Outdoor living

About this guide

Today’s backyards and outdoor living spaces can include fully-equipped outdoor kitchens, elaborate entertaining areas complete with fountains, outdoor lighting and clever landscaping.

This wealth of options for your outdoor spaces means you will likely be buying and using a larger range of products and equipment than ever before, which can in turn mean an increase in energy and water use and higher bills.

This guide covers seven key areas where you can reduce waste, and save energy, water and money, while making your outdoor areas comfortable and beautiful.

Pools and spas—cool power and water saving ideas

Swimming pools and spas are the perfect way to cool off on a hot summer day or relax under the stars. They can also use significant amounts of energy and water to fill and maintain. For a typical home with an in-ground pool this can be as much as 30% of the household's energy bill. 

A pool pump can be the largest user of electricity in a home,—sometimes using more energy than your washing machine, clothes dryer and dishwasher combined. Keep your pool and spa crystal clear and your energy costs down by selecting a minimum 5-star energy-efficient pool pump at the smallest pump size effective for your pool or spa. For example, choosing an 8-star pool pump can use up to 4 times less electricity than a 2-star pool pump, saving you more than $285 a year.

NOTE: Savings are based on an average electricity price of 28.55 cents per kilowatt hour and will vary depending on individual circumstances.

Run your pump efficiently

Reduce daily pumping time with the help of a timer, and run your pump at the lowest recommended speed to maintain pool hygiene.

Maintain your pool

Reduce the amount of work your pump has to do by keeping your pool well maintained. Regularly clean out the skimmer and pool pump baskets and pool filter. Keep the intake grates clear of debris.

Minimise evaporation to save water

Invest in a well-fitting cover and roller, and ensure the cover is compatible with your pool treatment chemicals. A good quality cover also reduces the need for heating in cooler climates. Bubble covers made from transparent plastic bubbles can reduce cooling by 3 to 4°C and cut heat losses from a heated pool by as much as 75%. Translucent bubble covers trap heat from the sun and can warm your pool by as much as 7°C.

Manage the chemical balance of your pool and spa

Ensure you have adequate sanitiser to kill bacteria. Registered chlorine, salt-water chlorinators and chlorine-free sanitisers are available and each has different benefits and impacts. For those with asthma or other allergies chlorine-free sanitisers are a good option.

Consider solar energy for heating your pool

If you require heating, solar is cheaper to run than electricity or gas. Only heat your pool or spa when needed and don't over heat—particularly if you're using expensive-to-run electricity or gas models. You can also prevent heat loss in your spa by ensuring the insulation—including your pool cover—is in good condition.

Go natural

The natural pool system is designed to pump water into a separate filtration zone where the water is cleaned by passing through gravel. Aquatic plants can be added for additional filtration. Natural pools can be designed for your garden or retrofitted into existing in-ground pools. 

It's your responsibility to ensure your home pool or spa is safe for everyone and minimises the risk of young children drowning. Ensure your pool and spa complies with safety and fencing regulations in your state or territory, and carry out regular checks to minimise the risk of accidents.

Barbeques

Barbeques (BBQs) are an integral part of the Aussie lifestyle, but they can also contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. If you're cooking or entertaining in the backyard regularly, it makes good energy sense to buy a BBQ that will stand the test of time and be easy to use, maintain and operate efficiently. 

Choose well

It's important to buy the right type and size for your needs so you're not heating a large cooking space unnecessarily. Consider which accessories such as range hoods, rotisseries and wok burners you'll actually use.

Do your research

Specialised outdoor cooking options now include pizza ovens, fire pits, and even solar ovens. Your choice will vary according to the food types you want to cook, whether your BBQ is for everyday eating or if you're planning on entertaining with large groups.

Go for gas over charcoal

Choose gas for a cleaner meal that emits less air pollution. Gas BBQs have been shown to emit nearly three times less greenhouse gases than charcoal. If you're really keen on reducing your energy use there's also a range of new solar products that you can experiment with, including solar ovens and water boilers.

Keeping the hood down while grilling. By cooking your meat and vegies at the right temperature and for the right amount of time you can retain juices and flavour as well as reduce energy consumption. You can try our other BBQ tips to increase the life of your grill and save even more energy.

