A guide to house building in South Africa

A guide to house building in South Africa

Design: Bathrooms

These seemingly little spaces can cause big headaches as there is so much detailed planning required. Spend a lot of time on your bathroom design.

Sewer pipes, hot and cold reticulation, water and waste points, built-in mixers or stop taps, ventilation pipes – then all covered with a neat layer of tiles (that are not easy to change afterwards)!

Any wall and ground pipes are a nightmare to move once set, so get the bathroom right on paper. This might mean choosing a bath, toilet and basin before you start building for sizes and heights.


You will have to choose between your standard floor toilet or a wall hung system that encases the cistern in the brickwork. Remember, once the wall hung toilet is installed, you can’t change floor heights, so include the final flooring when measuring heights.

Put some thought into where you want the throne to go in relation to ventilation and privacy.

Always fun to play with the guest loo, if you have one. Gold walls, lots of mirrors, crazy wall paper? Why not.

Guest loo with a difference.


The standard pedestal basin can be greatly improved on with larger, built in units. Much better to also have a lot of basin top area. If you can’t find a basin to match your space, order a pre-cast basins made up to size. (Stonecast is a company in Cape Town that does it well.)

Cast basin made to order.

The freestanding basin on top of a counter must be carefully considered. Water spillage is pretty standard and getting the heights right is crucial. (Remember, the counter top must now be substantially lower to accommodate the raised basin.) And make sure you get a generous tap that allows enough width and height between the basin edge and water supply.

Note: Before the plumber can finish his pipes he will need to know if the basins will have counter or wall mounted spout/taps.


Freestanding baths are all the rage, but know this…they are surprisingly uncomfortable for lounging (because they are often higher and steeper) and use a lot more precious water. Also, no obvious place to put a soap dish or glass of wine. Freestanding taps are also a lot more expensive.


Nothing wrong with a good, simple built-in bath design. Getting the tiles surround right does present some problems though. Either set the bath flush on all sides or allocate a 50-100mm bricked edge right around to allow for easy cleaning and a balanced appearance.

When placing the bath taps, always best to keep the spout in the middle and the tap on the side where the person will sit for easy access. Integrated (Nikki) or freestanding spouts are a great option, but require you to have a diverter in your tap for a hand shower, should you require one.


The difference between a good and a great shower is the height and quality of the shower head. A very high, well placed shower head can create a luxurious stream of water. If you’re able to plan ahead you can actually place the shower head in the ceiling instead of the wall.

Freestanding, large showers (at least 1000mm x 1000mm) are a great feature in any house. Place the mixer taps (really the best tap option for a shower) closer to the entrance so you can put the water on before you step in.

Also, a great idea to incorporate an outside shower into your plumbing plan.

Best to lay glass or pebble mosaics on the floor to avoid slipping. Avoid timber for a shower floor (see Flooring for more). It simply gets too wet and unhygienic over time.

Contemporary bathrooms tend to only have the shower area and maybe basin/bath splashback tiled. In a shower, wall tiles up to the ceiling look best. Large flagstone in natural stone are a great option too. So are metro tiles laid in various patterns (herringbone, vertical, horizontal). If you are looking for darker/colour metro tile options, try Decobella.

Opia design supplies the bespoke handmade and patterned tiles that are the real deal from Morocco. Magnificent for statement walls.


Unless you’re creating a very retro feel house with some vintage appeal, the more modern mixers are the way to go. Secondly, like cars, you cannot dispute German engineering (as opposed to Italian) when it comes to tap manufacturing. Mixers have to be incorporated into the walls, so you don’t want to go cheap here, in case you have to replace them at a later stage.

For more ideas and practical dimensions, click here.

Classic Trading provide a great service and probably best price for German taps. Speak to Ziyadh in Johannesburg.


Only good, reputable plumbers will ensure the house has good and balanced water pressure throughout and ventilation for sewerage points. Drains should never smell and a shower should never overheat when a toilet flushes.

If you don’t like waiting a long time for your water to heat up, place your geyser close to your bathrooms. Nothing like stepping into a hot shower three seconds after putting in on.


Remember that any lights in a bathroom have to be fully enclosed with glass. This means chandeliers or many pendants are not strictly legal (and dangerous). Great to include LED strip lighting under counters or behind mirrors for more atmospheric lighting. Click here for more on lighting.

LED strip lights on a ledge.


Toilet roll holders, towel rails and the like are expensive and add up very quickly if you have four bathrooms. Don’t forget to allocate some budget for these goodies.

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