Leaky pipes are never good news. But last spring, Emily Mintz turned what could have been an unpleasant home repair into a catalyst to go green.
Half a year—and a lot of research—later, her master bath featured recycled-glass tile, certified Energy Star products, a dual-flush toilet, recessed LED lights, and a solar-tube skylight.
“Little by little, we’ve been trying to live gentler on the Earth,” says Mintz, a real-estate agent who lives with her husband in North Bethesda. She’s part of a trend to make ecosmart choices in bath design.
“Most people can go green to a certain degree,” says Ilene Kanner of Tunis Kitchen & Bath Showroom in Bethesda. Kanner says many clients make ecofriendly decisions where they can. That’s good news when you consider that the US population nearly doubled from 1950 to 2000, while water usage tripled. Experts predict that 36 states could face water shortages by 2013. About 17 percent of household water use is in the shower alone.
“The most cost-efficient way to become environmentally friendly is through water savings—that’s where you can make the most impact quickly,” says Chandler Fox of Foxcraft Design Group in Falls Church.
Many solutions are simple and affordable, such as low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators. Check for the WaterSense label, the sign of a program sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency that identifies toilets and faucets proven to be about 20 percent more water-efficient than other products on the market. You’ll find a list of certified products at epa.gov/watersense.
When looking at products, you might want to make sure materials are as ecofriendly as they claim to be, says architect Hal Bolton of Terraplane Studios in DC.
“Check a third-party certifier to make sure what you’re getting is living up to what they say,” says Bolton. He suggests checking GreenGuard (greenguard.org), which verifies that a product emits lower levels of chemicals and other pollutants, or Cradle to Cradle (c2ccertified.com), which evaluates a product’s use of ecofriendly materials and renewable energy and its ability to be reused. Energy Star products (energystar.gov) have met strict efficiency guidelines set by the federal government. You may also want to be aware of where materials originated: As at a farmers market, the more local the manufacturer, the lower a product’s carbon footprint.
Toilets: Flush With Options
Going green: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, homeowners flush a quarter of their water bill down the toilet. If your toilet predates 1992, the best tactic is replacing it—no fancy models necessary. Old models use 3.5 gallons of water or more per flush. Since 1992, the federal Energy Policy Act has required new toilets sold in the United States to use a maximum of 1.6 gallons a flush. No matter your toilet’s age, check for leaky valves, one of the worst water wasters—up to 200 gallons a day. For a quick prognosis, squirt a drop of food coloring into the tank. If color shows in the bowl without flushing, there’s a leak.
Greener: More efficient are dual-flush toilets, in which pushing one button releases almost a gallon of water, while the other releases 1.6 gallons. Toto makes popular models such as the Eco Drake ($380) and the Aquia ($437). “Toto is the no-question leader” in quality and quantity, though Kohler is gaining, says architect Anthony Wilder of Cabin John.
Greenest: The most dedicated tree huggers might consider waterless urinals and composting toilets—though technology lags on the toilets and regulations remain varied on what’s allowed. “Composting toilets are common in Europe, but this side of the world, people are not at all open to them,” Wilder says. Still, waterless urinals garner impressive results: In workplaces, Kohler’s sleek Steward model ($765) can save 40,000 gallons of water annually.