Spring into living greener

About this guide 

Spring is the traditional time of year to get inspired and see what needs to be done around the house and garden. This guide has a range of simple actions to help you spruce up your living space and prepare your house and garden for the hot summer months ahead. As well as a good spring clean inside and out, important tasks such as preparing your home for the bushfire season and ensuring your appliances are in good working order will add to your household savings, safety and comfort.

Water and energy saving actions

A woman and a child hanging washing on the line to dry in the sunAs summer approaches, our water and electricity usage can rise along with the temperature as we try to keep cool and keep the garden alive. Here's a handy list of household actions that will help keep your appliances running at their best and reduce bills.

  • Check the filter on your air conditioner and clean to manufacturer's instructions to keep it working more efficiently—it will use less energy and save you money. Dust ceiling fans before turning them on to avoid spreading dust around the house.
  • Check the thermostat on your storage hot water system to ensure it is set to 60 degrees Celsius—any higher is wasting energy and a lower temperature may allow harmful bacteria to thrive. Set instantaneous hot water systems to no more than 50 degrees Celsius. Insulate pipes to limit heat loss.
  • Take shorter, cooler showers where possible to save on water and energy. You can install a simple timer to act as a handy reminder for your household.
  • Wash clothes in cold water on the eco setting if your washing machine has one. Washing in hot water uses 80 to 90 per cent more energy than washing in cold water.
  • If you're interested in further savings take a fresh look at alternative energy sources and suppliers. Investigate the electricity and gas market offers in your area and consider solar or heat pump hot water systems if you're thinking of upgrading your hot water system.
  • For a simple water-saving action, capture greywater from sources like your shower, bath or washing machine for use on the garden.
  • Switch to drying your clothing on the line or a clothes rack if you've been using a dryer over the cooler months. This can add up to significant savings.
  • Run your fridge efficiently. Clean and defrost your fridge and ensure it is set to the right temperature—between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius for the fridge, and minus 15 to minus 18 degrees Celsius for the freezer. Running your fridge too cold uses excess energy, costs more to run and will mean your fridge may not last as long. Avoid turning on second fridges unless needed and consider getting rid of additional fridges and freezers to save money and energy.

Spring in the garden

It's a wonderful time of year to re-emerge into the garden, and enjoy time outdoors with friends and family. As well as getting stuck into planting and pruning, it's a good opportunity to do any maintenance on the exterior of your home and ensure bushfire precautions are in place.

Home grown and community gardens

A baby gardening amongst the vegetablesSpring is the perfect time to start a vegie garden for your household. It's warmer and more pleasant to be outside, seeds and seedlings are plentiful and ready for planting, and it's the perfect growing conditions to start off those yummy summer greens, beans, and corn. By growing your own you'll be helping your household make healthy choices while reducing the amount of energy used in producing and transporting your food.

First time gardeners and those living in apartments that are short on outdoor space might like to start with large pots and containers. Herbs and salad greens can easily be grown and eaten this way.

Before you get started, find out what grows well in your area and think about the things you're likely to eat before buying your seeds or seedlings. There are guides that tell you what to plant and when according to your climate.

For great gardening advice and community connections why not look online for community garden and city farm networks, or if there isn't one in your area, think about starting your own? Community gardens are great places for learning about local plants, meeting new friends and getting growing tips, as well as sourcing well-tested advice for your home vegie garden.

Your local school can provide another hub for fresh produce with programs like the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation which gives children valuable lifelong skills in how to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal food. These organisations offer opportunities to volunteer, and share your expertise. Last but not least, once you have things growing, don't forget to collect the seeds for planting next time around—you can browse the internet for seed savers networks that can show you how.  

If you fancy the benefits of fresh food but don't have the time or the skills, then an innovative solution for sharing gardening skills and land could be just the thing—even if you don't have garden space. Landshare Australia is an online community that introduces people wanting to grow their own fruit and vegetables to people who have spare land or a backyard and are willing to share. Community groups, councils, restaurants and schools as well as individuals are registered on the site. They share everything from land, information and equipment. Dig in!

