A bathroom remodel can range from something as simple as upgrading a
vanity or replacing a toilet to a complete overhaul, which includes the
relocation of plumbing and electrical lines or even enlarging the room.
Layout is a key consideration, not only because it has a major impact on
what the remodeled space will be like, but also because it affects the
overall scope and cost of the project.
There’s no better place to start than with the bathroom you already
have. Its shortcomings as well as the features you’d like to preserve
can be a guide to what you want in a new bathroom. You might be lacking
storage for linens, feel cramped when there’s more than one person at
the sink, or find there’s not enough room around the tub to towel off
comfortably after a bath. On the other hand you might want to keep the
vanity sink for storage or the tub/shower unit because you have three
young kids. Whether you work with a design professional or devise your
own room layout, a detailed scale drawing will help you spot problems
and envision design solutions.
The second step is
to make a list of your priorities. Each major fixture comes with its
own set of requirements—for plumbing and wiring as well as how much
floor space it should have. What’s at the top of your list? A whirlpool
tub big enough for two? An oversize walk-in shower? A separate
enclosure for the toilet or an enlarged vanity with two sinks? You may
not be able to get everything, so rank your wish list to help make
final decisions easier.
Planning on Paper
Drawing a new
bathroom on an existing floor plan can help you visualize new
possibilities. This existing 6-ft. by 9-ft. bathroom is in a mid-1970s
Cape Cod. It includes a fiberglass tub/shower unit, a single-sink
vanity, and a toilet.
By moving one interior wall about a foot and
shifting fixtures around, a much more pleasing bathroom is possible, as
evidenced in the after floor plan.
The window and toilet locations stay the same to help minimize
construction costs and allow other amenities: an oversized shower that
takes the place of the tub unit, a double-sink vanity, body sprays in
the shower, new lighting, and a radiant floor heating mat.
What does the plan give up? Not much. A small hall closet was eliminated
and some plumbing changes were made, but they were relatively minor and
not nearly as expensive as moving the toilet would have been.
Bathrooms are probably the most complex rooms in the house. They have a network of plumbing and electrical lines, so
typically the more extensive the changes in layout, the higher the
project’s cost will be. It may not seem like a big deal to move a toilet
a couple of feet one way or the other, but relocating waste and vent
lines is difficult and time consuming. Depending on how your house was
originally built and where the bathroom is located, it may not be
practical at all. Moving sink and shower drains is less daunting, but
the job can still be difficult. The bottom line: If spending is a major
concern, you’re better off working with an existing plumbing and wiring
Creating a Layout
Bathrooms don’t have to be any particular size or shape to be
successful. Part of the layout will hinge on how much room you have to
work with, and part will depend on the plumbing fixtures and other room
features you’ve identified as “must haves.” For example, if a large
whirlpool tub is at the top of your priority list, the rest of the
layout should be planned around this major fixture.
A key part of design is the relationship of various room features to
each other: the distance from a toilet to an adjacent wall, for example,
or the clearance between a toilet and tub. These planning guidelines
can be expressed as either minimums that meet the local building code or
as design recommendations, which are usually a bit more generous. Both
numbers are important for planning. A bathroom designed for someone with
physical limitations has its own set of guidelines.
Another consideration is whether you’re willing to move a wall to gain
more room. If there’s an adjacent closet or bedroom that doesn’t get
much use, borrowing a few feet by relocating a non-bearing wall may mean
a big payoff. In a house with a cramped second floor it may be possible
to create a larger bathroom by adding a dormer.
Finally, you’ll have to consider whether to gut the room or simply patch
the walls, floors, and ceiling. In general, you’re almost always better
off tearing out and starting new. It will give your builder a chance to
correct hidden problems and often makes the job go faster.
Basics of Good Design
Every family’s needs and every house are a little different, so
rather than simply copying a floor plan you’ve seen elsewhere and
hoping it will work in your house, make use of design fundamentals to
help you develop a floor plan that works for you.
These elements were developed by architect David Edrington, who credits A
Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander for many of the original
• Avoid layouts with more than one access door.
• Create an entrance alcove for a bathroom off a hallway to provide an added measure of privacy.
• A well-shaped bathroom is in the shape of a square or a rectangle whose length is not more than twice its width.
• Good bathrooms have a clear central area where you can wash or dry
off, with fixtures like the tub and toilet located in alcoves around the
edges of the room.
• Natural light is important. If the room can have only one window,
locate it so it illuminates what you see when you first enter the room.
• Use the “intimacy gradient” in designing a floor plan by locating the
most private parts of the bathroom farthest from the door.
Scott Gibson is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Fine Homebuilding magazine. He lives in Maine. Drawings by: Christine Erikson