What is the Smallest Full Bathroom?

nan-nanOctober 9, 2012


Longtime lurker here, driven to finally post by the bathroom off the kitchen of our new 1926 home. It is in a one bedroom main floor apartment (house has been duplexed).

A former sunroom, it is only 4 1/2 ' wide. There is a cast iron tub at the end of the room.

Beside it was a tiny sink and then toilet.

Big problem: the only door to the back yard is in this room.

DH wants to build a partition wall and maintain the exterior door location. I am having doubts that it is doable.

What would be the smallest length that a bathroom could be to have all 3 fixtures at a usable location?

Currently, it is 80" to that exterior door, with no partition wall.

If we moved the ext. door, it would have to go in the kitchen which would create a problem (see my post in Kitchen forum on trying to make an eat-in in a 1926 Craftsman). But, that would give us 117 " in length.

Thanks for any feedback!

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How tiny can a bathroom be? You should see some of the prewar apartments I've lived in ...

If you ignore modern code distances, you can probably fit it all into 80". The bathroom we just redid in my mother's house was 7x5, which is almost what you have. Do you want a tub, or would you be happy with a shower stall?

Our shower's less than 30" wide inside (but comfortable!), our vanity is about 22", and the toilet's got maybe 25"-26" around it. The sink could be a bit narrower of course: pedestal sinks will fit in a 16"-18" space.

Here is a link that might be useful: our bathroom

    Bookmark   October 9, 2012 at 11:20PM
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Been asking myself this same question recently. Had planned a powder bath for our new home in the floorplan phase then it became appealing to make it a full to increase future sellability (should we ever move, we hope not to). Found a bathroom pic on Houzz that looked like the absolute smallest I could think of. The poster was kind enough to post the dimensions after I asked, 6'-9" deep by 5'-0" wide.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tiny Bathroom on Houzz

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 1:23AM
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There is a tub already and I would like to keep it. It has a vintage vibe, plus it is cast iron and wedged in there so tightly that DH says the walls would have to come down to get it out of there...

Here is a photo. Excuse the mess! I despair when I see the state of things, but looking at your renos reminds me the finished product can be very pretty indeed.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 5:32AM
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30" for the tub, 30" for the toilet (will NOT pass code everywhere, most require 36", check your local jurisdiction), and 18" for a tiny tiny pedestal sink or vanity. 78" total.

However, having lived with such a small bath in my first house, I'd urge you to reconsider and make it into a powder room instead.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 7:52AM
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We just made our "master" bath so that when you opened the door to your right was the tub and toilet in a 60" x 65" space, then you have to close the door to get to the little alcove which has the tiny vanity behind the door in a 20" x 28" space. It is a really really tight fit, but hey, I don't have to go down the hall, down the stairs, through the kitchen and laundry room to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And I got my second bathroom which as my two toddlers grow into teenagers I am sure I will not regret in the least.

And somehow the apartment I had in the city when I first moved here was actually smaller. You had to shut the door to get in, and then squeeze between a wall and the sink to get to the toilet in an alcove which was only 24" wide. It was a little claustrophobic.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 10:54AM
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The tub is cute, and unobtrusive in the end of the room, so it makes sense to just keep it there.

I assume the partition wall will have the door; if so, make it a pocket door so you don't have that to maneuver around.

Then I think the only thing to do is line up everything on one wall, with toilet in the middle and sink in the corner by the partition wall.

As mentioned above, the toilet will need at least 30" of the wall space for clearances. I would consider a wall hung toilet if you can afford it, because it would leave more space open in front of the bathtub. In any event, look for a toilet with a narrower profile and less depth - they are definitely out there.

I just demolished a bathroom that had a neat wall-hung sink in the corner, which might be a good option for you. It took up just 18" of wall space. Otherwise, a small pedestal sink could work.

