Bathroom Renovations, Part I: Deliberating over what it means to 'go green'

Bathroom renovations are some of the trickiest to make in a house. We're in the process of turning an old bedroom on the second floor into a state-of-the-art bathroom utilizing green components and practical, custom design.

Much has been written on green bathroom remodeling, but several ideas run counter to certain green ideals; for example: Buying recycled tiles for your shower and floor is a great idea in theory; but if the company supplying said tile would have to ship from across the country, it might be more eco-friendly to buy local. It's a matter of research in this case, and sorting out whether the distance your tile would have to travel will be more damaging to the environment than tile that's not made from recycled materials.

Here are a few components we're applying to our remodeling:

We investigated compost toilets, but had trouble finding one that could sustain more than four people's full-time use (we're looking at full-time use by anywhere from 4 to 10 people at a time). We've decided to use composting toilets outside, and in smaller lodging accommodations scattered elsewhere on the property.

That said, toilets are the single largest user of water in the home, accounting for up to 28 percent of water use. We found a 1.6 gallon-per-flush Kohler dual flush toilet, which will save us roughly 180,000 gallons of water over the course of six years. Sign us up! 

Showers use 16 to 20 percent of all water in an average U.S. home. It's easy—and inexpensive—to replace a shower head, which can trim your water consumption by up to 70 percent. The federal standard dictates a maximum flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm), although 1.5 to 2 gpm works as well and saves much more water over time.

Same rule for shower heads goes for sink faucets, which account for 15 to 18 percent of indoor water use. While shopping, look for 0.5 to 1 gpm models. Or, if you're reusing old items, simply install aerator heads. If you're not on a tight budget, also look into motion-sensitive faucets like you see in public bathrooms. They're now made for residential dwellings!

Windows are a great way to ventilate a bathroom without using any energy at all; and can be great sources of light. Consider window placement when designing your bathroom (we set ours up so you can gaze out across the property while soaking in our claw-footed tub).

Reclaimed Items
Here's a short list of reclaimed items we'll be incorporating into our bathroom design:
  • Claw-footed tub (found item, refinished)
  • Bathroom sink fixtures (old garden hose controls)
  • Green paint
  • Wood for cubbies and drawers
  • Bathroom mirror
  • Table for sink (we picked up a vessel sink at Lowe's and an antique, reclaimed table locally for the sink to sit on)
Be sure to get Energy Star certified lights, and look into timers for things like heat lamps. And as always, use energy-efficient bulbs (and natural sunlight wherever possible).

Stay tuned: More pics coming soon!

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.