From water conservation to efficient lighting and green cleaning, the bathroom is an ideal room to make eco-friendly. Major changes can be made in a remodel or new construction, but a quick green bathroom makeover is possible, too.
“Going green should not be an option, it should be the first thought,” says Jeff Smoler, ASID, ASFD, of J.E.S. Designs in Northbrook, IL. “Going green is almost a state of mind. Once you decide to do it, price seems to not be at the forefront.” However, essential to any bathroom design-green or not-is to keep with local building codes. They can guide you through any mandatory green bathroom improvements to be made, such as installing energy-efficient lighting, now required by many local electric utilities, Smoler says.
Quick Green Bathroom Makeover
Toilets. Replace an old toilet with one of today's high-efficiency models. They offer several options to help you cut back on the nearly 30 percent of indoor water use that toilets represent. There are double-flushing toilets that have one button to eliminate liquid waste and a second button to deliver more water to clear solid waste. There are toilets that have air-assisted flushes, larger trapways, and wash-down rather than gravity-suction flushing.
Before you buy, check for a WaterSense label on any models you are considering. The label means that the toilet has met certain U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirements for water efficiency and performance.
Cabinets. Consider green cabinets that will be produced using sustainable materials, such as bamboo, says Diana L. Patterson of Tucson, AZ, president-elect of the American Society of Interior Designers-Arizona South. “Avoid laminates as you are dealing here with glues and chemicals which are harmful and difficult to recycle. Solid wood cabinets are a better choice than laminate or plastic, but you want to choose easily replaceable, fast-growing woods such as willow, poplar, oak, eucalypts, since solid wood cabinets use many trees to produce.”
Moisture Control. With showering, bathing, and sink use, the bathroom is one room that could have a lot of moisture issues. Effective control is important to prevent respiratory and structural problems. Install a properly sized electric vent fan in the ceiling to remove moisture in the air and prevent mold or mildew from growing.
Updating. If changing out trim, look for items such as tile with recycled content or for materials with non-toxic finishes. Consider salvaged hardware to give a new look. If refreshing walls, use paints with low or no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Add an easy-to-install low-flow aerator to your sink faucet. It will not only reduce water consumption by increasing the amount of air in the spray, but also help you save on the costs of heating water and on water and sewage bills.
Fit an aerator onto your showerhead or get a low-volume showerhead model with different spray patterns that will provide the sensation of higher-volume sprays. Some models come with features that let you temporarily shut off the water but keep the desired temperature while you are lathering up.
A leaky toilet can lose from several gallons to nearly 100 gallons a day. You may have already noticed a few of the clues: having to jiggle the handle to make it stop running, hearing toilet water sounds when it is not in use, or hearing the toilet water run for several seconds when no one has touched the handle. Replacing the toilet flush value is an easy, efficient way to stop leaking and save thousands of gallons of water per year.
Repair a dripping faucet so it stops wasting water and your money. Make this the time when you also green your behavior. Turn off the tap when you do not need running water.
Check your stock of bathroom cleaning supplies. Read the labels so you can be sure the ingredients are nontoxic and environmentally friendly. If they are not, dispose of them safely. Contact your local government office for information on disposal of residential toxics. Check the Greenguard Environmental Institute website for products such as toilet, glass and floor cleaners that it certifies as having met its eco-friendly criteria. Read up on options for green cleaning indoors.
Coming clean in the bathroom means more than just scrubbing up the room. Go for eco-friendly body products as well. If you need help in determining the safety of ingredients, check out the website of the Environmental Working Group. The nonprofit environmental research organization keeps an online database of products rated for safety.
“Fluorescent lighting is by far the best choice for efficiency and low cost,” says Patterson. “Take care in disposing of these bulbs, but they will last for two to three years and manufacturers are producing fluorescent bulbs in all shapes and sizes now.”
And don't forget the sun. Make the most of any natural lighting provided by bathroom skylights or windows.
Recycled and Organic
Take your eco-friendliness a few steps further. Consider towels and wash cloths colored with low-impact dyes and made with organic cotton that is grown without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
For your facial tissues and toilet paper, consider switching to forest-friendly tissue products made of 100 percent post-consumer fiber. Greenpeace, an international environmental organization, provides an online guide to these sustainable products.
Want to make other rooms in your home greener? Check out The Green Kitchen, The Green Bedroom, and Design a Green Home Office.