Q: My husband and I are in the process of building a new home and we’ve saved up a bit extra to invest in various eco-friendly attributes. We’re working with an architect with a background in sustainable design, and ideally we’d love to have our home to be LEED certified.
However, there’s a potential bathroom fixture that’s proven to be quite the sticking point: a bidet. You see, my husband was born and raised in Spain and is used to having one around. He’s all for installing one. Me? I don’t mind them at all but I think that having one in my own home is a touch exorbitant, especially if it just serves as a piece of porcelain nostalgia for my husband. However, I can be swayed if having a bidet and actually using it, versus not having one, is an environmentally conscientious choice (especially if it helps us rack up LEED points). Where do you stand — or squat — on the issue? Should I throw in the proverbial towel and agree to a bidet?
To bidet or not to bidet, that is the question,
Lisanne — New Orleans, La.
Ah, the bidet. It’s just one of those cultural things — think Jerry Lewis, mayo and French fries, the music of David Hasselhoff and universal healthcare — that may be embraced in Europe and elsewhere but has never really quite caught on in North America for better or for worse. As far as squirting bathroom fixtures that render toilet paper obsolete, or at least minimizes its use, I’d say North America could certainly do with more bidets and you should make your husband, and Mother Nature, happy by considering one.
Sure, a bidet may alarm some of your houseguests and you might be self-conscious about being labeled as a “continental snob” for having one but, c’mon, your husband really is European so you have the perfect excuse. And if you, or anyone else, is worried about the cleanliness of bidets you needn’t worry. Using them is quite hygienic, actually more hygienic than our customary wipe and flush routine, and the fact that Japan, a country that’s downright obsessed with clean, is bidet crazy should be proof enough.
Naturally, by having a separate toilet and a bidet, you’d think that your household water consumption has the potential to increase. This isn’t usually the case given that bidets, when used correctly, don’t require an egregious amount of water … certainly less than a standard toilet flush. And since it sounds like you’ll be installing dual-flush toilets and low-flow fixtures throughout your home, you can probably afford an extra squirt here and there. I’m unsure if installing a bidet will help you rack up LEED points, but I don’t see how it can hurt.
And then there’s the big eco-advantage of having a bidet: a dramatic drop in the need for toilet paper. Some stats: Americans use an average of 23.6 rolls a year, the plusher, the better. In total, we collectively use more than 36.5 billion rolls of TP — less than 2 percent of them being of the recycled content variety — annually with 54 million trees being cut down exclusively for TP. Additionally, the production of a single roll requires 1.5 pounds of wood, 37 gallons of water and 1.3 kilowatts of energy. Many folks use toilet paper in combination with a bidet but this isn’t always the case. I’d certainly keep TP around for guests alongside cloth towels for patting your posterior post-use.
So there you go, Lisette. From a conservation standpoint, not having a bidet and relying strictly on softer-than-soft TP seems almost, well, criminal. I totally understand the stateside aversion to bidets — they do seem a bit weird if you’ve never encountered one — but I think it’s well past time we literally get over it. The characters in the below “Saturday Night Live” clip certainly have.
I’d talk to your architect and/or contractor about how to proceed from here since there are a couple of options like installing a freestanding bidet like the ones offered by Kohler or opting for a high-tech bidet attachment from a company like Biobidet, Brondell and Toto, manufacturer of the game-changing Washlet.