When someone mentions "greening" the bathroom, most people think of changing the wallpaper color or adding a fern.
Transforming your bathroom into an eco-friendly oasis doesn't only help keep the planet green, it can keep more green in your wallet.
"People don't realize that there are money savings involved with greening the bathroom," says Sean Miller, director of education at Earth Day Network in Washington, D.C., a non-profit organization that seeks to broaden the environmental movement worldwide. "If the average American household installed low-flow toilets and low-flow showerheads in their bathrooms, they could save up to $60 annually on their water and energy bills combined."
From LED lighting to partially recycled cabinetry, Americans can update their bathrooms with green products for a variety of budgets.
"There are so many companies out there now. Because if you're not on board with the green movement, you're going to go out of business," says Brian Johnson, the 2009 National Kitchen and Bath Association Design Competition winner of the Best Sustainable Bath.
In his winning design, Johnson, who is an architect with Collaborative Design Architects in Billings, Mont., created a state-of-the-art bathroom that saves water, energy and utilizes recycled materials. This includes a Kohler dual flush valve toilet, which has the option of using a .8-gallon flush or a 1.6-gallon flush. The cabinets, from Dewils, feature recycled content in the boxes, as well as bamboo veneers. Cambria supplied the quartz counter top, which is composed of a manmade granite that includes pieces of rock that would normally go to waste, Johnson says. The bathroom is warmed by grey water that is heated through a boiler then pumped back into the floor slabs. "Heating a floor slab is one of the most energy-efficient ways to heat a home," Johnson says. "You're probably going to end up saving 40 to 50 percent on a normal heating bill."
The entire cost for the bathroom, Johnson says, was $40,000. If this seems a bit too expensive, consider the Kohler MasterShower ultra low-flow, two-way body sprays and shower head, which Johnson says actually soak you as they regulate the water flow. Combining the Kohler toilet and shower system can save between 15 and 20 percent on the water bill, he says, which is a savings many Americans can really appreciate right now.
"The average American shower is seven minutes per day," Miller says. "A low flow showerhead cuts down water use in the shower by 70 percent."
With the average American using 100 gallons of water per day per household, every little drop counts, Miller says. And while most consumers have heard of recycled toilet paper by companies like Seventh Generation, not as many know of other eco-friendly products for the bathroom, says Melissa Rosen, co-owner of Locali, the first "eco-convenience" store in Los Angeles.
"Given the choice, people are picking the biodegradable, cruelty-free, natural hygiene products over their counterparts at increasing rates," says Rosen. Take, for instance, Preserve toothbrushes and razors, whose handles are made from 100-percent recycled plastic. Or Tea Tree Oil Mouth Wash, Sapothocary Handmade Botanical Soaps, Periobrite Toothpaste, Anti-Body Green Tea & Mint Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner, Kill It Dead Natural Deodorant, and Eco-Dent VeganFloss. And Locali even sells its own unique brand of Soy Candles.
"You can use it as a light source and, as it melts, the soy becomes a skin cream," Rosen says.
To save water while you are in the shower, Rosen suggests Locali's two-bucket water collection set, which can catch several gallons of cold water a day in the shower while you wait for the shower to warm up.
"The recycled bath water can be used to water the plants or wash your bicycle or car, and also serves as a powerful reminder of just how much precious water we use or waste daily," Rosen says.
Lighting can also add a green hue to your bathroom, says Sara Ann Busby, the 2008 NKBA president.
"There's a lot of great LED lighting out of there for bathrooms. And LED uses less energy than a compact fluorescent, with better color rendition," says Busby, of Elk Rapids, Mich. "We use it a lot for under cabinet lighting and for some accent lighting."
Speaking of color, be sure to explore low-VOC or no-VOC paints for your bathroom, says Valerie Reddemann, president of Greenfeet, a supplier of eco-friendly products in Chico, Calif.
"VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are nasty chemicals that can cause headaches, cancer and other bad things," Reddemann says. "Nearly every building materials store carries eco-friendly alternatives. These are much better for your lungs and your home's indoor air quality, which can be up to 100x worse than the air outside."
When cleaning your bathroom, keep in mind that there are many effective eco-products and tools on the market. "Brands such as Seventh Generation, Bi-O-Kleen and LifeTree have proven themselves effective and affordable without polluting the air or ground water," Reddemann says.
To keep your bathroom smelling sweet, Reddemann suggests phthalate-free air fresheners such as those by Illio. "Pure essential oils are best, but chemical-free fragrance oils are the next best thing for your nose and the air around you," Reddemann says.
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