Designer: Ivana Stojanovska
Photographer: Rayne Troxell
Location: Lakeview, Chicago
Both wet rooms and traditional bathrooms add functionality to your home. They provide a place to get ready in the morning and a way to unwind at the end of the day. While these spaces have similar features, such as toilets, sinks, and mirrors, the way they are set up and function can be very different.
When a client contacted us looking to install a wet room instead of a traditional bathroom, we were excited to take on the challenge. The work that went into this wet room was extensive, but both the client and our team were elated with beautiful results. Below, we dive into the differences between the two so you can make a better-informed decision for your own bathroom remodel.
Wet rooms and traditional bathrooms have a variety of designs and layouts. While there are many ways a bathroom can be laid out, a wet room is a little different. A wet room is designed for showering and bathing without a barrier separating it from the rest of the room. Unlike a regular bathroom, there is no curtain, splash panel, or shower door so the water could reach the space around it.
The space is entirely waterproofed so you don’t have to worry about water containment, however, this client wanted a slight barrier between the shower and the toilet. We installed a glass panel that hangs from the ceiling to save space. Wet rooms contain all of the elements of a traditional bathroom, but they are really built to take advantage of the space.
The amount of space you have to work with may influence your decision for creating a wet room or traditional bathroom. Stall showers installed in conventional bathrooms can be as small as 30-inches square, with most measuring 38 inches or larger. While you do not need a specific size, anything in a wet room placed near the showerhead or body sprays could become wet. This includes things like toilet paper, hairdryers, and makeup. Therefore, it is best to create a wet room area where other fixtures and items will be out of the way of the spray.
In most cases, wet rooms allow for great flexibility of movement, which is an advantage. There is no curb to step over or door to navigate, which makes the wet room an ideal setup for people who have disabilities or trouble with mobility. Wet rooms are gaining popularity with homeowners who want to age in place and have disabilities. Because there is no curb, door track, or barrier to entry, it is easier for people that use mobility aids such as wheelchairs.
Traditional bathrooms can be modified to make them accessible, with curbless showers or additions such as walk-in tubs, roll-in showers, grab bars, and transfer seats, but wet rooms are typically easier and may be less expensive than modifying an existing room. Think of it as an open floor plan, but for your bathroom.
While traditional bathrooms and wet rooms may seem similar on the surface, the installation process is actually quite different. For one, there are fewer fixtures involved in a wet room. The other major difference lies in how the wet area is treated. In a traditional bathroom, the area is separated or contained, usually by a door, panel, or curtain. While the walls outside this area may be waterproofed, they do not need to be. So, drywall 1 or a cement backer board, which are not normally meant for wet areas, may be used.
In a wet room, the entire space is treated with the same waterproofing material. Vapor barriers 2 and a specific type of backer board are used throughout. There is no curb and thus no need to caulk 3 and risk leaks over time. The flooring in a wet room is another unique aspect. The floor must slope to the drain everywhere, which means tile is often used for most if not all of the floor.
If you use a different type of flooring, you’ll need to switch to a smaller tile in the pattern as you approach the slope of the drain. These differences are not major and will not impact installation time. It can take a while to waterproof a wet room, but it also takes some time to create a shower tray and install shower doors. In the end, they both require about the same amount of time to install.
Wet rooms cost about 20 to 30% more than a typical bathroom installation. You’ll need to spend a lot of time and money waterproofing the area. There are also some similarities between wet rooms and a typical bathroom installation, including materials for fixtures, valves, and tile. The main difference is the type of materials used to finish the wet areas. A wet room requires a special membrane and different types of tile, which can make it more expensive.
In any bathroom renovation, the biggest driving cost is size. According to Fixr.com, the average price of a bathroom renovation is $125 a square foot, so the larger the space, the higher the total expenses. For a 144-square foot traditional bath, the cost will be about $18,000 for materials and installation. The same is true for a wet room, but with the added expense of completely waterproofing the space before the finishing materials can be put down.
So, the price is closer to $150 a square foot, which means that a 144-square foot wet room would cost about $21,600. Obviously, if you had more customization to the space like our client did, the price will also increase based on the design of the wet room.
In both spaces, the degree of upkeep you need to perform is tied largely to the materials you choose. Using natural stone or specialty metal finishes in a traditional bathroom means more maintenance than using porcelain and chrome. Despite their many benefits, wet rooms still have some maintenance cons.
Extra ventilation is sometimes necessary to prevent mold and mildew growth. This is because the room is so waterproofed that people may not fully dry after usage which can lead to mold growth. However, if you do get water in places you do not want it, it can be mopped up easily due to the design of the room.
Wet rooms and traditional bathrooms have about the same resale value. Bathroom remodels in Chicago and the surrounding area currently recoup between 55 and 70% depending on the level of quality of the materials. Because wet rooms often use higher quality materials and are considered a luxury addition, they may recoup slightly more at the time of resale.
However, most homeowners want to have at least one conventional bathroom in the house. Therefore, remodeling the only bathroom to become a wet room may harm resale rather than improve it. If you are planning on reselling in the near future, we recommend taking into account your target buyers before installing a wet room.