Planning a bathroom requires knowledge about many concepts related to people and their houses. The designer must draw on information about plumbing and electrical systems, bathroom fixtures, finishes, and the people who will be using the space.
This article presents background information about the type and location of bathrooms within the home, and gives key information about specific planning issues for various bathroom centers. Information about planning for different types of users is integrated into each section. The National Kitchen & Bath Association Bathroom Planning Guidelines and related Access Standards are presented as they relate to the bathroom centers.
Learning Objective 1:
Identify the right bath type for your client and their home.
Learning Objective 2:
Describe the various centers (grooming, bathing, toileting) and space planning considerations that combine to create the bathroom layout.
Learning Objective 3:
Describe how the Bathroom Planning Guidelines and Access Standards can be used to design bathrooms that meet building code requirements and human factors recommendations.
TYPES AND LOCATIONS OF BATHROOMS
How the bathroom will be used affects the selection of fixtures and determines the type of bathroom needed. Following are brief descriptions of the types of bathrooms found in today’s homes:
Half bathroom/powder room—includes only a lavatory and toilet. It is usually located close to a social area for guests or close to family activity areas, such as the kitchen or outdoors.
Full bathroom—includes the lavatory, toilet, and a tub and/or shower. It is usually located close to privacy areas of the home.
Compartmentalized bathroom—includes lavatory, toilet, and tub and/or shower, but one or more of these has been separated into its own compartment. This allows the bathroom to be used simultaneously by more than one person. It can be located close to social and private areas or between two bedrooms.
Bathroom suite—includes one or more lavatories, toilet, tub, shower, and various other fixtures and features such as a bidet, vanity, and dressing areas. It is located adjacent to a bedroom, such as the master or guest bedroom.
Bathroom spa—includes fixtures similar to the bathroom suite as well as one or more spa fixtures, such as a whirlpool or jetted tub, soaking tub, spa tub, sauna, or steam bath.
Location in the Home
Using the bathroom is considered a private activity in the homes of most North Americans. Whether it is bathing or toileting, we often want these activities shielded from guests and other family members. Therefore, the bathroom is most commonly located in a private part of the home, usually close or adjacent to the bedrooms, which are also considered private spaces.
Getting ready for a day of activities or a night’s sleep requires some personal grooming and preparation, and locating the bathroom close to the sleep areas is convenient for the user and the rest of the household. In older homes, one bathroom centrally located to all the bedrooms may be typical, but today we often find multiple bedroom or privacy areas, such as master suites, guest suites, and children’s areas. This suggests the need for bathrooms to be located in all of these areas.
Separating private and social areas can be handled in many different ways. In some homes, all social areas are on the first floor and all bedrooms are on the second floor. While this provides good separation of private and social activities, some difficulties may arise. A bathroom will still need to be planned on the first floor. A first floor bedroom, or room that can adapt to a bedroom, should be considered in order to provide private spaces for anyone finding stairs to be difficult or a barrier.
Another way to separate private and social areas is to locate bedrooms and bathrooms to one side of a social area. In some homes, all private spaces are together. In others there are separate primary (master suite) and secondary bedrooms, and even a third area (guest suite). All of these would have bathrooms. Plus, the home may have other bathrooms for special activity areas like pools and mudrooms.
Because guests may need to use the toilet and “freshen up,” a small bath or powder room is often planned close to social spaces. It is particularly important that this bathroom be planned with universal design in mind so it can be used by any guest. Guest bathrooms may be located close to formal and informal living areas, outdoor social areas, and the kitchen. Sometimes these bathrooms will serve two purposes and be located near, or between, social areas and privacy areas, such as secondary bedrooms or guest rooms.
Wherever the bathroom is, consider the relationship between it and the adjacent spaces. Visual and auditory privacy should be maintained. A guest bath opening directly into a social area or kitchen may present a view of the toilet, making guests feel they are announcing their private activity to everyone, and causing them to feel uncomfortable. Going through a private bedroom to get to the only bathroom is also uncomfortable for guests, as well as the bedroom occupant. Even sharing a bathroom with doors opening into two bedrooms can leave overnight guests feeling uncomfortable about their privacy.
Within the private areas of the home, a bathroom that opens off a hallway is common in older homes. The hall is usually serving several bedrooms. However, if it is the only bathroom, or is also serving as the guest bathroom, it may also be close to social areas. In homes with more than one privacy area, the hall bathroom may serve the needs of occupants in secondary bedrooms. Traditionally, the hall bathroom includes a lavatory, a toilet, and a bathtub with shower. More recently, in homes with multiple bathrooms, this space may include a shower, but no tub.
Shared or compartmentalized bathrooms are also suitable for private spaces of the home. These bathrooms are divided so more than one person can use the space and still have privacy. In one version, the lavatory and toilet are in the same room, and the tub or shower is in a separate compartment. In another configuration, the lavatory is placed in the forward area, and the tub and toilet are placed together. These designs allow one person in the household to use the lavatory and/or toilet, while another is bathing. If visitors will also use the space, the lavatory and toilet compartment might be made available as a powder room.
Another version of the shared bathroom is one located between two bedrooms and only available for the bedroom occupants. This type of bathroom might have three compartments: a lavatory and toilet room on each side, with a tub and/or shower in the middle.
All shared bathrooms provide the opportunity for more than one person to use the space at once, a real timesaver for families on a busy morning. The designer should determine the household’s privacy comfort level with this type of arrangement, and be aware that extra space will be needed for circulation paths and doorways.
It may work better to provide two small bathrooms in the same area, so that each person has their own space. If guests and family members share a compartmentalized bathroom, it is best to have only one door in order to control access.
Having a private bathroom for each bedroom is an option that offers the most privacy for occupants. Instead of one hall bathroom serving several bedrooms, each bedroom has a bathroom connected to it. In secondary bedrooms, this might be a small bathroom with a lavatory, toilet, and bathtub or shower. However, the primary or master bedroom often has a more expansive master bathroom.
When planning a master suite, consider the relationship between the location of entry to the suite or bedroom and the location of the bathroom area. Circulation and visual focal point should be considered so that these spaces flow into one another. From a task analysis perspective, clothes storage and dressing areas should be adjacent to the grooming and bathing areas of the bathroom and not separated by the bedroom. However, placing clothes storage too closely to the wet areas of the bathroom can create dampness and humidity in the area leading to mildew and mold.
Some couples prefer two separate bathrooms, so that each person has their own space. Depending on the size, the two spaces might have each of the basic fixtures. In some arrangements, a tub is in one bathroom and a shower in another. However, some have both fixtures in both bathrooms. These “his and her” bathrooms might be adjacent to separate closets and dressing areas, to provide complete grooming areas tailored to each individual. If the master bath is shared, then two lavatories in separate locations may be convenient and allow for each person to have their own space.
Many homes have a guest room that is part of the secondary bedroom area. Guests are expected to use the hall bathroom or the private bathroom adjacent to their room. Occasionally, a separate suite with many of the features of the master bedroom and bathroom may be planned to provide guests with a more luxurious experience. This arrangement can be comfortable for short‐term and long‐term guests. It can also serve as a second master suite, should a family member find that differences in nighttime and sleep patterns indicate a need for separate sleeping areas. It can also serve as a caregiver’s suite if the need arises.
Bathrooms planned specifically for children require consideration of their ages and needs. This bathroom may be located in the hall of the secondary bedroom area or connected to the child’s bedroom. A private bathroom may allow for the selection of fixtures and the design to most accurately reflect the age‐specific needs of the child. But a hall bath that will be used by others may require consideration for both the child and other users. Lower, adjustable or tilting mirrors, adjustable showerheads, and stepstools can help to make an adult-sized bath fit children. Remember that children grow quickly.
Public and Social Areas
Whenever possible, visitors to the home should be able to use the bathroom without having to invade the household’s private spaces. Therefore, a bathroom should be planned within the social area of the home. However, placing the visitor bath at the front door or in the entry hall is not a good idea, since this is a very public location and does not provide for visual or auditory privacy.
In order to effectively plan guest or visitor bathrooms, it is important to understand the type and frequency of social activities that are typical of the client. The visitor bathroom should be consistent with the plan for the social areas. Is there formal sit-down dining? Informal open spaces? Basement recreation room? Outdoor living areas?
