Interior designers suddenly had to focus on accommodating their clients’ new lifestyles, including the need for functional home offices, coping with the entire family living and working from home, the importance of indoor/outdoor spaces, and the desire for comforting and soothing interiors.
Yet the concern about global warming and the impact we are making on the environment have long had an impact on interior design, and has recently re-emerged as a major consideration. As an interior designer, you should be prepared to respond to your clients’ concerns, and their demand for sustainable homes. We have broken down the subject of what constitutes sustainability in home design into two categories: the use of sustainable materials, and how to help create a technologically advanced home that leaves the smallest carbon footprint possible.
Our tendency to decorate our homes over and over again and purchase furniture made from cheap materials such as plastic results in overflow at landfills. In fact, more than 10 million tons of unwanted furniture end up in landfills every year and more than 30 percent of the waste comes from home renovation projects. Sustainability in furniture design supports a lifestyle that consumes less, reduces energy consumption and resource needs, and results in products that are high-quality and durable.
Whether an item of furniture is considered sustainable is based on the following criteria:
- The environmental impact of the materials used
- The process by which it is made
- Whether its finishes are non-toxic and do not off-gas
- The product’s life cycle
- How the product arrives at its final destination
The concept of sustainability addresses the impact of each component of the process, from the raw materials used to its manufacturing and delivery, all the way through to its end of its usefulness.
What Makes Furniture Sustainable?
The five principles of sustainable home furnishings are energy efficiency; minimal environmental impact; reduction of waste; use of materials that are not harmful; and the creation of healthy indoor environments. To be considered sustainable, furniture should be durable enough to stand up to consumers’ lifestyle without needing to be replaced, and must be certified by an organization such as Cradle to Cradle and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). When sourcing furniture for clients requesting that it be sustainable, make sure it is has been certified by at least one of these organizations.
You should also discuss purchasing vintage furniture with your client. Old furniture was manufactured without today’s mass-production methods and its toxic chemicals, if they existed, have dissipated long ago. When your clients purchase vintage furniture, they are not contributing to deforestation and job outsourcing. In addition, the practice will ease the burden on local landfills.
Other Sustainable Materials
Here is a list of other sustainable materials you should considering specifying to create a sustainable home:
- Natural wood
- Flooring and rugs made from bamboo or jute
- Naturally sourced fabrics such as banana fiber, Afghan wood, raw cotton, hemp, seagrass, burlap and linen
- Accessories made from recycled glass or metal
The focus on sustainability should also include locally-made furnishings, which will help homeowners lower their carbon footprint while giving back to their local community.
The Sustainable Home
Home buyers are willing pay more for sustainable features such as energy efficient windows and locally sourced building materials, not only because of a desire to improve their lives, but also out of sense social responsibility. While building or buying a sustainable home might initially be more expensive, ultimately it saves owners in operational costs, helps them become energy independent and increases the resale value of their property.
Here are some sustainable features to consider:
Sustainable Building Materials
Steel beams are an ideal choice of building material because of their durability. They can even be made from recycled materials. Eco-friendly paints that don’t contain VOCs or formaldehyde are another excellent option. You should also be able to source a multitude of other resources, including sustainable wood floors, wallcovering and countertops.
Energy Efficient Lighting Design
Your clients can save on energy bills by installing energy efficient lighting. LED bulbs can burn for 15,000 hours and are an excellent replacement for halogen, fluorescent and incandescent lighting. The incorporation of smart lighting, a technology that connects to a home’s Wi-Fi network, and creates the ability to control lighting via a smartphone app, will help lower energy costs. Smart light bulbs contain software that connects to the internet via an app, so homeowners can automate and control their lights remotely with a smartphone, tablet or smart assistant. Smart lighting offers cost savings, convenience and security.
Smart Home Technology
Like smart lighting, smart technology connects to a client’s Wi-Fi network and can control everything from speakers, TV’s, thermostats, video doorbells, thermostats and lights to entertainment systems and alarm systems. Any home device that uses electricity can be used on a home network. With a tap of a smart phone or tablet, your clients can connect the devices so they can communicate with them as well as with each other. They can be controlled by voice, remote control, tablet or smart phone.
Smart home technology is becoming more affordable and can result in making a home substantially more energy-efficient, thereby decreasing its carbon footprint. For example, clients can lower temperature settings while they are away, raising them again remotely with their smartphone right before they come home.
Intelligent Energy Design
There are so many ways to make homes tighter and more energy efficient. Techniques include purchasing major appliances with ENERGY STAR ratings, equipping the home with solar panels, improved insultation and energy-efficient windows, and using smart technology to lower temperature and turn off lights remotely.
For the bathroom, can you specify energy efficient plumbing fixtures such as raincan showerheads, high efficiency toilets and greywater systems to recycle used water. In the kitchen, you can recommend water-saving faucets, and energy-savings dishwashers.
These suggestions for creating a sustainable home are just the tip of the iceberg. New technology is being introduced every day, and often their cost is coming down. Being well-formed about devices, techniques and design ideas for lowering a home’s carbon footprint will enable you to serve your clients’ needs and demands, and save them money in the long-run.