Adding Modern Comforts To Old Houses

November 17, 1990|By Karol V. Menzieand Randy Johnson

When it comes to fitting modern conveniences into old-fashioned places, theft may be the only solution.

Stealing just a tiny amount of space -- 2 feet by 2 feet, say, or 3 feet by 6 feet -- can give you a much-needed coat closet or powder room. Taking a somewhat larger space, say an 8-foot-by-10-foot interior room on the upper floor of a row house, can get you two full baths.

The trick, of course, to stealing space, is finding places to steal it from -- and then making it look like it was always there. Prime spots to look for space are under stairways, at the ends of hallways, in existing closets and pantrys, in rooms that seem too tiny or too large for their current use.

Closets top most rehabbers' lists of places that time forgot. Older houses just don't have them. (How many clothes would you have if you had to hand-stitch everything, including underwear?) Still, there are plenty of places to tuck closets that don't mean building a big box out into a room.

Typical closets have an inside depth of 2 feet. If two rooms sharing a wall need closets, you need to take only

about 1 1/2 feet from each room. (If the original wall is load-bearing, you can replace all or part of it with a beam. It's a good idea in that case to consult a structural engineer or %J knowledgeable contractor.) If you don't want to tamper with a load-bearing wall, or if one of the rooms is large enough, take 2 feet from that room.

Another place to tuck a coat closet is into the space beneath a stairwell. Sometimes the closet can be less than 2 feet deep, with pegs or hooks, instead of a rod for hangers.

Some older houses have closets, but they're not very deep. In a space that's too shallow but fairly wide, the rods can be run from front to back (instead of side to side), as

long as there's a foot behind each rod and 2 1/2 to 3 feet between them. You can even double them up, with two rods on each side.

Sometimes a 2-foot square can be captured from a kitchen or bath and the space opened up to another room.

Bathrooms and powder rooms are a little harder to tuck away, because the pipes have to be hidden and because building codes govern the placement of fixtures.

According to the National Plumbing Code, for instance, the distance from the center line of the toilet to the tub or wall beside it has to measure 18 inches. The distance from the end of a bathtub to the edge of a sink must measure 13 inches. From the front of a toilet to the tub or shower across from it, the distance must be 18 inches. From the front of a sink to the tub, toilet or wall across from it, the distance should be 2 feet. (Local codes may vary a bit, but these are rough guidelines. In addition, these distances aren't generous. If you have more space, you may want to use it.)

Clever placement of fixtures can make the most of whatever space you have. A space 3 feet by 6 feet can be turned into a powder room with toilet and sink at opposite ends and the door in the middle. A space as small as 10 feet 6 inches by 8 feet can be split to yield two baths with standard 5-foot tubs. (See diagram.)

When you sit down with graph paper to start planning a bath or powder room, remember that certain standard arrangements of fixtures work well. For instance, sink, toilet and tub can fit on one long wall of a 5 foot by 7 foot space. (This one-wall arrangement is economical in terms of plumbing costs too.) If the space is longer than 7 feet, the sink can be replaced with a vanity unit. Another common layout puts tub and toilet along an 8 1/2 -foot wall, with a bulkhead wall between to enclose the tub.

Involving a plumber early in the process will save you problems later on. It's not too hard to run plumbing to first-floor baths through a basement or crawl space underneath, but it gets harder on upper floors, where there may not be enough space between the floor and ceiling to install pipes properly. New baths and major bath renovations generally require new venting systems -- which have to go through the roof. The plumber can tell you if your design will work, and how much work will have to be done on lower or upper floors to accommodate it.

However, the plumber may not be a designer, and he isn't likely to live in the house. The most convenient way for him to install pipes may not be the most attractive to you and may damage the character of the house. You should know where every pipe is going before any work is started.

There are lots of ways to add modern conveniences to an old house so they don't show. Find a sympathetic plumber, and be prepared to insist on good design.

Next: Kitchen considerations.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housin Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is Home Editor of The Sun.

If you have questions, comments, tips or experiences to shar about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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