Renovating or building a new bathroom can be a daunting task, especially when you’re committed to using environmentally sustainable methods, materials and practices. But there is good news! An increase in the demand for environmentally friendly homes has made it easier for all Australians to make innovative and cost-effective changes in their bathroom.
So don’t be deterred, here are some simple and straightforward ways to build a bathroom that will make your neighbours green with eco-envy.
1. Find builders and tradespeople that understand your vision
If you need extra hands to help create your bathroom, it’s important to find builders and tradespeople who are willing to achieve your vision.
Sustainable building can involve the use of innovative materials and practices that some builders and tradespeople are unfamiliar with. To find the right people for the job, look for builders who have done sustainable building training with the Housing Industry Association (HIA) or Master Builders Australia (MAB). Another great way to find the best people for your bathroom is to talk to people who have undertaken similar sustainable renovations, to get their recommendations.
2. Get familiar with the terminology
There is a lot of jargon involved with sustainable building, so do some research and familiarise yourself with the common terminology. Understanding the language will make it easier for you to identify the best products for your bathroom needs. It will also give you valuable knowledge that can be applied to other renovations and spaces in your home.
For example, a common term used in environmentally friendly building is “VOC”. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be found in a variety of common materials and are easily degraded by sunlight. Once broken down they react with oxides of nitrogen in the air to create ground-level ozone, which impacts the Earth’s environmental health. So when shopping for your bathroom, look for products such as paint, caulk, sealants, and wheat board that are marked as low VOC or no VOC.
Upcycling is a fun and creative way to use recycled materials in your bathroom. Whilst the materials themselves might not be entirely environmentally friendly, recycling prevents them from going into landfill and damaging the eco-system.
Upcycling is a simple process that involves transforming discarded, old or unwanted materials and items into new products. Think old water trough becoming a modern bathroom sink.
The process might involve a simple paint or varnish, using low or no VOC products, or it could involve an easy redesign, like fitting a vintage bathtub with water-efficient taps. At a more complex level it may entail repurposing whole items into something completely new, e.g. converting a bedroom drawer into a bathroom vanity. Either way, there are many options and approaches you can take to upcycling items for your bathroom.
Here are some upcycling tips:
- When renovating don’t discard all the materials in the old bathroom before thinking of new ways you can implement them in the updated bathroom. There might be tiles, bathtubs, sinks, vanities or cabinets that could all be upcycled in various ways.
- Go to second hand furniture and homewares stores for bits and pieces or whole items that you can repurpose.
- Auctions, garage sales and farm sales are also great sources for materials like vintage or antique items.
4. Conserve energy
Energy conservation is one of the easiest and quickest ways to turn your bathroom green. The two main areas you should specifically target are: lighting and vent fans.
Switching all your bathroom lights to low-energy bulbs will not only save you money, it will mean your home is prepared for the future. Currently traditional lights like incandescent bulbs are being phased out in Australia because they are inefficient. Sustainable alternatives include:
- Fluorescent lights – these use 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs. The two types – compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and tubular lamps (tubes) – give you a broad range of shapes and sizes to choose from. They also keep spaces cool as they only emit a small amount of heat.
- LED lights – these are more expensive than traditional lights but have an expected lifetime of 20,000 to 40,000 hours and are four to five times more efficient than traditional lighting. However, LED technology is still innovating so it’s a good idea to do your research into products and ensure they are of the highest quality before purchasing them.
Vent fans are an essential component of bathrooms as they remove odours and moisture that creates mould. It’s important to keep the fan running throughout your shower and for at least 15 minutes afterwards to prevent mould growth. This practice will also prevent you from having to spend money on removing mould later on, but of course it uses a lot of energy, so switching to an energy efficient ventilation fan will cut your energy use.
5. Invest in an energy efficient hot water system
Australian households can use about 25% of their total energy consumption on heating water. On top of that, 30% of the energy needed to heat water is wasted due to heat loss. So installing a modern energy-efficient hot water system instead of an electric heater is essential to turning your bathroom green.