New season produce

Fresh strawberriesIt's spring and new season fruits and vegetables like strawberries, artichokes and asparagus are here to tempt our taste buds. In the southern states the warmer weather also signals a return to eating outdoors. It's a great time to focus on getting more fresh food in your diet.

About one third of the carbon we produce comes from food, so it makes sense to think about how your food is transported and produced. Supporting locally grown foods—or growing your own—is a good way to reduce your impact and connect to local producers and growers.

Produce that's in season locally is likely to be cheaper, tastier, and fresher which means more nutrients. Farmers' markets are growing in popularity as the place to buy local, seasonal fresh food, while helping to support specialist produce and sustainable agriculture. They're also a fun place to shop with a variety of artisan-made products like bread, cheeses, home-made preserves as well as vegetable varieties not found elsewhere. Search on the internet to see if there's a farmers' market in your area. Another option for finding local produce is to look for local community gardens that may have excess produce on offer in your area.

Water-smart in the garden

A succulent low water use plantOther things to think about before you lift the shovel to plant your own produce are ways to make your garden water smart. Key tips include grouping plants with the same water needs, minimising paved areas to stop soils drying out, and improving soils so they retain moisture. Starting a compost heap from your kitchen waste and layering it with mulch around new plants are fantastic ways to stop water evaporation and keep soil moist and fertile.

Planning ahead will help you save a lot of water over the life of your garden and keep it looking its best, even when you have to spend time away from it. Get advice from your local garden centre and friends and neighbours with green thumbs.

Assess the long-term water needs of your garden and consider whether it's worth installing drip irrigation around your garden beds. If you are considering water saving initiatives in your garden, check if you're eligible to receive any rebates for a rainwater tank, greywater system or garden assessment.

An outdoor tidy-up

A well-maintained home is less likely to leak energy, will have fewer fire risks and won't require expensive repairs as often. To make your home safe, comfortable and ready for the summer months, take a walk around the outside to assess what chores need doing.

  • Cleaning roof gutters to reduce bushfire riskCheck the exterior, including: roof, gutters, flyscreens, windows and doors for any damage, gaps and potential risks. Touch up exterior paint to protect surfaces, mow long grass, prune and remove branches, and identify and remove any other fire and storm hazards. If you're in a climatic zone prone to flooding or cyclones, you might want to think about installing shutters or screens to protect glass areas.
  • Be water wise. If you have a rainwater tank, clean out the inlet screens and gutters and downpipes to ensure water is effectively making its way into your tank. Check your sprinkler system (if your water restrictions allow you to use one) and adjust where necessary so that only your lawn and garden is watered and not your paving, house or footpath.
  • Think about shading. Take a walk around the house and note which windows will soon attract the blazing summer sun. Now may be the time to install blinds or awnings before it gets too hot. Plant fast-growing deciduous trees that will keep out the summer heat but allow the winter sun in. They can also provide a shady spot in your garden for you, your pets, and local wildlife.
  • A swimming pool check-up should include cleaning the pool filter, skimmer and pool pump baskets and checking the chemicals to ensure the correct balance for good pool hygiene. If you haven't been running the pool filter pump during the cooler months, read the manufacturer's instructions to ensure correct pump operation and water filtration. Set the correct daily run time, taking into account the season and pool use and use a timer to save energy. Running your pump at the lowest recommended speed that still maintains correct pool hygiene will also use much less energy and save you money.
  • Spring is an ideal time to use your bicycle more often to get outside, get fit and save on petrol and greenhouse gas emissions. Bikes need to be serviced regularly, so take yours to your local bike shop or learn how to maintain it yourself. Ensure your tyres are inflated to the recommended pressure (stamped on your tyres). Check brakes are working correctly including the cables and brake pads. You also need to lubricate the chain to ensure efficient operation and reduce wear and tear. Finally, check and tighten any loose screws, nuts and bolts. It's also a good idea to check your helmet to ensure straps are in good condition and adjusted properly for the correct fit. Replace helmets that are showing signs of wear.

