Updated: Aug 21
I am working on a bathroom design where the focus is using sustainable design principles, products and materials. This is not a straight forward task as finding products that tick these boxes for a bathroom, are limited.
Let's remind ourselves what sustainability means when applied to interior design:
We are creating homes with emphasis on the health and wellness of families, individuals and our planet, by using design principles, products and materials that help reduce the use of chemicals, pollution, waste and energy consumption.
We take into consideration these five key elements:
Energy efficiency for heat retention.
Design principles applied.
Products and materials.
These key elements (apart from water perhaps) can be applied to any room in the home if you're looking to consider and introduce sustainable options.
So, let's take each of the above listed sustainable elements and explain in more detail what we can achieve.
When we are designing for a client, it's also important to understand how they would like to use the space, what finishes, colours, and energy-saving systems they might like to apply.
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1. ENERGY EFFICIENCY - UNDERFLOOR HEATING
HOW WE HEAT A BATHROOM.
Normally it's heated by towel rails that are either run on electric or from the hot water system. There are alternatives that are more sustainable because they are energy-efficient. You might like to consider underfloor heating?
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF UNDERFLOOR HEATING - ELECTRIC AND WATER.
We would recommend an electric underfloor system for a bathroom renovation as the void in the sub-floor space required for it is minimal.
The water-fed system is normally thicker due to pipework, and works using the existing heating system for the house. It's better if installed into a new build where they can make provisions to accommodate the depth required to install this application at the design and planning stage. Both systems can easily heat a 12mm thick porcelain tile well, creating a warm touch to the floor which feels wonderful in bare feet and is super cosy.
The alternative is a water-fed system requiring a deeper floor void for laying the pipework either in the screed or a plastic tray system.
HOW UNDERFLOOR HEATING WORKS.
Even though underfloor heating will cost about 30% more to install over radiators, your longer-term energy costs over the year could be halved. This is also a more natural form of heating and requires lower flow temperatures due to its increased surface area.
The air that is circulated from underfloor heating is cleaner than the air pushed around by radiators. Along with warm air, radiators push around moisture. Having moisture in the air can result in damp and mould forming, reducing the air quality of your home environment.
The even distribution of heat also allows a room to heat up more quickly and stay warm. While radiators have to work hard and burn through more energy to increase the temperature in a room, the large surface area that underfloor heating covers make the task easier and quicker. Once a room is up to temperature, less energy needs to be used to maintain that temperature.
Towels give off heat and dry your wet towels - obviously! They can be heated by electric or water supply. They do not provide an even distribution of heat around the room. A water fed towel rail will most likely be plumbed to work with your heating with a thermostat attached. An electric towel rail will normally be operated by a timer outside the bathroom. One can of course use a combination of towel rail and underfloor heating switched together or operated separately.
Don't you hate it when you can hear the noise, above, below, or from above where you are in your home? It's a pet peeve of mine and there are ways to improve this. As well as helping with unwanted noise, we can improve heat conservation in our properties saving us money and helping the environment.
There are a couple of ways to do this, one is by cladding the internal face of an external wall, the other is to install insulation into the cavity of a stud wall, not as efficient, but better than nothing! Ask your builder for advice, in my mind, it's worth it.
2. WATER CONSUMPTION.
SEVEN TO-DO'S FOR REDUCING WATER USE.
✅ Install a dual flush toilet as the valve allows you to choose whether to use a full flush or a half flush, usually of 6 litres and 3 litres respectively. (Note: I read a report about valves failing and wasting more water, so it's important to buy well)
✅ When you turn the taps on, don’t turn them on full blast—up to 90 percent of the water may be wasted. Get into the habit of releasing just as much as you need.
✅ Don't take baths very often, or remove the bath to make space for a relaxing spa-type sitting area.
✅ Purchase no-touch basin taps, you might have seen these in restaurants or other commercial buildings where they have been popular for several years. This cuts down on unnecessary water flow from taps, I think we all might be guilty of that. A running tap can waste as much as 17 litres of water a minute.
✅ If not, consider a single-lever mixing tap: it will help you obtain the right water temperature more quickly.
✅ Take shorter showers. Every minute less can save as much as 23 litres of water.
✅ Fit an AAA-rated shower head. This can reduce water output by at least 9 litres a minute. Alternatively, have a plumber install a flow restrictor to reduce the amount of water your shower emits.
HansGrohe is a supplier a lot of interior designers would specify, they have a range of water saving showers systems whereby you can choose the settings to either AirPower or Ecosmart functions. In their own words...
"All-in-one shower units give you the freedom to choose different options, and they’re all easy to use even when you’re under the flowing water. Unlike other showers, our intuitive Select button allows you to conveniently click to the type of spray you want. With our AirPower and EcoSmart technologies, you can enjoy indulgent showers without worrying about the environment or your wallet, as they use water more efficiently, saving water and keeping costs down. And cleaning your shower is a breeze thanks to QuickClean allowing you to simply wipe away limescale from the silicon nozzles. Whatever type of shower you’re looking for, you can choose from our wide range of features to discover the shower system perfectly tailored to you".
