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In a survey earlier this year, online real estate site Opendoor asked homeowners about their top turn-offs when viewing a prospective residence. The worst of the worst, according to homeowners, were outdated kitchens and bathrooms. And while avocado bathtubs and flaking cabinet finish are certainly not what you want buyers or even guests to see, updating your kitchen and bathroom can reap you benefits even if you’re not selling anytime in the future.

That’s because the kitchen and bathroom are two key areas of home performance — where energy and water are used — and potentially wasted — in abundance and where indoor air quality and comfort can take a major hit. They’re also two rooms where you spend a lot of your time. So if you’re looking to lower your utility costs, improve your home’s health and comfort, or increase its resale value, it makes sense to start in the kitchen and bath.

If you missed it, we covered kitchen performance upgrades earlier. So now, let’s talk about how to create a healthier, more sustainable bathroom.

Before You Begin: Conduct an Infrastructure Assessment

    You wouldn’t switch to a new HVAC system before assessing your home for leaks and insulation problems (or at least, you shouldn’t!). The same principle applies to bathroom and kitchen renovations. Work with a professional contractor to check your bathroom’s infrastructure and confirm that no repairs are needed first. Kerry Harp, Pearl Certification’s Senior Sustainability Analyst, recommends focusing on your electrical and plumbing systems to ensure they’re functioning correctly.

    “It’s critical to ensure all wall and floor materials are free from moisture or mold damage, which can be common in bathrooms,” says Harp. “Because of the amount of water in bathrooms, the right materials and sealants really matter. Consider periodically re-sealing various appliances, such as your toilet, shower, or bath to maintain a strong seal and prevent moisture damage.”

    Once your contractor confirms your bathroom is sealed properly, it’s time to choose your products.

    Look for Certified Appliances and Fixtures

      According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on average, bathrooms account for more than 50% of a home's total water use, while hot water for baths and showers is the second-largest source of energy consumption, just south of space heating and cooling.

      “That’s why it’s important to consider purchasing ENERGY STAR® or WaterSense-rated products when replacing your fixtures and appliances in your bathroom,” says Harp. If you’ve generated a Ferguson Kitchen or Bath Home Investment Plan in Pearl’s free home performance app, Green Door, you’ll be familiar with these programs, which are run by the EPA. ENERGY STAR focuses on both energy efficiency and performance, while WaterSense products are certified to use at least 20% less water, save energy, and perform as well as or better than standard models.

      Looking for the ENERGY STAR or WaterSense label is an easy way to increase the energy and water efficiency of your bathroom, but installation matters as well. Harp recommends using a vetted contractor, like a member of the Pearl Network, who understands your energy and water-efficiency goals and whose work can be certified independently as well. (You can connect to a Pearl Network Contractor and have your project certified after installation through the Green Door app.)

      Now, on to the five upgrades that will help you bring your sustainable bathroom to life.

      Green Door Bath EE Upgrade Infographic 650px

      1. Replace Bathroom Faucets and Aerators

        Faucets and aerators (the end pieces on faucets that provide the “shape” to the flow of water) may seem like small potatoes when it comes to water efficiency. But the fact is, replacing old, inefficient faucets and aerators with WaterSense-labeled models can save the average family 700 gallons of water per year. That’s the equivalent to the amount of water used in 45 showers!

        The key is in the max flow rate, measured in gallons per minute (GPM). Standard faucets have a max flow rate of 2.2 GPM. WaterSense-labeled bathroom faucets can get as low as 1.5 GPM, reducing water flow by 30% or more without any change in performance. No trickles here.

        2. Upgrade Your Showerheads

          One of the myths around water-efficient showerheads is that you sacrifice precious pressure for the sake of saving water. It’s just not true. “There are so many water-efficient showerheads on the market that cannot only help maximize water pressure, but can also help you save money and preserve our natural resources,” says Harp.

          WaterSense-rated showerheads max out at 2.0 GPM, whereas traditional models have a 2.5 GPM max flow rate. That might not seem like a huge difference, but when you consider the average family uses up to 40 gallons of water per day just to shower, switching out your showerhead can make a significant difference. More specifically you could save your family 2,700 gallons of water per year (that’s about 88 loads of laundry), but the efficiency also extends to the energy needed to heat the water. Combined, it’s up to $70 worth of savings annually.

          3. Ditch the Old Toilet

            You probably have an older relative who managed water efficiency by placing a brick in their toilet tank. Well, no need to potentially damage your toilet with the brick trick when there are plenty of high-efficiency, high-performing toilets on the market now.

            “If your toilet is older than 25 years old, consider replacing it,” says Harp. Not only has efficiency improved, but your older toilet may have developed fine cracks, which can cause leaks and water damage. WaterSense-labeled models can help you reduce your toilet water usage by up to 60%. As with faucets and showerheads, the key is in the water usage per flush. Look for models that use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush (GPF). For the average family, that can save 13,000 gallons of water and $130 in water costs per year. Plus, you’ve saved a brick!

            4. Optimize Bathroom Ventilation

              In any home, it’s important to have adequate ventilation to control moisture and reduce the likelihood of mildew and mold growth.

              “For bathrooms, it’s essential that you install a fan that’s adequate for the space,” says Harp. Ventilation is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) per square foot of space. Harp recommends looking within the range of 80-110 CFM for optimal bathroom ventilation.

              “Ventilation technology has come a long way,” she says. “Smart bathroom fans now have the capability to monitor lighting and humidity levels, which can significantly reduce the risk of mold or water damage.” For an easy way to identify high-performing ventilation fans, Pearl recommends ENERGY STAR-certified models, which use up to 50% less energy and provide increased comfort with less noise.

              5. Replace Your Lighting

              Bathroom lighting can mean the difference between a spa-like experience and, well, whatever is the opposite of a spa. It can also impact your energy bill. But before you replace any lighting fixtures within your bathroom, it’s vital that you first have a contractor check your electrical connections for moisture-related damage

              Once you confirm your system is in good condition, Harp recommends outfitting your bathrooms with ENERGY STAR-labeled lighting fixtures that have adjustable light levels and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

              Fixtures with LED bulbs are 75% more efficient than traditional incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) options. Many modern light fixtures that accept LED bulbs can also be integrated into smart home monitoring systems, which ensure your bathroom lights don’t get left on unintentionally. Use ENERGY STAR’s light replacement guide to help you choose the right light bulbs for your environment.

              The Next Step: Create a Home Investment Plan

              Whether you’re remodeling your bathroom or just replacing some fixtures, you’ll have a better chance of reaching your performance goals if you start with a plan. That’s why Pearl Certification created Home Investment Plans (HIPs), which provide customized home improvement recommendations in our award-winning Green Door app.

              For bathrooms and kitchens, try a Ferguson Kitchen or Bath plan, which will help you create healthier, more efficient, and more comfortable spaces and connect you to curated product lists at Build with Ferguson, Pearl’s exclusive product partner. Green Door users can shop their HIP at Build with Ferguson and receive a free certification from Pearl.

              Your bathroom may be the smallest room in your house, but the potential for water and energy savings, improved air quality, and increased home value is anything but. Good luck on your home performance journey, and as always, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @greendoorapp for more home performance advice.

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