The way we live in our homes determines how we use energy, how much waste we produce, how much water we consume, how many chemicals we use, how intense our pesticide input is and the degree of land consumption. Even if we do not see and understand all interconnections, we all contribute every day to the worldwide environmental degradation.
This article will show you that there a many possibilities to minimize your impact on the environment in your home without losing your quality of life. Everyone experiences quality of life in a particular way. But what connects all of us are the essential benefits of clear air and clean water, tranquility and nature. This are the most precious goods, that our wonderful earth is offering us daily for free, and they are at risk.
The relationship between human development and Nature’s adaptation ability and buffering capacity is out of balance. There is no doubt that serious issues need to be managed urgently on a global scale, but the importance of everyone’s participation should not be underestimated. Furthermore, only few people are aware of the potential health threats in products and materials found in our houses.
I had several patients with “inexplicable” symptoms like allergies, asthma, depression, headache and tiredness, most of them associated with a low immune system. In many cases the source of their conditions was in their houses due to the overuse of chemicals, pesticides, outgassing chemical additives from building materials, adhesives and binders. Another important health threat in a house is mold, due to increased insulation and tighter construction with decreased ventilation, as well as new building materials and new products.
Chemicals are another invisible enemy in our house and garden. The use of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides is very extensive in Australian households and participates actively to the ongoing health problems of thousands of residents and at the same time to the decreasing quality of our air, soil and water. Due to the different exposure and body constitution, the health effects may be different in each person, the symptoms may be hardly comparable.
In most of my cases though, the patients showed a high degree of stored toxins in their body’s systems, which provoked over a prolonged time several types of illnesses. Due to the long-term effect of many chemicals, I am speaking here about years or even decades, tracking of the causes is extremely difficult. Therefore prevention is our best tool. This article will help you and your family to live more environmentally conscious and healthy and furthermore will help you to avoid and prevent unnecessary exposure to unhealthy products and materials.
Wildlife habitant fragmentation
Almost 85 % of the Australian population lives in cities in a narrow band on the costal areas. Most of the houses in Australia are besides freestanding houses, i.e. in Brisbane up to 90 %. The consequence of it is that our towns are spreading over huge areas, creating an immense urban sprawl. This leads inevitably to wildlife habitat fragmentation, which means, it breaks up large areas of habitat into small, unconnected “islands” Habitats.
These habitat fragments are often too small to support viable populations of many plant and animal species. The consequence is the lost of native species. For the cities population it is wonderful to have access to hundreds of nice and tidy parks, easy to walk through in less than one hour, perfect to catch fresh air. For the remaining native habitats it is getting more and more difficult to survive in this fragmented and extremely vulnerable environments. Even when there is enough food available, small isolated animal populations can decline as a result of genetic isolation. To avoid the negative effects of further urban sprawl I recommend the following actions:
• Live in a home that is no larger than you really need.
• To help maintain local biodiversity, choose a home with a smaller yard and a surrounding natural habitat that has been left largely intact. Plant only local and not imported plants.
• Connect areas. Create corridors or stepping stones to connect isolated areas with each other. A field pond, for example, might be connected to a woodland by a hedgerow. One large nature reserve is better than several small nature reserves that together would cover the same area.
Australia is the driest continent on Earth (excluding Antarctica), but we are the greatest consumers of water per capita. Australians use more than 1 million liters of fresh-water per person each year. About 12% of this comes from domestic use. In Brisbane the average family uses 700 L per day. There are many different ways to conserve and recycle water. The classical way is gathering the rain water and storing in tanks. Thereby the roof gutters need to be kept clean of animal/bird excrement – and the roof should be allowed to “wash itself” at the start of the rain period before collection begins by moving the entry pipe going into the tank. This will also wash off any other contaminants such as herbicides, dust, etc that may have “blown in.”
If your house is already supplied with town water, you can install a rainwater harvesting systems which collect rain from the roof in a tank. This water can be used for all toilets. This can save up to 40% of your water needs. Another possibility is to create a additional grey water recycling system. ‘Grey water’ is water that has been used in the washing machine, dishwasher, sink or in the shower. Instead of going down the drain after use, it can be used for irrigating the garden and fill the pond. Very efficient solutions can be achieved by recycling the sewerage and grey-water together through an EPA approved worm-farm system. This water can also be used for irrigation of the garden. Independently from the supply situation, I recommend some efficiency points to consider like:
- Use a short shower and you’ll save time, money and water.
- Repair your dripping taps. In only some hours you loose with a dripping tap enough to fill a bath!
- Don’t let the tap keep running when you are cleaning your teeth, with this you save 40 L per day already.
- Toilets are one of the largest users of water in the home. Install a dual flush cistern and use the shorter flush whenever possible, you will save 80 L per day.
- Get used to use the plug when you’re washing up.
- Rinse your razor in a plugged sink and turn off the tap when shaving – you could save more than 3500 litres per year.
- Mulch your garden to cut evaporation loss by up to 70% and help to prevent weeds
- Water longer, but less often, to encourage deeper roots and general hardiness of plants
Every household in Australia generates approximately 1,5 tones of waste each year. For every tone of waste we produce at home, 5 tones are created manufacturing the products we consume. In many cases ten tones of raw materials result in just one tone of finished products. This shows how important is selective shopping to diminish the huge energy and land consumption needed to maintain our life quality.
