Skip to content
How green is your bathroom?
For some people, green isn't just a color; it's a word to live by -- one that will help them lead healthier lifestyles for themselves and the environment.
For many years, the idea of living green was nice, but it came at a price. These days, the growing popularity of going green has made this lifestyle more accessible as products have become more readily available and less expensive.
If you've been thinking about living in a more eco-friendly way but the idea of going green seems overwhelming, begin in one area. The bathroom is just the place to launch your own personal green movement.
"The bathroom is a great place to start," says Robyn Griggs Lawrence, the Boulder, Colo.-based editor and chief of Natural Home, a Topeka, Kan.-based magazine about green homes, living and decor. "The things you can do in the bathroom, waterwise, are phenomenal. Bathrooms also are small, and they're great places to play with some of these [green] materials."
What does it mean to be green?
"If you're practicing green living, you're mindful of the products, the water and energy you're using," says Crissy Trask, the author of "It's Easy Being Green" (Gibbs Smith, $12.95). "You're recycling. ... In the most mainstream sense, it has to do with energy conservation, water conservation, reuse and recycling."
People turn to green living for various reasons. Many might do it because they want to live healthier lifestyles, while others might do it to save energy, says Willem Maas, publisher and founder of the GreenHomeGuide, a San Francisco-based online guide to green products and living.
"Or someone may be interested in materials that are cool-looking and then have the bragging rights to talk to their friends about them," he says. "All of those drivers lead to a set of decisions" down a path of green living.
Finding eco-friendly products and materials at a variety of local supermarkets or home-improvement centers as well as online have made going green easier.
"Just about any of the home-improvement stores carry things" that are eco-friendly, says Stuart Rigney, chief financial officer and general manager of Visalia-based Mountain Vista Construction, which has built a couple of green homes in California's San Joaquin Valley. "Also, it's easy to find things online and have them ship it out in two or three days."
Prices have come down. Typically, they have been more expensive, Lawrence says of green items.
So, going green in the bathroom might be easier than you think. You already may be doing things that you didn't realize were considered green. To help you along your way, here are some things you might do or products you might use if you're planning to be more eco-friendly when you renovate your bathroom.
CABINETS: Instead of particleboard for cabinets, look for wheatboard, which is made from wheat straw.
"Wheatboard is more environmentally friendly than particleboard," which uses "a lot of toxic resins and timber products," author Crissy Trask says. While timber is a natural product, it's not as rapidly renewable as wheat, she says.
If you're making your own cabinets and want real wood, look for ones that have the Forest Stewardship Council logo, she says. The logo means the wood has been certified and has been "verified to come from sustainable, well-managed forests."
FLOORING: Install natural products -- cork, natural linoleum and bamboo -- and recycled glass or porcelain tiles.
PAINT: Use paints with low or no harmful volatile organic compounds (or VOCs). "Traditional paint is really high in VOC," Natural Home's Lawrence says. "So, using low- or no-VOC paint is a great thing to do."
FAUCETS AND FIXTURES: State and federal plumbing codes limit the flow of water in all faucet fixtures to 2.5 gallons per minute. To use less water, you can install low-flow showerheads and faucets if yours are older than 1992.
You also can add on aerators if you don't want to change fixtures.
Another way to save money and water is to turn on the water only when it's needed.
ACCESSORIES: There are a variety of products you can use that have recycled materials in them, or ones you can reclaim and reuse, such as refurbishing an old sideboard as a bathroom vanity. Recycled items can include paper toilet rolls or glass toothbrush holders. You also can try items made of natural materials, such as a toilet brush with natural coir fiber from coconut shells.
CLEANERS: Use non-toxic or organic cleaning solutions. "Read labels," says Meg Garlinghouse, director of Yahoo! for Good, which this month launched Yahoo! Green, a resource site for environmentally concerned consumers. "Always trying to buy organic is another way of being green. It's not only good for the planet; it's also good for your health."
COUNTERTOPS: Products made of recycled materials, such as paper, glass or porcelain, are available.
LIGHTS: Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED ones. "Those are easy fixes," Lawrence says. LED lights tend to be more expensive than other bulb options, but "they're super-efficient," she says.
TILES: Regardless if they're used on the floor, countertop or walls, there are several options of recycled materials available, including glass tile, porcelain tile and ceramic tile.
TOILETS: In 1994, federal law limited toilets to 1.6 gallons per flush. "Older ones can be 3.5 to 6 gallons per flush, which is incredibly wasteful," Trask says. "Every flush is wasting water. If you can afford to, replace it."
Besides getting new toilets that are low-flow, another option is dual-flush toilets. These allow you to select between two flow amounts, typically 0.8 and 1.6 gallons, to flush the commode after you're finished.