In terms of creating something like a loft conversion, eco-friendliness means that the processes involved in the manufacture of components, as well as those components themselves, are not toxic or harmful to the environment. So how does this translate into an eco-friendly conversion?
Having a loft conversion can itself be an environmentally-friendly act – after all, it maximises existing living space, takes the pressure off the housing crisis, and additionally creates an energy-efficient room where otherwise an empty space may have been leaching heat into the atmosphere as, by definition, being eco-friendly means not being harmful to the environment.
Creating the conversion: main materials
A considerable aspect of eco-friendliness is the use of sustainable materials: those which come from natural, renewable, organic or recycled sources to provide materials and products which have low environmental impact, are manufactured using energy efficient methods and are fully biodegradable when they reach the end of their useful life. For a loft conversion, this could include:
Timber, particularly when sustainably sourced, can be more environmentally friendly than concrete or brick for the walls of a loft conversion. To ensure timber is sustainably sourced, check for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, an easy to spot with a ‘tick tree’ or PEFC certified labels. Although some sustainable wood products may seem more expensive than other (not sustainable) timbers, sustainable timbers can still work out less expensive than other materials such as brick or concrete as, in the context of a loft room, it provides a breathable material which reduces humidity and condensation.
Recycling and reusing materials is a fundamental part of eco-friendliness so reusing tiles throughout the roof work is a good way of recycling usable materials. If renewing the roof or replacing tiles is necessary, it’s possible to purchase shingles manufactured from recycled products such as wood fibre and rubber, which are sustainably sourced and have eco-friendly properties.When making alterations to the roof, consider too the effects of rain run-off, as the loft conversion planning phase is the right time to consider how wastewater is managed. Having plumbing and guttering organised to collect rain water into a tank for toilet flushing, for example, enhances the eco-friendliness, as well as utility cost-efficiency of the loft conversion.
The efficiency of insulation is paramount in any loft conversion – no one wants a new room which is impossible to enjoy due to being too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer, or one which is too expensive to use because it’s not cost-efficient to heat or light. Happily, some of the best insulation products are ideal for an environmentally sound loft conversion, as they are made from highly sustainable organic materials, including:
- Sheep fleece: available treated or untreated to reduce fire risk or mite infestation, sheep fleece is a highly sustainable product and very effective for all aspects of insulation, both retaining or reducing heat, depending on the season.
- Flax and hemp products: once treated, these materials can provide highly effective and cost-efficient insect, fungal and fire resistant insulation.
- Cellulose products: commonly made from newsprint, cellulose insulation can be blown directly into cavities or manufactured as boarding for wall, floor and ceiling lining.
- Wood fibre: compressed wood fibre boards are often made from recycled wood products and again are not just effective at insulating, they are also effective in allowing the room to ‘breathe’.
Of course, insulation isn’t only about warmth and reducing heat waste, it’s also about keeping the room cool in the height of the summer – the time when a roof room can really struggle. Getting the insulation right, such as with the natural fibre of sheep wool, can also help to create a room which is eco-friendly through cost and energy-efficiency. Other ways to achieve this through energy efficiency include:
- Solar energy: as a loft conversion necessarily involves reconstructing the roof, it’s a good time to consider whether it’s possible to bring the eco-friendly, energy efficient benefits of solar energy to your whole home, as well as the conversion itself. Although adding a solar energy system may seem a major expense to add to the overall conversion budget, this extra cost can often be recouped from the reduction in electricity bills, so although you’re creating an extra room to be lit and heated, the conversion including solar panel works could over time reduce the electricity bill for the whole house.
- Energy-rated windows: windows are an important part of a loft conversion, not only for maximising natural light and achieving skyscape views, but also for creating energy efficient insulation between the house and the elements outside. Consider installing good quality, eco-efficient glazing:
- Which offers a co-efficiency rating, to allow or reduce heat gain from the sun.
- In designs which make the most of natural light. Although the loft space and planning requirements might limit some choices, design features such as a run of rooflight windows can really maximise natural light and reduce the need for (and cost of) artificial lighting.
- Which supports air circulation, keeping the loft room feeling comfortable whilst reducing the need to crank up the heating.
Eco-thinking inside the room
Eco-aspects, such as sustainable materials, should be considered throughout the design, as well as construction of the room. Remember to consider:
- Furnishing or built-in storage using sustainable timbers.
- Lighting which is fit for the room design, for example to light up dark eaves areas, but also fit for eco-friendliness. Fixtures which use energy-efficient lighting such as long lasting LED bulbs are particularly recommended for reducing electricity usage (and bills)!
- Decorating in an eco-friendly way. There are plenty of eco-options on the market, from wallpaper made from recycled materials to FSC approved wood panels or cladding, which adds a cosy feel to lofty areas and can boost energy efficiency as an extra layer of insulation for the room. If painting is your decorating dream, then non-toxic and eco paints, produced from natural materials should be considered as the eco-alternative. These can also be family-friendly as many are less allergenic than many other types of paint or plaster.
- If the conversion includes a bathroom, focus on water-saving and energy efficient fixtures for toilet flushes and showers.
The right approach
Finally, what really makes a loft conversion eco-friendly is maintaining the focus throughout and taking the right approach. To do this:
- Make sure everyone involved knows that you want a loft conversion which is environmentally friendly.
- Check that initial plans focus on re-use of any existing materials or those which can be reclaimed and incorporated, rather than manufactured and purchased as new – unless these purchases will improve the eco-friendliness of your build. If so…
- Ask for full information about the materials being used, how they are sourced and their sustainability credentials and ensure that the focus is throughout the room, from its framework and features, to fixtures and furnishings.
If it all sounds like a lot of checking, remember that a professional loft conversion specialist will be able to advise on an eco-friendly focus and can make the whole loft design and installation not just eco-friendly for the environment, but user-friendly for you.