The 'Humanure' Compost Toilet System

Our humanure toilet prototype, built in about two hours for $0.

Whether you 're hosting an event and need a few extra porta-potties, in need of a toilet out by your work room or garage, re-doing your camp on the lake and lack a bathroom, or if you're ready to transition from a water-based septic or sewer system, the "humanure" compost toilet is a simple, cheap, ecologically responsible way to deal with human waste.

First, the stats:

  • Residential toilets account for approximately 30% of indoor residential water use in the United States—equivalent to more than 2.1 trillion gallons of water consumed each year. (EPA)

  • Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely flush the toilet nearly 140,000 times. (EPA)

  • Leaking toilets (even the ones you only hear at night) can lose 30 to 500 gallons per day. (American Water Works Foundation)

  • Many of our toilets have a constant leak — somewhere around 22 gallons per day. This translates into about 8,000 gallons per year of wasted water, water that could be saved. (United States Geological Survey)

Our main resource for constructing a humanure toilet was Joseph Jenkins' site, The Humanure Handbook. In addition to free compost-toilet plans and tons of great information,  he's got humanure toilets for sale, books available on the subject, and informational videos about emptying bins, layering materials, and more.

From that site:

Although most of the world's humanure is quickly flushed down a drain, or discarded into the environment as a pollutant, it could instead be converted, through composting, into lush vegetative growth, and used to feed humanity. The humanure process involves a compost toilet, a compost bin and cover material. Toilet instructions are simple. There are a variety of ways to make a humanure toilet (or you can buy one).

Here are a few images of completed humanure toilets.

There's not a whole lot to the design: You've got a 5-gallon bucket in a wooden box with hinged top, connected to a toilet seat. Next to the toilet, you keep a container filled with sawdust. After each use, a scoop of sawdust is added to help with decomposition and neutralize any odors. When the toilet is full, you empty it into a compost heap outside, add a thick layer of hay or straw (or weeds, dead leaves, or grass clippings), and wash the bin out. How gross is that? Not as bad as you might guess: Click here for full instructions (and video) on emptying and cleaning receptacles.

The purposes for composting humanure include preventing water pollution, recycling human excrement to prevent fecal contamination of the environment, and recovering soil nutrients for the purpose of growing food. It is recommended that you keep a two- or even three-sectioned composting system so that you can let your compost decompose for up to a year before it is broken down completely for use in a flower or vegetable garden. The compost system can be used for all compostable home items (from grass clippings to veggie scraps to humanure).

For our humanure toilet, we used a 5-gallon bucket, plywood scraps we found in the wood shed, an old toilet seat cover, and a few screws. We used the directions available for free at Jenkins' website (click here for those plans). Here's Greg making the fit for the top of the box:

...Greg and Jacob fitting the pieces of the box together:

...Jacob and Katie cutting the legs:

...Rebekah and Jacob throwing a coat of primer onto the box:

 ... And our finished prototype. After being in use for four days, we report only a slight odor of sawdust, and no bug attraction.

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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.

DIY Toiletries


Sponges that grow on trees, toothpaste, and deodorant—all made by you. Here are a few recipes for making your own, all-natural cleaning and refreshing products.
 
Loofa Sponge
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Did you know a loofa sponge actually grows on a viny plant like a squash? How amazing. Here's how you can grow your own shower sponge in your backyard.

This annual requires a long growing season of frost free weather. But for those of you in colder climates it is possible to start seedlings indoors and then transplant them outside allowing you to grow your own sponges. The vine can grow to great lengths producing beautiful, yellow flowers all summer. Once the frost kills the vine (or the plant is fully mature), you can pick the fruit and peel the outer skin.
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Then comes the process of “milking” the sponge- squeezing it repeatedly from the middle towards the ends in an attempt to remove the fleshy substance inside. Plenty of seeds will come out as well.

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Toothpaste
From The Old School
Making toothpaste at home with baking soda seems like a no brainer, until you actually do it and the result is gag-worthy at best. To navigate this battle of ease versus taste, we road-tested the top toothpaste recipes out there, and discovered a perfect potion that’s head and shoulders above the rest. Pepperminty goodness awaits.

Materials
  • 6 tsp baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
  • 1 tsp stevia powder
  • 4 tsp vegetable glycerin or 2 tbsp organic coconut oil
  • 10 to 20 drops peppermint essential oil
  • measuring spoons
  • mixing bowl
  • airtight opaque container
Measure out and place ingredients into a small jar. Stir until it looks like toothpaste. Add a dime-size amount to your toothbrush and scrub away.

