OK, so you what to make your home more efficient, but you need bathroom makeover–or a new bathroom altogether–and you need it now. There are still things you can do that will have an immediate impact and improve your home’s overall performance and energy-efficiency. Here’s a real example from a project being wrapped up right now.
We’d like you to start by taking a look at the whole home’s performance. At a minimum, you’ll want to look for thermal deficiences–air leaks and poor insulation around the bathroom iteself (and we always want to look at combustion safety before and after!). Key spots include areas behind tubs and shower enclosures–often ignored and left wide open when building a home. Of course, you want to make sure you have adequate insulation in the walls–in this case the walls were completely empty and needed to be dense packed with cellulose. Replacing the tub also allowed easy access to make just the critical air-sealing was done.
One of the early parts of a project is making sure the plumbing in in order. This particular project required new supply and drain lines–and this opened up a few big opportunities. First, the water heater (actually an indirect storage tank fed by a 96% efficient sealed combustion boiler) was moved directly under the bathroom, about 40 feet closer to the bathroom. This is a big deal from both an energy and a water efficiency perspecitive. The closer your hot water is to the bathroom, the less time you wait for hot water for your shower, the less water that goes down the drain, and the less heat lost as water left in the pipes after you’re done cools down.
On a related point–and one that’s likely to require some wrestling with the plumbing inspector–you can use smaller diameter pipes (IF you’re using low-flow faucets and shower heads so you still get sufficient supply–this is a big deal, but too complicated to go into hear. (Google “structured plumbling”.)
The other opportunity on the drain side is “drainwater heat recovery“, using a device which lets you capture heat going down your drain and using it to preheat incoming cold water–saving the amount of heat you need to dump into the incoming water and saving you energy and money. This is hard to do in a one-story house with no basement or crawlspaces, but makes sense for a lot of homeowners. The less water you need to heat, the less energy you use.
EPA has kicked off a “WaterSense” program to help identify water efficient products and practices.
There are many choices. This particular toilet by Toto uses 1.28 gallons per flush, and it works! Unlike the low-volume toilets of several years ago, the better ones have been designed specifically to work at lower volumes. And they do.
New shower heads also use a lot less–and still deliver a comfortable shower. In this case, the 1.6 gallon per minute shower head hasn’t arrived yet, but the one in place uses a reasonable 2.5 gallons per minute. Again, less water over all, and the less hot water you use, the less you pay to heat it. The are a variety of shower heads that will take you even lower–with good results. Personal preferences come into play here, but most people should be able to find a 1.6 gpm low-flow fixture that works for them. And many are happy with some even lower flow heads.
You didn’t expect me to leave this topic without talking about electricity, and I won’t! Using efficient bathroom lighting can chip away at the electic bill. CFLs have come a long way, and can provide excellent quality light. Dedicated CFL fixtures are available in a wide variety of styles ranging from basic to high-end designs. In this example, the sconces on either side of the mirror have a bright, instant-on lamp, in a warm color that avoids the sterile flourescent look that some find ghastly. As you can see in the inset picture below, the fixture is a dedicated CFL fixture, and only accepts CFL lamps, no screw ins. LED technology is evolving, it not ready for prime time in lamps intended to send light in all directions, and it wouldn’t yet be a good fit for these scones.
While LED lamps aren’t ready for sconce applications, they excel in recessed can fixtures. I’ve written on the CREE and HALO recessed can LEDs before. Both are great choices today. In the case, the HALO fixtures were used because they come with a trim kit rated for wet locations.
You’ll also notice in the picture an ENERGY STAR labeled Panasonic bath fan. It’s quiet and efficient and really gets the job done. In this particular project, it will eventually be replaced by a heat recovery ventilator, but it along with the Renewaire bath fan are excellent fan choices.
As an aside, I often make light fun of bamboo as a green choice. This isn’t really a condemnation of bamboo or any other sustainable material. My beef is that people focus on materials before they consider they overall performance of a home–comfort, safety, durability (what good is it if you let greener materials rot in a poorly designed home?), and energy-efficiency. Having said that, when you’ve got the performance issues ironed out, it’s great to look at materials, too. And in the picture above, I really like the bamboo used on the ceiling. There, I said it!
Of course, at the end of this project, having added ventilation fans and done insulation and air-sealing, we need to again check equipment for combustion safety, and check pipes for gas leaks! The combustion safety is a bit easier since the project included switching over to a sealed combustion boiler. But this is an important step not to be ignored.
Even in a bathroom remodel, you can apply home performance concepts and wind up with results that make you happier–less waiting for hot water–and not running out of hot water! and eliminating drafts, condensation, and moisture and mildew problems. And you save energy, to boot. Good stuff!