Inspiration and advice for your building project
Whether planning for a dream bathroom or tucked away en suite, a watertight shower room could offer the looks and practicality you are searching for, says Melanie Griffiths.
Not only does a wetroom look fantastic in sleek, contemporary bathrooms, it’s also practical —being easy to clean and providing an accessible shower for children and those with mobility problems. A wetroom is also an ideal solution in small or unusually shaped bathrooms, where a cubicle would look awkward. To add to this, “a wetroom can help to increase the value of your home,” says Geoff Wells, Bathroom Planning Expert at Dolphin. “Estate agents recently reported that a wetroom can create a premium of up to £10,000.”
While a wetroom can be installed in virtually any home, it’s not the right solution for everyone. Depending on the size of the bathroom, you might have to get used to a wet floor, and the room will feel colder. Water seepage is also a major issue if the floor and walls aren’t correctly tanked — and if there are any problems, they can be disruptive and costly to fix.
Yes, you can definitely include underfloor heating, even directly below the shower head, with the exception of a few electric systems. Aside from keeping your feet warm in what can feel like quite a cold space, underfloor heating will help to dry out the room rapidly. Pipes for a wet system are ideally embedded into a screed, while in an electric system the mats are fitted on top of an insulated tile backer board – see Marmox’s waterproof Backer Board – to ensure optimum efficiency.
There is no maximum or minimum size for a wetroom – a wetroom can actually be the ideal solution for small or awkward spaces, such as an understair cupboard or loft conversion en suite – but in the smallest spaces you can expect the sanitaryware to get a little wet. However, if the space is less than 5m2 you would be best advised to tank the whole room, as opposed to just the shower area. If you have the space, consider an expansive walk-in wetroom enclosure.
“The most common problem with wetroom installations is ensuring your bathroom is completely watertight,” says Dolphin’s Geoff Wells. “If care is not taken, you put your home at risk of extensive damage.”
There is more than one way to tank a wetroom, but in most cases a membrane is installed beneath the tiles which integrates the walls with the floor, providing a continuous impervious layer. This may be pasted on or applied as a sheet of polyethylene or bitumen.
For an easier installation option, it’s possible to purchase a large preformed wetroom base, such as Showerlay by Marmox. Another popular option, according to Geberit’s Victoria Willis, is to create a wetroom look by using a concealed tray: “A wet area can be achieved by installing a sunken tray that can then be tiled and sealed to make the area waterproof, which will decrease overall labour times and lower the cost of the project,” she says.
There are several DIY wetroom kits on the market, such as the Roman Shield Tanking Kit (from £283.92), which contains everything you need to tank a 10m2 room in preparation for tiling. DIY giant Wickes also sells all the components and provides a detailed step-by-step guide. However, due to the delicate issue of perfect tanking, it’s a job only for skilled DIYers.
To ensure that the water runs to the drain, the wetroom floor has to be designed to form a subtle, even gradient. In older homes this is sometimes problematic and where it’s not possible to get the slope right, a concealed tray is a good alternative.
If draining towards a central gulley drain, large-format tiles need to be cut diagonally into the depression angle of the underlay; otherwise smaller mosaic tiles can be used. Do make sure that the drain isn’t positioned directly beneath the showerer’s feet. In smaller spaces, you may find a corner drain, with the floor sloping towards it, an easier option. Channel drains, which are available from ACO (aco.co.uk), positioned at the entrance to the shower are a popular option, and create a larger drainage area.
Draining the waste water can sometimes be a problem, as the waste pipe needs to run to an external wall or soil stack. If your wetroom is at the opposite side of the house to the drains, then you may need to install a pumped drain, with a sensor to automatically start when water is present. This may also be necessary if there is insufficient space under the floor to create a fall for the waste pipe.
In such a wet area adequate ventilation is key, to reduce moisture and humidity and keep mildew from forming. A ceiling extractor fan to take the moisture away through the roof or loft is ideal. If you’re not building your wetroom on the top storey, you may need to install a wall-mounted extractor fan.
If the wetroom is less than 6m2, then a frameless shower screen, to protect the sanitaryware from getting soaked, is a good idea. Most wetrooms include a screen anyway, which also aids drainage. This may be a single glass panel, or it could be an open-sided enclosure.
“When a floor surface combines with water, identifying a tile that provides slip-resistance is essential,” says Katie Turner, Head of Design and Merchandising at Topps Tiles Plc. “Natural stone mosaics offer the perfect finish for wetroom floors as they are practical and safe underfoot, while tiles with a high-gloss finish, such as polished porcelain, are less suitable as the surface could become slippery when wet.”
In general, natural stone with a riven texture is a good option, as it provides a good grip. Slate is one of the more cost-effective options and is perfect for wet areas. Stone will need to be treated with an appropriate sealant — check with the supplier.
Be sure that both wall and floor tiles are grouted properly to avoid seepage. This won’t, however, make them completely watertight: a tanking system must be applied beneath.
“The cost of the project is dependent on the size of the space — it could come in at anything from £1,500 up to £4,000 including all fixtures and fittings,” says Victoria Willis, Geberit’s Product Manager. “The golden rule is to put quality over cost, as if the drainage and tanking is not sufficient or poorly installed, it will cost dearly through water damage in the long term.”