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"Remodel your bathroom with stylish, efficient, comfortable products"

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Dear Jim: I am remodeling my bathroom to modernize it and make it more efficient. Before I select fixtures and start putting it back together, what things should I consider to make it most efficient? - Carol J.

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A: The use of several bathrooms in a home can be responsible for a significant amount of your utility bills year-round. Bathrooms use both hot and cold water, heating and cooling, electricity for lighting and appliances, draw out indoor conditioned air, and create humidity (may be good or bad). With whirlpools and other comfort appliances, bathrooms are used for more hours today than ever before.

Since people normally associate a bathroom with water usage, let's start there. Flushing toilets is the major cold water consumer in most bathrooms and the toilet typically is replaced when remodeling. During the winter, all of the cold water which comes indoors when the toilet is flushed draws heat from the house as the water in the tank warms up. This can be a significant hidden energy loss.

The maximum water usage allowed for new toilets is 1.6 gpf (gallons per flush) and most toilets use this maximum. Several of the major plumbing fixture manufacturers now offer super-efficient standard-flush toilets which use even less water. Since not as many of these super-efficient toilet styles are available, select the toilet first and then match the other fixtures to it.

Another water-saving toilet option is to install a urinal in the bathroom if you have men in the family. A urinal uses less than one gpf and takes up little space. Some models pivot into the wall and are hidden unless being used. If your children forget to flush it, install one of the automatic sensors which flush automatically when the person moves away from the urinal.

The type of showerhead impacts both the amount of cold and hot water consumed. There are maximum water flow rates for showerheads. Large shower units with multiple heads use more water though. If you have tried older low-flow showerheads in the past and were dissatisfied, the new ones provide a more forceful shower. Select a showerhead which has a tickle valve to slow the water flow while you are lathering. The main knob on some massaging showerheads also can be adjusted to just a trickle.

Much hot and cold water is wasted trying to get the shower water temperature where you want it. Manual and electronic shower valves are available which allow the temperature to be set on a dial or digitally. The correct temperature is reached quicker with less water wasted down the drain. Some may also allow you reduce the water flow without changing the water temperature.

If it takes a long time to get hot water to the shower or sink, install a rapid hot water demand kit underneath the sink. When you need hot water, it draws hot water quickly to the faucet. Instead of the cold water being wasted down the drain while waiting, it flows back to the water heater tank. In addition to saving water, it saves energy because less incoming very cold water has to heated. Also, the hot water gets to faucet quickly, so less heat energy is lost from the plumbing inside the walls and floors.

Bathroom heating is another energy consideration because you want the heat quickly, but for only a short period of time. A radiant system can make you feel comfortably warm without having to heat all the air in the bathroom. This feels similar to standing outdoors in the direct sun on a cold day. The air is cold, the radiant heat warms your body quickly.

Electric radiant floor or wall heating is a good choice. Radiant wall heating panels warm and produce heat quickly so they are ideal for unplanned times in the bathroom. Electric infloor radiant heat is very comfortable for a bathroom. Since it takes somewhat longer to warm up, put it on a timer for typical bathroom usage times. Overhead radiant bulbs also provide spot heating quickly.

A high-quality bathroom vent fan with humidity- and/or motion-sensing controls is most efficient. It runs only as long as it is actually needed so excessive heated air (winter) or cooled air (summer) is not being sucked from your house. The newest, most quiet ones often require a larger duct so you may have to alter the vent pipe in the attic to accommodate one. They also minimize air leakage when the fan is not running.

Select a vent fan with a light fixture and install full-spectrum compact fluorescent bulbs. These are energy efficient and produce natural light for applying makeup. A vent fan with a built-in night-light is good for a child's bathroom.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 594 - buyer's guide of 14 manufacturers of efficient/comfort bathroom remodeling products: electric warm floor radiant heating, wall/ceiling radiant heat panels, hinge-mounted towel warmers, unique shower surrounds, chlorine-removing showerheads, whirlpools (describing jets, controls, comfort features), water-saving toilets, decorative quiet vent fans, tubular skylights/vents, and ceramic tile.

Dear Jim: Our neighbors recently had a clothes washer malfunction and the entire area was flooded before they realized what had happened. Are there any ways to guard against this to avoid all the damage? - Paula A.

A: I do not know of any device which will shut off the water supply if a leak occurs. You may be able to rig up some type of solenoid valve on the water main and a floor sensor to trigger the solenoid.

Your best bet is to install a simple water sensor alarm. These can detect the water when it is less than 1/16 inch deep. Two manufacturers of these sensors are Sonin (800-223-7511) and Zircon (800-245-9265).

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