04 December 2011

Recycled bathroom – an environmental or budget decision?

A friend asked me recently whether we recycled everything because we were on a budget or because we really cared about the environment.  The question could have offended given that I’ve been writing to MPs since I was 17, but it was genuinely asked and set me thinking…. If you’re watching your budget then doesn't it makes sense to be environmentally conscious? Surely they go hand in hand in that the less materially motivated we are the better it is for our planet.

I remember as a teenager being devastated when my parents brought home a new mahogany toilet seat - why? Because it came from trees that had been growing for centuries in our precious rainforests. What an earth was wrong with sitting on a pine seat for goodness sake, both sustainable and cheaper?

After leaving home and moving into rental accommodation, then becoming a home owner myself, reusing old furniture and second hand white goods seemed obvious. Yes it was budget driven but why buy new when so much ‘stuff’ was being discarded. Did I need brand new everything? Other than a new mattress, no not really, not when I could buy clean, no longer loved second hand goods that needed new homes.

It's always puzzled me why so many people have never grasped the fact that apart from being morally obliged, it makes financial sense to be 'green' - why would you pay a bin man to take your glass bottles away and bury them in the dump (or worse, leave them in ditches on the side of the road) when they can be recycled for free in a bottle bank ?

When we started renovating our old farmhouse we were more than happy to use other people's 'rubbish' to fit and furnish it. We visited salvage yards, auctions and small ads. In fact once neighbours heard that we were willing to use old things, they would phone to see if we wanted their left over insulation, piping, or other building supplies that were left over from their own new house builds (yes please!!)

One of the things I love about our old house is the way it's evolved, the character it’s taken on and the history and stories that surround everything in it. Because we've undertaken all of the work ourselves, and on a (almost non existent) budget, it has developed gradually. Our bathroom is a case in point.

I mentioned in a previous post that we spent  months and months without a hot water supply, so when Mr G finally started work on our bathroom it was with great excitement from the whole family. During the celtic tiger years people were spending thousands fitting out bathrooms. We spent less than €500 on the entire room, including paint, wood, bath, shower, loo, sink flooring and lights. So how did we manage that?

Starting with the floor, we used old slates that were given to us, surplus to their requirements. Cleaned, scrubbed up, cemented down and varnished they make hardwearing and waterproof flooring. Because they're 'heathers' they have lovely purpley shades running through them and that gave us the colour theme for the rest of the room.

The old Victorian claw legged bath and taps were a freebie. Mr G was rewiring a house in Kilkenny where they were refitting their old bathroom with a brand new one - "you can have it if you can move it" came the reply when he asked what was going to happen to the old bath. So with help from the plumber it was carried down the stairs, left out on the front lawn and we brought it home (not easy, cast iron baths are bloomin heavy!). Again, scrubbed, sanded and painted the bath was transformed and we were delighted.

The sink and taps came from the Slaney Arms in Tullow. Lying in a storeroom, Mr G enquired about it (you have to be a bit cheeky to reuse and recycle), found it was destined for the dump and it was transferred to the back of the van and proudly brought home. The old sewing machine stand that the sink now sits on was given to us by a friend.

The toilet cistern came from Murphy’s Bar in Ballylynam (with permission!) and the original toilet pan and old seat from the Buy and Sell for a tenner, which have since been replaced with a new one with a lid that closes (FSC pine, no new mahogany here).

The shower cubicle, plumbing fittings and lights were the only new items we've bought for the room, and the wall tiles were end of line bargain offers.

Mr G built all the tongue and groove wainscoting; I painted it and made the blinds and curtains. 

Finally, after a month with just a curtain for privacy (fine for us but used to embarrass friends), we found a lovely old solid pine door with the original leaded glass and brass door knob that came from a local salvage yard that we stripped and waxed.

So in answer to my friend's question, caring about our environment has always been very high on my agenda, but why buy new when it's not necessary... 


  1. I totally agree with you and I love the history some pieces carry. Some of my favourite items are ones I found in the dump, brought home and added my own twist to them. Love your bathroom too by the way, it's beautiful especially the bath!

  2. I love how you are transforming your bathroom and house in such an environmentaly conscientious way. My wife and I also strive to either buy used or repurpose anything we possibly can. Unfortunately, with our consumer driven society in the U.S. this is not nearly as popular as it should/needs to be. Your bathroom looks great, love that tub...what a great find.

  3. Thanks for your comments - yes the bath was a real find, although I'm sure I've seen lots in fields, full of water for the cattle! Perhaps in today's economic climate as people find it harder to manage and replace new with new, second-hand will become more fashionable (and those of us who don't mind using it wont seem so odd)!

  4. I love the way you've done the bathroom. It's great to have stories behind the decor of the house.

  5. We used to do just the same when we lived in the UK, we seemed to have more time then plus we were constantly doing up houses! I remember visiting a nearby house that was being gutted and asking if we could have the firewood they were throwing into the skip (old floors and lathe) and they looked at us amazed as we carried it back for our new fire. Great bathroom btw :)

  6. Thank you - can't imagine rushing to do this again for a while Lorna! Maybe it would have been different if we hadn't had to live in it with children and animals and Ian working full time!

  7. OMG, Sink placed on a sewing machine stand, Kudos !!

  8. I love your bathroom renovation story Dee. When we lived in the states we renovated two old houses (side by side) and converted them into a restaurant. We did all the work ourselves using all recycled pieces; even the kitchen equipment. I think that being environmentally conscious is part of who you are (or it isn't) and recycling is the way to go!


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