Camp Bathrooms And Showerhouses

What color should you use? Take a dustpan and broom to one of the existing camp buildings. Sweep up the dirt and take the dustpan to a local home improvement center. Sprinkle the contents over the collection of floor tiles. Whichever hides the color of dirt and mud the best, that’s the one to buy.

My personal preference is to get tiles that look “rustic,” that fit into the theme of an old camp lodge. They look good with natural wood details (doors and trim) and rugged slate-like texture, and those colors fit the bill for non-slip and dirt-hiding. Look closely at the tiles to see how thick the glaze is. If the design looks like it’s been “printed on” (lots of dots like a newspaper photo), then it’s not durable enough for floors. It should look like it’s composed of tiny grains of sand (glaze, actually) that have been fused together in the furnace to make a color and eggshell coating that can stand up to wear.

“Yes, but I have a wood sub-floor.” Then the best choice is to go with “solid vinyl sheet goods,” with color that goes all the way through. (Here’s an example I’ve used successfully: ). It comes in 6-foot widths and is almost 1/8-inch thick, is sealed together at the edges when installed, has a slightly non-slip surface, and comes in colors similar to 12-inch x 12-inch “Excelon” vinyl composite tiles (VCTs, or what you’re used to seeing in schools, hospitals and Kmart).

The reason you don’t want VCTs in bathrooms and kitchens is they’re extremely high maintenance. If you don’t keep them waxed and buffed, they shrink over time, especially if they get wet (like under sinks and toilets). The cracks between tiles become larger and black, and then they finally pop up. The reason they are used in big stores and schools is their low cost and general durability (where they don’t get wet and can be waxed and buffed at least once a week.)

Don’t use the standard 12-foot wide vinyl kitchen flooring sold in home centers. It’s mostly pressed paper with a thin layer of vinyl and an even thinner clear layer on top. It’s fine for a residence, but will wear out quickly under commercial use.

And never paint bathroom floors–it will wear off fast (and often peel faster). Then it really looks bad. “How about epoxy paint and a fake surface?” When applied over clean concrete it’s a very durable choice, but half the time it’s installed with too much texture (ripping mops when you try to clean it) or too little. Although it costs just as much as ceramic tile, it still looks like a warehouse. So why buy it?

“Wait a minute. It’s just a kids’ camp. Why not leave the concrete bare?” When was the last time you stayed at a place with bare concrete floors in the bathroom? And what did your spouse think about that? Kids, like their parents, will find it gross because it always looks dirty, and usually is. Just do the tile. “What about colored concrete?” It will still be slippery and look like a garage. Ask your campers’ moms. Just put in the tile!

“But it’s too expensive.” Go to Lowes or Home Depot and learn how to do it. Use thinset mortar (not glue) and a colored grout, and you’ll be shocked at how easy it is. And you’ll love how people praise you for doing it. Do you have a really nasty showerhouse you can’t afford to replace? Power wash everything and install some 12-inch x 12-inch home center floor tiles for less than a dollar each. The positive comments will shock you.


Before covering the studs, remember that you will be hanging lots of “stuff” on bathroom walls–toilet partitions, grab bars, towel dispensers, towel hooks, mirrors and more. One technique is to carefully measure where each item will go and then mount 2-inch x 8-inch jacks between the studs to “catch” the screws. This works well unless you miscalculate or forget something. That’s why it’s become common to sheath the entire inside of bathrooms with half-inch plywood. Typically, that is then covered with half-inch “greenboard” (moisture-resistant drywall for fireproofing), and then the interior surface is affixed to that. Now you can screw anything anywhere and have a solid backing for screws or expanding wall anchors.

Now we come to a matter of taste, so you get to choose (after checking with users, I hope). Since fiberglass reinforced panels (FRP) were introduced 25 years ago (those crinkly-surfaced plastic panels, usually white and glossy), they have gained wide use because they’re nearly impervious to graffiti or water damage. I still like them in places that will take a lot of abuse or have little use by adults. They are commonly installed all the way to the ceiling, but produce an institutional look. And although they are indestructible and easy to clean, dark mildew will still grow in humid areas, usually near the ceiling.

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