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Best Bathroom Planning Guides

Designing a new bathroom is full of challenges. It’s the smallest room in your house, yet requires the most fixtures, storage, lights, and plumbing per square foot. That means the highest, best use of available space is crucial. Who’s going to use the bath, what fixtures will be needed and where and how can they be placed? Will your new bathroom meet the code?

Naturally, you have some limits in what you can do – space, budget, priorities, but if your bathroom is designed with professional guidelines, you can more easily choose what’s most important to you and your family.

Interior Design and Kitchen and Bath professionals use the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s NKBA Kitchen and Bath Planning Guidelines with Access Standards (ANSI) as a tool to ensure building code compliance as well as consumer health, safety, and welfare. There’s also the International Building Codes and Guidelines for Interior Design (IRC) which addresses some issues a little differently, such as the size of “clear” space around tubs and showers. While a little on the technical side, these sources are good information to make sure you get the most accessible, safest, and attractive new bath possible.


Being able to enter and use the bath is easy to take for granted if you don’t personally have a disability or injury. But as our population ages, more people will benefit from designs that allow for wheelchairs, walkers, or weaker hands and knees.

These concepts are included in the concepts known as universal design, but that doesn’t mean your new bathroom will look like a hospital facility. It simply means you can include wider doorways, roll-in showers, or door handles instead of knobs.

The doorway entrance to a bath is recommended to be at least 32”, depending on your state or local codes. But if you have older household members or entertain relatives or friends who use a wheelchair or walker, you may consider the Access Standard of 34”. Bathroom ceiling heights are recommended by both the NKBA and IRC to be 80 inches high.

Because a bathroom space is typically tight, pay careful attention to all clearances. Could the door bang into an open cabinet door or drawer? Can lavatories be used with one hand? Is there plenty of room to exit the tub without getting bruised by a cabinet edge or fixture? The NKBA recommends a clear space of 30 inches in front of sinks, showers and tubs.


One of the reasons tile is so popular for baths is that water can seep into the grout, making flooring much more slip-resistant. Flooring with textured or uneven surfaces such as slate

also works well. Shower floors should slope so water doesn’t accumulate underfoot.

One of the most important improvements for any bath is electrical outlets. Many older baths only come with one outlet, while newer building codes may require only one GFCI receptacle outlet every six or eight feet. Consider rewiring the bath and putting outlets on every corner where you use an electric appliance, but away from showers and tubs for all your hairdryers, curling irons, shavers, nail dryers and more.

Grab bars can be placed in water closets and above tubs for greater ease in getting up and down. The NKBA recommends bars at least 1 ¼ inches in diameter that can support up to 300 pounds, installed 33 to 36 inches above the floor and 1 to 1 ½ inches from the wall.

Try to design the bath with no steps if possible, particularly none around the tub.


Covering the shower walls with a waterproof material such as tile or glass is recommended, but you can also take the covering much higher than standards did in the past for a luxurious look.

Include as much space as possible for storage – towels, linens, grooming and cleaning supplies. A bath is the most important area of the house to keep clean and tidy. If storage is at a premium, think creatively. For example, the space above the tank of the commode is a perfect place to build or install shelves. Just be sure to allow enough clearance for maintenance.

Sometimes new lighting fixtures can update a bath with very little investment. The IRC recommends that lights not hang lower than 8 ft. from the top of the bathtub and 3 ft. away from it. One light must operate through a wall-mounted light switch, according to

Think in terms of task lighting – lights by the vanity mirror, for example.

No matter what you choose for your new bath, if you combine utility with comfort, you can’t go wrong. Don’t try to make the bath do more than the space allows. If all you have room for is a shower, install a built-in seat at least 15” deep and 17 to 19 inches above the shower floor.