Your Sustainable Home

Sustainability affects all of us. As one of the groups leading the drive to provide more sustainable housing in the UK, Thirdwave has produced a Sustainability Survey Toolkit for home buyers and home owners to use in reviewing their own home for sustainability. This toolkit has subsequently been endorsed by several chartered surveyors groups.

How Sustainable is Your Home?

Here is a checklist for you to see how you are getting on. It is not intended to be exhaustive but should be sufficient to give you a general idea of how your home performs in a few key respects. Nobody's perfect, but if you can honestly answer yes to say, two thirds of these questions, then you are certainly doing very well.

In 2000, Thirdwave developed a more extensive Sustainability Survey Toolkit for home buyers which was recognised and supported by three groups of chartered surveyors.

Section 1 Building Performance - Energy

Whilst any building's energy efficiency will have been "designed in" by the original developers, there is still much that householders can do to improve it.
  • Are principal living areas located on the southerly side of the building where they can be warmed and lit by natural sunlight? Could the rooms be re-arranged to achieve this?
  • Is the property well-insulated and free of unwanted draughts? As well as any roof space, insulation can sometimes be added to walls and floors.
  • Is there a system in place for reducing heat loss through single glazed windows? It is not always cost-effective to replace windows with double glazed units (unless they are worn out anyway): other options are to fit secondary glazing, to fit (or restore) internal window shutters, or to hang heavy curtains over the windows.

Section 2 Energy Performance - Systems

Improving the energy efficiency of the building fabric is nearly always worthwhile, but to really get your money's worth you should also look at the energy efficiency of your heating systems.

  • Is a condensing boiler used for central heating? Condensing boilers are considerably more efficient (and a little more expensive to purchase) than their non-condensing counterparts, as they recover energy from the hot flue gases before they are vented outside. Older boilers are likely to be non-condensing.
  • Are radiators fitted with Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRV)? These valves help to prevent rooms overheating, and can be fitted to all the radiators in the system bar o one (one ordinary radiator valve needs to be left open permanently, in order to maintain a loop if all the TRVs shut down at once).
  • Do heating and hot water systems have a programmable timer?

Section 3 Water Efficiency

Even in areas rich in water, there are many good reasons for conserving resources. For instance, limiting our demand for water will reduce the need for new reservoirs; will reduce the energy and resources used at water treatment plants and pumping stations and will leave us better prepared to cope with the changes in weather patterns that climate change will bring.

  • Are shower-heads and washbasin taps of a water saving design?
  • Are there any low flush toilets in the property? Modern toilets designed with economy in mind can operate effectively with no more than 7.5 litres per flush.

Section 4 Air Quality and Other Health Issues

There are two main facets to indoor air quality: one is an absence of materials in the home that emit toxic and irritating gases, whilst the other is a sufficient level of ventilation to make sure that any such gases do not build up beyond minimal levels.

  • Can the property be effectively cross-ventilated via windows and doors in all main rooms?
  • Do bathroom areas have heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) to eliminate condensation while
    retaining room heat?
  • Are there trickle ventilators in the windows? These manually operated slots in the frame help to prevent stuffiness, condensation and mould growth.
  • Are there predominantly natural finishes in the property?
    E.g. water-based or organic paints rather than synthetic, solvent-based paints; waxes and stains rather than varnishes; cork tiles or linoleum rather than vinyl. As well as creating a more healthy internal environment, making such choices (preferring natural to petrochemical) is usually more sustainable on a number of levels, including the quantity of energy embodied in the materials.
Section 5 Other Health and Safety Issues

If you make your contributions to sustainability partly through self-interest, it is most essential that you're still around to enjoy the returns from your investment!
  • Are there sufficient smoke alarms for the size of the property (minimum, one per floor) and do these appear correctly positioned? (Top of stairwells, apex of attic spaces, and generally at highest point of room)
  • In older properties, have all lead plumbing and storage tanks been removed?
Section 6: Ecological Value & Resource Conservation

  • Does your property include space for growing vegetables and composting waste? Both of which activities would help to cut down the number of trucks on the road.
  • Is there storage space in the property to set aside for collecting glass, paper and anything else that can be recycled locally?
  • Is the garden planted to provide habitats for native insects, butterflies, birds, etc.?

Of course, there are other areas of sustainable living that could be included. For instance, you could consider your personal transport and consumption requirements. However, the aim of the checklist is to help you to use your property to the full extent of its sustainability potential.


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