Three Fabulous Baths: Check Out These Eco-Friendly Bathrooms

Soak up these soothing, environmentally friendly bathrooms.

| July/August 2003

1. In the loop

For Michael Chandler and Beth Williams, owners of a design-build business in Mebane, North Carolina, motivation to arise at dawn is all about the shower.

It’s not hard to understand why. Their slate-and-glass bathroom overlooks the wild abundance of Cane Creek where blue herons and osprey float on the air. And thanks to the radiant heat from the recirculating-loop hot water system, a wave of dry warmth envelops anyone who enters.

Most plumbing systems send water from a water heater to the bathroom pipes, where it’s stored until the next bath. The trouble is the water cools while it waits, resulting in the universal “I’ll just brush my teeth while the shower heats up” quandary. To solve the problem, Beth and Michael designed their own bath recirculating system. Their hot water is in constant motion, pushed along by a tiny impeller that uses about the same energy as a nightlight. The system works because moving objects like to continue moving (think of stirring pasta in a pot—the water makes a current and tends to keep going in that direction). And, the couple figured, as the water circulates, they could harness all that warmth by snaking the water pipes through the walls and floor through radiant-heat panels that use half-inch PEX radiant heating pipe (one to two feet per square foot of tile) and extra insulation behind the slate tile’s backer board. In effect, the water takes the long way around, warming the room in the process.

When it leaves the bath, the water returns to the Rinnai on-demand water heater, passing a small, sixty-watt Taco pump that keeps it “stirring.” Then back to the bath, past the pump, to the water heater, then back again.

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