The Illustrated Rules of Good Bathroom Design
The National Kitchen & Bath Association developed the Bathroom Planning Guidelines to provide designers with good planning practices that consider the typical needs of users. A committee of experts in bathroom design reviewed relevant research, lifestyle, and design trends, and Model Building Code requirements to assure the updated guidelines promote the health, safety, and welfare of consumers.
A bathroom that follows all of these rules is almost guaranteed to be both functional and safe. See how many your existing bathroom violates for a better understanding of why it may seem awkward and dysfunctional.
These formal, printed guidelines are not the only bath design rules. Designers and carpenters have worked out some rules of thumb over many years that do not rise to the level of official national standards, but represent a distillation of years of experience and generally accepted industry practice. We have included these in comments where applicable.
The NKBA guidelines are used for academic and educational programs in bathroom design, evaluation of bathroom plans, and testing the competencies of designers seeking certification. For more information and to locate an NKBA member in your area, contact The National Kitchen and Bath Association.
What Do These Fonts Mean?
Guideline: The actual text of an NKBA guideline recommendation.
Code Requirement: Refers to the International Residential Code (IRC) and associated plumbing, electrical, mechanical and access codes. Where appropriate, the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act are also indicated. These are taken from Standards for Accessible Design published by the U.S. Department of Justice. Most ADA standards do not apply to private residences. But if you are building or remodeling for a person with limited mobility, they provide a good template for how things should be built. Your local code authority may have modified or added to national requirements, so always check with your local code authority before making any changes to your bathroom
Notes: Are remarks by the publishers of the rule, standard or guideline used to clarify or expand the standard or guideline.
Comments: Are our observations and explanations. If we want to clarify or expand on a guideline, this is where we will do it. We will also use comments to introduce recommendations and rules-of-design that are not a part of the guidelines published by the NKBA.
Guideline 1 — Entry Door
The door opening width is measured from jamb to jamb. The clear opening width is measured from the inside of the open door to the door stop on the other side of the opening. It is almost always about 2" narrower than the clear opening. The doorknob is disregarded when calculating a clear opening.
- Clear openings of doorways with swinging doors shall be measured between the face of the door and stop, with the door open 90 degrees. (ANSI 404.2.3) If the door can open a minimum of 93 degrees, the handle may be disregarded in measuring the opening.
- When a passage exceeds 24" in depth, the minimum clear opening increases to 36". (ANSI A117.1 404)
Guideline 2 — Door Interference
- The entry door should not interfere with a shower door or any cabinet door or drawer.
- The entry door should not interfere with a person using any bathroom fixture or appliance. We commonly find entry and shower doors arranged so they will strike anyone standing in front of the vanity or sink or sitting on the toilet.
- In remodeling bathrooms, especially small baths where space is at a premium, the entry door should, if at all possible, swing out, not in. This now only eliminates door interference within the bathroom, but for small baths, adds useful space inside the bathroom that was formerly taken up by the door swing.
Guideline 3 — Ceiling Height
- The general code requirement is that ceilings be at least 90" (7'-6") high, but an exception is made for bathrooms which are required to be only 80" (6'-8") high. In any place where a person cannot walk, the ceiling may slope or be dropped down to as low as 60" (5'-0"), and most code officials will allow and even lower drop, especially in bathroom remodels, if it is safe and reasonable under the circumstances.
- The requirement that a shower be at least 30" x 30" x 80" at the shower head is merely practical. Much smaller and the average person would not fit. It is difficult to find a pre-made shower cabinet this small. The usual minimum size is 32" x 32".
- The minimum height of 80" (6'-8") "over the fixture" includes the required minimum clear floor space in front of the fixture, which must also have a minimum height of 80" (6'-8"). See Guideline 4.
- This Guideline must be coordinated with Guideline 9.
- In remodeling bathrooms, this Guideline will have the most impact on bathroom remodels in basements, attics or garrets were ducting or the slope of the roof may reduce the ceiling height over some part of the remodeled bath.
Guideline 4 — Clear Floor Space
- A minimum space of at least 21" must be planned in front of lavatory, toilet, bidet, and tub. (IRC R 307.1)
- A minimum space of at least 24" must be planned in front of a shower entry. (IRC P 2705.1.5)
- Where possible use the recommended 30” minimum clear space when remodeling a bathroom. For many people, especially those with limited movement, the 24” or 21” code minimum is too small.
- When remodeling bathrooms just 5' wide, which is most baths built from 1945 through 965, the smaller 24” and 21” clear space minimum standard may be unavoidable.
- One way to increase clear space in a bathroom remodel is to reduce the space occupied by fixtures by reducing the size of the fixture. For example, the standard 21” vanity depth can be reduced to as little as 15” with proper planning.
- It is often possible to create more clear space when remodeling a small bathroom by reversing the swing of the bathroom door so it swings out, not in. See Guideline 3.