Alternative systems to electric water heaters include:
Gas hot water
These systems burn natural gas via a pipe system or LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) from bottles. Gas systems produce 25-33% less greenhouse gas emissions than electric systems and are suited for households than don’t get enough sunlight for a solar hot water system. The upfront cost is quite low and the systems are also labelled with a gas energy rating to help you identify the most environmentally friendly one for your bathroom.
Solar hot water
Australia is known for its sunny weather, so why not use what’s readily available? A solar hot water system can provide around 50-90% of an Australian household’s hot water needs. Although these systems can be expensive to install, don’t be deterred – there are incentives such as the small-scale technology certificates (STCs), which can be traded in for cash or a discount.
Heat pump hot water
Another system that fits well with the warm Australian climate is a heat pump. These systems are very energy efficient as they extract heat from the air, water or the ground. They are perfect for households that have limited space and aren’t eligible for solar energy or natural gas. STCs are also available for heat pump systems, which reduces the upfront costs.
6. Minimise your water usage
The bathroom can be one of the biggest water wasters in your home, so using water efficient fixtures, appliances, and technologies is important if you want to be environmentally friendly in the bathroom.
Simple changes to your showerhead can make all the difference, especially when a water efficient showerhead can:
- Prevent 18 litres of water a minute from being wasted and;
- Save you between $100-$150 on your annual water bill.
This also applies to the taps and faucets in sinks and bathtubs. Water friendly alternatives will greatly decrease the amount of water your bathroom uses whilst also saving you money. Two taps to consider are:
- Aerators – These use a combination of air and water to create a tap flow that limits the amount of water that comes through. They are easy to install with some screwing or attaching to the tap nozzle, so they can be added or removed when needed.
- Motion sensors – These also regulate the amount of water used but have the added benefit of being more hygienic, as the family won’t have to turn handles to turn them on.
To find the right water-efficient product for your bathroom, it’s recommended that you use the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme (WELS) website, where you’ll be able to investigate and compare the water efficiency star rating of various showerheads and taps in Australia.
7. Low-flow or composting toilet?
This might be a no-brainer for some, but the humble composting toilet shouldn’t be overlooked. Composting toilets are the greenest option out there, because not only do they use little or no water, their compost like by-product can be used on the garden to help it thrive. Even better is that these days they look and feel almost exactly the same as a standard toilet. Another major benefit of using a compost toilet is that it doesn’t contribute to the industrial sewage process that is detrimental to many ecological landscapes. So if you’re willing to take one for the environment, then this toilet is for you.
But if a composting toilet is a little too green for your standards, a water efficient low-flow toilet is another option.
A water efficient dual-flush toilet will only use 3 litres on a half-flush, as opposed to the 12 litres that a full flush on a standard toilet uses. So making a change will not only reduce your home’s water wastage but will also help maintain your community’s water supplies.
Toilets in Australia are part of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme (WELS), where it is recommended that you purchase a toilet that has a minimum 3-star rating if you want decent water-efficiency. Notable toilets on the WELS website include 5-star rated loos that have the ability to re-use water from the bathroom basin.
8. Eco-friendly flooring
When creating an environmentally friendly bathroom, flooring can be a really straightforward way to bring sustainability into the space. Some simple ways to give your floor an environmental edge include:
- Minimal concrete floors – Use the bathroom’s structural concrete as the final finish. Not only will it mean less work, the simple surface can be easily enhanced with the use of eco-friendly bathmats or even slatted wooden flooring.
- Recycled floors – Purchase tiles and other flooring products that are made from recycled materials such as glass, discarded clay, and ceramics.
- Wood floors – Wood and cork can be an effortless, eco-friendly flooring option in your bathroom. Just remember that they need to come from sustainably harvested source to be truly environmentally friendly, and they are only suitable for a bathroom if they are properly sealed with a low-VOC or no-VOC sealant.
- Linoleum floors – True linoleum is made from natural materials including wood flour, cork dust, linseed oil, tree resin, and limestone. There are endless patterns and designs to choose from, just make sure you use a low VOC or no VOC adhesive when putting the sheets down.