Walking through your house you will find also hazardous materials or products you and your family use every day like cleaners, paints, paint thinners, motor oils, gasoline, and pesticides. This hazardous materials are dangerous for people during their use and even when stored, and for the environment. Meanwhile there are many available alternative and non-toxic products for all purposes. Ask in the shops for environmentally friendly products and avoid chemicals whenever possible. Even in toiletries there are health and environment damaging products. Choose organic and non-petrochemical derived products. There are many opportunities to use our waste more wisely. The three Rs point us in the right direction: R educe; R euse and R ecycle. Further tips are:
- Reduce the amount of packaging you buy, reuse what you can, and recycle the rest.
- Look for products without packaging – tools, fresh produce, dry goods. PVC packing can be carcinogenic.
- Avoid individually wrapped portions (cheese slices, juice, etc.).
- Favor environmentally friendly products even if they cost a little more. You will save on health bills.
- Choose rechargeable batteries and long-life bulbs.
- Avoid disposable razors, pens, pencils and lighters.
- Choose long-lasting metal or wood toys rather than plastic.
- Buy recycled paper bathroom tissue, napkins and kitchen towels. Use fabric napkins instead of paper ones.
- Buy quality products and keep them for a lifetime.
- Use reusable containers for lunch and leftovers. Please don’t buy the antibacterial plastic containers, they will damage your health!
- Make an all-purpose cleaner: 1 gallon hot water, 1/4 cup ammonia, 1/4 cup vinegar & 1 tablespoon baking soda. Safe on most surfaces, rinses off with water.
- Use hot vinegar instead of paint thinner on brushes.
- Prepare a simple furniture polish with either lemon oil and beeswax, beeswax and olive oil, or mix 2 teaspoons lemon oil with one pint mineral oil in a spray bottle.
- Use baking soda to clean sinks, toilet bowls and showers without harsh chemicals. Also, only a box will be left instead of plastic bottles.
- Clean windows and mirrors with a simple solution of 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and two cups of warm water in a spray bottle. Apply with wadded up newspaper. Or use an environmentally friendly window cleaning cloth. You will not need cleaners, just warm water.
- When spring cleaning or moving, have a yard sale or donate items to charities instead of throwing them away.
It has been estimated that in 11 % of total energy is used in our homes and 38% in transport. Home heating and cooling use approximately 40 to 50 % of household energy in Australia. In warmer climates like in Queensland the largest amount of energy is used for heating water. In consideration of the amount of sunny days in Australia solar water heating should be largely widespread. When I visited for the first time Greece in 1994 I saw a huge amount of solar water heaters, almost on every roof. Until today this simple technology couldn’t achieve a high acceptance in Australia, despite of the very favorable weather conditions. Depending on the climatic conditions the design of a house should be planned in such a way that you benefit from shaded indoor and outdoor living areas during hot weather periods and vice versa when the weather is cold. A huge effect can be reached with a properly positioned, sized and protected glazing.
To save energy you have to check if your appliances work energy-efficient. Upgrading them will pay for themselves over time and contribute to a cleaner environment. Water pumping of water is also very energy consuming. You save considerable energy if you place a new house below the water source so that gravity can be used to move the water. It is better to run an electrical water pump once daily rather than intermittently as the pump uses considerable power each time it starts. Just a few small changes in your household routines can add up over the year to big savings on your utility bills. Here are some examples:
• One of the most effective and inexpensive ways to reduce your air conditioning costs is to adjust your thermostat setting. By using ceiling fans to supplement and air conditioner, most people can raise their thermostat setting three degrees and feel just as comfortable.
• When you leave home, turn off the air conditioning or set the thermostat up a few degrees. Keep doors and windows closed when air conditioning is on. Turn off kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans when your air conditioning is on.
• Use ceiling fans only in occupied rooms since fans cool people, not rooms.
• Make sure your home is properly insulated. In existing homes, wall insulation may be too expensive to install, so concentrate on attic and floor insulation.
• Wash full loads whenever possible. When smaller loads are necessary, remember to adjust the water level accordingly.
• Use cold water (70 F to 80 F) for most clothes and for rinsing.
• Use the short wash cycle for lightly soiled garments.
• The coils of your refrigerator should be clean, not clogged with dirt.
• If you can feel cold air around the closed door or there is a great deal of moisture collecting at certain spots around the door, your refrigerator is costing more than it should to operate.
• If your refrigerator temperature is set too low, your operating costs will increase. Refrigerator temperature should be 35 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezers should be zero.
• The more often you open the refrigerator door, the higher the operating costs will be.
• Putting a second refrigerator in a hot garage or utility room can double operating costs. If you need the extra storage, keep it as full as possible. If you don’t need the space, you might want to “pull the plug.”
Making an environmentally conscious housing decision will not only help reduce your consumption of energy and natural resources, but will also lower your maintenance and energy bills. In almost every house there are improvements possible. In most of the cases the changes are financially interesting because they may pay for themselves in quite a short time. If you are looking for a new home then consider consulting an expert on this field. Building an environmentally friendly and healthy house is still considered as expensive. If you take the right decisions and use a properly adapted design, then you will save from day one. The type of house you live in is one of the most important decisions you can make as a consumer.