Archive for the ‘Bathroom’ Category
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 8.
If you want to treat and reuse blackwater (toilet waste) onsite your choices are basically a blackwater treatment system or a composting toilet.
There are a number of blackwater treatment systems on the market these days. Some operate by an aerobic system, employing biological filters and pumps to aerate the wastewater. Others employ disinfection processes like chlorine or UV. Others just use worms. All these systems have the advantage that the water can be reused onsite after treatment, though in most states and territories the water can only be used for garden irrigation.
The great majority of blackwater treatment systems are installed in unsewered areas in rural Australia, however there are an increasing number of people wanting to install them in urban sewered areas.
Be mindful, though, that regulatory bodies approve blackwater treatment systems only occasionally, and with good reason. All systems need maintenance
and if you sell your house the new owners might not be as committed as you are to servicing the system.
All systems need regular maintenance and servicing to run effectively and to minimise the risk of environmental damage by below-standard effluent. Do your homework before you commit to a system.
A composting toilet works by an aerated “dry” pile system. Some systems have excess moisture removed by forced ventilation, while others will only include a fan to eliminate odours. With composting toilet systems, compost can be safely used on the garden after six to 12 months, providing it is buried about 30cm below the surface and not used on any plants that will be consumed by humans.
To see which systems can be installed in your state see the following websites:
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 3.
In the average Australian household, hot water accounts for 30% of energy use. Water heating is second only to transport as a households largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions. However a solar water heater can reduce your emissions by as much as four tonnes of CO2 or more per year—the equivalent of taking a car off the road! By using the energy from the sun to heat water at zero costs.
Depending on where you live and your climate a solar hot water system can provide between 50 and 90 per cent of your hot water needs. The initial purchase price will probably be higher than a similarly sized non-solar water heater but the savings made in energy bills will generally pay for this difference in less than 10 years—in as few as four years in some cases. A solar system generally has a longer lifespan than a conventional unit, so financial returns can be considerable over the life of the system.
This benefit has been recognised by the federal and some state governments and is encouraged in the form of renewable energy certificates (RECs) and rebates. Rebates vary from state to state, but can save you a great deal on the cost of a solar water heater, making them more economically viable.
Flat-panel and evacuated tube collectors
Most solar hot water systems use solar collectors (in the form of panels or tubes) to absorb energy from the sun. Water is heated by the sun as it passes through the collectors. It then flows into an insulated storage tank for later use.
The most common form of solar collector is the flat-plate panel. They consist of a dark coloured, metallic absorbing plate to which a network of pipes is bonded. This arrangement is then placed in an air-tight metal box with a glass cover on the top and insulation on the back and sides to reduce heat loss. As the sun shines on the collector panel the water in the pipes becomes hot due to conduction from the collector plate
In the last few years another type of collector has started to appear on the Australian market. These are known as evacuated tube collectors. They consist of two glass tubes (one inside the other) that are bonded to each other at each end to form a sealed space between them. The surface of the inner tube is coated with a heat-absorbing coating. The space between the two tubes has most of the gas removed from it (hence they are evacuated), which provides a high level of insulation. As solar radiation passes through the outer glass tube and heats the inner tube, it is trapped by the lack of gas, which would otherwise allow heat loss. As a result, the efficiency of these collectors is higher than flat plate collectors, and evacuated tube collectors are suited to colder climates as they even perform well on cloudy days.
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 3.
If you believed the advertisements on TV the only way to have a safe, clean home for your family is by constantly applying cleaning products and disinfects to your benches, floors and walls. However be spraying, wiping and flushing all these products around the home could amount to a chemical cocktail. Research has linked the exposure to chemical from ultra-cleanliness with health problems such as asthma. Chemicals also leave a toxic trail after there use when they go down the drain into sewage, are released into the air and the packaging ends up in landfill.
How to clean green
According to Bridget Gardner from FreshGreenClean there are four easy steps to green cleaning: wipe it, soak it, add it, and dry it.
“Most of the cleaning is achieved with the action of wiping the surface with a damp cloth or mop, There is often no need to add a product,” says Bridget.
