Archive for Bathrooms

Recycled Bathroom Reno

Sometimes a room needs a little TLC right away, just to hold everything over until the real renovation can begin. Such was the case for the past two years with the second floor bathroom, which was doing just fine with a few minor upgrades until a leak proved to be the tipping point.

This has been a total – and unexpected – gut job, removing over 100 years of plumbing, tile and flooring. Thankfully the amazing crews that have been here for the rest of the house stepped up to the plate and worked around hectic holiday schedules, from Thanksgiving well past New Year’s. Bringing everything from plumbing to structural framing to electrical up to code has taken time. Now that it’s almost spring, we’re a few weeks from completion.

This is always the sweet spot in a project, when the environmental testing is long over with, the layers of debris are peeled away, the permits have been applied for, and municipal inspections have been passed. Here’s a few highlights of the processes and products used:

– As with any reno, I started with environmental testing. Lead testing was done before moving in, so that was already crossed off the list. I tested old floor tiles and wallboard for asbestos, which can be found in hundreds of building products. The EPA has a full guide here to asbestos information and resources.

– Having found asbestos in the old PVC floor tiles, I hired a certified firm for removal. Air sampling came back the same day showing all was well, and the firm provided documentation. Note…before any asbestos removal job, the state may need to be notified (as is the case in NJ) with a 10-day wait period. The delays and cost definitely ate into the budget and timeline, but the upside was knowing it was getting done right.

– I chose recycled denim insulation from Bonded Logic, which my carpenter loved. The town inspectors liked it, too and it became a talking point of the project. It runs pricier than conventional fiberglass insulation, but it’s a healthier product with out the toxic flame retardants or respiratory risks as with other insulations.

– With the recycled-content Florim USA tile in the downstairs bathroom holding up beautifully, I bought it again for this bathroom. At under $5 per square foot (uninstalled), it’s domestically made and purchased through a family-owned local store.

The other finishing touches such as paint, window framing, and built-in cabinetry are still in the works, so more on that to come.

Easy, Organic Bed and Bath

Kids naturally gravitate to softness and warmth, whether its a snuggly blanket or a soft landing spot. For its practicality and affordability, cotton is a great fiber for everything from bedding to towels. But toxic finishes labeled as “easy care,” “permanent press,” “wrinkle-free” or “no iron” have an unhealthy side. As the NY Times reports, the resin that makes textiles “wrinkle free” releases formaldehyde, a toxin linked to contact dermatitis and other adverse health effects. The International Agency for Research on Cancer considers formaldehyde a known human carcinogen.

What’s more, conventionally-grown cotton is one of the most pesticide-intensive crops on the planet. “According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 84 million pounds of pesticides were applied” in addition to “two billion pounds of fertilizers…on the same fields. Seven of the 15 pesticides commonly used on cotton in the United States are listed as ‘possible,’ ‘likely,’ ‘probable’ or ‘known’ human carcinogens by the Environmental Protection Agency” reports the National Wildlife FederationThankfully, there are easy ways to switch to healthier options.

The solution? Cotton without the “easy care” finishes, and if possible, made with organic cotton. If it sounds expensive, it’s time to take a look at some super affordable options!

For Baby – A baby’s layette is a great place to start, with organics increasingly available at big box stores (BuyBuy Baby, etc). In support of locally-owned, brick-and-mortar stores, there’s GreenDepot and the beautiful Hudson Street Organic Baby & Kids, the first organic baby store in northern NJ. LifeKind is an easy, go-to online resource with both practical and hard-to-find items, especially for those with chemical sensitivities.

For the whole familyGaiam jersey cotton sheets withstand just about anything kids can dish out. They last year after year, hold their color and are naturally wrinkle resistant (without the formaldehyde finish in “no iron” cotton sheets). For organic woven cotton sheets, Threshold brand (at Target) are economical and wear well. Like Gaiam sheets, they’re available in a range of colors and patterns. For something more luxe, Coyuchi, West Elm and Pottery Barn’s organic cotton options deliver.

For the bath – Organic cotton towels and shower curtains from LifeKind, Coyuchi, Pottery Barn and Viva Terra make decorating the bath easy. Some sites offer coupons for first-time orders, seasonal clearances, as well as regular discounts to email subscribers.

Organic cotton is an easy way to bring warmth to a space without toxic pesticides and finishes, making all our communities a little healthier.

3 Steps to a Lead-Free Bathtub

After discovering that the 1960’s avocado-green bathtub had lead in the finish, it was time to decide whether to replace or reglaze it. Time and resources being key, the process took 3 steps:

1. Reglaze or replace? Re-glazing would mean less waste (ie no bathtubs filling up landfills). In considering a new tub, the cost of removal and installation was prohibitive for this project’s budget. Additionally, one of our blog readers found that when shopping for a new tub, none of the large manufacturers would certify their tubs as lead-free. One company even wrote him back to say their tubs still use lead in the glaze. This is an area where bathtub manufacturers need more transparency. So, I decided to go the reglaze route.