Deodorant
Here's a great deodorant recipe from Oh Dear Drea: 
The whole process takes all of two minutes. Feel free to use this recipe and this recipe as reference points. 

1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup Arrowroot Powder, 1 lb. or Bob's Red Mill makes some too.
6 tablespoons coconut oil
15 drops Eucalyptus Oil (or any essential oil)

Mix baking soda and arrowroot powder in a bowl. Add coconut and eucalyptus oil. Mix well. Scoop into jar. Keep in a cool-dry place or in fridge. The texture of the deodorant varies on the temperature of its environment.
Comment

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.

Masterful Bath

Editor's note: This blog will cover the general outline of a bathroom renovation. Stay tuned to future blogs that will get into specifics for things like reviving claw tubs, installing sinks, updating toilets, and detailing with barn wood.

This fall and winter were spent with a downstairs bathroom renovation that split the old bath off the kitchen in two, moved the laundry area to another part of the first floor, and gave the master bedroom a master bath.

The concept was easy: provide Better Farm's present-and-future-directors with a small master suite, consolidate the downstairs bath, make a cohesive laundry area close to dry racks and clothesline... and do it all in a (mostly) sustainable way featuring reused/reclaimed materials, communal/DIY labor, and continue our mission to expand the space here without sacrificing our ideals.

First step was to take the existing first-floor bathroom and divide it in two. This wasn't so difficult, since the room was already obviously sectioned into a laundry area and bath/sink/shower area. We moved the existing door over about three feet and built a wall between the laundry and bath areas:

Moving the downstairs bath entranceway in order to put half that original bath in the master bedroom.
Next, we took the existing bedroom wall:
The master bedroom wall destined to disappear.
...brought it forward a few feet, and added a doorway:
New wall with doorway.
New walls and eco-friendly insulation were put in, walls and wiring were put in, and leftover flooring from our upstairs bathroom project was added.

Next up was to seek out fixtures and appliances. I scored a claw-footed tub off Craigslist from a dilapidated duplex in Watertown. With the help of some friendly volunteers, we got that tub out of the house, sanded down, and repainted:
Claw tub gets a makeover.
Freshly sanded and painted
For the toilet, we're reusing the existing toilet that was in Steve's bedroom originally. The sink was a hand-me-down from a neighbor (only needed a good scrubbing and two new handles):
Glam shot: vintage sink with designer dog.
We also added a small, built-in shelf utilizing old barn wood cut out of the Art Barn when we added new windows:


We trimmed out an old beam I opted to leave exposed with more old barn wood, and I found a great, old lamp at an antiques shop in New Jersey. An afternoon was spent reappropriating old barn doors into a sliding-track, barn-style bathroom door (tracks and pulley wheels are antiques, bought locally). Deer antlers from my friend Sunny, a Buddhist figurine and peacock feathers from the library, an old vase my pops brought back from Mexico, and various knicknacks (and jewelry) completed the look.

 And, at long last...
View from the master bedroom.
Inside the bathroom.


Fixtures from Elizabethan Classics.





Got a great design idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.

Campy Bath Goes Glam (and Green!)





We were passed-due for a big overhaul and update on Better Farm's downstairs bathroom; but with the space being structurally sound, it was low on the priorities list. Three years since our start, and with a renovation project bearing down to create a master suite on the first floor, the opportunity arrived to shrink the downstairs bathroom, make a more sensible laundry area closer to the clothesline, and update some outdone interior design. More blogs to come about those other projects—for today, we'll focus on that downstairs bathroom and how we set about getting it glammed up in a functional way that's ready for all the high-traffic Better Farm brings.

What we did:
  • Removed the laundry area entirely to create a master bath off the bedroom downstairs, thereby shrinking the existing bathroom to a more manageable, realistic size
  • Moved the entrance door from the kitchen to the bath, spurring a refrigerator move and island addition
  • Took a standing three-part shutter system that hid an open shelving area in the bathroom, shrunk it to two panels, and used hinges to affix the shutters to the wall
  • Updated old lighting fixtures, made them more energy-efficient
  • Used discarded tongue-and-groove pine flooring to outdo the old linoleum floor (also helped with heating efficiency)
  • Added color to the old, campy walls
  • Brought in bright, insulated curtains
  • Removed clutter
The bathroom in 2009:




...and the bathroom in 2010...


...and the bathroom's metamorphosis in the last few weeks...







...and the final results!





Donated chalkboard, gold frame, vase. Upcycled baking dish used as soap holder. Magazine rack taken off back of church pews in kitchen. Painting is of old Grandma Caldwell!
Found sign, reused hooks

Lovable hand-me-downs: shower curtain, window drape, and floor rugs were all passed down to us.