Substitute chemical based cleaners with natural alternatives

You can buy these or make a paste of bicarbonate of soda and scrub clean with a steel brush. Reduce the amount of food sticking to the grill by rubbing the plate with an onion and some olive oil once it's hot or by marinating food items first.

Lawns and landscaping—water and energy smart design

Lawns are responsible for up to 90% of the water used in the average garden. Designing your garden to withstand times of low rainfall, including reducing lawn areas, can bring a range of benefits. By minimising the need for maintenance, water and other resources with a water-smart garden you'll have more time to sit back and enjoy your oasis. 

Replace lawn areas with easy to maintain renewable woodchips. Identify lawn areas you don't use and turn these into garden beds. Aside from saving on water use, other benefits include easy maintenance and no more noise and air pollution from all the equipment required for trimming, edging and cutting. Your family and neighbours wanting a weekend sleep-in will love you for it.

Plant native species using water-efficient, low maintenance, local native species that will attract birds and wildlife. 

If you want a lawn area, plan for the size you need for household activities, and consider planting drought-tolerant and native varieties that'll require less water.

Setting your mower to cut at 4cm or higher provides greater protection for soil so it doesn't dry out as quickly. Water your lawn deeply and infrequently instead of lightly and often to encourage a deeper root system and better water retention. 

Well selected trees and shrubs can help reduce your heating and cooling bills. Plant shade trees that will keep the summer sun out and let the winter sun in to your home. 

Reduce the running costs of decorative ponds and fountains by choosing a solar pump and keeping your water clean and healthy at the same time.

Garden furniture

Garden furniture comes in a range of materials including metals, synthetic and natural, some are better for the environment and give you lasting use.

If you're in the market for garden furniture ensure you're paying for pieces that will stand up to harsh outdoor conditions including sun and rain. 

Wood is a renewable resource when it comes from a managed plantation. It's better to choose certified wood furniture with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label. Do your research so you know which timbers are the low impact options.

If you go for plastic, choose those made from 100% recycled products. They can look like wood without the worry of rot, warping or splintering. Cheaper plastic products tend to fade and peel and have fewer options for repairs. Plastics such as PVC can also emit toxic chemicals and pose problems when it comes time to dispose of them as they are not easily recyclable.

Real wicker is made from natural fibres, including rattan, which bends easily to make chairs, and other products. Wicker furniture that is made from FSC Certified timber is a better option. It does deteriorate over time, so it is best used under cover or indoors and treated with lemon or linseed oil to help extend its life. Resin or synthetic wicker has become a popular choice for patio and poolside furniture due to its durability and easy care. Synthetic wicker can cope with different temperatures and humidity so will last a lot longer if cared for.

If there are metal parts, ensure these are powder-coated and rust-resistant so they'll be long lasting. Stainless steel, aluminium and wrought iron are not renewable resources. Look for furniture with metals made from recycled content, and which are designed to be easily taken apart so the metal parts can be recycled when no longer in use.

Preserve the life of your outdoor furniture by stowing it or covering it when it's not in use. You can also keep your furniture protected by installing it on a covered veranda. Lightly oil your wooden furniture at the end of every season or when it begins to look dry. When treating furniture choose oils and paint that are labelled low impact, as these create less damage to waterways and air quality.

Used furniture can be renovated or restored to serve you for years to come. 

Outdoor entertaining

A barbeque is a relaxing way to share a meal with friends and family. But if you're not paying attention it can result in a small mountain of plastic cups, plates, bottles and cans. Australia generated around 2,080 kilograms (2.08 tonnes) of waste for each person in 2006–07, with just under half being recycled. Plastic bottles and aluminium cans take at least as long as the average human lifetime to break down. 

Be a helpful host

Make it easy for your guests to recycle by setting up bins to separate plastics, glass and paper items as well as any non-recyclables items.

Bottle count down

Instead of individual bottles and cans, you can reduce the packaging waste by planning ahead, buying in bulk and serving soft drink, beer and juice from a jug and keeping it cool in the fridge. 

Ditch the disposables

Use your everyday plates and glasses instead of disposable tableware—or invest in a set of durable re-usable plastic picnic-ware for outdoor dining. Good quality tablecloths and cloth napkins that can be washed again and again will not only reduce waste it'll save you money. 

Get the lighting right

Outdoor lighting is important for late night entertaining and to help your guests find their away around your home safely. Ensure lights in traffic areas like back and front doors are fitted with a sensor and/or timer so they come on when needed. Go solar for fairy lights and for lighting up along garden paths where appropriate and save on your energy costs.

