Design Ideas

Bathroom Upgrades

Bathroom remodeling ranks with kitchen remodeling as one of America’s most popular major home improvements. While a simple spruce-up involving a new vanity top, light fixture and accessories can be done for well under $1000, many people are choosing to yank everything out and starting from scratch again. A completely new bathroom can cost $10,000 or more.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about bathroom remodeling:

Q: We have old toilets but they look fine. Is there any reason to replace them?

A: The toilet itself doesn’t wear out, but the flush mechanism in the tank may need to be replaced. When people do replace the entire toilet, it is usually for aesthetic reasons.

Something to keep in mind is that the federal government outlawed the installation of the standard toilet homeowners have used for decades. Now, you must install a toilet that only uses 1.5 gallons of water per flush.

While this new requirement probably benefits Mother Nature, many people find that the new toilets don’t flush well. In fact, dissatisfaction with the new toilets has created a black market in the older, water-wasting models. So, think twice before you decide to pitch the old one.

Q: I’ve seen toilets advertised for $50 and others advertised for $500. Why such a big difference?

A: Toilets costing under $100 might not always be a good buy. Generally the flush mechanism parts are made of flimsy plastic that doesn’t last very long.

Another problem is that the toilet manufacturers have had a lot of difficulty in getting the new 1.5-gallon toilets to flush properly. Generally, those companies that have done the most research on improved designs are not the ones offering the very low-cost toilets.

As you go up from $150, the cost of toilets is driven more by aesthetic differences. There are now “designer” toilets that come in “designer” colors like “sea breeze” and “winter dawn.”

Some higher-end toilets come with pressure-assisted flush mechanisms. Available for years in the commercial market, these toilets use compressed air to whoosh away waste.

Q: From time to time I hear about something called “universal design.” What is it?

A: Universal design is based on the premise that we should design and build things that are useful and safe for everyone, no matter what their shape, size, age or physical limitations.

Bathrooms, with their slick wet surfaces, tight spaces, hard edges and scalding hot water, are the site of thousands of accidents each year. Many of these ghastly mishaps, mostly falls and burns, are preventable through the application of the principles of universal design.

Q: How would universal design make bathrooms safer and more useful?

A: A well-designed bathroom does not have floors that get very slick when wet. It does have many solidly mounted grab bars to help people keep their balance and prevent falls.

The bathroom should have enough space for someone to navigate with a walker or even a wheel chair. The sink or vanity should have knee space so that someone can wash or apply make-up from a sitting position.

The shower should be equipped with a water pressure-equalizing device so that when a toilet flushes, someone in the shower doesn’t experience a sudden increase in water temperature. Also, the shower should have a seat.

A flexible hose attached to a showerhead makes it easier for someone with disabilities to wash. It also makes it easier to bathe small children or the family pet!

Q: What are the hottest trends in bathroom remodeling?

A: Many people are opting to install two sinks, eliminating one common source of family friction. Exhaust fans are now standard equipment. Bathtubs outfitted with soothing jets are popular for couples, athletes and anyone who enjoys a long, luxurious soak.

Many people now isolate the toilet area from the rest of the bathroom with a partial wall or privacy glass. In bigger bathrooms some folks are installing urinals or bidets.

These days, people place more emphasis on decor and are more likely to have a large window and some variety in lighting options. In very high-end bathrooms, radiant floor heating is popular. Besides keeping your feet cozily warm, heated floors dry quickly.

Q: For a shower, what’s better: ceramic tile or fiberglass units?

A: On an aesthetic basis, most people prefer ceramic tile. While perceived as classier, ceramic tile does have shortcomings. It’s harder to keep clean and it’s very unforgiving if there is any movement in the bathrooms floors or walls. Ceramic tile also costs a great deal more.

On the other hand, ceramic tile, properly installed, has a useful life that can span many decades. Most fiberglass units are good for only a decade or two, though some last much longer. The fiberglass units can also be scratched and marred and colors may fade over time.

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