Although equipment for heating, cooling and controlling humidity isn’t beautiful or as soothing as music in the bath, it is a necessity. If you don’t take the necessary steps to control the environment, moisture can cause long-term damage to your house.
There are a range of options available, though it’s best to consult a qualified design-build firm to know exactly which mechanical devices are right for your house and the South Bay climate.
Moisture wasn’t much of an issue when houses were drafty and under insulated, but it can be an issue today because of more stringent building codes, better materials, and a wider acceptance of energy-saving building techniques, all of which have resulted in houses that can easily trap moisture and humidity.
Even living in beautiful Southern California, the idea is to prevent warm, moisture-laden air from coming into contact with a cool surface inside a wall cavity and to give the walls and ceilings that do get damp a means of drying out.
A combination of a vapor barrier on the walls and ventilating fans will keep moisture from being plugged up in the bathroom, and will help prevent mold and rot.
Containing water where it’s supposed to be is another good way to ensure your bathroom remains sound. Caulking around tub and sink perimeters helps, but it’s most important to make sure the bathroom fixtures that are installed are the best fit for your circumstance.
A one-piece tub/shower is probably a smart choice in a child’s bath, for instance, whereas a large soaking tub with little or no surround is better suited to an adult who won’t be splashing around a lot.
Giving your bathroom the right fan
The most important step toward maintaining a healthy bathroom environment is to install a fan. Opening a window when you’re showering or lounging in a tub is helpful, but it isn’t enough.
There are two basic types of bathroom fans: the familiar ceiling-mounted unit that may include a light or infrared bulb for supplemental heat, and inline fans that are installed some distance away, even on the roof.
No matter which kind of fan you settle on, two key considerations are how much noise it makes and how much air it’s capable of moving. Inexpensive fans tend to rattle incessantly or hum loudly.
Remote inline fans are typically a little louder than the best ceiling-mounted designs, although there are a variety of ways of muffling the noise.
The most effective place for a fan is in the ceiling, right over the area where damp air is generated. If you don’t like the look of conventional grilles, vents can be hidden inside light fixtures.
A fan can be installed in an exterior wall, but that’s not as effective as having a fan with ceiling collectors, and it will probably make more noise, it’s also likely that it will be more obvious.
Experiencing the convenience of bathroom timers and sensors
Like any other feature in the bathroom, fan switches and controls can be selected to fit the way you live.
For someone who runs out the door to work shortly after a morning shower and doesn’t have time to wait while the fan does its job (count on at least 20 minutes), a timer is a good idea.
More sophisticated switches can be programmed to cycle on and off throughout the day, and some are even designed to work as stand-in whole-house ventilators.
Other types of switches sense humidity in the air and turn on the fan when it reaches a predetermined level.
If you have absolutely no faith in your ability to remember to use the fan, there are motion-sensing versions available that will get the fan going as soon as you walk into the bathroom.
Heat sources in the bathroom shouldn’t be ignored
Unless your bathroom has an electrical heater with its own thermostat, chances are it’s part of a heating zone that includes several other rooms, often some downstairs and some upstairs.
There are several options for improving an existing heating system. Adding a strip of electric baseboard heat or a heat-lamp fixture in the ceiling are relatively inexpensive ways of getting more heat in the bathroom without making any changes to the system that serves the rest of the house.
Installing an electric heating mat over an existing floor and capping that with tile is more labor intensive, but it does not require the removal of the floor you already have.
Heating mats are very thin, so they don’t affect the level of the floor very much, and are controlled by their own thermostats.
Mats can be installed only under parts of the floor that you want to be warm underfoot -- there’re not intended as the sole source of heat.
More elaborate modifications can include decorative wall radiator panels or even a hot-water radiant floor system on its own zone.
Major alterations to an existing heating system -- adding a dedicated hot-water zone in the bathroom for radiant floor heat, for example -- make the most sense when floors and walls are opened up or during a whole-house renovation.
Mechanical systems that control temperature and humidity in the bathroom should stay mostly out of sight and out of mind, but you’ll notice instantly when they’re not working.
Choosing the right equipment keeps you comfortable no matter what the climate and ensures your house will stay healthy.
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