Angie's LIST Guide to
Bathroom remodeling

Remodeling a home’s bathroom or bathrooms can give you a lot bang for your buck. And, according to real estate experts, you can recoup up to 80 percent of your costs when you sell your home.
 

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Remodeling outdated bathrooms can add value to your home and provide a chance to incorporate personal design choices. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Sue A.)
Remodeling outdated bathrooms can add value to your home and provide a chance to incorporate personal design choices. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Sue A.)
 
 

Planning a bathroom remodel

Evaluate the space

The first step to planning a bathroom remodel is evaluating the existing space. If you’re planning on updating or renovating an existing bathroom, what would you like to see improved? Do you want to update the look of the bathroom by changing details like lighting and mirrors, or are you interested in a major overhaul? Answering these question will help give you a clearer idea of what you want the finished product to look like.

Make comparisons

Whether a bathroom remodel pays off in terms of improved resale value often depends on what comparable homes in your neighborhood feature in their bathrooms. For example, if every home in the neighborhood features just one bathroom, you could improve your home’s sales appeal by adding a second bathroom where one previously didn’t exist.

Think about your future plans

Much of what you decide to take on during your bathroom renovation work should depend on your future plans. If you plan on moving out of your home in the next five to seven years, a modest project that updates that bathroom for mainstream tastes may be a better option. If you plan on staying in the home for more than decade or for the rest of your life, building the custom bathroom of your dreams can make more sense.

Create a budget

Bathroom remodels are expensive, so make sure you spend wisely. Take an objective look at your budget and take a realistic approach about what you can afford. Invest in high quality workmanship and high quality materials. Don’t skimp on items like the faucet, sink or toilet, for example, because this is a highly utilized area and you want things that are going to hold up. Cheapest isn’t always best.

If you’re trying to do your bathroom on a budget, consider choosing just a couple of elements to remodel. Maybe you keep the floor but change out the sink to meet your budget.

Another good idea when creating a bathroom renovation budget: accounting for unexpected repairs. In any remodeling project, it’s a good idea to pad your budget with about 10 to 20 percent more money than you need for unforeseen problems that may be uncovered when work starts. This is especially true with bathroom remodels.

Even a small leak from a feature like a toilet or a shower can cause large amounts of damage that can go unnoticed until floor or wall coverings are removed during a remodeling project. It's often essential to the home and the homeowner's health that water-damaged or moldy structural elements such as the framing or subfloor be repaired prior to covering it again during the renovation process.

Other typical unforeseen problems can include out-of-date, inadequate or unsafe wiring or plumbing systems. An experienced bathroom remodeling contractor may be able to anticipate the possibility of these types of repairs, but it's usually impossible to know what's lurking beneath the surface until you look.

Determine what you want and get professional advice

Once you’ve decided how much you can afford to invest, it’s a good idea to do some window shopping for the materials, fixtures and features you’d like to include in the remodeling project. Material costs can quickly add up, but they’re only a portion of your total budget. Unless you’re an experienced DIY renovator, you’ll need to hire an experienced contractor to install bathroom features like plumbing lines, sinks, faucets and toilets, ceramic tile, and flooring.  

Now might be a good time to visit with a bathroom remodeling contractor who has a showroom or offers bathroom remodeling design services. Being able to visualize your project before it gets underway can help define your expectations of the overall project and illustrate how different design and layout choices will work.

For instance, if you were interested in changing the location of the toilet, shower or sink, an experienced bathroom remodeler can help you determine if these layout changes would be prohibitively expensive for your budget.

Bathroom remodeling tips

Being prepared for a bathroom remodel is the best way to avoid unexpected costs and issues. It's also the time to make sure to pick the perfect materials and fixtures. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Cullen)
Being prepared for a bathroom remodel is the best way to avoid unexpected costs and issues. It's also the time to make sure to pick the perfect materials and fixtures. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Kevin C.)

Be prepared for inconvenience

If and when you start a bathroom remodeling project, don’t forget that you likely won’t be able to use all or some features of your bathroom for significant periods of time. Be patient, as you and your family may have to utilize your home’s other bathrooms or find alternative bathrooms outside the home if you only have one bathroom.

Prevent water damage

On a daily basis, your home’s bathroom or bathrooms see the most water use, putting it and its underlying features at greater risk for water damage. When remodeling the bathroom, prevent structural damage and mold problems by making sure it’s waterproof. This can mean making sure your contractor uses tile-backing waterproof drywall (also known as green board) where possible, completely seals the floor and shower surround and applies sufficient waterproof caulk around tubs, shower pans and shower fixtures. Because grout is porous, make sure the contractor seals that, too.