Considering the social activities and the spaces that accommodate them will help determine the location and type of the visitor bathroom. In some homes, one bathroom might accommodate all of these activities, but in others, several visitor bathrooms might be desired in the various social areas.
Social areas are usually planned on the first floor of the home. If no private spaces are planned on this level, then the visitor bathroom may be the only one convenient to guests and household members using the first floor spaces. As indicated previously, this might be a half-bathroom or powder room, with only lavatory and toilet fixtures (see Figure 6.1). If there are bedrooms that will also use the visitor bath, then a tub or shower should be included. Its placement should be convenient to the bedroom occupants as well as visitors.
The needs of users are always critical to the decisions you will make in designing a bathroom. However, it is not always clear who the visitor in the home will be. Planning the visitor bathroom to be a universally designed space assures that most people will be able to use it.
Several communities and states are adopting visit‐ability requirements for new homes. These indicate that as a minimum, there should be a doorway into the home that is accessible, and that doors and passage ways on the first floor should be wide enough for everyone to use. In addition to a door opening that is wide enough, the first floor bathroom should have adequate floor space and grab bars or reinforcement in the walls for future installation in case they are needed .
If a focus of social or household activities is on the outdoor living areas, then ideally there should be a bathroom adjacent to them. For example, a bathroom and dressing area adjacent to a pool or hot tub would provide a convenient space for toileting, showering, and changing without dripping water throughout the house. Some households enjoy an outdoor shower to rinse off beach sand or pool chlorine. Outdoor showers might also be part of a master bath with a private garden area.
Families who use outdoor play spaces for children, or who spend time outdoors gardening, find a bathroom or mudroom close to the backyard convenient for cleaning up before going into the house, or for using while outside. If outdoor kitchens and dining are part of the way the household entertains, then a bathroom close to this area provides a convenience to guests.
While we have identified numerous types of bathrooms and multiple locations where they can be placed in the home, every house does not need nor are they expected to have all of the variety of options available. Bathrooms require a great deal of water and substantial amounts of energy may be needed to heat the water and operate some of the luxury features that can be incorporated into these spaces. Just the size and use of materials in some large bathrooms diminish efforts to offer sustainable solutions to the built environment. While we as designers would love to create more and more bathrooms, consider reducing the size of a bathroom, maintaining the size of an existing small bathroom, specifying water efficient fixtures, and selecting materials that leave a light footprint on the environment, including repurposing items if possible.
THE CENTER CONCEPT
There are many different ways to approach designing bathrooms. A center is an area where a particular task or function occurs. The user, space, fixtures, and other components are all analyzed in order to design a center for a particular task. The basic tasks and corresponding centers in the bathroom are grooming, bathing/showering and toileting.
Each bathroom center is described here separately, the tasks and activities are identified, and requirements associated with completing tasks safely and conveniently are detailed, followed by design recommendations. The Bathroom Planning Guidelines, important to the safe and comfortable use of the center, and some related Access Standards are discussed.
Universal design concepts and ideas are presented and integrated throughout this article to encourage you to think about various user needs while planning the space. Thinking broadly about clients’ needs, now and in the future, can help you develop a thoughtful design that anticipates changes that will occur over their lifespan.
NKBA Guidelines and Access Standards
The National Kitchen & Bath Association has been providing information on the design of bathrooms since Ellen Cheever’s book The Basics of Bathroom Design…and Beyond was published in 1989. The Bathroom Planning Guidelines, which first appeared in 1992, have always had a strong focus on safety and building code requirements.
The 2003 update of the Guidelines incorporated a review of housing trends and an analysis of the International Residential Code (IRC). Space recommendations are based on documented ergonomic considerations, and code requirements are highlighted.
The IRC has been adopted by many states and localities, but designers should check the local building codes to make sure they are in compliance. The Bathroom Planning Guidelines are intended to serve as a reference tool for practicing designers and an evaluation tool for bathroom designs. Designers taking the Associate Kitchen and Bath Designer (AKBD) academic exam will be expected to know the Guidelines and designers taking the Certified Bathroom Design exam will be expected to apply the Guidelines to the designs they create for the exam.
NKBA has led the kitchen and bath industry in promoting universal design. Its 1996 Bathroom Planning Guidelines included recommendations that would make the bathroom universal and accessible, many based on ANSI 117.1 guidelines. Many of the universal design points included in the 1996 Guidelines continue to be incorporated in the current Guidelines.
Because the International Building Code (IBC) references it, the 2009 Accessible and Useable Buildings and Facilities (ICC/ANSI 117.1) has been used as the basis for the Access Standards. As stated previously, designers should check local jurisdiction to ensure compliance.
An NKBA Access Standard follows each NKBA Bathroom Planning Guideline when appropriate. While these Access Standards and the ICC/ANSI 117.1 standards on which they are based provide a great starting point, designers should closely examine the needs of each individual client to assure that the bathroom is truly useable, not just meeting minimum requirements.
GENERAL BATHROOM DESIGN
As you examine the space of an existing bathroom or the plans for a new one, there are several general things that should be assessed. Not only are the dimensions of the space important, but the form of the space needs to be considered. How will the space join to adjacent rooms or areas? Are there other openings, such as windows? Is the space a basic rectangle shape or are there curves or angles? How will the user(s) move about the space?
The Bathroom Planning Guidelines includes several recommendations that deal with the general layout and design of the bathroom. These include the entry, ceiling height, and circulation spaces within the bathroom.
One of the first decisions for the design is how to get into the bathroom. Door placement can make a real difference in the available space and in the circulation and sight lines to adjacent rooms. If a major remodeling or new construction is taking place, look carefully at the entry and examine all possibilities for its location. In more modest remodeling projects, there may not be space or budget to allow for a change in door location.
It is recommended that the entry to the bathroom have a 32‐inch (813 mm) clear opening between the door jambs. This can be accomplished by specifying at least a 2 foot, 10 inch (864 mm) door. While this is larger than what has been typical in the past, consumers are requesting this enhancement.
Not only will it make the bathroom more spacious, it will accommodate larger people, some people with assistive devices, and a large tub or shower installation. If a doorframe of a remodeled bathroom cannot be modified, NKBA allows a door as small as 2 feet, 0 inches (610 mm), but it will be difficult for many people to use and will not meet basic visit‐ability or access standards. It will allow you to get a 21‐inch (533 mm) deep vanity into the room, but not larger cabinetry or fixtures.
In many cases, a 3 foot, 0 inch (914 mm) door is preferred as it provides 34 inches (864 mm) of clear opening for even greater clearance. When the clear space of a door is less than desired, a swing‐clear hinge may be used to gain clear passage by moving the door out of the opening. For a person using a wheelchair or mobility aid, a minimum of 18 inches (457 mm) on the pull side of the door is recommended to allow room for the person to maneuver around the swing of the door.
The IRC requires that entry doors and other cabinet doors not interfere with activity centers and circulation in the bathroom. A poorly placed door could interfere with getting into the bathroom or shower to help someone who has fallen. An improperly placed door stop or door knob could interfere with a passage for a person with a vision or mobility impairment.
Traditionally, an interior door swings into the room it is serving, but in some cases it is recommended that the door swing out of the bathroom.
The benefit of this configuration is that someone could more easily enter the bathroom in the event a bather has fallen against the door and is injured. This would be a good safety measure, and it could create more useable room in the bathroom. Of course, the designer must look at the configuration of the adjacent space. Opening a bathroom door into a hallway could be a danger to a person walking down the hall.
Other options might include single or double pocket doors. Although attractive, these are typically higher in cost than a standard door and more challenging to install because they may interfere with the housing of plumbing. A sliding barn‐style door may also be an option. In this installation track hardware is placed on the wall above the entry, and a door is hung on the track, allowing it to slide across the opening.
In private bathrooms, you may consider café doors, which are two doors hinged to the opposite door frames, meeting in the middle, thus reducing the amount of room needed for door clearances. The doors swing in both directions and close automatically once a person has passed beyond the door swing. Others may not need or want a door at all. A single user and certain family members may not feel the need for a full door to assure privacy.
Another factor to examine in planning a bathroom is the ceiling height. Most homes will have a ceiling height of at least 8 feet or 96 inches (2438 mm), which is adequate for most people. But occasionally, a bathroom may be planned into a space with a lower or sloped ceiling, for example, a half‐bath under the hall stairs, or a bathroom that is part of a finished attic or bonus room.