“Water is a very effective cleaning agent so soak stubborn grime and stains before cleaning. If there are any trouble spots left then add a non-toxic cleaning agent such as bicarbonate of soda and pure soap or use a stronger tool such as a scrubbing brush, toothbrush, painter’s razor blade or my favourite – scourers made from orange net-bags tied into a knot,” adds Bridget.
After cleaning shiny surfaces with these methods, Bridget recommends a quick polish with a flannelette rag or a microfibre glass cloth to avoid the toxic solvents found in many glass or surface cleaners and open your windows to let in the fresh air.
“A clean and dry surface will deter bacteria growth and UV rays are a natural disinfectant, so hang your cloths and mops outside to dry.”
Design for green cleaning
One of the best ways to clean green is to eliminate the need for cleaning in the first place. There are a number of clever ways to design you home so that it cuts down on the cleaning workload.
Dick Clarke from Envirotecture designs bathrooms for his clients so that they need very little cleaning. “The trick is to design a bathroom without silicon, and to eliminate shower screen frames and fittings. By taking away the things that harbour dirt and grime you eliminate the need for cleaning.”
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 7.
There’s no denying that bathtubs are a luxury in water-parched parts of Australia, but if you can afford to fill one there are ways you can reduce its impact.
Consider buying a salvaged or restored bath – these can be bought in mint condition if you’re lucky, and they’ll cost a fraction of the price of a new bath.
If you’re buying a new bathtub invest in a cast iron or pressed steel bath, which have long-lasting enamel coatings. Cheaper acrylic-fibreglass bathtubs scratch easily, lose their shine quicker and can crack over time. Acrylic baths retain heat better than iron or steel baths though, so if you are considering the latter, you should in line the outside of the bath with insulation.
You should also consider the size of the bath. Taking a standard-size bath can use at least 100 litres of water. Some of the freestanding deep-soaking models use over 200 litres per bath, which is very hard to justify when you’d use only 32 litres to wash yourself with a three-star rating shower head and a four-minute shower. Obviously the smaller the bath, the less water you’ll use. There are a number of prototype designs out there for baths that follow the contours of the body to minimise water consumption, but these have yet to be mass produced – keep an eye out.
If you’re renovating a bathroom do everything you can to keep your existing bath, as removing an existing bath can require an enormous amount of effort and expense. If you have an existing bathtub but it needs another lease on life, consider refinishing or resurfacing it instead of replacing it. Refinishing means the bath can be resurfaced in situ over two to three days, you can choose any colour you like, and the new surface should last as long as the original surface on the bath (ensure you get a warranty). If you go down this route it’s worth going with a professional resurfacer with good waste management and ventilation procedures. The coatings used during the process contain toxic isocyanates – you need to ensure the applicator wears appropriate breathing protection, that professional air evacuation systems are used (the built-in exhaust fan in the bathroom should not be used) and that the work area is appropriately sealed off from the rest of the house.
Taps & Basins
Like showerheads, taps are rated by WELS. Look for the highest ratings, five or six stars, which can reduce water use to as little as 1.5 litres a minute, depending on the application.
Steer away from one-lever basin mixers as they tend to be left in the middle position, adding hot water to the mix when it’s not necessary.
Reduce the water flow on existing taps by up to two thirds by installing an aerator or flow restrictor.
When you’re thinking about basins look for ones that are as shallow as possible, to reduce the temptation to fill it with water. Minosa makes a range of shallow basins such as their “puddle”, designed and made in Australia, and with up to 13 per cent recycled content.
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 6.
Use three or four star WELS-rated shower heads, toilets and water fixtures. Catch your rainwater in tanks for use in the bathroom and garden and look into getting a wastewater treatment system. Use drought-tolerant landscaping.
This is an excerpt from an article in Sanctuary magazine issue 5.
Flooring and floor covering options are many and varied and so are the environmental considerations. From plush wool carpets to concrete floors, the right solution depends on your individual tastes and circumstances. Where you live, the purpose of the room, cleaning routine, ventilation and who uses the room are all factors. No one solution fits all.
As the old adage goes reduce, reuse, recycle. The first question you need to ask is do you need a floor covering at all? Polished concrete, wooden and bamboo floors can not only help with the environmental performance of a house – concrete floors are excellent for trapping and releasing heat – but can look spectacular. Whatever the surface is, it needs to be durable to reduce the need for replacement.
