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How to switch baths and showers

When making the decision to swap a bath for a shower, or the other way round, there are some commonly overlooked factors it’s wise to think about first. For instance, how suitable is the existing hot-water system for the change? And how suitable is the room? There are solutions to most problems, but just be aware that this could significantly affect your budget. That’s why it’s so important to identify these factors from the beginning, before you start swinging the wrecking ball.

Locust Street Baths
Suss out the water system first

There are a fair few technical things to think about before you get to work. For example, is the water system pressurised or gravity fed? What, if any, pumps exist? Are there unvented cylinders and what capacity are these? If all of this sounds like jargon, fear not – an engineer or builder will be able to assess them for you. It’s just worth knowing what you’re getting into before you begin.

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Bathroom basement

Think about more than just space

Whether or not you can make the change doesn’t simply revolve around space planning. Consideration must be given to the direction of floor joists, which walls are built of what construction, and where the SVPs (soil vent pipes) are in relation to the room. A professional will be able to assess your room and tell you all of these things, and the good news is that nothing is a red light.
Pretty Peace

Plan your design
If you’ve chosen to go ahead, then the next step is to design the new space and choose your fixtures and fittings. An architect, designer or builder can help you here if you’re not clear on what you want. Your initial assessment of the space will be relevant in the planning phases, as factors such as the location of shower valves, stud work and the waste trap point will all need to be taken into consideration in the design.

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Fairfield House
Lay firm foundations
When making the switch from a bath to a shower, take the opportunity to get the walls and floor solid and waterproof to a high standard. Strengthening the floor might mean adding in concrete at ground level, or screed or timber joists for higher floors; allow for reinforcing and levelling the floor as necessary.
When it comes to the walls, look at water-resistant materials, such as marine ply or aqua board. In some cases, especially if you opt for a wet room-style shower, think about liquid tanking systems to paint on the walls and floor before installation. These early works will vastly extend the life of the bathroom and keep it looking new for many years.

Penthouse refurbishment in London’s Financial District.

Order extra tiles
Showers and baths with concealed valves are becoming increasingly popular among my clients who are updating their bathrooms. An important thing to remember if you want to conceal your valves, however, is that access later will involve removing tiles and cutting into the wall, so it’s crucial you order and keep an extra box of tiles for any repair work later on.
Refurbishment of a Knightsbridge flat in Brompton Square

Go for a walk-in
The walk-in shower is a fail-safe way to improve the sense of space in a bathroom and give you a luxurious showering experience. If you’re swapping your bath or a dated shower cubicle for this arrangement, you will benefit from a wet room shower tray – where the floor is tiled throughout rather than having a traditional tray. For this, a pre-formed shower tray mat is laid, then tiles are placed directly on top. The good thing about the wet room shower is that there’s no fixed tray size, so it can be cut to fit awkward spaces. The key is getting the walls and floor really solid.

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C.P. Hart Case Study: Leopold House

Make it modular
Another common style people switch to is the modular shower, which is one that’s totally enclosed. These can be built bespoke from timber and tiles, or bought off-the-shelf in little pods. Bespoke offers more freedom, but off-the-shelf will be considerably cheaper and many of the designs are very cool and offer hi-tech features. If going for a traditional timber construction, the best advice I can give is to reinforce the studwork walls with 18mm marine ply (again, don’t worry, just talk this over with the installer). This will give a solid surface on which to fix fittings, prevent movement, and provide a water-resistant barrier.

Fall for a freestanding design
There are so many stylish freestanding baths on the market now that it can be worth switching a shower or built-in bath for a show-stopping design. The first decision to make here is whether the spout will be wall-mounted or floor-standing. Think about the practicality of installation; for instance, floor-standing taps are easier to install on a timber joist floor than on a concrete one (although this is not impossible). Similarly, wall-mounted spouts will be much easier to install and be more secure on a properly constructed timber stud wall than on a solid concrete block wall. It’s wise to identify the position and direction of the floor joists when pinpointing the position of a freestanding bath and taps, as the location of the waste trap and the pipe routes will be hugely important in deciding the work required for installation (and consequently the cost).
Contemporary Bathroom
Photo by Concrete Works - Browse contemporary bathroom photos

Reboot with a built-in
If you’re trading up for a centrepiece bath, why not go for one built onto a frame? This allows some great designs, such as sunken baths or baths with steps leading into them. These baths are also good when it comes to installation, as the frame can accommodate all sorts of pipework and other fittings comfortably. The key to success here, though, is the stability of the frame. Any minute movement will, over time, lead to cracked grout and potential water ingress, so establish this as a priority with your contractor.

loft apartment London

Fill the bath before you add the sealant
A final word on fitting a new bath – a good installer will fill the bath with water to weigh it down before the silicone sealant is applied. This will get the sealant into the deepest corners and ensure long protection, rather than it suffering invisible splits the first time you fill the bath.

Michael Parinchy, Houzz Contributor

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