How to Choose Between a Kitchen and a Bathroom Remodel

Breakfast bar in a monochromatic kitchen

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Kitchens and bathrooms have a cult following in the arena of home design and remodeling. You can spend a great deal of money on a fence, roof, or insulation and few people will notice. But if you spend the same amount on kitchen or bathroom remodeling, everyone sees it and hopefully compliments you.

A house sale might be looming and you need to decide which project has the biggest impact on resale value. Or you might have an unexpected windfall or tax refund burning a hole in your pocket and you will want to know where to spend that money first. Given the choice between remodeling the kitchen or the bathroom, which should it be? While no single answer applies to every situation, you can assess these factors in relation to your own situation:

Cost

Project cost data as compiled in the Remodeling 2019 Cost vs. Value Report shows that on a national average, minor mid-range kitchen remodels cost $22,507 and major remodels go for $131,510.

Using the same set of data, minor mid-range bathroom remodels cost about $20,420. Major bathroom additions will cost about $65,743.

So, any bathroom remodel will be less expensive than a kitchen remodel. This is applicable when the strict dollar amount of the remodel is all that matters—with no influencing factors such as the potential for resale.

Lifestyle

Kitchen and bathroom remodels both are disruptive, invasive, and messy. This is a close call since eating and bathroom activities are equally important.

It is possible to live without a kitchen for several weeks or months, but it's difficult and unpleasant. You do have alternatives, such as restaurants, food delivery, or microwave and hot plate. This may work to a limited degree, but eventually, you may tire of this type of ad hoc cooking and dining experience.

If your house has a second full bathroom, you can use that one during the project. When the bathroom in a single bathroom home is gone, there are no alternatives. Even if the work contract called for a portable toilet, you would still need to find a way to bathe. There is simply no way to manage a long-term bathroom remodel other than by staying with friends or at a hotel or rented property.

Best Value For Resale

Following on that earlier data about bathroom vs. kitchen project costs, one project tends to return better resale value: kitchens.

Mid-range bathroom remodels return 67-percent of their value upon resale, as opposed to mid-range kitchens' return value of about 80-percent. Yet for the upper-end bathroom remodels and kitchen remodels, both have about the same value return rate: about 60-percent.

A popular saying is that the kitchen is the heart of the home. If so, a kitchen is also the heart of the home sale. Kitchens are often prominently displayed as the first photos on real estate marketing. Also, the kitchen is usually where the real estate agent sets up camp during open houses. This means that the kitchen becomes the locus or the visual focal point for buyers.

How to Decide

Generally, 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.

If you have only a limited sum of money to spend, then you may want to start with the bathroom. If you can afford to remodel either the kitchen or bathroom, the decision includes matters of lifestyle disruption and project satisfaction.

  Kitchen Remodel Bathroom Remodel
Description Cabinets refaced or replaced; counters replaced; new paint; install backsplash; one or two 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 change necessary.
Cost While labor and materials are commensurate with bathrooms, greater floor space drives up costs. Count on spending less for your bath remodel than for the kitchen remodel.
DIY-Friendly What the 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 do-it-yourselfers to learn how to remodel.
Time Frame Plan 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.
Plumbing Since neither project changes the footprint, plumbing hookups are limited to one-for-one replacements. Adding a water line for the refrigerator or 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 drives up work, costs, and mess.
Electrical This 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 Counters The 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen is a standard of measurement so that homeowners can compare kitchens on level basis. With such a kitchen, 15 linear feet of counters are estimated. Expect nearly the same linear feet of base and wall cabinets. In bathrooms, you probably will need no more than 60 inches of base cabinets and vanity top. You can even eliminate cabinets/counter and go with a pedestal sink.
Flooring Kitchens have more floor space than bathrooms, thus a need for more flooring. This drives the cost up. 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.