Everyday Green Home Edition: Green Up Your Bathroom

With its heavy use of water and electricity, the bathroom is responsible for a significant portion of your home energy costs. Therefore, it's a great room to start with when greening up your home. A few small steps can make a sizable impact.

Start by reducing water consumption.
  • Install low-flow shower heads to save water without sacrificing pressure. An efficient shower head will save a family of four up to $285 per year. They typically cost less than $15 and are simple to install. 
  • Put an aerator on the faucet and cut your annual water consumption by 50%. If you are in the market for a new faucet, look for 0.5 to 1 gallon per minute (gpm) models. 
  • Install a low-flow toilet. They use only 1.6 gallons per flush, compared to 3.5 gallons per flush for pre-1994 models. If you have an older model, adjust your float valve to admit less water into the toilet's tank. To check for tank leaks, put several drops of food coloring in the tank and see if the color makes its way into the bowl, indicating a leak. 

Then, focus on energy usage. The energy used to heat up water accounts for 19% of total home energy usage, so reducing hot water will significantly reduce energy consumption. Here are the simplest ways to cut back on hot water.
  • For about $20 and 5 minutes of your time you can make your hot water heater more efficient. Just put an insulating jacket around your water heater and secure (with tape, wire, or a clamp) foam pipe sleeves around the hot water pipes and three feet of the cold water inlet pipe. Doing so will save you up to 10% on water heating costs and cut down on the time it takes for your shower to warm up. 
  • When it's time to replace your water heater, look for an energy efficient model. They may cost more up front, but you'll quickly make your money back in reduced energy costs. 
  • Turn the temperature on the water heater down to 120 degrees. Doing so will reduce the heater's energy consumption by 5% to 10% and prevent scalding. 

And don't forget one of the easiest ways to save energy . . . replace your incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They use 66% percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer.

Opting for eco-friendly materials in your towels and bathroom d├ęcor is another great way to green up your bathroom. Due to its excessive use of insecticides and pesticides, conventional cotton is considered the world's dirtiest crop. Therefore, towels made from organic cotton, bamboo, or hemp are better options for your health and the environment. Shower curtains and bath mats are perpetually damp so they're prone to dank smells, mold and bacteria. Curtains and mats made of natural, washable materials, like organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen, and cork, are easier to maintain, last longer, and have a smaller environmental impact than plastic products. Even curtains made from synthetic materials like nylon and polyester are better options than PVC shower curtains because, despite being petroleum-derived, they do not off gas like PVC.

You may not give it much thought, but bathrooms require a lot of caulking and conventional caulk contains chemicals that can pose a health danger without proper ventilation. Safer, greener caulk is low in VOCs, lasts at least 10 years, and can be cleaned up with water or a mild solvent. Avoid using PVC- or oil-based caulk. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends polyurethane caulk for sealing masonry and acrylic latex caulk is good for dry surfaces like plumbing penetrations and gaps in wood.

Finally, take a look at your everyday habits.
  • Shorten your shower by a minute or two and you'll save up to 150 gallons of water a month. 
  • Turn the water off when you brush your teeth and save 4.5 gallons of water each time. 
  • Don't forget to recycle toiletry bottles, soap packaging, and cardboard toilet paper rolls. Keep a small recycling container in the bathroom if it helps you remember to recycle. 
  • Use simple, nontoxic substances, like vinegar, peroxide and baking soda, to green clean your bathroom. Click here for details. 

Follow these guidelines to reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, and reduce waste and your bathroom will be cleaner, healthier, and greener. You'll save money, while protecting your health and the environment.

Note: For bigger home renovations check out Green Home Improvements for help selecting eco-friendly countertops, flooring, and paint.



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