If you’re thinking of going green around your home, the bathroom is an ideal place to start. Because much of the water used in your home flows through here, installing low-flow fixtures conserves water and helps you save money on your water bill. But green updates don’t have to stop there. You can also use eco-friendly building materials and environmentally safe cleaning agents as well as improve air quality in your bathroom for a healthier, green space.
Install Low-Flow Fixtures
Water-saving plumbing devices, such as low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and low-flow toilets are devices that you can install to help conserve our most essential natural resource. And don’t forget, low-flow devices can also save you hundreds of dollars a year in water costs.
Taking showers accounts for about 17 percent of household water use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—more than 1.2 trillion gallons of water used each year. Modern low-flow showerheads deliver up to 2.5 gallons per minute—about half of the force of traditional heads—without sacrificing performance. This means cutting your water usage by 25 to 60 percent.
To swap out your old showerhead for a new water-efficient one, start by removing the original showerhead. With an adjustable wrench or channel-lock pliers, carefully unscrew the old head. Be sure to use a smooth, steady motion so as not to damage the threading. Remove the showerhead from the rest of the fixture. Put a single strip of white Teflon® pipe tape around the threads of the pipe. This will ensure a watertight seal between the new showerhead and the pipe.
Attach the new showerhead by first screwing it on by hand. Finish tightening with the wrench you used to remove the old one. Take care not to overtighten or use too much force because you don't want to crack the new showerhead. Finally, turn on your shower to check for any leaks where the showerhead and pipe connect. If any water is spritzing or dripping from the fixture, just tighten the nut a little more. If that doesn't solve the problem, you may have to unscrew the showerhead, re-tape and re-attach the head to the rest of the fixture pipe firmly.
Low-Flow Faucet Aerators
Faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use, according to the EPA. That’s more than 1 trillion gallons of water used across the United States each year. If you don’t want to replace your current faucet with a low-flow model, you can install low-flow faucet aerators. These adjust your faucet flow rate to 2.5 gallons per minute. Installation is easy and you'll start saving water right away.
With a wrench, simply unscrew the old aerator on your faucet, located at the end of the spout. To install the new low-flow aerator, just screw it on. That's it. Changing to low-flow aerators is one of the easiest ways you can conserve water.
The EPA says that toilets are the main source of water use in the home, accounting for nearly 30 percent of residential indoor water consumption. A low-flow model is an excellent way to lower your rate of water consumption and your water bill. Here’s how to remove your old toilet and install a new, low-flow model.
To remove the old toilet, shut off the water to the toilet. If you don't have an angle stop shutoff valve by your toilet, you need to shut off the water at your home's main shutoff valve. Flush the toilet several times to empty the bowl and tank. Then clean up any remaining water with a mop, sponges or old towels. Disconnect the water supply tube. This is the tube that attaches from the angle stop to the toilet tank. Unscrew from the tank.
If your toilet is two pieces, you'll have to remove the tank first. Reach inside the tank and unscrew the bolts that attach to the bowl. Use an 8" wrench to grasp the washer under the tank and use a screwdriver to turn the bolt. You should now be able to remove the tank by lifting it.
If you have a one-piece toilet, you simply need to detach the bowl from the floor and skip removing the tank.
When detaching the bowl, be prepared to get water on your floor. Take off the caps that are over the bolts in the floor. Unscrew the nuts using the 8" wrench. You may need a hacksaw to get these off if they are corroded.
Tilt the bowl forward and rock it from side to side. Lift the bowl from the floor. There is less spillage if the bowl is tilted forward. Put a rag into the pipe leading from the floor to keep any sewer gases from coming into the bathroom.
Pry up the old wax seal that is around the pipe on the floor with a putty knife. Remove the old bolts from the floor even if you didn't cut them with the hacksaw. You'll replace them with the bolts that come with the new toilet.
To reduce spillage, put a pan next to the toilet. When you remove the bowl, dump the excess water into it.
To install the new toilet, start by turning the bowl over and put on the new wax or rubber seal around the hole. Place a new wax ring over the drain horn. If the ring has a rubber or plastic sleeve, the sleeve should face away from the toilet. Apply a bead of plumber's putty to the bottom edge of the toilet base.