In these situations, building codes require that there be at least 80 inches (2032 mm) from floor to ceiling over the bath fixture, to allow for use and standing room. A floor‐to‐ceiling height of at least 80 inches is also required in a shower or a tub with a showerhead.
Many homes today have ceilings that are 9 feet (2743 mm), 10 feet (3048 mm), or 12 feet (3657 mm) high. These high ceilings can create wonderful spaces, but the designer should carefully consider the proportions of the bathroom space. Dropped ceilings, soffits, and moldings can help bring the volume into proportion.
As you look at the options for placement of bathroom fixtures, you will use the information in the sections about the centers. In larger baths, maneuvering space is easier to attain, but careful planning is needed to arrange the fixtures so that they are convenient to use.
In very small bathrooms, the user can reach all fixtures with just a few steps, but clear space for maneuvering may be scarce. The designer has to weigh the needs of the client and the job parameters to reach the best solution.
Bathroom Planning Guideline 4 recommends that at least 30 inches (762 mm) of clear space is planned in front of each bathroom fixture. However, if more than one person will be using the bathroom at the same time, consider providing 48 inches (1219 mm) of clear space which allows for the minimum 30‐inch (762 mm) clearance needed for one person to walk behind a person using the fixture (18 inches, or 457 mm) .
If a person will be using a mobility aid, such as a wheelchair, plan a larger space for turning and maneuvering. A 60‐inch (1524 mm) turning circle should be included somewhere in the bathroom. If this turning circle is not possible, a 36 inch by 60 inch by 36 inch (914 mm by 1524 mm by 914 mm) T‐turn is a possible solution.
The grooming center should not be thought of as just the bathroom lavatory, the fixture with running water and a drainpipe, or the vanity, which is the cabinet that holds the lavatory. While a water source and basin are critical components, many activities occur in this center and it should be designed to accommodate as many client desires as the space and budget permit. The following are some of the key activities to consider when planning the grooming center.
Washing hands after toileting is an important health measure and using soap is critical to assure that as many germs and bacteria are killed as possible. To effectively wash their hands, the user should be able to place their hands under the water spray while standing or sitting.
Face washing is another important activity that occurs in this center. Usually people bend at the waist in order to place their face close to the water surface, especially if they wash by splashing water on their face. Other people may use a washcloth or cleansing pad and they may remain upright, wetting the cloth and bringing it to their face.
Brushing teeth is another key activity, and people usually bend at the waist to rinse into the sink. They also stand upright and examine their teeth in the mirror. Other activities might be using mouthwash, flossing, and caring for dentures, braces, or other orthodontic devices. A water source is needed for cleansing brushes and a cup is needed for rinsing, as well as a power source for related appliances.
Facial care and make‐up applications are very important in the grooming routine. The number of products and the steps involved in cleansing and conditioning the skin, and in applying face, eye, and lip make‐up, are staggering.
This activity may require the user to be in the grooming center for some time. Although a water source may be needed, some facial care can and does occur at a seated vanity with water close by. A place to store and access products, good lighting, storage and power for any related appliances, and an appropriately placed mirror are important to successfully completing this task.
Facial shaving is a similar task. It may be completed with an electric razor (requiring an electric receptacle for use or when charging), or with a blade razor (requiring creams and a water source). As with other facial care, proper location of the mirror and good lighting will be important.
Hair care may be as simple as combing or brushing hair in front of the mirror. More often, hair styling is done, using gels, mousse, crèmes, and sprays. Several electric appliances may be used to accomplish styling as well: blow dryers, curling irons, electric curlers, crimpers, and straighteners.
Usually this activity will require an appropriately placed mirror, storage for the appliances, and electrical receptacles that can accommodate the requested appliances.
Some people store and use medicines and first aid supplies in the bathroom. If medicines are taken first thing in the morning or last thing at night, this may be a good place for this activity.
Because some medications require refrigeration or must be taken with food, people also take and store medicines in the kitchen.
Some clients might be interested in having a small under‐counter refrigerator in the bathroom, perhaps part of a small “morning” kitchen, to avoid a trip to the kitchen. Some medicines should not be stored in the moist and humid environment of the bathroom.
First aid supplies might be stored in several places in the house, close to where they are needed, such as in the kitchen, hobby area, or a first‐floor bathroom. Storage for these supplies is needed, as well as a sanitary way to dispose of them. The medicine cabinet is often used to store these items, although other storage may be more appropriate. Additional items needed for taking medicine might be good lighting, and a cup or glass.
Nail care may be performed in the bathroom. Foot baths and massages might be undertaken. Manicures and pedicures require storage for supplies, good lighting, and ventilation, and a seat with a counter area.
Design Recommendations for Grooming Center
Considering all the possible activities, important planning considerations at the grooming center include clearance in front of and beside the lavatory; the height of the lavatory; amount and placement of storage; and mirror and towel placement.
To plan the grooming center effectively, it is important to review the anthropometric measurements of the user. In the past, the dimensions of standard fixtures and cabinets have often determined this space, but as a designer working with individual clients, you should plan for the needs of the users.
The amount of space the human body requires to use the lavatory includes room to stand or sit in front of it. Anthropometric data indicates that about 18 inches (457 mm) of floor space is required to stand and face the lavatory. It is also important to be able to bend at a comfortable angle when washing the hands or face which requires 20 inches (508 mm) . Consideration of space needs for a person who is seated is also important. The space needed for a seated user at a vanity will depend on the chair and person.
While 18 inches (457 mm) may allow some people to stand, it does not account for the movement of the standing user that might take place at the lavatory. NKBA Bathroom Planning Guidelines recommend 30 inches (762 mm) of clearance in front of the lavatory for a more comfortable space. This would even allow a person to place a seat at the lavatory. Building codes will permit 21 inches (533 mm) of floor clearance in front of the lavatory, but this will be very tight.
However, 30 inches (762 mm) does not provide adequate clearance for two people to use the space and move around each other, since the average shoulder width is 24 inches (610 mm). A floor space in front of the lavatory of 48 inches (1219 mm) will accommodate two users comfortably. A minimum 30 inch by 48 inch (762 mm by 1219 mm) space should be allowed in front of the lavatory for a user with an assistive device. Pedestal lavatories, wall‐hung lavatories, and console lavatories can increase the clear floor space in front of, and under, the lavatory.
Body size affects how much room a person needs on either side of the lavatory. To complete typical grooming activities, a person needs to be able to raise hands and elbows. The recommended distance from the center of the lavatory to a wall or tall obstruction is 20 inches (508 mm). This provides about 6 inches (152 mm) of clear counter space from the edge of the average lavatory to the wall or obstruction, but even this may not be adequate. Consider the breadth of the user and items placed on the counter to determine if more counter area is needed.
If a wall‐hung or pedestal lavatory is specified, allow at least 4 inches (102 mm) between the edge of the lavatory to the wall to be in compliance with the IRC building codes. The minimum distance allowed by the IRC building code referenced in the NKBA Planning Guidelines is 15 inches (381 mm) from centerline of the lavatory to the wall, providing only about 2 inches (51 mm) from the edge of the average lavatory to the wall or obstruction. If planning for an accessible clear floor space of 30 inches by 48 (762 mm by 1219 mm) inches in front of the lavatory, the center of the lavatory should be 24 inches (610 mm) from the wall.
If two lavatories are being planned beside each other, 36 inches (914 mm) between the centerlines of the lavatories is recommended. The code requirement for the centerline distance is 30 inches (762 mm). The IRC requires a 4‐inch (102 mm) clearance between the edges of two freestanding or wall‐hung lavatories. These clearances also meet the Access Standards, but more generous spacing may be needed by many users.
Work surfaces in the bath, like those in the kitchen, should be about 3 inches (76 mm) below the users’ elbow height. Subtracting 3 inches (76 mm) from the average female’s elbow would place the comfortable height at 36 inches (914 mm).
For men it is 37 inches (940 mm) to 43 inches (1092 mm); for women, 32 inches (813 mm) to 36 inches (914 mm); and for children, 26 inches (660 mm) to 32 inches (813 mm). When a knee space is planned for a seated user at a vanity, the height of the front of the vanity may range from 28 inches (711 mm) to 34 inches (864 mm).
The recommended range of lavatory heights in the Bathroom Planning Guidelines reflects adult users and is 32 inches (813 mm) to 43 inches (1092 mm). Remember to plan the lavatory height so that the rim is about 3 inches (76 mm) below the elbow of the user.
