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5 Tips for a Cutting-edge Green Bathroom

Green Living Image Gallery Greening your bathroom can saveyou loads of money. See more green living pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Yahor Piaskouski

Remodeling your bathroom is exciting and terrifying. There are so many choices. What colors should I use? What are the best materials for floors, counters and shower curtains? How much can I afford to spend? And the big question of our time: Are my choices environmentally friendly?

In this article, we'll tackle those questions and others, and show you how to combine luxury and responsibility to create a cutting-edge green bathroom.

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Every flush counts

An estimated 30% of household water usage is flushed down the toilet. If your toilet is more than 30 years old, upgrading to a low-consumption toilet can save you up to 4 gallons per flush Get more tips at FutureFriendly.com

For the wet, humid world of your bathroom, tile wins hands down. Sure, bamboo and cork are marketed as renewable, eco-friendly flooring options, but they're both highly processed -- shredded and reformed and bonded to wood backing. One overflowing toilet or bathtub tidal wave can make bamboo or cork flooring swell up and break down -- or start a case of terminal rot. Plus, cork has to be imported from the Iberian Peninsula area, and the only place bamboo grows well in the U.S. is California (where it grows so fast it can choke out other species in the ecosystem).

Recycled tile is truly durable for wet environments, and it has a low impact on natural environments. It comes in all manner of shapes, sizes, materials and designs, with accent tiles and strips that range from fun to elegant. It's a good covering for your bathroom walls, too. You can design a unique look by mixing tile sizes and layout patterns on the floor and walls. The end result is coordinated and satisfying to look at and touch. Some home improvement stores offer free classes, so you can learn to install tile yourself and save big bucks.

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WaterSense is a new rating system that helps consumers compare water efficiency between plumbing devices. It's like Energy Star for toilets, faucets and shower-heads. A WaterSense label means the product uses 20 percent less water than similar products.

When low-flow toilets came out years ago, they didn't work very well. Now, there are some low-flow meets high-tech versions -- such as toilets with pressure assisted flush, an improvement to help low-flow toilets get the job done in one. There are also double-handled dual-flush toilets. One handle gives you a full-strength, 1.6 gallon (6-liter) flush. The other handle nets a low-strength, 1.1 gallon (4-liter) flush. With dual-flush technology, a family of four can save 6,000 gallons (22,712 liters) of water each year .

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Showerheads and faucets with a WaterSense rating cut the amount of water flow by several gallons per minute. Because they're equipped with high-efficiency aerators, though, you won't feel a drop in water pressure.

On the next page, everything old is new again for environmentally responsible countertops.

Concrete isn't just a flooring option; it's an option for countertops, too. Specifically, fly-ash concrete is the green choice. It uses power plant waste product, called fly-ash, instead of highly processed Portland cement as the bonding agent. It's durable and less permeable than concrete made with Portland cement. Fly-ash concrete is also easier to handle, dries harder, and uses less water, sand and electricity. And the important green angle, of course, is that it keeps fly-ash out of landfills. You can completely personalize fly-ash concrete with custom colors and aggregates and limitless shapes.

Environmentally friendly counts indoors, too. Next up: keeping your bathroom environment healthy.

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One of the energy-saving goals of remodeling is to eliminate air leaks. But as you seal up energy-draining air leaks in your bathroom, you'll probably need to upgrade your ventilation system. A heat recovery ventilator (HRV) is a dual duct system that removes stale indoor air through one duct and draws in fresh outdoor air through another duct. The incoming air passes through a heat exchanger to warm or cool it to near the temperature of the exiting air. This helps keep the temperature in the room constant and saves energy on heating and cooling. Since trapped humidity will also be a problem in the bathroom, you'll probably need to go a step further and install an energy recovery ventilator (ERV). It's an HRV with the added feature of removing humidity from circulating air. In hot, humid climates, it'll keep your ventilation system from bringing in wet, sticky air.

See some ways to effortlessly cut your bathroom's energy usage on the next page.

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For energy-saving smarts, add smart power strips to your green bathroom. These actually monitor what's going on with each appliance plugged into them. If the power usage drops to stand-by mode, that single outlet shuts off. That way, it cuts off the "vampire" that sucks power even when things aren't in use.

There are a couple of things you can do to reduce the amount of electric lighting you use. The simplest thing is to replace your standard light bulbs with motion-activated lights. These screw right into your regular light socket. They'll automatically turn on when you walk into the room and automatically turn off when you walk out.

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Daylighting requires a little more work. Basically, daylighting brings the sunshine into your room through the roof, even in places where you wouldn't be able to install a skylight. It uses reflective tubing, an exterior sunlight collector, and an interior diffusing lens in the ceiling to channel sunlight into a room. The tubing can be angled through the roof and attic spaces to reach the room you want to brighten with natural light. It's a relatively simple installation that doesn't need major construction or framing.

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