Turn the bowl back over and position it so the bolts fit through the holes. Twist the bowl a bit to make sure it is in the right place. Press the bowl down to the floor to compress the seal. The best way to do this is to sit on the toilet. Tighten the nuts on the bolts while you're seated. Don't tighten the bolts too much. If you do, you could crack the porcelain. Make sure the toilet is level. Use small wood shims to shore up the toilet to make it level, if need be. Over the next few days, the toilet will settle some, so occasionally tighten the nuts so that they are snug. Dump some water into the bowl to check for any leaks coming from the bottom of the toilet. If there's water leakage, try to compress the wax seal more. If that doesn't work, you need to start over with a new wax seal.
Attach the handle, flush valve and float cup ballcock. Once these are in place, attach the tank to the bowl. If you have a one-piece tank, you can skip attaching the tank to the bowl. For all other models, turn the tank over and attach the spud washer over the tailpiece of pipe. Turn the tank back over and position it so the spud washer fits into the hole on the seat. Attach the tank to the toilet using the washers and bolts provided. Make sure they are tight by holding onto the washer with the wrench and turning the bolt with a screwdriver. Be careful not to overtighten the bolts because you may crack the base. Attach the chain on the rubber flapper to the handle lever making sure that it is somewhat taut.
Reconnect the supply tube to the new tank. Place the brass compression nut, followed by the compression ring, onto the supply tube. Make sure the threads of the compression nut face down, toward the valve. Put joint compound onto the compression ring and place the tube into the supply valve. Slide the ring and nut on to the threads and tighten, being sure not to overtighten. Connect the tube to the tank using a compression nut. Open the angle stop and let the tank fill with water.
Test the toilet by flushing a few of times. Finally, attach the toilet seat cover and clean up.
Eco-Friendly Building Materials
If you you’re going to completely remodel your bathroom, install environmentally friendly cabinetry, countertops and flooring. Much of the materials used for cabinetry, for example, are composite woods that contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde. This and other types of harmful chemicals can detrimentally affect indoor air quality. You can avoid this by buying and installing cabinetry made from natural wood and sustainable materials such as bamboo.
Consider buying and installing salvaged cabinetry from local building materials reuse stores. This is a way of recycling cabinetry and materials that may contain VOCs.
You can replace old countertops with ones made of recycled content such as stone, rubber, paper, glass and other materials. Bio-composite countertops that are made of recycled paper and soy flour but resemble granite are also widely available. Concrete is another great option for countertops. Purchasing salvaged but undamaged countertops at building materials reuse stores are another way to reuse and recycle.
Flooring can also be eco-friendly. There are a number of options made of sustainably grown materials, such as cork and bamboo. Reclaimed lumber can also be used as flooring (not to mention for other uses around the home). You can find more information at the Building Materials Reuse Association’s (BMRA) or check out Habitat for Humanity’s list of reuse stores in your area. As with countertops, flooring materials can be constructed of recycled content. Flooring can be made out of recycled tiles, rubber and even stone. Natural linoleum is a blend of resins, oils, chalk and cork and is water-resistant.
The production of vinyl flooring requires the use of hazardous and toxic substances. For a truly green bathroom floor, avoid vinyl. Consider linoleum, which is made from sawdust and linseed oil and is less toxic to make.
It might seem like common sense that the most abrasive chemical bathroom cleaners are the best choice to effectively rid your bathroom of dirt, grime, mildew and mold. They are no doubt effective, but many common household cleaners can irritate skin, eyes and even the lungs.
As a rule of thumb, avoid products that are labeled as dangerous, poisonous, corrosive, highly flammable or combustible. Try to choose products that are low-VOC. Biodegradable, citrus- or pine-based cleaners are good eco-friendly choices.
There are a number of household substances that can be combined and used to create non-toxic, safe and effective cleaners. White vinegar, baking soda, dish detergent, and lemon juice are all substances that can be used with water and elbow grease to clean most household areas. Try sites like National Geographic’s Green Guide for eco-friendly cleaner recipes.
Use reusable cleaning products and tools such as mops, rags, sponges and scrub brushes. Avoid using paper towels, disposable cleaning cloths and scrubbers, etc. This saves money and reduces your environmental footprint.
Buy recycled paper products for bathroom use.
Buy products that use refillable containers and products with minimal packaging.
Keep Fresh Air Flowing
Good ventilation removes stale air and decreases the build-up of harmful compounds that can affect your health. If you want to keep away unpleasant smells and remove unwanted moisture that triggers mold and mildew, consider installing a bathroom exhaust fan, which vents old, stale air outdoors.
That’s it! It’s easy being green. Using just a couple of these eco-friendly suggestions goes a long way toward making your home healthier and a little more inexpensive to live in.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.