DIY vs. Professional Bathroom Remodeling: Which Is Best?

Woman Caulking Tile Around Bathtub 134469710
Doing work like caulking the tub can produce big savings. Jochen Tack/Getty Images

Come on, admit it:  nobody really wants to remodel their own bathroom. Bath remodeling is all plumbing, electrical, and tile work--highly skilled trades. It's dense work, too:  every square foot counts. It can be ugly and intimidating when you discover rotting subfloor and joists below leaky showers. The solution is to call in the professionals.

Except for that one factor: money. If it weren't for costs, no homeowner would ever remodel his or her own bathroom.

Money is the lens to look through, even more so than with other home projects.

Can you do it yourself? Of course. But should you? My quick-and-dirty answer is summarized at the end, but first, let's break it down.

Cost

You can save 50%--and usually more--by remodeling your own bathroom.

What's the price of luxury? The "luxury" I'm referring to isn't in the form of creating a spa-like, swanky, Tuscan-tiled bathroom paradise; it's the luxury of having someone else remodel your bathroom while you keep your hands nice and clean.

Doing the work yourself means retaining all materials costs but eliminating all labor costs. Most DIY'ers can surface-remodel their bathrooms, especially when they choose contractor-grade materials.

Time Frame

You can save an incredible amount of time--weeks, months even--by hiring professionals to take on the job.

Your head will spin as you watch pro-remodelers do a number on your bathroom.

In the morning, you have no shower. The workers come, and you go off to work. You come home. Now there's a shower.

If you're accustomed to the glacial pace of self-remodeling, the above scenario is a mind-bending experience, like watching a time-lapse movie. 

If you have only one bathroom, it's imperative that you hire pros.

Flooring

Installing bathroom flooring is relatively simple for the DIYer, and it's even easier with certain types of flooring. You gain nothing by having pros take on those easy-install coverings like luxury vinyl plank.

Given the limited floor space in most bathrooms, you can really take your time on building up your ceramic tiling learning curve; no need to power through this task. If you adjust your aesthetics to accept luxury vinyl plank (which, by the way, is getting better looking all the time), you'll have your flooring down in an evening. In fact, hiring flooring pros to install luxury vinyl is almost unthinkable--the stuff is that easy to lay.

Walls

If they're worth their weight, pro-drywallers will nearly always produce flawless bathroom walls. Even the best homeowner ends up with anomalies that must be conveniently ignored or covered up.

Installing moisture-unfriendly green board in bathrooms isn't all that different from hanging conventional drywall in other areas of the home. Mudding and sanding to a smooth finish are what separates the homeowner from the drywall contractor who does this every day. If you can accept flaws, you will save money by hanging and finishing your own.

Counters and Cabinets

Homeowners can DIY this. Except for large bathrooms, homeowners will gain little by having professionals install cabinets and counters.

For the long, continuous runs of counters and cabinets found in kitchens, tolerances are narrow and it's often a great bonus to have a professional install these. But for the smaller spaces of bathrooms, you'll most likely be buying a bathroom vanity unit in a prescribed width that you can easily handle by yourself. A majority come paired with vanity unit tops, making counter installation a snap.

Sink Installation

DIY this if you already have plumbing; hire it out if you don't.

As long as supply pipes run to your sink location and a drain pipe runs out, bathroom sink installation is easy. There is no need to have a plumber install your sink.

If not, you may want to seriously consider bringing in a plumber.

Shower/Tub Installation or Refinishing

Many homeowners choose to hire out this task, even if they're DIY-ing other areas of their bathroom.

Installing a shower is tough when you're building up your own shower pan and walls with tile. While you can do this--anything is possible--for me this is the breaking point in the DIY vs. professional discussion.  I'd rather have a professional take on this work. Installing a pre-fabricated shower stall brings this project more in the DIY realm.

Refinishing your tub/shower yourself can produce acceptable results. Hiring out a glazing company will give you a better finish, mainly because the companies do better prep work.

Painting

You gain little by hiring a painting company to paint your bathroom.  Do it yourself.

I would seriously consider hiring a painting contractor to paint large spaces--whole-home exteriors or interiors--but not for the tiny wall spaces of bathrooms.  

Summary

Unless your bathroom is unusually large, you can DIY most sub-projects of this larger project.  For core-level bath remodels, many DIYers still hire out electricians and plumbers, but do the rest themselves.  For surface-level remodels, this is a moot point, as you won't be dealing with electrical and plumbing--thus, you can do it all yourself.