If two users will use the same lavatory, a compromise will have to be made and discussions with the client will help determine which height is most comfortable. Two lavatories of different heights may be the best solution.
There are many styles of lavatories, and the selection will impact how lavatory height is planned. Wall‐mounted lavatories and those placed on wall‐mounted counters offer flexibility in the height of the fixture.
Pedestal lavatories are available in a range of heights. In order to reach a height that is appropriate for an individual user the pedestal may need to be placed on a platform. Finish the platform at the baseboard height, and in the same material as the floor, so that it blends.
Several styles of lavatories can be placed in a counter: integral, self‐rimming, under‐mounted and rimmed. The height of these lavatories will depend on the height of the specified cabinet or counter. A vessel lavatory can be set on or cut into the counter. In all of these applications, it is important to estimate the actual height of the lavatory rim. A vessel lavatory will sit several inches above the counter, so add the height of the lavatory to the cabinet and counter heights, to get the finished height and make sure it meets the requirements of the client.
Because some vanity bases are low (30 inches to 32 inches; 762 mm to 813 mm), a cabinet or console may need to be adjusted to place the lavatory at an appropriate height. A 34 1/2‐inch (876 mm) high cabinet with 1 1/2‐inch (38 mm) countertop could be the appropriate height and bathroom cabinetry is available at this height. A standard kitchen cabinet is 34 1/2 inches (876 mm) high, but they also have a depth of 24‐inch (610 mm), which may be out of proportion to a specified lavatory, since many lavatories have been designed to fit in the typical 21‐inch (533 mm) deep vanity cabinet. The 21‐inch (533 mm) deep cabinet also places the user closer to the mirror, allowing for closer examination of the face.
To get the cabinet at an appropriate height, specify a higher cabinet, or raise a standard cabinet by placing it on a deeper toe kick or mounting it on the wall and not using a toe kick. If the toe kick is raised, consider raising the baseboard dimension throughout the room for a clean line at the room base.
If the cabinet is raised, it creates a “floating” effect, which can be enhanced by decorative lighting. Plus, it improves access by increasing clear floor space. The same flooring material used throughout the bathroom should be used beneath the cabinet.
A seated vanity can be a comfortable area for applying make‐up and finishing accessorizing an outfit. Placing this feature in the bathroom allows for a nearby water source and therefore is part of the grooming center. However, this feature could be placed in the bedroom or dressing room.
However, a 36-inch (914 mm) wide knee space is recommended for a person using a wheelchair, since the opening can then be used as part of a T-turn. The exact knee space height for a specific client will be determined by the height of the client’s knees, and for a person in a wheelchair, the height of the wheelchair arms. Bathroom Access Standard 7 states that the front of the lavatory should be no more than 34 inches (864 mm). When creating a knee space, support for the suspended counter should be planned.
In order to remove sharp edges in the grooming center, counter edges should be rounded or clipped if the counter projects into the room. This Bathroom Planning Guideline is a universal design recommendation that will help prevent injury if a person bumps into the edge or falls against it.
The type and placement of the faucet used with a particular lavatory design are important, and they should be looked at together. First, select lavatory faucets that are water efficient, rated for above average water efficiency by the EPA WaterSense program, and contribute to sustainable housing.
Also, the design of the faucet should have a water spray that stays in the lavatory and does not spray the user, the counter, or the floor.
Water will be less likely to splash out of a larger bowl. The faucet should be high enough for users to get their hands beneath the spray. The length of the faucet spout should be proportional to the size of the lavatory, to avoid overspray.
Center-set, widespread, mini-widespread, and single-hole faucets require different specifications for the placement of holes on the lavatory or counter. A deck-mounting of the faucet may require a deeper counter and a longer neck on the spout.
Wall‐mounted faucets require a more difficult installation, since they are plumbed through the wall. The designer will need to identify the height and location of these types of faucets. The spacing of the controls should be planned with consideration for the user’s handedness. Consider the height of the faucet controls in a wall‐mounted installation. Small children or persons in a seated position may have difficulty reaching the controls, since they must reach over the counter, thus reducing the height of their reach range.
Whenever the faucet controls are placed on the counter or wall, there may be excess water around the lavatory due to users turning off the controls with wet hands. The designer should assure that the counter material is not susceptible to standing water and work with clients on behaviors that could minimize any problems that the control placement creates.
Lever handles or controls that are easy to twist and maneuver are recommended. However, any design of the handles other than smooth round knobs will improve function, as will single controls.
With all of the activities taking place at the grooming center, many items will need to be stored there. Many items will be used daily, while others will only be needed occasionally. Either way, plan according to the following storage principles:
Store items at the first or last place of use. Soap should be beside the lavatory.
Items used together should be stored or grouped together. An example is that all make‐up should be stored in one place.
Stored items should be easy to locate at a glance. Place items so labels are easy to read.
Frequently used items should be within easy reach. Keep the toothbrush convenient to the lavatory.
Store items in duplicate locations if needed. Towels will be needed at the lavatory, shower, and bidet.
Store hazardous items out of the reach of children or others who might be harmed by them. Medicines and cleaning supplies should be put in high locations or behind locked cabinets.
Store items in the appropriate environment. Some medicines should be stored away from light, heat, and/or humidity.
Use information gathered by completing Form 4: Bathroom Storage Inventory with your client to determine the amount and type of storage needed in the bathroom design. Several storage options are available including stock and custom cabinetry, medicine cabinets, and furniture pieces.
Consider if storage should be open or closed. Closed storage hides clutter, provides privacy, and protects items from dust. But open storage is easier to see, reach, and remember. It can help people with cognitive impairments to see the item they need. Generous and appropriate lighting improves access to storage, particularly for the aging eye.
Storage should be flexible (adjustable shelves) and efficient (maximize the space). When spaces are too deep, items just get lost in the back. Also consider that the most comfortable reach range while standing is 26 inches (660 mm) to 59 inches (1499 mm) above the finished floor, and that the average maximum reach height for women is 69 inches (1753 mm).
Storage placed between 15 inches (381 mm) and 48 inches (1219 mm) above the floor is most accessible and within the universal reach range. D‐pulls on cabinetry are better for a person with limited use of their hands, wrists, or fingers than other types of cabinet door hardware.
When planning storage, you may want to specify cabinets in different areas of the bathroom. In order to plan this storage, it is important to understand what types of cabinets are available and how to plan the layout of the cabinets using nomenclature that will call out the selected cabinets. Many cabinet companies carry cabinetry that is particularly suited for the bathroom. These are available in both framed and frameless construction. Framed cabinets have a face frame at the opening of the cabinet box, offered in various door styles and configurations. Frameless cabinets, sometimes referred to as European cabinets, are constructed of panels and do not need a face frame. They are also offered in a variety of styles with full overlay doors.
Often framed cabinets use Imperial measurements and are specified using inches, with stock cabinets usually available in 3 inch increments in width. Bathroom cabinets vary in depth from 16 to 24 inches, with 21 inches being most common. The heights vary, typically from 28 1/2 inches to 34 1/2 inches high for a finished height of 30 inches to 36 inches, once the countertop is added. Cabinets are specified using a code of letters and numbers the manufacturer has determined represent their cabinet selections. Although the labeling is unique to each manufacturer, NKBA has provided generic nomenclature to help designers and design students plan bathrooms using the basic size and dimensions of cabinetry. Bathroom cabinetry is specified with the first letter V—for vanity. Other letters used with the V include B for base, W for wall, S for sink, D for drawer, and LC for linen closet, among others. The first one to two numbers reflect the width of the cabinet, the second two numbers reflect the depth, and the third indicates the height. For example a VSB362134 would be a vanity sink base 36 inches wide, 21 inches deep, and 34 inches high.
Frameless cabinetry is typically built on the metric system and is frequently specified in centimeters, which can result in variations in size from framed cabinets.
Other plumbing and cabinet companies sell cabinetry that is a combination of lavatory and cabinet. These furniture‐like pieces come in a variety of styles from contemporary to traditional designs and are in depths, widths, and heights similar to cabinetry. Furniture pieces can also be used for storage in the bathroom.
