Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Going Green: Bathroom Remodels

Bathroom remodels continue to be one of the most popular, and smart, investments for homeowners across the country. But what about going green in the bathroom? It's a no-brainer that a green bathroom remodel will save you on energy costs and drastically reduce your home's water usage. What many homeowners don't realize, however, is that green bathrooms are cutting edge when it comes to designing more attractive, healthier, and more comfortable remodels.

The Cost of Going Green
Placing a price tag on the cost of going green with your bathroom remodel is easier said than done. After all, the level of green each homeowner is willing to commit to is different, as are the individual specifications of each project. What we can tell you is this:

  • Green remodeling does not necessarily mean higher initial costs.

  • Green remodeling is guaranteed to translate into large energy savings over the life of your remodel.

  • Determining the value of green remodeling isn't always best served by focusing on the bottom line.

This last one is maybe the most important. It's what green remodeling expert David Johnston refers to as "avoiding the payback trap." Going green isn't just about reducing your monthly utility costs. It's about creating healthier living environments for you and your family, utilizing long lasting and low-maintenance materials so you'll lose less time to maintenance chores and repairs, and emphasizing environmental responsibility so you can rest easy knowing that you're doing everything you can to pass a better world onto your children and grandchildren. As you can see, assigning value in the world of green remodeling goes beyond assessing a final cost in dollars and cents.

Green Remodeling Guru David Johnston's Tips on Thinking Green
David Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., and the author of the Nautilus Award winning book, Green Remodeling. He's also ServiceMagic's most trusted adviser on all things green. Whether you're gutting your bathroom and starting from scratch or just replacing a few fixtures, here's some of Johnston's wisdom regarding specific steps you can take to introduce green into your bathroom remodeling project.

How to Maximize Energy Savings in Your Green Bathroom Remodel
Reducing energy consumption, and in turn utility bills, is one of the most popular reasons homeowners choose to go green. In the bathroom, that means reducing water usage and increasing energy efficiency across the board. Here's a list of things you can do to ensure maximum energy efficiency, and in turn, lower the operating costs of your bathroom.

  • Install low flow faucets and showerheads. They can reduce water usage at these fixtures by up to 60 percent.

  • Install low-flush, high-efficiency toilets. Older toilets use between 3.5 and 7 gallons per flush. New models do the job just as well with 1.6 gallons of water or less.

  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. Homes lit with incandescent bulbs can attribute up to 25 percent of their electric bills to home lighting. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use 75 percent less energy and last 10 times as long.

  • Install low-e, multiple paned windows with vinyl or wood frames. Installing energy-efficient windows throughout your home can reduce total energy costs by 30 to 50 percent and they provide valuable natural light, ventilation, and passive solar heat.

  • Install a skylight or solar tube(s) to increase natural lighting.

  • Install radiant heating. It's more efficient and healthier than forced air.

  • Insulate plumbing, and remove it from outside walls. Doing so reduces heat loss as water travels from your hot water heater to the faucet, and saves on water heating costs.

  • Install an "On-demand" hot water circulation pump. These pumps send hot water to your faucet in seconds, and reduce the demands placed on your hot water heater.

  • Consider replacing your old hot water heater with a newer, more efficient model. High-efficiency fossil fuel water heaters, tankless water heaters, and heat pump water heaters are all sound energy savings solutions. Or upgrade your present heater with an insulation jacket, heat traps, and a water heater timer.

  • Insulate as much as possible. If you're gutting your bathroom anyway, the more insulation you install in the walls, the better. Be sure to seal up other sources of air leaks as well, such as the small, hidden gaps where plumbing enters your bathroom.

Green Bathroom Remodeling Tips for a Healthier Home
Urea formaldehyde, vinyl chloride gasses, volatile organic compounds, and toxic mold might sound like the beginning of a toxicology report, but all are actually chemicals and byproducts commonly associated with building materials used in the bathroom. Their presence has been linked to everything from rising levels of childhood asthma to much more serious maladies like cancer, repressed immune systems, and nervous system damage. Green remodeling strives to reduce or eliminate the presence of these harmful elements, increasing your home's indoor air quality, and in turn, the health of everyone that lives under your roof. Here is a list of things to look for, and to look out for, in pursuit of the healthiest bathroom possible.

  • Investigate your local water supply and install filters on sink faucets and showerheads. Your water will be healthier, taste better, and be safer for bathing, especially for those with chemical sensitivities. Investigate local water quality first, however, since different filters meet different needs.

  • Use formaldehyde-free insulation, including recycled content fiberglass, cellulose, or rock wool insulation. Traditional batt insulation materials contain formaldehyde that can off-gas into your bathroom. That's bad news, considering the fact that formaldehyde is a documented carcinogen.

  • Design with ventilation in mind. The high moisture levels in a bathroom make for the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew, as well as rot and other moisture damage. Opening windows during warmer months and installing a bathroom exhaust fan vented to the outside for the rest of the year helps to keep moisture levels down.

