Bathrooms may be small, but they use a lot of resources that are depleting the earth's finite supply.
Gallons and gallons of water, barrels and barrels of oil and natural gas to heat that water, electricity to illuminate the mirrors and jet the tubs, in-floor heating, nightlights — you name it.
The ultimate in "green" décor, plants boost any bathroom's eco-pedigree. Affordable, beautiful and generally easy to care for, one or more plants bring big benefits to what is often the smallest room in the house.
"They are tremendous at cleaning up the air," says Sharon Farwell, manager of Forever Green Interiors, Inc. in Medford. "So when you … have all those glues and paints and tiles and things, plants do a really good job of removing those noxious smells."
That's because plants absorb carbon dioxide and other chemicals through their leaves and then emit pure oxygen in return. "They process these things in much the same way a filter does," explains Farwell. "Even without the removal of toxins, indoor plants produce more oxygen than they use."
And that means a big breath of fresh air, a touch of nature and a whole new element of texture, color and dimension. As if that's not reason enough to bring some of the outdoors into the privy, studies also show that "having live plants in your environment reduce stress and tension," says Farwell.
Choose specialty plants and decorative containers based on the home's design theme — a bamboo palm in a Chinese-style pot for an Asian theme, for instance. Tropical foliage goes with most interior styles and is long-lasting with proper care. For easier maintenance, choose non-blooming plants, as most blooming plants require special care.
To care for your live décor, carefully determine its lighting needs.
"Foliage requiring higher light would be placed in south and west light exposures and those requiring lower light can be placed in rooms with no windows and just artificial light for at least 40 hours a week,"says Farwell.
Confer with a professional or do some research at a gardening store or on the Internet for additional care and feeding tips.
Now is the time to reevaluate the "throne room." First, look at renewable resources for accents and surfaces like countertops and flooring. Sandhill glass tiles are made from recycled materials that use less energy in production than conventionally fired ceramic tiles.
"And they have that contemporary look seen in modern elegant bathrooms," says Sharon Baldoni, owner of Feng Shui Designs by Sharon Baldoni in Jacksonville. "Each piece is handmade and can be combined with other tiles for an updated look."
Underfoot, bamboo gives a hardwood look and is completely renewable, while cork flooring tiles are specifically designed for bathrooms. Vida Cork tiles have hardwax oil finishes that help them stand up to wear, tear and water. And Marmoleum (true linoleum) is a good alternative to vinyl squares.
Walls can also be greened up. "Earth plaster is an eco-friendly alternative to Venetian plaster and can be applied by homeowners," says Baldoni, who recommends American Clay Natural Earth Plaster.
Most major paint companies now produce a line of "green" paint in natural colors that has fewer chemicals without strong odors. Look for Green Seal-certified paint, which is lower in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
When choosing a color palette, think the sea foam green of the sea, the cerulean blue of the sky and natural sand. Select fixtures for long-term appeal.
"That light blue toilet may look cool and absolutely in style today, but today's trendy is tomorrow's pile of remodeled rubble headed for the dump," says Kristi Stewart, owner of Flying Frog Design in Medford. "Choose neutrals for the bones of your bath, the toilet, sink and shower surround. Then go crazy with the paint (low-VOC, of course) and accessories."
While surface treatments are visible ways to add green elements to the bath, the real punch comes in more eco-conscious fixtures and hardware.
Reduce your non-renewable energy footprint by considering a solar water heater — you'll save more than just the energy required for that hot shower. "These are not only efficient, but you can get a $1,500 tax credit if the proper system is installed," says Baldoni. (That would be a 0G300 certified system that meets the Oregon Solar Energy Industry Association tank standard.)
"Also, there are energy-saving shower heads that conserve water, yet still deliver strong water pressure for a great shower," says Baldoni. "You can save $100 a year on your electric bill and feel confident that you're saving the environment as well."
Continue saving water by using dual flushing, low-water toilets. Caroma and TOTO are two brands that customize the amount of water needed for each specific task.
"The older low-flush toilets got a bad reputation because they were 1.6 gallon maximum to save water but didn't flush well," Baldoni says. "This is an improvement on that old system." Look up WaterSense, the EPA's water-use rating for home appliances and fixtures."
Be wise with electricity by installing high-performance light bulbs that reduce electricity without dimming the amount of light. A small skylight or solar tube delivers natural light during the day, reducing the need for bulbs. "Solar electric or photovoltaic systems can also reduce the use of electricity," counsels Baldoni.
For finishing touches, think spa — cool, neutral earth tones, whites and greens. "Using towels, bath rugs and shower curtains made from organically grown cotton is helpful, too," Stewart says.
When possible, re-use by first checking salvage yards, antique stores or Medford's Habitat for Humanity ReStore for light fixtures, doors and cabinets.
Always try to buy local. "This is very fundamental to green design," Stewart says. "Italian marble may be natural and beautiful, but it burns up a lot of fuel getting to the Rogue Valley."
Now lean back, take a deep breath and rest assured that your bath is fabulous, functional and future-forward.
Eco-friendly bathroom tips