Compartmentalized bathrooms allow multiple people to share the bathroom at the same time while providing privacy for individual tasks within the space. This is more consistent with kitchen design than with bathroom design. Much like the standard kitchen work triangle, we have begun to establish separate tasks or zones within bathrooms.
Most bathroom tasks can be broken into individual elements: the vanity area; the shower and tub area; the toilet and bidet area; an exercise area; and walk-in closets. The designer must think about these specific areas with an emphasis on aesthetics second. Remember that not all areas of the bathroom need to be sanctuaries.
Compartmentalized doesn’t mean physically partitioned. We can create work areas without introducing walls. The limitations of square footage should not prevent the designer from coming up with good solutions. Simply think in terms of point of use, the space around each fixture and how each fixture will be accessed.
The toilet area is the one most commonly compartmentalized. For a busy family, partitioning the toilet area, which may include a bidet, can create form and function. If designing a compartmentalized area for the toilet, follow simple standards recommended by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. In all instances remember that your local codes will always take precedence.
Finding room for and creating a compartment is the first priority. The minimum code requirement for a compartmentalized bath is 30 in. by 60 in. The NKBA recommends a minimum of 36 in. by 66 in. I challenge the designer to create an even wider area of about 42 in. Regardless of the width of the compartment, a minimum centerline distance from the wall to the center of the toilet is 15 in. (this is code). Remember that during planning and rough-in stages, wall thickness including interior coverings is considered to establish this centerline measurement.
When this compartment is shared by a bidet, there must be a minimum of 15 in. from the side of the toilet to the centerline of the bidet. Again the NKBA recommends a minimum of 18 in. here. If a bidet is installed it should have a towel ring along with a soap dish located within reach.
Once the width is determined, consider the compartment’s length. The minimum code requirement is 60 in. The toilet usually runs parallel to the length of the compartment, and the minimum code requirement from the leading edge of it to another obstruction (typically a wall or vanity) is 21 in. We’ve used the 21 in. measurement successfully, but it is tight. The NKBA’s 66 in. recommendation for the length of the compartment works better. Their minimum recommendation of 30 in. off the leading edge of one fixture to another is also a little more realistic. Remember most toilets set 30-in. off the back wall of the compartment. With this standard the designer is left with 30 in. in front of the toilet in the 60-in. long compartment and 36 in. in the 66-in. long compartment.
If planning for wheelchair accessibility, the compartment’s minimum dimensions should be 60 in. in width and 59 in. in length. There must be a 30 in. by 48 in. area parallel to the side of the toilet in this space so an individual can transfer from the wheelchair to the toilet.
The challenge to incorporate all of these minimum requirements into a toilet compartment can be overwhelming, so be patient. A designer must understand available fixtures and be confident to specify them.
Designers can choose from three basic toilet configurations. One choice features an elongated bowel. Unfortunately, it takes the most amount of space off the back wall. The elongated bowl usually finishes at about 29-in. to 30-in. off the back wall. Some manufacturers provide “Compact Elongated Toilets” which can finish around 27 in. off the back wall. The second and probably most practical choice for a toilet compartment is a one-piece round-front toilet. Installed, it usually finishes around 26 in. off the back wall.
Wall-mounted toilets provide additional space and flexibility. They might be the best choice for a compartmentalized bathroom because they take up the least amount of space within the compartment. Most wall-hung toilets finish between 22½ to 23 in. off the back wall. This style of toilet also provides for flexibility in the height of the product. Try asking your customer how high off the floor they want their toilet to be. With two partners sharing the same space it is always interesting to see who gets their way.
Remember, that if you are designing with a wall-mounted toilet, certain considerations must be addressed. Wall-mounted toilets require a minimum 5½-in. wall cavity for the tank to occupy, and they require more time for installation during the rough-in which adds cost. The designer is also limited in the selection of finishes available for the actuator (flush mechanism). They also, in my opinion, require an impervious surface between the wall and bowl for sanitation, something manufacturers’ glamour shots fail to portray.
One other way to maximize the space in the toilet compartment is to source one that has a minimum rough-in off the back wall of 10 in. American products use a standard 12-in. centerline for the rough-in but some European manufacturers have products that require only 10-in. rough. These European toilets are also smaller in scale and many of them are more attractive than their American counterparts.
Because the toilet area is specialized and separate, it is important to remember that ventilation and point-of-use storage are required. The minimum requirement for ventilation is either an operable window of 3 sq. ft. or an exhaust fan with a minimum 50-cfm rating.
Storage in the enclosure requires planning and products that are frequently used at the toilet. The designer has the option of open or closed storage and can be recessed in a wall cavity to preserve the length of the room. The NKBA recommends accessibility at 26 in. to 59 in. off the finished floor for people who are standing or 15 in. to 48 in. above the floor for universal design. Storage for feminine hygiene products, ointments and toilet paper should be within the universal range and accessible while sitting on the toilet. Remember that a magazine rack may also be in order and it’s fair to ask your client if they would like one.
Grab bars also should be considered for the space. A minimum bar of 24 in. should be provided behind the toilet and should be centered. If space allows, a 36 in. bar should be provided behind the toilet with the additional length added to the transfer side of the toilet. A grab bar should be placed along the side wall too. It should be a minimum of 42 in. in length and should be between 12-in. to 54-in. off the back wall. These bars are available to the designer in styles and finishes that prevent them from looking institutional.
The toilet compartment should have a door that swings out. This way, if the occupant of the compartment fell and landed in front of the door, the compartment would still be accessible. Pocket doors can be a useful solution for this area, too. However, because pocket door hardware can be difficult for a child or older person to operate, it is important to consider user age and their ability to operate it. Remember the door opening should be a minimum of 32 in. wide with an ideal standard of 36 in. being more practical.
Lighting within the compartment is also important. Many people read while using the toilet so provide enough lighting with a decorative ceiling-mount fixture or standard recessed fixture above the toilet. We also install automatic night lights in these compartments to light the way during early morning hours. The simplest sensors are installed in a duplex outlet in a wall or can be specified in better-quality exhaust fans.
Probably the most important design consideration within the toilet compartment is its proximity to other rooms. Many of our clients are up frequently during the night to use this space. If it is in a master bedroom suite it should be as close to the bed as possible. Limit obstructions between the bed the compartment.
Careful planning along with the proper selection of products will provide customers with a compartmentalized toilet area that performs well and looks great. Make time early in design to plan each of the elements described above. Specify dimensions and products with confidence and you will provide your client with a toilet compartment that performs well and provides profitability for your business.