Bathroom Remodeling Space and Placement

Small Bathroom With Tile Floor

Glow Decor / Getty Images

When it comes to design and layout, it seems like bathrooms are always too small. If bathrooms were sized like living rooms or master suites, little thought would need to be devoted to spacing considerations. 

The better your bathroom spacing and placement, the better your bathroom will function. All components in a bathroom must be spaced just perfectly—from major items like the toilet, shower, and bathtub, down to the towel racks, shelves, and even the toilet roll holders.

Good Spacing Differs From Code

Bathroom spacing and placement are not the same as building code, though they can share some common features. 

As for code, various local building codes dictate matters such as the use of GFCI outlets near the sink, ventilation, DWV (Drain-Waste-Venting) issues, and water supply. These are legally required by your town or county and must be met. Code varies from one municipality to another, so check with your local permitting agency for the code that pertains to you.

Beyond code, smart design practices are not required by law but sometimes they piggyback off of code. Local law does not tell you where to put the toilet roll holder or even that you should have a roll holder; as far as code is concerned, the roll can rest on the toilet tank. But bathroom design good practices, of course, suggest that you keep the roll within arm's reach, to the side, and on a spindle.

Electrical code requires you to place a GFCI outlet over or near the bathroom sink. This code also happens to be a great design practice.

Begin by dividing your approach into two areas: important areas that need immediate attention and minor areas that can benefit from good design practices.

Important Areas and Code-Related Issues

Establish a Wet Wall

Congregate all of the water-related functions such as the shower, bath, and toilet in one area. This area is often called a wet area or wet wall. A wet wall is not an absolute must, but if you can incorporate it into your design, you will be better off.

Toilet Minimum Space

Building code may require at least a 30-inch by 30-inch area of clear space in front of the bowl, as measured from the center of the bowl. Also be sure to keep 18 inches between the toilet and the walls and allow 14 inches between the toilet and the cabinets. Allow one inch between the back of the toilet and the wall.

Create a Ventilation Point

For ventilation purposes, you need to add either a 3 square foot window or a bathroom fan capable of expelling at least 50 cubic feet of air per minute. This is a code requirement.

Bathroom Sink Placement

In front of the sink, plan for at least 30 inches off clear space. If you have enough space for double basins, allow 30 inches of space minimum between the two basins, as measured from the centers of the sinks.

Electrical Code Issues

According to the electrical code, along with good common sense, you will need at least one GFCI outlet within 3 feet of the sink basin. GFCI outlets automatically cut off power if there is a danger of shock.

Other outlets may be installed, but the one over the counter is a must. The theory is that people should not be stretching cords across bathrooms to use blow-dryers. Depending on the length of the counter, you may need to install more than one.

All outlets in bathrooms should be GFCI, and all must be wall-mounted. No outlets, in other words, can be mounted in the countertop facing up.

Good Bathroom Design Practices

Towel Racks

Often, towel racks become details that are often left to the last. Consequently, not enough wall space is available for them. Make sure you leave enough wall space for towel racks. 

Toilet Roller Holder

Your toilet roll holder must be within arm's length or less than 24 inches from the center of the toilet bowl.

Minimize Sink Base

Sink base cabinets are often sized so large that they take up too much space in a bathroom. Consider this: a 36-inch sink base cabinet takes up well over half of a 50 square foot bathroom's floor space.

If possible, go for a smaller cabinet. Try to do a single-basin cabinet instead of a double-basin cabinet, thus bringing the width down to 24 inches. Better yet, do away with the large cabinet box entirely and install a pedestal sink.

Toilet Positioning

Even if you allow adequate code-required buffer around the toilet, poor positioning can make it difficult to navigate around the toilet. Try to keep the toilet away from the door, if at all possible. Think of other doors besides the bathroom door, such as the shower door and the sink cabinet door.