7 no 1, 1999
Environmental Considerations for Home Buyers
Extracts (reprinted with permission) from a booklet
"Ask the Green Question",
What does being green mean?
Everything we do has an environmental impact. Usually that impact is small. However, when all our small impacts are added together, the total impact can become substantial. So, by becoming aware of our own impacts, and those of others, we can start to make a difference.
Some of the information you collect may be contradictory. If so, think about where the information came from. Does the organisation supplying the information appear credible what is their reason for supplying the material? How true doe you think the information is?
Choosing a location
What was the site previously used for?
Ask a solicitor about the various checks that can be done, including contaminated land.
Would renovation suit your purpose?
Renovating an old home will generally use less materials than building a new home. You will make on-going use of an existing resource, rather than using further resources.
Can existing material be reused?
When building or renovating, there are often ways of incorporating existing materials from other structures into the home. By reusing things like wood, bricks and window frames, you are rescuing a resource that might otherwise by discarded. However, be very careful that the reused bits are safe to use and fit for the task.
What materials affect the health of you, your family and the environment?
Check as best you can how toxic the parts of an individual product are, both to you and the environment.
Do the furnishings have a recycled content?
Products (such as carpet and furniture) are now coming on the market that have an amount of recycled materials. Find out how much recycled material is in the product, and choose the one best for you. This can help to reduce the amount of raw material and energy needed to make the product.
In the Garden
Has the garden been mulched?
Mulching means covering the soil with (generally) a fibrous material, like straw, bark or even shredded newspaper. Mulching reduces weeds, helps retain moisture in the soil, prevents erosion, cools the surface temperature, adds organic material to the soil and helps improve soil structure.
Could solar cells be used for electricity generation?
Solar cells (also called photovoltaics or PVs) make electricity from the sun. They are costly to buy but can pay for themselves over their lifetime. Solar cells reduce you reliance on less sustainable energy sources. In some parts of the world, home-based solar cells feed spare electricity back into the local grid (the owner being paid for they supply). Ask you energy supplier if it is possible where you live.
If you are renovating, ask architects and energy consultants about retrofitting devices and materials to improve you homes thermal performance.
If we lose or poison our soils, replacing them is very difficult. And it makes growing our food and maintaining our environment difficult and more expensive.
The water we use comes mainly from a small number of reservoirs, constructed to catch and retain surface-flowing water. Further west, use is made of underground water, which moves through the cracks and crevices within the rock. In some cases the water extracted is over a million years old.
People need and want to feel safe in areas where they live and visit.
Ask about Safety Audits and strategies such as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design CPTED.
Health and product selection
Most people spend more than 80% of their time indoors, either at home or at work.
Although most people are aware of air pollution caused by vehicles and industry outside the home, few are aware of pollution in the home.
Ask for product information; manufacturers are obliged to produce material safety data sheets (also called 'MSDSs')
Renovators should be particularly careful of old asbestos products or lead-based paints (often found in homes greater than 25 years old).
Natural capital is the combined stock of soils, fresh water, clean air, diverse plants and animals, as well as the legacy of gas, oil and minerals. These things are all part of our natural heritage.
Find our, if you can, about the individual bits that comprise the product. You might find that some of the bits are toxic, or use huge amounts of energy during the production process. Ask if the provider has a published commitment to social and environmental matters. Remember: you have a choice, and your choice counts.
For copies of the booklet "Ask the Green; Question" contact Energex Call Centre: 13 12 53.
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Updated 12 December 2014