Green Renovations—Bathrooms By CMHC


Renovations are a popular way to update the interior and exterior of a house, add more liveable space, improve performance and address any problem areas. Renovations can also provide homeowners with an opportunity to improve the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of their homes, reduce their environmental impact, and make their homes more comfortable and affordable to live in, operate and maintain.


The challenge in adding green features to a renovation is to understand what value-added options are available, and how they can be undertaken at a relatively modest cost. For example, you can upgrade your house with one green feature or you can fold a number of green features into a larger project with an affordable incremental cost. You can also choose to green your entire house or just focus on making one room or area a little healthier to live in and more energy and water efficient as well.


With a little advance planning, allowances can also be made now that will make it easier to add green features in your home at some point in the future, as your budget permits or as your family’s needs change. In the end, it’s your interests, lifestyle and budget that will determine how your renovation proceeds, and how many green features you choose to incorporate. This guide offers tips, features and advice on how to “green” your bathroom renovation.



After you’ve assessed your bathroom’s current condition, there are a number of different features and options you can consider for virtually every aspect of your renovation, to improve the energy- and water performance of your bathroom: Walls and ceilings If you are removing drywall or making any structural changes during the renovation, take advantage of the opportunity to improve or upgrade the insulation and airtightness around your bathroom. If the original plaster or drywall is in good condition, you can simply blow extra insulation into the empty walls. If the plaster or drywall is damaged, you can apply new rigid insulation, framing and drywall directly over the old finishes, if space permits. If you are removing the drywall, you may want to install new, more efficient insulation with a vapour diffusion retarder and continuous air barrier, such as a polyethene sheet used either on its own or in combination with drywall, vapour-barrier paint and caulking.


You may be able to improve the insulation levels in your walls by 40% just by upgrading the insulation. Another option is closed-cell sprayed foam insulation, which provides insulation, an air barrier and a vapour diffusion retarder all in one. When properly installed, sprayed foam insulation will fill the wall cavity and adhere to the wood, creating an airtight barrier. Sprayed foam insulation is also effective in difficult-to-insulate areas, such as the header space above and below the exterior wall, around window frames, and at gaps around the plumbing, wiring and HVAC components. For extra energy savings, replace older windows with ENERGY STAR® models that have low emissivity coating on the glass and argon gas and insulated spacers between the panes. Make sure the gap between the wall and the new windows is well-insulated, sealed, and protected from moisture on both the interior and exterior. By including solid lumber or plywood backing in the walls surrounding toilets, tubs and showers, you can easily add grab bars and other supportive aids either now, or in the future when you may need them.


Flooring To reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions, choose flooring materials that come from local sources or which have been manufactured nearby. To minimize the off-gassing of pollutants into the indoor air, use flooring, adhesives, underlays and other products with low-pollutant emissions. If an underlay is used, water-resistant materials such as cement board or other proprietary subfloor products can be more durable for high-moisture areas like bathrooms.


Running your new flooring under the tub, shower and sink cabinet can provide better moisture protection while making it easier to install a new tub, shower or cabinets in the future. Paint, finishes and sealants Choose paint, cement, caulking, finishes and sealants that are low-odour and low in pollutant emissions. This includes low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints and water-based urethane coatings for wood. Plant- or mineral-based paints and coatings, or natural clay and lime plasters, can also be good choices for people who are very sensitive to pollutant emissions. Cabinetry Solid hardwood is a great choice for bathroom cabinets, as it is highly durable and tends to emit very few pollutants. Formaldehyde-free medium-density fibreboard (MDF), exterior-grade plywood and formaldehyde-free hardwood plywood are also good options for minimizing off-gassing. The particleboard and MDF used to make modular cabinets can contain urea-formaldehyde glue, which could adversely affect the air quality in your home. If you use either of these materials, make sure that all surfaces are sealed with a plastic skin or coated with waterborne urethane or low-toxicity acrylic sealer. If possible, look for wood products that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified. This ensures that the wood you choose comes from sustainably managed forests. Countertops Natural stone countertops like granite often emit very few pollutants. Laminate countertops can also be good choices if formaldehyde-free MDF or hardwood plywood are used for the under-counter support – and the bottom of the countertop is sealed with a water-based sealant. In general, countertops with integrated backsplashes are easier to maintain and provide better moisture protection, because there’s no joint between the counter and backsplash. Countertops that come from local suppliers or manufacturers, or which are made from recycled materials, can also offer great moisture protection while helping to keep your environmental footprint to a minimum. Ventilation Make sure the exhaust duct in your bathroom is properly sized, well insulated and vents directly to the outdoors (not into the attic, soffit or crawl space). Straight ducts have less airflow resistance than flexible ducts, which can help ensure proper airflow is provided and helps to prevent condensation from accumulating in the duct. Choose an exhaust fan that has a low noise rating, of around two sones (the unit used to measure noise) or lower. Low-sone fans tend to be more energy-efficient. Many bathroom fans today also come with additional green features, such as a timer, humidity sensor or other automatic controls that allow the fan to operate long enough to remove any excess moisture or humidity, without wasting energy. Plumbing and fixtures To save water and cut down on your energy bills, choose dual-flush or ultra-low flush toilets (toilets that consume 6 litres of water or less per flush) and low-flow faucets and showerheads. Check for a WaterSense® label, which certifies fixtures that are both water-efficient and high-performance.


