Decorating your home sustainably
Last updated: 21/12/2021
For many of us, keeping our impact on the environment as low as possible has become increasingly important. And what better place to start than at home.
There are so many ways to reduce the environmental impact of your home. Here are a handful - some big, some small - to get you started.
You may not realise that most paints contain chemical compounds that are harmful to our health and the environment, contributing to global warming . These are called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs.
It is a legal requirement for paint labelling to state the VOC content of the product, so be sure to look for a paint that has a low VOC figure.
Thankfully, there is a new wave of environmentally friendly alternatives on offer, with brands such as Little Greene, Earthborn and Graphenstone offering paints which are virtually free of VOCs.
It’s not all about VOCs. For example, Little Greene’s paint tins are made using 50% recycled stee l and can be recycled again once you’re finished with them.
Meanwhile, Graphenstone says its paints actively improve air quality by absorbing CO2 with the organic lime in its formula; three 15 litre buckets of its paint absorbs more than 10Kg of CO2, the same amount as an adult tree weighing 250kg in one year , it claims.
Another eco-brand, Earthborn, says that unlike other paints - even those that may have low VOC content - its range doesn’t contain other ‘nasties’ such as ammonia or formaldehydes .
Another way to paint more sustainably is to use someone else’s leftovers. You could try community giveaway sites like Freecycle or Freegle, or even the Community Repaint scheme, which collects reusable, leftover paint for distribution to individuals, families, communities and charities in need.
Never chuck away old furniture. Someone else might really value it, so if you don’t want it anymore, then sell it or give it away.
Or better still, consider whether you’re really finished with it. It is nothing short of amazing how some pieces of furniture can be transformed with just small, easy alterations. A new coat of paint or another new finish can make a big difference, as can new handles on drawers. Or you could take it a step further and totally transform a piece of furniture - for example, by turning a chest of drawers into a home desk.
Alternatively, if you have an old couch that you’re desperate to replace, consider having it reupholstered to give it a second life. See if you can use fabrics printed with non-toxic dyes on sustainable materials like hemp or linen, which is biodegradable when it’s untreated.
Part of being sustainable at home is being as energy-efficient as possible. So when decorating, bear this in mind.
For example, when making choices about furniture, decoration or renovations, be sure to enable as much natural light as possible to flood into your home.
Also, choosing heavier curtains can help to keep the heat in.
Another way to ensure you buy greener products is by only purchasing items that will last for a long time. This normally means spending more money initially, but could save you in the long term. You won’t be constantly throwing things away and buying new ones.
You could take a similar approach to design, aiming to be as timeless as possible. Perhaps skip that feature wall that you know you’ll tire of in a year or two and then need to replace.
Plan carefully to avoid unnecessary waste. You know the expression: measure twice, cut once. It has a very literal meaning, but is also a way of working, meaning that you are careful and avoid mistakes that can be costly and wasteful.
However meticulous your approach, you’ll still inevitably end up with some offcuts, leftovers and even specialist tools you might never use again.
If you can’t find a way to use them, and don’t have space to store them until something comes up, then why not offer any leftover materials to neighbours, friends or anyone else that needs them? Just pop them up on sites like Facebook Marketplace.
Also, don’t forget to store materials properly and clean up after yourself. So much DIY and decorating gear ends up in the bin because it hasn’t be properly looked after.
Always consider whether you could borrow or rent tools or equipment instead of buying something new. If, for example, you can borrow a masonry drill bit from a friend or relative, rather than buying one new, then that’s one less thing that needs to get produced in a distant factory, shipped to the UK and then, end up in landfill. Just remember to return the favour and be willing to lend your own tools and equipment!
Alternatively, see if there is somewhere local where you can rent tools. This can often be done quite cheaply. For example, some cities have schemes like a Library of Things where you can rent out tools and other useful things locally.
Deforestation threatens ecosystems and contributes to climate change , so try and use reclaimed, second-hand or recycled wood for any woodworking projects you take on in your home.
But if you can’t get your hands on any, then opt for FSC-certified timber , a certification which shows that environmentally-appropriate forest management practices were used in the production of the wood.
Also, try and buy wood that was grown as close to home as possible, meaning it wasn’t transported a long distance at the expense of greater CO2 emissions .
To find out which retailers provide the most sustainable wood, consumer group Which? has put together which shops sell the most certified wood: and the highest rated brands it reviewed were B&Q, Howdens, Ikea and Magnet which were ranked as ‘good’.
This article doesn’t cover every way in which you can be more sustainable about decorating your home. But hopefully it’ll put you on the right track.
If you’re really committed to decorating your home sustainably, then every time you need materials or tools, see if there is an eco-friendly, sustainable version available.
One simple tip is to simply add ‘eco friendly’ into your Google searches for products and materials you might need in the course of your home improvements. It works for all sorts. You can get paint trays made from sugarcane pulp, rugs made from recycled plastic bottles, carpets made from recycled fishing nets or fabric scraps… the list goes on.
Enjoy your improved, more sustainable home!