16 steps to making your home greener and cosier
From soap nuts to solar panels, how you can keep the green theme alive at home
Houseplants can remove up to 90 per cent of toxins and dangerous chemicals within 24 hours
Houseplants can remove up to 90 per cent of toxins and dangerous chemicals within 24 hours according to Nasa research. Baby rubber plants will absorb various carcinogenic toxins and replace them with fresh oxygen; bamboo palm will also deal with toxins while humidifying the air, and aloe vera can remove formaldehyde, which along with benzene and trichloroethylene are the main harmful chemicals off-gassed by synthetic substances. One plant per 9.3sq m (100sq ft) is the recommended amount to decrease your risk of cancers, asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders and other diseases. Keep the leaves clean for maximum absorption of air particles.
Soapnuts: Your detergents, dishwater liquid and even shampoo can all be replaced with the shells of the berry of the Soapnut Tree, which release saponins that act as a natural surfactant, freeing dirt, grime, and oils from clothing and dishes. They offer a genuine alternative to the harsh chemicals and synthetic fragrances in commercial detergents and cleaners which have been shown to be carcinogenic and volatile. The soap nuts can go straight into the washing machine or boil them to create liquid detergent, dishwasher liquid, washing-up liquid or even shampoo. Add essential oils to make up for the chemical fragrances we’ve become habituated to. downtoearth.ie
Meatless Mondays: Having a dhal dish or a vegetarian stew on Mondays might not seem like a big deal, but adding one meat-free meal per week (for a family of four) has the same impact as driving a hybrid car and may reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Mary Robinson was spot on in pointing out that raising livestock is unsustainable. One kilogram of beef produces 30kg of greenhouse gas and requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water.
Virtuous toothbrushes: Eventually every bit of petroleum-based plastic in our homes will need to be replaced with something more sustainable. Dylan Regan from Dublin has begun the process with a bamboo-handled toothbrush with bristles infused with charcoal to help fight plaque. For every VirtueBrush sold, three trees are planted. Bamboo is a renewable resource that matures in three years compared to over a century for oak. It’s rapid growth (up to three feet a day for some species) makes for impressive carbon sequestration, about 70 per cent more than an acre of hardwoods. virtuebrush.com
Bamboo: consider using bamboo more widely in the home as an alternative to hardwood floors, countertops and furniture. As long as it has been sustainably managed and that natural forests haven’t been cleared to grow it, it’s one of the most sustainable, strong and adaptable products available. An acre of bamboo can store 6.88 metric tons of carbon per year, and when is turned into household items the carbon remains fixed for the lifetime of the product. www.bamboo.ie
Share your garden: Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Landshare project attracted 75,000 people in Britain to share gardens and lawns with neighbours who maintain them by growing vegetables, fruit and herbs, in return for some of the harvest. That scheme has now closed, but a similar movement is happening in Ireland through the likes of www.facebook.com/landshareireland, www.fallingfruit.org and www.ripenear.me. FallingFruit.org has made a particular impact in recent years by organising the collection of seasonal fruit in Dublin from trees that would otherwise have gone unharvested. The produce gets redistributed on a nonprofit basis through the foodcloud.ie initiative.
Save heat from the hot water running down the drain with a Power-Pipe device that extracts the heat from waste water and transfers it to multiple coils of copper tube, which is then used to heat water entering the cylinder. It’ll cost at least €600 to buy and install, but the manufacturers claim it is 10 times more cost-effective than solar thermal or triple glazing and can pay for itself within a few years. powerpipehr.co.uk
Donating old clothes can save 12kg in carbon emissions per item if it avoids another item being made. Considering the energy and resources required to grow, dye and chemically finish the cloth in our clothes (not to mention the ecological impact of their manufacture, shipping and retail), there is an onus to ensure our castoffs get reused or recycled. Deposit them in a charity bin or bring them to H&M who will swap them for a €5 clothing voucher as a gesture of amends for the $25 billion worth of clothing they produce each year.
Fit a smart thermostat to control your heating from a laptop, smartphone or tablet, if for nothing else than to ensure you never leave the immersion on again. It’ll save 10-12 per cent on heating, so can potentially pay for itself in a few years. NEST, Hive and Climote are some of the main brands in Ireland. If you already have a programmable thermostat that you use well, the benefits might not be so noticeable.
“Behavioural waste” is the term for things like the water you waste while waiting for the shower to heat up. Every minute wasted equates to 2.5 gallons of water and wasted heating. Install a thermostatic shutoff valve for your shower, which automatically cuts off the water when it becomes warm. Then, you simply pull a cord to turn the water back on when you are ready. thinkevolve.com
Consider solar: The decision whether or not to install solar panels has been made easier in 42 American states by Google’s project sunroof which estimates how much you could save over a 20-year lease. Using high-resolution aerial imagery to calculate roof orientation, surrounding shade and local weather patterns, they have details on over 43 million rooftops in the USA. Extending it to Ireland is just a matter of refocusing the logarithms towards the information about Ireland on Google Maps. If enough of us ask we may receive. In the meantime the EU has a less user-friendly website
Clean your refrigerator coil: When the coils are clogged with dirt and dust, they can’t efficiently release heat, and your compressor has to work harder and longer than it was designed to, using more energy and shortening the life of your fridge. Vacuum clean the coils and wipe with a damp cloth. You could improve its energy efficiency by as much as 9kWh a month, saving €300 per decade, or the cost of the fridge over its lifetime.
Install a wood stove to lessen Ireland’s dependence on corrupt oligarchs, petrochemical giants and oil-rich regimes in places with unsavoury ecological and human rights records. The build quality and metal calibre of those made in Europe is worth the extra expense. Using timber from Irish forestry as fuel is by far the most environmentally friendly way to heat your home, using a natural, sustainable, carbon-neutral product. Each load of wood you buy helps the country deal with its CO2 issues, encourages a healthier forest and keeps money in the economy. logonfirewood.ie
Rainwater: Whatever the outcome with water charges, rainwater is a free and plentiful resource for those prepared to harvest it. Whether you install a cheap water butt or a complex underground filtered cistern, you are making use of a natural resource and reducing flooding and storm water runoff. The ideal compromise is to buy a few second-hand 1,000 litres IBC tanks online and connect them to a roof gutter, giving you a constant water supply for garden irrigation, car washing and flushing lavatories. The notion of using chemically treated municipal or county council water for such things will seem unbelievable to future generations.
Bokashi is a form of alchemy that allows for the composting of every food type, including meat, fish, dairy and citrus peels, by fermenting them using a form of bran inoculated with micro-organisms. A small bokashi bucket in your kitchen will convert all kitchen waste to a blend of enzymes, vitamins, growth hormones, amino acids and antioxidants that are vital as plant food. The typical rotting smell of compost is replaced by a light vinegary aroma of pickling. With the current popularity of fermented foods – from sourdough bread to kimchi and kombucha – it was inevitable fermenting would reach compost too.
SuperHomes: Transform your house into a SuperHome with the Government’s deep-retrofitting energy scheme that offers up to 35 per cent financial support to bring your house to an A3 energy rating through insulation, air tightness, advanced ventilation and state-of-the-art heating using air-source heat pumps and solar photovoltaic panels. The aim is to reduce overall energy usage by 50 per cent to 70 per cent .