March 12, 2018
The bathroom might be one of the smallest rooms in a home in terms of square footage, but it’s actually one of the more costly when it comes to utilities. Your toilet alone can be responsible for about 30 percent of your home’s overall water usage, and showers use both water and energy to heat that water. Approximately one-fifth of a home’s energy costs result from heating water.
Furthermore, bathrooms are often a source of in-home environmental concerns. Moisture, which may lead to mold and mildew, can be an ongoing problem. And dealing with unwanted mold growth could require chemical cleaning products.
Because of these factors, bathrooms are ideal candidates for more efficient, environmentally-friendly upgrades. Both major and minor improvements can make a home’s bathroom a greener, cleaner, and less-energy-and-resource-hungry place.
So how can you create a more efficient bathroom? Start with these best bathroom upgrades:
According to National Geographic, an average family flushes approximately 44,000 gallons of water per year. Standard toilets use between three and a half and seven gallons per flush, but new low-flow models use 1.28 gallons or less. Alternatively, homeowners could install a tank bag, which would reduce the amount of water used with each flush. These steps can more than halve toilet operation costs.
Another toilet efficiency option involves capturing and reusing “greywater.” Greywater is runoff from the sink, shower, or washing machine. It’s not potable (safe to drink), but greywater can be treated and stored to use for flushing the toilet later.
Some greywater systems are very simple, such as a sink that drains directly into the toilet tank. Others capture water from the shower or washing machine, hold it in a tank, and then pump it to the toilet when needed. Unfortunately, the cost of these larger systems can run into the thousands of dollars (although they can lower or eliminate toilet-associated water bills).
The right faucet can also save money on water costs. Perhaps the easiest way to curb water waste is to install a low-flow faucet or change one important feature on your existing faucet.
Sink-top fixtures have an aerator, which mixes water with air. A more efficient aerator lowers the water volume by mixing in more air; the water will seem to flow with the same coverage and rate, but due to the greater aeration, you will use less water. Simply replacing your faucet’s aerator can increase its efficiency by 40 percent.
If perpetually running faucets are a problem, a motion sensor faucet could be an ideal bathroom (or kitchen) improvement. Common in public restrooms, these faucets use a sensor to turn the flow of water on and off. The sensor will stop the water when nothing is under the tap, reducing water waste when brushing teeth, shaving, or washing hands. Motion sensor faucets also create a more sanitary environment, because you can control them without touching anything.
Like faucets, low-flow showerheads use air to lower the amount of water being emitted. According to the EPA, the average flow of a shower is two and a half gallons per minute. However, efficient fixtures that have a WaterSense label use less than two gallons per minute.
To qualify for this designation, the showerheads must meet spray coverage and stream intensity benchmarks—so WaterSense-labeled heads should operate as well as, or better than, comparable non-qualifying fixtures.
Exhaust fans are common for reducing moisture in a bathroom, but natural ventilation is a more efficiency-friendly option. A window inside the shower area is a way to deal with moisture—at least during the warmer seasons of the year—without spending anything on running an exhaust fan. As a bonus, the window can provide natural illumination for the room during the daytime, lowering lighting costs.
Any bathroom window should have frosted glass, which will provide privacy without sacrificing natural light. Also, the window frame should slope downward, even if the window is small and near the top of the wall, so water doesn’t pool on the sill. For rooms that do not already have windows, this is a job that will require a contractor.
Despite the advantages, a window is not always the best option. Homeowners aren’t likely to crack open the window in wintertime, and glass is not an option for interior bathrooms or for those who are renovating their bathroom on a budget. Having an exhaust fan as a backup—or the main ventilation method, if a window isn’t feasible—is a smart move (and may even be required by your local building codes).
Exhaust fans don’t let in natural light, but they will provide the same ventilation benefits as windows, as long as they are in proper working order. One way to test the current ventilation unit is to take a square of toilet paper and hold it up to the operating exhaust fan. The fan should be strong enough to hold the paper to its grill without letting it fall to the ground again.
When buying a new exhaust fan, look for efficiency: Energy Star provides a list of efficient exhaust fans.
Proper lighting is essential for the bathroom, especially for tasks like shaving, applying makeup, and reading labels on medications. Luckily, strategic light placement and LED technology can provide the right amount of illumination without increasing energy costs.
For example, you could install sconces on the side of the mirror to eliminate shadows caused by recessed lighting or other ceiling light fixtures. If there’s not enough space, you could place lights at the top of the mirror (75-80 inches above the floor).
And if leaving the light on in the bathroom is a problem, you could consider a motion-activated switch that will turn off lights if it does not detect anyone in the room.
Simple improvements, such as changing the aerator on your faucet, can save money, but a whole-bathroom upgrade may lead to savings on water and energy bills. Efficiency improvements, such as low-flow fixtures and more efficient water heaters, may qualify for property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing, making them some of the best bathroom upgrades for your money. PACE programs help to cover the upfront expenses of efficiency improvements, and then the homeowner makes payments over time through their property taxes.
PACE can help you finance water-saving and energy-saving upgrades. Find out if PACE is available in your area – contact Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; firstname.lastname@example.org.