Bathrooms01Bathrooms

This is a surprisingly involved subject so we have broken it down into different topics.  These will include:  Overall design, the market, showers v baths,  mixer taps v separate taps, location, plumbing, hot water, installing plumbing, special extras, issues, floods, condensation, decoration, lighting, fashion and accessories, mirrors and shelving, managing consumables, bathroom accessories, bathroom furniture, locks, maintenance, keeping stocks.

Overall Design

General matters need to be considered.  You need to design in relation to who is to use the bathroom.  Access for mildly or very disabled people is one issue; catering for children and babies, as well as able bodied grown-ups, is another.  Perhaps less obvious, is to ensure the plumbing is reasonably quiet so running and draining the bath as well as using the shower and flushing the toilet will not disturb others staying in the accommodation.  Attention to this sort of detail is important. I have stayed in five star hotels where the noise of the air conditioning and the plumbing has left a two star impression. Failure to get one key aspect right, wastes all the care cost and effort spent elsewhere.

A good bathroom should work well and give the impression that all its contents were chosen and positioned with an eye on ease of use as well as to create a pleasing arrangement.  It should leave a similar impression of a complete and thoughtfully arranged room as any drawing room, library or other capital reception area.  If you get this right, the bathroom will be a major source of actual and perceived quality and will pay for itself many times over.

The Market

As the vast majority of holiday let and cottage bookings are made by women it is essential to make sure the four key non negotiable points are majored on. They are decent sofas, beds and linen, kitchens and, last not least, good bathrooms.

Some of the key choices to make are covered:

Bathrooms02Showers or Baths… or Shower over Bath?

If there is a choice of a bath or a shower or ‘shower over bath’ what is the best approach in the current market? A rule of thumb is that it is better to provide a first class shower than a ‘shower over bath’ or just a bath.  Although strange, bath people will be less likely to dislike a shower where many shower people will, often, simply book elsewhere.

In the case of an existing bath and economic restrictions, a shower over bath is a compromise.  Do not kid yourself, providing a hand held shower is not enough to buy off shower aficionados. They will go elsewhere. In this respect, men are often more intolerant than women but a similar level of intolerance exists when women spot bed linen appearing to be either a little tired or simply not up to scratch.

Mixer Taps v Separate Taps

This war is largely over.  There are several different variants:  Separate taps for hot and cold, (I have seen a third supplying rainwater);Separate taps but one spout. A single tap with on and off and then a dial to turn from hot to cold. A single lift and left / right hot and cold mixer.

These can be mounted at the end of baths, to the side of the bath or elsewhere. It is usually worth keeping things simple, but with an eye to the hardness of the water, the decision to go for screw taps as opposed to taps using ceramic valves depends on circumstances and also, of no little importance, on fashion and expected levels of luxury. Screw taps do not offer quite so much in perceived quality as the ceramic valve alternatives.

There are many different styles types and ways water can get into a bath or sink so it is worth considering them in several different respects: practicality; style; fashion; repairability; the possibility of being left on to drip or simply to run; cleaning and maintenance; cost; ease and cost of fitting and so on. Many in hard water areas will still go with ceramic valves despite their vulnerability for reasons other than economics or reliability.  Compromising perceived quality on economic or operating grounds can damage that essential high quality impression that leads to bookings.

Location

Where bathrooms are shared, ideally, they should be equidistant from the relevant rooms. Lavatories should be similarly arranged. For lets of sleep 4 providing a downstairs loo is preferable, sleeping any more people and it is essential.

En suites or private bathrooms are a major quality extra.  In many cases, it is worth changing a sleep 8 with two shared bathrooms to a sleep 6 with en suites all round.  En suites in holiday lets do not need to be large but must be well designed.  In many cases a simple shortened T shape serves well with toilet to one side sink opposite the entrance and shower to the other side. Some natural light is highly desirable but not essential. If there is no natural light it can be an idea to try to provide more than the bare minimum of space, and provide good lighting to eliminate any feeling of being closed in.

