Eco friendly bathroom design, sustainable material choices.

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Eco friendly bathroom design

water usage
Water and energy efficiency are the often the primary concerns when designing an eco friendly bathroom but they are not the only decisions that affect the sustainability of the design.

An eco friendly bathroom design can make what is often viewed as one of the most resource heavy rooms perform sustainably. Designing them in an environmentally responsible way has the potential to make a dramatic difference to our carbon emissions. In addition, installing a bathroom is one of the most expensive jobs in a home, therefore it makes sense to design for longevity, with quality fixtures and fittings, the installation cost will be the same but the fixtures will last longer. Considering maintenance is of particular importance, leaving access hatches for repairs avoids the need to rip tiles off should any plumbing fail.

When designing an eco friendly or sustainable bathroom, the general criteria are:

  • water saving fixtures
  • energy efficiency
  • material selection
  • longevity
  • design for deconstruction
small water saving bath
A small bath can dramatically improve the water efficiency of your bathroom without compromising comfort.

There is much talk about how showers are more water efficient (and therefore more energy efficient) than baths, but consideration must be given to the flow rate of the shower which could use more than 15 litres per minute whilst a typical 1700 mm bath will have a capacity of 100 litres. A smaller bath will clearly be more efficient and is often sufficient for most people’s needs. Considering materials, sustainable baths are available from manufacturers such as Bette , who have a circular approach with all their baths being 100% recyclable, in addition they also have a 30 year guarantee, Kaldewei are an equally sustainable option for showers. 

Victorian reclaimed sink and high level cistern
The original Burlington Bell that was installed in the property was lovingly restored, the sink was complete with original brass taps which heavily inspired the theme.

The scheme for the bathroom pictured was inspired by the original Victorian sink, high level cistern and toilet pan already in the property when it was purchased. It was hard to see the potential of these items in the state they were previously. The cast iron Burlington Bell Cistern was covered in multiple coats of paint and it was unknown whether it would even work. The sustainability of a fixture of this type involves trade offs, the fact that it is reclaimed, entirely recyclable, and was already on site needed to be balanced against the increased water use. Were this the only (or main) WC in the property it would be hard to justify, but given that there are three additional WC’s, one on the ground floor and two ensuites, all of which are dual flush, the choice was made to restore it to its former glory, the float was also set to reduce the water level in the cistern. In addition the incoming water main is fitted with a flow reducer, which reduces water usage overall.

The space is relatively small and previously did not contain a WC which was something that the client definitely wanted. The existence of two ensuite shower rooms in the property meant that a bath was a must, but the client was happy to compromise on the size of this to allow the required space for the WC. Additionally the room is difficult due to it being a single storey extension at first floor level, meaning that it has three external walls and is exposed at both ceiling and floor level. Previously this created a cold, relatively unheatable room due to its solid wall construction and a complete lack of insulation either to the floor or roof. Insulation was added beneath the floor and above the ceiling and the walls were panelled with insulating tile backer boards. 

Victorian high level cistern
The cast iron Burlington Bell cistern was complete with its original brackets. The increased water usage was offset by modern water saving fixtures. Conservation is of importance, the relevance of retaining this original feature, the avoidance of manufacturing a new product, packaging it and transporting it offsets the additional water use and it must be remembered that this was not installed as the 'main' WC.

The additional use of water as a result of the Burlington Bell has been offset by installing a shower and taps with low flow adaptors, the installation of a small bathtub further reduces water use and is surprisingly comfortable to use. It has also been found that the increased depth of the water caused by the displacement allows the temperature to be retained for far longer.

The use of these original fixtures inspired the decision to use unlacquered brass fittings, historically the process of chroming has used toxic chemicals, although the innovative ‘Physical Vapour Deposition’ system, used increasingly, is eco friendly it still requires mining and creates waste. Grohe’s products are chromed using this method and their range includes cradle to cradle products. All Crosswater showers and taps can be specified to include flow regulating technology to control the amount of water used. This allowed the reuse of the original brass taps on the sink and suggested a bold contrast between brass fittings and the tiling.

Bedrock Tiles Botanica
The beautiful 'Botanica' tiles from carbon neutral Bedrock Tiles prove that sustainable design does not create design compromises.

Sourcing eco friendly tiles, particularly for a small residential project, limits the choices, for this I went to Bedrock Tiles who were recently certified carbon neutral. The stunning Botanical tiles are from their sustainable +40% range, meaning that they contain at least 40% recycled material, in this case I believe it was over 60%, the floor tiles selected were over 90% recycled and both are recyclable. Both floor and wall tiles were cut without the use of power tools and the tile layout was designed to avoid cuts and therefore wastage, wherever possible. Solid brass trims were used, both aesthetically pleasing and entirely recyclable.

When considering tiles it must not be forgotten that the sustainability of the project will depend not just on the finishes, but also on the substrate and adhesives used. Traditionally used cement coated backer boards are, although recyclable, less eco friendly than mineral coated boards, for this project Orbry boards were used providing insulation as well as a stable, waterproof substrate for the tiles and electric underfloor heating. For eco friendly adhesive and grout, Keracoll have a large range of products with their grout available in fifty colours.

Victorian brass hardware
Reclaimed brass details add glamour and authenticity to the design complementing the original bathroom fittings.

Eco friendly paint by Graphenstone was used for this project, GrafClean is a breathable but washable paint which helps to eliminate condensation. Graphenstone is independently certified by the Cradle2Cradle Institute achieving Gold, their Ecosphere product also absorbs CO2.

The highest quality fixtures and fittings were installed ensuring longevity and consideration was given to allow easy access to plumbing for maintenance. Energy efficiency has been addressed through the use of underfloor heating and LED lighting. The accent lighting is on a separate circuit to the downlighter, both are dimmable to give flexibility and create ambience.

Detailing the design required sourcing reclaimed features such as the brass and mahogany toilet pull and the brass Art Deco doorstop. The original door was retained complete with the Victorian brass rim lock which was polished after the paint was removed.

The small bathroom now feels spacious and fulfils the clients’ needs, the insulation and underfloor heating has created a warm room which had previously been virtually unheatable during winter months. Sustainability has been considered in all material choices, not just those that are visible. 

For more information about products and sustainable manufacturers visit our sustainable sourcing directory. To see this project in full, click here.


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