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Probably the greatest challenge in remodeling a bathroom is figuring out how to achieve the style and build in the features you want within the limits of what is probably the smallest room in the house. A second limiting factor is the location of existing plumbing pipes and electrical wiring. Remodeling a bathroom is relatively easy if you don't have to move them. If you make radical changes in the existing layout, you'll need to investigate whether or not you can build what you want without making structural changes.

Keep in mind that you may need a building permit, depending on the scope of your project. If so, you'll probably have to submit a detailed plan of your proposed project. Before you begin planning your new bathroom, always check with your local building department and find out what codes, specifications and requirements you'll have to meet.


There are a number of general issues you should consider before you begin designing your new bathroom. They include:

    * Layout. Think about the layout in your existing bathroom and decide which are the most serious problems you want to fix. If more than one person uses the bathroom at the same time, for example, is there adequate counter space, or do you need a second sink or a shower compartment for greater privacy?

      Are towel racks and tissue holders located conveniently? Is there enough storage space for everyone who uses the bathroom? Do vanity doors or drawers interfere with opening and closing the bathroom door?

    * Mechanical systems. From the plumber's point of view, the best bathroom layout is one that has all the rough plumbing–water supply and drain-waste-vent pipes–all in one wall. A "wet wall," as it is called, not only saves materials, but makes it a lot easier to make repairs if needed.

    * Electrical outlets and switches are usually easier to move than plumbing pipes, provided there is reasonably easy access to the wiring. Likewise with heating ducts–if you can get to the duct, it usually isn't too much trouble to relocate the vent. Keep in mind, however, that any mechanical changes you make will cost extra.

      If your current layout is livable, leaving the mechanical systems as they are will mean that much more in the budget for upgraded fixtures, and may make the difference between doing the project and waiting to save more money.

      Don't neglect lighting when you redesign your bathroom. You'll need strong lighting over the mirror–a strip of eight 60-watt bulbs is not necessarily too much–but you may also want to consider pinpoint task lighting and soft ambient lights. If you plan to install a whirlpool built for two, indirect mood lighting may fit well. With incandescent lighting, you'll need at least 3-1/2 to 4 watts per square foot (e.g., 280 watts minimum in an 80-square-foot bathroom). If you use fluorescent lighting, figure 1-1/2 to 2 watts per square foot.
    * Maintenance. Think about the maintenance problems you have in your existing bathroom–stained grout, mildew, soap buildup, etc. Some materials look great when they're brand new, but don't weather very well in a high-moisture location. As you choose materials, make sure they are waterproof and washable–resilient vinyl flooring, for example, a fiberglass tub surround and semi-gloss enamel paint will all wear well.

    * Energy and water conservation. Your hot water heater is one of the largest energy hogs in the house, and the toilet uses more water than any other single fixture. Consider installing low-flow shower heads and insulating hot water pipes. The extra money you spend on an ultra-low-flush toilet will often come back in the first year in reduced water bills.
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