2. I asked the re-glazing company for the names of the products they use, and contacted that manufacturer, which confirmed they are lead-free. I also requested the company email the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) of the products, which verify in writing that the primer and finish enamel don’t contain lead.

3. To prepare for the job, I sectioned off the area with plastic sheeting over the doorways after removing items from the work space, and took other steps per EPA home remodeling guidelines. The guidelines are created for DIYers, so they’re fairly easy, and save on cleanup time. Following the EPA steps are perhaps the most important part of any project to ensure the rest of the home stays clean and free of dust. It’s up to the homeowner to take these steps unless the contracting firm has EPA lead-safe certification. Legal requirements apply depending on the job, so it’s always best to check the EPA website for the latest rules.

The resurfacing contractor explained tubs today are not made of the quality produced decades ago. For this project, the avocado-green bathtub went from old and dingy to brand-new white. The re-glazing process delivered a like-new tub in under two hours. It was a cost-effective, quick way to recycle and renew in this bathroom.

Bathroom Makeover: From Vinyl to Recycled Tile

One of the most fun aspects of renovating a home is shopping for materials that will take a room from conventional to beautiful. The vinyl tile in one bathroom is from the 60’s and completely worn. Vinyl flooring (or polyvinyl chloride – PVC) can contain harmful lead, phthalates and other toxins, as found in a study from the nonprofit HealthyStuff.org. So replacing it with something healthier is great for kids, who tend to spend a lot of time crawling and playing on the ground.

Because older vinyl or composite tiles can also contain asbestos, I had these tested. The lab evaluated both the tile itself and the mastic (adhesive). Thankfully, both tests came out clear, and it was time to demo the floor. The tiles came up easily, a welcome surprise.

Big box home improvement stores have a wide selection of ceramic and porcelain tiles, but many are manufactured overseas without recycled content. After plenty of searching, I found Florim USA tile at a local, family-owned store. It’s made in the USA, has 40% pre-consumer recycled content, and is certified by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). At about $4 a square foot (uninstalled), it’s an affordable “green” option. Other great choices are Oceanside Glasstile, which I’ve used (and loved) in a previous home and stunning Fireclay Tile, made in California.

For the tub surround, I found a treasure trove of neutral wall tiles at Green Demolitions, similar in concept to Habitat for Humanity resale stores. The tiles are inherently recycled since they came to this nonprofit store as leftovers from someone else’s big project. They were a fraction of the retail cost and are in-the-box new. All proceeds go towards charity, so it’s a win-win way to renovate. With the vinyl out and the recycled tile in, this bathroom space just got a little healthier.

 

Resource:
Like to learn more? See info on vinyl floors and kids’ health at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

Need to Know: Is There Lead in the Bathtub?

Is it really necessary to test the bathtub for lead?  Turns out it could be. One of the little-known sources of kids’ lead exposure may be where they spend hours of time.

When the story made headlines that a Virginia family discovered their tub was a lead hazard, more parents started asking the question. Another news report in Dallas found,

The lead comes from cast iron or steel tubs coated with a porcelain glaze. As the glaze wears down from age and use, the lead in the glaze can leach into bath water. Young children who drink bathwater or put their wet hands or toys in their mouths during bath time are at greatest risk. (Source: Dallas News 10/19/14)

Despite awareness that lead-based paint can be found in homes built or remodeled before 1978, bathtubs aren’t regulated by that law. That being the case, I decided to test our bathtub.

I picked up a lead test kit at a home center in the paint isle. They’re also available at general big box stores and online. (Consumer Reports gives a rundown of options in the Lead Test Kit Buying Guide.)

I’ve never used a DIY lead test kit before, and found the directions were easy to follow, and the process quick. The kit can leave marks on surfaces, so I’d only go this route if testing a hidden area, or if replacing or reglazing the tub anyway. Another option is to call a professional environmental testing company, though the cost is considerably more.

If testing a tub sounds complicated or costly, it’s not. The kit retails at about $10 for a package of two, and the actual test process takes about five minutes, start to finish.

The results? They were positive. Even for someone who works in children’s health, this was an eye-opener. I can only be thankful no one’s taken a bath in there, and I’ll be getting this older tub reglazed or replaced before anyone does. (More on that in a future post.) The good news? This was a hazardous exposure avoided. The bad news is there are homes – and kids – all over the country that could potentially be exposed to lead by older bathtubs. Spreading the word, and testing is the only way to know for sure.

More info at www.LeadSafeAmerica.org