Planning a Bathroom Remodel

Bathroom remodeling either fills you with thoughts of clean, gleaming white surfaces or of a half-assembled disaster. And at some point in every project, maybe both images are true. In any case, the best way to prevent disasters is to think through the project carefully before you break ground (or break tile). Asking yourself some key planning questions will help you define the scope of your project so you know what to expect before you get started.

1. How Far Do You Want to Go?

The first question to consider is more or less the big picture; that is, what size of project do you have in mind? Bathroom remodels can be grouped into three basic levels. Once you've settled on a general strategy, consider the timetable for the bathroom remodeling project and decide if this is something you think you want to go through.

  • Surface alterations. At the easy end of the scale, you may like the general layout and size of the bathroom, and the surfaces (walls, ceiling, floor) are sound. The mantra of the surface-level bathroom remodeler is "cover, not replace." There is no shame at all in wanting to do a surface-level bathroom remodel.
  • Gut and replace. With this level of remodeling, you keep the same layout and fixture locations of your old bathroom, but you pretty much gut the space down to the bare walls and floor and install all new plumbing fixtures, vanity, flooring, and lighting. You might also update the wiring somewhat, but nothing major.
  • Change the layout. This level can be quite a bit more involved than a makeover or even a fixture replacement because it includes moving fixtures, like the tub/shower, the toilet, or the sink. Layout changes also usually include wiring alterations and full fixture replacement.
  • Change the room. Altering the bathroom footprint goes beyond gutting the space or even moving fixtures around. The largest-scale remodels include structural changes, such as moving or removing walls, bumping out an exterior wall, or altering the ceiling or roof. Usually the goal is to make the bathroom bigger or to convert a common bathroom into a master bath.

    2. How Much Is It Going to Cost?

    Bathroom remodeling costs vary widely, but it is always expensive. A simple makeover of the surfaces and accessories can easily cost several thousand dollars, while a typical mid-level remodel with full fixture replacement ranges from $15,000 to $18,000. Extensive renovations can run to $30,000 and up.

    Even though most bathrooms are small, the high cost comes from the intensive amount of sub-contracting you may have to do (i.e., plumbers and electricians) and the expensive elements involved (fixtures, cabinetry, etc.). Of the many financial tools for funding a bathroom renovation, perhaps the most common is a home equity loan. While looking at financing, you may wish to also think about ways to save on your bathroom remodeling costs.

    3. Remodel Bathroom Yourself or Hire a Contractor?

    At this point, you need to take a good hard look at the project and decide whether you want to do it yourself or hire a pro. Safe to say, if you are motivated and are merely performing surface alterations, you should be able to remodel the bathroom yourself. Not all tasks are created equal. Installing a new toilet is simple; building a new tiled shower should be left to the pros. Assess which projects to do yourself and which to leave to the professionals.

    If you decide to hire a contractor, one of the first things you'll want to do is make sure the contractor is properly licensed. Licensure is not a mark of quality workmanship, though. It just means that the license holder has fulfilled the basic minimum requirements of the licensing agency. You'll also want to be aware of permit requirements for electrical, plumbing, and general construction work. It's a good idea to apply for permits early to avoid delays.