Bathrooms03Plumbing

There is a vast choice available. It is worth ensuring simple well designed and consistent choice throughout the bathroom. So, the fittings on the shower should mirror or share design elements as fittings on the bath. The more simple and classic the choice the less likely things will appear out of date as time passes. But there are some pitfalls:

Some types of valve, for instance, the quarter turn ceramic valve, take a dislike to hard water. In many cases you will be lucky to get ten years out of a ceramic valve before it starts to leak causing unstoppable dripping. Some types of shower mixer do not permit you to replace these ceramic valves leaving you to replace the whole mixer unit. This is not necessarily as bad as it sounds as long as you can get a simple bolt on replacement assuming the feeder pipes are the same width apart. Then a relative amateur can switch off the water and do a simple swap for a new unit. Although units can cost what appears to be a large sum of money, calling in a plumber to replace a valve or some similar item can cost as much or more than simply buying an entire new unit.

Hard water also causes shower heads to cake up and can create a dullness on unpolished pipework. Shower heads can be detached and scrubbed so that the bristles knock out blocking lime scale. It is worth servicing showers thoroughly a couple of times or more a year depending on use.

Hot Water

This can come in three ways. The ideal is a power shower with hot water from a boiler or from direct mains feed. Another way is a shower supplied by hot water from a tank with gravity feed. The third way is to heat water at the shower itself with a wall mounted electric flash heater.

The aim is to ensure that however much demand is being made of the water supply, that showers do not slow down or that the balance of hot and cold is disrupted causing discomfort to users. The gravity fed water tank arrangement is a feature particularly common in the UK where it was a legal requirement until recently to have a water tank fed by the water main in all properties to supply all the internal plumbing. Many foreign visitors remember the irritating necessity to leap out of the shower when someone turned on a cold water tap in the kitchen. Fortunately UK plumbing has come on quite a bit from those days.

Of course the prime advantage of direct feed plumbing from the water main is that hot water, assuming the boiler is timed to be on, is unlikely to run out. This is one of the only strong arguments in favour of the in shower electric flash water heater. Short of a power cut or water supply failure, hot water will always be available. But the electric alternative should only be used when there is no other economic or practical alternative. When they appear in photographs, shower people, who tend to be well versed in all things showery, will immediately spot something they will have to compromise about. This need not be critical as long as plenty of other quality items are in the holiday let, but it can be a slightly negative factor when it comes to weighing up booking choices.

Assuming you have a well insulated water tank you will not save much by timing the hot water heater to switch on and off at intervals during the day.  Doing this can tempt fate causing phone calls late in the evening reporting no hot water when the children have had a whale of a time water fighting in the wet room draining the hot tank just as the water heater switches off leaving grown ups to rough it.

Putting the Plumbing In

This is an area where a few seemingly wildly pessimistic precautions can pay handsomely.

When putting the pipes in, before the floor is put back/chasing made good, try to take a photograph of where all the pipes go.  It is worth keeping spare tiles, for obvious reasons.

Note all the model numbers and vendors of every item you buy for the bathroom. The number of variants is vast so if you need a spare part, without this information, you can end up having to scrap an expensive item all for the want of key details. In many cases the spares will be out there, but suppliers will have no idea of what you are talking about without the numbers. It can be an idea, before launching out on a search, to take photographs of the items for identification purposes.

Take care. If you approach some plumbers they will trade on your lack of knowledge. Sometimes a plumber may know what is causing a problem but simply ignore it to return two or three times, callout charges apply, before suggesting a very expensive solution. In some cases the mark ups for parts are excessive. In other cases repairable items are said to be scrap. There are many good plumbers out there and they will appreciate your efforts to make things easy for them. It is fortunate that those who are not so positive, either see you coming and do not bother to respond to enquiries, or are sufficiently blind to try something on you, when you can see them coming.

Word of mouth is often the best way of finding reliable people… even so, the above approach is worthwhile. Some suppliers who straddle trade and retail can be hugely positive and helpful. It is worth seeking them out. However, photographs and as much information as possible is always a good start. If you are buying plumbing items, always shop around, prices can vary wildly. The shower mixer unit I recently bought from a well know trade supplier came in at £117 gross;some suppliers were quoting over £200 with one, peaking at £247.