Toast your toes

If your bathroom remodel includes removing the old floor and installing a new one, use the opportunity to think about installing a radiant heating flooring system. Not only will it keep your feet warm and cozy, it can also be a great feature to distinguish your home from others if and when you decide to sell it.   

Think about cleaning when choosing materials

If your bathroom renovation includes installing brand-new tiles, take the time to consider each choice’s maintenance needs and long-term durability. Often used for showers, natural stone and travertine can actually be quite fragile and require special cleaning products. Other materials, such as porcelain tile, may be more durable and easier to clean.

Focus on what’s important

For features that you’ll use every day — cabinets, sink, faucet, shower head and toilet — consider spending more to get high-quality items. Look for good bargains on decorative items that you can easily replace, such as cabinetry knobs, drawer pulls or lighting.

Make it timeless

While it may be tempting to remodel your bathroom to the latest trend or cutting-edge design, if you’re remodeling for resale, try to stick with more traditional or mainstream design and material choices. A bathroom design that’s quickly dated can hurt, not help, your home’s resale appeal.

Features to consider

Despite traditionally being one of the smaller rooms in a home, you have a myriad of choices when renovating or remodeling bathroom features. Your remodeling project may include all or some of these features, so remember to plan where you invest your money wisely. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the bathroom features available, but a quick guide to help familiarize you with some common remodeling components.

Take a look at some the options:

Sinks

When selecting sinks, you’ll face an almost endless supply of styles, features and accessories. Some bathrooms even have two separate sinks. If you’re installing a new sink, you’ll first want to measure your available space to see what will fit best. A good rule of thumb is that the space in front of the sink and its cabinet or pedestal needs to be about 30 inches to allow for clearance.

Most sinks come in one of two styles, complete sink systems that feature an integrated faucet, spout or handle or sinks that feature three-hole setups to allow you to select your own sink fixtures. When choosing a sink that can receive differing types of hardware, purchase or select the fixture first to ensure it will fit in the new sink.

Depending on what style of vanity or countertop the sink will be installed in, you have several mounting options available. 

  • Drop-in. This sink requires that the countertop or vanity have an adequately sized or custom-cut hole to ensure the sink can be dropped in and that the sink’s rim, which supports the sink by resting its lip over the surface, sits flush against the surface.
  • Under-mount. Unlike drop-in sinks, under-mount sinks are installed directly beneath the countertop surface so that the sink’s bowl begins beneath the surface. 
  • One-piece. These sinks often feature pedestal setups where the sink, typically porcelain, is supported by a matching porcelain pedestal base.
  • Vessel. These sinks are designed to appear much like a bowl or another freestanding vessel resting on a countertop. Vessel sinks often come prepackaged with their own integrated faucet system or vanity.
  • Wall-mounted. These sinks offer a good option for working with the tighter confines of a smaller bathroom. However, depending on the model, they may require installing the water supply or drain lines so that they’re hidden behind the wall, which can make their installation more difficult and expensive.

The type of sink you choose will directly influence the type of material you pick for your new sink. For instance, vessel sinks often appear in a more unique variety of materials such as glass, hammered bronze, marble, copper and even wood. The most traditional material for a bathroom sink is vitreous porcelain. Cultured marble is another option for many sink types.

Faucets and other bathroom fixtures

Updating your sink’s hardware or other bathroom fixtures — such as the tub handles, control knobs or shower head — is a great way to give your bathroom a newer look without spending a lot of money on a total remodel. Several finishes are available for sink faucet fixtures and other bathroom fixtures, including chrome, brushed nickel, oil-rubbed bronze, steel and brass. You should choose styles and finish carefully because of the strong impact faucets make to overall decor.  

Installation of new countertops can help give any bathroom an instant upgrade and new look. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Seiple)
Installation of new countertops can help give any bathroom an instant upgrade and new look. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Stephen S.)

Countertops

If your bathroom update or remodel includes installing new countertops, you’ll want to pick a winner. You certainly have many choices of material. As your first decision, you’ll likely pick a natural material such as granite or marble, or a synthetic one like manufactured quartz or Formica. Granite and marble countertops are popular choices and can provide an upscale look to a new bathroom, but they come with some drawbacks. Granite and marble countertops are often more expensive choices. Because they’re porous, natural stone countertops can also be susceptible to stains if they’re not sealed on a regular basis.

