Livable Housing Design for new Australian Bathrooms

Nov 8, 2023 | Bathroom Design

In 2022, the National Construction Code (NCC) introduced new requirements for ‘livable housing’. The rulings apply to both Class 1a buildings (houses and townhouses) and Class 2 sole-occupancy units (i.e. individual apartments) and, following a transition period, were ultimately adopted in most States and Territories in October 2023.

(Note: In Tasmania, Part H8 Livable housing design does not take effect until 1 October 2024. Part H8 does not apply in NSW, as livable housing design requirements do not apply to Class 1a buildings in NSW.)

The revisions put in place features based on the Livable Housing Design Guidelines silver standard, with a voluntary gold standard also available for features beyond the minimum requirements. The purpose of implementing the changes is to ‘ensure that housing is designed to meet the needs of the community, including older people and people with mobility limitations’.

In summary, all new house and apartment designs must accommodate:

  1. Access to the dwelling (i.e. getting to the entrance from the allotment boundary)*
  2. Ease of entry to the dwelling (i.e. ease of access through a step-free entrance)
  3. Ease of movement within the dwelling (i.e. through internal doors and corridors)
  4. Ease of movement using a toilet
  5. Ease of access to and movement within a shower (by way of a step-free shower) and
  6. The ability to add supports like grab rails (through the reinforcement of bathroom and sanitary compartment walls).

* The NCC already has provisions for access to apartments in Volume One. Therefore, the dwelling access provisions of the Livable Housing Design Standard do not apply.

With respect to bathroom design, notes 3 to 6 above are most relevant. Following is an outline of the NCC requirements related to these areas.

Ease of movement within the dwelling
(Livable Housing Design Standard Part 3 – Internal doors and corridors)

Internal doorways in new homes and apartments must provide a minimum clear opening width of 820 mm. (Note: an 820 mm clear opening width for a single swinging door can generally be achieved using an 870 mm door leaf.)

This applies to a doorway that connects to, or is in the path of travel to, any of the following:

  • A laundry or habitable room on the ground or entry level.
  • An attached Class 10a garage or carport that forms part of an access path required by the Livable Housing Design Standard.
  • A sanitary compartment on the ground or entry level (see below) that complies with the Livable Housing Design Standard.
  • A room containing a shower complying with the Standard (see more below).

Where an internal doorway falls into any of the above categories, it must also meet the Standard’s threshold requirements. The threshold must:

  • Be level; or
  • Have a height not more than 5 mm if the lip is rounded or bevelled; or
  • Have a ramped threshold that doesn’t extend beyond the depth of the door jamb, has a gradient not steeper than 1: 8 and is at least as wide as the minimum clear opening width of the doorway it serves.

With respect to corridor widths: internal corridors, hallways, passageways or the like, if connected to a door that meets the above, must have a minimum clear width of 1000 mm* (measured between the finished surfaces of opposing walls).

* Skirting boards, architraves, timber mouldings, skirting tiles, door stops, conduits, general power outlets and the like may be disregarded to meet the requirement above. Door hardware may encroach the required minimum corridor width, too.

Ease of movement using a toilet
(Livable Housing Design Standard Part 4 – Sanitary compartment)

The Livable Housing Design standard requires that there must be at least one sanitary compartment located on the ground or entry level of a dwelling.

What is a sanitary compartment? 
The term sanitary compartment refers to a room or space containing a toilet. The term may apply to bathrooms, ensuites, powder rooms or any other room housing a toilet. It’s used in place of the word ‘toilet’ or ‘WC’ (water closet) to be consistent with the wording in the NCC. The term also helps to avoid confusion when referring to a toilet; the word should apply to the plumbing fixture (toilet) in lieu of the room in which that fixture is located.

