Many of the concepts behind ‘green architecture’ aren't new - they're very old, as in ancient-civilization old. Before heating, ventilation, air-con systems or even glass windows, living areas were built to produce natural airflow, maximize daylight, and rely on natural ways of heating and cooling.
‘Green architecture’ is an approach to building new or remodelling old that is eco-conscious and might help reduce the strain on our environment. This isn’t necessarily just how homes are built, but what we put in them, and how they function to minimise negative impacts on the environment to create a home that works smarter and more efficiently, making the most of natural and sustainable resources. Climate change, a growing awareness of diminishing resources, and a desire to live more sustainably have brought environmental concerns to the forefront.
But hang on - hands up to those that are about to build a house? Who can afford to choose all those green building materials, and afford photovoltaic solar panels, or triple-glazed, fibreglass, light-reflecting windows? Or geothermal heating?
Not everybody, but we can do our bit. How about on-demand water heating? Maybe - when the time comes to replace the old boiler out in the shed. They heat water immediately so there's no water wasted while waiting for the shower to get hot and no heating a large tank of water just so it's available as needed. We can replace windows or add insulation to areas that need it - when the time comes. In the meantime, draughtproof your doors and windows, and insulate your roof.
It’s not a case of one size fits all, and I bet the majority of us do what we can to help the environment. We may not be in a position to be building from scratch, or remodelling old, but we can make a point of buying eco-friendly light bulbs, loo rolls made from recycled paper, composting where possible, and can reduce, reuse and recycle – local councils in Portugal have been great in providing bins everywhere for recycling, so there’s no excuse not to. Even clothing can be made from recycled or sustainable materials, and manufacturers are proud to say so on their labels, so check them out when you go shopping.
Affordable Green Decorating Ideas
Decorating presents an opportunity to think green as well. Look for key labels and certifications that indicate a product is eco-conscious or sustainably produced - you will help increase conservation efforts by preventing the extinction of certain plants important to the ecosystem.
Outfit your home by buying second-hand and using architectural salvage, which not only recycles materials but also goes hand-in-hand with buying locally. Select paint that has low or no volatile organic compounds. When it comes to flooring, choose sustainable materials such as bamboo, cork or even linoleum - which I always thought was plastic, but is made from solidified linseed oil, pine resin, cork dust, sawdust, and mineral fillers such as calcium carbonate usually on a burlap or canvas backing - and choosing furniture made of rattan, bamboo or sustainable wood. You can even opt for sheets made of hemp, or dinnerware made of recycled glass if you really get the ‘eco-bug’.
If you're updating bath fixtures, look for opportunities to conserve water by using a dual-flush toilet, thereby reducing the volume of water used to flush. You can also find low-flow taps, water-saving showerheads, and even ‘greywater’ recycling systems. In the kitchen look for bamboo tools and anything reusable – and start your own zero-waste movement.
Look at energy-saving upgrades, like occupancy-sensing light switches, so you never have to worry about someone leaving lights on (though I must say I find it a bit disconcerting going into an eco-friendly loo and having to wave my arms about to turn the lights on). Replacing old appliances when the time comes with more efficient Energy Star-rated models is another energy-saving option not to be missed.
Today, there are numerous opportunities—large and small, natural and technology-based—for making greener choices, to make changes in the way we live our lives to help reduce our carbon footprint.
Yes, we can all do our bit.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.
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