Powder rooms, or half baths, are defined by the small space they occupy and the presence of only two bath fixtures: a toilet and lavatory. Planning the powder room is very different than planning most other bathrooms in the home. Although the adherence to codes is critical because of the small space, the planning process can be difficult without the client’s input.


All bathrooms are planned with five basic needs in mind: sanitation, aesthetics, comfort, grooming and utility. I always explain each of these needs to my clients and ask them to prioritize their needs based on their lifestyles. It is suggested that sanitation always be at the top of the list for any type of bathroom. This is particularly true for the powder room, which may be the most used bathroom during the day and early evening, as well as while guests are in a home.


Of the remaining needs, aesthetics or utility should be next on the list of priorities. The choice often is split based on the homeowner’s age. Younger couples typically need a bathroom easily accessible to young children during the day. Space may be needed to store a stepstool for access to the lavatory or provisions for “potty” training. This type of bathroom falls into the utility group though it needs to be presentable any time a guest in the home needs to use it.



Noise control is especially important for the powder room because it often is adjacent to the living areas of the home. To ensure a private space, extra attention should be paid to walls that surround the space. Resilient channels, absorbent mats, fiberglass insulation and gasket tape can greatly reduce sound transfer. Double walls can accomplish the same thing, but thicker walls in already small spaces are not always an option.


Bathroom ventilation is a necessity regardless of the type of bath. Because a ventilation fan is not needed for moisture control, mounting the fan on a wall near the toilet is preferred. The fan will be partially hidden by the toilet and it will be more effective in removing toilet odors. Make sure the ventilation unit you select can be mounted vertically. One of the first units I mounted vertically made more noise than I expected based on the sone rating noted on the box. The manufacturer told me the fan would not be as quiet when mounted vertically.


I always recommend the fan be connected to a timer switch to run for a short period of time after the person leaves the space to ensure odors are removed. A common mistake is to install a quiet ventilation unit in the bath space on a standard single-pole switch. If the fan is too quiet, the last person to use the bathroom might forget to turn it off. It then continues to run all day, removing conditioned air from the home at a minimum rate of 50 cubic feet per minute.


Although the space is small, all building codes must be addressed in the planning stage. If you are locating the bath under a stairway, make sure the headroom in front of the fixtures is at least 80 inches. The minimum width of a powder room is 30 inches, assuming the lavatory and toilet are centered in their space.



If the client’s interests lean toward a glamorous bath space, several issues should be considered. Create lighting levels by installing more than one light source. Building codes require a switch at the entrance to control the general lighting. Connect a dimmer switch to a recessed fixture for the general light requirement. This will allow adequate light for daytime use and cleaning activities and low-level light in the evening during social events. A second dimmer switch would activate task lighting at the sink. This will allow lower light levels for evening functions but the ability to increase light levels for quick grooming activities. If space permits, a third lighting level could be added to highlight a painting or collectible. This third light source could be cove lighting, which also could serve as general lighting for guests unfamiliar with your bath.


Plenty of hand-towel storage and an appropriate container for towel disposal also would be important. Some of your client’s guests may want to dry their hands on a fresh towel.


Finally, if your clients are interested in impressing their friends, there are several floor and wall materials, as well as furniture-type vanity cabinets, that will add elegance to a small space. Because it is a small area, the cost for these materials will be less than in larger baths in the home.

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