If you’re dreaming of a new bathroom layout or material upgrade, think sustainably at the same time. There are myriad ways to usher in a new look while simultaneously minding the needs of the planet.
It simply requires some planning and conscientious decision making. But with the information provided here, you’ll be well on your way to having both checked off the ‘to do’ list.
Choose a Like-Minded Contractor
Of course, you don’t have to hire a contractor. However, if you’re not tackling the bathroom remodel entirely DIY style, be sure to interview your contracted help.
While discussing expectations, mention your goals for the environmentally-friendly aspect of the job. You can’t be upset with full dumpsters if you haven’t discussed waste management.
Similarly, your contractor needs to be able to get ahold of the materials you choose for the project.
A contractor who specializes in green remodels will take it one step further with recommendations and suggestions for green products at every phase of the remodel.
Ask any potential contractors if they have experience with sustainable building projects and ask for references or pictures. If they’ve been around the eco-friendly block, they’ll proudly display their portfolio.
Select Building Materials Carefully
Even before the project gets underway, start your research for flooring, shower materials, vanity styles, and wall materials.
Choosing green options for your bathroom is one of the best ways to reduce chemicals in the space. For the floor, look into true linoleum like Marmoleum.
It has many environmentally-friendly features and is non-toxic, anti-microbial, and easy to maintain. It comes in a variety of designs and colors to match any interior design theme.
Don’t confuse linoleum with vinyl, which isn’t bio-based or biodegradable like linoleum is. It's loaded with synthetic glues and toxic chemicals, so it affects indoor air quality and leaches nasty things into the soil and water once you dispose of it.
If you already have vinyl in your aging bathroom, leave it in place and cover it up rather than pulling it out. This isn't always possible, but many types of flooring can be installed over the top of vinyl.
Another eco-friendly option for the bathroom floor is ceramic tile. It’s very durable, waterproof, and is made from natural materials. Glass tiles are also green by design and are often made from recycled materials.
Cork and bamboo are both sustainable options that resemble wood. Bamboo is actually a fast-growing grass. Harvesting it is much less environmentally impactful than slow-growing hardwoods.
Cork is sourced from the cork tree. However, it’s a growth on the outside of the tree, kind of like bark. Inasmuch, cork is cut off the tree without harming it, making it a very green option.
However, when it comes to transport, both bamboo and cork travel long distances, primarily from Asia for the former and Portugal for the latter.
Cork can discolor with excessive exposure to moisture, so be sure to apply a protective polyurethane coating and use bath mats. It is, however, durable, resistant to fire, mold, mildew, and termites. It’s also soft underfoot and hypoallergenic.
Wood isn't typically recommended for areas with high moisture and the potential for pooling water. However, with the proper protection, wood floors can work out fine in a bathroom.
If you do go with any type of wood material, verify it is certified by the Forest Steward Council. This ensures the wood was removed from sustainably managed forests.
In addition to the flooring materials, you’ll have decisions to make about wall coverings. Each choice holds the power to enhance the look of the space and bring cohesion to your interior design.
Whether you use drywall, paneling, tile, solid wood, or some other option, you’ll also be considering paint colors. Regardless of the tone and tint that wins your vote, make sure it’s a low VOC option.
VOC, or volatile organic compounds, are a group of chemicals you don’t want to be polluting the air in your home.
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of low-VOC paints on the market these days. Make this a priority in order to avoid off-gassing that can last six months or longer.
If you’d rather accent the walls with wallpaper, look for brands that offer low VOC, natural or recycled materials, and toxin-free options.
Today's attention to sustainable options provides a wide variety of healthier wallpaper brands to choose from.
Moving from the floor to the walls to the cabinets, figure out what you want for your vanity. Obviously, you want a place to put your sink, and you may need to hide some plumbing.
However, consider whether you need cabinets or if open shelving suits your needs. Fewer materials mean less waste and reduced dependence on virgin materials.
Going minimalist in your design uses fewer materials and discourages you from collecting too many things in your bathroom. Remember, every item you own makes an impact and every decision to simplify does too.
Choose real wood for your vanity and upper cabinets. One better, choose recycled wood instead. Skip anything made from MDF since it will swell in the moist environment. Also make sure your wood is protected with a layer of finish.
Go for Water Savings
During your bathroom remodel, look for all the ways you can save yourself, and the planet, from unnecessary water consumption.
Help in conservation efforts by installing water restricting shower heads and faucets.
You can also attach an aerator to your faucet. Basically, these devices replace some of the water stream with air, so you feel the same pressure with much less water consumption.
Your toilet is a massive consumer of water. Every flush costs, so make it worth it. Select a low-flow toilet or one with dual flush controls.
You can even consider a composting toilet to really cut back on water usage.
Of course, the fixtures you choose are only part of the equation. While the toilets, faucets, and showerheads can help reduce water usage, the real power comes in the actions of family members.
Restrict your own use by not being wasteful. Turn the water off while you brush or scrub your face. Better yet, rely on smart devices to guide your actions.
