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Five ways to Futureproof Your Bathroom

2nd June 2020
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The bathroom is one of the most disruptive rooms to decorate and yet it’s the one that adds so much value, not only to the actual price of your house, but to the quality of your life while you are there. And these days many buyers expect at least two bathrooms in a family home, if not an en suite. The fact that they may very well rip them out and redo them to their own taste is irrelevant. A well designed, practical and clean bathroom will increase your chances of a sale and a good price.

Having left the bathroom to last in three of the four properties I have owned, I have come to the conclusion that the bathroom is absolutely the first room you should do when you move in. Not least because it’s so important to your own well-being to be able to have somewhere where you can get clean at the end of the day. Somewhere you can wash the dishes when the kitchen is being done. Somewhere you can lock the door and hide from the builders while all around is chaos and mud.

Now I am going to talk about designing a bathroom that will last a long time, but firstly, while wandering the corridors of the internet looking for information on how much value a well-designed bathroom can add to a property, I found a whole feature about the value of a second bathroom on On The Market, which was posted yesterday so it’s up to date and relevant and you can click the link to read it. In short though, the site said that a study by Direct Line Home Insurance, broadly consistent with other findings, found that an additional bathroom could increase the value of a property by an average of £12,000 (or around five per cent) to the value of a home.

Elsewhere, I read that one of the key things to address if you want to sell your house is making the grout clean and white again. But what about designing a bathroom that will last? Sophie and I addressed this on our last podcast as she is currently planning her bathroom decor and we spoke to our sponsor Geberit for their advice.

They say a bathroom should last for 25 years which feels like a really long time.  I would say that you must consider at least the next five to 10 years. And not just because it’s expensive and disruptive. If you have a baby when you move in, think about what that child will need from a bathroom in ten years. It’s likely you will go from needing a bath to that bath being unused for weeks on end as they move to taking regular showers.

Holly Aspinal, Geberit’s marketing manager, says that as more homes shift towards multi-generation living, the need to future proof the bathroom is increasing: “More homeowners are also making sure their bathroom is ready for the growing family over the years. Incorporating wet rooms or shower toilets, for example, are great ways to future-proof the bathroom and cleverly designed storage solutions can be a simple way to meet the demands of larger households.”

If you have teenagers, then prepare to wish for a second bathroom as some of them will spend hours in there. If you do have only one bathroom it might be worth installing or keeping the loo separate. In our last house we had a tiny loo on the first floor landing and a bathroom right next door that was big enough for a second loo. When we moved it we thought it was slightly odd. Shortly afterwards with a two and a four-year-old we realised it was invaluable. Victorian houses often have a loo and a bathroom (without a loo) next door to each other and the temptation is to create one larger bathroom with everything together. Just pause a moment before you do that, especially if you have no loo downstairs or other bathroom in the house.

At the other end of the scale, if you are older and have a shower over the bath, you need to think about how long that is going to work for you. It’s a big old step climbing over the side of the bath to access the shower. Would you rather get rid of the bath and install a walk-in shower? And yes I know some estate agents disagree with this but a) the plumbing doesn’t go away so any future buyer can put a bath back and b) it’s about making your house right for you and your needs, not some mythical buyer who you haven’t met yet.

Back to the shower – if you are older and thinking of a walk-in shower then look for a shower tray that is flush with the floor. That removes a trip hazard and makes it easier to walk in and out. Yes it may be more expensive to install, but you may be glad of it in time.

One last point on this – and of course if you love baths and are a “bath person” then you will be future-proofing your own design by keeping it – if you have a large shower you can always fill a baby bath full of water when they are tiny.

Another Geberit product is the shower toilet. These are gaining in popularity and while I’m not going to get into that in detail here ( I know many of you read over breakfast), I will say that this is a product that has been increasingly mentioned in chat about post pandemic design when you might not want to touch anything. So if you’re doing a bathroom that might be something to consider putting your design ahead of the curve and making sure it lasts even longer. That may well become a selling point over the next few years who knows?

Other design elements you might want to consider are two basins if there is room. Or one long one. If you need to get four people in and out in a hurry in the morning, then the option of two people being able to clean their teeth at once may help. This also adds to the spa notion in the evening when you might want the whole room to look more relaxed and luxurious.

Learn from my mistakes and install underfloor heating wherever possible. We didn’t because we thought it was a luxury that we couldn’t afford and didn’t need. However, what we hadn’t understood in the walk-in shower area was that warm tiles make the water evaporate and dry up more quickly after the shower. We have black tiles in the boys’ shower room and there is no underfloor heating. The water sits there – pooled in the grout – for ages and the limescale that has gathered is horrible. And this is despite a decent fall and good drainage. If you have a wet room/corner then put underfloor heating – at least under the shower if not the whole floor.

A dimmer switch is also a must. This will allow you to go from bright morning rush to quiet relaxed evening mood at the twist of a, er, switch. And if you are installing, or want to install, wall lights, then one either side of a mirror is better than one over the mirror. Side light is more flattering than overhead. And on that note a soft pink is always a good colour for a bathroom – it flatters everyone no matter what colour your skin.

In short: five ways to future-proof your bathroom:

1 Decide if you really need need or want the bath or is a shower better?

2 Would a floor flush shower be better than a threshold or a shower over the bath?

3 Consider the type of loo you want and if it’s better to have it separate from the main bathroom

5 Install underfloor heating even if it’s only under the shower

5 Add a dimmer switch to make the room function as both practical and pretty

When you’ve thought about that you are ready to start looking at paint colours.

