Paolillo's Bathroom Remodeling Company
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Bathroom Remodeling Information & Tips

Tile Selection

What's Behind the Glazed Surface

Most tiles are selected based on look and size.  This will be what is most visible when your remodeling project is complete. However, what's under the glaze should be considered, as it may affect the life span of your new bathroom.

The quality of the bisque behind the glaze varies from one tile type to another. Moisture/water absorption rates and hardness are the primary characteristics that are variable and are based on the temperature and length of time the tile is "fired" in the kiln.

Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tile was the mainstay of the tiling industry; however, over the last 10+ years it has been replaced by porcelain tile.  

Ceramic tile is the softest and most absorbent tile.  It has a glazed surface and a clay type bisque underneather.  Each tile is uniform in design and pattern.  I FIND IT COMMON PLACE THAT CERAMIC TILES HAVE IMPRERFECTIONS OR CHIPS ALONG THE EDGES.

If you decide to purchase ceramic tile take note of some of my experiences with them:

  • It seems that American made ceramic wall tiles have many imperfections, including dimples and rough and/or chipped edges.  I have found these problems with the brands DalTile and American Olean.
  • Floor ceramic tile sold at the store chain The Tile Shop have very fragile edges.  I had to replace a floor installtion due to the edges chipping.  

You should also be aware that ceramic tiles are generally sold in two distinct groups, one for walls, and one for floors. Wall tiles are thinner and much softer than floor tiles and should not be used on floors.


Porcelain Tile

Porcelain Tile has excellent wear properties, they resist staining, they're durable/hard, the quality of the top finish is usually very good and they absorb virtually no moisture, which makes them an excellant bathroom tile.  Porcelain tile come in glazed and "flat" finishes and each tile's design varies, giving them the appearance of natural stone.

Rectified porcelain tile are tiles that are cut from larger pieces of tile AFTER they are come out of the kiln.  Their advantage is that they are all the same size (non-rectified tiles are cut before they go into the kiln and the shrinkage that occurs while baking causes each tile to slightly vary in size).  The negative of rectified tile is that they have sharp (not beveled) edges. 


Mosaic Tiles

Any tile 2 inches or smaller is considered a mosaic tile. Usually, they are sold mounted on 12" x 12" sheets. Mosaic tiles are a particularly good choice for floor installations where the floor is uneven, as the many grout lines allow the tiles to bend with the floor (of course our goal would be to level the floor, if possible, before installation).

The negatives regarding mosaic tiles is that the very sheets that hold them together can interfere with the quality of tiles adhesion to the bonding material and floor. Also since the tiles are so small and the grout lines numerous only a small amount of adhesive can be used otherwise the grout lines will become filled up with adhesive instead of grout.  Ultimately, the bonding of the mosaic tiles to the substrate is not as strong as the bonding of larger tiles.

Many people use mosiac tiles as a decorative strip in their shower.  Some mosaic tile sheets contain tiles made of slate.  I do not recommend these tiles as slate develops naturally in layers and those layers easily peel away in the finished product.


Natural Stone

Frequently used in bathrooms, their beauty is unparalleled, although many porcelain tiles come very close. Stone is much more labor intensive to install and thus much more expensive to install.  Also, stone must be frequently cleaned and sealed to reduce the possibility of staining, as stone is porous. Note, that if you are considering marble, green and black marbles are extremely porous and require an expensive epoxy to be applied to the back of each tile to prevent warping.


What Tile Size

First and foremost you need to know that there are not any standards for tile sizes and most tiles are never the size they say they are.  Thus, a 12" square tile can actully be anywhere from 11 inches to 13 inches square!

While you can pick any size tile you like, the general rule of thumb in designing is, small rooms, small tile, big rooms big tile. That being said, most tile dealers will recommend a 12"x12" floor tile, saying it will make the room look bigger. However the primary reason they say that is because there are many more floor tiles to select from in the 12"x12" size than in a smaller size.  12" x 12" is also the most popular size floor tile I install.

