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Home ideas to help the environment – and boost your mood

Smart tips for every room

Planning a home makeover with a difference this autumn? Interior designers and building suppliers specialising in wellness, sustainability and smart tech highlight renovations and improvements that they suggest could be better for the environment, your wellbeing – and your wallet.

If you’re renovating your home, there are plenty of smart ways you can make your plans more eco-friendly – and potentially cut your utility bills. Some energy efficiency measures in your home could potentially save you £225 a year1. But as well as going green, some interior designers claim that home improvements can help lift your mood and boost your wellbeing.

We’ve asked a specialist panel for their tips and ideas to transform a series of rooms, focusing either on wellness or sustainability

Oliver Heath, sustainability and biophilic interior designer and TV presenter on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4

Oliver Heath, sustainability and biophilic interior designer and TV presenter on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4

Will Kirkman, owner of Ecomerchant, an eco-friendly building materials supplier

Will Kirkman, owner of Ecomerchant, an eco-friendly building materials supplier

Elina Grigoriou, wellbeing interior designer and author of Wellbeing in Interiors

Elina Grigoriou, wellbeing interior designer and author of Wellbeing in Interiors

Peter Filcek, Global Product Director at Hive, a smart home technology company

Peter Filcek, Global Product Director at Hive, a smart home technology company

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Wellness

From meditation smartphone apps to organic food, wellness has been growing in popularity in recent years. The sector includes all the ways that we manage our mental and physical health, and is now worth £2.8 trillion a year globally2.

“In the context of interior design, wellbeing goes much deeper than conventional approaches, which focus simply on how a room looks,” says Elina. “Wellbeing is about creating spaces that support our emotional, cognitive and physical needs, taking into account elements like natural light, materials and textures, air and water quality.”

Sustainability

Consumers are increasingly going green. Making your home more sustainable can work in a number of ways, says Oliver. “Primarily, we focus on using recycled and environmentally-friendly materials and examine ways to reduce energy consumption. But it’s also about bringing nature into your home, for example by using plants and trees wherever possible.”

Smart tech

Smart home technology, which includes devices such as thermostats, plugs or light bulbs, can help to reduce energy use, lowering your environmental impact and saving you money. It gives you the ability to ‘connect’ to your home via devices that can be controlled online via your smartphone, so you can manage your heating, lighting or home electricals wherever you are.

Peter Filcek, from Hive, says: “Smart technology gives people a means to make their home greener and lessen its overall carbon footprint. Accidentally leaving lights turned on, having appliances constantly on standby or heating an empty home; these are just a few things that can easily be remedied by using smart technology. And not only will it reduce your impact on the environment, it will also help to save money.”

Room by room

  • Going green in the kitchen

    What makes a kitchen sustainable? Eco-friendly materials and energy-saving appliances, according to our specialists.

    Eco-friendly materials

    Opting for natural worktops where possible will be more environmentally-friendly than alternatives such as laminated chipboard, says Will Kirkman, which is harder to recycle. If you are opting for wood or wood products, remember to check that is from a sustainable source approved by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), he says.

    However, it isn’t always this simple. “A wooden worktop might appear eco-friendly, but if it has been made using different wood samples that have been glued together, it will still be hard to recycle”, says Elina.

    Be careful what you use as a worktop finish, she says. “A number of materials, from grout to varnish and paint, contain Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can release toxins into the air as they age,” says Elina. “Choosing products that are water-based, have low VOCs, or are VOC-free, will help improve the overall air quality in your home.”

    “Instead of using wood or natural stone, you could opt for a worktop made from post-consumer recycled glass,” she suggests. “You can buy worktops that are 100% glass which has been fused together. Because it’s made of 100% recycled material and it can be easily recycled after use, it’s a great example of a cyclical material.”

    Energy-saving appliances

    Choose kitchen appliances that are energy-saving, advises Oliver.  “An induction hob is better than a gas hob because it only uses energy to directly heat the pan, rather than the air around it.”

    You should also ensure that new appliances are A++ or A+++ rated for energy efficiency, suggests Oliver. A recent study found that an A-rated fridge freezer costs on average £73 a year to run, while the typical annual cost of an A++ rated fridge freezer is just £373.

    Oliver has also installed a foot pedal-controlled tap to reduce water wastage in his own home, although he says this might not be for everyone. “It means that my family can’t leave the tap running, but also helps when you’re washing up, when you don’t have a spare hand to turn the tap on or off.”

  • A more relaxing bedroom

    Turn your bedroom into a relaxing haven that helps boost your wellbeing, using a combination of smart lighting and complimentary paint colours.

    Smart lighting

     “To help with sleep, I always suggest that clients fit colour-changing bulbs to bedside lamps and pendant lights,” says Oliver.

    “It can be problematic to look at your phone or watch TV in bed at night because the screen emits blue light, which can suggest to our brain that it’s the middle of the day. That’s why so many of us find it hard to sleep. Adjusting your light bulbs to a warm orange colour at night will remove the blue spectrum of light, which helps to retune our circadian rhythm.”

