Mother Earth Living

How to Green a Bathroom

In eco-remodeling, compromise is often necessary, but even small green choices help the environment. Here’s how Dallas designer Helen Erdman transformed a tiny bathroom into a purposeful space.
By Kelly Smith and Jessica Kellner
September/October 2007
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Scott and Alice Wilson's newly greened bathroom.
Photo By Terri Glanger

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At first glance, Dallas designer Helen Erdman had her work cut out for her: Her clients, Scott and Alice Wilson, wanted to upgrade a rarely used master bathroom in their circa-1950 Dallas ranch home, and they had some distinct plans for the project. “They wanted to revitalize the room and use it as a guest bathroom because it was accessible from the back yard, where there’s a swimming pool and cabana,” Erdman says.

Erdman is a firm believer in making remodels sustainable, functional and beautiful. “It’s just as easy to complete projects with green and safe materials as not,” she says. She chose water-saving devices such as a low-flow toilet and showerhead from Kohler. Here's a look at some of the eco-friendly features of Scott and Alice's remodeled bathroom:

■ A beautiful blue piece of custom glass evokes the owners’ wish for a whimsical outhouse look.

■ Erdman worked with contractor Gary Buckner to remove an existing window and install an exterior wood door that accesses the patio. She hand finished the door herself, weathering it to a silvery finish. Swimmers in the adjacent pool area now can use the bathroom/dressing room.

■ To go the extra eco-mile look for doors that are salvaged from old buildings or built from sustainably forested wood. Try Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores for salvaged building materials.

■ To save bathroom space Erdman placed shelves and a niche in the shower. Removing the typical chrome trim on the glass enclosure helps give the illusion of a larger space, and a Solatube skylight adds natural light. The rimless shower glass, natural stone, a water-resistant mahogany cabinet and a wall-mounted faucet create an easy-to-clean environment.

■ The bathroom walls were resurfaced with American Clay earth plaster. Nontoxic and practical, earth plaster can be mixed on site and applied over existing walls. “Earth plaster has the softest, most beautiful colors, especially under natural light,” Erdman says. The plaster “breathes” and is stable in a high-humidity environment such as the bathroom.

■ The walls and floor were a compromise Erdman made to meet her clients’ wishes. The wall tiles are natural stone from Italy (Pietra d’Assisi from Cerdomus). The floor tiles are tumbled natural stone, and the pencil accent tiles are porcelain Cotto Antico from Daltile, which the Wilsons requested because they’re easy to clean. Both were installed using low-VOC grout. Greener options include local stone, which requires far less fuel for shipping, and tiles that contain a high percentage of recycled glass.

■ The shower floor is finished with natural, honed river rock from DuraTile, with a sustainable, chemical-free webbing and good slip resistance.

■ The homeowners purchased the unique Talavera sink during a trip to Pueblo, Mexico. Local artisans handcraft the vessels using local clay and then fire them using mineral-based enamels.

■ Erdman chose this mahogany cabinet because the tropical wood is water resistant—ideal for a humid bathroom. She purchased the Honduran mahogany from a company that purportedly sells wood only from sustainably managed forests. However, the company’s owner has no third-party certification to ensure that the wood is sustainable. Forest Stewardship Council certification would be preferable.

■ A galvanized tin ceiling completes the room. “The ceiling is so often overlooked,” Erdman says, “and in a tiny room like this one, everything is on stage.” Although she considered reclaimed tin, Erdman had trouble finding a source and worried about the older metal’s reaction to humidity. She’s since found a source of reclaimed tin ceiling, Discount Home Warehouse.

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