green bathroom renovation ideas

Four Principles of a Clean, Green Bathroom Update


Last week we shared the six top sustainable priorities moss has for our residential kitchen designs (and redesigns).  This week we’re following up, as promised, with a parallel post on how we approach designing a green bathroom.  Hint: its more than green tinted paint.

Its no surprise that we consider many of the same factors for bathroom re-designs that we do for kitchens (sustainability more common sense than magic).  But bathrooms have their own focus and priorities so when we look at them, the same concepts are executed a little differently.

Keep this in mind for a Green Bathroom Renovation


1. Green Fixtures   (… save water) 

Choosing your fixtures thoughtfully might be the most important aspect of a green bathroom remodel.  Unlike in the kitchen, where an Energy Star appliance is of top concern, in the bathroom we focus on water saving tech.  Potable water is one of our planets most important (and overlooked) resources and American bathrooms hog quite a lot of it.  But technology can help us make dramatic improvements here.

The flush toilet was presented to the world at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 and one day 11,171 visitors took it for a spin.  There’s been a lot of water over the metaphorical dam since then and toilets have flushed more than their fair share.  As we discussed last month, the EPA estimates that toilets are the single largest user of household indoor water (27%) and warns that a leaky toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day. Choosing low flow toilets (or opting for a composting model) and faucets can dramatically improve your water profile.

2. Creative  Windows (… maximize daylight)

This concept might be even more important in the bathroom than the kitchen.  Daylight in kitchens adds satisfaction and cuts down on energy costs and it does the same thing in a bathroom.  Bathrooms also have an even greater need for daylight for aesthetic reasons.  Since we typically use the bathroom mirror to check for a presentable appearance before going out to face the day, its important to have light that has a high CRI (color rendering index) value.  CRI is a measure of a light source’s ability to make objects look like the color they’re supposed to be.

But there’s an added factor.  In addition to maximizing natural light, bathrooms also need privacy.  If you don’t happen to own the entire view shed outside your bathroom wall (everything that the light touches) you may not want an entire wall of windows exposing you to the street, or your neighbor’s kitchen table.  Balancing a need for light with visual isolation can be accomplished in many ways with a little out-of-the-box thinking.  For example, in our redesign of the bathroom for the Sawyer street house (currently under construction), shown in the sketch above, we covered most of the existing window area with a mirror, since it was located directly above the sink.  Then we replaced the lost light with a new skylight over the glass walled shower, spotlighting the space, drawing the eye back into the room and giving a view of (neighbor-free) sky.

The luxurious master bath of the Melrose House, below, demonstrates several methods of light gathering in action – there’s a skylight above to catch light without sacrificing privacy, and additional light filtering through translucent panels from the adjacent hallway (borrowing light from inside the house is also a good bathroom strategy).  Finally we did everything we could to spread that light around with a glass walled shower and large mirror to bounce (and increase) natural light.

green bathroom

3. Recycle / Upcycling ( … incorporate found and repurposed materials)

Many moss projects incorporate recycled and re-purposed fixtures and our bathroom designs are no exception.  The Racine Loft (which we’ll be unveiling here on the blog soon, has a salvaged farmhouses-style sink in its very green bathroom.  In the shower there we’ve been experimenting with embedding white river rocks in a dark concrete matrix which will create a distinctive (and unique) finish that you won’t find off the shelf in a conventional store.  Working with found objects, existing conditions and materials always makes a project more exciting and can manifest in many different aesthetics.  Below is a signature glass vessel style sink supported on a base of re-claimed wood in our design for the 2 Sparrows restaurant bathroom.

2 sparrows sink

4. Clean is Green (… keep toxins out)

There isn’t usually a lot of wall area in a bathroom once all the tiled surfaces have been discounted but that’s still no excuse to use anything but No VOC paints to cover them.  Choosing a semi-gloss finish will make them easier to wipe clean with minimal scrubbing and minimal strength cleansers.  (Because you’ll want to continue keeping your bathroom chemical free by using earth friendly cleaning materials after the remodel, of course.)

Chemicals aren’t the only toxic thing that can lurk in your bathroom –  as perpetually moist spaces, they can be the perfect hideaway for mold and mildew.  Certainly if you have an older bathroom with wallpaper still decorating the walls you may want to stop what you’re doing and strip that off before you finish reading this post – its probably hiding a wall full of unhealthy mold behind it.  The dated floral pattern is probably not the only hideous aspect to a wallpapered bathroom.  To prevent the build up of humidity-loving molds you’ll want to make sure your green bathroom is well vented – using a timer regulated fan when you shower is an easy way to keep it under control.  Simply squeegee-ing the excess water from your shower walls after use can dramatically reduce the amount of water vapor that needs to leave a bathroom.  In short, pay attention to minimizing water in the air, as well as what runs down the pipes.

So there you have it.  If you liked this post you’ll love our parallel post on green kitchen update concepts.  We’ll be filling in details with specific systems like greywater recycling, composting toilets and energy star ratings, in the weeks to come.  

Do you have a favorite green bathroom idea or project.  Share it in the comments!