Q. We’re ready to remodel our outdated bathroom. What are the most important things we should look for when hiring a general contractor? What questions should we be asking?
A. Bathrooms may not be the largest rooms in your home but they’re among the most important to get right during design and construction. When you’re hiring a contractor, one thing they should definitely understand is moisture and how to manage it.
Water is a homeowner’s worst enemy. It can wreak havoc behind walls and under floors, the full extent of its damage is often undetectable until it’s too late. So you’ll want to make sure your general contractor knows how to prevent water damage from ruining your beautiful, newly remodeled bathroom. Preventing water damage starts with the design. Bathrooms must be able to handle and remove as much airborne water as possible. One occupant can generate as much as 1 to 2.5 gallons of airborne moisture in the home per day! A large percentage of that comes from bathroom activities like showering, bathing, running the faucet, and flushing the toilet.
Proper Ventilation and Draining
All this moisture needs to be properly vented and drained. Without proper venting and drainage integrated into the bathroom, mold and mildew will quickly form on surfaces and behind the walls. Ensuring that the fan—or fans if your new bathroom includes a separate toilet area—are properly sized, well ducted, and installed correctly is crucial. Humidity sensors and/or fans with timers on them can help ensure that a bathroom fan stays on long enough to remove as much moisture from the air as possible.
Fixtures – Types and Durability
Other design features affecting both the amount of moisture and needing to be moisture resistant includes fixtures and furnishings. For example, a multi-head shower fixture will produce a lot more moisture than a single head. And the same goes for steam showers. It’s important that your designer is familiar with the pros and cons of each option and how to effectively design a space with adequate airflow to handle the moisture they produce. You’ll also want to make sure your designer is thinking about the durability of fixtures and finishes. The last thing you want is corrosion appearing on your fixtures one or two years after they are installed. Where these products were manufactured as well as their durability track records are important. A reliable contractor will order fixtures from reputable brand name plumbing suppliers and not just pursue cheap online “deals.”
When it comes to constructing bathrooms, proper materials are key to helping the space function as intended. There are innovative new materials available such as plastic-based baseboard and trim that don’t absorb moisture like fiber-based baseboard—while still looking beautiful—and materials that go under tile to prevent moisture buildup behind the wall. Shower niches are great for organizing bottles and soap, but if they’re not properly installed, mold and mildew will quickly build up inside. There are also specific types of paint that are formulated for high humidity areas. A knowledgeable builder will utilize those paint options and not just the same paint that’s in the living room.
Knowledge is Power
Even though bathroom spaces are small relative to other rooms in the house, there is a lot to think about with remodeling them. Using a design-build company that is highly knowledgeable about the proper way to handle these special challenges can alleviate a lot of stress and ensure your space is designed well and built to last—freeing you up to cherish and enjoy your new bathroom for a long time.
This article was written for the Seattle Times as part of the Homework section sponsored by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). Northlight Custom Builders is a member of MBAKS