- The clear floor space around a pedestal or clawfoot bathtub should follow the general rule for bathtubs with the following addition: the clear space between any edge of the tub and any adjacent wall or fixture should be a minimum of 4" to allow for cleaning behind the tub — 6" is better. The entry side of the tub should have a minimum of 21" of clear floor space, 30" is better.
- For techniques useful in remodeling a bathroom to create more clear space, see "Getting More Bathroom Space".
Guideline 5 — Single Lavatory Placement
Building Code Requirement:
- The minimum distance from the centerline of the lavatory to a wall is 15". (IPC 405.3.1)
- The minimum distance between a wall and the edge of a free-standing or wall-hung lavatory is 4". (IRC R 307.2)
Guideline 6 — Double Lavatory Placement
Building Code Requirement:
- The minimum distance between the centerlines of two lavatories should be at least 30". (IPC 405.3.1).
- The minimum distance between the edges of two free-standing or wall-hung lavatories is 4". (IRC R 307.1)
Guideline 7 — Lavatory / Vanity Height
Guideline 8 — Countertop Corners
Guideline 9 — Shower Size
Guideline 10 — Tub / Shower Controls
- The shower controls should be accessible from both inside and outside the shower spray and be located between 38"-48" above the floor depending on user's height.
- The tub controls should be accessible from both inside and outside the tub and be located between the rim of the bathtub and 33" above the floor.
|*Measure to the vertical center of the control. For a showerhead, measure to the vertical center of the shower arm where it meets the wall.|
Guideline 11 — Tub / Shower Control Valves
Building Code Requirement: Shower and Tub / Shower control valves must be one of the following:
- Pressure balanced,
- Thermostatic mixing, or
- Combination pressure balance/thermostatic mixing valve types. (IRC P2708.3)
Guideline 12 — Shower Seat
Guideline 13 — Tub / Shower Surround Height
Guideline 14 — Grab Bars
- Plan grab bars to facilitate access to and maneuvering within the tub and shower areas.
- Tub and shower walls should be prepared (reinforced) at time of construction to allow for installation of grab bars to support a static load of 300 lbs.
- Grab bars should be placed at least 33"-36" above the floor.
- Grab bars must be 1 & 1/4" to 1 & 1/2" in diameter and extend 1 & 1/2" from the wall.
Guideline 15 — Windows, Glass, and Glazing
Building Code Requirement:
- Glass used in tub or shower enclosures (i.e. tub or shower door) or partitions must be tempered or an approved equal and must be permanently marked as such. (IRC R 308.1)
- If the tub or shower surround has glass windows or walls, the glazing must be tempered glass or approved equal when the bottom edge of glazing is less than 60" above any standing or walking surface. (IRC R 308.4.5)
- Any glazing (i.e. windows or doors) whose bottom edge is less than 18" above the floor must be tempered glass or approved equivalent. (IRC R 308.4.7.2)
Guideline 16 — Tub/Shower Door Swing Direction
Guideline 17 — Bathtub Steps
Guideline 18 — Flooring
Guideline 19 — Equipment Installation and Access
Building Code Requirement:
- All equipment, including access panels, must be installed as per manufacturers' specifications. (IRC M 1307.1)
- All manufacturers' instructions must be available for installers and inspectors and left for homeowners. (IRC P 2720.1)
Guideline 20 — Toilet/Bidet Placement
Guideline 21 — Toilet Compartment
Guideline 22 — Storage
Guideline 23 — Bathroom Accessories
- Place a mirror above or near the lavatory at a height that takes the user's eye height into consideration.
- The toilet paper holder should be located 8" to 12" in front of the edge of the toilet bowl, centered at 26" above the floor.
- Additional accessories, such as towel holders, soap dishes, etc., should be conveniently located near all bath fixtures.
Guideline 24 — Electrical Outlets
Building Code Requirements:
- At least one GFCI protected receptacle must be installed within 36" of the outside edge of the lavatory. (IRC E 3801.6)
- All receptacles must be protected by Ground-fault-circuit-interrupters (GFCI). (IRC 3802.1)
- A receptacle shall not be installed within a shower or bathtub space. (IRC E 3902.10)
- Switches shall not be installed within wet locations in tub or shower spaces unless installed as part of the listed tub or shower assembly. (IRC E 3901.7)
Guideline 25 — Lighting
Building Code Requirement:
- At least one wall-switch-controlled light must be provided. Switch must be placed at the entrance. (IRC E 3901.6, IRC E 3803.2)
- All light fixtures installed within tub and shower spaces should be marked "suitable for damp/wet locations". (IRC E 3903.8)
- Hanging fixtures cannot be located within a zone of 3' feet horizontally and 8' vertically from the top of the bathtub rim. (IRC E 3903.10)
Guideline 26 — Ventilation
Guideline 27 — Heating