Of all of the rooms in a home, bathrooms are one of the highest consumers of energy and water. According to the EPA, an average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. Approximately 70% of that is used indoors, with the bathroom being the largest consumer—a toilet alone can use 27%!
Most designers focus on a feature or two to design the room around, but this can lead to missed opportunities and higher costs. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building certification program was created to provide a framework to build comfortable, healthy homes. With nearly 20,000 LEED-certified residential units, Colorado ranks within the top 15 states for LEED residential projects in the United States.
A thoughtful design that incorporates sustainability will decrease maintenance and likely reduce the need for future costly remodels. Additionally, it can contribute to the health and well-being of residents. After all the predesign issues are addressed, one needs to think about the following elements:
Efficiency and performance. Older, inefficient toilets can also be a major source of wasted water. Over the years, the functionality of water-saving toilets has greatly improved, reducing water to 1.28 gallons per flush (20% less than the federal standard of 1.6 gallons per flush) or less without sacrificing performance. Water-saving toilets can be found in both single- and dual-flush options. The EPA states that the average family can save nearly 13,000 gallons of water annually by replacing inefficient toilets.
Fixtures and faucets also have an important role. WaterSense-labeled models of faucets and aerators can save the average family 700 gallons of water annually, according to the EPA, or about 45 showers worth. Also, since these water savings reduce demands on water heaters, there is an energy savings as well.
[Related: Social impact of sustainability: Passive House calls builders to action]
Health and well-being. Ventilation, materials and humidity factors are important health considerations for bathroom design. Ventilation is crucial to preventing health issues and damage caused by bathroom humidity. Increased humidity during a bath or shower can create a breeding ground for mold, mildew and microorganisms that can negatively impact human health. Prolonged periods of excess moisture and humidity can crack and peel paint and wallpaper, ruin wallboard, warp doors, and rust cabinets and fixtures. LEED strategies around local exhaust focus on removing poor-quality air from kitchens and bathrooms before it mixes with the air in the rest of the house.
Sealants for the floor and countertops have also improved over time. They should be sustainable or healthy, and successfully do the job. Hope is not a strategy in regard to sealants.
LEED green homes are transforming the residential market and improving owners’ quality of life. The benefits of green homes go beyond efficiency; they support our environmental, social and economic well-being. In many markets, certified green homes are now selling quicker and for more money than comparable nongreen homes.
Matthew Libby is manager of LEED Marketing at U.S. Green Building Council.