Designing Your New Bathroom -- Planning Basics

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This section shows you how to create a floor plan that suits your needs and how to use elevation sketches to tie your design together. The Shopping Guide will help you select fixtures and materials, and guidelines for cost estimates and contracts will help you complete your plans.

[Set against the all-white tile background, the towel bar and exposed shower pipe become the featured elements of this shower stall, which is the other half of the bathroom shown earlier. Note how even a small touch of color diminishes the intensity of this very structural design.]

Planning Basics

With ideas starting to pop, you’ll want to get on with your sketches. During this phase, let your imagination go— changes in plumbing, wiring, heating, or structure may not be nearly as expensive or impossible as they might seem at first. As you get further into your planning, you’ll develop a sense of what you can and cannot afford.

Plumbing and Wiring

You should know at the outset that you can move your washbasin a few inches to the right or left of its present position by using flexible supply lines, and in most situations you can move your tub, toilet, or basin up to 6 feet from the vent line without having to install all new plumbing (check local codes). As long as you have relatively easy access to your plumbing lines (through the basement or crawl space, perhaps) you can divert the lines to the new location without necessarily incurring a lot of extra expense.

These same principles hold true for your bathroom wiring. Changing a light fixture is a simple procedure. If you want to change the location of that fixture or add outlets where none exist now, you have to do more extensive work, but it is not necessarily expensive. Unless you’re knowledgeable about wiring, you may want to go ahead and make your plans and then check with a professional.


If you already have a built-in heater operated by a wall switch or a pull chain, it probably works in conjunction with an exhaust fan set in your ceiling or wall. This sort of heater is simply an electrical fixture; it can be replaced with a higher quality model as long as your new heater does not place a greater demand on your wiring than the system can handle. Replacing the heater/fan is essentially the same as replacing the fan alone. If your bathroom has no built-in heating, the simplest solution is to purchase a separate space-heating unit. Electric space heaters are generally efficient in the small area of a bathroom, and installation is usually a matter of plugging the unit into an electrical outlet. If mounting is required, the heater will be packaged with specific instructions for doing the job.

Structural Changes

You can build recessed storage facilities, create privacy by erecting partitions, and sometimes even enlarge your bathroom by annexing adjacent space. There are many examples below.

Drawing the Plan

Tape tracing paper over your Existing Plan, and trace the shell of your bathroom, including walls, windows, and doorways. If you are considering expanding your bathroom into another room or into an adjacent closet, include that additional space on your tracing as well. Even if you don’t have such plans at the moment, it’s a good idea to include these surrounding spaces—you may change your mind about using them. If you’re planning to keep any other elements, like the tub or toilet, include these on your drawing, too. Then, using a template or cutouts for the major elements in your bath room, begin to play around with various floor plans.

Since you’re not committed to any of your plans, take some chances with them. If some wonderful notion pops into your head when you’re cooking, driving to work, or lounging in your tub, make a note of it and try it out. The great physicist, Albert Einstein, said he got some of his best ideas while shaving. Even if you’re worried about cost, go ahead and sketch your idea. You may find ways to alter your most brilliant ideas to fit your budget, but you’ll never know what those ideas are if you don’t try them.

Next: Sketching Floor Plans

Prev.: Project Overview

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Updated: Wednesday, 2017-01-18 9:12