The rise of green design
An interior designer’s main aim is to design a space that is fit for purpose, but it is impossible to overlook the fact that design entails the consumption of materials. In recent decades, the issue of “eco-friendly” or “green” design has taken on greater significance as the earth’s climate continues to change. Fortunately, design trends have evolved to meet the needs of the environment and the increasing demand for eco-friendly products. In this module, you will learn how interior designers can do their part in conserving the earth’s resources for future generations.
If you are working with architects and builders on a construction project, you should be familiar with the importance of space and the concept of a life cycle analysis. Although the way in which a space is furnished, decorated and insulated will place a major role in the impact it has on the environment, the most important factor is its size. Put simply, the bigger the space, the more energy it will require to heat and maintain. If a client is serious about reducing their carbon footprint, they should request the smallest space possible that still meets their needs. Another consideration is the way in which a space will change and impact upon the environment over the course of its lifespan. This means gaining an overview of the following:-
How the raw materials will be sourced: The more sustainable the raw materials used in the construction of the space, the lower the impact on the environment.
How the materials will be processed and manufactured: Ideally, raw materials should be manufactured in such a way that little waste is produced and unavoidable waste is disposed of in a responsible manner.
How the space will be used: All those involved in planning the space need to realistically appraise the energy required to heat and light the space in years to come and the steps that can be taken to reduce heat and lighting loss.
How the space will be demolished or refurbished: Most buildings will eventually have to be knocked down or refurbished. Architects and designers need to think about how the resulting waste products will be handled.
Choosing and using environmentally-friendly products
Some materials, such as paint, have long been known to harm the environment. Some paints are highly toxic to wildlife and plants and pollutants can get into the ecosystem if washed down a drain. Traditionally, paints have contained Volatile Organic Compounds, commonly referred to as VOCs. They are thought to be harmful to human health and they are also detrimental to the ozone layer. Not only do these substances emit an unpleasant odour at the time of application, but they continue to release toxic material into the air for years afterwards. Conventional paints also contain formaldehyde and traces of heavy metal. Paint is also expensive and toxic to produce. For every tin of paint, many litres of toxic waste are produced as a by-product of the manufacturing process.
According to the World Health Organisation, people who regularly come into contact with paint – such as interior decorators – are at a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer, compared with the general population. This is almost certainly due to the harmful compounds contained in paint. In 2010, a new set of EU laws were brought into effect. This legislation forces manufacturers to keep the quantity of VOCs at a maximum of 30g per litre. Whilst this move was welcomed by those with an interest in green design, it means that most mainstream paints still contain some level of VOCs. Many people report that they develop a headache following exposure to conventional paint. VOCs can also trigger allergic reactions and can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
Those using paints should consider using the most organic and environmentally-friendly versions possible and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the safe disposal of leftover paint. However, deciphering a manufacturer’s labels can be challenging. Words such as “green” and “eco-friendly” are not protected by law. All paints and varnishes will have some kind of impact on the environment and so they all represent some kind of compromise between respect for the environment and product performance. Some are based on chalk, some on clay and some on milk proteins. A good general guideline is to choose water-borne, plant-based paints, which do not contain titanium dioxide or animal products. Eco-friendly paints have a reputation for taking longer to dry and being less bold, but companies are constantly experimenting with new technologies. You can also buy environmentally-friendly paint cleaners and strippers, which are made of natural products including linseed oil and orange oil.
Brushes, tools, pencils and other common tools used in interior design and decoration should also be sourced responsibly. For example, choosing high-quality brushes that are easy to clean is a more eco-friendly choice than those that will need to be replaced every few months. You should also choose products made from recyclable materials.
Choosing sustainable materials
If possible, designers should recommend that clients choose sustainable materials that are easily replenished. For example, bamboo flooring is a much more eco-friendly choice than slow-growing woods, because the former can be quickly replaced. It grows eight times the speed of hardwood and isn’t just a good option for flooring – it is also used in contemporary furniture, as wallpaper and can even form a base for counter tops.
Cork is another popular choice for those looking to design a green interior. Not only is cork flooring often made from discarded wine corks, thereby reducing waste, but it is removed from living trees. This makes it one of the most sustainable interior materials in existence. Reclaimed or antique wood is also an option for clients and designers seeking a sustainable flooring solution. This type of flooring makes use of discarded wooden fixtures and recycles them into a new product. There are also companies offering floors made from trees which have been cut down for reasons other than the production of interiors. For example, trees that have been cut down to make way for new buildings may be repurposed in this way.
