Bathroom Plumbing

In bathrooms, space is always at a premium, and clever planning is the answer to making the most of every bit of available room.

You can actually gain more space in a small bathroom in several ways. One is to re-hang an inward-opening door to open outwards, or to replace it with a sliding or folding door. Another is to consider replacing existing fixtures with smaller equivalents — installing a slimline washbasin or even replacing the bath with a shower. Or you can make measurable gains by reorganising the layout of the room.

Because hot and cold pipes can be fairly unobtrusive, and waste pipes are easy to reposition, changing the location of baths and basins isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds. The fixture that you’ll find most difficult to move will be the WC as it has to be near the drainage stack. If it’s in a corner, moving it through 90 degrees to the adjacent wall is usually possible, and this may make reorganising the other features of the room easier. But otherwise you’ll probably have to leave it where it is and just juggle with everything else.

The easiest way of trying out your ideas is on a scale drawing where you can move around the features you want to include in the room. A more ambitious method is to make a simple scale model from card or balsa wood and this will give you a more accurate three-dimensional view to the room. You can then also see the best place to locate other essential items such as towel rails and storage cupboards.

Alongside each fixture, you need a certain amount of standing room. For this it’s normally recommended that you allow 1100mm by 700mm parallel to the bath, while a basin needs an area of 1000mm by 700mm in front of it. Of course, as you won’t be using all the fixtures at the same time these areas can overlap slightly.

Usually with a bathroom there’s no difficulty in getting the hot and cold water supply to the various fixtures. If the cold water comes from a storage tank you might have a problem getting adequate pressure in a shower if the tank isn’t at least 1 metre (3ft) above the shower head. In this situation the easiest, but not necessarily the cheapest, solution is to install a shower pump. Alternatively, you have to raise the tank — a job that involves extensive pipework alterations.

Getting the waste water away from these fixtures can be the biggest problem. Plumbing regulations have to be observed, so you may have to modify your ‘ideal’ bathroom plan to comply with these. For example, a basin with a 32mm (1 1/4in) waste pipe should be positioned within 1.7 metres of the main drainage stack and the waste pipe should have as shallow a fall as possible. The reason is this: there’s a risk that the water in the trap beneath would be siphoned out as the basin empties, and drain smells would be able to enter the house. If you want the basin further away, you must fit either a larger diameter waste pipe — 40mm (1 1/2in) or 50m (2in) instead of 32mm — or a deeper trap. In the UK you need Building Regulations approval if you are altering existing waste pipes or installing new ones. Your local authority Building Inspector will tell you if your proposed alterations contravene the Regulations.

As with kitchens, the illusion of extra space can be created by having built-in features such as basins, bidets and Wcs, which is now the modern trend. This gives a streamlined look to the room and enables ugly pipework to be easily concealed.

A bathroom should be well lit either by natural or artificial light, and well ventilated. Electric fan ventilation is essential in interior bathrooms; it’s a good idea in any bathroom as it will remove steam and so reduce condensation without the need to open a window. A radiator as part of a central heating system is probably the best way of providing heat. But if you install an electric fire don’t position it over the bath or in a place where you could touch the metal casing while holding a bath or basin tap at the same time. Remember that switches must be cord-operated for safety. A shower heater switch should be outside the room.

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