Green bathroom renovations, part 1
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 7.
Not everyone can afford to renovate their home or undertake a new build, but most of us at some stage will want to update our bathroom. A bathroom renovation can be as extensive as replacing all fixtures and surfaces, rewiring and plumbing, or it can be as simple as regrouting your tiles.
Archicentre’s latest cost guide estimates comprehensive bathroom renovations cost from $9200 to $24,000, less for ensuites, making a bathroom renovation metre-on-metre one of the most expensive rooms in the house to renovate. So it makes sense to take time to research and plan, to get it right from the outset so that you’ll be happy with the results for a long time.
Once you commit to a green bathroom renovation you need to do your homework. Do the materials, fixtures and appliances minimise or avoid environmental harm during their production and use? Are they made from renewable or recycled materials? Are they made locally? Can they be reused or recycled? With all these considerations you will need to factor in the time it will take to locate, order and deliver each item.
Solar hot water
Renovating a bathroom is a good excuse to have a look at your water heating system and to get it right from the outset if you’re starting from scratch.
There are many reasons to choose a solar hot water system over a conventional gas or electric unit. Probably the most important benefit is that of greenhouse gas emission reduction. A solar water heater can reduce the greenhouse emissions of an average family by as much as four tonnes of CO2 per year – the equivalent of taking a car off the road.
On 3 February 2009 the Australian Government announced a new rebate of $1,600 to eligible home owner-occupiers to replace existing electric hot water systems with solar and heat pump hot water systems. See www.environment.gov.au/energyefficiency for more information. This new rebate is in addition to the Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) your system may be eligible for – see www.orer.gov.au/swh/index.html.
The initial purchase price of a solar hot water system will probably still be higher than a similarly sized non-solar water heater but the savings made in operating costs will generally pay for this difference in less than 10 years — in as few as four years in some cases. Also a solar system generally has a longer lifespan than a conventional unit, so financial returns can be considerable over the life of the system.
Showers typically use 30 per cent of a household’s water, so choosing the right showerhead will not only make a huge difference to saving water around the home it will also reduce your water and energy bills. Old style shower heads can use more than 20 litres a minute; new showerheads can give you a decent shower for less than half that.
The government’s WELS (Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme) compares, rates and labels a range of products for water efficiency. Showers rated by the WELS scheme are rated from zero to three stars. Shower heads which have a flow rate of nine litres of water per minute and under are accredited three stars (WELS is testing higher-rating showerheads, but for the time being three stars is tops).
When you’re buying a showerhead, choose the highest star rating but also take note of the flow rate displayed on the label. The WELS website (www.waterrating.gov.au) has a list of shower heads with the lowest flow rate. These include the Astra Walker, with 4.7 litres per minute, and the Quoss system (which is available from most hardware stores) with a 5.5 litres per minute rating. If you’re looking for the more contemporary aesthetic of a larger rose there is the Phoenix with a flow of around eight litres a minute or the Methven Satinjet Kiri and Genesis range (7.5 litres). The Abey ovale range (www.abey.com.au) is an overhead rainshower with seven litres per minute (one of the lowest rainshower flow rates around).
Note that some three-star rated showerheads are not compatible with gravity fed or older instantaneous hot water systems due to the low water pressure or high flow rates required in such systems.
Steer away from showerheads that emit a fine spray of water. The water will get cold quicker, which means you’ll end up turning up the hot water, thereby using more energy, or you’ll need to stay under the shower longer. According to WELS’ Jennifer van den Tol, they are looking at a “comfort test” to help you assess the quality of the showers, but in the meantime you’ll have to do your own homework.
Dick Clarke from Envirotecture likes to design bathrooms with a view to their longevity and easy of use. His ideal green bathroom would be designed with a polished concrete floor with a microtexture finish (to avoid slippage) and with large wall tiles. “By taking away the things that harbour dirt and grime you eliminate the need for cleaning,” says Dick. He also recommends single glass pane showerscreens embedded in the wall and floor to eliminate the need to use silicone. “Keeping silicone out of bathrooms should be a major goal.”
Every Drop Shower Saver
Ever wanted to turn off the water when you are soaping up or shampooing your hair, then turn it back on to rinse, all without losing your temperature settings? The Every Drop Shower Saver allows you to do just that. Available from Flux Research (www.showersaver.com.au). The Oxygenics shower heads from CleverLad (www.cleverlad.com.au) have a similar feature built into them. They have a lever on the side that allows you to turn the water flow down to just 1.5 litres per minute – so you stay warm while using very little water.