What Is the Wet Area in a Bathroom?

If you’re curious about open-plan bathrooms, read our breakdown of the trendy wet room or wet area, which maximizes space by doing away with shower doors. | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

What once was the province of nautical toilets and low-rent hostels has now become one of the hottest bathroom trends: wet room style bathrooms. This type of bathroom design can help you make the most of a small bathroom and shower area, but it can also give a larger bathroom the feeling of a luxurious spa. 

Making updates to your bathroom can change the value of your home, but it can be hard to know what style is right for you. Here, we’ll break down the pros and cons of wet areas as well as entire wet bathrooms to help you decide whether this interior design trend is right for your home.

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What Is a Bathroom Wet Area?

A bathroom wet area is just what it sounds like: a portion of the bathroom where everything in the area can and likely will get wet. Many times, this takes the form of an unenclosed shower space with no shower tray in the floor.

Many times, wet bathrooms only have a drain closer to the center of the room. Essentially, everything in this wet area, floor to ceiling, is waterproofed so that moisture can’t seep into the grout or floor tiles and cause water damage.


Wet Bathrooms vs. Wet Area

It’s possible to have a wet area within a more traditional bathroom. For example, you might construct a wet area that consists of a separate shower and tub. Though there will usually be separate drains in the floor and in the bathtub, the whole area can get wet. Often, this wet area will be enclosed behind glass doors or a glass partition to confine spray from the shower to the portions of the bathrooms served by the drains. When a wet area is enclosed, the rest of the room can stay dry and safe from water damage.

However, your entire bathroom can also be a wet room. In this case, there would be no partition, and the entire room—from the sinks to the towel racks to the toilet—would be designed to handle getting wet. Typically, the bathroom floor will have a gradient of a few degrees to ensure that water flows down the central drain instead of pooling.


Pros and Cons of a Wet Room Bathroom

As with all trendy bathroom ideas, there are benefits and drawbacks to wet areas. Make sure you think them through before committing to any bathroom renovations.

Pros of a Wet Bathroom

Opens Up Floor Space

Originally, this type of minimalist design made smaller bathrooms feel much larger, since you didn’t have to worry about bumping into shower doors or tub edges. You could pack all your fixtures into a walk-in shower—in extreme cases, this meant a shower head on the wall right next to the sink and toilet. 

Even if you have the space for a more traditional layout, choosing a wet room allows you to use design elements uninterrupted by the traditional boundaries of a shower enclosure. These design options can make the bathroom space feel even larger and let more natural light into the shower area.

Ease of Cleaning

In many ways, wet areas are easy to cleant. Often, you can use the same type of cleanser on every surface in the area. Additionally, if you forego a glass door or other shower screen, you eliminate the need to wipe down the glass every time you shower. Of course, this isn’t the case with every design, but is a potential benefit of selecting a wet room bathroom.

No High Tub Edges

As we age, stepping over a tub edge or shower tray can become a difficult and even hazardous proposition. Some homeowners choose to install walk-in tubs or other accommodations to make this a safer experience. However, with a frameless shower, there are no steps or ledges to clear, so no retrofitting is needed if mobility becomes a concern down the road.

Diverse Fixture and Design Choices

When everything in the bathroom can get wet, you can experiment with room ideas that aren’t possible in a traditional bathroom. Tubs with freestanding faucets, tiled ceilings and glass walls are all possibilities, and you’ll have a great deal of freedom when it comes to placement of any new fixtures. 


Cons of a Wet Bathroom

While there are many benefits to a wet bathroom, you may also want to consider these potential downsides to the trend.

Everything Gets Wet

You’ve probably already imagined one of the key drawbacks of a room where everything is designed to get wet. Although there are ways to cover them, damp toilet paper, towels and toothbrushes are a real possibility. 

Even if you confine the wet area to a portion of the bathroom, there are some items that you’ll have to keep in the dry areas, which may be inconvenient for the ways you actually need to use the bathroom. Function is important to consider in wet room design.

Safety Issues

A waterproof floor can be dangerously slick when it gets wet. That’s why many homeowners lay down bath mats or special adhesive stickers to provide extra traction on a shower floor. If the entirety of the bathroom floor is both water-tight and wet, it’s a slipping hazard. It’s possible to install non-slip flooring, but a wet floor is still more dangerous to walk on than a dry one. 

Can Be Expensive

Because of the extensive waterproofing, also called tanking, that wet rooms require, you need special materials, including an extra layer of watertight material in the walls and floors. Installation of a wet room isn’t a DIY project, either, since putting a drain in a new location requires the work of a licensed plumber. One way to mitigate the safety issues of a wet floor is to install underfloor heating to dry the surface faster. These are all potential expenses, as is the extra ventilation you’ll need.