  • Only use water resistant wall and floor coverings. Avoid wallpaper and carpet, both of which can harbor moisture, foster mold growth, and off-gas other indoor air contaminants.

  • Select low-VOC paints, adhesives, and sealers. Most traditional paints, adhesives, and sealers emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for years after being applied. Low- or no-VOC paints, adhesives, grouts, and sealers help achieve higher indoor air quality levels.

  • Avoid MDF (medium density fiberboard) and particle board whenever possible. Both are common materials used in countertop and cabinet construction, and both off-gas urea formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. If you do use MDF or particleboard, seal it with several coats of a low- or no-VOC paint or sealer.

  • Avoid vinyl flooring. Vinyl flooring puts off vinyl chloride gas, another known carcinogen.

  • Replace lead plumbing in older homes.

Comfort, Quality, Durability, and Green Bathroom Remodeling
Going green doesn't mean settling for lower quality, or sacrificing looks and comfort for environmentally friendly products. In fact, the opposite is usually the case. Green remodeling requires contractors to pay closer attention to their building practices; green products utilize the most cutting edge technology and design features; and green building focuses on materials that are long lasting and durable, since the best materials from a green standpoint are often the best building materials, period. Here are some green bathroom strategies of Johnston's that will result in a more comfortable, higher quality, and longer lasting bathroom remodel every time.

  • Maximize insulation. Warmer bathrooms are more comfortable bathrooms, and more insulation helps reduce noise pollution, as well.

  • Install new bathroom fixtures. New, energy-efficient bathroom fixtures are cutting edge when it comes to water efficiency and design. There's no need to sacrifice comfort or looks by going green.

  • Consider a tankless water heater, heat pump water heater, or an "on demand" water heater. You'll never have to wait for hot water to arrive at the faucet or shower again.

  • Install radiant heating in floors, walls, or ceilings. Radiant heating is a luxury item in any bathroom, but from a green standpoint, the heat is more consistent, comfortable, and it's healthier since it doesn't stir up dust and other particulates like forced air heating.

  • Use ceramic or stone for countertops, flooring, and wall tile. Ceramic and stone are virtually waterproof, healthier in regards to moisture resistance and indoor air quality, last a lifetime, and are hands down some of most beautiful products on the market, green or otherwise.

  • Install task specific lighting wired to independent switches. Whether you need mood lighting for a "candle lit" soak in the tub, or task lighting at the vanity for getting ready in the morning, task specific lighting wired to independent switches allows you to achieve the perfect lighting level for any situation and reduce energy consumption since you can turn off lights you don't need.

Environmental Responsibility in the Bathroom
Any discussion of green remodeling would be incomplete without talking about environmental responsibility. After all, at its heart, green remodeling is about living more harmoniously with our environment. Our present way of doing things, including how we build and remodel our homes, is detrimental to the environment. That being said, here's Johnston's advice on how to shift thinking green to an environmental standpoint, and reasons why it's a good idea to do so.

  • Use recycled building materials. Old lumber, trim, and door and window casings can all be reused if removed carefully. And if you're willing to be flexible when it comes to design, perfectly good sinks, cabinet hardware, and ceramic and stone tile, for example, can all be purchased from retailers who specialize in reclaiming and recycling old building materials.

  • Use materials manufactured with recycled content. Be it cellulose insulation made from recycled paper and cardboard, or recycled content glass and ceramic bathroom tile, building materials made from recycled content help to reduce waste, require less energy to manufacture, and are equal to, or of higher quality than, most products made from virgin materials.

  • Recycle construction and job site waste. Old porcelain toilets and other ceramics can be ground up and used to make concrete, steel tubs can me melted down for the metal, and that old sink that you think is hideous might be exactly what a homeowner across town has been looking for all along.

  • Increasing energy efficiency isn't just good for your pocketbook. Whether it's reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed to heat and light your bathroom or eliminating wasteful use of a valuable natural resource like water, any steps you take to cut your home utility costs are beneficial for the environment as well.

Is Green the Right Color for Your Bathroom Remodel?
Going green with your bathroom remodel is a smart move from just about every angle. It reduces energy costs, creates healthier indoor environments, and the final product is a more comfortable, higher quality bathroom. And, of course, it's also a good choice when it comes to being a good steward of your environment.

Even better, going green doesn't have to be a huge commitment. It's true that the greenest bathroom remodel is one that incorporates green building practices into every facet of your remodel — a concept that Johnston refers to as "whole systems building." But simple things like installing a low-flush toilet, a high-efficiency hot water heater, or choosing environmentally friendly countertop and cabinet materials for your new vanity are all smart steps in a green direction.

If you think your bathroom remodel would look better in green, talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you make the right decisions in designing the perfect green bathroom for your home.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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