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green home
Illustration: John Devolle

Five hacks for a greener home

Follow these simple steps for an environmentally friendly London pad

By Kyra Hanson
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The home might be where the heart is, but it’s also the source of 14 percent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Living a greener life when you’re miles away from the countryside can sometimes feel like mission impossible. But don’t give up on the dream just yet. Look out for eco features in prospective homes, or make simple changes to your current London abode that’ll benefit the world at large, and hopefully won’t cost the earth.

1. Make things e-cosy

Alongside enquiring about the nearest pub, park and supermarket when house hunting, prospective tenants should get in the habit of asking to see a property’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). It’s actually illegal for landlords to rent out properties with an EPC rating lower than E. The good news is, London has the most energy-efficient homes in the country, with Tower Hamlets, Greenwich and the City of London getting the highest proportion of  As and Bs. According to home improvement firm Everest, this also means we happen to spend the least on bills (yeah... about that?).

‘Invest in heavy curtains, thick rugs and DIY draught-proofing for a cosier gaff’

Cara Jenkinson, chair of the Muswell Hill Sustainability Group, has a quick tip for those on the move: ‘Eco-minded house hunters should opt for terraced homes or newer flats, which tend to be more energy efficient than semi-detached, older homes.’ And what about improving the EPC rating of your current place? ‘If the boiler is more than 15 years old it may be worth replacing with a modern condensing boiler. Additionally, around 40 percent of heat is lost through windows, doors and floors,’ says Jenkinson. If you don’t want to blow your earnings on something as boring as double glazing, invest in heavy curtains, thick rugs and DIY draught-proofing strips for a cosier gaff.

If you only do one thing: One surefire way to feel less guilty about your heating bill is to use Big Clean Switch to find an energy supplier that doesn’t rely on climate-wrecking fossil fuels. Green suppliers such as Bulb, Pure Planet and Good Energy only use 100 percent carbon-neutral gas.

2. Mind the voltage

Slashing our energy consumption is a no-brainer. It tackles pollution and preserves the earth’s natural resources. Start by reconsidering when you use power-hungry appliances like washing machines: avoid peak times (6pm-9pm), when non-renewables such as coal stations are fired up to meet demand. If getting your caffeine fix is draining the grid (we are a nation of over-boilers), put the Vektra kettle on your birthday wish list. It’s made from thermal insulated steel, which keeps boiled water hot for up to four hours. If you don’t mind splashing a bit more cash, you can buy gadgets such as high-tech plugs (which you can switch off via an app) and smart thermostats like Hive or Nest. And here’s a bright idea – from 2020, the government will pay back homes that export solar-powered energy back into the grid. If you haven’t got the budget for a full roof of panels, consider filling your pad with funky lighting (from websites such as www.thesolarcentre.co.uk) or sun-powered tech such as Goal Zero’s Rock Out portable speaker or Logitech’s wireless solar keyboard.

‘We could save £80 a year by turning down the thermostat one degree’

Sparing a thought for the environment can also bring down your bills. The Energy Saving Trust reckons we could save £80 a year from turning down your thermostat by one degree. Say watt?!

If you only do one thing: Many of us are concerned about our wifi speed, but have you ever thought about the environmental footprint of the companies powering our internet connection? Eco-friendly options include Green Net and Green ISP, as they rely on renewables.

3. Give interiors an eco-verhaul

Alt text goes here© @shedhomewares_e17

Fly-tipping is a source of frustration for many but for 47-year-old Carla Rossiter, other people’s waste is her gold dust. Her Insta account @shedhomewares_e17 is full of #interiordesigngoals, with Ercol chairs rescued from a neighbour’s garden and the bricks that form her feature wall sourced entirely from skips. ‘Often pieces just need a sand and repaint or a bit of wood glue. I love the patina of old pieces and the knocks and bumps that tell their “story”.’

If you’re a design-conscious DIY-phobe, check out eco start-ups such as Dust London, for handsome homewares made from teabag waste or east London-based lighting brand Tala, which specialises in low-energy LEDs and whose newest collection is made from broken solar panels. And don’t forget to choose local tradespeople, cutting down on travel emissions and doing wonders for your carbon footprint.

