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To a plumber, the difference between one bathroom and another is a matter of slope. Some baths are bigger, some have more fixtures, but in the end, everything flows downhill.
Get the fresh water in. Get the waste water out. Mission accomplished.
But good bathroom planning is more than just connecting the pipes, especially when space and budgets are tight. There are many possible configurations and types of baths and a large number of finishes and fixtures to select. It's one of the most expensive rooms in the house.
We all know what a bathroom is used for (that hasn't changed!), but homes today are getting by with fewer – and smaller – baths. Making that work means understanding the basic ingredients of a well-planned bath.
The Muck Stops Here
You probably didn't grow up in a house with a utility bath, but your mom wishes you did: It's the bath that comes between the muddy kids and Mom's nice, clean floors and gives Dad a place to wash his golf clubs — other than in the kitchen sink.
Ideally, the utility bath is part of a family entry/mud room area, probably between the garage and the kitchen. It's also often combined with the laundry room – the basin can do double-duty as a washtub. A toilet and a basin are the only necessary fixtures. Add a small shower if you're a frequent gardener or if your kids often find their way to the muddy creek in the backyard.
Make this bath a little nicer than for just "utility," and it can easily serve as your home's guest bath, too. There's no need for a completely separate bath.
Two Kids, One Pail Of Water
Upstairs baths come in a wide variety of configurations. The basic "hall bath" has a sink, toilet and tub and is accessed by two or more bedrooms through a common hallway. A hall bath with standard fixtures can be as small as 5 feet wide by 8 feet long.
But because the hall bath has all of the fixtures in one room, only one person can use it at a time. A better solution is the compartmentalized bath. This is a slightly larger version of the hall bath that places one or two basins in a separate room from the toilet and tub. Now one teenager can use the tub or toilet in privacy while another uses the basin.
It's a far more family-friendly arrangement, doesn't take up much more space, and is much smaller than two separate baths.
Another space-saving option is the "Jack-and-Jill" bath. Young Jack and young Jill share a common tub and toilet, but each has a private basin, countertop, storage drawers and mirror. Usually that basin is accessible directly from the bedroom and provides a private dressing and grooming area for each child.
It's a great way to keep teenagers from fighting over the basin and countertop space without the expense of two separate baths.
Domain of the Master
The big whirlpool bathtub was the centerpiece of the luxury "master bath" just a few years ago, but not so much anymore. In fact, we're designing many new homes with a big shower but no tub at all in the master bath. It's a bit unusual, but why install a tub you'll never use?
The showers we're designing in homes today are hard to beat for relaxation. Some have multiple showerheads and body-spray fixtures; all have built-in bench seats; a few have steam units. Most important, they're used every day.
Privacy and personal space are important in a master, but that doesn't require a lot of extra space. A separate basin and countertop space for each of the owners is usually all that's needed. Sinks are occasionally side by side, but often they're completely separated from each other.
And every decent master bath should also have a private toilet room, an absolutely essential feature if more than one person is to use the bath simultaneously.
Large and numerous baths are one of the reasons that American homes have gotten crazy big and expensive. Careful consideration of who's using which bath and how they use them will help keep the size of your home under control – and make your home more convenient and comfortable for everyone in it.
Even the plumber.
Richard Taylor is a residential architect based in Dublin, Ohio, and a contributor to Zillow Blog.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.