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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Greener DIY

Every year in the UK, more than £14 billion is spent on timber, paints, varnishes and other materials for home DIY projects. By reusing materials, buying sustainable wood and greener paints, and selecting your projects carefully, you can reduce your impact on the environment.

Choose jobs that make a difference to the environment

Many DIY projects can save energy and water while making your home more comfortable. For example:

  • insulating your home can save energy and reduce bills as nearly half the heat lost in an average home is through the roof and walls 
  • loft insulation can take just a few hours to fit, and insulating your hot water tank can be another quick job 
  • fix dripping taps or overflows - two drips a second adds up to about 26 litres a day, but a washer costs a few pence and can be fitted in minutes 
  • fitting aerators or spray fittings to your basin taps can reduce the amount of water you use by up to 50 per cent

Think twice about projects that consume energy

Some DIY projects will increase your energy usage significantly, increasing fuel bills and your contribution to climate change. If possible:

  • try to avoid putting heating in your conservatory, as few conservatories are well insulated and much of the heat is likely to be lost
  • think about using solar power for water features and lighting in your garden

Borrow, hire and pass on power tools

Manufacturing tools uses energy and resources, but many are hardly used: the average drill is used for less than 15 minutes in its entire lifetime. Instead of buying, consider borrowing tools from friends and neighbours or hiring them.

When you've finished with tools, there are alternatives to throwing them away. You could pass them on to friends or donate them to charities that send them to developing countries. Two examples of these are 'Tools with a mission' or 'Tools for self reliance'.

Use greener materials

The materials and finishes you choose can have an impact on the environment. Materials that are less environmentally damaging don't necessarily cost more, often perform well, and many are widely available. For example:

  • using reclaimed wood saves energy and resources 
  • buy certified wood - it is estimated that at least a quarter of the timber arriving in to the UK has been produced illegally 
  • timber and wood products that have been produced with consideration for the environment can be found by looking for labels – follow the link below and ask your retailer about certification schemes 
  • other renewable materials can have environmental benefits, such as lower toxicity and lower climate change impacts, while still performing well as building materials - for example, insulation made from sheep's wool, flax or hemp

Choose friendlier paints, finishes and preservatives

When choosing a paint, finish or preservative, try to find the one with the lowest environmental impact possible for the job:

  • if you have the choice, choose a product without a hazard warning on the label (a black symbol on an orange or yellow square, with a description of the hazard)
  • 'natural' or 'all natural' paints, milk paints and white washes can contain less harmful substances than ordinary paint 
  • calculate how much paint you need and try not to buy too much - a lot of paint that people buy is never used 
  • look for the European Ecolabel for indoor paints (this means that they have a lower impact on the environment)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
Most paints contain VOCs, which can be harmful to humans, wildlife, plants and even building materials. New legal limits have been introduced for VOC content in paints and varnishes used around the home. VOC content must now be displayed on all such products.

Choosing the appropriate product with the lowest VOC content you can will help reduce harmful effects.

Disposing of paint, finishes and preservatives

Paints, finishes and preservatives need to be disposed of properly, as they can be toxic. This is particularly important if they display an orange hazard label:

  • always read the label
  • old products may have out-of-date information - if in doubt, handle and dispose of products as though they are hazardous 
  • do not pour paint or other chemicals down the drain 
  • if paints are poured into drains or disposed of in normal household waste, then hazardous chemicals can get into the environment
  • contact your local authority for guidance on disposal    
  • you can usually take paint to your local civic amenity site, but some councils will collect it 
  • you may be able to donate unwanted paint to Community RePaint - this is a network of projects around the UK that distributes unwanted paint to charities, community projects and people living on low incomes

The link below, 'Request collection of hazardous waste', will let you enter details of where you live. It will then take you to your local authority website, where you can find out more.

The wider issue

Over a quarter of timber available in the UK has been produced illegally. Illegal logging and unsustainable forestry practices destroy natural habitats and contribute to climate change. Trees absorb carbon dioxide - so, if they are cut down and not replaced there will be more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

Other DIY products contain toxic chemicals that can be dangerous and highly polluting if not used and disposed of properly.

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