Home Improvements: Fitting New Bathrooms
Improving bathroom facilities is one of the most popular home improvement projects. In its simplest form, the job involves replacing like with like: taking out the old appliances and installing new ones in their place. The benefits are largely aesthetic — you can choose the equipment in a colour and style that you like — but there are also practical gains in having new, easy-to-clean surfaces, and taps that do not drip or seize up. The job is not difficult, but can be time-consuming when it comes to marrying up new equipment to old supply and waste pipes.
The project becomes more complex if you want to change the layout of the room, or to take a radical decision such as doing away with the bath in favour of a shower cubicle and more free floor space. In such instances, some careful planning of the way in which you use the bathroom floor space is called for. The creation of extra space may be possible if you are able to reposition the bathroom door.
Much the same as with the kitchen, you can’t afford to be without a bathroom for very long. Critical to your quality of life will be the speed and efficiency of the changeover from old to new basic facilities, as well as the smoothness of the implementation of your final design.
Whether you are planning to change the layout of an existing bathroom, or are creating new facilities, you must be aware of the need to retain free floor space in order to allow the various appliances to be used in comfort; this is known as ‘activity space’. You need room beside a bath, for example, so you can step in and out of it, stand next to it to dry yourself, and perhaps kneel beside it to bathe a child. Similarly, you need elbow room when standing at a washbasin so that you can wash your hair and clean your teeth without your elbows hitting a side wall.
Note that activity spaces between adjacent appliances may overlap slightly in practice, especially where they are unlikely to be in use at the same time. The full width of the activity space in front of a washbasin is needed only at waist level and above so if necessary it could intrude over an adjacent bath or WC, for example.
The best way of planning a bathroom layout is to make scale drawings on squared paper. Draw individual pieces of equipment to scale, adding an area indicating the necessary activity space for each, cut them out, and then move them round a scale plan of the room until you reach the best practical arrangement. You can get help with bathroom planning from many bathroom showrooms.
approval is not needed if you are simply replacing the old equipment and fittings with new ones. If you arc altering the existing waste-water disposal arrangements, however,or are fitting a new heating appliance, you will need approval for the new work.
You will also need approval if you are partitioning a WC from an existing bathroom, installing a second WC, or fitting washbasins or shower cubicles into bedrooms, because new waste pipes will have to be installed. In the case of new WC cubicles, the Regulations ventilation requirements must also be met.
The Regulations allow the use of a pumped macerator unit and small-bore pipework if the siting of the new appliances makes running conventional soil and waste pipes difficult. Don’t forget that bidets and appliances such as jacuzzi baths create the potential for back siphonage to occur (where dirty water is sucked into the mains in times of high demand) and so the water company must be notified before they arc installed.
The most common problems
• Spillages in the changeover – A good plumber keeps a supply of rags handy at all times and deploys a drip tray.
• New taps and fittings – Sometimes these don’t quite fit the new sanitaryware (bath, basin and bidet) and need to be rethought. British taps and sanitaryware should be made to the same standards but the Italian and French ones which are offered in showrooms in the UK are sometimes not compatible with appliances sold by the same showroom, which they won’t necessarily tell you because they might not know themselves.
• Co-ordinating the tiler and plumber – These two trades are temperamentally diametrically opposed, and always in demand elsewhere.
The biggest problem: drainage pipes Getting the drainage flow right, particularly if you are altering the layout of the room, can be tricky. Pipes which are too steeply inclined can make an unpleasant noise and will empty traps of water, and those at too shallow a gradient can take an age to drain, smell of stagnant water and be prone to blockages. There can also be problems fitting traps — especially under shower trays — where space is limited.
The sequence of events
1. New pipework is made up and laid ready to be joined to the existing system.
2. Water is drained from the toilet and this is removed, along with the hand basin, bath and, if you have one, the bidet.
3. Painting, wallpapering and fitting of bathroom furniture (cupboards) should all be done next.
4. Taps are fitted to the new bath, basin and bidet, which are placed in position before being secured in place.
5. The all-important waste pipes are connected first, then the, which ensures that that first experimental run of the tap doesn’t pass through an open plughole and end up on your feet.
6. Tiling is completed.
Timescale: two to eight weeks depending on the size of the job and the number of unforeseen circumstances you encounter.
The case for using a specialist Any general builder should be able to put in a bathroom blindfolded, but sometimes when you see the finished article you wonder if maybe he was. Changing over a toilet should be straightforward, but it’s not unknown for people to have to employ a specialist to replace a cracked cast-iron soil stack because a general builder has hit it with his hammer.
Getting basins and baths level so that they drain correctly, and look right — and getting things squared to the wall properly, even when the wall isn’t actually square — are the main differences when you employ a specialist. With a bit of experience, and mastic, a specialist can make even the oddest-shaped room look right. General builders might use grout for sealing around a bath or shower tray rather than flexible silicone sealant (which is more difficult to use). It looks great for a hit, hut will crack when the bath or shower tray inevitably moves. The other advantages of using specialists are speed, and costs in time and materials.
Finding a specialist bathroom fitter Specialist bathroom fitters often advertise in Yellow Pages. As well as relying on recommendation you should check for membership of organisations such as The Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA).
One ‘rookie’ mistake is to finish all the tiling before the thermostatic mixer valve on a concealed shower unit has been properly tested. The shower will run hot and cold, which is tested for, but it won’t mix. So when the customer has his inaugural shower he will not be amused to be alternately scalded and frozen. These valves are delicate and easily damaged if installed incorrectly, so it may be necessary to go back into the tiled wall to refit it at the builder’s expense — and the customer’s inconvenience.