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Basic Training

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For the individual or family, an energy-efficient bathroom can mean hundreds of dollars in savings each year – a worthy incentive for any owner or renter who pays monthly utility bills. But an energy efficient bathroom affects more than a single household – its impact can stretch across a community.

“If people are willing to take that first step, even something that is comfortable and simple like replacing a light bulb in the bathroom, it can lead to a much bigger community impact,” says Michelle Vigen, principal consultant at 18 Lake Creative that provides research and program design regarding sustainablity. “It’s more important now than ever.” Bathrooms account for more than half of a home’s indoor water consumption, with toilets alone accounting for about 30 percent. Consequently, each step toward energy efficiency matters – even a small one.

According to Amy Matthews, licensed contractor in Los Angeles and host of a former DIY Network show, “Sweat Equity,” energy efficiency is no longer a trend or even just a way to save money – it’s a new outlook and a way to take pride in your home and community.

“People are getting creative to save money, save energy and do something unique to put their own stamp on their home,” Matthews says. “It is definitely a shift in a focus and a very necessary shift for this country.”

Ready to start but not sure where? Start with a simple area: lighting. Matthews says to swap out incandescent bulbs for LEDs or compact fluorescent light bulbs. She then recommends assessing the three main areas of water consumption: the showerhead, faucet and toilet. One example is a low-flow showerhead, which can be purchased at most local home stores for between $20 and 60. Remove the current head by turning it counterclockwise – turning it the wrong way can cause damage to the shower that might result in leaking water and troublesome mold.

Next, move to the sink. The simple addition or replacement of a low-flow faucet aerator ($4 at a local hardware store) can make a huge difference in savings. Most modern faucets are equipped for aerators; before adding or replacing one, simply check the side for its rate of gallons per minute to make sure it is 2.75 or less. Finally, if it will work with your flush column, purchase a flush converter as a simple first step toward an energy efficient toilet. According to Matthews, converters cost less than $30 and enable the toilet to offer two flush options – a lighter flush for liquid waste and a heavier flush for solid waste.

According to Seth Leitman editor of “Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Audits: 140 Simple Solutions to Lower Energy Costs, Increase Your Home’s Efficiency, and Save the Environment” (McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics, 2010), insulation is an easy area to save that’s often overlooked. “If the walls, attic and basement are properly insulated, you will have a tight, efficient room that uses energy appropriately and effectively,” he says. In the basement, check to make sure insulation covers all the pipes. If it doesn’t, Leitman suggests buying precut packets of insulation specially designed to cover copper wiring. “They only cost $2 and are so easy to use,” he says. Precut packages also are available for other leaky areas like outlets.

Another often-neglected device is the exhaust fan. For switches that turn on the fan with the light automatically, Hector Seda, author of “Home Repair That Pays Off: 150 Ways to Add Value Without Breaking the Bank” (Adams Media, 2009), recommends having someone separate the activity to individual switches to avoid using energy for the fan when it isn’t needed. To take it a step further, he suggests putting the fan on a timer to avoid accidentally running it.

Energywise Excuses

Even for the reluctant remodeler, bathroom repairs are inevitable. According to Hector Seda, author of “Home Repair That Pays Off: 150 Ways to Add Value Without Breaking the Bank” (Adams Media, 2009), three main repairs arise frequently in the bathroom: the tile, the toilet and the vanity. With this in mind, use the required repair as an opportunity to be energywise with these simple tips.

1. Tile

Think about replacing broken or damaged tiles with solar flooring. “These tiles absorb energy during the day and emit light in the evening,” Seda says. The tiles can be placed on both walls and floors and help prevent excess power usage in the evening.

2. Toilet

Toilet repairs abound for even the most careful homeowner. Rather than replacing parts, consider installing a brand new dual-flush toilet that allows the user to choose between a lighter flush for liquid waste and heavier flush for solid waste.

3. Vanity

Vanities often become worn, damaged, out-dated or need to be removed for other repair projects. As a result, Seda says it makes sense to upgrade or replace what’s currently there rather than fixing or putting it back. When changing out a vanity, both the sink and faucet should be new. Then, says Seda, the fun begins. With the large variety of energy-conscious styles now available, everyone can walk away satisfied with style, price and long-term savings.