Home Clinic: Is an en suite bathroom a complete waste of space?
Q We are a family of four, two adults and four-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. We are planning a total refurbishment of our new forever-home and are tight for space. Is it worth installing an en suite bathroom off the master bedroom? And is it a good idea to splash out on a downstairs shower room?
A: I recommend thinking about the bathing arrangements for your house in the context of both the house as a whole and of the life stages of your family. Your needs will change as your children grow. For example, a bath is a must for children of pre-school and primary school age, while a shower is more important for teenagers. At that stage, you will be well on the way to being a family of four adults.
Two showers are a bonus for a family of four, especially at peak times. Teens can use - and clean! - the shower in the family bathroom. Fit a separate shower and bath, if you can. But if you are short on space, choose a large shower tray, with the same footprint as the bath. It brings the added advantage of eliminating the need for a shower door - a fixed glass screen prevents the water at the showering end of the tray from splashing into the rest of the room. Most shower doors, especially ones that slide or fold, harbour grime and quickly develop mould if not cleaned thoroughly on a weekly basis. A fixed glass screen is so much easier to clean.
Install the second shower in an en suite off the master bedroom to give priority and privacy to the main adults in the house. Clever design, not size, is the key to a successful en suite or small shower room. The most space-efficient way to create an en suite is to carve out a long, narrow space, measuring, say 1m wide x 2.2m long. Place the door in the middle of the long wall with the shower and toilet either side, and a compact basin opposite.
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If you have more space, a better option is to create a long but wider room, measuring, say, 1.2m wide x 1.9m long, with the door at one end. This will accommodate a 120cm x 70cm shower tray along the wall opposite the door, with a compact toilet and modest basin side by side along the remainder of the long wall. You can even squeeze in a heated towel rail. These are minimum sizes. If space permits, larger rooms are a bonus and will allow different configurations.
Think about the en suite in the overall context of the master bedroom. It needs to work with the layout of the room and with the locations of the bed and of clothes storage. If possible, avoid having the door to your en suite opposite the foot of the bed. It is far nicer to wake to some nice art on the wall than to a door into an en suite.
Compact spaces like these depend on simple finishes, including mirrors and a light colour palette, to create a sense of space. Add lots of hooks, under-sink storage and mirrored, wall-mounted cabinets for maximum convenience.
You can also maximise space by choosing modestly sized toilets and washbasins.
It is important to plan for the best possible ventilation in your shower room or en suite. An opening window as well as a mechanical fan is the best solution. Fans can be noisy and irritating but you can overcome this problem by fitting an inline fan. Here, the motor is located remotely from the room vent, for example, in the attic and it means that you only hear a low hum when the fan is operating. This is a great solution for ground floor toilets too.
A downstairs loo is extremely convenient, both for guests and in case of long-term disability. The best place to put it is off the hall, where possible. Ideally, a ground floor toilet will be disabled accessible. You will find full details of size requirements online in Technical Guidance Document Part M of the Building Regulations (housing.gov.ie).
A downstairs shower is less of a priority and is probably only worth the bother where you have lots of space.
On the other hand, if space doesn't permit an en suite off the master bedroom, a downstairs shower will come in useful, especially if you have sporty kids. If you can't fit a toilet on the ground floor, the traditional arrangement of separate toilet and bathroom on the first floor could prove useful when the house is crowded.
Expect to pay upwards of €3,000 for a complete bathroom makeover. The cost will be made up of the skip hire, the many trades involved as well as the fixtures, fittings and finishes. And of course, it depends on how spendy you want to be about your fixtures and finishes.
In general, I recommend two loos and two showers as optimal for a family of four. The layout of your house will determine how they are distributed. A registered architect can give you good advice about how to make best use of the space in your home.
Eva Byrne is an RIAI-registered architect and specialises in house consultations to maximise space, light and storage in your home; houseology.ie