Bathrooms hold a surprising number of opportunities to green your home, including reducing water use, protecting indoor air quality through moisture control and ventilation, purchasing environmentally preferable building products for bathroom renovation, and using environmentally preferable cleaning and personal care products. Below, we organize ways to green your bathroom by:
- Bathroom Components: toilets, faucets and showerheads, cabinets, countertops, and flooring
- Bathroom Healthy Home Considerations: moisture, ventilation, mold control, and pest control
- Bathroom Green Practices: environmentally preferable bathroom products, daily practices to save water, and other everyday practices
Toilets are by far the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of residential indoor water consumption. Toilets also happen to be a major source of wasted water due to leaks and inefficiency. Be sure to fix toilet leaks promptly to avoid wasting water.
Older toilets, manufactured before 1992 when the Energy Policy Act mandated water efficient toilets, use up to 3.5 gallons per flush. Replacing these toilets with WaterSense labeled toilets could save nearly 2 billion gallons per day across the country. Whether you're remodeling a bathroom, building a new home, or simply replacing an old, leaky toilet, a WaterSense labeled toilet is a high-performing, water-efficient option worth considering. Switching to high-efficiency toilets can save a family of four, on average, $2,000 in water bills over the lifetime of the toilets. There are a number of high-efficiency toilet options, including dual flush technology. Dual flush toilets have two flush volumes-a full flush for solids and a reduced flush for liquids only.
Composting toilets are another option for those who want to be very green. Composting toilets have been an established technology for more than 30 years, and recent advances have made them easy to use and similar in look and feel to regular toilets. As they require little to no water, composting toilet systems can provide a solution to sanitation and environmental problems in unsewered, rural, and suburban areas.
Faucets and ShowerheadsFaucets
Faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use-more than 1 trillion gallons of water across the United States each year. WaterSense labeled bathroom sink faucets and accessories can reduce a sink's water flow by 30 percent or more without sacrificing performance. If every household in the United States installed WaterSense labeled bathroom sink faucets or faucet accessories, we could save more than $350 million in water utility bills and more than 60 billion gallons of water annually-enough to meet public water demand in a city the size of Miami for more than 150 days!
If you are not in the market for a new faucet, consider replacing the aerator in your older faucet with a more efficient one. The aerator-the screw-on tip of the faucet-ultimately determines the maximum flow rate of a faucet. Aerators are inexpensive to replace and are an effective water-efficiency measure.
Also keep in mind that you can significantly reduce water use by simply repairing leaks in fixtures-toilets, faucets, and showerheads-or pipes.Showerheads
Showering accounts for approximately 17 percent of residential indoor water use in the United States-more than 1.2 trillion gallons of water consumed each year. You can purchase quality, high-efficiency shower fixtures for around $10 to $20 a piece and achieve water savings of 25-60 percent. Select a high-efficiency showerhead with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gpm (gallons per minute) for maximum water efficiency. Before 1992, some showerheads had flow rates of 5.5 gpm, so you might want to replace older models if you're not sure of the flow rate.
For more information on water-efficient faucets, showerheads, and accessories, got to:
Many bathroom cabinets are made from particle board, hardwood plywood paneling, or medium density fiberboard glued together using a formaldehyde-based adhesive. Formaldehyde is a common type of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC), a harmful chemical that can contribute to outdoor smog, as well as indoor air pollution. Finishes commonly used on cabinets also contain VOCs. To avoid exposure to harmful chemicals, purchase cabinetry made with formaldehyde-free adhesives and finishes.
Also, use cabinetry made from natural and sustainably harvested materials such as bamboo and certified woods (rather than tropical hardwoods). As another option, cabinets may be available through local building material reuse stores, where salvaged cabinets are routinely purchased and successfully reused. You can find local building materials reuse stores at http://www.buildingreuse.org/directory and http://www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx.
Buying recycled-content materials helps ensure that the materials collected in recycling programs will be used again in the manufacture of new products. Recycled content countertops are now widely available, and are made of attractive surfaces such as stone, glass, or other materials. For instance, countertops can be made from a material that resembles granite but consists of a biocomposite mostly recovered newspaper and soy flour. Salvaged countertops can also be found at local building material reuse stores. You can find local building materials reuse stores at http://www.buildingreuse.org/directory and http://www.habitat.org/env/restores.aspx. Remember, use low-VOC sealants when installing countertops to protect the air quality in your home.
Flooring and Tiles
There are a number of flooring alternatives for your kitchen that feature environmentally
friendly attributes without sacrificing style:
Sustainable grown/harvested materials - Consider floors made of sustainably grown or
harvested materials. For instance, the cork used in linoleum and cork tiles is sustainably
harvested from the bark of cork oak. Other examples include floors made from the fast-growing
bamboo, as well as certified hardwoods rather than non-certified tropical hardwoods.
