Bathroom planning is unique among interior design challenges. No other room in the house has to do so much in such a small space. At times, finding space in a bathroom layout for every fixture and amenity you want can feel like packing the trunk of a car for a long summer vacation. But fear not: If you follow a simple process of identifying your needs and priorities, then applying some standard design guidelines, you’ll be well on your way toward a perfect plan (and maybe hone your trunk-packing skills in the process).
There is no science to bathroom layouts; choose what suits you.
Creating a Bathroom Plan
Due to the infinite variety of sizes, shapes and configurations of bathrooms, not to mention the specific needs of each household, there really are no “model” bathroom layouts. Nor are there any core design concepts, like the work triangle for kitchen plans. In the bathroom, successful layouts are shaped around the household’s needs and priorities and, of course, the available space.
Start your planning process with an accurate scaled drawing of the usable floor space in your bathroom. Also note the locations of existing plumbing and electrical lines, as applicable. Next, decide which fixtures and features are most important to you - perhaps a double-sink vanity for a family bath, or a walk-in shower for a master suite.
Using the dimensions of the fixtures you’ll likely use and the recommended clearances for each fixture (see below), experiment with different bathroom layouts to come up with a few viable plans. Given space constraints, compromise is inevitable; that’s why you’ve identified your “must-have” fixtures at the outset. The design considerations given below can help you avoid some common pitfalls with your plans.
Be sure to leave enough space around your toilet and tub.
The important thing to remember when creating bathroom layouts is that each fixture comes with two space requirements: the size of the fixture itself and the required clearance, or open space, around the fixture. For example, let’s say your toilet measures 42" long from front to back. The standard clearance required in front of a toilet is 36" measured from the front edge of the bowl to the opposite wall (or other obstruction). Therefore, you need at least 78" between opposing walls (or between a wall and a tub) to place a toilet perpendicular to the walls. The minimum side clearance for a toilet is 15", measured from the center of the bowl to each side.
Fixture clearances are set and governed by the local building code; contact your city’s building department for a complete list of applicable requirements. Keep in mind that most code “minimums” are just that - the smallest allowable space for each fixture. A bathroom designed strictly to minimum clearances can feel pretty cramped. Whenever possible, adding even a few inches here and there can make a big difference. For standard clearance recommendations, see the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s bathroom design page.
General Bathroom Layout Considerations
Open Space: Create an open space near the center of the layout and locate fixtures around the edges of the room. If you’re starting from scratch, shape the bathroom as a square or rectangle with the length being no more than twice the width.
Natural Light: Include natural lighting whenever possible, with windows, glass block wall sections, skylights or solar light tubes. As a minimum, windows should illuminate the initial view of the room from the entrance.
Shower and Toilet Position: Position the shower or tub and toilet farthest (or least visible) from the entry door; place the sink(s) closest to the door.
Flexibility: Add flexibility to a busy family bath by placing the toilet and/or shower in an enclosed alcove with its own door.
Add flexibility by placing the toilet in its own alcove.
Entry Door: Avoid bathroom layouts with more than one entry door. Two entrances lead to inefficient use of space and can make the bathroom uncomfortable to use, especially for guests.
Plumbing Lines: Group plumbing lines in one wall to save on materials and installation costs. But remember that it’s always easiest and cheapest to leave existing fixture locations (that is, their utility lines) in place.
Use these general guidelines when planning to revamp your bathroom layout. You'll be glad you took the time to give each element some thought when you enter your comfortable and functional new bathroom.
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Philip Schmidt is a home improvement author and editor based in Colorado. He enjoys honey-do lists and boring his family with random facts about houses.
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