Can you buy secondhand materials or does the flooring product contain recycled content? Some enterprising companies now supply heavy-duty wool carpets that are reclaimed from office renovations, cleaned and their condition graded. There is also a range of carpet underlays that are made from old carpets, textile off-cuts or even recycled plastic bottles.
The raw material that the flooring is made of needs to be considered. As with most products it is better if it is made from natural, renewable materials that can be replaced in a relatively short time. The actual manufacturing process also has an impact on the environment with some processes requiring large amounts of water and energy, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Also check whether the manufacturer participates in recycling programs that reduce waste during the production process.
Health and toxicity
As we spend over 90 per cent of our lives indoors, our internal environments have a large impact on our health and wellbeing. Not only can floors contain toxic products such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can ‘offgas’ into the surrounding air, but they can harbour dirt, mould and dust mites. Dust mites feed on skin flakes and produce airborne particles that can trigger allergic reactions or asthmatic episodes when inhaled by children or adults who are sensitive to them.
The best way to reduce dust levels and dust mites is to keep surfaces clean. Smooth floors such as ceramic tiles, linoleum or polished wood and bamboo are easy to clean. Look for carpets that are easy to clean and washable. Cleaning methods will vary depending on the type of carpet, its backing and any underlay present, and the level of traffic and use. Whatever the floor covering, care needs to be taken during installation as VOCs from glues and sealants may be released.
Natural flooring options
Natural carpets and fabrics
Carpets made from natural products such as wool, silk, cotton, coir, sisal or seagrass can look great and bring warmth to a room. They offer a rapid renewable and non-toxic alternative to synthetic carpets and are more likely to be recyclable or biodegradable. However, as with all carpets, care needs to be taken to ensure that they are well-maintained so they do not collect dust and dirt. They consume large amounts of water and energy during steam cleaning and toxic chemicals may be used to treat the carpet against moisture and insects.
Carpet tiles are a good option as they reduce the need to replace all of the carpet in a room. Even just one panel can be replaced and they reduce the amount of waste during installation.
Natural lino products are made of mostly linseed oil in conjunction with natural pigments, rosin from pine trees and wood flours. Lino is a durable, long-lasting floor covering made from a renewable resource that is biodegradable. It can be swept, reducing the need for water, power or chemicals for cleaning. Lino can be dried easily and is great for wet areas, preventing the build-up of mould and mildew.
Polished concrete floors
Concrete floors can be finished to create different visual effects and colours and are a strong, easy to clean, long-term floor option. They can also play a part in keeping the house at a comfortable temperature by storing and slowly releasing heat. Some sealants may contain toxic components but natural wax alternatives can be used that are safer for your health and the environment.
Ceramic tiles are another tough and easy to clean option. Like concrete floors they have very good thermal qualities and the base product can be locally sourced, is easily recycled and contains no VOCs. However, as they are produced from clay fired at high temperatures they use a lot of energy during the manufacturing process.
Wooden floors have been used and loved for many years. Compared to other building materials wood has a low embodied energy, is easily reused and recycled, and is completely biodegradable. However, to maintain its eco-credentials, wood needs to be recycled or sourced from sustainably-managed forest or plantations. Look out for independent labeling such as from the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). Once again check that no toxic sealants have been used during manufacturing or installation. While wood is renewable, it has a long growing period.
Bamboo is actually not a wood but a grass and is growing in popularity as a strong, durable flooring option. As bamboo is a fast-growing plant with a harvest time of three to five years, as opposed to 10 to 20 years for most timbers, it is a readily renewable resource. Check with your supplier to ensure that the bamboo is sourced from sustainably-managed plantations.
Backings and underlays
One of the main sources of VOCs that is often overlooked is carpet backings and underlays. Make sure that what you have underneath your natural flooring option is also non-toxic and comes from a sustainable, renewable source.
Whatever flooring option you choose, what you do in the home can make the single biggest difference to the health of the indoor environment. Avoid smoking indoors, don’t let dust build up, keep surfaces dry and well-ventilated and avoid cleaning products that use fragranced ingredients as they may include VOCs. There is variation not only between the flooring types but also products used within the flooring types, so make sure you do your homework and look for products that have been independently assessed and certified by an eco-label.
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.