It ain't gonna be spacious, but I think you can do it.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 12:25PM
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Can you post a layout of what you have and what he proposes? I think I can better help then.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 12:47PM
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I don't think I've ever lived in a place where the toilet had 30" of clearance, never mind 36". Isn't there usually an exception where you're just replacing the existing fixtures in a pre-code bathroom? (My contractor moaned about how the toilet in my proposed renovation would still have only about 24" clearance, but NYC Department of Buildings approved the plans just fine.)

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 4:34PM
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suzanne, yes, if you are just replacing a fixture in a pre-building code building, then yes, it is grandfather claused in, however, they are talking about building a partition wall.

However, if they are anything like hubby and I who are doing all our own work, in a house we own outright and are not planning on selling, we don't really worry about the codes too much. But we aren't having it inspected. It is hard to bring things up to code in a very very old house. I couldn't even imagine in NYC. It is a wonder anyone would fix anything. The minute you tear something down it has to be fixed "to code" then your screwed.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 5:17PM
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The clearance described here is from side to side, not in the front. Clearance to the front of the bowl is often 24".

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 7:42PM
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And for goodness' sake, the side-to-side clearance for a toilet (yes, that's what I was talking about when I said 24") is not a safety issue - not like GFCI outlets or thermostatic valves, which you should use whether or not you're getting inspected.

NYC is in fact amazingly screwy. You don't have to go up to code (for clearances and door openings etc.) unless you're substantially expanding the room - you can usually move your fixtures around with impunity. But because co-ops are treated like landlord-owned rental buildings, the ADA rules can kick in - even in your own co-op unit which you're renovating for yourself! (That never happens for freestanding houses or condos.)

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 9:35PM
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Suzanne, that is a beautiful bathroom! Thank you for sharing those inspiring photos.

I do want to keep the tub and put in a shower in it. I just think that gives maximum flexibility down the road for future needs (washing a dog...washing a child...having a soak...) Because this is a main floor apartment, it can not just be a powder room, and was built in the 50's as a full bathroom.

A pocket door is a great idea - but is a 24" wide door acceptable in these situations? I know it is not "accessibile" design but it would work well with the space.

A few more questions to throw out there. Because it was a former sunporch, there are these great casement windows (well, great to me because I love old house features). They need refurbishment and would end up in the shower. Is that just a bad idea? I thought they should come out and just be boarded over due to moisture issues.

There is another window like it (but a single) opposite where the toilet will be, so there will still be character if these need to go.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 10:41PM
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I am not sure why, but two houses my parents have lived in have had windows in the showers. The house I grew up in, and the house they live in now. My hubby thinks it is the oddest thing he has ever seen, but seeing as it has now been in two houses in a row, it can't be that strange. We always had a pretty curtain made out of shower curtain material covering the window, you could do one of those old fashioned ring shower curtains that goes completely around the tub like in a claw tub.

Those are great windows. I love old houses and would hate to see features like that taken out especially if you don't plan to use that bath often.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:12PM
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Today, DH tore down the ceiling to see what the insulation was like up there, and to expose the wiring. We ended up with this great vaulted attic space. Hmmmmm. Does anyone know if this could be easily included in the design, i.e. what would need to happen to make sure the roof doesn't collapse if we wanted to remove the cross beams? Or maybe because we are in a northern climate we should just pack it with insulation and then drywall the ceiling.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:13PM
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Here's another cool feature: the original arched exterior opening. Should we just drywall over this or leave it exposed?

There is also a chimney breast. Is it safe to have that exposed (it is a working chimney from the neighbour's basement furnace - our property is a side by side semi). Do we need to be concerned about the fire separation between the two units via this chimney? Would the mortar need repointing? (I guess I should check and see if they have a chimney liner - probably not).

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:27PM
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I have some cross beams made out of trees (bark still on) that we were considering taking out. The ceiling in that space is at exactly 6' and that is without a floor in yet. After talking about the cost (very very high) and options we have decided 6' ceilings aren't that bad (crossing my fingers my son doesn't grow that tall). I would add the insulation above, put in a nice ceiling and spend your money elsewhere.

Here is a link that might be useful: My short beams

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:27PM
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Ohhh.. if it were me, I would completely find a way to incorporate that brick into the design. I love cool features in old houses. I assume that is why you bought an old house and not some new mcmansion style thing. I would not be able to cover that over with drywall.