Smart showerheads can be controlled from an app on your phone. They can also be programmed to turn off once they receive the desired temperatures. This keeps you from running the shower while you prepare to get in.
The auto shut-off feature means you're warm shower will be ready when you arrive, without wasting a drop of water.
You can turn timers on showerheads too, so the kids don’t overrun the set parameters.
Recycling means extending useful life and reducing waste. The more water we can reuse, the less water we tap into. Greywater recycling is a perfect example of this.
There’s a consistent stream of water leaving your home. Much of it is lightly used and sufficient for other tasks. For example, water from the washing machine, dishwasher, and kitchen sink can all be reused.
While remodeling the bathroom, consider attaching a greywater system to your sink and shower.
When you bathe or wash your hands, the water is then diverted from the sewer or septic and sent through filters. The water is then used for plants in the yard.
Heat Water Efficiently
Your water heater is a top energy sucker in your home. A standard water heater continuously works so you can have water on demand. This requires energy and gas, if you use it.
While planning your bathroom remodel, consider how you’ll heat the water entering the shower and sinks. A tankless water heater might be the perfect solution. These devices heat water as it runs through the heater.
Since they don’t store water in a tank and constantly work to keep it warm, they are incredibly energy efficient. There are two types of tankless, or on-demand, water heaters.
The first is a central unit that serves many rooms in the house. The second is a smaller unit that’s located in each room or near each water source.
Either type can be installed while you’re renovating the space.
If you decide against an on-demand water heater, look for an Energy-star-certified water heater option for low energy use.
Another option for your water-heating needs is to install a solar panel that provides energy to the water heater.
Of course, you can go solar for the entire house, but if you’re just focused on the water-warming needs for your bathroom, a single unit can manage the task.
The system is clean, efficient, and endlessly renewable, so you’ll save money while lowering energy consumption.
Energy Efficient Lighting
Another way to honor the environment is paying attention to your power usage.
You’ve always been told to turn off the lights when they’re not being used, but now we have many, many options for energy-efficient lighting to save you a few bucks while the lights are on too.
Go with energy-efficient fixtures and light bulbs, and invest in smart tech that allows you to dim, time, and remotely turn off lighting.
If your bathroom changes involve some structural work, increase the size of your windows or add a skylight for more natural lighting.
Relying on the natural gifts of the sun helps passively warm the space during the winter and reduces the need to turn the lights on. Windows that open also help ventilate the bathroom and cool it without kicking on the furnace.
Be Properly Exhausted
Removing the moisture from your bathroom creates a healthier environment and reduces the opportunity for mold and mildew to develop.
While shopping for your bathroom exhaust fan, look for the Energy Star symbol, so you know you’re getting an energy-efficient model.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle During Construction
Throughout your project, take the time to manage your waste. Many of the items you pull from your bathroom can be donated or recycled.
You can try to sell items if they hold value.
However, your old toilet, shower surround, sink, medicine cabinet, vent fan, and vanity can be listed on a ‘Pay it Forward’ or ‘Buy Nothing’ type site. Also consider donating to your local Habitat for Humanity.
Metal can typically be recycled in your curbside recycling or the local scrap yard.
Neighbors may be interested in lumber cutaways or your old mirror. Ask around, make a free pile, and advertise online. Give items a second life in the community rather than hauling them to the landfill.
When purchasing materials for your new bathroom design, buy only what you need. If you have extra tile pieces, make a mosaic or donate them to the art department at school.
Properly store your paint for touch ups later. But if you don’t use it, return it to the paint department of your local home improvement store, Habitat for Humanity, or paint store where they can recycle it.
With your bathroom remodel coming together, you get to start choosing items for display and use in your new space.
Select towels made from fast-growing bamboo or organic cotton. These natural materials don’t contribute to plastic pollution in waterways like those with synthetic materials.
Select glass, wood, tile, metal, and other eco-friendly materials for shelves, storage, and towel racks. Also commit to rugs and mats made from cotton, bamboo, cork, or wood.
Avoid plastic at every turn. Make sure your showerhead is all metal. Choose a metal garbage can instead of a plastic one, or use a wicker basket.
If you’re in the market for a new laundry basket, find a cloth option.
Use glass jars and containers for storage and organization. On shelves, place baskets or canvas totes. They not only look nice, but will help you stay organized without the plastic waste.
You can even look at the products you bring back into the bathroom.
Take this opportunity to clean up your shampoo, conditioner, soap, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste, cosmetics, and other products with plastic-free packaging and natural ingredients.
Also add plants to your space. Since plants naturally filter the air, they pull out carbon and release oxygen. Plus, they are pleasant to have around.
Undergoing any home improvement takes time and energy. With a bit of extra planning and attention to the details, you can not only have a beautiful new space, but one that offers the planet a chance to breathe.
If you’re looking for bathroom remodeling ideas, check out our Tips on Bathroom Remodeling. Also find some inspiration for Remodeling Small Bathroom Spaces.