The medicine cabinet is the old standby for storage at the grooming center. Its shallow depth makes it suitable for many small grooming items. There are many sizes and styles available, and this type of storage can be useful. Medicine cabinets can be recessed into the wall, partially recessed, or surface‐mounted. They can be placed centered over the lavatory, to the side, or on the returning wall, making contents easier to reach.
If the medicine cabinet is to be recessed, it is important to locate the studs as well as the plumbing, and place the cabinet within the framing. This decision must be made before construction begins.
A surface‐mounted medicine cabinet can be placed anywhere, but may need to be secured into the studs to assure the weight does not pull it off the wall. The medicine cabinet can be moved to the side of the lavatory, which puts it within the reach of more users. Other items such as a large mirror, window, or decorative design can be placed above the lavatory.
Today medicine cabinets are available with features that can enhance the grooming experience by providing integrated televisions into the mirror and electrical and auxiliary outlets for grooming appliances, music, and other entertainment features. The placement of these cabinets should be at a height that is convenient for the height of the user’s upper body and reach range.
The mirror is an important feature of the grooming center. Several of the center’s activities— applying make‐up, hair care, and shaving—require users to view themselves in a mirror. This typically means a mirror is placed above the lavatory, but placing the mirror adjacent to the lavatory, in a vanity space, may also be convenient.
It is recommended that mirrors be placed with consideration for the users’ eye height and line of sight .
Having the bottom edge of the mirror extend to the top of the counter allows for shorter people, seated people, and children to more easily see themselves. Access Standards state the bottom of the mirror should be a maximum 40 inches (1016 mm) above the finished floor. Don’t forget to extend the height of the mirror so that it fits the taller user, as well.
Separate mirrors placed at each user’s height can provide a custom fit, and an adjustable height or tilting mirror might also provide a solution. A full‐length mirror in the bathroom is a universal design solution that can serve the needs of people of all heights, including children, and provide a final check after dressing.
To minimize glare, lighting should be selected and placed on either side of the mirror in a position that shields the light source from the naked eye.
Towels need to be planned throughout the bathroom so that they are convenient to the user when needed. At the grooming area, washcloths and hand towels are needed for face washing and hand drying. Guest towels might be stored and displayed in some powder rooms or guest baths.
Placement of all towels should be within the universal reach range of 15 inches (381 mm) to 48 inches (1219 mm) above the floor. Towel bars and towel rings are typical devices for storage and should be placed close to the lavatory so that water does not drip on the floor. Figure 6.30 illustrates sizes of hanging and folded towels that might be used in the bathroom.
While the basic activity of the bathing/showering center is cleansing the body, there is a wide range of associated activities that take place in this area. The bathtub, shower, and tub/shower combination are the main fixtures, all of which have their own related planning considerations.
Getting in and out of bathtubs is a serious safety issue, since falls can happen during transfer. Turning water on and off, and adjusting water temperature, are also key activities in bathing and showering. In addition to water and the fixture, soap and other cleansing products, washcloths, and sponges are used in cleansing.
Washing hair also occurs in the bathtub or shower. A faucet spray, shampoos, conditioners, and a variety of other products will be needed for this activity.
Shaving the face and legs might also take place in the tub or shower. A mirror may be needed to see the face, and a bench or ledge might make shaving legs safer and more convenient.
The bathtub is also a place for relaxing, and is often therapeutic. Many people find that soaking in a warm bath can calm them and reduce stress. Tubs especially designed for relaxing might be deeper and jetted.
Bubble baths, aromatic oils, bath salts, and fragrant additives can enhance the effect of the warm water. Special sponges and loofahs help exfoliate the skin, and pulsating hand sprays can enhance the spa experience. Candles, soft lighting, a lit fireplace, and music also add to the experience.
Showering can also provide a sensual experience that goes beyond body cleansing. Pulsating showerheads and body sprays offer a variety of massaging actions that help to relax stiff muscles. Multiple showerheads from above, and jets from the side, can invigorate the body all over. Rain showerheads and waterfall heads may be more relaxing, offering a wide but gentle water flow from above. While these shower designs are luxurious, they also can use large amounts of water and the longer the user stays in the shower, the more water is used. Low‐flow shower-heads are available and should be considered.
The amount of moisture created by bathing and showering will require specialized ventilation to remove some of the moisture and heat from the bathroom.
Clothing will be removed before bathing and showering, and replaced with more clothes or a robe. The designer should think about how dirty clothes will be handled in the bathroom, and how clean clothes or robes will be stored. Hampers, laundry chutes, and laundry rooms can help tackle the dirty clothes issue. Hooks, closets, and a nearby dressing center could make fresh clothes more accessible.
Design Recommendations for Bathing
Bathtubs come in several installation styles and sizes. A recessed tub style, sometimes called an alcove‐style tub, is designed to fit into a space with walls on three sides so it is only finished on one side. A platform can be built up from the floor to hold a drop‐in tub or the tub can be under‐mounted beneath a cutout in the top of the platform. A corner tub is finished on three sides with two sides fitting against two walls. Tubs can also be freestanding and finished on all sides. This might be a traditional design, like the claw‐foot tub, or a contemporary design.
The size of a traditional standard tub or tub/shower combination is 32 inches by 60 inches (813 mm by 1524 mm). This size will fit in most full bathrooms. However, it does not necessarily meet the needs of the user, so it is important to discuss tub size with the person(s) who will be bathing.
A tub bath may be taken by simply sitting in the tub. Knees might be outstretched or bent at an angle, but the back is generally perpendicular to the bottom of the tub. Leaning back and relaxing in the tub requires an angled contour to support the user’s back. The appropriate length of the tub should be determined by the leg length of the user. A short woman might slide under the water if her feet do not reach the end of the tub. A tall woman may never be able to lean back and relax without her bent knees raised out of the water.
Longer and shorter tubs are available, and tubs come in different depths that might make the bath more comfortable. Smaller square tubs might also be appropriate for shorter people. Tubs also come in various widths and depths that can accommodate people of different sizes. If there are multiple users at different times, a compromise in tub size will be needed.
Two people may want to use the tub at the same time. Longer and wider tubs are available for this purpose. Sitting side‐by‐side requires a 42‐inch (1067 mm) wide tub. Sitting opposite requires a 36‐inch (914 mm) wide tub. Often these tubs will be jetted tubs and used sporadically. Soaking tubs which are often deeper may not be jetted.
Because of its size, the tub is often a dominant feature in the bathroom and is placed as a focal point. It may be viewed from the entry or placed in the center of the room.
The IRC building codes used as a reference for NKBA Planning Guidelines also require that a tub with a showerhead fixture should be at least 80 inches (2032 mm) tall.
Wherever the tub is placed, it is recommended that at least a 30‐inch (762 mm) clear space be planned along the side of it. If dressing occurs in front of the tub, more space is needed. A 42‐inch (1067 mm) to 48 inch (1219 mm) dressing circle will allow room to dry off and put on undergarments.
The IRC building codes allow a minimum of 21 inches (533 mm) in front of the tub, but this will be tight for many users. If a parent is helping bathe children, or a caregiver is assisting someone with a bath, extra floor space will be needed to accommodate them as well as the user.
If the bather will be transferring to the tub from a mobility aid or wheelchair, then 30 inches (762 mm) would be a minimum requirement, with more space preferred. When planning for a freestanding tub, consider which side(s) of the tub will be used for entering, exiting, and passage, and allow the proper clearances.
Getting in and out of the tub can be dangerous, but there are many things the designer can do to reduce the risks of falls. The typical method of entry is to stand on one foot and step over the side of the tub, which challenges anyone’s balance. The danger is increased by wet and slippery surfaces, increased tub depth, and a tub bottom that is often not flat.
The ideal way to enter a tub is to sit on the edge, raise one leg at a time over the rim, and then ease into the water. Unfortunately, most standard tubs do not have an edge wide enough for most people to sit on.
With a standard tub, placing a seat at the head end provides a transfer seat. While 15 inches (381 mm) is the minimum recommended depth for a seat, even less depth can benefit some users. Attention must be given to the user’s size and weight, so that the seat will support the intended use.
If a platform tub is placed on a frame, a seating edge can be designed. Some accessible tubs have doors that swing open to allow the user to step in before the tub is filled. Tubs with sides that drop down are placed on a platform making the bottom of the tub at seat height, resulting in a comfortable transfer into the tub.
When a platform deck cannot incorporate a seat, there are a variety of tubs that include integral or fold‐away seats.
