How to make your home sustainable - RIBA architects share their advice

Want to make your home sustainable? It's a good way to reduce your carbon footprint and easier than you may think

make you home sustainable
(Image credit: RIBA / Lark Rise / Tim Crocker)

Want to make your home sustainable? You're not alone - and thankfully there's a lot that can be done to both modern homes and period homes.

A recent homeowner survey commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) found that as a result of spending more time at home, 80% of people had identified design changes they wanted to make. 

High on the list of priorities when finding an architect to work with on these changes was a commitment to making their home more environmentally sustainable and combating climate change.

When renovating your home, it makes sense to implement energy-saving solutions and sustainable materials at the outset. Yet, making your home more sustainable doesn't have to involve an expensive redesign, there are other simple ways to improve energy-efficiency and waste less at home.   

Calculate your carbon footprint and read on for ideas on how to make your home sustainable.

1. Insulate lofts, roofs and walls

As well as insulating your loft (if you haven't already converted. it), RIBA suggest that internal insulation on externally-facing walls is also a good solution, 'if done correctly, and with health-enhancing materials'.

Loft and cavity-wall insulation will not only make your home more energy efficient and less wasteful, it will save money on fuel bills too.

make your home sustainable

(Image credit: RIBA / Lark Rise / Tim Crocker)

2. Fit good quality windows and doors

According to RIBA, windows should ideally be triple-glazed, with all-round, silicone compression seals and multi-point locking to get rid of cold draughts. 

Triple-glazed windows are even available in historic designs that are almost indistinguishable from the original windows and suitable for conservation areas; the best windows are long-lasting and made from very durable dense mountain-grown European softwood. 

Windows of this quality will also help make the home a sanctuary of peace and quiet, massively reducing traffic noise outside.

make your home sustainable

Triple Glazed Timber Windows, Thames Valley Window Company,

(Image credit: Thames Valley Windows)

3. Consider fitting a heat pump

Check your eligibility and replace your gas, oil or direct electric hot water and space heating system with a heat pump and benefit from the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (as long as you use a certified installer). 

According to RIBA, "Heat pumps and heat networks are two effective ways that new homes can achieve low carbon heating. It is essential, however, that heat pumps are designed, specified, installed and operated correctly to avoid high energy bills. 

After a deep retrofit, very little heating will be required – almost nothing compared to pre-retrofit. 

However, fabric efficiency should be the primary consideration when designing a new home; any method of delivering heat should be secondary to fabric efficiency."

If that's a step too far, simply switching to a green fuel tariff will reduce the amount of energy you use from carbon-producing fossil fuels. 

4 Install a ventilation system

When planning a renovation, RIBA advise installing a ventilation system with heat recovery to provide ample healthy fresh air that is passively warmed by the stale air extracted from bathrooms and kitchens, and totally without cold draughts in winter when the windows are closed. 

This is ideally a centralised system with a pollen filter, using only ~30watts of electricity while being able to lift freezing cold winter air to around 20 degrees 24/7. It is even possible to install a nitrogen dioxide filter to remove a common cause of asthma and to control other health risks posed by vehicle exhaust pollution.

make your home sustainable

(Image credit: RIBA / Lark Rise / Tim Crocker)

5. Future-proof your home

Make your home more flexible for your future needs by adding sliding or folding space dividers to ensure your space works for both compartmentalised and open plan living arrangements. See what can be done with Crittal-style doors, windows and room dividers.

If you want smaller spaces to keep warm in winter, bear in mind that once your home is retrofitted you may not feel the need for so much subdivision of spaces.

make your home sustainable

(Image credit: James Merrell)

6. Buy a used kitchen

If you're installing a new kitchen, consider buying used kitchen cabinets. Used Kitchen Exchange offer ex-display and pre-owned cabinets, worktops and appliances from big names including Smallbone, Gaggenau and Leicht. 

One canny customer bought a second hand Mark Wilkinson 'New England' kitchen, complete with Subzero/Wolf appliances for 80% less than the original price. 

It's not just cost saving, it's planet protecting too, reusing precious resources. This kitchen regeneration saved approximately 9 tonnes of carbon. Equivalent to a family of 4 being carbon neutral for 18 months.

used kitchen cabinets

(Image credit: Brookmans by Smallbone/Used Kitchen Exchange)

7. Don't mow the lawn

Friends of the Earth suggest  we pull up a chair, grab a cocktail and watch the grass grow.

Leaving even part of your garden to grow wild can help pollinating insects, like bees, thrive.

In fact re-wilding is one of the biggest garden design trends.

make your home sustainable

(Image credit: Suzy Hoodles sproject / Photography: James Merrell)

8. Reduce plastic

There are plenty of ways to reduce single-use plastics at home from buying a water carbonator to using beeswax wraps instead of cling film - and of course, carrying the obligatory water bottle and remembering to take shopping bags when you do a shop - or better still use a fruit vegetable box scheme that offers local produce. There's plenty that do meat, dairy, fish, groceries and booze too, like Farmdrop.

make your home sustainable

(Image credit: Aarke water carbonator)

9. Use FSC certified or reclaimed timber

Without FSC certification it's hard to know where timber has come from. It could have been chopped down from rainforests, particularly if it's a rare wood, causing habitat loss for endangered animals. 

FSC-certified timber comes from well-managed forests. Better still, think about using reclaimed timber. Its timeworn look adds character and you're prolonging its lifespan.  

make your home sustainable

(Image credit: Future / Paul Massey)

Jacky Parker is a London-based freelance journalist and content creator, specialising in interiors, travel and food. From buying guides and real home case studies to shopping and news pages, she produces a wide range of features for national magazines and SEO content for websites

A long-time contributor to Livingetc, as a member of the team, she regularly reports on the latest trends, speaking to experts and discovering the latest tips. Jacky has also written  for other publications such as Homes and Gardens, Ideal Home, Red, Grand Designs, Sunday Times Style and AD, Country Homes and Interiors and ELLE Decoration.