Got a great design idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.

Many thanks to the following people for their time, energy, donations, and work on this project:

Adam McBath
Jackson Pittman
Greg Basralian
Jaci Collins
Joel Zimmer
Nicole Caldwell
David Garlock
Kristen Caldwell
Comment

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.

Skeletons From the (Water) Closet

Our new, bare-bones bathroom design
There are few things worse in interior design than a dim, outdated bathroom. Of the three we have at Better Farm, the older bathroom upstairs fit that description perfectly; with a toilet that only occasionally flushed, a dark design, and peeling flooring.

Let's take a closer look at where we started from.
In 2010, the walls were a hodge-podge of repairs, hippie cob, and outdated appliances: the cumulative efforts of 40 years' worth of people needing different things from the space.



The door to the bathroom,  along with all the other doors on the second floor, wasn't properly hung, didn't fit the door frame, and didn't exactly work with the existing hardware.


The linoleum on the floor was cracked and peeling from all sides, especially the doorway:

Something had to be done! I've learned in the last year to love white-on-white, and wanted to experiment with that upstairs. Check out some of these beautiful images I found:



Then Kristie Hayes-Beaulieu, one of our betterArts residents this summer, gave us one of her beautiful x-ray images from her gallery show in July. I decided to make the whole bathroom design work around this image, which lent itself nicely to the white decor. Luckily we also have amassed a large collection of skulls and bones from various adventures, feathers, and a few other oddities that when showcased together made the room a stark, skeletal exploration of the body (and a few branches and trees thrown in for good measure). Green initiatives employed:
  • Keeping our low-flow shower head that we installed last year
  • No-VOCs, eco-friendly Olympia paint (white eggshell)
  • Upcycling our interior design—saves us money, keeps items out of landfills (the only purchased items came from Craigslist, including the sink)
We were also able to secure free tongue-and-groove flooring that was someone else's excess, and caught a break on a bunch of perfectly good doors. With all these components in place, here's what we came up with:
Reclaimed shelving from Craiglist, cigar boxes, muskrat skeleton, and an unidentified animal skull adorn one section of the bathroom.
A sink and vanity off Craigslist, donated curtains, and upcycled mirror create a compelling white-on-white decor.
Found branches in a tall vase, old chair from inside the house, and donated hooks create a nice contrast to all the white.
A horse skull, found by Han Solo.
A row of x-ray images captures the eye.
From left to right: human torso, deer head, human ankle, dog head, human head, goldfish, human hand, chicken skull. All images were found online and printed at the farm.
Antique bottles add an apothecary vibe to the room.
Many thanks to the following volunteers for their help: Greg Basralian, Adam McBath, Elyna Grapstein, and Kevin Carr. Thanks to Kristen Caldwell for the shower and window curtains.

Got a great DIY design idea you'd like to share? E-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
2 Comments

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.

Introducing the 'Poop and Paddle'




Back in May we told you about our friend Adam Katzman and his now-famous Jerko the Gowanus Water Vacuum, a houseboat functioning as a living lab that was moved to Marina 59 in Queens, N.Y., as part of a revitalization effort.

Well, turns out Adam's been pretty busy since then, working on the "Poop and Paddle", a floating toilet that functions as an outhouse and sewage-treatment plant-in-one. The structure, which Adams says is meant to be more inspirational than practical, demonstrates how sewage and rainwater can be converted to cattails and clean water. Science Friday last week produced the above video on the whole operation.

Go, Adam, go.

Music: Apocalypse Five and Dime
1 Comment

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.

Downstairs Bathroom Fixtures Get Bathed in Light

The downstairs bathroom / washroom has come a long way since the resurrection of Better Farm. Clutter has been removed, broken washers and dryers have been disposed of, and new eye-catching knick-knacks have been dispersed throughout the room. After all that work it, seemed such a shame that we didn't have the proper lighting to take it all in. Single CFL bulbs jutting out from an uncovered fixture in the ceiling and next to the medicine cabinet just don't provide the warmth and clarity our beloved washroom deserves. It was time to get enlightened.

Replacing the ceiling fixture was no big deal. The local 'bulk store' (not Walmart) provided a fixture that diffuses CFL light well and meshes with the existent aesthetic. Technically this fixture was meant to attach to the bottom a pre-existing ceiling fan, but I did a little tinkering with the mount design and now our washroom is not only beautifully decorated but wonderfully lit as well.

But I couldn't stop there...

For as long as I can remember the bathroom sink has been flanked by two less-than-elegant wall mounted fixtures. Also for as long as I can remember only one of these fixtures has been complete and working. Can we all agree that two lights are better than one? Good. Can we all agree that a fixture without a cover looks disastrous. Fantastic.

