Bathroom remodels have a tendency to empty your wallet, and the most common problems also tend to be the most costly. But there are ways to save money by nipping these problems in the bud. The time to do this is during the planning stage, when you're deciding what you want and determining exactly what each change involves, in terms of labor and materials. Often, a simple alternative presents a less-expensive solution.
1. Changing the Size or Layout of the Bathroom
Problem: Enlarging or rearranging a bathroom often means moving plumbing pipes, which can be expensive. The toilet discharge and sewer pipe are particularly expensive to move.
Solution: Resize or alter the bathroom only if it is absolutely necessary to accommodate your needs. This is the single most-expensive aspect of bathroom renovation and should be avoided whenever possible.
2. Moving or Removing Load-Bearing Walls
Problem: Load-bearing walls hold up your second floor (as applicable) and the roof. Moving or removing a load-bearing wall is a big project involving structural changes.
Solution: Explore possibilities of expanding through non-load-bearing walls—walls that do not bear weight. These walls can easily be removed using simple hand tools. Often, no permits are required for this. As a rule of thumb, exterior walls tend to be load-bearing. Interior walls that run parallel to ceiling joists tend to be non-load-bearing.
If you do want to move that load-bearing wall, it is possible to do on your own. Materials do not cost a lot. Mainly, you need to correctly calculate the load and purchase a beam suitable for carrying the load.
3. Replacing All of the Drywall
Problem: Drywall often must be completely replaced in bathroom renovations, due to the high moisture levels in this environment. This is common enough and should be anticipated.
Solution: Confirm with your contractor that full replacement is needed. It's possible that only the affected areas need to be replaced.
4. Replacing the Sink, Tub, or Shower
Problem: Removing and replacing existing plumbing fixtures and tubs or shower bases or surrounds adds the cost of the replacement fixtures and may include demolition work and construction changes as well as new installation.
Solution: Ask yourself: Do they need to be replaced for functional or just aesthetic reasons? If they are ugly but operable, you may have options for dressing them up or renewing them rather than replacing. You can install a liner over your tub or shower. If you don't like the idea of a liner, you can always refinish your bathtub.
5. Adding a Custom Tiled Shower
Problem: Tearing out an old prefab shower base and surround and replacing it with a custom tiled base and walls is one of the most expensive bathroom improvements you can make.
Solution: Consider a pre-formed, one-piece shower stall rather than a tiled shower. It will be considerably less expensive because you won't be hiring costly tilesetters. Also, pre-formed shower stalls go up in hours, whereas tiled showers take several days. Alternatively, you might start with a prefab base and tile the walls yourself. Tile materials can be much cheaper than a one-piece stall; it's the labor that makes most tile expensive.
6. Choosing a Pricey Toilet
Problem: It always makes sense to replace an old water-hog toilet with a new water-saver model, but new toilets with lots of features (and fancy brand names) can be surprisingly spendy, and they may need costly maintenance down the road.
Solution: Choose a well-designed, simple toilet that offers good flushing performance with little water. Toilets do not have to be expensive to do the job right. Also, toilet installation is a common do-it-yourself project, so the contractor should not be charging you high labor costs. In fact, this is a project that homeowners routinely do by themselves.
7. Rewiring the Bathroom Electrical Circuits
Problem: Bathrooms that get remodeled usually need wiring upgrades because the existing wiring does not meet the current electrical code standards.
Solution: If your bathroom wiring is functional, your local permitting office may be able to tell you if your system can be grandfathered in. If it needs to be brought up to code, it may just need tweaking. One common example is to replace non-grounded outlets with GFCI (ground-fault current-interrupter) outlets. Have an electrician who is not associated with the contractor give you a second opinion.