How Low Can You Flow? How to Create an Energy-Efficient Bathroom

Want to save money and lighten your environmental impact? Start with your bathroom.

| July/August 2003

  • The McDry urinal from Duravit uses oil to trap and seal urine—without water.
  • Toilets from Toto of Japan are among brands highly regarded for non-clogging low-flushing.

  • The Caroma Caravelle dual-flush toilet: Press one button to flush urine, another to flush feces.
  • A specially engineered planter in one bedroom uses graywater from the adjacent bathroom’s bathtub.
    Photo by David Henderson
  • The TOTO Zoe Washlet is a high-performing low-flush toilet with built in bidet and air dryer.
    Photo by David Henderson

  • In Diane Cotman’s house in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a SeaLand Traveler one-pint flush toilet drains to an EcoTech Carousel composting toilet system below. The home’s hot water is heated by a geothermal heat pump and a solar hot water heater.
    Photo by Carol Steinfeld

Every day, water and heat disappear down the drain in your bathroom, making this room the first place to look for cutting costs and resource use. Starting with faucet aerators, low-flow showerheads, and low-flush toilets, a plan for resource efficiency in bathrooms might also include composting toilets, micro-flush toilets, dual-flush toilets, and even systems irrigated with graywater.

For a look at just how far you can go—should you have the desire and the means—step inside Diane Cotman’s turn-of-the-century home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In one bathroom, a trim white SeaLand Traveler toilet flushes with just one pint of water via a foot-pedal on the side. The toilet drains to an EcoTech Carousel composting toilet system in the basement that processes the waste into a soil-like humus. In another bathroom, a high-tech and high-design Toto Zoe Washlet toilet provides non-clogging 1.6-gallon-flushing—as well as a built-in bidet, air dryer, and deodorizer. A stainless steel bathtub recirculates hot water through the walls of the tub, keeping bathwater warm.

Wastewater from Cotman’s sinks and tubs—called “graywater”—is filtered and drained to specially engineered planters in window alcoves in the bedrooms, where it is used to water plants such as orchids, birds of paradise, and other colorful tropical varieties. Solar collectors and a geothermal pump heat the water for the house’s sinks and tubs as well as the radiant heating and cooling system.

Cotman’s bathrooms are an extreme example, but there’s plenty to do for those seeking simpler solutions.


A 1.6-gallon low-flush toilet can cut household water usage by 20 percent or more. Required in all new construction, low-flush toilets have come a long way since the early days, when most U.S. low-flush models were prone to double-flushing and clogging. Changes in design have produced high-performing units that can significantly reduce home water use and take a load off septic systems and municipal water supplies.

4/24/2014 8:14:36 AM

Putting focus into making your home more energy efficient is important so these days to ensure that our green footprint is as low as possible. There are plenty of different ways around the house to ensure you are being energy efficient, and the bathroom is a good place to start. Using alongside water efficient toilets and shower heads will all go a long way to firstly reducing your annual water and heating bills, but also having a lower effect on the planets resources.

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