Eco-friendly ways to improve your home, from used kitchens to recycled garden decking

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A used kitchen sold by the Used Kitchen Exchange (The Used Kitchen Exchange/www.uke.co.uk)
A used kitchen sold by the Used Kitchen Exchange (The Used Kitchen Exchange/www.uke.co.uk)

Over the last two years, homeowners in the UK have spent more time and money on home improvements than ever before – a trend kickstarted by the pandemic.

Research from PWC shows that, post-pandemic, consumers are increasingly keen to make environmentally-friendly choices – as well as to support local retailers. And there’s no better place to start than your home, where we produce 22% of carbon emissions in the UK.

Whether you’re giving your home a major refurbishment or planning some smaller updates, here are some of the most eco-friendly ways to make home improvements.

Used kitchens

The Used Kitchen company gives used and ex-display kitchens a new lease of life (The Used Kitchen Company)
The Used Kitchen company gives used and ex-display kitchens a new lease of life (The Used Kitchen Company)

If you’re replacing your kitchen, you don’t necessarily need to buy new – or to send your old one to landfill, if it’s still in good condition.

The recycled kitchen movement is growing, with companies like The Used Kitchen Company, Used Kitchen Exchange and Used Kitchen Hub leading the way.

The Used Kitchen Company, founded in 2005 by Looeeze Grossman, sells used and ex-display kitchens at 50-70 per cent of their recommended retail price, sourced from almost 1,200 showrooms. So far, Grossman says that The Used Kitchen Company has saved nearly 30,000 tonnes of waste from landfill.

Like buying new, kitchens can be viewed before they are purchased, and the company co-ordinates dismantling, delivery and installation. They can make the kitchen fit your space – and, crucially, offers on the price are encouraged.

For those looking to get rid of an old kitchen, you can also list them for sale on the Used Kitchen Company’s website – or you can sign up for The Kitchen Passport, also run by Grossman.

Upcycled beds

Victorian Dreams has more than 200 vintage and antique beds to be restored (Victorian Dreams)
Victorian Dreams has more than 200 vintage and antique beds to be restored (Victorian Dreams)

Let’s be honest: when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, sustainability is not the number one priority.

Launched in 1990 by Shabs Kay and run out of an old school in Hampshire, Victorian Dreams restores vintage brass, iron and hardwood beds to modern specifications.

According to Kay, width is the most common issue with antique beds, usually measuring at 1.4 metres – narrower than a queen-size bed. Luckily, Kay claims to be one of the few people in the country who can widen a metal bed to bring them up to more modern dimensions.

The company also restores and reupholsters bedsteads and sells its own range of linens.

As for bedding, Tielle’s FeelGood range uses recycled European down and Snug’s duvets, pillows and pet beds are all made from recyclable, reusable materials. A selection of some of the best eco-friendly mattresses here.

Sofas

These days, there are plenty of places to look for a more environmentally-friendly sofa – both new and second-hand.

You’ll want to look for sustainable, durable materials, eco-friendly fabrics and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified frames, if they’re made of wood.

Family-run Sofas & Stuff say it is the first and only UK retailer to use recycled ocean plastics across all of its sofas and chairs. Cushions are made from recycled ocean-bound plastic, whilst it pays locals in coastal communities to collect plastic waste. It estimates that almost 3 million bottles destined for the sea have been saved since October 2020.

To avoid old sofas going to waste, Sofas & Stuff also works with waste recycling company Clearabee, who donate suitable furniture to the British Heart Foundation and offer same-day collection of unwanted items.

Reclaimed wood dining tables

Home Barn creates new tables from salvaged timber (Home Barn)
Home Barn creates new tables from salvaged timber (Home Barn)

Set up in 2010 by sisters-in-law Sarah and Sally Wilkie, Home Barn makes dining tables out of reclaimed wood – and claims to be the only place in the UK to do so.

