Kitchen vs. Bathroom Remodel: Point by Point Comparison

Breakfast bar in modern kitchen
Astronaut Images / Getty Images

Kitchens and bathrooms have a cult following.  You can spend $24,000 on a good cedar fence and no one will notice.  But spend $24,000 on your kitchen or bath and everyone compliments you.

These areas are important for a reason.  Kitchens are about sustenance, about socializing with family and friends.  Bathrooms are about taking care of our bodies.  Kitchens and baths matter.

Between the two, which one should you remodel first?

 Or at all?

Often, a sale is looming and you need to decide which will have the biggest impact on resale value.  Or with an unexpected windfall or tax refund burning a hole in your pocket, you want to know where to send that money first.  Incorporate these objective views into your decision-making process:

Which Is Cheaper?

Answer:  Bathroom

On a national average*, minor mid-range kitchen remodels run about $19,000 and major remodels go for $57,000.  

Using the same set of data, minor mid-range bathroom remodels cost about $17,000.  Major bathroom additions--this means adding 48 sq. feet of all-new space--cost about $40,000.

Which Is Less Disruptive?

Answer:  Kitchen, barely

This is a close call, since eating and bathing (plus all those other unmentionable bathroom-related activities) are equally important.  

But if you had to do without one of these rooms for one month, you could live without the kitchen.

 You do have alternatives, such as restaurants, fast-food, delivery, or a microwave and hot plate.  

But when the bathroom is gone, there are no options.  Even if the work contract called for a portable toilet--not likely in a mid-range kitchen or bath remodel--you would still need to find a way to bathe.

Which Is Faster?

Answer:  Bathroom

At a minimum, count on about 18 days for a mid-range bathroom remodel.  For kitchens, This Old House's Tom Silva estimates that the "best case scenario" is one month, with a more realistic time frame being 2 to 6 months.

Which To Do For Resale?

Answer:  Kitchen

Kitchen is the "heart of the home" and it is also the heart of the home sale.  

It is no mistake that, after the exterior, the next picture on real estate websites is of the kitchen.  In addition, the kitchen is usually where the Realtor sets up camp during open houses.  This means that the kitchen becomes the locus, the visual focal point, for buyers.

According to Consumer Reports, 52% of real estate professionals consider the kitchen the most important room to influence a house sale versus 42% who consider the bathroom to be the most important room.

Bottom Line

Details on the kitchen vs. bathroom remodeling debate are provided below, so that you can make an informed decision.

However, it can be distilled to this:  kitchen remodels are more invasive and expensive than bathroom remodels.  Yet rehabbed kitchens tend to provide more homeowner satisfaction and better resale value than do renovated bathrooms.

 Kitchen RemodelBathroom Remodel
DescriptionCabinets refaced or replaced; counters replaced; new paint; install backsplash; 1-2 new appliances; new flooring; new sink, disposal, and replace faucet; minimal electrical work (detailed below); no layout change.Replace or reface counters and cabinets; install new flooring; reglaze or replace tub/shower unit; new paint; replace accessories (towel bars, mirror, etc.); minimal electrical work (detailed below); no layout layout change.
CostWhile labor and materials are commensurate with bathrooms, greater floor space drives up costs to a national average of $37,000.Count on spending about half as much for your bath remodel than for the kitchen remodel ($18,000 for a mid-range bathroom remodel).
DIY-FriendlyThe scale of kitchen remodels can be daunting for many homeowners to the point that they hesitate to take on the job.Bathrooms' compact spaces offer an easier entry point for DIYers.
Time FramePlan on at least 30 days.Plan on at least 18 days for a remodel that involves taking down drywall, insulating, and replacing drywall.  Eliminating drywall brings the allotted time down to 14 days, minimum.
PlumbingSince neither project changes the footprint, plumbing hookups are limited to one-for-one replacements.  Adding a water line for the refrigerator or a new disposal creates a little work, but not much.Even though bathrooms are water-intensive places, your plumbing work is minimal.  Replacing a toilet is easy, with faucet replacement being even easier.  Substantially changing your bathing area (tub/shower) is what really drives up work, costs, and mess.
ElectricalThis assumes that your kitchen is already up to electrical code.  If so, you will be replacing general lighting, adding work lighting, and likely replacing outlets.Unless you are stripping down to the studs and completely re-wiring, your electrical work will be limited to replacing the bathroom fan, switching out general lighting, and replacing outlets.
Cabinets and CountersThe 10' x 10' kitchen is a standard of measurement so that consumers can compare kitchen on an apples-to-apples basis.  With such a kitchen, 15' linear feet of counters are estimated.  Expect almost as many linear feet of base and wall cabinets.In bathrooms, you probably will need no more than 60' of base cabinets and vanity top.  You can even eliminate cabinets/counter altogether and go with a pedestal sink.
FlooringKitchens have more floor space than bathrooms, thus a need for more flooring.  This drives cost up.  Yet unlike bathrooms, kitchens can get by with laminate flooring, a cheap and dependable material, because kitchens are not high-moisture spaces.While bathrooms cannot use laminate, they can use tile or vinyl flooring.  Homeowners who would never put vinyl in kitchens tend to be more forgiving of vinyl (especially luxury vinyl tile) in bathrooms.
Resale ValueBuyers focus on the kitchen the most.  Roughly 52% of real estate professionals say the kitchen is the most important room to focus on for resale.About 42% of real estate industry insiders say that the bathroom is the most important room for resale purposes.



* = Data derived from Remodeling magazine's annual Cost vs. Value Report.  Numbers rounded to the nearest thousand.