Sustainably grown and harvested flooring is now often available at home improvements stores.
Reclaimed materials - Consider using reclaimed lumber as a flooring option.
Hundreds of building material reuse stores sell high-quality flooring salvaged from
construction and renovation projects. Most stores are open to the public. The
Building Materials Reuse Association's Web site
contains a directory of member
reuse stores. Habitat for Humanity operates many reuse stores around the country and
their reuse store directory can also be found on their Web site. Online marketplaces for these materials
are also in operation, such as PlanetReuse.com
Recycled-content - Another flooring option is recycled-content flooring made of
materials such as recycled tiles, rubber, or stone. For example, ceramic tile is a durable
and low-maintenance alternative to wood or vinyl tile flooring, and can be available in up
to 100 percent recycled content. Reused salvaged ceramic tile may be available at a local
building material reuse store. Generally, the cost for floor tiles can very depending on
their characteristics and features, but using recycled-content material or non-toxic
adhesives does not necessarily increase the cost.
- Reduced toxicity - Vinyl flooring should generally be avoided due to the use of hazardous and toxic substances in the production process. If you like the features of vinyl flooring, consider linoleum instead, which is made from sawdust and linseed oil, using a less toxic process than the process used the make vinyl flooring
It is increasingly common for manufacturers to make green claims about flooring. However, you should do a bit of research to determine if flooring alternatives advertized as green really are. Some things to look for include:
Certification- Wood that is labeled as sustainably harvested should carry a
Sealing and coating chemicals- Avoid flooring coated or sealed with a
formaldehyde-based chemicals, which emit VOCs, or polyurethane, which contains
a class of chemicals that cause or aggravate asthma (diisocyanates).
And ask the retailer or supplier how they assess the validity of formaldehyde-free
Shipping distance- A long shipping distance reduces the environmental attributes
of flooring due to transportation energy use and GHG emissions, especially for heavy
materials such as flooring.
- Maintenance:- Consider maintenance issues when selecting your flooring materials, and avoid options that require frequent maintenance or harsh chemicals for cleaning or waxing.
First, take care when removing and replacing old flooring in a home. Some flooring materials used until the 1970's contained asbestos material. This included resilient floor tiles (vinyl asbestos, asphalt, and rubber), the backing on vinyl sheet flooring, and adhesives used for installing floor tile. Breaking, removing, chopping, sanding or other disturbance of these tiles can release asbestos fibers into the air and should only be done by a trained and certified professional.
During installation, make sure that non-toxic and/or non-VOC-emitting adhesives are to avoid indoor air quality problems in your home, which can persist long after installation. If you use a polyurethane-based varnish or coating, be sure to wear adequate personal protection and ensure good ventilation.
Too much moisture in a home can lead to mold, mildew, and other biological growths. This in turn can lead to a variety of health effects ranging from allergic reactions and asthma attacks to more serious illnesses. In addition to health problems, severe moisture problems can lead to rot, structural damage or premature paint failure. Hence, it's important to use techniques to control moisture when building, renovating, maintaining, and simply using your home.
Use exhaust fans or open windows when showering. Make sure wet areas in your bathroom are dry within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Control excess moisture (such as standing water from air conditioner drains) and fix leaks, drips and seepage problems. Do not install carpet near water sources or areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem such as around sinks, tubs, showers, and toilets. Thoroughly clean and dry water-damaged rugs and consider removal and replacement of items that appear to be permanently water damaged. If mold and mildew does appear on hard surfaces, wash it off and dry completely.
Ventilation supplies fresh air to your home and dilutes or removes stale polluted air. Good ventilation protects you and your family from unpleasant odors, irritating pollutants, and potentially dangerous gases. Ventilation is especially important in bathrooms to remove unwanted moisture, and prevent the growth of mold and mildew.
Be sure to check that your bathroom fan is functioning properly. You cannot assess if the fan is properly functioning simply because the motor makes noise or the fan is running. Make sure that the fan is exhausting a sufficient amount of air, and the air is exhausted directly to the outside, and not into an attic or some other space in the house. For information on how to determine if your fan is working properly, see the Homeowner's Guide to Ventilation, published by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
If you do not have a bathroom exhaust fan or if your current fan is not working, you should install one. ENERGY STARŪ has finalized the ventilation fan specification: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=vent_fans.pr_vent_fans. In cold climates, bathroom exhaust fans can be used as part of a strategy to provide ventilation for the whole house.
For more information on ventilation for homes, go to:
Safer Pest Managment
A variety of approaches are available to control pests (e.g., insects, vermin, fungus) in your bathroom, however many common pesticides can contain toxic chemicals. The best way to manage pests is to try to prevent them from appearing in the first place. For instance, stop insects from entering your home by removing sources of water and shelter; and prevent mold growth by properly ventilation and maintaining your bathroom.
