Becoming More Sustainable

This is taken from a series of guides for those working with architects that I prepared for Granta Architects. I hope it’s helpful for everyone who wants to make their home more energy efficient and sustainable

Sustainable development is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Brundtland Commission, 1987

Sustainable development is the only thing that stands between us and an utterly miserable descent into ecological collapse, resource wars, worsening inequity and social implosion.’ Jonathon Porritt, Sustainable Development Commission

Sustainability is a first principle at Granta Architects. We do not have special ‘sustainability’ projects, because we work to incorporate sustainability into everything we do.

A sustainable building has low carbon emissions and water consumption.

It is designed for minimum waste in construction, reusing or recycling building materials where appropriate.

It is durable, and designed to be flexible to accommodate changing needs.

It is inclusive, allowing good access to facilities for the community and people with disabilities.

Its grounds and landscaping promote bio-diversity and wildlife.

Its design and location encourage sustainable forms of transport, and discourage car use.

We are committed to incorporating sustainability into every facet of the practice — in our lives, our work environment, and our projects. We consider the whole lifecycle of the building and work to merge environmental and economic considerations throughout our work.

Our buildings use sustainable materials, with a focus on reuse, waste minimisation, and recycling. Our designs are economical to operate, incorporating a variety of heating, cooling and lighting mechanisms.

Finally, we approach sites with a view toward sustainable lifestyles — creating buildings and communities that allow residents to walk, cycle or drive; that have space for gardens; and that cater to residents at all stages of life.

What can I do?

Everyone can take some steps to improve the sustainability and efficiency of their buildings and lifestyle. Even the tiniest steps help. If your building was not designed with sustainability in mind, even quite simple steps can make a big difference to the efficiency of the building and the sustainability of your lifestyle.

Steps that cost nothing

There are many simple steps you can take that cost nothing…

It’s sensible to make changes to your lifestyle that cost nothing before planning to invest in larger changes. Some people can reduce their carbon footprint by 10–20% just by taking measures that cost nothing at all. Some of these changes even save money! There are more ideas in our downloadable list of sustainability guidelines.

  • Dry clothes outside
  • Turn off lights you’re not using and don’t leave appliances on
  • Turn down room and hot water thermostats by 1 or 2 degrees
  • Review the times your heating and hot water come on and off
  • Don’t boil more water than you need in the kettle
  • Wait for a full load before running the washing machine or dishwasher
  • Take a shower rather than a bath
  • Keep the freezer de-frosted and position it in the coolest possible place
  • Close curtains at dusk and make sure they don’t block the radiators
  • Put a bottle of water in your WC cistern so it uses less water to flush
  • Compost food waste for use in the garden, use washing-up water to water the garden, and grow your own fruit and veg
  • Think twice before you buy things and make sure you actually need any new items.

Low-cost actions

For a small outlay, you can do a little more to help…

When you have done all that you can for free, think about actions that cost relatively little and will soon recoup the initial outlay. Some of these are best taken when you are making changes anyway; others can be made at any time.

  • Dry-line and insulate external walls and insulate any uninsulated cavity walls
  • Draught-strip all external doors and windows and seal gaps around pipes, cat-flaps, etc.
  • Put foil panels behind radiators on external walls and fix shelves above radiators
  • Make sure your hot-water tank has at least 75mm of insulation, insulate hot water pipes and increase loft insulation to 270 mm
  • ‘Shrink-wrap’ single-glazed windows for winter and install DIY secondary glazing on appropriate windows
  • Look for high-performance double- or triple-glazed windows and doors
  • Fit a water butt to collect rainwater for gardening
    Look for the EU energy label whenever replacing electrical goods; on unrated appliances (TVs, Hi-Fi for example), ask about energy efficiency
  • Upgrade controls, radiator valves and the hot water cylinder
  • Upgrade light fittings to take low energy bulbs
  • Use FSC timber, natural insulation materials like sheep’s wool, flax and hemp, natural fibres for floor coverings and organic, low-solvent paints.

With professional help

If you are ready to spend more and take expert help, you can make big changes…

More ambitious actions may not recoup the outlay needed in savings, but you may choose to take these steps if you really want to do your bit to combat climate change.

  • Install solar panels for hot water or photovoltaic solar panels for electricity
  • Dry-line and externally insulate all external walls
  • Replace all windows with high performance, double-glazed units
  • Install your own wind-turbine
  • Insulate underneath the ground floor
  • Fit a composting loo
  • Install a rainwater harvesting system
  • Create a turf or sedum roof
  • Install an air source or ground source heat pump.