How to choose . . . bathrooms

With water charges looming, the focus is on conservation and practicality


While the Celtic Tiger spawned a hankering for five-star hotel chic in bathrooms, the impending introduction of domestic water charges has pushed water-saving kit to the top of wishlists. Combining aesthetics and efficiency is the new goal.

“Know – or find out – what you like and dislike from a practical, functional and aesthetic point of view,” says Amanda Bone of Dundrum-based Amanda Bone Architects. “Visit showrooms to feel, sit on or in and touch pieces. Ask for catalogues, as only a few pieces of any collection are available to view. Architects in general specify from catalogues.”

While the boom years produced an excess of en suites, many homeowners have scaled back to a main bathroom, en suite and toilet. A typical budget for this is around 2 to 3 per cent of overall spend, depending on products specified, according to Steven Moon of McGarry-Moon Architects, Coleraine. He advises investing in quality brands where fittings are recessed, especially showers and taps. He namechecks the Duravit Starck range, Hans Grohe and Dornbracht.

However, sanitary ware is one of the few areas where you don’t need to spend a huge amount of money for it to work, last and look good, Bone says.

Robin Levien who has designed for Ideal Standard agrees. “There isn’t much difference in the functionality of a luxury bathroom suite compared to an everyday mid-market one. Depending on how ambitious your project is, you might even spend more on the labour and finishes, floor, wall, decorations, and electrics than the actual products.”


Contemporary and timeless

Levien encourages falling in love with at least one key item. This could be the bath or basin. “Pay what you have to for that. You will be living with it for a long time after all,” he says . “Keeping budget and overall interior style in mind, the scheme is best kept simple, featuring contemporary but timeless pieces with clean lines. This will allow you to change the look of your bathroom without having to replace the sanitary ware.”

Assess whether you want the more traditional look of pedestal under basin or a vanity basin with cabinet underneath, Levien says. “This provides a big surface area on top to put all your ‘preening’ products and a lot of storage underneath,” he says. “When it comes to the toilet, do you want the more built-in look with a concealed tank or a wall-hung toilet?”


Matching sanitary ware

A typical error, Bone says, is to incorporate baths and wash-hand basins that are too big. If choosing white sanitary ware from different ranges, she says you should find out the specification, code and RAL number for the whites to ensure they match.

If existing pipework is not being replaced, Bone advises checking with the plumber, builder and sanitary ware supplier that the sanitary ware selected is compatible. “If the existing hot water tank is not being replaced, check the capacity to ensure it will be suitable for your products, particularly if installing power showers or a larger bath.” This also applies to the water pressure. “Know your water pressure conditions. Do you have a gravity-fed or a pressurised system or booster pump? This is critical to choice of tap and shower selection as some models require high pressure for optimum performance,” says Bone.

The bathtub is, Levien says, the flagship product. “If you have the space to do a free-standing bath justice, it’s definitely worth splurging on,” he says.

There has been a tendency in small space living to sacrifice the bath but Bone advises retaining it. “People’s circumstances change and baths may be required for the very young or the elderly. If a full-sized or standard bath isn’t possible, a large range of smaller baths is available.”

The bathroom industry has responded well to the need to save water, Levien says. “There are now many products and features that help reduce water usage. These include a choice between low- and high-volume flushing on toilets; an override ‘click’ on a single lever basin tap where you have to push past some resistance on the lever for a full flow of water; and aerating in the shower head to reduce the volume of water,” he says. “Ideal Standard has the Concept water-saving bath that dramatically reduces the amount of water used by a smaller foot end to the bath.”


Saving water

Bone suggests focusing on a dual-flush water-saving toilet. “Thirty per cent of the water an average home uses is for toilet flushing and 33 per cent is for personal washing with taps and showers. Other than personal washing, toilet flushing is the single biggest consumer of fresh clean water in our homes everyday.”

This, she says, can be reduced by 50 per cent with a dual-flush toilet. “This is a variation of the flush toilet that uses two buttons or handles to flush different levels of water. It operates between 2.6 to 4 litres of water per flush – subject to budget – compared to a six-litre flush of a normal single-flush toilet. It may cost more than a single-flush toilet to purchase and install. However, this is before you factor in the cost of saved water,” Bone says. “Water-harvesting systems can be used for toilets and while they are easier to install in a new build than a renovation, installation isn’t very difficult and can be done by a reputable builder.”

Power showers are coveted but a regular shower uses about 35 litres of water in five minutes whereas a power shower consumes more than 125 litres in the same time, Bone says. “Some spa-type showers need extreme amounts of water and also require plumbing pipes and water store in the house to be increased to handle them,” says Moon. “It’s vital that sanitary ware, taps and shower fittings are all selected before first fix plumbing occurs.”

Eco showerheads harness technology to give the feel of a high-pressure shower while using less water without the user noticing any reduction in stream, Bone says. Wet rooms are still popular, particularly where space is tight and a room does not allow for a standard shower, she says.

Push taps, which turn off after a preset period, can be worthwhile, particularly where there are children or elderly people.

The other hot topic in bathroom design is catering for the needs of ageing populations, according to Levien.

“Bathroom brands are slowly waking up to the opportunities. Innovations will centre on how to make our bathrooms more practical for older people without compromising on aesthetics,” he says.

“We all want to stay in our own homes for longer, and clever design concepts will be needed in the bathroom to make this possible.”

Bathrooms: What’s ahead

Efficient showers Steven Moon of McGarry-Moon Architects says Orbital Systems in Sweden is leading the way. It’s said to make the world’s most advanced and efficient shower unit, saving as much as 90 per cent water and 80 per cent energy. The OrbSys shower is a high-tech purification system that recycles water while you wash. It works on a ‘closed loop’ system: hot water falls from the tap to the drain and is purified to drinking water standard and then pumped back out of the shower head.

Quieter toilets Grohe has been awarded the Quiet Mark for its Rapid SL installation flush system at just 21dBA, compared with the average flush noise of 75dBA. The Rapid SL is also designed to conserve water.

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