Arnel Reynon illustration
These days, more and more bathrooms are turning green, and it's not necessarily a color choice. Whether homeowners are becoming increasingly concerned about their home's impact on the environment or just watching their budget, many are choosing to focus on improving water efficiency, energy efficiency and air quality when renovating their bathrooms. And suppliers and makers of fixtures are getting more involved, too. Ferguson Enterprises and Kohler Co. are partners in the Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program, which promotes water efficiency and specially labeled water-saving products. (Take a three-question quiz about water consumption at SaveWaterAmerica.com.)
"You can really green your bathroom without spending a lot of money for it," says Mike Hogan, a local eco-broker who owns Healthy Homes LLC, a company managing green renovations small and large. "A green renovation can be relatively cheap, compared with a regular renovation."
Not surprisingly, the bathroom is the largest consumer of household water, with the toilet alone using around 27 percent, according to the EPA.
"Ninety-eight percent of my clients are buying water-efficient toilets," says Kevin W. Korda of Renovation Resources. "It's a given."
While a standard toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush, a dual-flush commode offers two flush options: approximately a 1-gallon flush for liquid waste and the standard 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Low-flush toilets use around 1.3 gallons per flush. Homeowners are finding additional savings in low-flow sink faucets and showerheads, which add air into the water stream to reduce the amount of water used — sometimes by up to 30 percent.
"It supplies the same amount of pressure," Hogan says. "You don't notice a decrease in performance because of it."
Motion detection can come in handy to reduce energy use in bathrooms. Lights come on when a person enters the bathroom and turn off after he or she has left the room.
"Bathrooms are traditionally one of the rooms that you see lights left on, particularly if you have kids," Hogan says. "It's a cheap thing to do to increase the energy efficiency of the bathroom."
You'll also see home renovators installing point-of-use tankless water heaters, which can be placed under a sink to provide on-demand hot water, just like the larger models that service an entire house. Because water is heated instantaneously, tankless water heaters use less energy than traditional tank heaters that heat water 24 hours a day.
"The advantage to point-of-use tankless heaters is the hot water travels a much shorter distance so it loses much less heat, which obviously makes it more efficient," Hogan says.
Allergy sufferers and those concerned with air quality should also consider the materials used in their renovations. Hogan recommends that people with respiratory issues seek out cabinetry and paints that are free of formaldehyde and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), respectively.
EcoLogic owner Stephanie Ackermann also suggests American Clay, a clay-earth plaster with all-natural pigments, as an alternative to paint. While more expensive and labor-intensive, the clay material helps regulate humidity in the air, preventing bathroom walls from becoming streaked with water during or after showering.
"It soaks in all the water and slowly releases it back out," Ackermann explains. "It's mold-proof, mildew-proof and nontoxic.
Environmentally friendly building products are becoming increasingly available as well. For countertops, look for recycled glass, recycled cement and Paperstone, made from compressed recycled paper and a water-based walnut resin.
Renovation Resources and EcoLogic offer green countertops that are handcrafted in Ashland from post-industrial products, post-consumer waste and cement substitutes, like volcanic ash, using green manufacturing processes. EcoLogic also sells soapstone countertops (a material often quarried in Brazil) from the Blue Ridge mountains. By reducing the distance such materials travel, you'll decrease your renovation's carbon footprint.
For floors, consider eco-friendly linoleum, a low-maintenance, naturally anti-microbial material that is far better looking than it used to be, or water-resistant cork – both fairly inexpensive options. You can find formaldehyde-free cabinetry that's made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, as well as lighting fixtures fashioned from recycled parts.