Home Tips & Advice

Planning and Designing Your Bathroom

BASIC CONSIDERATIONS

Probably the greatest challenge in remodeling a bathroom is figuring out how to achieve the style and build in the features you want within the limits of what is probably the smallest room in the house. A second limiting factor is the location of existing plumbing pipes and electrical wiring. Remodeling a bathroom is relatively easy if you don't have to move them. If you make radical changes in the existing layout, you'll need to investigate whether or not you can build what you want without making structural changes.

Keep in mind that you may need a building permit, depending on the scope of your project. If so, you'll probably have to submit a detailed plan of your proposed project. Before you begin planning your new bathroom, always check with your local building department and find out what codes, specifications and requirements you'll have to meet.

There are a number of general issues you should consider before you begin designing your new bathroom. They include:

  • Layout. Think about the layout in your existing bathroom and decide which are the most serious problems you want to fix. If more than one person uses the bathroom at the same time, for example, is there adequate counter space, or do you need a second sink or a shower compartment for greater privacy?
    • Are towel racks and tissue holders located conveniently? Is there enough storage space for everyone who uses the bathroom? Do vanity doors or drawers interfere with opening and closing the bathroom door?
  • Mechanical systems. From the plumber's point of view, the best bathroom layout is one that has all the rough plumbing-water supply and drain-waste-vent pipes-all in one wall. A "wet wall," as it is called, not only saves materials, but makes it a lot easier to make repairs if needed.
  • Electrical outlets and switches are usually easier to move than plumbing pipes, provided there is reasonably easy access to the wiring. Likewise with heating ducts-if you can get to the duct, it usually isn't too much trouble to relocate the vent. Keep in mind, however, that any mechanical changes you make will cost extra.
    • If your current layout is livable, leaving the mechanical systems as they are will mean that much more in the budget for upgraded fixtures, and may make the difference between doing the project and waiting to save more money.
    • Don't neglect lighting when you redesign your bathroom. You'll need strong lighting over the mirror-a strip of eight 60-watt bulbs is not necessarily too much-but you may also want to consider pinpoint task lighting and soft ambient lights. If you plan to install a whirlpool built for two, indirect mood lighting may fit well. With incandescent lighting, you'll need at least 3-1/2 to 4 watts per square foot (e.g., 280 watts minimum in an 80-square-foot bathroom). If you use fluorescent lighting, figure 1-1/2 to 2 watts per square foot.
  • Maintenance. Think about the maintenance problems you have in your existing bathroom-stained grout, mildew, soap buildup, etc. Some materials look great when they're brand new, but don't weather very well in a high-moisture location. As you choose materials, make sure they are waterproof and washable-resilient vinyl flooring, for example, a fiberglass tub surround and semi-gloss enamel paint will all wear well.
  • Energy and water conservation. Your hot water heater is one of the largest energy hogs in the house, and the toilet uses more water than any other single fixture. Consider installing low-flow shower heads and insulating hot water pipes. The extra money you spend on an ultra-low-flush toilet will often come back in the first year in reduced water bills.

PLANNING A NEW BATHROOM

The first step in planning your new design is to make a detailed sketch of your existing design (see image). Use a sheet of graph paper with four squares per inch, and draw a floor plan (in other words, a bird's eye view) to scale. Make each square represent 3", i.e., 1" equals 1', and draw in:

  • all wall detail, plus the locations of any doors and windows;
  • the width and length of your floor cabinets and bathtub;
  • the distance from the nearest wall to the center of the toilet and the centers of all sink drains; and
  • the locations of all electrical outlets, switches and fixtures.

As you make your sketch, use an architect's scale to precisely locate any components that do not fall on exact 3" increments.

FIXTURES AND COMPONENTS -
It is beyond the scope of this document to provide extensive style ideas or discuss specific fixtures. We suggest that you visit your local home center's show room, contact a designer or architect and consult how-to books such as Sunset's Bathroom Remodeling Handbook.

Once you have a general idea of the style you want to incorporate into your new bathroom, the next step is to decide on the fixtures. The first place is to start is the bathtub. A standard builder's bathtub is 30" wide, 60" long and typically about 15" deep. But you can go up from there, to soaking tubs 36" deep, square or sunken tubs, whirlpools or even free-standing clawfoot tubs. Tub surrounds range from one-piece folding fiberglass units to five-piece assemblies, and doors may swing, slide or fold.

The simplest sinks are wall-hung; they are also the least expensive. Vanity sinks may be deck-mounted-in other words, set into a hole cut in the countertop-or part of an integral bowl and countertop (typically a cultured marble top). There are three types of deck-mounted sinks (see image):

  • Self-rimming sinks have a molded lip that rests on the countertop, around the edge of the hole. They are the easiest to install, and there are a wide variety of styles available.
  • Flush or frame-rimmed sinks have a metal frame that is attached to the rim of the hole in the countertop. The sink is then fastened to the frame. This is an older style, typically used with laminate countertops.
  • Unrimmed sinks are recessed below the surface of the countertop and held in place with metal clips. They are often used with ceramic tile or synthetic marble countertops.