What do you mean chimney breast?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:34PM
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Thank you! As you can see, we have a window in the shower. It has been the bane of our bathroom for 35 years. One of the issues driving our bathroom reno was doing something about the window.

You do NOT want to keep those original wood casement windows in your shower, however pretty they may be. Getting steamy wet and soapy every day does not make painted wood happy. No matter how diligent you are about drying them off, scraping and repainting, the wood will get soft and yukky, and shed paint chips into your tub. And the curtain you put on those windows (you'll have to, unless you grow a large bush right outside them for privacy) will be plastic, and look cheap, and get mildewed ..

We replaced our wood sash window with an all-vinyl window from Andersen, with "obscure" glass. What a difference! Now the window is sleek and tidy. It opens and closes without a struggle, and the "obscure" glass gives total privacy while letting in amazing amount of light (it's lovely to shower by sunlight). Andersen makes casement-style vinyl windows too, and you can even get grilles for them in prairie style.

P.S. I have an irrational fear of pocket doors - what if the door sticks and you're trapped? Can you do a sliding glass door to the backyard instead, and have the bathroom door open outward?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:49PM
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Here you can see the outside of the chimney "breast". Remember this bathroom was an addition on the back of the house, so it has a chimney running through the back wall.

Lol, Suzanne, at first glance I thought you had suggested a sliding glass door for the bathroom!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That's not how we roll up here in Georgian Bay. :P

There is not enough room for a sliding door.

Thanks for sharing your experience re: the wood casements in the shower. It is what I expected. They are not in great shape to start with. It would be fine to keep them if it were just a bath, but we are putting a 21 year old man in this apartment...and he likes to shower.

I have in my idea file a BHG photo from years ago of a sunporch turned bathroom. I have always loved all those windows. BUT the reality is that the neighbours are pretty close at hand, and privacy would be a huge issue!

On the other hand, I did read about using Marine Grade paint on a wooden window inside a shower. Suzanne, did you ever try that?

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 11:59PM
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Here is a view of the sunporch from behind. You can see how the neighbours and our windows make a great look side by side. It will be sad to see that altered with a blank wall of siding or vinyl casements, but speaking to the neighbour, they don't like the lack of privacy from their windows either...

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 12:03AM
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Sun porches aren't meant to be living quarters. I'd be concerned about insulating that space to the maximum so you don't have burst pipes and a flood. Same with the attic area that you've exposed. Legal living quarters height is 80", and you will need at least R 38 in the ceiling, maybe more if you are further north. With such a shallow space for everything, you may have to resort to spray foam to get the required R value.

You need at least a 30" door to a bath also.

And while you may not be getting your home inspected, you do still fall under international building codes which have been adopted by all 50 states. Just because your municipality doesn't offer inspection services doesn't mean that you are exempt. It just means that whomever inherits the home will have a BIG headache if they ever to to sell it. Or that whomever lives in it after some of these renovations will be uncomfortable or unsafe. Building codes are the absolute lowest level that's acceptable in building. Nothing says that you can't strive for something better. Especially if you DIY. That's part of the point of DIY for most. They can put in something better than they could purchase if they don't have to pay labor. Not that they can do something to a worse level.than if a contractor would do it.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 7:42AM
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It was a bathroom when she bought the house. She says it's been a bathroom since the 1950's. Presumably there was a valid C of O when she bought it - and if the pipes haven't burst in the last 60 years, it was well enough insulated.

In the end, this is just the replacement of old fixtures with new ones. Code clearances apply to new construction - they don't require pre-war, pre-code buildings to be razed or gutted.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 10:29AM
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Removing that tub would be easy ... one person with safety goggles or a full-coverage helmet with face shield, and full-coverage heavy clothing, and a sledgehammer is all it takes.

Cast iron is very strong, but brittle. A few whacks with the sledge and it will shatter, sending glass fragments flying all over the place (which is why the shield and protective clothing is needed).

