Planning a Bathroom Remodel

What You Can Expect From a Bathroom Remodeling Project

Women refurbishing bathroom


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Bathroom remodeling either fills you with thoughts of clean, gleaming white surfaces or 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.

Determine the Extent of Your Bathroom Remodel

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.

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.

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, and remember that hiring a professional to complete quality work is an investment in your future bathroom.

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.

Bathroom Remodeling Overview

The below steps outline the major projects involved in remodeling a bathroom. This is an overview to help guide your project, so you can plan ahead and know what project will come next, whether you're completing the work yourself or working with a contractor.

Develop a Floor Plan

The bathroom floor plan is largely dictated by its current layout since many of the services are difficult to move. Water supply and drainage tend to be clustered on a common wall. While the toilet can be relocated, moving it often entails an expense that few homeowners want to take on. However, when the bathroom floor plan does not work and if the budget allows for it, items can be moved around.

Apply for Building Permits

Check with your local permitting agency about codes and permits for your bathroom remodel. Simple improvements like changing out the sink or installing the flooring usually do not trigger permitting. Electrical and plumbing work generally must be permitted.

Demolish the Bathroom

If the bathroom remodel is mid-range budget or greater, likely it will be necessary to remove the shower or bathtub, toilet, vanity sink cabinet, flooring, and drywall, in any combination or as a whole.

Add or Improve Plumbing and Electrical Systems

Since the heart of so many bathroom issues are focused around plumbing and electrical services, usually a plumber or an electrician will need to visit at this point and plumb or wire the bathroom according to specifications.

Install the Shower or Bathtub

The largest sub-project within the larger bathroom remodeling project is to install the shower or bathtub or shower-tub combination. The contractor's subcontractors do this job, not the plumber.

If a prefabricated shower or tub is being installed, installation is usually complete within a couple of days. When tile work is involved, the project can stretch for several days or a week to allow for the tile to cure in multiple stages.

Paint the Bathroom

With the walls exposed and most of the major elements still not installed, it is time to paint the bathroom. Walls are usually painted in satin or semi-gloss paint to protect against moisture.

Install the Bathroom Flooring

Bathroom flooring must be moisture resistant and attractive at the same time. Ceramic and porcelain tile, natural stone, luxury vinyl flooring, sheet vinyl, and vinyl tile are favored bathroom flooring materials due to their water resistance.

Install the Toilet

The toilet is installed on top of the flooring. This project happens in just an hour or so, provided that all of the hookups are in place.

Install the Bathroom Fan

All bathrooms are required by the building code to have adequate ventilation, whether in the form of an operable window or an exhaust fan. Because of the high amount of moisture in bathrooms, most homeowners opt to install a bathroom fan even if they do have a functioning window.

Install the Counter, Cabinet, and Sink

The bathroom counter and its base cabinets, along with the installed sink, are at the center of bathroom activity. As such, it pays to take your time and even spend a little extra for this area.

Premium countertops included quartz engineered stone, natural stone, and solid surface. Below the countertop may be a vanity cabinet for storage. If space is at a premium, consider installing a pedestal sink instead of the vanity cabinet.