Most of you reading this article will be here because you are flicking through the property pages or related web sites. Your interest might be casual, an idle curiosity, or you might be seriously looking with a view to either moving up or down the housing ladder. All sales particulars will describe the ablutions rooms, whether they are the family bathroom, the cloakroom, or the en-suite. They all have something in common; they have the same sanitary ware. There are variations on a theme, there may be a bidet, a shower, or even a shower mounted over the bath, with the usually ineffectual shower curtain that is cold and slimy to touch, while helping to spread the water round the bathroom. But in essence the equipment is the same, a toilet, bath and hand wash basin.
Designs of bathrooms are becoming more adventurous as time marches on, there might be a wet room, where the shower and bath are mounted in the middle of the room. The floor and walls are tiled, and the assumption is that water will go everywhere, water draining from the room via a centrally constructed drain. Space is important for the room to be really useful. If the bath is central to the room, parents can wash children from both sides. If the shower is mounted on a separate pipe, there can be an adequate gap between the walls and the shower curtain, preventing that intimate contact with the wet clammy shower curtain.
Bathrooms are fast becoming the province of the interior designer; a well-designed and finished bathroom can add value to the house as a whole. In the past the surfaces were finished with ceramic tiles, now you might see limestone used instead, as a chic wall tile. There is a problem however, with doing this, because limestone is a porous material. Modern showers, with pressurised systems use a lot of water. During use water will splash over the walls, and run down the walls as it wends it’s way to the drain outlet.
I draw your attention to this because chic may not always be functional. Whether you are designing your own shower room, or are paying a designer to do it, be aware of the pitfalls for using a modern stone tile. In the past, wall tiles were mostly glazed ceramic tiles, and the grout was a specialist water resistant type, capable of shedding the water rather than soaking it up. Under British Standards the ceramic wall tiles were tested for their porosity, usually being under 0.05% porous as a material.
These days the swish tiles on display at the DIY shops or even at the tile merchants, don’t always indicate what the porosity of the individual tiles might be. Many of the limestone tiles have porosity levels of between 5-6%, which is at least 30 times the level of a glazed ceramic tile. Almost like blotting paper in comparison. Choice of grout is also essential. Ensure that waterproof gout is used, with a fungicidal additive added. This will prevent the dreaded black mould from growing, whilst making routine cleaning easier. The waterproof grout will also prevent water from soaking into the walls of the house, sealing the tile joints effectively, and preventing a damp problem from occurring at a future date.
Location of the bathroom is also important. By being en-suite, it is highly likely that the bathroom will be situated on the first floor adjacent to the bedroom. In most instances, the bathroom will be constructed on a wooden joisted floor. By it’s very design, and the choice of material, the floor will flex and move as it experiences temperature and moisture fluctuations. Putting a tiled surface directly onto a wooden surface is asking for trouble. As the floor moves, the tiles will move, and it is highly likely that hairline cracks will develop. A lot of water can pass through a hairline crack, and if it lands on a wooden joist, the ideal recipe for soft wood rots, or even worse the dreaded dry rot to grow.
Unfortunately quite often this type of problem is not recognised for months, the first sign of a problem will be the brown stains on the ceiling below. It is far better to use a man made material in this location, which is flexible and durable. There are many examples of modern laminate materials easily available for use in a domestic home. Investigate companies such as Karndean on Vale Park, Evesham, and see what is available.
If you are thinking of creating a new bathroom/ wet room, think about the possibility of incorporating a heated floor. This can either be by hot water, or by an electric system. Electric systems are far easier to install in existing properties, but hot water pipes also have many merits. Again, seek advice from a plumber before finalising the design. One of the main advantages of a heated floor is that excess moisture is evaporated from the room quickly, keeping the atmosphere dry. Ventilation is also critical for removal of moisture from the room, hopefully to the exterior of the building. This can be natural ventilation, i.e. opening a window, or by use of an extractor fan. These are usually noisy when operating, and of course consume energy while operating.
Care should be taken when designing a bathroom. To me, they are probably the most important rooms in the house. A good spacious bathroom / wet room can make a good house into a superb house. Copious amounts of hot water, in a warm surrounding can make bath time a pleasurable experience. A well thought out design will maximise the use of space, in a room which often becomes the focal point for family life. Proper design, choice of finishing materials, and layout will enhance the use of the room, and increase the value of the property. So if you are contemplating changing a bathroom, take care to get the design and construction right first time.
Tony Rowland BSc(Hons) MSc MRICS