I can't find anything on their company environmental policies, I, therefore, assume this is not an important issue for them as a company, which is a disappointment.
3. LIGHTING AND LIGHTING SYSTEMS.
Any lights, TV's or electric towel rails, used in a bathroom must be IP rated to at least IP44 - IP65. Ideally, a waterproof fitting should meet IP65, 66 or 67 regs. IP means 'Ingress Protect' and measures the sealing level of electrical fittings against moisture and dust.
BRITISH LIGHTING COMPANIES I LIKE.
🇬🇧 I love these wall lights by Bert Frank, they have a high IP65 rating, so are waterproof. Designed and made in the UK by artisans, are therefore a higher price point than most. This type of light will produce a more atmospheric light source rather than a functional one.
🇬🇧Original BTC is a British Company that designs and manufactures in the UK and ships all over the World. Their lighting is slightly retro in style, with some deco and industrial influences. The Hatton wall light, seen below, has a shade made from bone china and is IP20 rated. Their Art Deco-inspired Pillar wall lights with an IP44 rating are stylish classics very suitable for bathroom use.
Let's support British design!
🇬🇧Another favourite I love to use is Tigermoth Lighting, they are a British company, designed and manufactured here in the UK. Elegant, stylish, and luxurious, some have an IP44 rating so can be used in bathrooms. This chandelier gives that extra 'wow' factor and look great hanging over a bath at the correct building regulation height. (see zones, above) The price point for this company is mid to higher end.
WANT TO SAVE SOME MONEY ON YOUR
An electronic lighting system can save you 10% on your electric bill, although the initial investment is high.
An electronic lighting system is efficient and allows you to control your lighting more effectively, such as a Lutron system, it's sophisticated and more expensive than most, and I would only suggest if your project is a new build or an extension where you can add the operating system as new. Another company is Crestron that provides similar functionality.
Nowadays, there are more cost-effective options we can use such as Nest now part of Google Store. This can be retro-fitted by using a Google Home device, Google Assistant bulbs, and corresponding hubs. LED bulbs need to be used which most of us are already using in our homes.
If you haven't already, invest in changing your light fittings to take LED lamps, if compatible, you will save money over the long term in energy bills.
⭐️ Download this FREE GUIDE - 10 mistakes to avoid when designing your bathroom - a must have to read along with! CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD NOW!⭐️
4. DESIGN PRINCIPLES.
✅ Plan ahead. Design principles that can be used relate back to the topics we have mentioned above, they are not exclusive of each other.
✅ As a designer we look at all of these elements together to maximise energy efficiency, best products to use, best use of products and materials and space planning. The layout of the bathroom need to work for you too and solve all of your design problems. Mood boards showing style, finishes and product before you start is essential.
✅ Ideally, the bathroom should have a natural light source, if it doesn't the artificial light source designed needs to tick all the right boxes in terms of luxe level output, and colour of lamps/bulbs warm or white, warm bulbs replicate natural daylight.
Want that mood enhancing lighting for a relaxing bath, candlelight, soothing music, intoxicating fragrance.....
⭐️ Being able to control the light source to replicate the changes in natural light through its Circadian cycle (daylight from morning to night) would be beneficial as it will affect moods in either a positive or even negative direction.
⭐️ Anticipate plumbing problems, and don't be caught short, access to water pumps, bath and basin taps is important allowing for access traps or points in walls for maintenance or possible troubleshooting of pipework.
⭐️ Specifying products that meet safety standards for bathrooms and are fit for use in that environment is a standard requirement all designers should understand. Above all have fun with it!
5. PRODUCTS AND MATERIALS.
When it comes to purchasing materials and product, my first reference point is to look at 🇬🇧UK designers and manufacturers. If they based are in the UK the carbon footprint for delivering your purchases will be low due to less distance travelled and no airfreight involved, the company (should) be using local materials, as an added bonus they might have sustainability commitments in place too, which many do and are listed in this guide. It's a good thing to support local business.
LET'S DISCUSS WALL AND FLOOR TILING.
✅ Ceramic and porcelain tiles are some of the longest lasting floor and wall covering products on the market today. Unlike carpet, vinyl, or laminate flooring which have to be replaced periodically, properly installed tiles will last a lifetime. This longevity reduces time, money and resources spent on extracting raw material, manufacturing, transportation, installation, demolition and disposal requirements.
✅ Ceramic and porcelain tiles are made from 100% natural and plentiful raw materials that are usually found in close proximity to the factories, thus reducing fuel consumption and transportation costs.
