Friday, August 13, 2010

Re-Considering Your Bathroom

There's a reason Europeans call them water closets. From our toilets to our tubs, roughly 60 percent of a home's water consumption takes place in the bathroom, according to the California Urban Water Conservation Council.

Any renovations or improvements you make in your bathroom should be done with an eye on the water consumption, especially in older homes. Past manipulations to your existing fixtures may be luring you into a false sense of security about how much water you're actually using.

How Many Times Do You Flush?
The toilet, hands (and seats) down, is your home's largest water user, guzzling roughly 27% of your household supply every year. At that rate, make sure the 1.6-gallon-per-flush (gpf) model you're sitting on really only uses 1.6 gallons each time you flush, it might be using more. A recent study revealed that some 1.6-gpf toilets actually used 1.98 gpf on average, often times due to double flushing caused by poor performance or to malfunctioning parts.

If you've purchased a home with a pre-installed 1.6-gpf model, there's no way of knowing whether the previous owner made any such inefficient modifications. As the parts wear out (they generally last around five years) be sure to ask the hardware store specifically for 1.6-gpf replacements. Some analysts suggest that it's really best to get a low-flow toilet.

Bathroom renovators on a budget will be happy to know that a fair number of water sensable toilets, fall in the low-to-middle price range. Also, keep in mind that some water-strapped municipalities will provide rebates for water-efficient appliances, dropping that price even lower.

Don't Forget to Wash Behind Your Wallet.
While your privy uses the most water in the W.C., showers are predominantly filled with opportunities for waste, thanks to easy manipulation of low-flow showerheads and the rise in popularity of multi-head shower systems, some of which spew an astonishing 80 gallons per minute.

To the ruin of water conservationists everywhere, these systems are legal. Even though the federal standard requires shower-heads to pump out no more than 2.5 gpm, a simple and very large loophole in the legislation lets these heads through. The legislation only applies to single-head units, these multi-head systems can utilize a dozen or more. And, what used to be exclusive of really high-end homes is now becoming more commonplace. I guess people just like to be really wet.

Many showerheads achieve their 2.5-gpm rate with small water-restrictor discs. Often times, a homeowner will get annoyed with these and remove them, resulting in a flow of nearly 5 gpm. Some manufacturers that sell these showerheads go so far as to describe in the product brochure how to remove it.

To check your head, you can measure its water consumption in a few ways. One way is to pour 2.5 gallons into a bucket and mark the water level. Then, take a stopwatch and fill the bucket for a minute in your shower. If your showerhead sprays more than 2.5 gpm, I would suggest getting a new one. Most good ones cost less than $75. It will save you money.

Lastly, if major purchases are in your budget, consider a tankless, on-demand water heater. Households waste 6.35 gallons of water per day waiting for it to heat up; 3.48 gallons of that is for showers alone. Tankless systems heat water when you need it right at the point of usage (at the faucet) cutting wait times down to only about 30 seconds.

Drip Drip Drip....
Last but not least, your bathroom sink faucet, also now subject to government standards, must use 2.2 gpm or less. Taps aren't prone to modifications of the bad sort, but you can increase their efficiency with a 1.5-gpm aerator, available at any local hardware store.

Keeping it Real-ly Green

If you're saving and conserving water in your bathroom, and are still on the looking for other ways to be friendly. Here are seven green items no bathroom should be without.

1. Recycled, processed-chlorine-free toilet paper and tissues.
Look for 2. PVC-free shower curtain. Your cheapest alternative to conventional PVC curtains are polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA) liners, as durable as PVC without the hormone-disrupting, asthma-inducing phthalates. Or you can splurge on the eco gold standard, hemp, which also resists mildew.

3. Low-Flow showerhead.
If the Delta H2OKinetics 1.6-gpm showerhead is out of your price range, you can still get a remarkably affordable, ultra-efficient 1.75-gpm model, such as the Niagara Chrome Earth massage showerhead for $19.95.

4. Petrochemical-free personal care products. Read ingredients lists diligently and watch out for the chemicals listed in The Dirty Dozen Chemicals in Cosmetics.

5. Organic cotton bath linens. These can be pricey, but you can build your collection slowly.
  • Fortunately, national retailers like West Elm have some for $6-$19
  • Pottery Barn has their line ranging from $8-$26
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond are selling them in brick-and-mortar stores for $7.99-$14.99 so there's no need to pay for shipping.
6. CFL vanity bulbs.
Repeated on-and-off use of CFL bulbs and the humidity of bathrooms will reduce their lifespans by a few months, but switching to CFLs still cuts energy use considerably.

7. Green Cleaners.
If you don't want to make your own cleaners using baking soda (a non-abrasive scouring powder), vinegar (a natural disinfectant) and tea tree oil (an effective mildew killer), choose least-toxic alternatives.

So, the next time you step into your bathroom...consider reconsidering what you have and what you use. You might just be surprised and what you can save.