Start with the big three: sink, toilet, and tub
Enameled cast iron and porcelain dominated the fixture market in my grandparents’ day. Sinks, toilets, and tubs made from these materials were durable and affordable. Those qualities are still essential today, along with water conservation, safety, comfort, and style.
Countertop-mounted sinks include undermounts that attach below the surface for easy cleanup. while these sinks aren’t necessarily pricey, installation can be. Most undermount sinks require expensive slab counters such as stone or quartz. They also require that the hole be cut perfectly, with the edges polished smooth, adding to the cost. A drop-in or self-rimming sink is less fussy to install, and the counter can be made of laminate or another affordable material. Consider a pedestal or wall-mounted sink when space is limited but a counter and vanity storage aren’t necessary.
Sink color and shape are design choices that don’t affect performance. Check the depth of your vanity cabinet, though: 21-in.-deep bath cabinets are common, and some larger sinks require a 24-in. cabinet.
Flushing efficiency and comfort are the critical factors when it comes to toilets. water-conservation concerns have forced manufacturers to design toilets that are more adept at flushing. Some are better than others, so read the reviews before making a purchase. You can find a good two-piece toilet for $200 or less. One-piece models, which are easier to clean, cost more. Roomier seats are generally found on toilets with elongated bowls. Taller folks might find a higher toilet more comfortable.
Tubs with jets and other therapeutic features have electric motors mounted below the platform, and access is required for service. If you are considering a jetted tub, read the manual first to ensure your bathroom meets the electrical, structural, and spatial requirements. Also, be sure that your water heater can supply enough hot water to fill the tub.
Soaking tubs come in many shapes, lengths, and depths. The ubiquitous 60-in.-long tub is about 14 in. tall and holds a 10-in. depth of water. That’s fine for kids, and the tub is safe to step in and out of when used for a shower. If you want more of your body submerged when bathing, however, choose a taller tub.
Porcelain-enameled cast-iron tubs are expensive, but can last a lifetime. Due to the weight and cost of cast iron, however, many new tubs are made of lighter materials. Most jetted-tub makers use acrylic or gel-coated fiberglass. The finish on acrylic is generally thicker and more durable than the gel-coat. Some soaking tubs are made from light-gauge pressed steel with a porcelain finish. Be wary of thin-walled tubs, especially if you plan to tile the surround. If the tub finish scratches, cracks, oxidizes, or fades, you’ll need to tear out the tile to upgrade.