While no floor is completely slip‐resistant, especially when wet, to help prevent falls, use slip‐resistant surfaces on the tub floor, as well as the bathroom floor. Many tubs come with a slightly rough surface that helps the user grip the bottom of the tub.
Tubs are most safely used if their floor is level with the bathroom floor, and the deck or top of the tub is approximately seat height (approximately 18 inches [457 mm]). Even one step into the tub creates a situation that can challenge balance and, therefore, is not recommended.
A tub placed directly into the floor is even worse since it creates a situation where the user will step down from the floor level to the tub level. Or the person will need to sit on the floor to get into the tub, which is difficult for many. The sunken tub may also create a hazard if one were to trip and fall into it.
A tub placed on a high platform can require several steps to get up to, creating the same problem as the sunken tub. When users reach the top of the steps, they have to step down onto the bottom of the tub, more than 15 inches (381 mm) below them.
Even though it is clear that steps can cause a hazard, a client may insist on them. If you have to compromise, try to design a step that is strictly decorative and not actually used for tub entry. Use only one step designed in compliance with local building codes, or at least 10 inches (254 mm) deep and 7‐1/4 inches (184 mm) high. A grab bar or handrail must be included for safety.
Plumbing equipment must be accessible for repairs. Whirlpool tubs and other equipment have motors and controls that need to be considered in the design of the bathroom space. Always follow manufacturers’ specifications for installation. This equipment will need to be examined for maintenance and service, so it is important to plan for access. Removable panels should be easy to reach, and the equipment should be accessible for the installer and repair person.
A whirlpool tub is usually a drop‐in style tub built into a platform. The electrical equipment is usually installed within the platform, so it is important to plan clearance for access to the equipment by incorporating a removable panel into the platform design. Building codes require this access and also require that information on any equipment be left with the homeowner.
Tubs that will be used for relaxing are sometimes placed next to a window that offers an interesting and calming view. (Caution: Looking into the neighbor’s breakfast room may not be relaxing to the user or the neighbor.) A privacy garden adjacent to the tub area could create a relaxing atmosphere. If the window is placed so that privacy and view are compromised, a window treatment, a window of glass block, or a diffuser in the window, can be used to provide light without visual access. Building codes require that a window next to the tub (bottom edge less than 60 inches [1524 mm] off the finished floor) be made of tempered glass.
Bathtubs that are combined with a shower often have a glass door or enclosure to control the water. This glass should also be tempered to comply with building codes.
Faucet controls should be accessible to the user before entering the tub. In an enclosed tub or tub/ shower combination, the controls may be placed on the wall below 33 inches (838 mm) above the finished floor.
Placing controls within 6 inches (152 mm) of the front wall makes them more accessible. For a freestanding tub, or one placed in a platform, controls should be on the front side. The user should not have to lean across the tub to turn on the water and check temperature. Place the faucet and controls so they do not conflict with the transfer area.
Besides faucet placement, the type and design should be considered. A faucet with a hand spray and 60‐inch (1524 mm) hose allows a caregiver to assist with bathing and is recommended for a universally designed space. Controls should be easy to grasp and manipulate. Any design other than smooth round knobs improves function. A single control is easier to use than separate hot and cold controls. If a tub/shower combination is planned, the shower controls must be pressure balanced, have thermostatic mixing, or be a combination of both.
Grab bars placed in the tub will give users something to hold onto as they enter and exit, thus alleviating some balance problems. NKBA recommends grab bars at the tub and shower to assist with this transfer. There are many decorative and attractive grab bars available to match other trim and accessories in the bathroom. It is critical that they be installed so they support at least 250 pounds (113 kg). Some clients may need more support.
The wall behind the tub and shower should be reinforced to support the grab bar. The placement of the bar should be planned where it best fits the user.
Besides bars placed at the back and ends of the tub, a vertical bar at the control end wall is also helpful. See NKBA Bathroom Planning Guideline and Access Standard 14 for more details on placement. Standard towel bars and soap dishes will not support someone in a fall and can be dangerous, since they protrude. Recessing soap dishes in the wall places them out of the bather’s reach, while using attractive grab bars instead of towel bars will provide the stability needed if grabbed to prevent a fall.
Storage is needed at the tub for the activities occurring there. Within the tub area, hair care products and shaving supplies may be needed regularly, and a shelf recessed within the wall to hold them would be a good option.
Storage should be provided for occasionally used items that help with a relaxing bath. Bath salts and oils, candles, loofahs, and exfoliating sponges may be stored at the tub, on a shelf, or in a cabinet. Items used regularly in the tub (sponges, tub toys) should be placed where they can dry out, to avoid a mold problem.
Towels and washcloths should be stored close by the tub, and towel bars should be reachable from inside the tub. Hanging bath towels require a 22-inch (559 mm) to 24-inch (610 mm) high space on the wall, while bath sheets require a 36-inch (914 mm) high space. Towel bars, towel rings, and hooks are all possible solutions in this area. Towel warmers or a warming drawer can be planned for a special drying experience.
Grab bars can be used in place of towel bars, but towel bars should not be placed where they will be used as grab bars. Towel bars have not been designed to withstand the weight of someone pulling on them. Accessible towel placement is between 15 inches (381 mm) and 48 inches (1219 mm) off the floor.
Design Recommendations for Showering
Showering is an increasingly common way to cleanse the body. The tub/shower combination is used in many simple bathrooms to provide both bathing and showering options. If the clients consistently take a shower, a larger shower may be preferred rather than a tub/shower combination. It is easier to get into than a tub/shower combination because the user will not have to step over the tub rim. In large bathrooms, a separate shower and bathtub may be specified. If the shower is separate, it may be placed adjacent to the bathtub, or in a separate area.
Bathroom Planning Guideline 4 recommends that at least 30 inches (762 mm) of clearance be in front of the shower for comfortable access. The IRC building code requires 24 inches (610 mm) of clear space in front of the shower, but this will be a limited area. A dressing circle of 42 inches (1067 mm) to 48 inches (1219 mm) might be needed for drying off and changing into clothing. If the bather will be transferring from a wheelchair or other mobility aid to the shower, a 36 inch by 48 inch (914 mm by 1219 mm) space is a minimum requirement, with more space preferred.
All flooring in the bathroom should be slip resistant and this is especially true in the area in and next to the shower. Showers with tile floors can use a textured tile to create a slip‐resistant surface.
Most prefabricated showers come in standard sizes from 32 inches (813 mm) to 48 inches (1219 mm) square, but in recent years expanded options are becoming more common.
The recommended interior shower size for one person is at least 36 inches by 36 inches (914 mm by 914 mm) (see Figure 6.46). This allows one person to comfortably stand in the shower with arms raised to wash their hair. The IRC building code states that the minimum interior shower size is 30 inches by 30 inches (762 mm by 762 mm), but this is a tight space for most adults.
Check angled showers to make sure a 30‐inch (762 mm) disc will fit into the shower floor. This will meet minimum code requirements. A larger disc area should be specified when user needs require more space.
A 36 inch by 36 inch (914 mm by 914 mm) size is acceptable for a transfer shower to be used by a person transferring from a mobility aid.
It is recommended that a roll‐in shower used by a person with a bathing wheelchair should be at least 36 inches by 60 inches (914 mm by 1524 mm). Access Standards allow for a 30 inch (762 mm) minimum width, but 36 to 42 inches (914 to1067 mm) makes it easier to contain the water in the shower.
For a person to move out of the shower spray inside the shower, a 36 inch by 42 inch (914 mm by 1067 mm) shower should be considered. Larger prefabricated showers are available, and custom showers can be designed to meet the needs of the user. In a shower at least 60 inches (1524 mm) deep, it is possible to control the spray within the shower. In a two‐person shower, make sure there is room for both people.
Creating a Shower with No Threshold and/or Door
Curbless showers, showers with no thresholds, can be planned if the water spray can be controlled, drainage planned, and flooring outside the shower included in the wet area. When possible, eliminating the shower door and threshold makes for easy entry. It is a universal design that offers improved access and is popular in Europe.
While a roll‐in shower should be 36 inches deep (914 mm), an even deeper shower would help control water spray into the bathroom area. The water spray can be controlled in several ways.
When a shower curtain is used, it will do a better job of water containment if it is made slightly longer than the height of the shower rod, and is weighted so that it drags. When not in use, the extra length can be draped using a tie‐back to enhance the appearance and allow for proper drying. If a door is used on a shower with no threshold, consider the maneuvering space around the door swing.
