Renovate your bathroom

This particular section on bathroom renovation takes an in-depth look at the roots of dissatisfaction with your existing bathroom facilities and provides a number of ideas and solutions to common bathroom problems. Redesigning a bathroom is not something that should be undertaken lightly, not only because it is likely to lead to considerable expense, but also because once the work has been done there is little you can easily do should you be unhappy with the results.

The key to successfully redesigning the bathroom therefore lies primarily in the planning stages and in the correct assessment of your particular problems. This is the subject of this section because if you do not get the initial planning just right the finished design will just not work.

Unless all you need is some form of cosmetic renovation-simple redecoration, or perhaps fitting new tiles—you will find that there are four main categories of bathroom problems: congestion; layouts; fittings; and condensation or cold. All too often a single room combines all four, but if you consider each of the problem areas carefully, you may find that solving one may make the others far easier to deal with later on.


When too many people want to use the bathroom at the same time, this can be a major source of family friction. The best solution here is to see whether it is possible to provide extra facilities elsewhere in the house so that the whole family does not have to rely on access to a single bathroom.

Remember that a small WC and hand basin can be accommodated in a space as small as 1300mm x 800mm, so even if you are not fortunate enough to live in a large house you may be able to find room for such a project. Although a WC must always have washing facilities nearby, this need not be a problem as plenty of tiny basins are available—you can even get triangular ones designed to fit into a corner. The main restrictions concern the proximity of suitable soil and waste drainage pipes, and proper ventilation will also have to be provided.

If you find that you can instal a separate WC elsewhere in the house, and your bathroom is very small, it is worth considering removing the existing WC and making space for a shower or bidet. The only real disadvantage in not having a WC in the bathroom is that, for families with babies, this is the ideal place for changing nappies.

Pressure on single bathrooms can also be relieved by installing wash basins in one or more bedrooms. This solution is particularly effective if some members of the household exclude others from the bathroom by lengthy make-up and hair washing sessions. Wherever possible, instal new basins where they will get maximum use. Remember that inset vanity basins can quite easily be installed in a worktop or cupboard.

Alternatively, you can cut down on the time that each person spends in the bathroom by installing-and encouraging the use of-a shower. These have the added advantage of using less water than a bath, and even if space or your budget excludes the possibility of fitting a separate shower, you can easily convert your present bath by fitting new taps with an integral shower attachment. A completely separate shower room, including a hand basin, needs only 1600mm x 900mm of space, and you may find that it is worth reducing the size of a large bedroom to instal one.


Inappropriate overall design is the second area for dissatisfaction, and this can often be improved in all but the very smallest bathrooms. The two main considerations that dictate the layout are the plumbing system and the need to provide sufficient space around the various fixtures for them to be used comfortably. Otherwise, the only considerations are the positions of the windows and doors.

Use the following guidelines to help you to design a new layout.

Drainage: The first priority in drainage planning is the location of the WC as this must be close to a soil stack or drain. If you wish to move an upstairs WC it will probably be necessary to instal a new soil stack, and whereas this is perfectly possible, it can prove to be an extremely expensive option. The location of ground floor Wcs is less restricted as they are usually connected directly to a drain via an underground bend; but you should keep the unit next to the outside wall near the manhole cover as laying new drains beneath floors in the house is very disruptive.

The waste pipes for the other fittings can often be run round one or more sides ‘-‘ • ‘ – ‘’‘ of the room as they tend to be small diameter, but the ideal is always to aim for short pipe runs with as few bends as possible. All pipes connecting the wastes to a waste stack, combined soil/waste stack or drain should slope gently downwards at the right gradients.

In the UK and in Canada, work on the drainage system is covered by building regulations and you must check that your proposed plans are acceptable. This applies for inside and outside drainage; both for new systems and for work on an existing system. Ventilation: Regulations about general bathroom ventilation stipulate minimum standards—either by opening windows or by mechanical means. There are also regulations concerning the ventilation of Wcs, and if you are considering installing a new WC elsewhere in the house, it is essential that you check with your local building inspector that your proposals meet the minimum standards.