Sarah and Sally salvage timber locally and craft new, refectory-style dining tables in elm, pine and European oak. Imperfections, dents and patina on the wood are all preserved, so no table is the same. Prices start at £1,550.

Home Barn also sells cabinets, seating, mirrors and homeware.

Shower heads

Sustainable updates don’t have to cost the earth. Consider replacing your existing shower head to reduce your water consumption (this is easier than you might think: they can be unscrewed and replaced without a plumber’s assistance).

Amane’s spray-mist sensation shower head works by having more holes, offering 615 jets of water in comparison to a typical 50-80. It promises to use up to 35 per cent less water, with double the power of a normal shower head.

Rimless toilets

According to energy saving advisors TheGreenAge, toilet flushing accounts for a third of water use in the home. But, besides flushing your toilet less, there are other ways to cut water consumption down.

Rimless toilets like Lusso’s range claim to use half the amount of water per flush (three litres) as a normal toilet (six litres).

Most toilets release water into the bowl from under the rim, but rimless toilets have a rear-mounted valve which shoots water into the basin horizontally and around the edges. The rimless pan is supposedly easier to clean and more hygienic too.

And don’t worry – the flush is supposed to be just as powerful.

Garden decking

Composite decking is a mix of hardwood timber and recycled plastics (@Rugrats.and.renovation)
Composite decking is a mix of hardwood timber and recycled plastics (@Rugrats.and.renovation)

If you’re planning on introducing some decking to your garden for summer, you might want to consider composite decking.

This is a combination of hardwood timber and recycled plastics, which is supposed to retain a wooden look and feel, with added durability.

Yorkshire-born Composite Prime’s decking contains more than 3,000 plastic bottle caps (or 280 plastic bottles) per square metre. Their timber is FSC-certified, and, by combining it with recycled plastic, they aim to prevent some common problems with wooden decking, such as rot, colour fading and slipperiness.

Since they were founded in 2014, the brand has saved the equivalent of 176 million plastic bottles from landfill and over 1.8 billion bottle top caps.

Second-hand homeware

Haule is a community of vintage homeware sellers (Haule)
Haule is a community of vintage homeware sellers (Haule)

For some people, sifting through second-hand furniture shops or haggling on Facebook Marketplace is part of the thrill of second-hand shopping. For others, it’s a curse.

Second-hand homeware marketplace Haule is a happy middle ground: all the organisation, convenience and shipping options of an online shop, but the same potential to uncover hidden gems.

You might wonder why it all looks so tasteful. There’s a selection process involved: all sellers listed on the site are all small, independent vintage homeware businesses chosen by founders (and sisters) Katie and Georgie Barber.

Lighting

According to Energy Saving Trust, lighting accounts for 11 per cent of household electricity consumption in the UK. With the energy price cap rising by 54 per cent this April, looking more closely at your lighting can be a good way to save energy – and reduce your bills.

LED lights are by far the most energy efficient – plus they’re longer-lasting and turn on at full brightness, like traditional incandescent bulbs.

Energy Saving Trust estimates that households can save up to £13 per bulb per year by replacing a 100-watt incandescent bulb with an LED one, or £5 by replacing a 50-watt halogen bulb.

LED bulbs do have a higher initial cost, but can last for 10 years or longer. They’re stocked in most homeware shops.

Reinventing old items

Sugru’s iron-on patches encourage people to make something of existing stains (Sugru)
Sugru’s iron-on patches encourage people to make something of existing stains (Sugru)

Of course, one of the most sustainable ways to update your home —and save money— is to work with what you already have.

A home dye can be a good way to inject new life into towels, sheets, curtains or upholstery which is losing its colour. It doesn’t have to be messy, either. DYLON sells dye pods which go in the washing machine alongside old linen, cotton or viscose mix items.

As with visible mending, why not make something of your stains? You can get gold iron-on patches from Sugru which are designed to turn marks on napkins, tablecloths, clothes and bedding into a statement.

And, lastly, to juj up an old piece of furniture with a lick of new paint, here are some of the best sustainable paints.

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