If you would like to listen to the whole podcast episode you will find it here. We also discuss post-pandemic design in relation to bathrooms, which is where the shower toilet comes in. Thank you as always to Geberit for sponsoring the show and providing these images. I leave you with this fascinating excerpt from a piece on post-pandemic design from Curbed: It’s a fascinating piece do read if you have a moment. This relates to the history of bathroom design. 

“As Nancy Tomes explains in her book The Gospel of Germs: Men Women and the Microbe in American Life, large-scale public health campaigns between the 1880s and 1920s began educating people that microorganisms caused illness and an obsession with cleanliness took root, particularly in affluent homes.

Certain furnishings were perceived to collect germs so it became popular to get rid of them. An 1887 manual urged women to break with the Victorian style of home furnishings and opt for items that wouldn’t collect dust, which was believed to carry disease-causing microorganisms: “To propitiate the goddess of health, we can well afford to sacrifice on her altar the superfluous draperies, carpets, and ornaments of our living and sleeping rooms,” it said.

“Before the 1880s, bathrooms were decorated similarly to other rooms in affluent homes, complete with carpet, drapes, and wooden cabinetry. Removing those items became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At the dawn of the 20th century, companies selling flooring and wallcoverings capitalised on the assumption that smooth, impervious surfaces were healthier than carpet and textiles. Materials like porcelain, tile, and linoleum became coveted for the spaces that were most closely associated with germs, like kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.”



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  • Laura 14th June 2020 at 10:10 pm

    Interesting thought on the limescale. As I understand it, limescale can’t evaporate with water (rather, it’s the mineral deposit left behind when water evaporates). So in terms of limescale build up on tiles in a shower, it wouldn’t make any difference whether the water dried up quickly, or was left standing for a long time. The limescale would still be left behind in the same quantity once the water eventually dried. The underfloor heating would doubtless really help with mould, though, so it’s probably still a good shout.

  • FIVE WAYS TO FUTUREPROOF YOUR BATHROOM | 4th June 2020 at 8:51 pm

    […] Posted by Kate Watson-Smyth on Mad about the House […]

  • Mandy 2nd June 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Other future-proof tips :
    1 – Hidden loo cistern – what you lose in built-out wall, you gain in storage – i.e. create a wall or half-height wall of storage in the false wall created by the cistern housing. A half-height wall can create a nice ledge too.
    2 – Wall-hung loo bowl – especially if you have men in the house ?! – suspending the loo off the floor means no yucky margin where the loo meets the floor and those floor bolts (& their holes) that are muck-collectors, etc. And it will make a small room look and feel more spacious. An architect friend tells me this look is the future : wall-hung hiddern cistern WCs.
    3 – re: underfloor heating (I couldn’t live without it now!) – but in a rarely-used bathroom, heating around waste pipes means the water in the U-bend will dry out and allow smells to escape up the pipe back into the room. Be prepared to flush water into the pipes periodically to keep the water level amply topped-up.
    4 – avoid like the plague those plug-plungers. You know the ones. A lever or stick, behind the taps usually, that you push or pull to operate the plug. They always break.
    5 – I have found a pull cord-light-switch which is a dimmer ! Amazing. And it operates silently (instead of that clunk-click echoing thru the attic space in the middle of the night). Just search for PULL CORD DIMMER. But it doesn’t work if your switch operates a fan too 🙁
    6 – if you can only afford cheap white square tiles, lay them on the diagonal, i.e. as diamonds instead of squares. They look great! And I have DIYd this too – not hard at all – just get that first row right!
    and finally
    7 – if you are ever in a hotel room with a shower toilet DO NOT LOOK AT THE SHOWER ARM that comes out to shower your bits … I saw one in Japan in 2004 and to this day would never ever consider a shower toilet. Nuff said?

  • Joseph 2nd June 2020 at 2:11 pm

    This is very informative. I will try to implement this when renovating and redesigning my bathroom

  • Sandra 2nd June 2020 at 9:45 am

    Great timing – after downsizing we are planning 2 bathrooms. Most things we have covered plus a heated wall – for dry warm towels. The size of the shower is also pretty important as you get older you need more space to move around.

  • Elaine Fraser 2nd June 2020 at 9:41 am

    Great advice Kate. We have followed all your tips except the underfloor heating ( mistake) and for condensation I think our fan could be better. We ‘downsized’ last year without moving by creating a large bathroom from one bedroom. We now have a freestanding separate bath which my husband spends a lot of time soaking in and spacious shower for me using the space of a large built in wardrobe . It feels very spa like and hopefully will last a very long time. We have experience of caring for elderly relatives who required assistance with bathing etc and cannot stress strongly enough the importance of making changes to your home if possible sooner rather than later. Having spent 30 plus years with three kids in this same house sharing a tiny bathroom with shower over bath now they have flown the nest we are so enjoying this new bathroom that feels like a hotel.Only problem is will we ever want to downsize properly and leave this luxury behind ?

  • Ursula in Cádiz 2nd June 2020 at 7:21 am

    Full of great information as usual Kate, thank you. The stagnant water palaver drove me crackers in Greece, where most bathrooms are constant ‘wet rooms’ with no shower tray and a slope that often goes away from the drain! (Never mind the curtains that stop 8 inches from the floor. Now in Andalucía the main problem I have found is no gradient of the drainage pipe: they’re practically horizontal, which I can understand better in the usual 18th C buildings here in Cádiz, as most plumbing was retro-fitted but the new build or complete renovation properties often have the same problem. Does only being 2m above sea level make a difference, I wonder?

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