CAROL STEINFELD The Boston Sunday Globe MagazineWhen Diane Cotman began refurbishing her four-family Cambridge home into a model of stylish living and lowered environmental impact, she knew her bathrooms had to be a step ahead of the conservation curve.
In one renovated bathroom, a Toto Zo Washlet toilet, with its flared features, looks like the Corvette of commodes and has a nonclogging 1.6-gallon flush. The built-in Washlet, Toto's answer to the bidet, includes an air dryer. In another bathroom, a trim tankless white SeaLand Traveler toilet flushes with just 1 pint of water via a foot pedal on the side. The toilet drains to a composting system in the basement that processes the waste into a soillike humus and sends any extra liquid to the city sewer. "Graywater," waste water from the sinks and bathtubs, is filtered and drained to specially engineered indoor planters, where it is used to quench thirsty plants such as orchids, bird of paradise, and other colorful tropical varieties. The system, a pilot project, was approved and installed by the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local Union 12 to study its feasibility. A sleek stainless-steel bathtub by Diamond Spa of Colorado has a custom radiant heat system in the tub walls so that, with the flick of a switch, the tub itself heats up to keep bath water hot. Solar collectors and a geothermal heat pump provide hot water for the house as well as in-floor and in-wall radiant space heating. The geothermal system brings 55-degree water from deep in the ground and upgrades it to 160 degrees. In warm weather, the same system can cool the house by circulating the 55-degree water. "Living in a more ecologically harmonious way doesn't mean deprivation," Cotman says. "The goal of this house is to show that one can live stylishly and very comfortably with systems and designs that are more resource-conserving." Cotman is writing a book about the renovation. She also conducts programs highlighting the house's features through the Cambridge-based Center for Sustainable Building and Technology. Bathroom fixtures, the greatest user of water in a home after the laundry, are drawing more attention as the cost of water and wastewater treatment rises. Creating a resource-conscious bathroom begins with faucet aerators, low-flow shower heads, and low-flush toilets, and might ultimately incorporate composting toilets, micro-flush toilets, dual-flush toilets, and systems irrigated with graywater. A greenhouse full of tropical plants is the end product of wastewater disposal in the Montague home of Richard Weiss. The house, on land too wet for a conventional wastewater system, uses a waterless toilet that drains to a composting toilet system. Composting systems, which also reduce the possibility of pollution of re- sources, have been allowed under Massachusetts regulations and plumbing codes since 1995. All of the graywater in the Weiss house is funneled to a drain field enclosed in a greenhouse planted with a jungle of bamboo, canna lilies, and bougainvillea. David Del Porto of the Ecological Engineering Group in Concord, a designer of water conservation systems, including Cotman's, says that more property owners are working with state regulators to get approvals for systems like these. "In the future," he says, "a home's landscape will also be part of its wastewater treatment system." Water "will be strategically used up on site." Even now, the average homeowner may make significant decreases in water use and hardly notice it; a 1.6-gallon low-flush toilet can cut household consumption by 20 percent or more. Required in all new construction, low-flush toilets have come a long way since the early days, when they were prone to clogging. But before installing a low-flush toilet, homeowners should check their drain system and fix it if it blocks easily. In addition, consumers should specify toilets that are rated high for drain-line carry if pipes aren't pitched enough to allow waste to flow easily to the septic system or sewer line. If a home was built within the last 10 years, any of the low-flush toilets should work. Perhaps the greatest advance in water-saving toilets is the dual-flush toilet, with two buttons: Press the dark one to flush feces with 1.6 gallons of water, the light one to flush only urine with 0.8 gallon. Caroma's dual-flush models, from Australia, start at $250.
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