It may be a small room, but its impact on the planet can be mighty. The bathroom is one of the most important rooms of the house when it comes to making changes for the sake of the planet.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and make your bathroom over in a manner that’s much more planet-friendly, these are some of the changes you’ll want to keep in mind.
Bathroom Concerns when Going Green
Bathrooms aren’t traditionally the greenest rooms in homes. There are simply too many opportunities for things to go wrong. From heavy moisture and lack of ventilation to the massive opportunities to waste water and the toxic chemical often used for cleaning, bathrooms are an environmental nightmare waiting to happen. That is, of course, unless you factor in the planet factors carefully into your bathroom update plans.
Start at the Bottom
The floors in your bathroom can have a bigger impact than many homeowners realize. Before you decide on flooring changes, take the time to consider the impact of installing radiant heat beneath the floors. While homeowners in Florida might not enjoy a huge benefit from radiant heat flooring, anyone who experiences more than a month of winter weather in an average year can save money on energy bills, while keeping the home more comfortable.
Why radiant heat flooring?
Radiant heat flooring consists of coils placed beneath the flooring that either use electricity or warm water to heat the floors. Throughout the winter, bare feet on cold floors provides a sensation of cold that seems to penetrate bones – leading many homeowners straight to the thermostat to bump things up a degree or two. Radiant heat beneath the floors lends a sensation of warmth and comfort whether you’re waking up in the middle of the night for a bathroom run or trying to get your day off to a great start.
The real beauty, though, is that the costs of heating the floor with radiant heat are substantially lower than attempting to make the floor warmer by warming the air. It takes a lot more time and energy to accomplish the latter which has the potential to waste more fossil fuels, water, and money on needless electrical bills.
The materials are not all that costly making it a cost-effective consideration if you’re remodeling to begin with. The money saved in utility bills allow this particular bathroom update to pay for itself in a relatively short time.
Greener Flooring Choices for Bathrooms
You only need to walk into your favorite big box hardware store to see a wide range of flooring options available to you. Bathrooms, though, present particular challenges when it comes to flooring in general that must be considered – even before you look into green choices for the rooms too.
Moisture is the primary culprit. Bathrooms collect warm moisture and often have little air circulation to get rid of it. This leads to wood expanding and contracting and mold or mildew forming in cracks, crevices, and on grout.
Cork Flooring for Bathrooms
It also means that you need to make flooring choices that keep this in mind for your bathroom. One of the best choices for bathroom flooring is cork. It’s beautiful, versatile, moisture resistant, and provides outstanding thermal insulation helping to keep your bathroom floors warmer in winter and cooler in the summer months.
Another beautiful flooring choice for bathrooms is Bamboo. It’s green because of its sustainability. Bamboo is perfect for homeowners interested in floors that look more like traditional hardwood, but has the added benefit of being more durable than most hardwoods and resistant to mold, mildew, and other common bathroom bacteria.
Tile Flooring for Bathrooms
Tile offers a huge set of pros and cons worth keeping in mind while exploring bathroom flooring options. With so many different colors, styles, and even types of tile products to choose from, it’s one of the most versatile flooring options on the market today. There are many different types of tile:
- Glass Tile
- Ceramic Tile
- Stone Tile
Glass tile, for instance, is often made of recycled glass. Ceramic tile is one of the grey areas when it comes to environmental impact. It’s come a long way since the 1970’s with technological improvement reducing the heat needed to properly fire the tiles by roughly half. Unfortunately, the processing requirements to create tile make it one of the lesser planet-friendly flooring products for today’s bathrooms.
Stone tile, must still be harvested and processed in a manner that uses a great deal of fossil fuels as well. The thing about ceramic and stone tile, though, is they are better for the planet than linoleum, vinyl, and other flooring options, so not necessarily something you should take off your list altogether.
One potential problem with tile is that it tends to be slippery, especially when wet; consider that when selecting floors for kitchens and bathrooms where moisture has a tendency to collect. You can balance that out with rugs and mats in some cases.
Planet-Friendly Walls and Cabinets
Bathrooms are notoriously small, poorly-ventilated spaces. This means that there is little air circulation within the area making it necessary to avoid wall materials, paints, and cabinetry that bring volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the room.
Choose Non-MDF Cabinetry
MDF, a wood substitute commonly used to make inexpensive cabinetry, is filled with VOCs, which are bad enough in well-ventilated rooms. In smaller rooms, like bathrooms with poor ventilation, they can cause a wide range of respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, and more.
Bathroom cabinetry made of natural woods is the best choice – especially if you choose a moisture tolerant wood like bamboo, teak (which is commonly used for building boats), and other similar woods. Make sure they are sustainably harvested and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Painting for the Planet
Bathroom paint needs to be paint that can deal with high moisture or high humidity situations without losing its color. But if your goal is an eco-friendly bathroom, then your pain needs to meet other standards as well. Look for paints that offer low-VOCs or zero VOCs to being with. Beyond that, paints that are odor free and mold resistant are real pluses for the small spaces of the average bathroom.
Some people prefer to skip paint as an option for bathroom walls altogether and use stone or ceramic tile on walls instead. If you choose to go this route, make sure you use wallboard that is suitable for high moisture areas like bathrooms and kitchen to avoid mold and mildew problems in your walls.
Water Concerns for Your Bathroom and the Planet
It’s impossible to pay attention to the needs of the planet without giving a nod to the water works within your bathroom. This is a room that, in many ways, is all about the water. Consider these options for conserving not only the water itself, but also the energy used in keeping your showers nice and hot.
According to Duke University’s Center for Sustainability and Commerce, toilets account for nearly 27 percent of all water used in the average home. This means that efforts to conserve or curtail unnecessary water use begins with the toilet. Homeowners today have the option of installing low-flow toilets in order to conserve water.
At the very least, look for toilets that bear the WaterSense label. Some areas even offer rebates or vouchers to help insulate the costs of the upgrade and this is in addition to all the water you’ll save over the next several years.
Go Tankless for Heating Water
Traditional water heaters waste a terrible amount of energy day after day keeping large amounts of water heated for your use. Then there is the inevitable waste of water as you wait for the warm air to travel from the water heater all the way to your shower.
Tankless water heaters heat water on demand. Since the water is heated as it passes through, you don’t have to worry about running out of hot water in the middle of your shower, though hopefully your showers don’t take THAT long if you’re concerned about conserving water for the sake of the planet.
Install High Efficiency Showerheads
The original water conserving showerheads, decades ago, slowed the water flow in showers to a trickle. Today’s high-efficiency showerheads allow you to feel the pressure of the water while using up to one gallon less per minute in the process.
Install Motion-Activated Bathroom Faucets
Leaving water on while you’re not actively using it, wastes the water. This is true when shaving, brushing teeth, and washing hands. Installing motion-activated faucets reduces much of the waste involved in daily grooming. With a family of four, this simple act can conserve a great deal of water over the course of a year.
These are the big moves you can make to create a more eco-friendly bathroom, but certainly not the only changes that can make a big difference. Consider switching to LED lights, adding skylights to capitalize on the sun’s brightness inside your bathroom, and using earth-friendly cleaning and bath products. These small changes, combined with the bigger changes above will have a huge impact when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint and that of your family.
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