    Our circadian rhythm is our built-in biological clock, explains Oliver. It affects our mood and behaviour, and it triggers chemical reactions in our body, such as the release of melatonin (to help us sleep) and serotonin (to help us feel energised in the morning).

    Energy efficient LED smart bulbs can be controlled remotely using a smartphone or tablet app. You can dim the light, change the colour or make the light warmer or cooler via the app, helping you get to sleep at night or wake up in the morning. They can also be set to switch on and off automatically at certain times.

    Wall colours

    Painting your bedroom is a low-cost way to create a more calming space, suggests Elina. “I’d think carefully about tone, colour and pattern combinations. Similar colours create less movement, less stimulation. It’s calming without necessarily being bland.

    “I’d suggest tone-on-tone colour combinations, or colours with less of a contrast - a similar side of the colour wheel rather than the opposite side of the colour wheel.” 

  • Creating an eco-bathroom

    Reducing the amount of water we use helps to limit our impact on the environment, and can also save money. Read our specialists’ suggestions.

    Using less water

     “Look for water-efficient taps and showerheads that are on the water technology list or have the EU water label,” says Elina. “There are plenty of manufacturers that produce taps and showerheads with very low flow, dramatically reducing the amount of water you use”.

    You may be able to get free or low-price water-saving devices from your water supplier.

    Monitor pipes for leaks

    The latest smart tech innovations can constantly monitor your boiler and pipes to ensure your water system is running okay, or flag issues as they arise. For example, these devices can provide more detail for an engineer to highlight the most likely issue, and the location of the problem.

    Peter says: “Leak sensors connect to your water mains pipe and can monitor any small to large flows of water, so you know if you have a leaking tap in your home. That can help you conserve water and reduce bills, if you have a water meter installed, and can also reduce the risk of water damage.”

  • Wellness ideas for the living room

    From plants that boost the air in your home to a more relaxing room layout, small changes in your living room can make a big difference to your wellbeing, according to our specialists.

    Plants that detoxify the air

    “Plants can make a big impact to a room with very little cost or complexity,” says Oliver.

     “Human beings naturally find plants and trees calming and relaxing, but some species can also help to dehumidify a room and reduce the toxins in the air,” says Oliver.

    He suggests Sansevieria, with varieties sometimes known as Mother-in-law’s Tongue or Snake plant. These plants are particularly good at removing toxins from the air and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen at night. “They are also quite robust and straightforward to care for,” Oliver says.

    Syngonium podophyllum, known as the goosefoot plant with mottled and marbled leaves, is also effective at reducing air pollution.

    A calming room layout

    Not all home improvements need to cost money. Following the principles of environmental psychology, you can breathe new life into a room by simply moving the furniture, suggests Elina. “To create a more relaxing, calming living room, start by reviewing the seating layout along the principles of Refuge-Prospect,” she says.

    “We naturally feel more comfortable and able to concentrate on a task when we have our backs covered and we can see what’s going on around us; we have control over what’s going on around us, while satisfying our curiosity too.

    “If your sofa or favourite armchair is currently positioned with its back to a door or corridor, move it against a wall or create a low level screen with plants or storage boxes between it and the door,” suggests Elina. “It will help you feel more protected, which will help you relax.” 

Other eco-tips from the specialists

Smart thermostats allow you to manage your heating at home using an app on your smartphone, which means you can easily switch it on or off depending on your plans.

“Smart thermostats connect to an app on your smartphone to monitor your location, so if you’ve gone out and left the heating on, they can then send you a reminder to turn it off. Some models can also be controlled using voice commands via a home assistant,” says Peter.

Meanwhile, insulating your home can significantly reduce the amount of energy you use. You could save £135 a year on your energy bills and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 550kg with 270mm of loft insulation, based on a typical semi-detached home1, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

There are a range of options, beyond loft insulation – from the roof and walls to pipes and radiators. Visit the Energy Saving Trust website for more information.

Your gas or electricity supplier may be able to help with the cost of installing energy-efficiency measures like insulation. Contact your energy company to find out how it could help.

Funding your renovations

Whether you’re planning a major eco-refurbishment or a minor upgrade to improve your wellbeing at home, a Premier Barclayloan could help you out. You can check your personalised price quote online or on your mobile. Subject to application, financial circumstances and financial borrowing history.

You need to be registered for Online Banking or the Barclays app to check your personalised price quote. It usually takes less than 10 minutes to apply, but if you’re not registered it will take longer.

You might not be able to apply for a Barclayloan, or see your personalised price quote or provisional loan limit online or in your app, because certain restrictions apply. If this happens to you, please contact us to discuss your options.

If you already have a mortgage, you could consider additional borrowing to fund home improvements. If you have a mortgage with us, read our guide to additional mortgage borrowing.

Find out more about Premier mortgages.

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