Sloping the shower floor toward the drain is typical in any size shower and a shower pan that is raised off the floor helps direct water to the drain. With a no‐threshold shower the slope should start at the front of the shower, which is even with the bathroom floor, and slope toward the back of the shower, and the waterproof membrane below the floor should be extended. This will typically require the floor in the shower to be lowered. A trough‐style drain placed at the back of the shower will help remove the water from the shower and away from the bathroom. The trough drain can also be used to separate the shower from the bathroom, collecting any water that escapes.
The shower is a wet space so water‐resistant materials are critical. Remember that the IRC building code requires that the shower area be at least 80 inches (2032) high. The surround of a shower or tub/shower combination should be of a waterproof material and extend a minimum of 3 inches (76 mm) above the showerhead rough‐in. A typical rough‐in is 72 inches (1823 mm) to 78 inches (1981 mm) high. The IRC building code requires the waterproof wall materials extend at least 72 inches (1823 mm) above the finished floor.
Prefabricated shower surrounds may be one piece, or divided into multiple pieces to be assembled onsite. Check the size of the room entry to make sure an installer can get a prefabricated unit into the room.
Keeping the water in the shower, and not on the floor outside, is often a challenge to designers and users. A shower curtain will be easier to maneuver around. However, in smaller showers, the spray often extends beyond the shower floor and a curtain may not easily contain the water.
Enclosures and shower doors help to further seal the shower area and contain the water spray. In the case of a steam shower, the door opening will be sealed to the ceiling with a transom or a fixed panel.
The shower door should slide or open out toward the bathroom, a safety precaution to allow someone to get into the shower if the user falls. It also permits more clear space within the shower. However, a shower door that opens into the bathroom may drip water onto the bathroom floor as the user steps out of the shower, so consider the flooring and using mats that will absorb the extra water. Shower doors that swing both in and out, and curtains, can be easier for maneuvering. Ideally, door openings should be a minimum 32 inches (813 mm) wide to allow for easy circulation in and out of the shower.
According to the IRC building code, if glass is used in the shower surround or enclosure (including the door) it must be tempered glass . When using glass in this area, consider the sight‐lines of the end users. Windows in the shower area that are below 60 inches (1524 mm) must be of tempered glass. Other glass windows or doors in the bathroom that are below 18 inches (457 mm) must be of tempered glass or an equivalent.
The showerhead should be placed so it directs water toward the body, not the face or hair. A fixed showerhead, roughed‐in at 72 inches (1823 mm) to 78 inches (1981 mm) off the floor, is typical in many showers and tub/shower combinations. Plan the shower rough‐in so that the bottom of the showerhead will be 72 inches (1823 mm) off the finished floor or at a height appropriate to the user.
A showerhead on an adjustable bar, or a handheld showerhead, offers flexibility in a shower used by persons of different heights, or for different activities. Consider a lever or loop handle control for ease of use. A handheld shower may be used in place of, or in addition to, the fixed shower-head to offer the user flexibility. This may be especially nice if the user will sit to shower.
When the adjustable height shower/hand spray is used, its lowest position should always be within the universal reach range (15 inches [381 mm] to 48 inches [1219 mm] above finished floor).
The most convenient way for a plumber to install the shower control valves is to line them up under the showerhead. However, this is not most convenient for the user. Being able to reach the controls while standing outside of the shower spray is ideal. NKBA Bathroom Planning Guideline 10 recommends that the controls be placed out of the water spray and between 38 inches (965 mm) to 48 inches (1219 mm) above the floor. An accessible location is 6 inches (152 mm) from the outside of the fixture.
IRC building code requires that shower control valves must be either pressure balanced, have thermostatic mixing, or have a combination of both, to prevent scalding due to changes in water pressure. Hot and cold water controls should be easily identified with red and blue indicators. If two people will be using the shower at the same time, there should be at least two showerheads, and each should be controlled separately. Design of the shower should take into account the number of body sprays, jets, control valves, and diverters needed. Consider the amount of water use these fixtures may require and select water‐efficient shower fixtures whenever possible.
Plumbing fixtures in the shower must be accessible from an access panel. Furthermore, specialized showers may include mechanical equipment needed to provide steam, music, and lights. Access to this equipment should be planned as the shower is being designed so that it can be serviced .
Because most users stand in the shower, the risk of falling is great. Grab bars are recommended for the back and sides of the shower. As in the bathtub, the grab bars in the shower should be able to support at least 250 pounds (113 kg).
The Guidelines and Access Standards recommend locations for grab bars. However, placing reinforcement throughout the shower walls allows clients to add supports when and where they will use them. Remember to maintain a water‐tight seal to prevent water from seeping into these materials that are installed behind the finished wall.
Everyone is unique and their height and reach change as they age. A vertical bar at the shower entrance provides a helpful support when getting in and out. The surface and design of all grab bars should reduce the risk of a hand slipping on the bar.
A seat or bench is very helpful to many people as they shower. A person, whose stamina is reduced due to age, pregnancy, injury, or too much physical activity, may not have the energy to stand throughout the shower. A woman may find a seated position the best position for shaving her legs. A seat or bench in the shower provides an opportunity to relax, assistance to people with limited strength or balance, and help with transfer.
NKBA recommends that a shower seat or bench be planned. It should be 17 inches (432 mm) to 19 inches (483 mm) high from the finished shower floor and at least 15 inches (381 mm) deep, finishe. Remember to allow for the thickness of the finishing material.
The seat or bench should not interfere with the recommended minimum shower size of 36 inches by 36 inches (914 mm by 914 mm) of floor area, although the IRC building code will allow the minimum 30 inch by 30 inch (762 mm by 762 mm) size to be maintained. Just as in the tub area, when less than 15 inches (381 mm) is available a narrower bench can benefit some users. Attention must be given to the user’s size and weight so the seat will support the intended use.
Storage and Towels
Since the shower is a convenient place to wash hair and shave, it is likely that numerous products will be used there, and storage for items used daily will be important. A shelf built into the shower wall or surround at a convenient height to the user is a good solution.
Towels should be placed within reach of the person in the shower and 15 inches (381 mm) to 48 inches (1219 mm) above the floor. Extra towels will need to be stored close by.
Toileting is a universal activity of all bathrooms. It occurs in the master suite, as well as the powder room. In fact, “going to the bathroom” or “using the bathroom” often means using the toilet. But as with all the bath centers, there are many related activities to be considered in designing this area.
The primary tasks taking place at the toilet are urination and defecation. Positions for urinating are culturally defined. A woman using a public toilet in Korea, for instance, may find that she is expected to stand over a receptacle in the floor. In North America, toilets have been designed so that womensit on the toilet and men stand when urinating, and both sit when defecating. Although Alexander Kira’s research in the 1960s suggested that a squatting position is best for completing a bowel movement, this has not had an impact on the height of toilets in North America.
The urinal is designed for a man to stand and urinate, and while common in commercial settings, it may also be a good idea in a house full of boys not known for accurate aim in using a toilet, and is becoming more common as a water‐saving option.
Another activity that can occur at the toilet is feminine hygiene, especially during the menstrual cycle. Having supplies of tampons and/or pads close by will assist in this activity. Sometimes medications must be used vaginally or anally and often this is done at, or close to, the toilet.
All of the toilet area activities mentioned previously will require cleansing afterward. Having toilet paper close by is standard in the United States. Bidets are also being used by clients wishing a more thorough cleansing of the perineum area. The need for, and benefit of, the bidet increases as people age. Advanced toilet systems combine the toilet and bidet into one unit with automated controls.
A few other things might be considered when planning the toilet area. Some people read while sitting on the toilet, and having proper lighting and some reading materials stored in the area is helpful. Cleaning the toilet and surrounding areas should be done regularly to cut down on bacteria and odors, and having toilet brushes stored there will help make this easier. Ventilation should be planned in a toileting area to reduce odors.
The toilet is a major user of water in most households. Through changes in codes at the national, state, and local levels, manufacturers’ design changes, and voluntary conservation programs, flushing systems have changed. Water use and flushing systems have become major considerations when selecting toilets for many clients concerned about sustainability.
