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A Guide to Bathroom Design

Bathroom Lighting and Ventilation
A chandelier over a tub provides soft, romantic lighting.

Your focus may be on basic bath fixtures and surfacing materials, but your comfort in the room will be affected by the often-overlooked fixtures that provide light and ventilation. You may also want supplementary heating in the bath, most often electrical. These fixtures will require adequate electrical wiring, which may involve pulling wire through existing plaster walls and ceilings. Plan for more electrical access than you think you'll need, since your needs are likely to increase over time as new technology becomes available.

Ventilating Fans

If you think a ventilating fan in your new bath is a nice-to, not a need-to, think again. An open window isn't feasible all year-round in most climates, and it's just not as efficient as a ventilating fan at replacing odor-carrying, stale air with fresh air. What's more, an open window is even less efficient at reducing the harmful humidity in a bath. All those showers and baths take their toll not just on your new wallcovering but also on your home's basic structure, as hidden moisture builds up in today's well-insulated houses. A good ventilating fan is a relatively small investment that will make any bath -- especially a shared one -- more comfortable and will help preserve your home's infrastructure. Models that include lights and infrared heating panels as well as fans are especially practical.


In the bathroom, as in the kitchen, adequate lighting isn't just aesthetic, it's a real safety issue. So don't skimp here. You'll need general lighting to find your way around the room; task lighting for shaving, hairstyling, and fixing that splinter; and, in some baths, mood lighting. One dramatic and popular solution, theatrical mirror lighting, can handle more than one job, and lighter-colored walls and surfaces will maximize the effect of available light.

Comfort and Safety

Your installer has a legal obligation to comply with building codes, which keep changing to reflect new understanding about hazards in the built environment -- in this case, your bathroom. But there is a host of other proven guidelines your installer should be employing to make your new bath safe and comfortable.

The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) has developed a punch list of 41 guidelines that range from the essential to the highly recommended. Here are just a few:

  • clear space at doorways of at least 32 inches wide
  • at least 48 inches of clear space in front of a toilet and 16 inches on each side (measured from the fixture's centerline)
  • clear space of at least 15 inches on each side of a sink to the wall (measured from the sink's centerline)
  • shower doors that open into the bathroom so you can get out
  • safety rails next to tubs (and definitely no steps!)
  • tub faucets reachable from outside as well as inside the tub
  • compartment toilet space of at least 36366 inches
  • grab bars able to hold 300 pounds
Grab bars are part of basic bathroom safety for people in need of assistance.

­­A numbe­r of the NKBA guidelines foster "universal access." Important developments in bath design have come from the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has transformed public and commercial buildings from off-limits to accessible. Universal access has come to mean not just access for people with traditional "handicaps" but increased livability for children, senior citizens, pregnant women, and others who have had to make do with uncomfortable or dangerous fixtures. Grab bars and wider doorways are just two universal access benefits that can make your bath more comfortable today -- and through all your tomorrows.

Once you have the bare bones of your new bathroom determined, you can personalize it even further. On the next page, check out some intriguing ideas about bathroom decor.


To learn more about decorating or remodeling your bathroom, visit: