Floor to Ceiling in the Ultimate Green Bathroom

Photo: iStockphoto.com/domin_domin
Makeover your bathroom the eco way, with greener flooring, cabinetry, fixtures and more

The bathroom is where our daily health and hygiene regimen begins and ends. We bathe, wash, rinse, flush, comb, deodorize, pluck, apply, trim and brush there. And yet the bathroom can also be one of the unhealthiest places in the home, with stacks of abrasive chemicals under the sink, poor ventilation and garish, obtrusive lighting. Those chemicals, which inevitably flow down the drain with water, are harmful to our respiration and the local environment.

Eventually, that sort of thing gets to us, which is why bathroom remodels are so popular as renovation projects. Increasingly, green materials are working their way into those remodels, as we grow to better understand the value of clean and plentiful water, clean air and a healthy, earth-friendly lifestyle that benefits us now and those that follow us into the unforeseeable future.

Bathrooms are relatively small rooms, so flipping them from brown to green is not as difficult as other places in the home. There are now green products to cover all aspects of that green makeover as well, from the bottom up.

Floor

Vinyl flooring is very popular in bathrooms because it is cheap and durable. There is a greener option, however, in natural sheet linoleum (no tiles) made from resins, limestone, natural pigments, sawdust, cork dust and linseed oil. Locally mined natural stone tiles are an elegant and potentially choice as well, albeit considerably more expensive.

Vanity and Cabinet

For bathroom cabinetry, look into products made without formaldehyde, which has a proven tendency of off-gassing, or the release over time of toxic chemical vapors. The most common formaldehyde culprit is particleboard, which unfortunately makes up a large swath of available bathroom cabinets and vanities. However, the search for green options continues to get easier. Look for sustainably harvested wood cabinets or those made from so-called rapidly renewable materials like bamboo or wheat straw.

Fixtures

The magic word in green bathroom fixtures is low-flow. Old toilets use up to 5 gallons of water with every flush, while newer, low-flow models use only 1.6 gallons. There are even dual flush toilets these days that use only one gallon of water when flushing liquids. And toilets are not alone; low-flow faucets and showerheads are also available in a variety of styles.

Countertops

An excellent option for bathrooms is recycled glass countertops. They contain small, embedded shards of glass that sparkle under vanity lighting, giving off unique colors and brightening up the room. Terrazzo countertops embedded are your best option. They are considered as durable as granite but made up primarily of recycled glass.

Walls

Tiles usually take up the majority of square footage on a bathroom wall. Consider recycled glass, perhaps to match or accent the countertops, ceramic or porcelain tiles. Every color you can think of is available nowadays. For higher areas where drywall or plaster remains exposed for painting, use low- or no-VOC paints that will not emit harmful gases into the air.

Ventilation

A lot of bathrooms have poor ventilation, containing only a small, fixed window (if any) and a dusty old vent fan. While it’s perfectly all right to not want prying eyes peering into your bathroom, the ultimate green bathroom would enjoy a little fresh air. There are operable yet obscured windows that can be installed high enough to maintain privacy. As far as fans go, look for Energy Star models (same goes for windows) and install timer switches for the fan and lights. The bathroom is the single biggest culprit in the eternal family battle with leaving lights on. Timer switches often have motion sensors that turn the light on automatically upon entry (great for late night trips) and turn the fan and lights off within a set time after no motion is detected.

Ceiling

A few eco-ceiling steps have already been mentioned, i.e. the Energy Star vent fan and low-VOC paints. Efficient lighting is an easy step toward a green bathroom. Remove incandescent light bulbs or those ancient fluorescents and replace with new, compact fluorescent (CFL) or LED bulbs.

Cleaning and Cleansing

It's important to consider what goes down the drain with your tub, sink and toilet water. Any harsh, abrasive cleaners you use in the bathroom have to go somewhere, and it’s usually to the local water system, where it can end up in waterways, the water table or at the least increase the burden on the water treatment plant. No green bathroom is totally green until the harsh abrasives of yesteryear are replaced by the certified-green cleaners of today.

But tub and tile and toilet are not the only subjects of bathroom cleaning. There is also the cleansing we all do every day; the showers, baths, toothbrushes and face washes that get us up and running. Everything you wash your hair and skin with goes down the drain as well (not to mention into your skin!). All natural and organic shampoos, conditioners, soaps and other products are readily available.

 

Dan Harding is a well-versed veteran of solar critique, commentary and reporting.  He has published well over 1,000 articles on a wide variety of solar industry topics, ranging from cutting-edge technology and gadgetry to political satire and powerful editorials. CalFinder is proud to tout Dan as our resident solar expert. He holds a B.A. in English from Michigan State University, and enjoys reading, writing and home construction.