Be bushfire ready

"Prepare, act, survive" is the national slogan for readying your home for the bushfire season. The key to being prepared is to understand the level of bushfire risk you and your property are exposed to and the ways you can reduce this risk. Some of the things you should do include:

  • Changing a smoke alarm batteryCheck and/or change the battery on your smoke alarms.
  • Cut back any overhanging trees or shrubs and dispose of cuttings appropriately.
  • Check the condition of your roof and replace any damaged or missing roofing material.
  • Clean leaves from the roof, gutters and downpipes and fit quality metal leaf guards.
  • If you have a water tank, dam or swimming pool, consider installing a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign.
  • Store wood piles well away from the house and keep covered.
  • Keep garden mulch away from the house.
  • Keep grass short.
  • Ensure you have a hose which is long enough to reach every part of the home.
  • Remove and store any flammable items away from the house.
  • Check the condition of external walls, cladding, windows and seal any gaps.
  • Consider doing a quick online fire safety audit to reduce your risk of a house fire.

There is more advice and assistance available online from your state fire services in the ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, SA , TAS, VIC, and WA. 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.

If you live in a cyclone or flood-prone area, there are things you can do around the home to prepare. Emergency Management Australia is the key online access point for emergency management information from the Australian Government.

A green spring clean indoors

Spring is the traditional time to freshen up inside your home. Spending a few hours reducing clutter and making some greener cleaning choices can be really rewarding, not only for the environment, but your bank balance and mental and physical wellbeing as well.

Here a few ideas to help get your green spring clean rolling.

Cleaning products

Close up of cleaning a tapIt might sound old fashioned, but making your own non-toxic cleaning products can be an effective way to eco-clean your home that is better for your health as well as the environment. Some conventional cleaning products may contain toxic or hazardous ingredients that should only be used when wearing protective gear and are best kept away from children and pets.

You may already have some of the key ingredients for cheap and effective products in your kitchen. Things like bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, lemon, salt and borax can be used as surface cleaners (including in place of heavier duty products such as oven cleaner). Just be careful with lemons and vinegar (and other acidic cleansers) on tile grout as it will eat it away. When making your own, don't forget to clearly label the bottles with their ingredients. While the ingredients are common household items, not all of them are meant for consumption, so keep them away from kids and pets.

There is a range of less harsh and environmentally aware products on the market to choose from, but make sure you read the label. Just because it says that it is natural and bio-degradable doesn't mean that it isn't toxic or hazardous.

Try to re-use cleaning cloths or make them yourself from old worn sheets, tea towels or tatty clothing. Single-use cloths are expensive and create a lot of waste when you could easily be using things around the home. If you do need to use more hazardous cleaners, or find them lurking in your cupboards, be sure to dispose of them properly as they can't be put in your regular garbage.

DIY natural air freshener

An indoor plant for freshening the airNow that you've cleaned and aired your home, you want it to smell great. Before purchasing or using an air freshener you may wish to look for healthy options. Artificial fresheners can contain chemicals that are harmful to our waterways and may stimulate allergies. Why not use something non-toxic in your home that's safer for you, your family and pets. They're so easy to create yourself.

Baking soda is one of the greatest odour-eaters around and can be placed in a small dish in the fridge and in the bathroom or toilet to absorb unpleasant smells. A quick search on the internet will reveal lots of recipes on how to make natural-scented sprays using basic household ingredients such as water, baking soda, lemons and vanilla.

Another way to improve indoor air quality is with indoor plants. They reduce unhealthy air pollutants while balancing humidity which can help relieve allergic conditions. By giving your indoor plants a healthy spruce-up with a new dose of quality potting mix and possibly a bigger pot if it's looking tired and root bound. Gently clean the leaves of your indoor plants with a damp soft cloth (an old t-shirt). You don't need to use any special products, oil or milk as they'll only clog up the pores on the leaves, making it difficult for them to soak up nutrients. You can browse the internet for the most effective indoor air-cleaning plants and pop two or three in each room.

Mother Nature's mothballs

When storing winter clothes, start by washing them first and making sure you dry them thoroughly. For an alternative to the old mothball (which contains the toxic ingredient naphthalene), try a cotton bag with dried rosemary, mint, thyme and cloves to deter creepy crawlies and keep clothing smelling fresh.

If you're tackling your wardrobe and drawers, why not reduce waste by donating clothes you haven't worn for a few years and are unlikely to wear again. Holding a clothes swap with family and friends is a great way to re-vamp your wardrobe.