We've already blown our lighting budget on one fixture. Time to get creative.

I was happy to discover that an empty jam jar that had been kicking around the kitchen for days was a perfect fit for our ailing light. The screw-top jar would make a perfect light cover and allow for easy access when it comes time to replace the bulb.

Ideally. one would use a rotary tool to cut a hole through the jar's lid. I was unable to track one down but a power drill was able to get the job done nearly as well. After compromising the integrity of the jam jar's lid with a circular pattern of holes and some tin-snips I was able to remove just enough of the lid to allow the CFL bulb to fit while maintaining the screw-top functionality. A strong adhesive (PVC pipe glue, superglue would probably work just as well) was then used to affix the lid to the base of the light fixture. After the adhesive was given time to set the jam jar was placed over the CFL and screwed into the lid. Voila! Our fixture was transformed from an eyesore to a DIY beauty.


Streamlined Showerheads

Delta Faucet 75155 Water-Amplifying Showerhead in Chrome, courtesy of Monica Murphy.
Showerheads of the past (which continue to comprise the majority of showerheads currently in your home showers) generally spray five to six gallons of water per each minute you're sudsing up. Newer models generally halve that amount, to 2.5 gallons per minute. In our ongoing effort to use fewer resources and less energy in general, last year Better Farm  picked up an Evolve Showerhead for the new upstairs bathroom that not only uses less water, but also reduces its flow to a trickle when the water reaches 95 degrees. When you're done brushing your teeth or whatever other multi-tasking you do while waiting for the shower to heat up, you simply pull the cord next to the shower head and resume bathing.

For the other, older upstairs bathroom, we've been stuck with this rickety old thing:
Besides being fairly crusty, it's an older showerhead. That means it's not exactly eco-friendly. So when Monica Murphy offered us a low-flow Delta model  she'd used in her Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment, I couldn't refuse. This head costs $10 and only uses 1.6 gallons of water per minute (without sacrificing anything in performance, believeyoume). You'll score 36 percent in water savings over a standard showerhead, nice water pressure, and a clean conscience. Doesn't that sound nice?

The installation was ridiculously straightforward: Unscrew old showerhead, apply threading tape to the threaded pipe, screw on new showerhead.

For purchasing information, click here.
1 Comment

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.

Inspiration Station: Intern barracks

While waiting at the vet's office in Watertown to get Kobayashi Maru and Han Solo their annual checkups, I flipped through a recent issue of Country Living and found these amazing photos of a ski dorm. The concept is a perfect solution for how best to accommodate our ever-growing summer stable of interns at Better Farm.

Here are some crucial elements from space pictured above:
  • Four sets of wooden bunk beds that have elements of privacy, thanks to floor-to-ceiling drapes that can be drawn when it's time for lights-out
  • Four of the bunks have individual portal windows with outside views
  • Several trees that came down for construction were reintegrated as sculptural elements
  • Movable upholstered cubes and drop-leaf table can be reconfigured as needed for group activities, reading, or "family" card or board games
Neutral tones and streamlined lines make this simple space dramatic and cozy. The few lighting elements could easily be run off a small solar panel or wind turbine (or could conversely even be small lanterns or wall sconces).

Now check out this dorm-style bathroom, from the same page (could be translated into a structure adjoined or next to the barracks housing; essentially an outhouse on steroids):
Elements I'm attracted to here include:
  • Several shower stalls, each equipped with rainwater shower heads (could be fed by a rainwater catchment system with graywater runoff)
  • Several sink vessels to accommodate multi, simultaneous use
  • Plenty of cubby space for storage
  • Toilet stall
  • Simplistic, industrial lighting
Not sure if this construction project is in the cards for this summer, but it's an inevitability down the road so the interns can have their own private cabin away from home to call their own.

Ready those Resolutions

With the new year just around the corner, it's the perfect time to reassess your role as steward over the land you live on.

It's easy in the humdrum daily business of working, socializing, and being alive to forget that the ground we walk on and the air we breathe are what tie us to this world. Lose those things to pollution and misuse, and we're all in trouble. It's a very simple concept; but the vast majority of people still can't seem to bring themselves to feel responsible for such basic things.

To simplify that process, Practically Green has compiled a list of extremely easy green ideas to help reduce negative impacts on our dear ol' Mother Earth. From switching to recycled toilet paper to installing a graywater system, this comprehensive list will walk you through the process for each idea.

Green resolutions for 2011 mean sweeter soil and fresher air for all of us. Get your green ideas here.

