Bathrooms and laundries

Some 1970’s bathrooms remain in close to their original condition.

Most 1970s houses had one bathroom with a separate toilet. Some houses had a second toilet close to the living areas, and some had a small en-suite bathroom off the main bedroom.

In smaller houses, the bathroom and laundry were generally located close to the kitchen to keep plumbing costs low, with the back door opening into the laundry.

A hot water cylinder (which was now more likely to be mains pressure) was located in the laundry or in a hallway cupboard where it doubled as an airing cupboard.

Original details

Bathroom fixtures and fittings

Bathroom fixtures included a built-in bath and a vanity unit. A shower was sometimes above the bath and sometimes separate. By 1972, showering (rather than taking a bath) was the sole or main means of washing in 41% of New Zealand households.

The 1970s saw a major expansion in the available product range for bathrooms - baths, basin, taps, faucets and hardware.

Baths were enamelled steel (porcelain on steel) or moulded plastic and available in a range of colours.

If there was a separate shower, it typically had a stainless steel tray (although plastic units were readily available) and lining of plastic laminate or similar wallboards that were joined with plastic or aluminium mouldings. A plastic soap holder was often set into the wall framing. Sliding or bifolding aluminium framed shower doors with wired or occasionally toughened glass or plastic panels were becoming the preferred option to prevent splashing, although shower curtains remained common in lower income households.

The 'shub' - essentially a high-sided shower tray - was popular for a time where space was too small for a separate bath and shower. But they were too short to be satisfactory as a bath and difficult to step in and out when used as a shower, so they were not installed in large numbers.

The bathroom sometimes had a recessed, wall-mounted medicine cabinet.

Bathrooms in 1970s houses seldom had mechanical extraction systems, instead relying on opening windows for ventilation. As a result, steam, mould and mildew were often problems.

The 1970s also saw:

  • the introduction of imitation marble acrylic vanity tops with an integral basin
  • the ready availability of cheap plastic bathroom fittings such as soap dishes, toilet roll holders and so on
  • the introduction of the first shower mixers - the Feltonmix and Toplis were early models where the shower head and the shower control lever were a single unit
  • a wide range of porcelain and metal bathroom fittings - tap handles came in a variety of styles, from the more traditional plated metal star heads through to the chromed or acrylic (clear or coloured) 'cut gem' dome type
  • the almost universal use of plastic waste pipe systems including traps, vent pipes and waste pipes
  • the use of bath faucets rather than single taps for hot and cold
  • the introduction of power outlets for electric razors.

Toilets

The single flush toilet was generally located in a separate room adjacent to the bathroom but could also be located in the bathroom, particularly in larger houses that had a separate 'guest' or second toilet. Where the toilet was in a separate room, a small hand basin was often installed, although these may have been fitted retrospectively in some houses.

Flushing systems were by a wall-mounted single flush cistern that was fitted on the wall behind the toilet and operated by moving a lever.

Laundry fixtures

The laundry had a stainless steel tub (sometimes a double tub) and space for a washing machine but not usually a dryer.

A hot water cylinder (which was now more likely to be mains pressure) was located in the laundry or in a hallway cupboard where it doubled as an airing cupboard.

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Common modifications

Bathrooms

Many bathrooms will still be original. Where alterations have been carried out, they will probably include the installation of new fittings such as the hand basin or vanity, shower cubicle, bath, toilet and cistern, as well as new wall and floor linings, finishes and replacement lighting.

Where improved water pressure is required, an existing low-pressure cylinder may have been replaced with a mains-pressure storage system, or a continuous flow gas system may have been installed where water demand has been high.

Improved heating and ventilation systems such as wall-mounted electric fan heaters, heated towel rail(s), underfloor heating, and an extract fan may also have been installed.

In some houses, a second bathroom or an en-suite bathroom may have been added.

It is important to check that the delivery temperature of hot water is safe in 1970s bathrooms – BRANZ surveys have found cases of inaccurate or failed thermostats where hot was delivered at over 80°C or 90°C, enough to cause serious burns, especially to children, the elderly or disabled who may have slower reaction times or more sensitive skin.

Under Acceptable Solution G12/AS1, in most buildings hot water delivered to sanitary fixtures such as basins, baths and showers should not exceed 55°C. 

(Hot water may be delivered to domestic kitchen sinks and laundries at higher temperatures – generally around 55–65°C.)

If a storage cylinder is used, the water must be heated to over 60°C at least once a day to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria. The water must then be tempered to reduce the temperature before it is delivered to outlets.