Bathrooms04Special Extras

Some owners choose to go further than a simple bathroom and install what are, effectively, bathroom spas. They often include baths with therapeutic jets, tanked out rooms, small saunas, and even marble topped tables with mirrors for hair and make-up. Such installations can have a strong impact on occupancy and prices. Depending on location it can be worth reducing a sleep six down to a sleep four to provide a full bathroom spa producing higher annual profit. The impact on income can be as radical if not more so than a hot tub for, say, a sleep 8 holiday let.

Some extras should be avoided. The English had a short lived but disastrous tendency to carpet out bathrooms. The arguments against this are obvious. Unless there is a radical and blindingly good argument in favour, the temptation to do this is best resisted.

Good heating in bathrooms is generally a good idea. Again, in the UK the tendency was to treat bathrooms as necessary areas, but those places which you used and then left as quickly as practical. Only over the years were radiators introduced. A warm bathroom is a major aspect and essential part if you are to claim a good quality holiday let. Radiators or heaters should be easy to control and up to the job. In bathrooms, ideally, they should fit the theme of all the plumbing in style and finish. The same thing goes for small items such as toilet roll holders, waste bins, lavatory brush holders, soap trays and other bits and pieces. Try to keep to a uniformity of style and finish. In bathrooms this tends to be chrome currently and, ideally, clear plastic for soap dispensers and such like.

Try to avoid glass items where ever possible. Moveable glass items are a source of danger in bathrooms because broken glass and unclothed bodies do not mix well.

Issues

Floods

There is always the danger of overflowing baths and hand basins. It is a good idea to try to provide a drain on the floor making sure, of course, that it will be where the water will migrate to. The drain should be as generous in size to be able to deal with the flow from a bath being run at full tilt. This might mean a fairly generous diameter of waste pipe as well as a fairly large drain hole. Even if the bathroom is not tanked out only with a waterproof floor covering, such a provision could radically reduce damage caused by overflow accidents.

Condensation

This can be tough. Bathrooms should be insulated well and need some form of heating. The compromise between getting very cold with good ventilation to a warm misty fug needs to be avoided. If heating is not up to scratch and the walls are uninsulated most bathrooms are places best not to linger in and are poor quality offerings. Extractors and ventilation are important whether insulated or not.

Mats

Although carpeting bathrooms is strongly not advised, mats including those around toilets are a good idea. They should be robust, capable of many washings and simple and unfussy. They are there to do three simple jobs. They can soften the interior, keep your feet warm and the third, in the case of the toilet, is obvious. As with most things keep the design very simple and, if you have sufficiently colour themed the room, choose neutral light colours.

Decoration

Similar rules apply as for bedrooms. Try to keep the walls, ceiling and major items neutral with soft light colours or even off white. Fittings, currently, tend to be chrome leaving a bit of theming left to do. Some choose nautical themes with a little blue, some sea shells, perhaps a picture of a boat on a blue sea and so on. Whatever you choose it is an idea to make it relevant to watery subjects.

Lighting

Gone are the days of a single shaded pendant light.  Recessed lighting appears to be most popular. There are specific rules that do not permit wall sockets in bathrooms so you are a little restricted on choice. Fortunately recessed ceiling lights are much kinder and throw fewer shadows than the old fashioned lights. It is a good plan, if in doubt, to provide more lighting rather than less. If lighting can be directed it is a good idea to try to focus somewhere someone maybe trying to peer in a mirror. A well lit shower and bath area is also a good plan. Think of how the whole room will feel and how it will best be revealed/defined by lighting. Using a bathroom should be a full and pleasant experience and not a simple utilitarian ‘in and out’ activity.

Fashions and Availability of Accessories

Over the last 20 years or so in the UK, the choice of plumbing accessories as radically increased. Shower heads have gone from a simple nozzle to a myriad of shapes with some adjustable, some in plastic, some in chrome and so on. The same now applies to humble items such as soap trays, baskets to contain soaps and other items and so on. All these need to be chosen in reference to how the overall impression and design of the room.

bathrooms06Mirrors and shelves

Yes, of course a bathroom needs a mirror. Ideally there should be two. One at a small table where cosmetic or hair care items can be placed and one full length mirror elsewhere. It may sound obvious. Providing hair dryers in bathrooms is not practical for safety purposes so the problem, in this case, of making sure an electric socket is close to a mirror does not apply… for some reason this blind spot never seems to apply to shaving sockets but modern shavers are largely battery driven, making shaving sockets close to sinks and mirrors optional where, once, they were considered essential.

