The modern bathroom may vary from home to home in their appearance and size, however, in the U.S., the basic components are essentially the same. To learn more about the components of a bathroom, click on the links below.
Hot & Cold Sink Supply Lines/Shutoffs
There are small faucet knobs that control and shut off the flow of water for both the hot and cold water for the lavatory(s) as well as a cold supply for the toilet and/or bidet. Usually these faucets will have a ½-inch copper pipe coming in to the shutoff and have 3/8 or 1/4-inch tubing from the shutoff to the lavatory faucet or toilet
In order to prevent sewer gasses and odors from entering the house, plumbing drains are designed with “traps.” A trap is a section of the drain pipe, usually directly under the drain, that forms an “S,” and the drain pipe forms a 180-degree curve followed directly by another 180-degree curve. The pipe can also form a “P,” and the drain pipe forms a 180-degree curve followed by a 90-degree curve. The trap or curves in the pipe are designed to allow the water to drain and remaining filled with water. The water acts as a barrier to the sewer gasses.
It is very important that a drain pipe have a trap installed in order to prevent sewer gasses from entering the house’s breathable airspace.
There is actually some debate over who and when the modern flush toilet was invented, but generally it is mistakenly attributed to a plumber named Thomas Crapper in early nineteenth century England. The modern toilet has a two-fold purpose. The first well known purpose is to move the waste into the septic or sewer system. The second purpose is to prevent sewer gasses from entering the house. Due to the simple ingeniousness of the design, unless the toilet is physically damaged or incorrectly installed, it performs this function without fail.
There are two basic designs used in residential dwellings–one-piece and two-piece. With the two-piece, the tank that stores the water to perform the actual flush function is separate from the the bowl, where the waste is deposited. The tank may either sit directly on the bowl or may be elevated above the bowl and connected by a pipe. In one-piece construction, the bowl and tank are cast as one single piece. Both types are usually made of vitreous china casting and operate the same.
When a toilet is ready for use, both the tank and the bowl are partially filled with water. As the toilet is flushed, the water in the tank enters the bowl which forces the water in the bowl through the drain channel. The velocity of the water draining creates a level of suction which pulls the contents of the toilet bowl down the drain. Once the tank is empty, the tank and bowl slowly refill.
Trapping the Sewer Gas
If you were to look at a cross section of a toilet, from the bowl to the drain in the floor, you would see an S-shaped channel. The S-shaped channel acts as a trap that keeps the water level in the bowl equal to the highest part of the S-shaped channel. The channel prevents sewer gasses from entering the house by maintaining water in the bowl.
Flush Valve Assembly
The flush valve assembly is the mechanism inside the tank that regulates the water during the flush operation of the toilet. This assembly usually consists of the following components. A float ball, called the ballcock, is attached to the inlet valve. The ball rises and falls with the water level in the tank. When the ball rises to a certain level, the inlet valve controlling the incoming water is turned off and the tank stops filling. The water enters the tank through an inlet tube to the inlet valve and down through the fill tube. The fill tube is used to direct the water into the tank.
The flapper is a rubber or plastic flap at the bottom of the tank. The flap covers the opening, called the flush valve seat. When the toilet handle is operated, the flapper is lifted, which causes the water in the tank to enter the toilet bowl.
The tanks on older toilets vary in size/capacity from 5 to 7 gallons. All new toilets are required to be 1.6 gallons or less.
The most common point where a toilet leaks is at the junction between the toilet base and the floor. The base of the toilet has a ringed opening that fits into the sewer or septic plumbing called the toilet flange. The flange is a recessed ring that is attached to the sub-flooring and floor framing. To seal the connection, a large ring of pure beeswax, which acts as a compression gasket, is placed between the toilet and flange to prevent liquid and gas from leaking. The toilet bowl is then secured to the floor with two bolts, located on the left and right side of the base.
Applying excessive or uneven pressure can cause the beeswax seal to become deformed and the connection to become loose and leak. Since beeswax gaskets are not elastic, they do not have a “memory.” (When compressed, the beeswax keeps the compressed shape and does not return to its original shape.) So by applying an uneven or excessive pressure to the bowl, the wax ring becomes deformed and no longer seals the connection.
Small failures of the seal will result in small leaks. Larger problems with the seal will be evident by the ability to move the toilet bowl side to side in a rocking motion. To fix the problem, completely replace the wax ring. Additional repairs may be needed if any damage to the subflooring, framing or piping is found. Rubber gaskets with a “memory” are available on the market but are not widely used.
