Shower Tunes: A Green Bathroom Remodel

What makes this bathroom remodel sing? An Austin green builder explains.

| July/August 2004

Several years ago D’Ann Johnson purchased a two-story, L-shaped Victorian house built in 1876 on a hill across from the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Originally built as a finishing school, the house had endured some ill-conceived remodeling experiments and fallen into disrepair. As part of an overall rehab, D’Ann asked me to remodel three of the home’s bathrooms, including a master bath with fourteen-foot ceilings. D’Ann described the room as “a bad plan, poorly implemented, and only partially completed.” The room included a raised plywood floor, a sunken tub, an uninviting tiled shower, an unfinished sauna, an open plywood loft of indeterminate purpose, and a lot of unused, unusable open space.

D’Ann wanted to incorporate as many green building elements into the remodel as possible, within her budget constraints. We found an early opportunity to utilize the green concept of reuse/recycle during the demolition process when we discovered the original longleaf pine flooring was still in place under the plywood floor. We removed the boards to use again as flooring and trim in other parts of the house. We also donated the old bathroom fixtures to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

A bathroom is more than a place for personal grooming—it can be a nurturing retreat. Here’s how we created a special space for D’Ann.

Nontoxic tiling

D’Ann chose ceramic tile for the bathroom floor. Tile floors are durable and compare favorably in cost with other green flooring alternatives such as prefinished bamboo plank flooring and natural linoleum. Ceramic tile is the least susceptible to moisture damage, has relatively low environmental impact in manufacture, and is available in a wide variety of materials, colors, dimensions, textures, and styles. D’Ann chose a hexagonal white tile with small black diamond accent tiles at the corners and stripes at the borders for the tub surround, wainscoting, and countertop.

Tile was also the best choice for the countertops and the walls surrounding the tub. Cultured marble countertops and fiberglass tub surrounds, though inexpensive and easy to clean, aren’t recommended because their manufacture contaminates air and water and they can outgas harmful contaminants after installation. For the open side of the jet tub, we installed glass-block walls instead of a shower curtain or a glass shower door. Even with the shower going full blast, very little spray gets through the opening onto the tile floor.

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