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Is your bathroom making you sick? Healthy Bathroom Remodel Checklist

People often confine the idea of pollution to the outdoors, but indoor air quality is usually worse than outdoor air quality, at least in Connecticut where the air is usually clean. You can check your local outdoor air quality on an hourly basis, but what about inside? All three types of pollutants (gaseous, particulate, and biological) can be found anywhere in the home, but bathrooms are usually the most toxic rooms. Pollutants are associated with allergies, asthma attacks, headaches, eye irritation, and potentially cancer.

Types of Indoor Pollutants

Gaseous pollutants are dangerous because they exist in the air throughout your home, but are difficult to detect. In the category of common indoor gaseous pollutants, VOCs are the most dangerous to your health.  Common building materials, such as wood, drywall, adhesives, paint, and caulk emit VOCs.  Some biological pollutants are easier to detect because you can smell them, but only some produce an odor. Biological pollutants include mold, mildew, bacteria, and viruses. They are most common in bathrooms and other places with a high relative humidity. Common particulates are pollen, dust, dust mites, diesel exhaust, or any other superfine solid or liquid particle. Particulates are dangerous because they can reach deep into your lungs. If you are remodeling, please consider health and safety as the most essential element of your CT bathroom design.

How to Create a Healthy Bathroom

The following bathroom remodel checklist is geared towards healthy indoor air. We broke down key aspects of a healthy CT bathroom design into six categories and included tips for each.

1) Ventilation

There is no bathroom design that will entirely eliminate moisture or the off-gassing of building materials. Reducing sources of pollutants makes a huge difference, but ventilation is still key.

Install ceiling vent fans: Ceiling vent fans help release moisture to the outdoors. Choose a true exhaust fan that releases the air outdoors, not a re-circulating fan. Your system should exhaust one cubic foot per minute per square foot of floor area. Your contractor will advise you on an appropriate system based on the shape and size of the bathroom.  Run the fan for 20 minutes after showering.

Install Skylights: Vent fans only allow polluted air to escape. Vented skylights not only allow that same warm moist polluted air to rise and escape, but also allow fresh air in to replace it. Installing Velux skylights is at the top of our healthy bathroom remodel checklist.  Velux skylights also transmit the best type of light for bathrooms. Being deprived of natural light is not toxic, but there are plenty of mental health benefits associated with exposure to natural light. Velux skylights provide an abundance of natural light and relieve eye strain. They also block a lot bad light (UV rays) that create glare and are hard on your eyes.

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Create Air Flow: There is no such thing as too much ventilation for CT bathrooms. Ideally, your bathroom should have more than one window to create air flow. If wall space is limited, combine one window with a vented skylight. Velux Skylights are a great solution for small bathrooms, or interior bathrooms without windows. A good CT bathroom design should heed local microclimates to optimize airflow. Consider all types of replacement windows CT and ask your contractor about the best location for skylights.

Choose energy efficient models for replacement windows CT: In the case of bathrooms, energy efficient windows are more for the purpose of reducing condensation that can lead to mold growth than for thermal efficiency. We always suggest that you do your own research, but Sunrise Windows is our favorite manufacturer. Their windows are energy star rated and they resist mold growth because they are vinyl. Debating wood vs vinyl windows is difficult. Choose based on your needs. If you are allergic to mold, go with vinyl, and know that quality vinyl windows are sealed to prevent off gassing. Again, Sunrise Windows are our favorites.

2) Your Shower

Eliminate or Replace Shower Curtains. Shower curtains are difficult to clean and despite your best efforts, mold will find a place to grow. We can install a real shower enclosure during a one day bathroom remodel.  If an enclosed shower is out of the question, choose a washable nylon or polyester shower curtain.

Pick materials with antimicrobial properties: Tiles, walls, tubs, and showers are prone to mold and can host bacteria growth, but new technology fights these problems. All materials from luxury bath systems are infused with microban technology, which fights bacteria, mold, and mildew growth.

Choose a non-porous material: Most surfaces that appear smooth actually have microscopic holes in which germs and mold can settle and grow. Non-porous materials are easier to keep clean.

If Possible, Avoid Grout: Tiles are “green” and non toxic, but they require grout and grout is prone to mold growth. Further, grout is difficult to clean and the harsh chemicals most people use are bad for your health. Luxury bath offers ’tiles’ that are actually a one-piece system (meaning there is no grout to clean.) Arguments can be made that natural tile is a greener product, but weigh the pros and cons yourself. If you have a mold allergy, we recommend a one-piece system.

Pick a tapered door sweep for the shower: Most door sweeps for showers include two plastic bottom brackets. There is usually mold between them because it is practically impossible to keep that area dry. When you have a hot shower going, the air mixes at a faster rate and those mold spores spread throughout the entire room. Shower doors from luxury bath systems have tapered bottom brackets that prevent mildew from building up.

3) The floor

If you are remodeling a bathroom that was built before the mid 80s, move flooring to the top of your healthy bathroom remodel checklist. Vinyl flooring from that time period has backing that contains asbestos. Consult an expert about your options. You can cover the problem with new flooring, or remove it. Neither is a DIY project because safety precautions are necessary. Modern vinyl is not ridden with asbestos, but old vinyl flooring is problematic. Wood, cork, and bamboo are well known as ‘green building materials’ but they don’t stand up well to water. Carpets in bathroom are a definite no. Tile, stone and cement are the best options for indoor air quality, but make sure to seal them regularly.

4) Prevent Leaks

Caulk well and caulk right: Caulking around sinks and tubs prevents water infiltration that leads to mold growth behind walls. This is important, but not all caulk is created equally. Some brands contain toxic materials that gas VOCs. Ask your CT contractor to use a low VOC caulk that can be cleaned with a mild solvent.

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5) The walls

Avoid wallpaper. It can mold. Select Low VOC paint. Behind the walls, select formaldehyde-free insulation.

6) The Building Materials

Do not use MDF or fiberboard for cabinets or vanities. Both off-gas formaldehyde. Ask your contractor if your counters are construced with MDF or fiberboard. If you aren’t willing to replace them, we can seal them to reduce off-gassing.

You can never be too careful when it comes to your health. Humans are pretty resilient and it is easy to accept minor headaches and eye irritation, but when your body is trying to tell you something, don’t ignore it! If you haven’t been feeling great, it could be because of the air in your home. If you are remodeling, please keep this checklist on hand. If you have any questions or concerns, we are here to help! To end on a more positive note, we are offering a fun bathroom planning guide and free consult.

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