their lives, their consumption habits, and as the title of this article suggests, their housing.
The fact is that how we house ourselves does have a dramatic impact on the environment. Low-quality insulation leads to more gas and electricity use due to heating needs, certain structures can leak chemicals into the surrounding environment, unnecessary irrigation can lead to litres upon litres of wasted water usage; the list really goes on. This may not seem like a big issue for a single home, but considering that, as of a 2021 Census, there were an estimated 6,503,491 living in 2,810,775 dwellings in Victoria alone, the issue is brought into clearer focus.
The ways in which we think about housing will, at some stage, inevitably have to shift. So, for those that are hoping to build a home for themselves and want to ensure they are doing their part, we’ve put together a quick guide to building a cheap, eco-friendly house in Australia.
A Little Background
The 21st century has seen some truly dramatic shifts in the ways consumers think about the things they buy. From a massive explosion of technological advancement to a shift towards digital and non-physical ownership, the 2000s and 2010s were a massive upheaval of much of what came before, both for better and worse. With that said, one area in which some of the biggest changes have been seen is the sustainability movement, with consumers being more aware than ever of the ecological and environmental toll that manufacturing can take when eco factors are not accounted for.
The idea of eco-sustainability is by no means new, with efforts toward personal responsibility being a staple of 1980s advertising and initiatives. However, despite protests and pushes for more ethical practices, these efforts were often more focused on the role of the consumer and how they dealt with waste, rather than the prevention of it by businesses themselves. But with new technology and a growing concern for environmental issues such as climate change heard across the global zeitgeist, more sustainable alternatives to housing, cleaning supplies, farming, and more began to appear, offering more viable alternatives to the traditionally less eco-friendly products seen on the market.
What Makes For an Eco-Friendly Solution?
This can actually be a surprisingly difficult question to answer, as many of the things that we would often consider to be eco-friendly actions can have unintended repercussions. One of the most common examples used for this is people getting rid of their cars and replacing them with electric alternatives. Electric cars are better for the environment, releasing fewer emissions and generally offering a comparable experience with a far less fraught and finite resource than petrol. However, the manufacturing process for said vehicles still poses huge issues, as does the disposal of traditional vehicles that could otherwise have a far longer lifespan. Plus, with companies like Tesla still requiring large amounts of fossil fuels to generate the electricity they use, it’s clear there are more factors at play than may initially meet the eye.
With all that said, one of the more useful metrics by which something is considered eco-friendly is by asking these questions:
- Are the materials used in the product’s manufacturing recycled?
- Can the materials of the product be recycled or biodegraded?
- Are the materials used to create the product renewable?
- Was sustainable power used to create the product?
From here, we can begin to see sustainability as less of a usage issue and more of a product lifespan issue. A plastic bottle that once contained soft drinks can be used again to store water, but if that bottle still ends up being thrown out and ending up in a landfill, it is still considered a net negative to the environment. So, with this in mind, what can be done to build an eco-friendly, sustainable house without splashing out on extremely expensive materials?
Choose Your Materials Wisely
Looking at energy-efficient homes on Lived In Australia, one of the consistent threads you’re likely to see is that many home builders are opting for alternatives to concrete. This is because there are simply more renewable concrete alternatives that offer some benefits that traditional counterparts cannot. For example, there is hempcrete. Hempcrete, as the name suggests, is a concrete alternative made from hemp and lime, among other composite renewable materials. Not only is it strong and easy to work with, but it’s also extremely good for insulation, allowing residents to cut down considerably on energy usage.
Switch to Solar
In Australia, the idea of switching to solar has almost become a cliche of eco-sustainability politics and discussions, but it makes sense. We in Australia get a considerable amount of direct sunlight, and being able to harness that energy is a fantastic way of keeping down electricity prices whilst also allowing us to be less reliant on fossil fuels and the functioning of the electrical grid. In some cases, with proper insulation and other factors included, solar power can lead to electricity bills going into the minus in cases where energy usage is less than the energy produced by a home.
When it comes to designing your new home, it’s best to think about the amount of space you generally need, and get a little creative. Larger homes inevitably take up more energy and tend to be more expensive to run and power as a result. This is by no means a suggestion that you must be living in a tiny home or shipping container to be sustainable, nor does it mean that any smaller home is eco-friendly, but in general, a smaller space will take fewer materials and energy to sustain than one that is more reasonably sized.
When thinking about sustainability, it can often feel like we’re stuck discussing lofty ideas which are more clear as hypotheticals than things you can directly or explicitly notice changing your life on a daily basis. The placement of windows, however, is a subtle choice that will have a surprising impact on the feeling and efficiency of your home. Placing windows in areas that will get the most sun and breeze will allow you a viable alternative to turning on heating and cooling throughout the year, whilst also simply making the home more pleasant to be in.
The Wisdom of Water Saving
As anyone who lives in an apartment has likely come across, water-saving fixtures have become a big part of modern kitchen and bathroom designs. Simply put, these fixtures restrict the flow of water, allowing for less water to be used and the usage of water to be more easily controlled.
The fact is that there are many ways that one can improve the efficiency and sustainability of a home right from its very foundations. If this is something you care about, and you’d like to learn more about it, consider looking into local sustainable manufacturers and asking building companies about what sustainable options they have available. Whatever efforts you make to be sustainable now will benefit both you and the environment in the long run, so it’s well worth the time investment.