You are here

A Most Efficient Bathroom

I like to tell people that the world's most efficient bathroom is one which is in use 24 hours per day, seven days a week, but never has anyone waiting in line.  The fact is that whether you are concerned about your finances / money, housing, global warming, public health care, pollution, environmental degradation, species extinctions, or any one of countless other social and personal issues, at it's core, understanding and solving many of these problems comes down to efficiency or more precisely, eliminating waste.

Bear with me a bit here; how we define things is important.  There seem to be a lot of definitions of efficiency out there, but I couldn't find one that is in clear terms which almost anyone can understand, so I will take a crack at it:

Efficiency: The ratio of how much you get of something you want in exchange for something you give up.

For example: if you get 30 miles (46 kilometers) of transport for one gallon of gasoline (a little less than four liters), that is your automobile's fuel efficiency 30 miles (what you get) / 1 gallon of gasoline and the money/time it cost you (what you give up).  Of course it is rarely that simple, since we want many things which are often in conflict (drive a big car without causing global warming) and there may be conflicts in what we give up as well.

Before continuing, here are a few practical everyday ways to increase the efficiency in your life (both for money and the environment):

  • Heating and Cooling: I have never once had a house complain to me that it was feeling to cold or hot!  The fact is that it is the people, not the building that want the temperature controls, so with the exception of keeping your pipes from freezing or protecting any valuables you may own that are temperature sensitive, just heat or cool the people in your house.  While indoors, dress more appropriately for the weather outside, just heat or cool a single room and encourage people to congregate in that room (who knows you might even get to know someone in your family), you could even try developing your body's natural tolerance for temperature change.
  • Lighting: I have a bad habit that even years in a house without a light switch next to the door has not broken. Every time I walk into a room, even if there is more than enough light for what I am there for, I will turn on the lights if there is a switch next to the door.  Replacing the light controlled by this switch with a high efficiency low-light bulb which provides just enough light for safety (so you won't trip over things in the dark) can save a great deal of energy for those who  suffer from this bad habit.  For me personally, I would just leave the bulb out entirely, but I won't recommend that to others, since safety should at least be considered.
  • Use small lamps with high-efficiency reflector bulbs that put light just where you need it. Light what you are working on, not the building.   I have never ever met a house that complained about it being too dark inside either!  My house has only three lamps,  each one a 5 watt, reflector, compact fluorescent bulb, and I sometimes find those to be a little too bright, but I haven't found any lower-powered ones that give the quality of light these give.
  • Think about transportation alternatives, the point of transportation is to get you (and things or people you have with you) from one place to another, not to move tons of steel (your car/truck/etc.) around.  The less extra you are moving around, the better your use of energy, money and natural resources.  If you bike or walk you may be able to give up both the cost of that health club membership, and at least some of the time you spend trying to get or keep fit.  If you take the bus or other public transport, you will have more time to read or do other tasks since you won't be driving the vehicle.  You do value your time don't you?  Few things waste as much of our time as driving.  On bus and train rides I read magazines and books, work on the computer, and even practice guitar!  I have a small electric guitar designed for travel, with a tiny amplifier and headphones plugged in, it is barely audible to others over the sound of the bus engine.  What could you be doing with all the time and money you waste on driving?
  • Redesign your life to make waste an inconvenience, so you will naturally use and waste less (see Constructive Inconvenience).

Going back to our efficient bathroom, note that the description makes maximum use of the facilities (always in use), but also doesn't waste anyone's time (no line of people waiting).  In most residential bathrooms in the USA, we use a terrible design from an efficiency perspective - the toilet, shower / bathtub, and sink are all in the same room, so when one person is using any of these facilities, no one else can use the other facilities (assuming modern Western conventions of modesty / privacy here).  We of course solve this problem by the worst  possible means: we build larger houses with additional inefficient bathroom designs in order to eliminate the need for people to wait.  A much better design is one you commonly find in hostels, where there are separate private stalls for toilets and showers, and an open common area where the sinks are located, this even makes gender specific restrooms unnecessary (though for some reason they are still often used), so you can get much better utilization of the facilities.

Note that not wasting people's time is very important in the efficient systems we design.  Time is ultimately our most valuable commodity, and people are likely to avoid any system which wastes too much time and/or find ways around it which may be possibly wasteful of other resources.  While we are not likely to achieve complete utilization of anything, we need to look at efficiency in everything we do and every aspect of it, regardless of whether our concerns are personal (such as finance) or societal (global warming, health care, etc.) or both.  It is the waste in our "modern" societies that is destroying us (socially, financially and environmentally), far more than the things we want to do with our lives or even the latest technological "toys" we decide we can't live without.


I like your idea of separating the toilet and washroom facilities.  I like it because that's how I've planned it in my own home.  Even though my floorplan is just under 400 sq ft. (37 sq meters), I made room to separate the bathing space and from the tiny toilet space.  Elimination is a form of internal cleansing but it still doesn't seem quite right that you should do it in the place where you wash and dress your body.  Plus, traditionally home designers put the toilet in with the tub strictly as a convenience for the plumbing.  If they would incorporate the use of dry toilets (composting toilets) why then they'd have a whole array of design options for the home...and did I mention they'd save hundreds of gallons of water with a dry toilet?