Concerns As a Seller

While you may love this bathroom look, the next owners of your house may not. If you plan to be in your current home for decades to come, it may be worth converting your master bath to a wet room. However, if you’re looking to sell reasonably soon, you might want to consider more traditional types of bathroom remodeling. A full wet room master bath may ultimately hurt the resale value of your home.


Features and Special Considerations

Here are some of the features you’ll need to keep in mind when converting some or all of your bathroom into a wet room.

Water Drainage

One of the most important considerations for a wet room is how to make sure it can dry out between uses. Pooling water can lead to mold or mildew and eventual water damage, so drainage requires careful thought. Typically, this means the floor will be gently sloped in the direction of the drain. You’ll also need to make sure there’s a barrier—usually a step—between the wet bathroom and the rest of the house to keep water inside.

Waterproofing

In a traditional bathroom, only the tub and shower walls need to be truly waterproof, with solid grout, silicone sealant and a moisture barrier underneath to keep water from seeping into wood or drywall. In a wet room, all walls, and potentially even ceilings, need to be waterproof. This means using waterproof paint and wallboard specially rated to repel moisture.

Flooring

Of course, flooring needs to be waterproof as well, including subflooring layers that act as a moisture barrier. Large tiling is a popular choice, though natural stone, ceramic and poolside paving are options as well. Note that if you put in a tiled floor, you’ll need to have it regrouted once a year.

Storage

Unless you have partitioned dry areas in your wet room bathroom, you can’t use materials like wood or particle board for cabinets, shelving or other storage solutions. You’ll have to figure out what you want to store in the bathroom and how to keep it dry. You may need to relocate linen storage outside the bathroom itself.

Heating

Because a wet room shower isn’t enclosed, it doesn’t hold the heat of the water as well, so showering may be a little less comfortable in colder climates. Additionally, you can’t have heater vents in the floors of a wet area, and placing them in walls requires extra caution. Radiant heating installed in the floor may help keep you warm as well as assist in drying the floor.


Maintenance and Cleaning

Cleaning a Wet Bathroom

Within a wet area, you can typically use the same cleaner on every surface, since they’re all sealed against moisture. The lack of barriers between features also means access for cleaning is usually easier, and shower steam travels throughout the room. Generally, you’ll want to start cleaning at the walls and work your way down toward the floor, and then toward the drain. If you have a handheld shower head, you can use it like a garden hose to rinse the entire room.

Cleaning a Wet Area Only

You’ll clean a wet area the way you clean an entire wet bathroom, just on a smaller scale. The only difference is that you’ll want to take care to keep the areas in the rest of the bathroom dry. Ensure that plaster, paint, and drywall don’t get exposed to more than an occasional splash.

Maintaining a Wet Room

Generally speaking, having a wet room on an upper floor of your home is no different than having a shower on an upper floor. If it’s sealed and tanked well and maintained properly, you should be able to enjoy an upstairs wet room. Keep an eye on the tiling and grout to make sure that it stays in good repair.


Final Thoughts

Generally speaking, a bathroom remodel has one of the highest returns on investment (ROI) of any home renovation project. However, keep in mind that not everyone involved in a real estate transaction wants to deviate from a traditional ensuite bathroom. If you want a wet room upgrade, it should primarily be for your use, not as a way to increase the overall value of your home.

Regardless, if you’re looking into bathroom renovations, Bath Fitter is available in 45 states and offers lifetime warranties on the acrylic bathtubs and showers its technicians install. Usually, technicians can install a permanent new tub or shower liner in a single day, customized just for your bathroom. To discuss your options, call Bath Fitter at 800-892-2847 or check out the company’s website.


Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to install a wet room?

According to HomeServe, it costs an average of $21,600 to install a new wet room, which is about 20% more than the $18,000 price tag on a traditional bathroom of the same size. However, that doesn’t mean upgrading your existing bathroom will only cost $3,600. According to Homes and Gardens, converting a traditional bathroom into a wet room costs about $11,000 to $18,000.

Do wet rooms leak?

If properly installed, your wet room won’t leak any more than a traditional shower stall would. However, because of the complex nature of the waterproofing and plumbing required, we don’t recommend this as a do-it-yourself project. This upgrade is best left to professional contractors and plumbers.

What’s the difference between a wet room and a walk-in shower?

Although they may look similar, wet rooms and walk-in showers are built slightly differently. A walk-in shower typically has a floor with a low-profile shower tray to direct water toward the drain in the shower. It may also have one or more glass partitions sectioning off the shower from the rest of the bathroom. While a wet room or a wet area in a bathroom might or might not have a partition, there won’t be any shower tray. Instead, the entire floor of the room or area will be graded to a central drain.

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