Other leaks may develop if the bowl or tank cracks or if the junction between the tank and bowl (two-piece) fails. Leaks between the tank and bowl occur when the bolts securing the tank to the bowl become loose or when the rubber “O” ring gasket that seals the connection rots or tears. To fix the problem, replace the rubber “O” ring gasket or tighten the bolt. Cracked toilets need to be replaced. (Note: Over-tightening of bolts may crack the toilet.)
Flush Valve Mechanism
Another common toilet problem is the tank constantly refilling The constant refilling occurs when the flap does not properly seal with the flush seat. This is caused by sediment or film build-up at the opening or by the flap becoming damaged or deformed. To fix this problem, clean the opening and/or replace the flap.
If the handle used to flush the toilet no longer works, the chain or string that connects to the flap may be broken. When the handle is pressed, the chain lifts the flap, allowing the water to enter the bowl. The chain or sting may wear out over time. To fix, replace the chain.
The bidet (pronounced bee-day) is a bathroom fixture that is more widely known outside of the U.S. It is usually located in the bathroom next to the toilet and is used as a more thorough method for intimate personal cleansing. It is actually a form of a lavatory, or sink, and is not intended for use as a toilet. Rather, it is considered to be one of the most significant innovations for personal cleansing and hygiene since the development of indoor plumbing.
Bidets are constructed very similarly to toilets in that they are made of cast vitreous china, or china that is manufactured to resemble glass in finish and hardness. They are approximately the same shape and size as a toilet and take up approximately the same amount of floor space, only they do not have the tank for water storage that a toilet has. They function by spraying a jetted stream of water upwards to create a cleansing action. There are also accessories or attachments that can be purchased and installed on conventional toilets that will make the toilet a dual-function toilet/bidet.
It is a surprising fact that American plumbing manufacturers produce more bidets than manufacturers in any other country, however, the bidets are almost all exported. One of the reasons for this is that they are considered to be a luxury item or status symbol rather than a tool for personal hygiene.
Bathtubs are very simple fixtures designed to contain water, fit one or two people, and drain spent water into the sewer system. As civilization has progressed, so has the development of bathtub design. Bathtubs are made in a multitude of sizes, shapes, colors and configurations.
Bathtubs are either built into alcoves in the bathroom or are freestanding. They can range from the old-fashioned, stand-alone claw foot tub to an ultra-modern, computerized jetted tub that delivers and maintains a set water temperature. The standard size for a tub is 5 feet long and approximately 2 feet deep.
Tub materials can range from enamel-coated cast iron to injection-molded plastic. Other materials include fiberglass, stamped steel and molded acrylic. Tubs made from cast iron are considered to be preferable due to their durability and their ability to retain water temperature. However, cast iron tubs tend to be very heavy. Tubs made from acrylic that is reinforced with fiberglass are also considered to be very good. They are lighter than cast iron tubs and, due to the nature of acrylics, are able to be molded into very intricate shapes, including contoured seats and steps. Some tubs are made of fiberglass, however, these tend to fade when in direct sunlight. They also are not very resistant to scratching and impact damage.
Whirlpool or Hydrotherapy Massage Tub
When taking a normal bath for cleansing and relaxation is not enough, a bath in a jetted hydrotherapy massage tub, more commonly known as a hot tub, Jacuzzi, or whirlpool tub, can be just the ticket. Unlike a conventional bathtub, a whirlpool tub has an electric pump that circulates water through a piping system and directs the water through openings, or jets, in the tub’s surface. The jets can usually be adjusted to change the direction and force of the water to provide a relaxing massage while bathing.
Whirlpool tubs can be found in many finishes and materials, including enameled cast iron, fiberglass and even acrylic plastic. Whirlpool tubs can be installed as stand-alone units or built in to the bathroom, with a platform around the tub. They come in various sizes, from small units that will hold one person to larger stand-alone tubs that can hold 8 or more people.
The smaller units are normally filled each time they are used. To prevent cavitations or damage to the pump, the water level must be above the jetted openings. The larger tubs are usually not used for bathing, but for relaxation and enjoyment, and are left filled and covered when not in use. The water is chemically treated as with a pool and they will come equipped with integral filtering and heating equipment.
Regardless of the model or type of tub, it is very important that the electrical, mechanical and plumbing components located behind the tub surface be accessible in order to perform repairs, if necessary, and to look for leaks. Built-in models usually have the pump and motor located at one end or the other and are usually surrounded on two or three sides much like a conventional tub. The access opening is best located on the wall in the closet of an adjoining room. The larger stand-alone tubs can have multiple access panels around the tub-surround that are easily concealed by finished panels.
