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NKBA Planning Guide For Your New Bathroom

April 30 2010

Designing a new bathroom is full of challenges. It’s most likely the smallest room in your house, yet requires the most fixtures, 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 how can they be placed to code and for the most convenience?

Among the most exciting resources for homeowners is the National Kitchen and Bath Association website, where there is a wealth of information and ideas. The NKBA’s Kitchen and Bath Planning Guidelines with Access Standards (ANSI) is a terrific guide to make sure you get the most accessible, safest, and attractive new both possible.

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


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 entry 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”, which is large enough to accommodate a 3’-0 door. 

Because a bathroom space is typically tight, also pay careful attention to all clearances. Could the door bang into an open cabinet door or drawer? Is there plenty of room to exit the tub without getting bruised by a cabinet edge or another fixture?

Lavatories should be operable with one hand, and not require “tight grasping, pinching, or twisting of the wrist, suggest ANSI 309.4.


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 work 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. 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. It’s 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 portable shelves. Just be sure to allow enough clearance for maintenance. 

Sometimes new lighting fixtures can update a bath with very little investment. Think in terms of task lighting – lights by the vanity mirror, for example. Overhead light fixtures and ventilation fans are also useful.

Vessel sinks have been around a few years, but they still add drama and individuality to baths because of the wide range of styles, materials, and colors. From porcelain to granite to glass to metal, vessel sinks can be enhanced by new fixtures. The kitchen farmhouse sink is also attractive in a high-traffic bathroom.

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, and not a tub, create a shower with a small built-in seat. Where there’s a will, there’s a solution.

For more ideas, be sure to visit the National Kitchen and Bath Association at www.nkba.org.