You may or may not have room for a small storage closet in the bathroom; if so, it can be used for towels and other accessories. Your vanity cabinets will provide the bulk of the storage, however, so it's important to choose them carefully.

There are three basic types of base cabinets. A modular (as opposed to custom-built) sink base (see image) is typically 24" to 36" wide, with false drawer fronts and doors below. A drawer base (see image) may range from 12" wide to 18" wide; it generally makes the most of the space, with three or four drawers. A standard vanity base (see image below) has one drawer, with a door below, and also comes in 12" to 18" widths.

Combination units are also available (see image), with drawers on one side and a false drawer front and door on the other, to accommodate a sink. All modular vanities are about 30" high and either 19" deep or 21" deep.

The most common type of toilet is a two-piece unit-a bowl and a tank. One-piece toilets are also available, in both a standard configuration and a low-profile model. What differentiates toilets (aside from color and style) is the flush design. The most common design is called a reverse trap. A siphon jet design is more efficient-and, of course, more expensive.

DETERMINING THE FINAL DESIGN

Once you have a rough idea of what fixtures you want, go to your supplier and measure them to get their outside dimensions. When you begin sketching out your new bathroom, cut out cardboard templates of each fixture to the same scale as your sketch. Lay the templates over the sketch of your existing bathroom and trace the walls and the locations of any components you know you will not move. Then begin planning your changes.

LAYOUT -
Minimum clearances vary by local building codes, so you'll need to check with the building department before you design. There are four common types of bathroom layouts:

  • A one-wall bathroom has the tub, sink(s) and toilet all along one wall. This layout is generally the most economical-and generally the least interesting design.
  • An L-shaped bathroom (see image) usually has the vanity/sink and the toilet along one side wall, with the bathtub against the back wall. This arrangement reduces the "hallway" look, and is as cost-effective as a one-wall bathroom because the tub supply and drain lines can be located in the same wall as the other fixtures.
  • A corridor bathroom (see image) typically has the bathtub along one side wall and the vanity/sink and toilet along the opposite wall.
  • A U-shaped bathroom has fixtures on three walls; it generally gives the most spacious appearance, but also requires a relatively large, square room.

Begin your layout by positioning the bathtub. Make sure you have easy access, room to maneuver if you'll be bathing small children and nearby wall space for a towel rack. The bathtub is often placed against the back wall to keep it away from the bathroom door.

Next, locate the sink and vanity cabinet. Plan for at least 30" clear space in front of the sink, so there is room to bend down and get into the cabinet. If the sink is placed along a side wall near the door, make sure the door swings away from the sink-not into it.

Then locate the toilet, away from the door if possible. Most building codes require at least 20" clearance in front of the bowl. On each side, you'll probably need 18" to the nearest wall or 14" to the nearest cabinet (measured from the center of the bowl).

If you have space for extra storage, naturally you'll want to use it; the most important consideration in designing storage space is putting everything you need within easy reach. You'll certainly need some shelf space, but you can also make efficient use of space with wire racks, bins and drawers. If you use modular units, you'll be able to adjust your storage space later for changing needs.

DOING TRIM AND FINISH WORK

Use the following checklist to guide you through the preparation, design and construction process.

DESIGN PREPARATION

  • Review what you like and dislike about your existing bathroom, and decide what your priorities are in your remodeling project.
  • Measure your bathroom and draw a sketch to scale; if you plan to hire a professional designer, contact one.
  • Contact your building department to confirm minimum clearances and any other regulations that may apply.

DESIGN

  • Gather style ideas and make notes.
  • Determine the major fixtures you want in your new bathroom.
  • Work out a layout that meets local clearance requirements, fits your needs and makes the most efficient use of the space you have.
  • Determine colors, finish materials, lighting, storage details and accessories.
  • Draw a floorplan of your proposed bathroom. You may want to have it checked by a professional designer to get any additional ideas.

CONSTRUCTION PREPARATION

  • Get a building permit if you need one.
  • Prepare a materials list and have it priced by your supplier or suppliers.
  • Arrange your financing if necessary. Interview and select a contractor if you'll be using one.

CONSTRUCTION

  • Draw up a general outline of construction procedures, then list the materials that will be needed for each phase. Talk to your supplier(s) and find out the lead times on any special order materials.
  • Place special orders in advance so they will be available when you need them; allow enough extra time beyond the planned order time, so mistakes can be corrected without holding up the job.
  • Arrange for a building inspector to check the job whenever necessary.

TOOL AND MATERIAL CHECKLIST
Graph PaperTracing Paper
Masking TapePencils and Eraser
RulerCompass
Architect's ScaleSteel Tape Measure

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Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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