Because the pumps are usually electrically driven, a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protected power supply should be installed and all parts of the tub and metal fixtures within 5 or 6 feet of the tub should be bonded, or mechanically connected to the tub equipment.
In addition, if the water capacity of the whirlpool tubs is larger than a conventional tub, the supply piping may need to be proportionally upgraded. Also, the water heater may need to be upgraded to a larger unit in order to provide an adequate amount of hot water for the tub.
Showers are essentially small rooms with walls made of tile, glass, plastic, or some other waterproof material with a hanging waterproof curtain or a glass door that slides or swings open. The floor of the “room” may be a single-piece unit made of plastic or fiberglass, or some other waterproof material (i.e. tile) over a pan that is flashed and sealed to prevent water penetration into the surrounding wall framing.
Prefabricated units, like pre-fab tub units, are usually made from fiberglass-reinforced acrylic or fiberglass and come in a wide assortment of colors and styles. Some come as single-piece units and some require assembly, such as those with three wall panels and a base pan.
It is critical that the base of the shower pan not leak. Over time, this would lead to rot and deterioration of the sub-flooring and floor framing.
A combination tub is merely a joining of a shower stall with a bathtub. There may or may not be a glass door enclosure, however, there will be some kind of screening to prevent the shower spray from getting into the rest of the bathroom. The shower drain and/or faucet assembly will contain an additional switch, lever, or dial to divert the water flow from the tub faucet to the showerhead.
The actual term for sink is “lavatory,” sometimes called “lavs.” If the sink bowl is mounted on a pedestal instead of a cabinet base, then it is called a “pedestal sink.” Most sink bowls and pedestals are constructed of cast vitreous china, similar to toilets. However, you may find sinks made of glass, acrylic, steel, cast iron, or anything else that will hold water. Each type of material has its own advantages and disadvantages.
One of the more common types of sinks is the cultured marble or stone sink. This is much like a plaster-of-Paris that is poured into a mold and finished with a plastic layer. Cultured marble sink tops are popular because the entire cabinet counter top is usually formed as an integral part of the lavatory.
As with the large variety of “lavs” choices, the choices of lavatory faucets are also widely varied. It is important that they be capable of being turned on and off repeatedly, day in and day out, for many, many years. They are designed for both aesthetic appeal and longevity
Similar to the cabinets in the kitchen, sink-base cabinets in bathrooms are the standard storage space. There are two basic methods of construction–face-framed and faceless. In face-framed construction, the cabinet body has a hardwood or plywood-framed face to which the doors are attached. In frameless construction, as the name implies, there is no face and the doors are attached directly to the cabinet body. Approximately two-thirds of the cabinets in the U.S. are made in the face-framed manner.
Cabinets are made of a wide variety of materials, the most common being plywood or compressed particleboard. The counter top is anchored to the top of the cabinets.
A sauna is a bath that uses dry heat to induce perspiration. Steam is produced by pouring water on heated stones. Unlike a steam bath, a sauna uses very high temperatures to relax muscles and causes intense sweating to clean pores and foster respiratory wellness. In a sauna, you do not see steam.
The average in-home sauna has room for one to four people. It is either made entirely of wood panels or board sheathing. Saunas are not painted, because the paint does not react well with the elevated temperature and moisture. A heater or stove that is electric, gas/oil-fired or wood/coal-fired is used to heat the room. Stoves are usually constructed of either metal or masonry and on top of the stove will be several large rocks or ceramic plates. The steam heat is generated by the bathers pouring water on the heated stones or plates.
There are usually ventilation ports at the bottom and top of the room, with the bottom being larger and the top being smaller. Inside the sauna, there will usually be two platforms, one high and one low. The bather can sit on the higher platform for more heat or on the lower platform for cooler temperatures.
Exhaust Vent and Fan
The sink, tub and especially the shower introduce a lot of moisture into the bathroom. Therefore, proper ventilation of a bathroom is essential to prevent mold, rot or other moisture-related problems from developing. Exhaust fans and vents are installed to ventilate and remove the moisture in all new bathrooms. The fan unit is usually ceiling-mounted and directs the air through the vent to the exterior of the house. Though required on new homes, older houses often make use of a window instead of exhaust fans to ventilate the bathroom.
A common problem with exhaust fans and vents is when the vent does not terminate on the exterior of the building. Improperly terminated exhaust vents usually terminate in the attic area, which causes excessive moisture in the attic. The excessive moisture in the attic can lead to moisture-related problems such as wood rot in the structural components of the home.
Some exhaust fans integrate normal incandescent or neon lighting with the fan housing. Some even integrate infrared heat lamps to warm the bathroom.