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The HF of Renovations that Reality TV Shows May Not Tell You

Making Things Usable, Posts

Mini-Series Part 2: The Bathroom

A few weeks ago, I started this blog mini-series on human factors (HF) considerations in renovations. By and large, Part 1 covered kitchen concepts. This edition – Part 2 – covers the bathroom.

The bathroom, like it or not, is the most important room of the household. Think about it: if your kitchen is being renovated, you can cook on the bbq outside and wash dishes in the laundry sink (or, better yet, just get take-out!). But what are your options while your bathroom under renovation? You can’t exactly do everything you do in the bathroom in other rooms of the house. Ergo, it’s the most important.

It is nearly as critical, then, to make it as usable and optimal as possible. Basic concept of the bathroom: you need a toilet, a tub, and a sink. Easy, right? Five minutes down the plumbing aisle of Home Hardware and you’re all set. Not quite. When I used to sell plumbing fixtures, I would spend at least 20 minutes with my customers discussing toilet options alone (sometimes, regrettably, much longer). Below are some general selection tips when it comes to these primary bathroom fixtures:


  • Opt for the comfort height version of whatever model you’re interested in – this gives you up to 2” of extra bowl height, which most people over 5’5” will greatly appreciate.
  • For an additional few dollars, you can get a slow-close toilet seat. This option not only encourages guys to close the lid more often, but it also avoids that awful slamming that sometimes happens. It’s also safer for kids.
  • Bidets are still popular in Europe, but they tend to be viewed as an added expense and space-taker in North American homes. However, if you love the functionality of a bidet, you can opt to get a special seat (even a slow-closing one) that offers bidet perks. Some of them even offer a drying mode.


  • Freestanding tubs are stunning, but are they practical? A freestanding tub is not generally used as a shower because you need a curtain around all sides. So if you opt for freestanding, you would likely want a separate shower. Many bathrooms can accommodate this, but just remember the added cost – versus a tub/shower combination. Also, a freestanding tub means more surface area to clean (both inside and outside the tub, and the floor around and underneath).
  • Jets are meant to make a tub experience more relaxing. Whirlpool jets tend to be noisy since they require a large motor and actually push water through pipes surrounding the tub. The whole experience tends to be a loud one – think of a hot tub. Air jets are a quieter alternative. Instead of a large motor, air jets require a blower (a heavy-duty fan) and simply blow air through the pipes surrounding the tub. Air jets are a bit gentler than whirlpool jets, but most customers find them just as stimulating. The caveat is that an air-jetted tub costs at least 20% more than its whirlpool equivalent.


  • You know those sinks that look like bowls on the counter? Those are vessel sinks, or lavatories, if you’re feeling particularly fancy. They look awesome – but think it through. First, consider that you’ll need a special faucet. Most vessels don’t have a faucet hole directly on them, so you’ll need an extra-tall faucet that stands on the countertop, or a faucet that juts from the wall (which requires extra plumbing, which means added cost). Second, like the freestanding tub, a vessel sink has more surface area to clean – both the inside and the outside. Imagine your kids’ toothpaste stains all over the outside of the bowl too! Nightmare much? I recommend only installing vessel sinks in powder rooms where typical usage is limited to hand-washing only. And never go with clear glass – it’s impossible to keep clean.
  • Opt for a single-lever faucet when possible. This is especially important if you have kids. It is risky, and frankly frustrating, to have to turn two handles to get an ideal temperature. I for one typically just turn on the hot and hope I get my hands washed well before the scalding hot makes its way through the pipes. Not exactly the wisest way to do it, but there you have it (and I doubt I am the only one).
  • Regardless of what’s popular in terms of design, always go with lever handles instead of cross handles. This is a simple ergonomics rule: it takes more muscular effort to grab a knob and turn than it does to push a lever. Customers with arthritis greatly appreciate this recommendation.

There is plenty more I can tell you about bathroom fixtures. I’ve gotten every question you can think of when it comes to bathroom customization. And while TV shows and magazines focus mostly on aesthetic design, the HF way is to focus on usability and functionality. But with all the choices out there, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. With the right advice, you can have a beautiful bathroom that is not only user-friendly, but user-optimized and user-loved.

Samantha Davis

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