Activity: Environmental Concerns
(Time: 5 Minutes)
Do you personally try to conserve resources when you are at home? How?
Reducing energy loss and heating bills
Even if a client is not especially concerned with saving the environment, they are unlikely to turn down the opportunity to reduce their heating bills. The following is a list of the most common ways of achieving this aim:-
Double or triple glazing: Most buildings are now double-glazed, which means that each window is made up of two sheets of glass, separated by a small gap of around 15mm. Triple glazing is also available and is gaining in popularity. The rationale behind double glazing is that the heat is trapped between the layers of glass, keeping the room warmer for longer.
Draught excluders: These are fitted to doors, windows and letterboxes. They are relatively easy to fit and are available as “brush” fittings or as smooth nylon seals. Keyholes can also be a source of heat loss, so covers (known as “escutcheons”) should be fitted over main front and back door locks.
Pipe insulation: Pipe insulation keeps pipes warm in the winter, which reduces the risk of leaks and breakages. However, it also serves to lower heating bills by minimising heat from hot water pipes. This means that less heat (and therefore, less power) is required to keep water to the desired temperature. If the building has an electric water heater, neoprene or polyethylene foam is the most widely-used option, whereas fibreglass is more common in pipes running from heaters powered by gas.
Roof/loft insulation: Roof and loft insulation traps warm air inside the building. The most popular option is blanket-style insulation, which consists of a fibre core wrapped in foil. The core may be made of mineral fibre, sheep’s wool, glass fibre, or felt. It is easy to fit and effective for most roofs, but it can be hard to fit into small or awkwardly-shaped spaces. Try to find a brand that uses recycled materials. If you are insulating a space that has many small nooks and crevices, loose-fill insulation is a more practical choice. It is made from light materials such as recycled newspaper and cellulose fibre, so it can be a very “green” solution. It is harder to install and fit than blanket insulation and is more prone to coming loose.
Blown-fibre loft insulation is another option if walls have many gaps, or access is limited. It is fitted using a machine that fires it into the gaps. This means that a professional must fit this type of insulation, meaning that it is more expensive than other varieties of insulation. If you need to insulate sloping surfaces, consider sheet loft insulation. It is delivered as boards, which are relatively easy to fit and are available in eco-friendly materials such as straw. However, it is expensive.
Careful selection of curtains: Thick, heavy curtains are an effective measure against heat loss. Make sure they are fully-drawn in the colder months, in order to minimise heat loss.
Careful selection of carpets and rugs: Thick, warm carpets and rugs trap heat. They also feel warm underfoot, which is an advantage in cold weather.
Deal with damp: In some cases, damp is caused by condensation. This is the result of moist air making contact with a relatively cooler surface, such as a window. Because a warmer environment results in less damp, those living in the building may try to solve the problem by turning up the heating, which results in higher bills. Therefore, it is important to deal with damp. Simple measures, such as fitting an extractor fan and ensuring that fresh air is allowed to circulate freely around a room, will reduce the risk of damp.
Deal with any structural problems: It may seem obvious, but gaps and holes in a roof, wall, or floor will reduce energy efficiency. Repairing structural damage may cost money in the short term, but over time, the lowered energy bills will compensate for the initial outlay.
Activity: Improving a Room’s Ecological Profile on a Budget
(Time: 5-10 Minutes)
Not all clients have a budget that allows for the implementation of major energy-saving measures. Imagine that a client asked you to overhaul their sitting room in a way that will reduce their electricity bills. What low-budget solutions would you recommend?
Fact: The average electricity and gas bill is £1,100 per year for a two-bedroom house.
Source: Electricity Prices
The environmental impact of sourcing products from abroad
Some designers source their materials, fixtures and fittings from suppliers around the world, but transporting items from oversees clocks up thousands of air miles. By choosing to buy materials from local manufacturers and craftspeople instead, a designer can play their part in reducing pollution associated with international shipping. They will also be encouraging local trade and can make sure that a supplier treats their workers fairly. If you have no choice but to source an item from a supplier or company that imports much of its stock from overseas, ask them how they compensate for their carbon emissions. There is no such thing as a piece of furniture or accessory that leaves behind no carbon footprint, but a few hours of research can uncover suppliers that are relatively more eco-friendly than others.