Baths are popular remodel targets with practicality as goal

ByABC News
May 28, 2012, 4:47 PM

— -- Kitchens may be the hearth of the home, but bathrooms are an even more popular target for remodeling.

Bath projects, up 17% in the last two years, have become the most common remodeling jobs, says a survey this month by the National Association of Home Builders.

Nearly a third of Americans, or 31%, want to remodel their baths compared with 25% who seek the same for their kitchens, according to a December survey by Better Homes and Gardens magazineof 4,000 readers interested in buying or renovating a home.

Yet today's homeowners appear less interested in the grandeur of a master bath, with a separate spa-like tub, and more in its practicality.

"They're not doing the McMansion bathroom. … They're doing more intimate spaces," says designer Stephen Saint-Onge, author of No Place Like Home (Wiley) who has clients in the New York metro area. Even if a client still wants a separate tub and shower (most opt for just the shower), he says they'll choose a soaking tub rather than the huge whirlpool.

"We're taking out these whirlpool tubs," because people aren't using them, says Jerry Levine, an upscale Washington D.C.-area remodeler. In the master bathroom, he says clients prefer instead a large shower with a bench, a ceiling-mounted rain shower head and a hand-held shower.

Homeowners are concerned about reducing utility costs, says a fourth-quarter 2011 survey of architects by the American Institute of Architects. As a result, efficient LED (light emitting diode) fixtures and water-saving toilets are in increasing demand, says AIA's chief economist, Kermit Baker.

Also popular is accessibility via doorless showers, as well as comfort via radiant heated floors, hand showers and a linen closet or other storage, the survey finds.

"People want a classic, basic bathroom," that can be dressed up and changed with accessories such as towels, Saint-Onge says.

Trends include:

•Conservation. With water scarcity on the rise in parts of the United States, homeowners are looking for more efficient toilets and faucets.

There are plenty of dual-flush toilets on the market, in which one button is used for solids and the second (less water) for liquids. Also, newer single-flush commodes are using as few as 1.28 gallons-per-flush, which is less than the 1.6 gpf used by many recent versions and markedly less than the 5.0 gpf of the old-fashioned commode.

Confused about how to pick a water miser? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which launched the Energy Star label for appliances 20 years ago, started the WaterSense label in 2006 for water-efficient toilets, faucets and shower heads.

Some of the shower heads deliver strong water pressure by injecting air into the water stream.

"I don't hear people complaining about shower pressure," says Susan Matus, a project designer for Case Design/Remodeling, a firm in the Washington, D.C., area. "Technology has kept pace with what we want to do with conservation."

•Larger, varied tiles. "We're seeing bigger tiles even in small bathrooms. That would have been unheard of 10 years ago," Matus says. She sees more clients varying not only tile size but also its texture, especially as more tile is made to look like wood, linen or something else.

"We don't see lots of glazed tile anymore," except if it's white, subway-like tile, she says.