Shelves should be provided for glasses, toothpaste and other bathroom bits and pieces and a soap dish at a useful height is essential in a shower. It can be an idea to provide two of these at different heights to cater for grownups and the little ones. It is this sort of detail that leaves a lasting impression of thoughtfulness on guests.

Managing consumables

Toilet rolls are best either nearly full or new on guest arrival and spares should be provided in proportion to guest numbers. One spare for a couple is an idea and, perhaps, two or three for larger numbers per lavatory. Soap dispensers are useful as you can top them up each time and as they are not branded products it is unlikely that the unfortunate habit some guests have of cleaning out supplied toiletries will apply. It is a good idea not to water down soap as this will leave a poor quality impression. Depending on experience you can gauge how to manage this.

Bathroom Furniture

Aside from a chair to put clothes on and, perhaps, another to sit at a mirror, with larger bathrooms it can be a temptation to fit them out with chaise longues and other bits and pieces. Unless done with great care in an appropriate room, merging lounge life with bathroom activity can be a mistake. If intent on this approach, take great care because it can work, but more often than not, it turns out not such a bright idea.

National, Cultural and Regional Differences

Yes. This can be quite important. The design of lavatories varies from country to country depending on practices. Bidets did appear for a time in the UK but were a passing fad, where they are still a key item in France and elsewhere. Baths are much less common in hot countries not least, because they need more water.

Toilet paper is used in different ways. In some countries the practice is to clean with water before using toilet paper to complete and dry. Then the provision of bidets or jugs for hygiene is important.

Locks

Anyone who has experienced a small child locking themselves in the lavatory will understand the need for simple foolproof bathroom locks. These should be at a height beyond the reach of the little ones. Upset can cause a small child to be unable to undo even the most simple of locks.

A good route is to choose a simple sliding bolt mechanism or even a hook and eye although this does not usually offer such a high quality impression.  Avoid use of keys or anything that could possibly help create that special panic felt by children who think they will never be able to get out again.  Locks should, if possible, reflect the style of all the other accessories in the bathroom.

Bathrooms05Maintenance

Enamel will scratch; it is only a matter of time. Small scratches can be repaired but good cleaning can go a long way to help. Shower trays are prone to damage and water seal grouting often discolours. The stained blackish result should be avoided. In some cases, this can involve replacing the sealant on an annual basis. Drain traps should be regularly cleared, well before they clog and reduce flow. Lavatory seats should be checked regularly and changed the moment that they show any wear and tear. This applies particularly to the underside of wooden seats.. check the fixings are secure. It is surprising how often seats get damaged for reasons that are often unknown. Tiling should be cleaned regularly and wiped over after every stay.

Condensation can cause paint to discolour in bathrooms but ventilation will go a long way to reducing this tendency.

Maintenance is key, but all bathroom contents have a limited life. Sometimes fashion moves on;sometimes wear and tear makes once shiny new crisp items look tired and time served;sometimes things start to go wrong- ceramic valves leak, seals give way, items discolour, and so on. Refreshing or completely renewing a bathroom can be an expensive affair. It is important to set aside a fund or at least a budget so that, come the day, there will be no surprises or temptation causing you to compromise and soldier on with second best and an increasingly poor quality offering.

Thousands of owners have hit this slippery slope. Quality is compromised so reducing income which, in turn, causes even more quality compromises and, eventually, economic failure. Maintenance is absolutely vital, but it can only go so far. In the end, time and events will insist that you bit the bullet and spend a lump of money to keep the market happy.

Keeping stocks

As with other rooms in the holiday let, it is a good idea to keep a stock of back up spares. Bathroom items should include a spare toilet seat, cleaning materials, a bath plug, mats, toilet rolls, tiles, and as with other rooms, touch up paint. Brushes, wrenches and a practical tool kit should also be available in the maintenance cupboard. It is hard to underestimate the amount of stress, upset and worry simple arrangements like this can alleviate.