21 Jan

Veganuary: cruelty-free home renovation

As we start looking forward to spring, many of us will be thinking about renovation plans for 2021. In honour of Veganuary, we look at some of the animal-friendly and plant-based options to consider in the construction and design industry…

Veganism has been going from strength to strength in recent years, with campaigns such as “meat-free Mondays” and Veganuary encouraging many of us to choose plant-based options. Over 400,000 people took part in Veganuary 2020 and with so much choice now available, changing your diet is pretty effortless. What’s more, the trend for vegan fashion, cosmetics and cleaning products is booming, with most retailers rushing to meet demand.   

While someone eating plant-based foods might have the best intentions, it’s still challenging (and some might say impossible) to be completely vegan in our society. From products that have been animal-tested or made using animal derivatives to the by-products of the meat, dairy, and egg industries, many things are not vegan – even in our homes and in the building industry.  

The single dominating factor is that vegan products’ environmental footprint is dramatically smaller; they also tend to use fewer chemicals in their production. Veganism in the design and build industry is still a relatively new concept. However, there are still plenty of switches that you can make when renovating your home, and 2021 may well see the development of additional vegan building materials. 

Flooring

People are starting to discover the vegan alternatives to wool carpets – which is ideal if you like having something soft and deep underfoot. Some fantastic, sustainably sourced carpets are on the market, made from natural fibres such as organic cotton or bamboo. We love the Seagrass Flatweave Carpet from John Lewis. You could also look into carpets made from recycled materials.

Even hard flooring options can be varnished or glued with animal-derived products, so it’s well worth checking before you purchase, and again there are some brilliant alternatives made from bamboo. Take a look at the options from Moso Bamboo Surfaces. Cork or recycled glass tiles could also be a good option for your vegan home, as well as ethically sourced, British Stone.

 

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Building materials

It’s quite surprising to discover that there are animal derivatives in building materials. Animal fats are used in the production of steel, rubber, vinyl, and plastics. The drywall in your home is a likely toxic mixture of gypsum, starch, paper pulp, as well as stearic acid and oleic acid to thicken the mix. These two acids can be plant-based but are more likely to be derived from animal fat, and since ingredient labelling isn’t required, it can be complicated and time-consuming to find out how it’s sourced.

Even bricks, plaster, cement, and many home insulation materials are not 100% vegan. While you might not be able to source alternatives from your local builders’ merchants, there is one British firm who is breaking the mould when it comes to developing new construction materials. In the R&D labs of London-based, award-winning bio-manufacturing company Biohm develops premium building materials made from mushrooms. Mushrooms that break down and consume plastic, no less.

Using innovation to develop sustainable materials is at the heart of everything Biohm does, and the results of their work are nothing short of remarkable. They have been experimenting with mycelium’s properties (the vegetative filament root structure of mushrooms – often the characteristic white ‘fur’ found on the ground in woodland settings), which releases digestive enzymes that break down surrounding organic matter such as wood. The rotted wood then feeds the fungal network and helps it to grow. At Biohm, they’ve been getting the fungi to absorb waste materials, such as plastic, which produces a material with excellent insulation properties.

As a result, they have produced a mycelium insulation panel which is naturally self-extinguishing in the case of a fire. In terms of energy efficiency, the panels outperform all the industry standards. The best part, mushrooms are grown underground without light, so no external energy source is needed to make them grow. 

The Biohm team has also developed a range of sustainable concrete from plant-based food waste such as orange peel. Their ground-breaking creations have caused a stir in the industry, and that’s not all. Other companies have created bricks made entirely of recycled bottles, and rigid insulation foam composed entirely of kelp, hemp, or bamboo. This foam is not toxic, like traditional polyurethane foam, and environmentally friendly. Until these products are ready, the best advice is to check with your contractors on the best animal-friendly options to use.

Paint

Paints will often contain casein, which is a milk protein. While the higher-end paints from Farrow & Ball are not vegan, their normal ranges are. Celtic Sustainable also makes vegan household paints and stocks options from other retailers such as Auro and Earthborn.

 

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Don’t forget, paint brushes are often made from ‘natural’ bristles, usually from pony and ox hair. Look out for labels like ‘Sabel’ which can indicate fur from minks, ferrets and weasels, and ‘camel’ hair that can come from goats, squirrels and other animals. Cruelty-free, synthetic paintbrushes often make for a smoother, more consistent finish and are easier to clean, as animal hair will absorb the paint.