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Creating an open-plan en suite

ABOVE: Floor tiles unite the open-plan bedroom and en suite areas in this glass flat-roof extension. The Starck freestanding bath is by Duravit and the Cappellini sideboard is from Viaduct.

Michael Holmes
Renovation expert Michael Holmes

Follow experienced property renovator Michael Holmes’ advice to achieve the best open-plan en suite design.

The trend for adding a freestanding bath in a spacious bedroom started a few years ago when boutique hotels took advantage of a change in the Building Regulations – these had prevented water and electrical power points from being in the same space because of the risk of electrocution. The rules now require only a minimum distance between power points and a bath, shower or basin, so you can have a bath or full en suite in a bedroom.

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Choose the right bath style

A bath can become the focal point within a bedroom space, so design choice is important. A freestanding roll-top bath on claw feet can look spectacular in either a traditional or a more contemporary space. Roll-tops come in enamelled cast iron, resin or plastic. Widely available reclaimed roll-tops can be re-enamelled or repaired.

Contemporary shaped freestanding baths are available in resin, plastic, stone, metal, wood and polished concrete. Shapes vary from circular to rectangular, to the more unusual, almost sculptural forms.

For practical reasons, it makes sense to avoid creating hard-to-clean ‘dust traps’ around a freestanding bath, so it is best to leave a space of at least 30-40cm from any walls. If there isn’t room, an against-the-wall model makes better sense.

Raising the bath up on a plinth can make it more of a feature, while also providing a useful void beneath for plumbing fittings, and an increased fall to help the waste pipe flow away into a nearby soil pipe.
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Flooring options

The flooring around the bath area needs to be easy to keep dry and clean, so wooden flooring is a great choice. It works equally well in a bedroom area and can be mixed with rugs for comfort. If there is a natural division between bedroom and bathroom space, such as a change in level up to a plinth, a change in flooring material can work – for example, tiles and wood, or wood and carpet.

The floor area immediately around the bath needs to be sealed to prevent water from leaking into the room below, especially if there is any chance of contact with electrics. This can be achieved using waterproof tile backing board (try Wedi, Marmox or Aquapanel), which can be taped and jointed to form a waterproof layer, over which floorboards or tiles can be fitted.

It is unlikely that the joists will need to be strengthened to take the weight of a bath, but it is important that the boards beneath the feet are all supported directly onto a joist or a noggin (a timber that is fixed between the joists).
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Plumbing the space

Most houses have suspended timber floors, so new plumbing can be installed in the voids between the joists, accessed by lifting floorboards.

Most houses will have joists that are deep enough to be notched or drilled to allow hot or cold pipes and waste pipes to run perpendicular or at an angle to them, as well as between them.

Flexible plastic plumbing (Hep20 or JG Speedfit) can make retrofitting easier than with copper, as long single lengths of pipework can be used and threaded through holes drilled in the joists, avoiding the need to conceal any joints – which are always the weak point in any plumbing and most prone to leaks.

It is a good idea to add isolation valves to each hot and cold run so that taps and mixer valves can easily be turned off individually for fitting or maintenance.

Make sure you have sufficient hot water flow and pressure to supply another large bath. Discuss this with your plumber – if you have a small hot water tank or underpowered combi boiler, it may be a good idea to upgrade to a large tank or a combi boiler with a higher hot water output, otherwise you could wait a long time to fill a deep bath.
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Heating the room

A heated towel rail can easily be added to an existing radiator circuit. Alternatively, you can fit a new heated towel radiator, or replace an existing radiator. If there is a tiled area around the bath, you can add electric underfloor heating mats beneath the tiles. These can be wired into the ring main circuit by adding a switched fused spur.

It is unlikely that adding another radiator will place too much extra demand on your boiler, but ask your plumber to check its capacity to make sure it will work.
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Consider ventilation

Adding a bath to a bedroom will create additional moisture vapour, so the room will require ventilation to prevent condensation problems. Fitting an electric extractor fan through the wall or ceiling is inexpensive, and the fan can be operated by a humidistat. If fan noise is an issue, it is possible to fit a remotely located fan motor – in the loft, for example – connecting it to the bedroom using rigid or flexible ducting.
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Floor-to-ceiling mirrored wardrobes; A painted freestanding bath
ABOVE (left-right): Floor-to-ceiling mirrored wardrobes by Camhall Interiors create a feeling of space and light. The roll-top bath is from the Bathroom Discount Centre; A freestanding bath with chrome taps from Victorian and Edwardian bathrooms is painted in Garnet Symphony Eggshell Emulsion by Dulux to make a bold design statement.

Lighting solutions

Highlight the bath by placing spotlights or a decorative chandelier above it, and adding wall washers or floor washers, which could be fitted into a plinth if your design features one. Any light fittings within the ‘wet zone’ above and around the bath need a suitable ‘IP’ (ingress protection) rating for use in a bathroom environment. Find out more about bathroom lighting zones at
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Building regulations

Planning permission is not required to add a bath to a bedroom, but the work must comply with the Building Regulations and is notifiable – so you or your builder must get approval for the work from your local authority and pay the appropriate fee.

If the property is leasehold, you will need to obtain permission for alterations from the freeholders.

Should the work involve alterations to a shared party structure – such as the bathroom floor if there is a flat below, then you will need to issue a Party Wall Notice under the Party Wall etc. Act (England and Wales).
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