Add shut-off valves to make future renovations easier, and insulate both the cold and hot water pipes to reduce condensation, save energy and prevent mold. Adding a drain water heat recovery unit to your shower can also reduce your family’s water heating costs. Lighting One of the simplest and easiest ways to improve your bathroom’s energy efficiency is to install ENERGY STAR®-rated lighting and make use of natural light wherever possible. Light-coloured paint on the walls and ceilings can increase the impact of natural light, while also creating a brighter, more welcoming room for your family to enjoy. Compact fluorescent and LED (light-emitting diode) lighting offer long service life and lower energy consumption. However, be aware that both types of lighting should not be disposed of with your household garbage because of the materials they contain. Consult your local municipality for guidance on safe and environmentally disposal options.





Checklist: Green Bathroom Renovations


Occupant health/healthy indoor environments

❑ Ensure moisture and odours are vented outside.

❑ Reduce pollutant emissions by using low pollutant emission flooring (ceramic tile, natural stone, etc), cabinets (hardwood, low-emission or sealed particleboard), countertops (solid surface, laminates, sealed particleboard), paints, cement, grout, sealants and caulking.

❑ Prevent the growth of mould with moisture-resistant materials, proper detailing to prevent wetting, and resilient finishes and surfaces such as ceramic tile, natural stone and laminates. Energy efficiency

❑ Improve wall and ceiling insulation where possible.

❑ Provide effective air barriers.

❑ Insulate cold and hot water pipes.

❑ Install energy-efficient lighting, and use task lighting and natural light.

❑ Install energy-efficient windows.

❑ Choose water-efficient fixtures and showerheads.

❑ Install energy-efficient exhaust fans with timers or other controls. Resource conservation ❑ Select certified forest products for the flooring, cabinetry and millwork.

❑ Consider using recycled, locally-sourced and lightly-processed materials for the countertops, tiles and drywall.

❑ Purchase water-efficient taps, toilets and fixtures.

❑ Choose materials and products that are durable, resilient and easy to maintain. Reduced environmental impact

❑ Where possible reuse or recycle old fixtures, cabinets and materials.

❑ Choose products and materials that are low-pollutant emitting.

❑ Select water-efficient toilets to reduce sewage waste. Affordability

❑ Avoid expensive rework by identifying and addressing any concerns at the beginning of the project, and by planning for future retrofits of green features.

❑ Control maintenance and replacement costs by using quality, durable materials.

❑ Include energy- and water-saving features to reduce your monthly operating costs.

❑ Choose a timeless design that will extend the life of the bathroom and the time between renovations.

❑ Design for accessibility to allow you and your family to stay independent and in your home longer as you age.


The House as a System A key part of successfully carrying out a green renovation is to view the entire house as an interactive, multi-component system. The major components of the “house-as-a-system” are:

■ The building envelope (roof, walls, windows, doors and foundation) that separates the interior space from the exterior environment;

■ The mechanical systems (heating and cooling, ventilation and exhaust, humidifiers and dehumidifiers, etc.) that provide, remove or regulate the heat, air and moisture; and

■ The occupants (the number of people who live in the home, their lifestyle, and how the house is lived in).


Each of these components, as well as how the house interacts with its surrounding environment, can influence the performance of your home. By considering your house as a system, you can avoid potentially costly mistakes and unintended pitfalls that could work against your green objectives.


This article was Produced by CMHC 27-02-15

To find more About Your House fact sheets

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