Home ownership and sustainability

Find out more from an expert voice

Environmental concerns and squeezed household budgets mean sustainability is increasingly important to aspiring and existing homeowners across the UK. Meet expert sustainability consultant Nash Gierak, who shares her vision of what sustainability and home ownership means to her.

Nash Gierak

Sustainability Consultant

Nash is an expert when it comes to sustainable living. She uses her platform to show the realistic side of a sustainable modern lifestyle with a young family, and works with businesses to help them meet (and often exceed!) sustainability standards within their industries. She has been eco-renovating her own home with her architect partner and formerly produced the popular podcast 'How to Be A Minimalist (The Sustainable Way)'.

Read on for Nash's personal perspectives on the ties between sustainability, finances and home ownership — which in her experience are more entwined than you might think. 

As a society, we are becoming much more savvy consumers. Beyond building sustainable habits, such as refilling our water bottles and ditching disposable coffee cups, many of us are rethinking how we approach the bigger decisions in life. Whether we rent or own, our homes are a natural place to start, especially as they are spaces many of us have prioritised in light of the culture shift towards remote working. As a nation, we’ve come to spend more time in our abodes and have become much more aware of our domestic energy usage, as well as the associated rising bills. With the cost of living increasing across the UK, coupled with growing public awareness around the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report detailing the irreversible damage a 1.5°C increase in global warming will cause,1 many of us are adopting frugal practices to protect the planet that can also help us save money.

The way we run our homes has a significant environmental impact. In 2019 the Energy Saving Trust reported that direct and indirect emissions from buildings accounted for around 23% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.2 Emerging legislation such as the Future Homes Standard3 and Future Buildings Standard4 aims to tackle these issues with the delivery of highly energy efficient homes and buildings, with low carbon heating systems being the proposed default from 2025 onwards. The objective is for buildings to be zero-carbon-ready as the electricity grid continues to decarbonise.

The earth is as much our home as the buildings we inhabit and it’s timely that we’re connecting the two

While it is cheaper and easier to install energy efficiency measures during home constructions (making new builds an attractive option), refurbishing existing buildings will be essential to meet the UK Government’s ambition to deliver a 27% reduction in carbon emissions from 2025 onwards.5

Responsibilities for buildings vary depending on whether you are a renter, leaseholder or freeholder, so check your contracts regarding repairs and improvements, and plan accordingly. My own home ownership journey led me and my husband to purchase the leasehold of a flat in an interwar-period block. It needed some attention, but by combining my sustainability knowledge with his architect credentials we felt confident we could future-proof the property. These are the tips we picked up along the way.

Before making an offer, invest in a HomeBuyer Report survey to ascertain issues such as damp, and whether insulation is present. You can also view the property’s energy performance certificate (EPC) rating on gov.uk,6These reports are legally required and renewed every 10 years. They detail recommendations for improvements where applicable and include the building’s optimum potential rating, as well as any energy grants or schemes you may be eligible for.

Some recommendations are straightforward, such as replacing traditional bulbs with LEDs. This can be done gradually and will save money on the initial investment. The Energy Saving Trust7 recommends using the Recycle Now8 website, which lists recycling options by postcode for tricky items such as light bulbs.

The next step is to be able to monitor your energy usage. Opting for a green energy provider is ideal, and setting up smart technology such as an app-controlled thermostat and meter will give you better control and insight. Some providers are able to suggest when to use electricity, such as between midnight and 4pm when more of the UK's power comes from renewable sources. Research from the Energy Saving Trust shows that time-of-use tariffs can be beneficial to your household bills, meaning that it may be more cost-effective to run your washing machine and dishwasher overnight.9

Whether you’re renovating or replacing items, consider reducing your reliance on fossil fuels further by opting for an induction hob and installing a boiler with a high energy efficiency rating.10 This rating is part of an EU-initiated directive to create transparency for consumers, as well as driving environmental improvements from manufacturers. It’s worth noting too that the energy label for appliances has been revised, making better options easier to identify.11

There are also many small changes that can make a surprising difference. Dual-purpose decor, such as thermally lined curtains and blinds, can be an effective workaround for draughty windows, which are expensive to replace. Fitting keyhole covers and an interior flap to letterboxes, as well as adding self-adhesive draught-proofing strips to windows and doors, can also make a significant difference. Radiator maintenance is also key: bleeding air from them and even dusting them regularly will improve their performance.

Becoming a more conscientious homeowner is incredibly rewarding; you become a guardian of the property – and the planet – for future generations. The earth is as much our home as the buildings we inhabit and it’s timely that we’re connecting the two.

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