Plumbing: The positions of the various washing facilities in the bathroom are influenced to a degree by the supply pipes for hot and cold water. Long runs of hot water pipe are not only unsightly, but also waste energy, so these should be avoided if at all possible. In a low pressure plumbing system the priority for cold water pipes is to get a sufficient head of pressure by ensuring that the tank is placed high enough above the taps. This is usually only a problem in a flat or attic in which a shower is installed. There should be a minimum of 1200mm between the draw off point of the cold water tank and the shower outlet. Where this is not possible, an electric pump can be fitted to boost the pressure. Space planning: One of the major considerations in bathroom design is the space that is provided around the various fittings. If the bathroom is to be comfortable to use, you must allow sufficient area, but remember that the minimum adjacent floor areas can overlap if the bathroom is only likely to be used by one person at a time, as is often the case.

The really crucial area is around the basin where there must be at least 200mm elbow room on either side and 700mm of space in front to allow comfortable washing. Showers with walls on one or two sides need a clear floor space of 400mm next to the tray for access and dressing, while those enclosed on three sides require 700mm in front.

Make sure that you have easy access to bath taps, and a minimum space of 700mm x 1100mm next to the bath for climbing out and drying. Where children have to be supervised the more space next to the bath the better, and a stool or covered WC pan provides a useful seat for adults or for babies being dried.

If no shower is to be fitted to the bath and you do not intend standing up in it, you can position the bath below a sloping ceiling with just enough headroom to get in and sit down. 1200mm headroom above the base of the bath is usually adequate, but check the space beforehand by going through the actions.

In the same way-and as long as there are no problems with drainage-you can fit a WC into a space with restricted headroom. 2000mm headroom is needed to stand in front of the pan, but the roofline can slope down to 1200mm behind the cistern. Clear space of 600mm x 800mm should be left in front of the WC for access. A bidet requires similar space above and in front, plus 200mm knee space either side.

Windows and doors: Try to avoid placing the bath next to a window as this will make opening the window difficult and will leave bathers prone to draughts. If you find that it is not possible to avoid such an arrangement, double-glazing the window will improve conditions. However, this may improve insulation at the expense of good ventilation and care will have to be taken if condensation is to be avoided.

Where there is a choice, avoid having the door opening to give a direct view of the WC in case it is accidentally left unlocked by the occupant. When rearranging fittings, ensure that enough space is left for the door to swing open and for a person to step into the room and shut the door comfortably. If necessary doors can be rehung to open outwards but take care that they will not hit anyone passing outside if opened suddenly.

If there is a real space problem, nonstandard doors may provide the solution—610mm is an adequate width for either a bathroom or a WC. Sliding doors save space, but they are difficult to soundproof and can be awkward to use unless very carefully installed.

Fixtures and fittings

The third category of problems centres on unsatisfactory fittings, but before replacing everything in sight, make sure that the real cause of your dissatisfaction is with the design or condition of the fittings and not with the layout. Repositioning fittings is far cheaper than replacing them, so before investing in a new suite, plan your layout using the guidelines given above. However stylish a new suite, if it does not fit the available space to best advantage the bathroom will probably look better, but will certainly not work better.

Decide on the layout first as the choice of good fittings is much wider than the choice of good layouts. And when you come to choose new fittings, bear in mind that these are likely to be changed far less frequently than furniture and decorations, so take care over your choice of colour and design. Currently fashionable shapes and colours may look hopelessly outdated in 10 years time. Vast ranges of bathroom fittings are now available, varying in design, materials, colour and-inevitably-cost. The only way that you can make a good choice is by visiting a specialist bathroom showroom, or by studying the sales literature of all the major manufacturers. Take your time over your final choice, because a new suite represents a substantial investment. Also, check that the fittings of your choice satisfy local authority plumbing and drainage regulations.


A permanent solution to the problems that fall into this fourth category requires a careful analysis of existing conditions. Good ventilation and some form of permanent background heating are essential to cope with condensation caused by hot vapour-laden air meeting cold surfaces. Improved insulation and appropriate wall coverings help but are not sufficient alone.