Synthetic stones such as manufactured quartz or other brand names such as Silestone or Caesarstone can offer the look and feel of natural stone at a reduced cost and with less maintenance. The most cost-friendly options include laminate countertops and ceramic tile countertops.

Bathtubs

Because the time and cost of installing a new bathtub can be prohibitive, most homeowners typically replace this bathroom feature only during larger bathroom remodels. However, changing the look of a bathtub by changing a few key features can dramatically alter its appearance. For instance, adding a new tile bathtub surround or adding new fixtures will cost much less than completely replacing the entire unit. Refinishing an existing bathtub can achieve the look of a brand-new tub and will consume much less time and money than replacing one.

If you do decide to replace or renovate an existing bathtub or bathtub surround, plan to budget accordingly. Depending on the style, size and material you choose, a bathtub itself can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. When purchasing a new bathtub unit, don’t forget the additional costs of hardware, fixtures and installation, which is a job best left to a professional because faulty installation can result in water damage and mold or mildew growth.

Conventional bathtubs come in a range of materials including enamel-on-steel, cast iron, acrylic and fiberglass gel coat. More exotic options include composite materials, wood and cultured marble. Installation options include freestanding bathtubs, bathtubs installed into alcoves and those installed on platforms.

Soaking or garden tubs are deeper than conventional bathtubs, allowing the bather to immerse almost completely in the water. Walk-in tubs may be an especially good idea if you’re remodeling a bathroom to include safety features for an older resident or someone with limited mobility. Whirlpool or Jacuzzi-style tubs feature multiple nozzles throughout the tub, which can provide a massaging effect.

There are many styles of shower heads available. If you choose a new shower head or system, consider hiring a plumber to install it, as water lines may need to be rearranged. (Photo courtesy of Terri Davis)
There are many styles of shower heads available. If you choose a new shower head or system, consider hiring a plumber to install it, as water lines may need to be rearranged. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Terri D.)

Showers

Like installing a new bathtub, converting or updating a shower space is a major undertaking with a bathroom remodel. If you’re planning to renovate or alter your home’s shower, don’t forget that hiring a plumber may be necessary for any drain or water supply pipe alterations. The range of configurations for shower enclosures and surrounds are almost endless, but here are a few setups to think about with your bathroom remodel.

One-piece shower units consist of almost every necessary shower component — drain pan, shower walls, glass door, plumbing and fixtures — all in a prepackaged, self-contained unit. These may be good product options if you’re seeking to install a new shower in an area such as a basement, as the one-piece configuration may cut down on time spent preparing the installation site or replumbing existing drain or supply lines. But if the unit begins to leak water or deteriorate overall, you may need to replace the entire system rather than just one component.

You can add glass shower doors and frames to an existing shower enclosure or bathtub/shower unit to give it new appeal while limiting the need for a whole-shower renovation. Be sure to think about all your options, including the metal frame materials, as they may corrode over time due to the constant exposure to water and steam. You may also need to clean glass shower walls and doors more often to prevent soap scum and mineral buildups.

Synthetic shower surrounds offer many of the same easy installation benefits of one-piece shower units and maintenance is very easy. Generally made of vinyl, plastic, acrylic or PVC, the panels can be applied over existing flat walls and are available in many patterns and colors.

Tile offers you the most in terms of decorative choices when building a new shower area. Tiles can be made of porcelain, granite and other stones, ceramic materials or even glass. With a huge array of colors, sizes and patterns, the design choices are nearly infinite. Hire an experienced, professional tile setter to get the best results and don’t forget that you need to clean and seal grout on a regular basis to prevent mildew growth.

Glass block can wall off a shower area for privacy. While you take a shower, its patterns obscure your form from others while still allowing light to penetrate into the stall and more natural light into the room. If your bathroom features a window near the shower area, glass block is a great way to provide privacy and natural light.

Toilets

Nothing can add new functionality to a bathroom like new toilet, especially if your current setup features an outdated or inefficient model. While it may be tempting, changing the location of the toilet can incur more expense than it’s worth since it would take a significant amount of time and effort to plumb new sewer drain lines.

When shopping for new toilets, don’t forget to measure both the new unit and your existing space. Since all new toilets manufactured since the 1990s in the United States are required to use less than 1.6 gallons of water per flush, replacing an older toilet with a new one is an effective way to reduce your home’s overall water use.

Lighting and mirrors

Wall lighting, effective for eliminating shadows by the mirror, is generally used in conjunction with overhead lights.  Wall lighting is particularly useful for illuminating areas that require extra light. Sconces installed on either side of the mirror provide additional light for grooming. Strip lights installed over the mirror also ensure adequate, even light for grooming tasks.

