Constructing better bathrooms for all

Constructing better bathrooms for all

January 2019

From the Supreme Court of America to smaller council chambers across rural England, the issues regarding the creation of shared - or gender neutral - washroom facilities for public use have proved to be a legal as well as a political hot potato; and the debate is certain to carry on for the forseeable future.

For architects and interior designers, however, there are many other technical considerations which must be respected if their work is to be regarded as a success for all the potential users.  For instance, whatever the size of the bathroom or washroom being created, it is essential that the background structure and substrates to the room are fit for purpose able to offer such attributes as strength, durability and resistance to moisture. Other requirements - including thermal or acoustic performance and the need to provide access for the less able bodied - are all addressed by the different Approved Documents included in the Building Regulations

Ever since the Egan Report, offsite construction or prefabrication has been gathering momentum, with fully fitted bathroom pods playing a pivotal role in the rapid delivery of different developments; from student accommodation to hospitals, and hotels to commercial buildings.  Whatever the scale, from an individual en-suite to a large washroom with multiple facilities, they enable a major part of the building services work to be completed away from the site environment, speeding progress and improving quality.  Though some pods feature reinforced concrete bases, the weight penalty sees the majority assembled using a light gauge steel or engineered timber frame, with a variety of board products providing the substrate for fittings and finishes.

It is worth noting that despite using concealed steel frames with sizeable securing bolts, the increasingly popular “wall hung” toilet bowls and urinals normally transmit a proportion of their load to the wall itself.  So whether the specifier selects a decorative laminate or a tile-backer board such a Marmox Multiboard, they will have to be fixed over a 15 mm or thicker layer of plywood to prevent flexing.  These tile backer boards do, however, offer very good compressive strength, as well as a number of other positive physical characteristics, making them a popular choice for building either in-situ or offsite.

Employed in wall or floor build-ups, they can sustain a distributed load of 40 tonnes per square metre, making them fully able to support the weight of pedestrians, wheelchairs, and even mobility scooters when covered by appropriate floor tiles. This performance stems from their construction featuring an extruded polystyrene core, bonded between two layers of glass-fibre reinforced polymer concrete. This combination of a rigid outer shell and XPS core - able to absorb lateral movement - will allow it to serve as an effective decoupling layer.

Importantly, this structure not only earns an ODP score of Zero and a Class O rating for flammability under BS EN 476, but the XPS also delivers excellent thermal characteristics. The insulation offers a thermal conductivity of 0.034 W/mK, and with the tile backer board being available in thicknesses of up to 60mm, they can make a significant contribution to achieving Part L requirements.

The ability to reduce heat loss also helps combat condensation and associated mould growth, and this can be a real benefit in refurbishment work, where the energy performance, as well as the physical condition of the walls is often a concern.

In fact, high performance tile backer boards are regularly employed on social housing sector contracts, where kitchen and bathroom renovations have to be completed to a very tight timescale, with the residents still in occupation. They can be screw fixed over blockwork and brickwork, or bonded using a cement based adhesive across uneven substrates; including existing ceramic tiles.   Arguably the top end of bathroom specifications is to be found in the fitting out of wetrooms or steam-rooms, which is where the fully waterproof performance of XPS and reinforced polymer concrete comes to the fore.  Such rooms can be effectively ‘tanked’ by applying the special waterproofing tape to all joints and other details, including corners, prior to tiling or plastering.

Given the UK’s climate and the increasingly exacting design aspirations of developers and specifiers, choosing the right materials for the construction of bathrooms or other washroom facilities is paramount. With the endorsement of the Energy Saving Trust, CE marking and all other necessary accreditations XPS based tile-backer boards,  like Marmox Multiboards, make a powerful argument for inclusion.
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