When considering the size tile you should select, you should consider the size of the area to be tiled. Most tile jobs start at the center point of the tile area, with the cuts being made along the perimeter. So if you have a bathroom that has a floor area of 52" needing tile and you select 12"x12" tile, your perimeter tiles will be cut at either 2"x12" or 8"x12" and you will have either 4 or 3 full tiles in each row. Same situation, but you select 6"x6" tiles. You have either 2"x 6" cuts or 5"x6" cuts with 8 or 7 full tiles. You can imagine that the final look of the floor varies significantly, based on the size of the tile in relation to the size of the room.

These days, tiles are becoming larger and larger.  Before you select an "oversized" tile, keep in mind that most bathrooms being remodeling have numerous problems with walls not being square, studs being warped/uneven and floors not being flat.  Large tiles require perfectly flat surfaces and square corners to look good.  Imperfections in your sub-structure will be accentuated with large tiles, as they don't bend to conform to underlying uneven studs, joists, etc.  Also large tiles, themselves, are usually not perfectly flat, as they warp slightly after being manufactured (especially tiles larger than 18 inches).  It is impossible to set a warped tile without having lippage occur.


Where to Buy Your Tile

Most bathrooms will not use a lot of tile since most rooms are not large.  As such the actual cost of the tile is a relatively small amount of the remodel cost.  At the same time the tile is a significant part of the final look. 

I recommend buying tile from a tile store. I believe the tile they sell is of a higher quality than the tile sold at the big box retailer, especially ceramic tile. As an example, American Olean tile I installed was purchased from one of those big box retailers. This brand of tile is typically very good and it is widely sold at tile stores. The tile was purchased from L----  and contained a lot of imperfections such as chips, dimples and portions of the tile surfaces were sometimes not glazed properly. Other brands I've installed from the other big store have had similar problems.

Less expensive tiles from tile stores can also experience these problems, but I have found that good tile stores know the quality of the tiles they sell. Discuss your budget range and quality concerns with the sales people and they will guide you to the brands/tiles that fit your needs and financial situation. 

TILES PLUS MORE ON RT. 9W IN NATICK IS AN EXCELLANT STORE!  http://www.tilesplusmore.com

I recommend that you stay away from THE TILE SHOP.


Cabinets

Your bathroom cabinet will get a lot of use and abuse. Purchase the best cabinetry your budget will allow. Take particular note of the type of drawer slides and how they are attached to the wood as well as  the thickness of  the wood they are attached to (especially the back panel). Also, look at how each side is joined with the other. Simple staples in pressboard just don’t hold up. Generally, speaking the basic brands sold in abundance at the Home Centers fall into the lower quality ranking.

Furniture style cabinets (cabinest with legs) are very popular.  While these cabinets can be used in any bathroom I think they look the best when you are tiling the walls outside of the shower and thus tiling the wall behing the cabinet.  The legs vary in their cabinet location and their shape.  If the cabinet is not being installed in front of tile, then baseboard moldings have to be installed around the legs.  More often than not, this is does not present a good appearance.

Cabinets with drawers on the bottom are also popular and create good storage.  The minor drawback to these cabinets is that the inside of the cabinet may need to be cut to allow room for the sinks P Trap.

Many vanities have drawers whose face comes very close to the edge of the vanity.  If there are any door moldings in front of the placement of the vanity, make sure the drawer can be opened once the new molding are installed.  If not, you can purchase a Spacer from the manufacturer that will extend the vanity  away from the wall and allow the drawer(s) to open.

Plumbing code requires vanities to be no closer to the center of the toilet than 15 inches.


Water Mixing Valves

There are many manufacturers and styles of mixing valves.  We prefer the Symmons brand.  It's relatively inexpensive and easily serviced.  It's the original water mixing valve with corporate headaquarter in Braintree, MA.  Most bathoom showroom salespeople will push the German brands to their customers due to ecomonic incentives, etc.  We think they're unecessarily expensive, overly engineered, complicated to install and expensive to repair and as such we don't recommend them.  One of the brands we refuse to install as constant quality control problems has plagued this manufacturer.

If you decide to purchase one of these valves, be aware that they offer  thermastatic versions which do not allow the water temperature coming out of the tub spout or showerhead to be completely cold.  We've had more than one customer be very surprised and unhappy about this.


