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Flush with efficiencies

Cut your utility bills by James Dulley

Printed in The Charlotte Observer Home Section, 2007

Q. I am remodeling my bathroom to modernize it and make it more efficient. Before I select fixtures and start putting it back together, what things should I consider to make it more efficient?

The use of a bathroom can be responsible for a significant amount of your utility bills. Bathrooms use both hot and cold water, heating and cooling, electricity for lighting and appliances, draw out indoor conditioned air, and create humidity (may be good or bad).

Since people normally associate a bathroom with water, let’s start there.

A flushing toilet is the major cold water consumer in most bathrooms unless you take extremely long showers. When bathrooms are being remodeled, the toilets are usually replaced so all the fixtures match.

The maximum water usage allowed for new toilets is 1.6 gpf (gallons per flush) and most toilets use this maximum. Several of the major plumbing fixture manufacturers now offer super efficient standard-flush toilets which use even less water. Since not as many of these super efficient toilet styles are available, select the toilet first and then match the other fixtures to it.

The type of showerhead impacts both the amount of cold and hot water consumed. There are maximum water flow rates for showerheads. Large shower units with multiple heads use more water, though. Select a showerhead that has a valve to slow the water flow while you are lathering. The main knob in some massaging showerheads also can be adjusted to just a trickle.

Much hot and cold water is wasted just trying to get the shower water temperature where you want it. Manual and electronic shower valves are available that allow the temperature to be set on a dial or digitally. The correct temperature is reached quicker with less water wasted down the drain.

If it takes a long time to get hot water to the shower or sink, install a rapid hot water demand kit underneath the sink. When you need hot water, it draws hot water quickly to the faucet. Instead of the cold water being wasted down the drain while waiting, it flows back to the water heater tank.

Bathroom heating is another energy consideration because you want the heat quickly, but for only a short period of time. A radiant system can make you feel comfortably warm without having to heat all the air in the bathroom. Electric radiant floor or wall heating on a timer is a good choice.

A high-quality bathroom vent fan with humidity- and motion-sensing controls is most efficient. It runs only as long at it is actually needed so excessive heated air (winter) or cooled air (summer) is not being sucked from your house. The quietest ones use large ducts so you may have to alter the vent pipe in the attic.

Select a vent fan with a light fixture and install full-spectrum compact fluorescent bulbs. These are energy efficient and produce natural light for applying makeup. A fan with a built-in-night-light is a good choice for a child’s bathroom.

Lindsay Daniel provides residential architecture services to Charlotte, North Carolina and the surrounding communities.