Have you ever been approached by a guest during a party in a friend’s home and they say “Check out the guest bathroom, you will not believe it”? Then, upon entering the room you understand why your friend was so impressed. It’s clear this homeowner knows the guest bath is the one room in the home where they can make the biggest impression with the least amount of money.

Planning a guest bath involves more than making a visual impact. The average user will be in the space for a limited amount of time unless he/she is an overnight guest. Regardless of the time spent in the space, the bath needs to meet basic codes. The National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 27 Bath Planning Guidelines are helpful when planning bath space since they mix their recommendations with the requirements from the International Residential Code.

When placing a toilet in a confined area, plan enough space for any guest regardless of their size. The IRC requires the center of the toilet to be no less than be 15-in. from any vertical surface such as a wall or vanity cabinet. If you have found bathroom stalls in public places somewhat cramped, you may want to consider NKBA’s recommendation of 18 in. or more. Even the NKBA recommendation may not be enough if you have guests with special needs such as a walker, cane or wheelchair.

Grooming area

The grooming area for a guest bath often can be improperly designed unless early in the process you determine the use of the space. The requirements for a hall bath to be used primarily by guests for short visits will not need the same counter and storage space as a bath for overnight guests. For a hall half bath requiring short visits, the focus can be more on elegant pedestal or vessel lavs and accent lighting. Bathing would not be required so large amounts of towel storage would not be an issue. Use the wall space instead for artwork. Consider placing the exhaust fan low on a wall near the toilet. This will more quickly eliminate odors generated in the toilet area. Specify a fan that has a low sone rating of 2 or less.

If the space is to be used for overnight guests, consider plenty of counter space. There needs to be room on the counter for temporary storage of his and her toiletries. Two lavatories are not necessary for the guest bath unless there is plenty of space. I have seen guest baths with two lavs placed in a 60-in. long counter. This would meet the current IRC code but would leave no room for temporary shaving storage for overnight male guests.

A few more ideas

An important item frequently overlooked is a supplemental heat source. While homeowners may like taking a shower with the air conditioner set at 68 degrees F, that might be too cold for the overnight guest. Heat lamps, or ceiling-mounted or wall heaters are typical in many homes for bathroom heating. However, newer products such as towel warmers that serve as heaters or heated floors can do the trick.

Lighting is important for any bath space but especially the guest bath. Different light levels will be required to meet the variety of people using a guest bath. As we age we will need more lighting. Consider both general and task lighting for the guest bath space. Avoid placing light fixtures in locations that allow the light to reflect back into the user’s eyes while standing in front of a mirror.

Use nonslip flooring especially in the shower compartment. And finally, make sure the entrance to the guest bath space has a clear opening of at least 32 in. Today’s designers and builders should be planning 36-in. doors for all bathrooms. You never know if your next guest will be using a walker or possibly a wheelchair.

Remember, when planning a guest bath for your client, you can’t consider it as just another bathroom. Your client’s guests will appreciate your attention to detail as you plan a special place for them to escape, even if for a short time. And your clients will be proud of their guests’ praises.

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