Exhaust Fans

All Massachusetts bathrooms must have an exhaust fan.  There are many options regarding the air movement capacity of the fan.  80 CFM is typically a well-suited size  for bathrooms with a toilet, sink and bathtub/shower.  I'm told by a "knowledgable" professional, that installing an oversized fan in a bathroom will result in less moist air being exhausted, not more.  This is because moist air is "lazy air" and the more powerful fan will suck-up the make-up or new air entering the bathroom rather than the moist air.

Related to exhaust fans is the space between the entry door threshold and the bottom of the door.  At least 3/4" (1"  is better) is needed to provide the make-up air necessary for the exhaust fan to work properly.


Toilets

Before you buy a toilet you must know what its "Rough-In" size is.  That is the distance from the wall to the bolts that secure the toilet to the floor.  There is no standard distance although 12" is the most common (and the only size sold, off the shelf, at the big box stores),  I've seen distances range from 10" to 16".  The older the house the more likely it will be something other than 12".


Toto is the largest manufacturer of toilets and we've had good luck  with the quality of their products with one exception.  We do not recommend the models that are not secured in the traditional manner of bolting the toilet to the drain flange in the middle of the toilet.  The models in question  are secured to two plastic anchors at the rear of the toilet and a diaphragm is inserted into the drain flange to guide your waste down the waste pipe. These toilets have a tendency of not resting tightly/securely to the floor.  


Building Codes

Bathroom remodeling is governed by numerous requirements of the Plumbing, Electrical and Building professions.  Any residential bathroom being updated in the state of Massachusetts must comply with the codes, rules and regulations, in force, during the time of the remodeling project, regardless of the date the home was constructed. Here are a few rules that are usually the most surprising to homeowners:

  1. Any bathroom remodeling project that involves the alteration of existing wall board or any other “structural” material, requires the issuance of a Building Permit* by the town or city the home is located in.
  2. New or updated bathrooms must have a 20-amp. electric wall outlet (most current bathrooms have a 15-amp plug).  This means that a new electrical line must be run from the electrical panel in your basement to the bathroom being updated.
  3. Every toilet room (bathroom) must have an exhaust fan that is vented directly to the outside of the house (not in the attic).
  4. Showers must have a two inch diameter drainpipe; bathtubs only need a 1 ½” drainpipe (which complicates the process of switching from an existing bathtub to a stand alone shower).
  5. Only a licensed plumber may legally perform any plumbing.
  6. All drains must vent thru the roof of your house.  The rules governing how this can be accomplished are complex but well known by my licensed plumber.
  7. If the existing bathroom drainpipes are made of galvanized iron, they must be replaced with currently accepted material.
  8. If your bathroom plumbing uses a Drum Trap instead of a P Trap, it must be replaced.
  9. If your toilet drain flange or pipe is made of lead (older homes) it must be replaced.
  10. The EPA and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts mandate that any paint in your home that contains lead (top or bottom coat) must be removed in a manner that protects the environment from lead dust and must be conducted by a person certified to conduct this type of work, which I am.
  11. All hand-held shower heads must be connected to a water valve that limits the water temperature to 110 to 112 degrees.  This is especially important when considering a hand-held unit for a stand alone bathtub.  Hand-held shower heads must also contain a vacuum breaker that prevents water from back flowing into the water supply.
  12. Some communites are enforcing a new requirement that only licensed sheet metal workers can install the duct work for a bathroom exhaust fan.
  13. Plumbing code indicates that the edge of a vanity sink should not be closer than 15" to the middle of the toilet.

While these rules may seem onerous to you, your Licensed Construction Supervisor (me) will take care of all of them for you, ensuring that your new bathroom is safe, sound and in compliance.

*YOU SHOULD NEVER PULL A BUILDING PERMIT ON BEHALF OF YOUR CONTRACTOR.

The state of Massachusetts and many cities and towns offer the homeowner financial recourse from contractors that do not perform their responsibilities in accordance with the laws and regulations governing the various trades.  These assurances are not available to homeowners that obtain their own permit.


Common Heights

Shower Head 6 ft. 6 inches

Shower Rod 6 ft. 6 inches

Toilet-paper holder 24 inches

Towel bars 48 inches

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