Eco Friendly Interiors For Your Home in 6 Easy Steps

Much has been written about eco-homes and making your home environmentally friendly, but mostly from the architectural perspective. Unfortunately little has been said about the relationship between interior design and sustainability.

According to the World Commission on Environment and Development, green or sustainable development is ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

In some respects interior design is an emblem of consumer culture and at its worst is a contributor to the throw-away society found in many developed societies in the late 20th century. But 2008 was the year that people generally started to consider the impact of their carbon footprint on the environment.

So how can we as consumers of interior design square the circle?

1) Think of the whole life-cycle

When you purchase furniture, soft furnishings, flooring and so on for your home think carefully about:

  • Where it comes from (wood from sustainable forests or plastic from fossil fuels?).
  • Where it will go when you are finished with it (can it be refurbished & re-used or recycled rather than dumped in land-fill)
  • Can you have existing furniture recovered in new stylish fabric instead of buying new?
  • Can you purchase decorative items explicitly made from recycled glass or metal?
  • Furnish your home with antique furniture (the stylish name for re-using/recycling).

2) Think of pollution

Over the last 50 years paint has change considerably in its concoction, with the elimination of poisonous lead and recent reduction in volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When you choose paint pick those which are water based with natural pigments as these virtually eliminate potentially harmful solvents from the manufacturing process and from the internal atmosphere in your home.

3) What about energy?

The energy consumption of a building is often ‘frozen’ in by the architect and the builder, but a few things at the interior design level can help minimise energy waste and the consequent utility bills.

  • Use low energy lamps and lighting; this can save up to 80% of power Reduce the temperature in the home by a couple of degrees.
  • Use interlined curtains to reduce heat loss from draughty older single glazed windows.
  • Opt for carpeting and high quality underlay to reduce heat loss from floors using draughty floor boards in older properties.

4) Can colour help?

If you design room schemes based upon light colours and use reflective surfaces then the room will generally need less artificial lighting. Similarly if you design window dressings to make the most of available sunshine particularly in winter in temperate climates.

5) Use natural materials

If you use rugs and carpets made from wool you are clearly using a sustainable product and you avoid the outgassing of vapours from synthetic fibres into the air in the home. Another chemical worth avoiding is formaldehyde, used in many man made materials such as medium density fibre board (MDF).

The key materials to concentrate on using are wood, plant fibres, (wool, cotton, jute, seagrass straw, rattan, paper, sisal, and coir (derived from coconuts) and linen), metal, glass and stone. If possible avoid plastics and cement both of which require high energy inputs in production and transportation. Also where possible opt for organic cotton. Fortunately natural fibres are widely employed in curtain and furnishing fabric and in floors and rugs.

6) Consider the source

From where did the raw materials originate? If you can buy items for your home made locally then you will reduce the environmental impact of transportation. For example in the UK consider using local slate or granite rather than imported marble or travertine.

For timber a good tip is to check that the wood and its sources are accredited by the the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC).

Also steer clear of anything that could threaten the environment or endangered animals (e.g. items made of coral, tortoiseshell, ivory)

Finally

These are just some of the pointers to consider when remodelling or renewing the interiors of your home. Though the impact on the environment of domestic interiors may be dwarfed by other factors (such as carbon dioxide emissions by motorists and electric power generation) it is still important to move towards a much more sustainable future.