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Outdoor living

About this guide

Spending time outdoors is an essential aspect of the Australian way of life. As interest in outdoor entertaining, DIY and gardening grows, it's also likely to be something you and your household are doing more of.

The backyard has come a long way from being a patch of lawn with the humble hotplate, a couple of folding chairs, and a garden hose for the kids to play under. Everything from fully equipped outdoor kitchens, elaborate entertaining areas complete with fountains, outdoor lighting and millions of clever landscaping options is now possible. The 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. That can mean an increase in energy and water use and higher bills.

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

Pools and spas

Three children floating in swimming pool

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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. So why not pool your energy and water know-how with ours to reduce pool running costs and make significant savings. Ways you can save include:

  • Selecting an energy-efficient pump. 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. The more stars the better. 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.
  • Running 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.
  • Maintaining 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.
  • Minimising 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%. The translucent bubble covers trap heat from the sun and can warm your pool by as much as 7°C.
  • Managing 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.
  • Considering 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.
  • Going natural. For a chemical-free option that uses less energy than a conventional pool why not look into a natural pool. The natural pool system is designed to pump water into a separate filtration zone where the water is cleaned by passing through gravel—just like you might find in natural lakes and waterholes. Aquatic plants can be added for additional filtration. Natural pools can be designed for your garden or retrofitted into existing in-ground pools. Look for a supplier in your area.

Remember, 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

A family dining outdoors at a barbeque

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Barbeques (BBQs) are an essential part of the Aussie lifestyle. 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. Things to consider:

  • Making a list of requirements. 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.
  • Doing your research. Specialised outdoor cooking options now include pizza ovens, fire pits, and even solar ovens. Your choice will vary depending on the food types you want to cook, whether it's for everyday eating or you're planning on entertaining with large groups.
  • Going 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 this summer, 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.
  • Substituting 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

A landscaped garden

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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. Minimising the need for maintenance, water and other resources with a water-smart garden means you'll have more time to sit back and enjoy your oasis. Things to consider include:

  • Replacing lawn areas with easy to maintain renewable woodchips. Identify lawn areas you currently don't use and turn these into garden beds. Besides saving on water use, other benefits sure to please 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 to have a weekend sleep-in will love you for it.
  • Planting native species. Fill your newly mulched and chipped area with water-efficient, low maintenance, local native species that will attract birds and wildlife. As you look out on your new habitat, think of all the time and resources saved on mowing, watering, weeding or fertilising.
  • Measuring up. If you do 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.
  • Reducing the amount of water your lawn and garden needs. 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. Try out our other water-saving and planting ideas for creating a greener garden.
  • Reducing the need for heating and cooling. 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. Follow our tips on passive design or talk to a landscaping expert for more ideas
  • Selecting the right pump. 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.
  • Choosing equipment wisely. Consider our tips on choosing and using a mower, leaf blower and other lawn equipment so you can reduce your lawn's environmental impact and save time and money too.

Outdoor entertaining

A woman and girl at a party outdoors

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A Sunday barbeque is a relaxing way to share a meal with friends and family. 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. It's a sobering thought that plastic bottles and aluminium cans take at least as long as the average human lifetime to break down. So why not make your outdoor entertaining waste free by trying some of these ideas.

  • Being 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 or freezer. Or why not make your own homemade lemonade or punch with sprigs of fresh mint from the garden.
  • Ditching 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 re-usable cloth napkins that can be washed again and again will not only reduce waste it'll save you money. Try op shops or hand-made markets.
  • 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.
  • Catering carefully. A bit of planning will ensure you have the right amount of food and don't end up with piles of soggy snags and salad that ends up as food waste going to landfill. You can invite your guests to prepare their favourite dip, or salad to share in re-usable dishware so you avoid unnecessary packaging or paper plates overfilling your bins and then going off to landfill. If you do have leftovers ensure you get it into the fridge as soon as it cools so it's safe for snacking on later. You can also send home slices of quiche and cake with guests. What isn't good for eating can be placed in the compost.

Garden furniture

A timber outdoor dining setting

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Garden furniture comes in a range of materials including metals, synthetic and natural—but which ones are better for the environment and give you lasting use? Things to consider:

  • Selecting quality products. 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. Cheaper items may look affordable but costs will quickly add up if they need to be replaced or expensively maintained.
  • Going for the good wood. Wood is a renewable resource when it comes from a managed plantation. It is 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.
  • Picking preferred plastics. If you do go for plastic, choose one of the recycled varieties now on the market. These plastics often have the look of wood without the worry of rot, warping or splintering. Look out for sets built from up to 100% recycled plastic. You can also match these with cushion covers and umbrellas from recycled materials. Cheaper plastic products tend to fade and peel and have fewer options for repairs. Besides not being long lasting, 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.
  • Watching out for wicker. Real wicker is made from various 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.
  • Protecting metals from rust. 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.
  • Maintaining it well so it lasts longer. Anything left out in all weather will age. You can preserve the life of your outdoor furniture by stowing it or covering it when it's not in use, such as during winter or when you're away on holidays. A durable plastic cover will protect items from exposure to rain and sun and save you time by reducing maintenance needs. 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.
  • Reducing waste by buying second-hand. Used furniture can be renovated or restored to serve you for years to come. You can even transform indoor furniture that is no longer up to scratch into outdoor pieces by giving it a protective coat of paint, re-covering cushions with water and stain resistant fabrics or simply placing it under covered verandas where it will be protected from the elements.
  • Getting inspired with upcycling. Television, magazines and the internet are filled with creative DIY ideas for outdoor living. You might want to have a go at upcycling. It's all about turning old objects into something useful and decorative that expresses your personal style. A quick online search for 'upcycling' will reveal all kinds of ideas.

Garages and sheds

A family tidying the garage

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In many garages there's a range of old unwanted chemicals, paints and items that should be disposed of carefully. 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. Things you can do include:

  • Sorting 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 how and where to recycle your waste items. Paintback paint collection centres are located in every state and territory.
  • Holding 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 and meet the neighbours at the same time. Items that you don't sell can be given away.
  • Re-using and upcycling. 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. Used carpet and scrap wood can become a scratching post for the cat. Cleaned empty tins and tubs can be decorated and used as storage containers. An old basket could be attached to your bike. Once you get started the ideas are limitless.
  • Clearing 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.
  • Sharing power tools and garden equipment. Do a stock-take of what you own and consider your needs. 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 term for renting, lending, swapping and gifting products over the internet. Search for websites that allow you to find what you need and share what you have. You'll reduce waste, the energy required to manufacture new goods, as well as unused items 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 GreenVehicleGuide is a great place to start. For the least cost and healthy choice, you could also include cycling in your transport options. 
  • Power tools. Check out our guides to purchasing and using power tools efficiently to save money on energy costs. Consider using a manual tool to do the job where possible.
  • Insulating 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

A dog and a cat in the garden

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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 pets impact and costs —they assume you have done your research on diet, exercise and veterinary care needs.

  • Planning 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 impact and cost. 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 impact from your pet.
  • Pets love to play. But they aren't picky about the latest toys and gadgets. So why not recycle some of your unwanted items into a great pet plaything. Old 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 it 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

Changing a smoke alarm battery

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. Follow our pointers for tidying up gutters and removing storm and fire hazards and ensure you are bushfire ready no matter what the season.