Remodel your bathroom to conserve water and energy

Marshall McCauley | Improvement Center Columnist | May 9, 2013

Whether you are planning to remodel your entire home, or just tackling a few weekend home improvement projects, chances are you have envisioned upgrading your home's old and outdated bathroom. Although few homeowners renovate a bathroom expecting it to be the focal point of their home, bathroom remodels have recently become one of the most common types of home remodeling projects, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). This renewed interest in remodeling bathrooms may be driven by the realization that for such relatively small rooms, they generate a large portion of a home's overall energy and water use.

More and more homeowners are exploring ways to create an eco-friendly home, a trend that has definitely gone mainstream according to one recent survey by the National Association of Realtors. There are now a wealth of energy-efficient improvement ideas for bathrooms, so if you are looking to green up your home or simply hoping to update an old bathroom, consider these three modern solutions that are designed to save energy, water and, hopefully, the planet.

1. High-efficiency and dual-flush toilets

dual-flush toilet buttons

Dual flush

It has been almost two decades since U.S. federal law mandated that residential toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush, which is about 50-75 percent less water than is used in pre-1994 toilets. With toilets accounting for nearly 30 percent of a household's water use, this law prevents millions of gallons of fresh water from being wasted down the drain every year.

Of course, you can reduce your water consumption even more by opting for a high-efficiency toilet, which uses about 1.3 gallons per flush, or a dual-flush toilet, which offers both a half-flush of 0.8 gallon and a full-flush option of 1.6 gallons, depending on your needs. Widely available, dual-flush toilets cost about $350 on the low end and upwards of $1,250 for high-end models, such as the Kohler Escale.

As consumer acceptance of water-saving toilets has increased, manufacturers have met the demand with literally hundreds of available models and options. So if you are overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices, turn to one of the many online consumer reporting services that test and compare some of the most popular types of residential toilets. Likewise, when shopping for a toilet you can also look for the EPA's WaterSense designation, which is awarded to toilets that use 20 percent less water than the current federal standard while still providing equal or superior performance.

2. Low-flow faucets and shower heads

If water conservation habits such as brushing your teeth and shampooing your hair with the water turned off just haven't become second nature to you yet, then perhaps you should rely on the mechanical advantage of low-flow faucets and shower heads. According to the EPA, faucets account for more than 15 percent of indoor household water use -- more than 1 trillion gallons of water across the United States each year. Water-saving faucets and shower heads are easy to install, usually cost less than $100, and may cut water usage by around 30 percent without affecting performance. Not only can these fixtures save water, but they can also reduce the amount of hot water that is used in your bathroom, which means that less electricity or natural gas is needed to operate your home's hot water tank.

3. Bathroom lighting and heating

LED bulb by Phillips

Philips LED bulb

Like most Americans, you probably want your bathroom well-illuminated and toasty-warm each morning, especially when you get finished with a remodel. Meeting this design challenge doesn't have to mean racks of 100-watt light bulbs blazing above your mirrors or a furnace that kicks on at the crack of dawn. Instead strive to bring more natural light into the room by installing a larger energy-efficient window, or by installing a skylight or light tube in the ceiling. You can also replace energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs with efficient LED or CFL bulbs, which can cost as little as a few dollars per bulb. Likewise, you can cut your home's energy consumption by installing a small, in-wall heater or baseboard heater in the bathroom, which should warm up the room nicely without relying on your furnace to heat up the entire house.

Upgrading your old bathroom while also trying to reduce your home's overall energy and water usage can help to focus your remodeling efforts toward a worthy goal -- namely reducing your monthly utility bills -- not to mention helping to conserve our planet's natural resources. As consumer awareness increases along with energy prices, and as home buying trends continue to favor green upgrades, your eco-friendly bathroom remodel may also increase the value of your home and its appeal to future buyers.

About the Author

Marshall McCauley is a builder and freelance writer.