Bathroom Remodeling Musts
By Julie Sturgeon

Nesting may be the ‘90’s buzzword, but the inspiration for our bathrooms is just the opposite. Spurred by the luxurious bathroom areas upscale hotels provide during business trips, homeowners are turning their necessary rooms into sanctuaries devoted to pampering.

That’s one reason why high-end looks such as marble, granite and onyx, and grand architectural touches like one-quarter to one-half inch round fluted columns prevail, says Jodi Carter, vice president of the design division at Century Marble/Centura Solid Surfacing. It also explains why those who remodel their bathrooms this decade often are motivated by the need for more space.

"The key is to take your compromise," says Doug McCool, the manager and co-owner of McCool’s Flooring. "Authentic marble compromises cost maintenance, but, on the other hand, you have a material that would last generations. Prioritize with whatever works with your family life and schedule."

Flooring

Flooring selection is a hassle-free procedure; the natural quarry look of slate, granite and marble basically have crowded out other contenders, experts say. For starters, the natural appearance helps hide sopiling and deposits. "DuPont recently conducted a survey for the flooring industry and discovered that where people used to be concerned about discoloration, now low maintenance is the number one characteristic on their list," McCool says.

Secondly, the planned inconsistency means remodeling projects can pick up where the original flooring stops -- a perfect match isn’t even desirable.

But while the real McCoys are certainlyavailable, most homeowners puzzle between ceramic tile and vinyl materials to achieve these looks.

The building structure often can make the decision simpler: If the bathroom is over a crawl space or basement, McCool explains, the contractor must put down a half-inch thick concrete board to strengthen the floor and assure that the grout doesn’t crack when homeowners go with ceramic. Vinyl requires only a thin sheet of plywood subfloor, which prevents the homeowner from stepping up into the finished room as well-- an unwelcome byproduct of ceramic tiles.

Vinyl isn’t the cheaply manufactured product it was in the ‘70’s -- today’s version is technologically wnhanced to not only hold up longer but to lay down a better looking floor, too, McCool assures. New designer inlay patterns, created using through chip construction, deliver the true plushness only depth perception can achieve. "Before, it was a flat and resembled a shiny piece of wax on the floor. That look is gone," he adds.

Likewise, ceramic tile has experienced a technological rebirth. Today’s product is impervious to chips and scratches, thanks to more consistent glazing, controlled heat processes and better chemicals in the clay composition. According to McCool, the result boils down to predictable and recise shrinkage factor (to hundreds of an inch), so every tile in a lot is nearly identical in style. Homeowners may count on straighter grout lines and larger square tiles. Where one-inch by one-inch or two-inch by two-inch was yesterday’s standard bathroom tile measurements, McCool says 12-inch by 12-inch is now the norm.

The chic Italian marble surface shot through with dark veres hues, in particular, can attribute its increased presence to this technology. Authentic Italian marble requires a special adhesive to prevent the staone from curling in the corners -- a trait that has caused many homeowners to pause. The ceramic "knoch-off" offers a permanent solution that bypasses the inconveniences.

With any choice, the matte finish is preffered to avoid a slippery-when-wet illusion, and better hide water spots. And because a cool ceramic floor that is sop refreshing in the summer can turn painful during winter, homeowners are adding heating elements beneath the stone to warm their piggies.Tubs, Sink and Showers

Those oversized shower stalls -- interpreted as 60 inches by 32 or 34 inches, according to Carter -- most likely house the most in-demand feature available for 1998 bathroom: the body, not including the traditional shower head itself, the side-mounted tower resembles a car wash -- or a whirlpool on the wall, as Mary Wright, the kitchen and bath designer at Economy Kitchen and Bath, describes it.

The good news for existing bathrooms is that these towers, because of their slim-line style and acrylic materials, can be installed in standard shower stalls, although Wright doesn’t recommend this feature for any stalls smaller than 3 foot by 4 foot.

Custom benches and seats in the shower’s interior are common, as are double shower heads. "A lot of couples get ready together in the morning and some shower with their children. Two shower heads are very convenient," she says. However, the stalls are more conducive to these dual plesasures than tub/shower combinations. And almost everyone prefers a clear glass shower door that is only occasionally etched or frosted with a unique design, says Carter.

To meet the on-the-run family demand, many homewoners are exploring pressuring-balancing systems that automatically adjust the shower whenever someone flushes the toilets, cranks on the dishwasher opr fires up the washing machine. Valves keep the cascading water within 2 degrees Fahrenheit of its original temperature during these events. Some systems even offer memory capabilities that insure the water temperature remains consistent between uses.

Vanities’ newness lies at their bounderies: bull-nose edges that render the countertop thicker are the most popular, followed by the beveled, more delicate touch of an ogee edge. Homeowners pursuing the cutting edge lean more toward the deco drop-offs, which are built up slightly to invoke a Southwest flair, Carter says. At any finish, chic countertops now rest 36 inches up from the floor, as the higher placement is more comfortable for most Americans.

Tubs’ role has diminished in frequency this decade -- still, a few household fixtures rival the temptaiton of an evening sinking into a pile of warm bubbles. For this reason, oversized tubs defined as measurements beyond 60 inches by 32 inches, Wright says -- are also a hot item. Although cultured marble tubs cater to today’s lavish theme, acrylic is hands-down the material of choice for its light weight and ability to conduct heat.

The tub’s amenities also have expanded to include indulgences like built-in line heaters to hold the temperature, digital control read-outs, variable speed pumps , mood lights, built-in lumbar and arm rests, and oscillating jets that both move the water from left to right and rotate 360 degrees to rub homeowners the right way. "It’s like having your own masseuse," says Wright. "People want to run home and jump in!" For that reason it is not uncommon to fimd twin tubs side by side, in almost mirror-image of the sink basins.

Whirlpools and Saunas

Likewise, whirlpools have turned on the power in recent models to better fulfill their niche. Hot tubs -- the outdoor versions that holds multiple bathers -- are designed to steam away your stress; whirlpools for one or two bathersare more massage oriented.

"Hopefully, people get excited about whirlpool for this therapeutic value," Economy’s Wright says. That’s why she views today’s jet placement among the welcome improvements to this amenity -- manufacturers are placing them lower around the perimeter of the basin, which means bathers aren’t forced to empty as much of the home’s hot water supply, as well as mixing in additional jets to cover each area of the body. These jets are also varying the types of sprays they project and pressures to add to the tension reduction.

Ditto the whirlpool’s depth. The latest versions feature assorted depths, which accommodates a wider range of body types. "The shallow ones leave taller people freezing half out of the tub," Wright notes. The ovalshaped whirlpool measuring 72 inches by 42 inches is the most popular option.

Toilets

The government’s mandate of 1.6-gallon "low-flush" toilets has given rise to pressurize-assisted versions that attack the multiple flush problem at the pump. Although they were originally designed to rescue residents on a well system, this option equally is beneficial to urban dwellers, too. The one drawback: it’s a slightly noisier alternative. "But most customers say they can overcome that -it’s just wonderful not to have to keep flushing," offers Wright.