Bathroom fit-out costs can make a big dent in budgets, particularly on large developments. Anthony Waterman of BRE compares the benefits of traditional techniques and off-site pods
A factory is a better place to make a bathroom than a construction site. It is warm and dry, there is plenty of space and the conditions offer the opportunity to fine-tune the assembly process. This means that bathrooms produced in a factory have fewer defects. And where the demand is there, economies of scale allow pod makers to research and implement aesthetic or functional innovations and ways of improving quality. There is also the potential for cost savings.
Once on site, bathroom pods will make savings in time because they are faster to install. The costs of re-work and snagging, which are estimated at £200 for a traditional bathroom, are also reduced. Time saving may be a critical aspect of the project, particularly in hotels or student accommodation where there is pressure to realise revenue streams, or to finish a project in a hurry.
Some hoteliers have chosen to specify traditional bathrooms rather than factory-fitted bathroom pods because they do not want the inflexibility of a standardised product. Hoteliers may consider the design, theme and style of their bathroom to be a key attribute of their service. Specifying traditional bathrooms means that they can choose their own theme, layout and colours.
In addition, advocates of traditional bathrooms point to the costs of transporting the pods and storing them securely on site. In many situations, site-specific conditions may make the bathroom pod a costly alternative.
Bathroom pod options
There are several makers of pods offering ranges of varying quality. Pods can be specified according to the end use, for example student accommodation, key-worker accommodation or low, medium or high-cost hotel accommodation. Bathroom pods are commonly specified for such applications because of the repeatable nature of the bathrooms and the promise of assured quality.
Research suggests that specifying factory-fitted bathroom pods incurs a cost premium of about 30% compared with traditional bathroom fit-outs. The perceived advantage of the pod is that this cost premium can be offset against the time savings during installation, less re-work and snagging, and fewer defects to rectify in use.
Traditional bathroom fit-out needs the skills of a number of specialists including plumbers, carpenters, plasterers, wall and floor tilers, electricians and painters. The total time required for these specialists to install a bathroom is estimated at 82 hours. In contrast, a pod requires fewer specialists and takes typically 10 hours on site.
Maintenance and repair
Maintenance and repair costs are variable and depend on the quality of components, the installation and the in-use conditions. Good-quality components that have been properly installed will last longer with lower repair costs. With regular maintenance and repair the technical service life of the bathroom components is about 40 years. This may be reduced according to changes in fashion.
Factors to consider when specifying pod bathrooms are as follows:
- The robustness of the pod and how well it stands up to transportation and handling on site
- Tolerances for fitting into the structure
- The accessibility of hidden services and the ease of replacement of ancillary components
- The standards applicable to bathrooms
- Bathrooms must comply with all relevant laws, regulations, standards and codes, notably concerning water installations, ventilation installations and electrical installation
- All works are to be carried out in accordance with the relevant statutory requirements and to conform to the appropriate British Standards and codes of practice.