✅ Clean healthy air: Since tiles are fired in kilns to extremely high temperatures, there are no volatile organics (VOC's) in the finished product that can be released into the air we breathe. In addition, there are adhesives and grouts available that contain zero, or very low VOCs.
It's good to know that most modern tile factories today are “closed loop,” reusing water and materials. They send only negligible amounts of scrap to landfills and waste water to treatment facilities.
If we are using large format tiles in an interior designed scheme, they are normally porcelain, which is widely used. Porcelain shows a solid colour throughout the tile, dense, extremely tough and non-porous, difficult to cut even with a diamond edge saw.
Below, is an example of large format tiles we used in a bathroom refurbishment, along with glass mosaics as an accent wall, from Fired Earth.
👉 It is expensive to clad walls in marble slab, (not environmentally friendly either) previously, we have used a combination of marble slab and large porcelain format tile printed to look like marble, which keeps the supply and installation cost down. To install marble slab the walls need special preparation which ends up making the wall build-out pretty thick (around 70mm).
We have used this alternative combination for a client and it worked very well. See below. The tiles we have used are from Minoli, as well as producing a beautiful product they have environmental initiatives in place for waste reduction, recycling, and energy efficiency.
Another supplier we would recommend for large format tile are Porcel-Thin, based in London, they have a sustainability clause on their website which is good to know.
As well as super large, can be 2m x 3m, format porcelain base, their tiles are ultra- thin to around 5mm, but very strong, being thin allows for better manageability of the tiles otherwise they become too heavy to move.
They can also be used to replicate the thickness of marble if the edges are mitred (which takes a skilled tiler!) You do need to be careful of the edges as they can become vulnerable and can chip, especially on a countertop. It is recommended to use an installation team familiar with handling and laying of this product, when done well it can look just as effective as marble or stone slab.
LOOKING FOR THE WOW FACTOR?
If, as a client, you are looking for the 'wow' factor of a book-matched marble slab, there are alternatives on the market to using natural marble slab. The EKA Group have developed stunning large-format porcelain tiles, 'Privilege' range, available through West One Bathrooms, with beautiful semi-precious and marble patterns laser printed on the surface, protected with a resin that is applied by hand to maintain the perfect textured finish. We don't need to use the earths precious natural resources of marble or stone slabs which as we know are not renewable.
A creative designer, with an eye for detail and materials, along with a skilled installer, can replicate a stunning high-end book-matched look.
SOME TILING SUPPLIERS TO CONSIDER:
✅ Johnson Tiles - 🇬🇧A British Company. Producing tiles since 1901, all of their tiles have 20% of recycled ceramic material in them. A good range of tiles available with an holistic approach to helping the environment from manufacturing to packaging. They definitely deserve 5 stars for effort!
✅ Porcelanosa - they have a good range of tiles and bathroom products along with a sustainability initiative across their multi-national company.
✅ Domus - Widely recognised nationally and internationally, serving the architect and design community for 50 years. Inspirational collections for every space. Sadly no environmental policies apart from being FSC accredited for their wood flooring.
✅ Fired Earth - A good go-to tile shop for inspiration and great cross section of tile product for bathrooms and kitchen. No sustainability data available.
✅ Ann Sacks - Crackle Collection is a partnership created between ANN SACKS and its parent company, Kohler Co. Through Kohler WasteLAB, the unfired pottery transforms the waste into a responsive tile body. The body of the tile is made from 100% recycled material. Additionally, the glaze contains between 37% and 99.7% recycled content." I include it here to show what can be achieved with the right mindset and intention. Sadly, having this product shipped from the US will negate any sustainable efforts in manufacturing the tile.
WALL FINISH ALTERNATIVES TO TILING.
I have always liked polished plaster finishes, they are luxurious and elegant when applied in the correct manner. Used on walls, ceiling and floors, the finish is hardwearing and can be used in bathrooms but not in a very wet shower area. Popular in the 90's it has lost favour with the residential design community but is making a come back and can look stunning when used within the right scheme.
The term ‘polished plaster’ covers a wide range of decorative plaster finishes. These vary from thin and highly polished finishes that resemble polished marble to deeply textured effects that can emulate travertine or limestone. The history of polished plaster can be traced back to the Egyptians and perfected by the Romans.
Venetian plaster is a specific type of polished plaster that is made from lime putty and crushed marble. It is applied by hand with a spatula or trowel in multiple thin layers and burnished to give a super smooth surface with amazing sheen and depth.
MARBLE - SHOULD WE USE IT?
Marble is a gorgeous material, but, the use of it is not at all sustainable. It is not renewable as it needs to be quarried from mountains which, of course, cannot be replaced. Marble is heavy and is labour intensive to extract, fabricate and transport, it is porous and requires a lot of maintenance.
As designers and conscious consumers it is our duty to educate and encourage our clients by offering alternatives to natural stone that are creative and desirable.