A sanitary compartment that meets the above categorisation must be designed and constructed to meet the following clearance requirements (as set out in Clause 4.2):

  • For a toilet pan located in a separate sanitary compartment, there must be a clear width of not less than 900 mm between the finished surfaces of opposing walls either side of the toilet pan.
  • For a room containing a toilet pan, any fixed obstruction – like a basin or vanity unit – must be located at least 450 mm from the centreline of the toilet pan normal to the front face of the cistern.
  • A clear minimum circulation space of 1200 mm x 900 mm must be provided from the front edge of the toilet pan. This applies to both a separate sanitary compartment and for a sanitary compartment that is combined with a bathroom. The minimum circulation space must be clear of the door swing and applies regardless of whether the door is inwards or outwards swinging or is a cavity slider.

Note: skirting boards, architraves, toilet roll holders, skirting tiles, door stops, and the like may be disregarded when determining compliance with Clause 4.2 of the standard.

Ease of access to and movement within a shower (by way of a step-free shower) 
(Livable Housing Design Standard Part 5 – Shower)

The Livable Housing Design Standard requires that at least one shower in a new dwelling must have a hobless and step-free entry.

The standard sets out the following information to clarify the difference between hobless and step-free and the subsequent need for both attributes:

Clause 5.2 (1) refers to a shower entry being ‘hobless’ and ‘step-free’ because those two terms have different meanings. A shower where the floor within the shower compartment is level with the floor adjacent to its entry would be ‘step-free’ but could still have a hob. Conversely, a shower with a step-down into the shower recess does not have a ‘hob’ (i.e.’ hobless’) but would not be ‘step-free’. Therefore, to achieve the intent of Clause 5.2(1), it is necessary to specify that the shower is both ‘hobless’ and ‘step-free’.

Waterproofing a hobless, step-free shower area

Part 10.2 of the ABCB Housing Provisions, along with Australian Stanard AS 3740, include specific requirements for waterproofing a hobless, step-free shower area. We’ll be issuing a new technical bulletin covering this soon.

Reinforcement of bathroom and sanitary compartment walls
(Livable Housing Design Standard Part 6)

This requirement intends to ensure that walls adjacent to toilet pans, showers and baths provide a fixing surface able to support the future installation of grabrails if needed. It does not require the installation of grabrails at the time of construction.

Clause 6.2 of the Livable Housing Design Standard requires the reinforcement of walls to:

  • A sanitary compartment that is subject to Part 4
  • A bathroom containing a shower that is subject to Part 5 or a bath (if provided), other than a freestanding bath* where the bath is located in a room that also contains a shower that is subject to Part 5.

Note: this requirement is not applicable if the walls of the room are constructed of concrete, masonry or another material capable of supporting grabrails without additional reinforcement.

*More about baths
A freestanding bath is excluded from this requirement because it has no adjoining walls to which grabrails could be fixed.

A bath with only one adjoining wall need only have reinforcing provided in the adjoining wall (unless the wall is constructed with concrete or masonry).

Care is required when locating a cavity sliding door adjacent to a fixture which requires reinforcement as the framing surrounding the cavity into which the door retracts demands careful consideration of fixings and members that will safely support a grabrail without impeding operation of the door.

The Standard requires that reinforcing is constructed using a minimum of 12 mm thick structural grade plywood (or similar) or timber noggings with a minimum thickness of 25 mm.

(Submit a Technical Support Service enquiry form to get more information about the location of grabrail reinforcements.)

The livable housing design requirements set out above may only partially cover your clients’ needs. There may be occasions where further design considerations or home modifications must be made to suit a person’s specific needs or preferences. We’ll be updating our Technical Bulletin on Universal, Accessible and Adaptable design to give you guidelines for these instances soon – make sure you check in on the portal next week to download your updated version.

More Useful Resources

Designing new bathrooms and bathroom renovations in Queensland? You’ll find some good information here:


  1. Peter Sveinsson

    Thank you!

    That’s another exceptionally well researched well written and useful article.
    I’m not aware of any other organisation providing this quality of content on a continuous basis to its members.

    • Jenny McAlister

      I agree! Very helpful and relevant. Thankyou!


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