Design Recommendations for Toileting Center
The type and size of the toilet may affect the ability to meet some clearance recommendations, especially in small bathrooms. The two‐piece toilet has a separate tank and bowl, while the one‐ piece toilet combines these and typically has a lower profile. The typical seat height of the toilet is between 14 inches (356 mm) and 17 inches (432 mm), although 17‐inch (432 mm) to 19‐inch‐high (483 mm) toilets are growing in popularity, especially among aging baby boomers who have difficulty rising from a low seated position. For a person who transfers onto the toilet from a wheelchair, the best height for the toilet is to match the wheelchair height, with the average being plus or minus 18 inches (457 mm).
The toilet width ranges from 17 inches (432 mm) to 23 inches (584 mm). A toilet with a standard bowl is about 25 inches (635 mm) deep, while one with an elongated bowl is about 30 inches (762 mm). A wall‐hung toilet with an in‐wall tank will be about 22 inches (559 mm) deep. While not common, corner toilets are available for special applications. The fixture typically extends 33 inches (838 mm) from the corner and is about 15 inches (381 mm) wide.
People using the toilet will need to stand, turn, sit, remove and replace parts of their clothing, and use nearby supplies like toilet paper. Bathroom Planning Guidelines recommend at least 30 inches (762 mm) of clear space in front of the toilet to allow for these activities, and perhaps more will be needed for larger people or persons needing assistance (see Figure 6.54). The IRC building code allows this space to be reduced to 21 inches (533 mm). This may allow leg room to sit on the toilet, but managing clothes will require moving to an area of the bathroom with more floor space.
For a person approaching the toilet with a mobility aid, or transferring from a wheelchair, 30 inches (762 mm) in front of the toilet is a minimum clear space, but more is better. For a person approaching and transferring from the side, plan a minimum 30 inches (762 mm) clear floor space to the side of the toilet. Wall‐hung toilets improve the clear floor space, making it easier to maneuver at the toilet and to maintain the floor around it.
Plan reinforcement around the toilet area so that grab bars can be installed as needed or desired. Grab bars should be placed according to the user’s requirements, including their method of transfer.
The toilet can be in several places within the bathroom and may be within its own separate area or compartment if space allows. There should be clearances on both sides of the toilet to allow the user to be able to sit comfortably and to move the upper part of the body without bumping into a wall or counter.
Placing the toilet at least 18 inches (457 mm) on center from the nearest wall or obstacle is the recommended distance (see Figure 6.55). Building codes will typically allow the toilet to be placed 15 inches (381 mm) on center. Remember that this should be a clear space. Placing another obstacle in the minimum space, such as a grab bar, towel bar, or toilet paper holder, will interfere with the clearance.
Placing a toilet in a separate compartment can be accommodated by following the previously recommended clearances. A 36 inch by 66 inch (914 mm by 1676 mm) space measured from the inside walls will accommodate the recommended clearances. A 30 inch by 60 inch (762 mm by 1524 mm) space will comply with the IRC building code.
In both applications, the door to the compartment should open out toward the adjacent room; otherwise the door swing will interfere with the clearance in front of the toilet. This size compartment is not recommended, because it limits options in transferring to a toilet, particularly for people using mobility aids. If one is used, it should be at least 60 inches by 59 inches (1524 mm by 1499 mm) . An exception to this is the toilet area planned for a client with limited balance or stamina, as this client could benefit from a space with support within reach on both walls of the approach to the toilet.
Toilet Paper Placement
It is important that the toilet paper dispenser be convenient to the user. The best location is on a wall or partition to the side, and slightly to the front, of the toilet. This allows the user to reach the paper while seated. Locations behind the toilet or across from the toilet will be difficult to reach without bending or stretching. Bathroom Planning Guideline 23 recommends locating the toilet paper holder 8 inches (203 mm) to 12 inches (305 mm) in front of the toilet, centered 26 inches (660 mm) off the floor.
Bathroom Planning Guideline 22 also recommends locating storage close to, and accessible from, the toilet. Consider where extra toilet paper, feminine hygiene supplies, and medications are stored. Cabinets close by, and within reach of the person seated on the toilet, would assist them in performing whatever task needs to be completed in the toilet area.
Design Recommendations for Bidet
Bidets are used by straddling the bowl while facing the controls and the wall. Both hot and cold water must be provided. The bidet has a spray faucet spout (horizontal stream) or vertical spray in the center of the fixture. A pop‐up stopper allows the bidet to be used more like a sink for a foot bath or hand washables. While the bidet looks similar to a toilet, it works like a sink.
The bidet provides cleansing for the pelvic area. Women may find the fixture particularly useful for douching and cleansing during their menstrual periods. The bidet also provides a cleansing for both women and men that can help reduce irritation and heal rashes. The fixture may be especially useful for adults who have difficulty cleaning themselves. If a separate bidet cannot be included in the design, consider a toilet with an integrated bidet system or an add‐on bidet system. These systems may have added features such as heated seats, lighting, air dryer, and air filters.
The Bathroom Planning Guidelines 4 and 20 recommend clearances for the bidet that are the same as for the toilet (Figure 6.61). That is, 30 inches (762 mm) of clear space in front of the bidet, with the bidet placed 18 inches (457 mm) on center from the nearest wall, obstacle, or adjacent toilet. Minimum clearances are 21 inches (533 mm) of clear space in front of the bidet, with the bidet placed 15 inches (381 mm) on center from the nearest wall, obstacle, or adjacent toilet.
Storage and Towels
Some storage should be supplied close to the bidet. It is important to have towels and soaps located next to this fixture.
Design Recommendations for Urinal
The urinal can be a very practical fixture in the home. The toilet is designed for seating. However, when men stand to urinate at the toilet, the urine spray may not stay in the bowl. Spray on the floor and around the toilet area can cause discoloration, staining, and odor. Men and boys of all ages can use the urinal with better control.
The height of the front lip of the bowl of the urinal off the floor should be 19 1/2 inches (495 mm) for children and 24 inches (610 mm) for adults. In a custom installation, plan the lip of the urinal at 3 inches (76 mm) below the man’s pants inseam.
It is recommended that the urinal be placed 18 inches (457 mm) on center from a side obstacle, such as a toilet or wall. The minimum centerline distance is 15 inches (381 mm). Make sure at least 3 inches (76 mm) of clearance is allowed from the edge of the urinal to a side wall. A protective, durable wall surface material should cover at least 12 inches (305 mm) on either side of the urinal.
Flooring beneath, and in front of the urinal, should be of a durable material, as well.
The recommended clearance in front of the urinal is 30 inches (762 mm), the same as for other bath fixtures. The minimum clearance allowed is 21 inches (533 mm).
Guidelines and Access Standards
The Bathroom Planning Guidelines and Access Standards that are important to the toileting area are 4, 14, 20, 21, 22, and 23. For the complete Guidelines and Access Standards, see.
The bathroom is an important part of any home and often a bathroom is located in both private and social areas. All bathrooms are composed of a combination of centers where the major activities of the bathroom occur: grooming, bathing/showering, and toileting. Planning a bathroom using the center concept encourages the designer to examine and use the NKBA Bathroom Planning Guidelines and Access Standards for each area. The Planning Guidelines are based on human factors and the 2012 International Residential Code. The Bathroom Access Standards are based on the 2009 International Code Council ANSI 1.117.
There are many decisions and details involved in creating a space plan for a bathroom that is functional and useable. Not only must the designer consider the client’s needs and the physical space, the selection of products and materials in relation to the spatial requirements should also be considered. A certain style of lavatory or bathtub may be selected because of space and planning restrictions. On the other hand, the space may be arranged to accommodate the desired fixture or activity. There may be several ways that the bathroom could be planned depending on the choices that you make.
Budget, time, and space restrictions will influence how you incorporate the Guidelines within the parameters of each bathroom design. Of course, local building codes will have to be met and should be referenced during the design process. The Bathroom Planning Guidelines incorporate several building code requirements that must be followed when planning a bathroom: for instance, minimum space clearances, and requirements related to windows, doors, and access panels.
Beyond building codes, the Bathroom Planning Guidelines provide recommendations for space clearances at the entry and at each fixture. Universal design recommendations are also incorporated into the Planning Guidelines. Recommendations for slip‐resistant flooring, rounded counter edges, grab bars at bathing and shower fixtures, and seating in the shower are helpful features that will make the bathroom safer.
Remember that infrastructure requirements also must be considered. There are also decisions related to mechanical systems.