There are alternatives to natural marble, stone, and granite. For walls and floors, the large format tiles from Porcel-Thin are a sustainable option, beautiful and realistic looking.
⭐️ WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MARBLE?
Download this FREE GUIDE - 10 Alternative surfaces to marble
SOLID MARBLE COUNTERTOPS - WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
👉 How do we deal with solid 20-30mm natural stone or marble countertops that basins and baths normally sit under or on top of?
Quartz or engineered stone is the option many of us now use in our homes, for bathrooms and kitchens.
SO WHAT IS QUARTZ?
90 percent of quartz is crushed up waste of natural stone, marble, granite or recycled industrial wastes such as ceramic, silica, glass, mirrors, etc, and maybe some actual quartz—sometimes a lot of it, depends on the supplier.
These materials are bound together with polymer or cement based binder which gives the engineered quartz top the look and feel of stone. It is a very dense, non-porous material and therefore antibacterial. Because it is the preferred 'stone' material it has risen in price and granite has reduced in price, making them about the same cost per square metre.
WHO SUPPLIES IT?
Here is some background about the history of quartz. Bretonstone®
"In 1963, the technology of creating engineered stone was developed by the Breton company in northeast Italy, who licensed the process under the trademark Bretonstone®. Over 50 years later, Breton is still alive and kicking.
The process consists of blending pulverized natural stone aggregate with a mix of polymers, removing the air, then heating and shaping the material into slabs that have the hardness and appearance of natural stone.
Bretonstone technology has been licensed to more than 50 companies around the world, including such famous names as Silestone, Cambria, and Caesarstone. While these manufacturers absolutely do add their own flair and nuances to their engineered stone countertops, they are still working off of that original brevetto, or patent, from Breton.
Some forms of quartz countertops now include fragments of mirrors and other glass, brass metal filings, and various mixtures of granite and marble."
(A deeply Green company)
Is a Spanish company that manufacturers Silestone, Dekton and ECO.
Their Silestone has a very high level of natural quartz in it, up to 90%. Their ECO range uses 75% of other recycled material.
"The revolutionary worksurface, ECO by Cosentino is composed of 75% recycled raw materials, including salvaged mirrors, glass from windows and bottles as well as porcelain from china, tiles and sinks. Achieved through state-of-the-art technology, the worktops are extremely durable with a high stain, scratch and scorch resistance."
"The recycled content is mixed with other materials including stone waste and is bonded together with a part eco-resin, which contains 22% corn oil. This pioneering resin is the result of a major research and development initiative, and is unmatched in the market today"
Quartz can be made to look like marble. This Silestone Calacatta Gold slab is a very popular marble used in the past few years and has established a trend for it's use in both bathrooms and kitchens.
You will find cheaper versions of quartz, normally shipped from China, mixed with toxic binders to hold it together. As a consumer that cares about where and how a product is produced, this is not an option to consider.
(A deeply Green company)
An Italian company that is tackling the cut sections (offcuts) of marble and stone, cutting, shaping and binding (using non-toxic resins) together into slabs creating distinctive stripes with different patterned offcuts.
They are very driven by their sustainability initiatives and environmental commitments.
⭐️ WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MARBLE?
Download this FREE GUIDE - 10 Alternative surfaces to marble
🇬🇧 BRITISH SOLID SURFACE SUPPLIERS 🇬🇧
(Please note: when you see 'deeply green' this is my way of saying
the company efforts are 100% committed to sustainability.)
(A deeply Green company)
A British company creating unique super interesting terrazzo slabs from non-toxic coloured resins and the off cuts from London trees that have been felled for maintenance purposes. They have created a product that is highly sustainable with an excellent commitment to life cycle, circular economy and renewable product principles.
Driven and committed to sustainability. Made in the UK.
🇬🇧 RESILICA -
(A deeply Green company)
A British company specialising in recycled glass worktops. Resilica has an established manufacturing and environment commitment in place.
"Resilica is manufactured using up to 100% recycled waste glass, reducing landfill and destructive stone quarrying. It is produced using solvent free resins. Once cured these resins are totally inert and contain no VOCs. Water used in the manufacturing process is recycled where possible"
Resilica is manufactured entirely and exclusively in its UK factory thus minimising the carbon footprint associated with imported surfaces.
(A deeply Green company)
A British company based in the east London. Their solid surface material is sustainable and non-toxic. Much like a traditional terrazzo, this material is hardwearing, waterproof and contemporary. Certainly for a modern bathroom design.
Altrock combines recycled marble flour, recycled marble chips, and chunks of offcuts and broken pieces of beautiful marble slabs. All of these are byproducts of local marble manufacturing, the waste materials from the production of various luxury products and building finishes. The marble is mixed and bonded with a small amount of resin, pigmented in a huge range of custom colours, and cast by hand in slabs of all shapes and sizes.