How to Remodel a Bathroom Without a Hitch

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A bathroom remodel is a big undertaking, so it’s a good idea to map out a solid plan before swinging the sledgehammer. Planning helps ensure that the bathroom you end up with is exactly what you envisioned (and that you haven’t blown through your entire budget).

These projects can vary a lot in scope: they range from small cosmetic changes you can tackle yourself to the complete transformation of an outdated room. How to go about your specific renovation depends on your goals and your budget. Here’s a roadmap to get you started.

Plan Your Space

With any size project, start with the most significant decisions and work your way down to the small finishing touches.

First, ask yourself why you’re remodeling. Do you just want to freshen the space? In that case, a coat of paint and a new vanity might be all you need. However, if you want to completely redo the room and make extensive changes, like replacing the tub with a walk-in shower or getting rid of ‘70s era tiles, it can become a more complex project.

Functionality is another critical component to address when remodeling a bathroom:

  • Does the current layout work for you, or do you want to move things around?
  • Is the ventilation adequate, or do you need a better fan?
  • Does the room need better lighting?

Planning these fixes before the renovation starts will result in a more functional bathroom.

Decide on a Budget

Changing the floor plan or knocking out a wall to enlarge the bathroom substantially adds to the cost of a remodel because you have to reroute plumbing and electrical lines, so figure out what’s realistic for you. These types of changes require skilled tradespeople like plumbers and electricians. If you’re not planning to do everything yourself, expect 40% to 65% of your budget to cover the cost of labor.

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, the average cost for a designer-involved bath remodel is $18,000, including materials and labor (in NYC, where labor is typically more expensive, that number is closer to $26,000). Of course, those figures also include work by DIYers and lower-end products. If you want quality fixtures and professional workmanship, your costs will likely be higher. An average upscale reno can run as high as $62,000.

In some cases, it might make sense to take out a home renovation loan or refinance to have a healthy budget that fits your long-term needs.

1. Plumbing

Even if you keep fixtures in the same location, replacing a toilet, tub, sink, or shower door can be pricey. Smart consumers know it’s worth paying for a quality plumbing fixture because these items are used daily and should last for decades.

The typical price for toilets and sinks ranges from $200 to more than $1,500. Showers can vary from $300 to $3,000, depending on whether you use a standard fiberglass insert or create a custom space.

2. Tiling

When it comes to flooring and shower or tub surrounds, tile is an excellent choice because it’s water-resistant and long-lasting. Since tile is available in an array of sizes, colors, shapes, and styles, your biggest problem will be narrowing down your choices.

Prices for tile range widely as well, from about $1 a square foot for basic ceramic tile to well over $25 a square foot for specialty tiles. Tile installation charges can range from $4 to $32 a square foot.

3. Cabinetry

Once you’ve decided on the layout and the big pieces for your bathroom, there’s still more to plan. A new vanity can set the tone for the room. In a smaller bathroom, a wall-mounted vanity can provide much-needed storage without looking too imposing, especially if it’s a floating piece that allows you to see the floor underneath it.

4. Lighting

Lighting might not be the first thing you think of in a bathroom remodel, but good lighting is essential for tasks like shaving and putting on makeup. In fact, your bathroom design needs to consider several different kinds of light, including ambient lighting, lighting for the vanity area, and lighting or light/ventilation combo for the shower and toilet areas.

If you want bright light for grooming but more subdued lighting the rest of the time, consider adding dimmers. They’re an overlooked solution in many bathroom designs.

With all those sources of light required—especially in a bathroom without much natural light—budget accordingly. Depending on the project, the cost of lighting could range from $1,200 to more than $4,000.

5. Accessories

The final touches in a bathroom include necessary items such as faucets, towel racks, and shelving. It takes a skilled eye to mix elements from different manufacturers, which is one reason many people choose to work with a designer when redoing a bathroom.

While they are smaller items, plan on spending enough to get quality products. All too often, a cheap faucet turns into a leaky faucet, so pay a little more for one with ceramic valves.

Emergency Fund

Keep in mind that you never know what you’ll find when you pull up flooring or remove walls. Mold issues and plumbing problems are unwanted surprises that are frequently uncovered during a bathroom remodel, so your budget should include funds for unforeseen repairs.

Hire the Right People

If you’re planning an extensive renovation, it makes sense to hire a contractor to oversee the work. However, be sure the contractor has experience in bathroom remodels. You want someone who understands how to tackle the project and who is prepared to take care of any unforeseen issues.

Set a Realistic Timeline

A complete bathroom renovation can take weeks to complete after construction begins. If you only have one bathroom in your home, you may need to stay someplace else for at least a few days while the plumbing is replaced. Putting all these things in place from the start can save you a lot of headaches down the line.

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