If you only do one thing: Take the #secondhandfirst pledge and apply it to everything you usually buy new (except your undies). You’ll find pre-loved goods on Freecycle, Freegle, Olio, The London Reuse Network and neighbourhood community groups – like Walthamstow Sell or Swap where Rossiter is an active member.

4. Don’t be a (water) waster

Despite all our rainy days, London might not be far off a severe drought due to an increasing population, loss of green space and ancient, leaky pipes. To help us up our water-saving game at home, Thames Water has laid on loads of gadgets that you can order for free. Their save-a-flush crystal bags won’t help with your feng shui, but will save a litre of water from being washed down the bog every time you flush, while a shower timer could save you bucketloads of agua and pennies (but only if you stick to the allotted four minutes, no cheating!).

‘Leftover water from your cooked veg can be used to feed your house plants’

And did you know you are effectively paying double every time you waste warm water (once for the water, and once for heating it)? Treat running taps as sacrilege by using your washing up bowl and sticking reusable bottles of water in the fridge to avoid running the tap until it turns cold. Plus, once cooled down, the leftover water from your cooked veg can be used to feed your house plants. Bloomin’ genius.

If you only do one thing: According to Waterwise, we could be eating up to 5,000 litres of ‘invisible’ water a year, with livestock playing a huge role in our water footprint. Friends of the Earth suggests installing a water butt (a great way to offset your water usage while you get used to that vegan diet you’re definitely sticking to), but if space is tight, a bowl on the window ledge in a downpour will do the job. Your house plants will take rainwater over treated tap water any day.

5. Keep a green home

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If a clean home is as important to you as a green one, invest in air-purifying curtains from Ikea and pollution-filtering plants such as the peace lily and the chrysanthemum. One plant per ten square meters is the Nasa-approved optimum. And when it comes to that next spring clean, you can use the contents of your cupboards for a chemical-free blitz. Check out The National Trust’s ‘vintage’ tips to find out how you can clean practically anything if you’ve got enough lemons.

Finally, methane from food waste sent to landfill is a bigger contributor to global warming than CO2 (and it also makes your bins pong). Most London councils now offer a food waste collection, but if yours doesn’t, follow the lead of Jihea Kim, 24, who runs ethical Insta account Eco Life Choices. She reduced her food waste by around 75 per cent by freezing her fruit and veg scraps and donating them to a local community garden. Use www.farmgarden.org.uk to find your local green space, or for tips on setting up your own scheme. 

If you only do one thing: Invest in a wormery like the Worm Factory 360, or, if you’re squeamish, try the Bokashi Organico kitchen composter. You’ll need to bury the compost in a pot of soil before using it on plants, but it breaks down waste quicker and doesn’t smell or attract pests. A work of green genius. 

More top tips for a greener London life

How to build a green city

Things to do

A lot of our city is green space. Around 47 percent of it, in fact. We love and depend on parks, squares and gardens: they are the lungs of London and its shared playground. So we’re delighted that our city will officially become a National Park this week. But while London is physically verdant, we’ve a long way to go to being a green city. Disruptors like Extinction Rebellion – who are staging a Summer Uprising across London and other cities this week – have raised our crisis awareness. You, our readers, have told us you want going out to be greener. Positively, across the capital, people and venues are coming up with cool initiatives to tackle food waste, pollution and plastic. As part of our How to Build a Green City campaign we’re highlight the Londoners and London venues doing all of the above and more. Expect social takeovers from eco-warriors like Caitlin Mogridge (who runs wastenotstore.com), insight from experts and campaigners, and the new Time Out Green Light badge to signpost greener events and venues on our site and in the magazine. Most importantly, we want to hear from you. Know a Londoner running a cool eco project? Tell us at hello@timeout.com. Being greener demands huge changes, but every little helps, so if you are going to the park this weekend, bin your tinnies, lose the disposable barbecue and cutlery, and maybe sign up to one of these awesome schemes helping to keep London’s spaces clean…

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