New Bathroom is Green in More Ways Than One

When it became clear there would be enough people coming through Better Farm to warrant a third bathroom, imaginings began as to how we could create a state-of-the-art space with as small a carbon footprint as humanly possible. I opted to retool what used to be Skyler's room on the second floor; which meant a lot of new pipes, some extremely creative spirits on the part of the workers who would do the dirty work, and a ton of patience.

I did extensive research on how to "green" a bathroom, and came up with a few key points to pay attention to from my handy-dandy "Green Remodeling" book. Here are some options to consider when renovating an existing bathroom or putting in a new one:
  • High-performance, low-flow shower head with chlorine filter
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs
  • Lighting controls
  • Windows that open
  • Landscaping for shade
  • Greater natural daylight
  • Upgraded single pane windows
  • Water filters
  • Low-flow faucets
  • Insulated plumbing and pipes
  • Solvent-free adhesives
  • Low-flow or greywater flushing toilet
With these ideas in mind, I made a few sketches of the perceived space:

 

From there, Fred Ciliberti got to work gutting the room and laying out the pipework. Bobby Rockerman showed up for a while to help get the piping from the basement to the soon-to-be bathroom. In the meantime, I scooped up several eco-friendly components:
  • Dual-flush toilet    Kohler makes a dual-flush toilet that can save the average homeowner more than 6,000 gallons of water annually by utilizing 20% less water-per-flush than your average toilet. In addition, there are two flush buttons instead of one so you can control how much water you need to wash away waste.
  • Reclaimed claw-footed tub    The United Methodist Church in Alexandria Bay held a tag-sale fundraiser for which people in the area donated items. Among them was a claw-footed tub, in pristine shape—we were even able to use most of the original hardware, including wonderful old stainless steel faucets. All we did to update the tub was slap a fresh coat of primer and paint on the outside, soak the hardward in CLR, buff them up with some Bar Keepers Friend, and call in carpenter extraordinaire Gary Stevenson to hook it up.
  • Evolve showerhead    The Evolve showerhead utilizes ShowerStart technology, which stops water flow to a trickle when it reaches 95 degrees. When you're ready to hop in the shower, simply pull the cord next to the showerhead and the water pressure is restored. So what does it save? A whopping 2,700 gallons of water annually, all the fossil-fueled energy it requires to heat that much water, and up to $75 off our annual utility bill.
  • Reclaimed bathroom sink pedestal    Vessel sinks are all the rage in bathroom design these days, but we wanted to revisit some old-fashioned roots with this modern-day fad. Armed with a white vessel sink from Lowe's, we tracked down a pre-Civil War washing table at Liberated Sole Shoe Repair & Antique Shop in Watertown that once held—you guessed it—a wash basin. Using some minor wizardry by the wonderful Gary Scholes, the sink hooked into and through the table.
  • American Olean tiles    American Olean spearheaded a Greenworks initiative, which offers information and support on LEED-certification, eco-friendly construction, and sustainability issues as they relate to construction. And by their very nature, ceramic tiles last far longer than other surface types. Less replacing means less waste and wear and tear on the environment. 
  • Controlled lighting     There are three sets of lights in the bathroom, all utilizing high-efficiency bulbs. This way, during the day you can use no lights (east-facing window means plenty of natural sun rays), or if you're getting dolled up for a night on the town you can flip on the vanity lights above and to either side of the mirror. There's also a three-way fan in the ceiling, which has a hot air blower, regular room fan, and soft light when you just need a little glow to guide your way. 
  • Eco-friendly insulation     Nowadays there's no excuse for toxic fiberglass insulation. All insulation-related updates at Better Farm have utilized cotton insulation that's so safe you can rub your hands and face in it.
With these elements in place, Gary Scholes came in to complete the carpentry and plumbing.  Gary Stevenson finished the project off by creating a small oak stage for the tub (he found a pile of beautiful, aged oak out in our barn and planed some of it for this project—stay tuned for future uses we put the rest to!) and hooking it into the pipework Fred and Bobby laid.

Photos from the process:

And for the finished product...






Many thanks to the following people for their support and expertise:
Kristen Caldwell's generous donation
Hunter Ciliberti, demolition
Fred Ciliberti, demolition, plumbing, and carpentry
Bob Rockerman, plumbing
David Garlock, consulting
Gary Scholes & crew, plumbing, tiling, and carpentry
Laura Caldwell, vintage towel rack
Scott Mueller, fish painting
Kate Garlock, bathtub refinishing and painting
Gary Stevenson, plumbing
Chris Menne, Brian Hines, and Sarah Herold, painting and staining

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:



Toilet
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
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.

Faucets
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
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)
Lights
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!
Comment

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.