Trading up: The bathroom blitz
In part five of our series, which aims to give buyers the confidence to look beyond the obvious when viewing a home, we ask some renovation experts how best to tackle the bathroom
You’re viewing a dream house but the bathroom is frankly scary. It can be hard to see beyond the old fashioned sanitary ware and leaky taps. Photograph: Getty Images
As bathrooms are an inherently functional space, the plumbing and electrics need to be addressed foremost and can account for much of the spend of a refurb project. However, with some creative woodwork, smart tile treatments and clever mirrors, the cosmetic elements in a bathroom can be achieved with more dash than cash.
Plumbing and damp issues
"Old bathrooms can be tricky to evaluate, as mould and damp patches can often make house hunters jump to the worst conclusion,” says chartered building surveyor Val O’Brien. “More often than not, bad ventilation causes damp and mildew, rather than anything more sinister like rot, and a decent new extractor fan is all that is needed to fix matters. A bigger problem can arise if there's been consistent, long-term leaking from the sanitary ware, and the joists underneath the bathroom have become rotten,” he says.
“Lifting a floorboard is the quickest way to investigate. If the floor is tiled, look at the ceiling in the room underneath to see if there is evidence of leaks and if you spot any, ask a surveyor to examine it. Lead pipes can be another concern and were routinely used in the plumbing of homes up to the mid-1970s. They are usually obvious by their dark matte colour but these can be replaced quite cheaply with PVC fittings," says O'Brien.
‘It may seem a bit obvious, but turn the shower in situ on, and let it run for a few minutes. Check the water pressure, consistency of temperature and the level of noise the shower unit makes. If any of these are falling short, a replacement unit is often cheaper to install than fixing an old one. A new one will set you back around €300," says plumber and electrical specialist, Eoin Kenny from Lynch EK Property.
If the shower is powered by an immersion and you want to install an electric shower, seek the advice of a plumber first before buying a unit as the type of water feed (mains fed or tank) can determine which type is required, as will how far it is from the electrical board, as floorboards may need to be removed, or walls bored through to run cables.” As a ballpark figure, Kenny suggests €750 should cover the cost of supplying and fitting a new electric shower unit.
If a walk-in shower is on the wish list, consult your plumber, as tanking the floor, tiling and installation expenses can run high. The joists underneath the bathroom floor and the angles required to ensure proper drainage can often have implications on installation too.
"A large, low-profile shower tray, with a minimalist shower door, can give a similar effect to a walk-in shower, for a fraction of the cost, as you're eliminating a lot of labour and material costs. At a guestimate, €4000 should cover a full refurbishment of an average family bathroom, including the supply and fitting of new (basic) sanitary ware, a new shower tray and screen, tanking the floor, tiling the floor and walls partially and all plumbing and electrical costs," says Kenny.
"Our bathroom was so cold, you'd get frostbite every time you took a bath," recounts RIAI architect Dermot Bannon, of growing up his 1970s childhood home. "I'm not sure what builders were thinking of only putting in one tiny radiator, in the only room where you were most likely to be naked in, but that's how heating systems were back then. Nowadays, we all want to be walking around a toasty house, barefoot, in our shorts in December. If the budget can stretch to it, the bathroom is an ideal small space to think about installing electric underfloor heating. This type doesn't rely on the rest of the heating system, and can be run on a timer to keep bills low, making it perfect for small areas like bathrooms," says Bannon.
The website centralheating24.ie is a useful tool for getting quick estimates for underfloor heating from various local suppliers. "A cheaper but still cosy alternative to full underfloor heating is to install electric heat mats under the tiles or floor. They cost around €150- €300 and you can get them with a thermostat and timer too," says Kenny. When the plumber is on site, it may be worth asking for a quote to replace the current radiator with a heated towel rail as they save floor space if wall mounted, often distribute heat better around the room and banish damp towels to boot. Depending on the style, they can be purchased from €70 and fitting costs around €200.
Tips and tricks
Interior architect and project manager, Louise Dwyer of JLL, says tiles are still the best material for bathroom floors and walls, due to their impermeable and hygienic properties, but advises using large format tiles, to save money on installation costs. Wall-to-wall tiling is very attractive but you can economise limiting tiles to the floor, inside the shower and halfway up the wall which the bath is against. "I always choose grey grout over white, as it ages better and requires much less cleaning. Because of that I typically select tiles that have some kind of grey grain in them too, which gives a more seamless finish overall. She also points out, if there’s an old tiled floor or walls in situ that are just looking a bit tired, try bringing them back to life with an acid etcher that removes ground-in dirt from the surface and grout lines.
When choosing sanitary ware, interior designer Roisin Lafferty, of Kingston Lafferty Design advises, if possible to choose a wall hanging toilet with a concealed cistern. "They create a much more streamlined look and avoid excess surfaces to catch dust. A carpenter will then be needed to box in the cistern but this can be cheaply done with MDF and then painted or tiled over. The end result is worth the small outlay.
Likewise, I always advise our clients to choose an under-mount sink, fixed to a worktop that runs the full length of the wall, with drawers and cupboards built in underneath for lots of hidden storage and a seamless look. You can never have too much storage in a bathroom.
Where possible, also add recessed, tiled alcoves within showers and baths," says Lafferty.
Dwyer says it's well worth checking online for bathroom suites as there can be bargains to be had. For good basic white sanitary wear, check out your local builders' providers, especially during sale periods.
When shopping for new bathroom units, it's worth keeping the environment in mind. "Low-flow toilets, sinks, and shower heads help you conserve water, and water-saving shower heads and faucets often cost the same, if not less, than traditional ones," says Dwyer.
The final finish for any bathroom, Lafferty believes, is lots of mirrors. "You can never have too much mirror in the bathroom. They are most effective when they span right up to the ceiling and from wall to wall. For a more ornate and styled look, frame a large mirrored wall in decorative tiles and have your wall cabinets and wall lights mounted on the mirror. This adds a luxurious hotel feel and is easy for the mirror installer to do, once the lights are given to them in advance."
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