Bathroom Remodeling Space and Placement

Small Bathroom With Tile Floor
Small Bathroom With Tile Floor. Getty / Glow Decor

Bathrooms are always too small  If they were sized like living rooms and master suites, little thought would need to be devoted to spacing considerations.  

As it is, though, the better your bathroom spacing and placement--things like toilet, shower, towel racks, closets, and even toilet roll holders--the better your bathroom will function and the happier you will be.

Is Spacing/Placement Practice The Same As "Code"?

It can be.  Bathroom spacing/placement is not the same as building code, though it can share some common features.  

  • Codes:  Various local building codes dictate matters such as the use of GFCI outlets near the sink, ventilation, DWV (Drain-Waste-Venting) issues, water supply, etc.  These are considered legally required by your town or county.
  • Good Practices:  Smart design practices are not required by law, but often they piggyback off of code.  Local law does not tell you where to put the toilet roll holder.  But good practices do.  At the same time, code legally requires you to place a GFCI outlet over or near the bathroom sink.  This also happens to be a great design practice.

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

Serious:  Major Design Problems and Code Violations

  • Establish a Wet Wall:  Congregate all of the water-related functions (shower, bath, toilet) in one area.  You will be much happier, as it allows you to save on plumbing costs.  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.
  • Minimum Space Needed For Toilet:  Building code may require at least a 30" x 30" area of clear space in front of the bowl (measure from center of bowl). Also be sure to keep 18" between toilet and walls; allow 14" between toilet and cabinets. Other than a simple one-for-one replacement, you will need a permit for plumbing work. Finally, allow one inch between back of the toilet and the wall.
  • Create 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.
  • Sink Placement:  Plan for at least 30" clear space in front of the sink. If you are lucky enough to have space for double basins, allow 30" minimum (measured from the center of the sink) between the two basins.
  • Electrical:  According to the electrical code and 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.Others 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 (i.e., none can be mounted in the countertop facing up).

Minor But Annoying:  Great Design Practices and Pitfalls To Avoid

  • Towel Racks:  Sadly enough, towels become details are often left to the last, and consequently not enough wall space is available for them. Make sure you leave enough wall space for towel racks. 
  • Toilet Roller Holder:  This one is easy to figure out.  Your toilet roll holder must be within arm's length, or less than 24" from the center of the toilet bowl.
  • Minimize Sink Base:  Sink base cabinets are hulking behemoths that suck up all life in a bathroom, if you are not careful.  Consider this:  a 36" sink base cabinet obliterates well over half of a 50 sq. ft. bathroom's floor space.  How about something smaller?  Can you go single-basin instead of double-basin and go down to 24".  Better yet, do away with the "box" entirely and install a pedestal sink.
  • Toilet Positioning:  Even if you allow adequate code-required buffer around the toilet, poor positioning may drive you crazy.  Nobody wants a toilet right by the door.  Toilets facing doors is a feng shui no-no.