Designing a green home: Go Green - Fourteen Tips

This article is based on a workshop I created a few years ago. However it can be helpful to revisit the topic and do a go green check. People in older homes can find the greening of a home more of a challenge. There are some simple things we can do to make older homes eco friendly. We can use the best materials and make changes to our lifestyle. Most importantly we can be environmentally aware. Interior decorating is not only about make things look good. It's about making wise choices by using green products if possible.

Interior Design Concept Board 'Retro' created by Rosena on

1. Use eco-friendly products and paints

When re-decorating with paint it is best to use plant based or low volatile organic compound paint. Most paint companies are now offering a range of eco friendly paint. But it pays to do your home work and select the best one. Choosing the right paint will reduce toxins to benefit everyone, including those with allergies and chemical sensitivities.

Using the right paint will mean the environment will benefit due to reduced landfill, groundwater and ozone depleting contaminants. The paint with Low-VOC performs well in terms of coverage, scrubability and hideability (covering flaws on previous coats).

Water based

Water-Based paints allow easy cleanup with soap and warm water. Have little or no hazardous fumes. Low odour during application and no odour once the paint is dry. With no off-gassing painted areas can be occupied sooner, without any odour complaints. The paints are not deemed a hazardous waste.

Easy Cleanup

Cleanup and disposal is greatly simplified. Some eco friendly paints in Australia are Livos, The Real Milk Company and Porters Paints. The types of paints include lime wash, French wash, oxides and acrylic treatments. The has a report on interior paints available on the website.

2. Select pre used furniture

Instead of buying new furniture it can be exciting to go foraging and choose some pre-loved furniture. A few years ago I was doing a series of talks at a home expo. I enjoyed meeting the exhibitors. I had an interesting discussion with a pre loved furniture dealer. He said he was concerned about the cheap furniture on offer in many stores. He felt many young people would be better off buying the older well made, solid second hand furniture pieces than the flimsy new furniture. He said many of his classic modern pieces would hold their value and could be resold at the same price they were bought for. He was bemused by the preoccupation with new throw away when finished furniture over quality.

A number of years ago I created a coffee table out of my mother -in- laws old traveling trunk. She had last used the trunk to travel to Australia in the late 1960's. It was unfortunate I had to cover the many travel stickers from India, Algeria, Pakistan and other fascinating places, the surfaces were badly damaged and had to be well covered. Of all the items in our home this coffee table attracts the most comments.

Interior Design Concept Board 'Reuse' created by Rosena on

3. Buy energy efficient appliances

For people living in older homes with older appliances the key is to do the homework before buying a new energy efficient appliance. The funny thing is the older models seem to last forever. When replacing a washing machine it is recommend you select a front loader. They are more water efficient and are kinder on clothes. Choose a refrigerator that is adequate for your needs. Many people in the US and Australia have big refrigerators. Our European counterparts make do with smaller refrigerators.  It is best to choose a model with the highest energy rating. Installing a Solar Hot Water System can cut the energy bills by 65 percent. The use of motion sensor exterior lighting means when no-one is home means no energy is wasted.

4. Double glazed windows

Double Glazed Windows although more expensive to install reduce heating bills. So they are cost effective in the long run especially in colder aspects. Glazing and awnings could be used in combination of both on northerly aspects of a home. This will maximize the warming winter light in winter and reduce harsh summer sun (in the southern hemisphere).

5. Pelmets and draught stoppers

Placing pelmets over windows and fitting draught stopper at doors will stop hot air escaping. They will also stop cold air creeping in. Curtains, drapes, bedding, bath ware and upholstery selections should be made of natural fabrics, wool, cotton or linen. These fabrics are more sustainable. Nylon, acrylic or polyester is petroleum based.

6. Install lighting to save on power

Install skylights to add light to dark interiors this will save power. Or use compact fluorescent light bulbs they last eight times longer and they use less energy. LED lighting is another option.

7. Grow vegetables and herbs

Establish a vegetable and/or an herb garden. I have some Italian in laws who are now in the eighties. They still grow all their vegetables, have olive trees and make their own bread. They remain active, healthy and slim. Pot plants used wisely can also add atmosphere. They are effective at capturing odors and effectively dispel troublesome volatile organic compounds.

8. Replace flooring with renewal material options

When replacing floor coverings it is wise to select environmentally friendly products for example sisal, coir (coconut), seagrass, Cork and wool. Lino flooring has come back into fashion it is made from cork, flour, Linseed (flax) oil, chalk and jute making it very environmentally friendly. Nylon, acrylic or polyester are petroleum based products and should be avoided. Other options for flooring are solid renewable timbers generally made without chemical additives.

When selecting timber it is best to use timber grown in plantation forests or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sustainably managed certificate timber. Ideally choose recycled timber. Some other good eco friendly options are Masonite, cork, rubber and bamboo. It pays to be careful.

9. Be water wise

Also take into consideration storm water avoid fully pathed areas that can cause runoff. Use porous pathing or tiles that allow some space for soil and grass to grow. Install a rain water tank connected up to fill the washing machine. This grey water can also be used for the toilet or watering the garden. During landscaping leave some bare soil space for a composting bin.

A few years ago my husband and I attended a Water Wise Garden seminar. One of the most interesting suggestions was to take care not to over water your garden. We were very pleased as we had certainly not over watered our garden. It was recommended to water plants frequently when you first plant them. Then slowly cut down on the times you water the plants. This will encourage them to establish deep root systems.

In Australia we have had many years of drought. Many of our plants and trees have survived. Many keen gardeners have killed their plants with kindness. We can also tend to over water house plants. Use some budget water wise ideas. For example use dish washing water and children's bath water to water plants. Buy and use a greywater hose (they can be purchase at hardware stores). Maybe consider composting toilets and/or use dual flush toilet (Caroma's Cosmos). Or use retrofit kits to minimize water usage in existing toilets. Switch to low flow shower heads.

10. Take care when selecting wallpaper

Avoid wallpapers that are PVC based Polyvinyl Chloride produces cancer-inducing dioxins during manufacture which accumulate in water and air and are absorbed by most animals.

Four more tips to green your home and life

  • Homes built with northerly aspects in Australia will maximize warming winter light and reduce harsh summer sun.
  • Borrow books and videos from the library rather than going at a bookshop or video store. Can save money too.
  • Avoid bottled water. Buy a decent water bottle for everyone in the family, put their names on them, and refill.
  • Use newspaper instead of paper towels to clean exterior windows and glass doors.

There are numerous small things we can do create a green home. Those mentioned above are only some of the options available to us. Geoff Steward on his leaflet for Five Star House Energy Rating Services states ‘Good design doesn't cost the earth poor design does'

SampleBoard understands the positive effect green products can have on eco friendly interior design. Use our eco friendly interior design concept board editor.

Author: Rosena MacFadzean for – concept creation online

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