Design the powder room

Powder rooms are defined by the small space they occupy and the presence of only two bath fixtures: a toilet and a lavatory. Another term for this space is the half bath. Planning the powder room is different than planning most other bathrooms.

All bathrooms are planned based on five basic needs: sanitation, aesthetics, comfort, grooming and utility. I always explain each of these needs to my clients who are asked to prioritize them. It is suggested that sanitation always be at the top of the list. This is particularly true for the powder room since it may be the most used bathroom in the home during the daytime and early evening as well as while guests are in a home.

Of the remaining needs, either aesthetics or utility is at the top of the list for many people. The choice often is split based on the homeowner’s age. Younger couples typically need a bathroom easily accessible to young children during the day. If the powder room is on the main level of a multilevel home, space may be needed to store a stepstool for access to the lavatory or provisions for “potty” training.

Noise control and proper ventilation are two features all bathrooms should have. It is often adjacent to the living areas of the home. Sounds from the bathroom should never be detected in areas other than the bathroom space. To ensure a private space, extra attention should be paid to the walls that surround the bath space. Sounds in the bathroom cause the drywall to vibrate. That vibration continues through the studs to the drywall in the living areas. There are several products that can greatly reduce the vibrations such as resilient channels, absorbent matts, fiberglass insulation and gasket tape. Double walls can accomplish the same thing but thicker walls in already small spaces are not always an option.

Ventilation needs

Bathroom ventilation is a necessity regardless of the type of bath. But since the ventilation fan is not needed for moisture control, a ceiling-mounted unit is not necessary. Mounting the fan on a wall near the toilet serves two purposes. The fan will be partially hidden by the toilet and it will be more effective in removing toilet odors. Make sure the ventilation unit can be mounted vertically. One of the first units I mounted vertically made more noise than I expected based on the sone rating noted on the box. I contacted the manufacturer and was told it would not be as quite mounted vertically as horizontally.

I always recommend the fan be connected to a timer switch. It should run for a short period of time after the person leaves the space to ensure odors are removed. A common mistake is to install a quiet ventilation unit in the bath space on a standard single-pole switch. If the fan is too quiet, the last person to use the bathroom might not hear the fan therefore not turn it off. It then continues to run all day removing conditioned air from the home at a minimum rate of 50 cu. ft. per minute.

Powder room glam

If the client’s interests lean more toward a glamorous bath space, several issues should be considered. Create lighting levels by installing more than one light source. Building codes require a switch at the entrance to control the general lighting. Connect a dimmer switch to a recessed fixture for the general light requirement. This will allow adequate light for daytime use and cleaning activities and low-level light in the evening during social events. A second dimmer switch would activate task lighting at the sink. This will allow lower light levels for evening functions but the ability to increase light levels for quick grooming activities. If space permits, a third level of lighting could be added. This third light source could be cove lighting which also could serve as general lighting for guests unfamiliar with your bath.

Accessible towel storage also is a necessity. Some of your clients’ guests may want to dry their hands on a fresh towel. Plenty of hand towel storage and an appropriate container for towel disposal is also important.

Finally, if your clients are interested in impressing their friends, there are several floor and wall materials as well as furniture-type vanity cabinets that add elegance to a small space. And since it is a small area, the cost for these materials will be less than in larger baths.