How to Position a Toilet in a Small Bathroom

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Laying out a small bathroom poses special challenges not found in a larger space. While small bathrooms often require you to eliminate any extras, there are some fixtures, such as a toilet, that you just can't skip. When planning your bathroom, take the time to lay out your toilet in a way that maximizes access and comfort while still helping you make the most of your small space.

Building Code

  • The International Residential Code requires at least 21 inches of clear floor space in front of a toilet, regardless of the size of the bathroom. This code also specifies a minimum of 15 inches from the centerline of the toilet to fixtures or walls on either side. Requirements may differ in your area, so check your local building code to learn more about clearances around toilets.

Industry Recommendation

  • While the IRC provides minimum clearances around a toilet, these recommendations don't leave much room for accessing your toilet or using and maintaining it comfortably. To find out if these measurements are enough, sit on an existing toilet in your home and place any object 15 inches from the centerline and 21 inches from the front of the toilet. See how this spacing feels for you and various members of your family. If you need more space, the National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends leaving 30 inches of clear space in front of the toilet, plus 18 inches from the centerline of the toilet to any walls or fixtures on the sides. Depending on the space constraints in your small bathroom, you may have to sacrifice other plans to meet these recommendations.

Plumbing Lines

  • The rough-in for a toilet is measured by taking the distance from the surface of the wall to the centerline of the drain for the toilet. The average toilet features a 12-inch rough-in, though some models feature a 10- or 14-inch measurement. To avoid relocating plumbing lines, choose a toilet with the same rough-in as your existing model if you're working in an existing bathroom. In a new bathroom, consider a 10-inch rough-in to save space.

Door Swings

  • When deciding where to position your toilet, be aware of door swings, particularly in a small bathroom. Open the doors on the shower and any cabinets in the room to see the path they take as they swing open, and avoid placing your toilet within this arc. Do the same for the entrance door to the bathroom, if it swings in. You may be able to reverse the door to swing out of the room if it interferes with the placement of your toilet or other fixtures.

Layout and Design

  • Once you understand the different factors to consider when positioning a toilet, take the time to sketch potential layouts on a sheet of paper. Start by drawing the outline of the room to scale, so 1/8 inch on paper equals one foot of floor space. Draw in your toilet, keeping in mind the various code requirements and comfort recommendations, then try to fit in your other fixtures. Experiment with different positions until you find the one that works best for your needs.

Space-Saving Toilets

  • Save space in small bathrooms with space-saving toilets. Skip the traditional oval bowl and choose a round bowl, which frees up valuable inches in front of the toilet. Consider wall-hung units, which conceal the tank within the wall to free up space, or look for smaller tank-style toilets specifically designed for smaller bathrooms.

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