Good ventilation will remove moisture-laden air but at the same time replace warm air with cold. A ventilation system should therefore be variable and windows should be capable of being opened wide for steamy conditions and left slightly ajar at other times. An alternative is to instal a mechanical air extraction system; as mentioned above, the regulations of many countries make this mandatory in windowless rooms.

Space heating is a good precaution against excessive condensation, but it is important to remember that walls and ceilings can be kept far below a room temperature suitable for people and still help to alleviate condensation problems. So for fuel economy it is best to have a background source to warm the structure plus a supplementary source which can be switched on when the room is in use.

Bathrooms are often neglected when general heating for the house is being considered but they should be capable of being made warmer than the rest of the house. If you have ‘wet’ central heating it is simplest to add another radiator to the existing system-either to increase the comfort conditions of your present bathroom or when installing a separate shower room. However, this has the disadvantage that in summer when the heating is switched off there is no way of warming towels. It may be better to plumb-in a radiator or heated towel rail to the hot water system if the cylinder is situated particularly near to the bathroom. Alternatively, you could fit an electrically heated oil-filled radiator which would be sufficient to heat a smaller room.

Wall-mounted electric fan heaters or tubular radiant heaters are less satisfactory as they can only warm the room effectively if they are switched on some time in advance.

Good insulation of walls and roofs is essential, and is particularly important in older houses. If the bathroom is in an attic or on an outside wall, poor insulation frequently contributes to condensation. The insulation of brick walls can be improved by fixing foil-backed plasterboard to softwood battens screwed to the wall to leave a 25mm to 50mm air space, and roofs can be insulated by fitting glass fibre insulation quilt between the rafters and covering it with foil-backed plasterboard. The foil is essential as it prevents moisture from condensing on the rafters.

Adding a cork or timber finish to the walls or ceilings also improves the insulation value. Alternatively, use polystyrene ceiling tiles for insulation, but make sure that those you choose are designed to withstand damp conditions.

Other considerations

The four categories described above are the main problem areas to be investigated when redesigning a bathroom. However, there are some further considerations to think about before any final decisions can be taken.

Careful planning of the lighting in your bathroom can make a tremendous difference to the finished effect. The most critical area is the shaving or make-up mirror which should ideally be lit so that no part of the face is in shadows. The common arrangement of a strip light above the mirror only illuminates the top half of the face-but if you find that this is the only alternative open to you, make sure that the light is at least 500mm long.

The ideal of an arrangement similar to those used in theatrical dressing rooms in which there are rows of incandescent bulbs all round the mirror is, unfortunately, unsuitable-water splashing on the bulbs could cause them to shatter. The best alternative is to have a strip light down each side. Alternatively, spotlights can be positioned so that they shine on the face, but in this case you have to ensure that the lights are not so close that they can be adjusted by anyone standing at the basin with wet hands.

Mirror lights may be sufficient to illuminate a small room, but if a supplementary source is required, ensure that it does not reflect in the mirror and cause glare. In the UK, remember that light switches should be of the pull cord type in the bathroom.

Storage: Another area in which you can improve the appearance and convenience of your bathroom is in the storage facilities. The basic rule is to store items nearest to their point of use-nothing is more irritating than having to climb out of the bath dripping wet to fetch a forgotten shampoo bottle.

Collecting a litter of accessories around the rim of the bath is no solution as this makes cleaning difficult and bottles can get knocked off too easily. For the bath the ideal solution is to provide a long narrow shelf about 100mm wide running the length of the bath and at least 500mm above it. Not all layouts can accommodate this but there is usually space for some shelving within easy reach.

Other useful storage can be made by boxing-in fixtures such as the basin. Shelving underneath is always useful, and the counter top around the basin can accommodate frequently used bottles and containers.

Medicines are traditionally kept in bathrooms but they must be kept out of reach of children. Make sure that any medicine cabinet has child-proof locks.

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