Cater carefully

Planning will ensure you have the right amount of food and don't end up with piles of food waste going to landfill. Invite guests to prepare their favourite dip or salad to share in re-usable dishware to avoid using unnecessary packaging or paper plates. Put any leftovers into the fridge as soon as it cools so it's safe for snacking on later. What isn't good for eating can be placed in the compost.

Garages and sheds

In many garages lies a range of old unwanted chemicals, paints and items that should be disposed of carefully as well as treasures waiting to be given new life. If you're having a clean-up, you can reduce waste going to landfill from your garage by using what you have instead of buying new products, disposing of waste carefully, and recycling objects that still have life in them. 

Sort items carefully

Rather than dumping items into the rubbish and adding to landfill, divide items into separate piles—items you wish to sell, donate, fix, recycle or dispose of. Next, sort waste items into recyclables and chemical waste. There are services for used oil, batteries and paints in many locations. Check out Planet Ark’s RecyclingNearYou for more information on recycling your waste items.

Hold a garage sale

It's a great way to give a second life to unused items, de-clutter your garage or shed, and make a few extra dollars along the way. You can find a new home for items you no longer use or need.

Re-use and upcycle

Put old items you may have forgotten about to good use by re-using them or giving them a new life as part of something else. Once you get started the ideas are limitless.

Clear out chemicals and harsh cleaning products

Ensure you dispose of hazardous and chemical waste like motor oil, batteries, oven cleaners and pool and spa chemicals safely. Contact your local council or visit the Planet Ark website for hazardous waste collection and disposal services in your area. You can avoid needing to dispose of these items in the future by switching to low impact non-toxic alternatives where available.

Share power tools and garden equipment

Do a stocktake of what you own and consider your needs. You might not need to own every tool. With those items you're likely to use only a few times why not share with friends, neighbours and the wider community? 'Collaborative consumption' is the modern term for renting, lending, swapping and gifting products over the internet. You'll reduce waste, and the energy required to manufacture new goods, as well as the number of unused items taking up space in your garage.

Consider your car

Driving efficiently and maintaining your car can help save on fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. If you're thinking about upgrading or buying a new car the Green Vehicle Guide is a great place to start. To save money and improve your health, you could also include cycling in your transport options. Service your bike as part of your garage clean up so it's ready for your next ride.

Insulate your garage door

If your garage is attached to your home, you can also save on heating and cooling costs by upgrading to an insulated garage door. Or do it yourself with a kit from your local hardware store.

Pets

Over 60% of Australian households own a pet, with dogs and cats the companions of choice.

You may not have considered that many of the decisions you make in choosing and owning a pet have costs and impacts. The following tips are designed to help you reduce your pet’s impact and costs —they assume you have done your research on diet, exercise and veterinary care needs.

Plan carefully

Pet food, training, toys and vet visits consume energy, create waste and cost you money, so it makes sense to choose your pet based on how best you will meet all these needs, keeping your budget and lifestyle firmly in mind.

Keep it simple

As with humans, the more your pet consumes the bigger its cost and impact. Making use of things you already have around the home, avoiding unnecessary products and packaging waste, and recycling where you can are key ways you can reduce the environmental impact of your pet.

Pets love to play

They aren't picky about the latest toys and gadgets. They'll be happy with an old rope or second-hand soft toy from the op shop. So why not recycle some of your unwanted items into a great pet plaything? Old footballs and tennis balls are great to tire out energetic canines as a complement to the daily walk. Your cat will love something bright or fluffy tied on the end of a string.

Pick up pet waste carefully

Pet waste contains bacteria and worms and can be a source of infection. So whether out in public or in your own backyard, it's important to dispose of pet waste properly. Biodegradable bags are available to pick up waste in public spaces. Councils have different laws about disposing of waste in the regular garbage at home.

Protect your home from bushfires

An outdoor tidy-up to maintain your home's exterior and the health of your garden is a good idea at any time of year. Keep in mind that peak fire season varies depending on where you live in Australia. Check with the Bureau of Meteorology to find out when the fire risk is highest in your area so you can be well prepared.

Garden waste from seasonal pruning should be chipped, taken to green waste drop-off centres or located safely away from the house.