If pest prevention does not work, consider natural or less-toxic alternatives to chemical pesticides. If you decide to use chemical pest control products, use them safely and correctly (and do not use any more than is needed). For instance, mold and mildew removers can be corrosive to objects and harmful to humans. It's a good idea to wear latex dishwashing gloves to help protect your skin when using these products. If you get some on your skin wash it off immediately. Always carefully read and follow the pesticide label's instructions and safety warnings.
For more information on safer pest management, go to:
What is a Pesticide? - http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/index.htm
Do's and Don'ts of Pest Control - http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/dosanddonts.htm
Controlling Pests in the Home - http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/controlling/residents.htm
Using Environmentally Preferable Products & Cleaners
Cleaning products are necessary for maintaining healthful conditions in the home. But many cleaning products can present health and environmental concerns, including eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, or more serious issues.
When purchasing kitchen cleaners, look for signal words on product labels. Try to avoid most products labeled Danger/Poison (indicating that they can be lethal when ingested in very small quantities), as well as products labeled as Corrosive, Severely Irritating, Highly Flammable, Highly Combustible, or Strong Sensitizer. Also, when possible, try to select cleaning products that are labeled as low-VOC, readily biodegradable, bio-based (such as citrus- or pine-based products), and solvent-free. Some products' environmental claims have been verified and certified by a third-party group (such as Green Seal or Scientific Certification Systems).
Also bear in mind that several simple, non-toxic, and inexpensive household substances can also be very effective for most types of household and kitchen cleaning jobs; these substances include white vinegar, baking soda, mild liquid (e.g., castile) soap, lemon juice, and borax. (Note that vinegar and lemon juice are acidic, so they are useful for removing mineral deposits and wax or grease build-up, but they should not be used on all surfaces.) Recipes for making natural, non-toxic cleaning formulas are available on various Web sites such as thegreenguide.com and care2.com.
Check out EPA's environmentally preferable cleaners Web site for information to help you choose household cleaners with reduced health risks. For information on specific green household cleaning products, go to:
EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database of
Environmental Information for Products and Services -
EPA Design for Environment Program partners and products list - http://www.epa.gov/opptintr/dfe/pubs/about/index.htm
National Institutes of Health Household Products Database - http://www.householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov
Reducing Water Use
Below are bathroom maintenance strategies and everyday household practices to help you conserve water.
By making just a few small changes, you can save a significant amount of water, which
will help you save money and preserve water supplies for current and future generations.
Some tips include:
Fix Leaks. You can significantly reduce water use by simply repairing leaks in fixtures
(faucets and showerheads), pipes, and toilets. A leaky faucet wastes gallons of water
in a short period of time. A leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons per day. That would be
like flushing your toilet more than 50 times for no reason!
Do not let water run unnecessarily. Letting your faucet run for five minutes while shaving or
brushing teeth uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours, and uses
up to 8 gallons of water a day!
Take short showers instead of tub baths. A shower only uses 10 to 25 gallons,
while a bath takes up to 70 gallons! If you do take a bath, be sure to plug the
drain right away and adjust the temperature as you fill the tub.
Don't pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it. For instance,
when you give your pet fresh water, reuse the old water for your houseplants.
- Monitor your water bill for unusually high use. Your bill and water meter are tools that can help you discover leaks.
Other Green Practices for the Bathroom
Use reusable products instead of on-time-use disposable products
(e.g., paper towels, disposable toilet scrubbers, disposable facial cleaning towels).
This can save you money, and reduce the environmental impacts related to producing,
transporting, and disposing of single-use products. For cleaning chores, try to use
durable and reusable items such as mops and reusable rags or sponges, rather than
disposable (one-time-use) products like paper towels.
Buy Recycled. "Close the loop" by choosing products that have recycled content,
such as toilet paper and paper towels. These materials perform as well if not
better than virgin materials and buying recycled content products helps sustain the
market for recycled materials.
Choose products with minimal packaging. Packaging materials account for a significant
amount of the trash we generate, and consume resources and energy to produce. Consider
buying items in bulk or those with minimal (or no) packaging, or products in
Choose recyclable products. Identify items and/or packaging that can be recycled,
and then be sure to recycle them! Our landfills are full of recyclable products that
Use less-toxic and non-toxic cleaning products, personal care products, and pest
control products. When using a toxic or hazardous product, read the instructions on
its label carefully, and use the smallest amount necessary.
- Purchase a low-VOC shower curtain and shower liner. The "new" smell of plastic, vinyl-based shower curtains is actually the scent of volatile organic compounds that can harmful to your health.