These lights are available in a number of modern designs. You can place recessed lighting anywhere, and it’s especially useful for lower ceilings. Recessed lights can be bright or dim and angled to highlight wall decorations. 

Mirrors framed in wood add a warm and sophisticated note, whereas mirrors in new shapes and pieced together in artistic groupings offer a contemporary touch. If you have a smaller bathroom, you can add multiple mirrors to convey the illusion of more space.

Wall coverings

You bathroom’s wall coverings need to be durable because of moisture, heat and cleaning requirements. Many homeowners choose gloss and semigloss paint and vinyl wallpaper for their water-repelling qualities. Wallpaper styles change quickly, and finding matching wallpaper down the road may be difficult.

Flooring

Many bathrooms employ tile flooring due to its durability and waterproof characteristics. Much like any other tile option, you can choose from an endless array of patterns, sizes and textures. You’ll need to clean these floors regularly and seal the grout to prevent mildew from forming.

Vinyl flooring and linoleum floors are also waterproof, durable and easy-to-clean. Although possible, some flooring choices that may be used in other parts of the home may not work well in the bathroom, such as carpeting and wood flooring.

Hiring tips

Clearly define your project

Before you start having conversations with bathroom remodeling contractors, read remodeling magazines, check out materials and products at showrooms and retail stores and research the Internet for designs or materials that interest you. By providing a rough idea of what you want the finished product to look like, the contractor can more accurately estimate the time and cost necessary to achieve your goal.

Talk about it

Talk to your neighbors, friends and family about their projects. Use Angie’s List to find local bathroom remodeling professionals and read consumer reviews on their work.

Verify references

When you do start speaking with potential contractors, ask for names of customers from recent projects. Make the effort to speak with the customers and ask them about their projects. Did the contractor meet their expectations? Were there any delays or miscommunications? How did they handle changes the customer requested? Would they hire the contractor again?

Get written estimates

Get at least three written estimates that clearly define the project and what materials will be used. Having an estimate in writing can help provide you recourse should something go wrong.

Check them out

Make sure you can get hold of a contractor when you need him or her. Be cautious of businesses that list only a post office box address but no street address or that use an answering service. Don’t hire unsolicited, door-to-door contractors or those who can’t prove their qualifications. Never hire a contractor that insists you pay cash up front.

License for hire

Some states or cities have no licensing requirements for contractors, which can make it difficult for homeowners to check up on contractors before they hire. Don’t rely on the contractor’s word to know whether his or her license is valid. Verify it through appropriate agencies or use Angie’s List License Check Tool. Bathroom remodeling work often requires electrical and plumbing work — two of the most often regulated trades — so make sure you hire a qualified, legitimate professional.

Verify insurance and bonding

Ask your potential hire for proof of insurance or bonding. Contractors who operate aboveboard should be prepared to share this information. Taking the extra step of calling the insurance or bond company to verify that a policy is active and paid up can offer you greater peace of mind.

Setting a budget and payment guidelines

For most bathroom remodeling projects, you can typically expect to pay about 10 percent or more of the total value of the project as a deposit. Never pay more than a third of the total cost of the project of the down payment, and never pay in cash. Be aware that especially in bathroom remodeling, contractors will frequently find hidden problems. Adding an additional 10 to 20 percent to your overall remodeling budget can help reduce the strain of these types of problems. 

The fine print

Don’t assume your contract covers all your needs. Know the details of the contract, as well as how any change orders will be handled. Check that your contract includes a lien waiver, covering payments to all subcontractors who worked on the project. Never sign a blank contract.

Knocking out the punch list

Before you sign off and make the final payment to a contractor, make sure you develop a punch list and ensure that the work is complete to your satisfaction. This is how the contractor will deal with the list of small items remaining to be completed at the end of the job. A good rule of thumb is to determine the cost of those items, double it, then withhold that amount from the final payment, until the contractor completes the punch list.

Plan for stress

This one of the most overlooked, but critical considerations. How will the project change your routine, especially with the bathroom? Where will materials be stored? What are the working hours for the crew?

Comments

I hired some co who advertised on Angie's list in July of 2012. I am still without a finished bathroom. It has and still is a horrible experience that we have to go through.

Hi Harriet,

So sorry to hear of your negative remodel experience. We have a Complaint Resolution Team that might be able to help. Feel free to give us a call - 1-888-944-LIST.

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