Buying a bathroom suite
Size and Shape of Bath
On the whole, the longer the bath, the more comfortable it will be. But remember that bigger baths use more water, which will cost more in the long run, both financially and ecologically. Be careful that the bath you buy is not so bulky it won’t get through the bathroom door. Bear in mind that shaped baths are usually more expensive than standard rectangular baths.
Baths are made in three materials. Plastic baths are cheap, light, warm to the touch and are available in various shapes and sizes. Whilst they are very popular for domestic bathrooms, they are not very robust, and can become discoloured and cracked. Avoid plastic baths less than ¼” or 6mm thick, which may sag.
Enamelled, pressed steel baths are generally good quality and are less affected by wear and tear. They can be repaired should the surface become damaged. Cast iron baths are solid and heavy so first ensure your bathroom floor is strong enough to support the weight, and that you will be able to manoeuvre it into the bathroom.
Type of Bath
Rolltop baths are only really suitable for large bathrooms and will swamp a small space. They are expensive and can also be hard to get hold of, since few are still made in the U.K. However, some manufacturers now make roll-top baths in modern materials. Beware: photographs and showrooms don’t always include the pipework which is much more visible than with a standard boxed in bath and may be an eyesore.
Spa and whirlpool baths are also now popular although they can be expensive. Make sure the price you are quoted includes all the extras – bath, whirlpool system and pump, underwater lights, taps, waste (plug hole fitting), handle. And don’t forget the plumber’s charges will be heftier than for a normal bath, as they can be fiddly and time-consuming to fit.
If you are attached to your current bath, you can have it transformed into a spa or whirlpool bath by buying a converter kit. However, this can be just as expensive as buying a brand new spa bath. Also, some installers will remove your bath in order to install it, which may well damage your tiling. Others will leave your bath in place but may not be able to reach one side, which will limit the spa or whirlpool effect.
Make sure your bath has the correct number of tap holes drilled in it (and in the right places) before it leaves the shop. Whilst plastic bath tap holes can be easily drilled by your plumber, steel ones are best done by the manufacturer so you won’t have to pay for any damage.
Basins come with a pedestal, as part of a vanity unit or hang on the wall. Vanity unit basins are best for hiding pipework whilst still allowing access to plumbing for maintenance.
Wall-hung basins take up less space and allow you to adjust the height to suit your needs. However, you will be able to see all the plumbing underneath (which showrooms often leave out). Check your walls are strong enough to support a wall-mounted basin and get your supplier to give you the appropriate fixings.
If you want something a bit different from standard ceramic, then look out for designer basins in alternative materials, such as glass, copper, stainless steel and stone. But if you are forgetful or have small children and you don’t want your bathroom flooded, don’t choose a designer basin without an overflow.
Before you leave the shop, make sure the number of holes in the basin matches the taps you are buying.
Most WCs now come as a closely coupled suite with the cistern attached to the back of the pan. These flush more quietly than WCs with high-level cisterns. These come with a European style pushbutton flush. You can save water by buying a WC with a dual flush button, which lets you choose between a short or long flush.
If you have plenty of space, then a concealed cistern can be built into the wall. One advantage of this is that you can buy a cheaper plastic cistern, since it won’t be seen. If you opt for a concealed cistern, make sure the builder allows for future maintenance by creating a removable panel on top.
You can hide even more plumbing by buying a wall-hung “corbel” type pan. This is fixed onto a hidden frame in the wall, rather than sitting on the bathroom floor. These were originally for public toilets as they are more hygienic, but are now popular in domestic bathrooms too.
Remember that if you buy a wall-hung WC or one with a concealed cistern, you are likely to need to employ a carpenter as well as a plumber.
When choosing where to put a new WC, allow 21″ (530mm) in front and 30″ (760mm) across for comfort. It is often difficult to reposition your WC as it is dependent on where the drains are.
If you want one far away from the drains, you can buy a macerator which is a pump and shredder – it will even pump waste away vertically if you want a WC in a basement. The shredder fits neatly behind the WC bowl. First check with your local water supplier that the system you choose is approved by them.
Taps can be as expensive as the bath or basin you are buying them for and it is definitely true that you pay for what you get. Chromium-plated brass taps are the best quality – plastic ones will not last as long.
Some modern taps only need ¼ turn to go from off to full on which is much easier for the elderly and the young. These taps require far less maintenance as they have hard-wearing ceramic discs instead of washers. However, if you do have to replace a disc, it is far more expensive.
Whilst the aesthetics of your taps may seem important, make sure you buy the best taps for your plumbing system. Non-British taps are mostly designed for mains pressure and may not work properly if your water comes via a tank in your loft. You can still install them but you will have to accept that they may trickle rather than gush. Otherwise you can pay to fit a pump or to change your system to work straight off the mains.
If something goes wrong with your tap, often the plumber’s hardest task is working out what the tap is and who made it. You can save time and money if you keep all documentation in a safe place.