What is this obsession with bathrooms?



Anyone who has ever spent five minutes watching Home and Garden TV “knows” that kitchens and bathrooms are what buyers look at. It’s probably true that if you want to improve the market value of your home, bathroom and/or kitchen upgrades are some of the safest places to spend money. However, lately I’ve started seeing this principle taken to extremes, particularly as concerns the loo.

For one thing, what was once euphemistically referred to as “the littlest room” is sometimes no such thing. I’ve seen modest bungalows where decent-sized bedrooms have been sacrificed to create luxurious washrooms with multiple sinks, and separate bathtub and shower. Incidentally, the latter is a “must-have” I have never understood. It seems to me the separate bath and shower are only an asset when two family members are regularly going to be in need of bathing at exactly the same time. Otherwise, the traditional  bathtub which also functions as a shower works just fine.

Also, there probably are homes in which turning on a tap in another room doesn’t cause the shower to run freezing cold or boiling hot, but I have never lived in one of them. So the whole “you’re going to run a bath while I’m in the shower??!!” concept makes me jumpy.

Something else I've noticed lately is houses where there are as many bathrooms as bedrooms. In other words, each family member presumably has a private refuge. Some may see this as luxury, others as absolutely essential.  But even as one who has spent time pounding on bathroom doors when family members took a little too long, this strikes me as a terrible waste.  Waste of money, waste of living space - and waste of water, because if you have that much plumbing in your house, you will use it.

We see the 3+1 bedroom/ 3+1 bathroom ratio mostly in new or very renovated homes. I grew up in a 1950s bungalow with one modest bathroom for the 5 of us to share. Eventually we finished the basement and installed a second functional john down there. I’ve also lived in, as well as sold, a lot of houses from the 1800s and early 1900s, so maybe that’s why I’m very aware of how much attitudes about the lavatory have changed.

In many of these houses, you’ll find a closet-sized WC right next to the front entrance. These “water closets” often containing just a toilet, sometimes including a small sink, are aptly named: they are no bigger than closets, and I’m not talking about walk-ins! I enjoy pointing out to buyers of heritage homes that when their vintage beauty  hwas built, that WC represented a large proportion of the total indoor plumbing.  There may have been a pump in the yard, and a large tub in the kitchen for bathing.  A friend of mine remembers living this way in the country into the mid-20th century. “The least filthy of us took the first bath, because you wanted to use the same tubful for all the kids,” she recalls.

These houses now have full bathrooms, usually on the second floor with the bedrooms, but you can see how they have been carved out of previous living or sleeping space. I’ve seen bathrooms you had to step up into because all the supply and evacuation pipes have been hidden under a raised floor. (It’s either that or drop the downstairs ceiling, and, while in these Victorian houses there’s usually plenty of height to spare, people are reluctant to do it because it can mean sacrificing moldings and rosettes and along with them, a good part of the house’s period character).

We’ve all oohed and aahed at luxurious bathrooms in decorating magazines, but before we shell out for thousands of square feet of new tiles, we should consider how the finished reno will look in the context of the rest of the house.  If it makes everything else look shabby, it’s probably not the way to go. Also, never turn a 3-bedroom house into a 2-bedroom with a huge bathroom. You will lose more value than you gain. And may I suggest, while we’re on the topic, buying low-flow toilets? They’re easier on the environment,  and may even curtail the scalded or frozen screams emitting from the shower.




Amy Barratt

Amy Barratt

Real Estate Broker
CENTURY 21 Vision
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