Sustainable living 

We're renovating our home - how can we make it a more sustainable house?

Whether you are building or renovating, there are things to make your home healthier, more comfortable and save you money while protecting the environment:

  • consider using recycled materials and materials which are low in toxic chemicals
  • if you're building, design the layout of the house so that the main living areas of your home face north to catch the sun’s heat
  • insulate your house as well as your budget allows; heat escapes from the ceiling, walls, floor and windows
  • consider efficient water heating systems such as solar water heating or heat pump water heating
  • alternative energy sources such as windmills and solar panels are becoming more popular, and could suit your lifestyle

There’s more information on the Energywise website and the Smarter Homes website about building or renovating an energy efficient home. The more technically inclined can refer to the Building Research Association NZ (BRANZ) website about sustainable building.

Some councils provide free eco design advice through specialist advisors.

If you’re aiming to have a ‘passive house’ (a house which is designed to require very little power to maintain a comfortable indoor environment all year round) you can check out the PH1NZ blog which records the planning and building progress of a passive house in New Zealand, or the website of the Passive House Insitute of New Zealand (PHINZ).

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What can I do to live a more sustainable lifestyle?

There are lots of things you can do to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Here are some ideas:

  • buy products with less packaging or with recyclable packaging
  • buy locally produced items rather than imported items, and try to support businesses which operate according to sustainability principles
  • recycle all paper, plastics, bottles and tins
  • use rechargeable batteries rather than disposable ones
  • take reusable bags with you when you go shopping rather than using the plastic bags supplied by the retailer 
  • grow your own vegetables
  • recycle your organic waste or make a worm farm to help create compost, and use the end product on your vegetable garden (you can find instructions for making compost, using worm farms and bokashi buckets on the Create Your Own Eden website)
  • instead of planting high maintenance exotic flowers, choose native plants which are perfectly suited to the growing conditions in your area
  • instead of driving to work, walk, cycle or catch the bus
  • if you have to drive to work, get together with your neighbour or workmates and carpool it
  • recycle your old clothes by donating them, swapping them with friends or - if you can sew - refashioning them  

Many local councils have tips for sustainable living on their websites; otherwise check out the related links at the side of the page for more ideas.

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How can I find out how much energy I am using at home?

One way to check whether your energy saving measures are working, is to measure your energy usage regularly. You can measure your energy use in three easy steps:

  1. locate your electricity/gas meters and note down all the readings (if you cannot find your meter, call your energy supplier)
  2. a week later on the same day, note down another reading
  3. deduct the first reading from the second reading.

Now you have a baseline figure of how much energy you use and can measure the difference in energy savings when you start to make your home more energy-wise.

Another option is to buy a power monitor to make power auditing and tracking easier.

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How can I minimise my energy usage at home?

There are many things you can do to use less energy around the home, while still keeping it comfortable:

  • insulate your house as well as your budget allows; heat escapes from the ceiling, walls, floor and windows
  • block off any draughts in your house
  • switch appliances off at the wall if you are not using them - appliances left on standby are using up power
  • reduce the amount of heat lost through your windows by sealing around them, double glazing them or hanging thermal-lined curtains
  • use efficient heating, such as a heat pump
  • when buying new appliances, look at the energy rating labels to make sure it is energy efficient
  • only switch on the washing machine or dishwasher when they are full
  • use energy-saving light bulbs
  • wrap your hot water cylinder with insulation, and keep the thermostat setting lower
  • use less hot water e.g. wash your clothes in cold water

You can find more advice for reducing your energy usage on the Energywise website.

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What financial help is available to make my home more energy efficient?

There is a grant available for people to insulate their homes, residential rental properties or small to medium size business. Read about the HeatSmart programme on our Healthy Homes and Home Insulation page.

Depending on where you live (for example Masterton and Rotorua), you may also be able to get a loan from your local council to replace an open fire or non-compliant wood-burner with an efficient clean heater. You pay back the loan in instalments, along with your rates. 

Some community organisations run curtain banks, where people with low incomes or health conditions can get thermally lined curtains for free.

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Are ‘natural’ cleaning products safer to use than the regular chemical cleaners?

The chemicals in many household cleaners (e.g. ammonia and chlorine) can be harmful to your skin or airways.

These chemicals make the cleaners really effective at removing dirt, grease, stains and mould - but should be treated as hazardous (i.e. with care). When using strong cleaning products you should always follow any accompanying safety precautions, for example wear gloves to protect your skin, keep windows open for ventilation, and keep the products out of reach of children.

If you’re concerned that household chemicals may be affecting your health or are bad for the environment, you could try products which do not contain these ingredients. There are cleaning products which claim to be ‘natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’ (but you’ll need to check the ingredients list on the label to be sure).

You can also try cleaning your home with ingredients which you probably already have in your kitchen. As these are food items, you can expect them to have less impact on your living environment than commercial cleaning products - and they might also be cheaper to buy.

For example, you can use:

  • baking soda to remove stains and eliminate odours from your refrigerator
  • vinegar diluted with water (one part vinegar to 5 parts water) to clean bathroom surfaces
  • lemon juice mixed with olive oil to polish hardwood furniture
  • salt to soak up red wine spills

More ideas for cheap and low-chemical ways to clean are in the Housing New Zealand booklet and in this booklet from by Auckland Regional Council.