Then you remove the chunks and whack it again.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 3:21PM
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Live_wire_oak, it was not nan-nan that said she wasn't having it inspected, it was me talking about work we were doing in our own house. She said nothing about inspections. As far as my kids inheriting the house and then trying to sell it, well if they want to sell a house that by that time is 350 years old and has been in the family for 150+ years than that is up to them, but it is not going to stop me from putting isles in my kitchen that are 32" (against code) which is the only thing that makes my kitchen work. I am not raising my ceilings even though we gutted the house, as there is much about a 300 year old house you either have to love and live with or decide to burn it down and start over. So when they inherit, the kitchen will again be out of date and they can start over if they want, I will not let "international codes" dictate what is "comfortable" for other people in the house I plan to die in. And I have never had a toilet in any apartment I have rented in any place have the type of clearance you are quoting here. I understand it is the rules, but at some point the rules are a bit out of touch with actual reality of everyday people and homes in some areas of the country.

As far as a sun porch being a living space, well your right, they were never meant to be living spaces, however growing up we turned a much larger one into a bedroom for my grandfather when he could no longer live on his own. My neighbor turned one into a bedroom also for her great aunt when she fell and broke her hip and could no longer take care of herself, and I have seen some strange living spaces carved out of attics and basements to supplement first time homeowners mortgages. This all in MA. Maybe it is because I grew up in a slightly less affluent area than you did, maybe it is because space is at such a premium that buying a house with any space is a financial nightmare especially for a first time buyer, but I have seen way stranger than a bathroom on a sun porch.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 5:52PM
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I don't think 15"-18" clearance to each side of the toilet includes fixtures, its means to walls, because this is about knee space. The edge of the sink can be very close to the toilet tank, particularly if it is a wall hung or very shallow sink that allows knee room in front of it around the bowl. I believe full 9" of the toilet clearance dimension of 15"-18" can be Under the sink if it is wall hung and adjacent to the toilet. The individual front clearances for fixtures are not additive dimensions, they can overlap.

There are still 24-28" doors being put in new construction for bathrooms here. I would not recommend this. But the door doesn't have to be a swinging door, it could be a pair of 15" swinging doors, a bifold or an accordian.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 6:11PM
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Palimpset, when we were looking at houses, there was an old house with a bathroom with no window, and the door was a bifold louvered closet door. They had taken out some of the slats to get light into the room...but it meant they had a peekaboo door to the loo!

We met today with the plumber and tried out several different arrangements. His comment was to use a sledgehammer on the tub and put in a corner shower, Lazygardens. Is he a friend of yours? :)

Live wire oak, we are planning to get inspections and permits. I have a call in to our building inspector to see what he says about the space. If need be, we will put a door into the kitchen and then the space issues will be resolved.

Spray foam is planned for the exterior walls and in the crawl space underneath the room.

I contacted my friend's husband who is a structural engineer. His reply:

"The ceiling joists prevent the roof rafters from spreading, so they are a necessary component in most cases. There are ways of making this work, such as replacing them with tie rods, but they would have to be designed by an engineer (such as myself)."

So, because our budget is tight, we will just drywall the ceiling and stuff the attic with insulation. Since we have to reside, we will put some rigid foam on the outside as well. I hope that will take care of any freezing concerns for the plumbing.

Stay tuned. We'll wait and see what the inspector says!

Thanks for your input thus far. You have given me something to think about.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 10:50PM
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I just get envious whenever I see a house with a *real* attic. One that doesn't have diagonal trusses getting in the way of turning it into usable space. Forget about removing the wood joists and making a high cathedral ceiling. How about leaving the joists there and putting a floor above it and turning your attic into a small top floor, maybe with your full bathroom in it?

    Bookmark   October 14, 2012 at 11:29AM
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Provided you use small fixtures, you can have a very workable bathroom in a small space. For example, this sink is less than 12" deep. You could do a wall-mounted toilet and save a few more inches (but spend more than a few more dollars)

Here is a link that might be useful: Toto shallow sink

    Bookmark   October 14, 2012 at 8:00PM
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