Expensive Bathroom Remodel? Here’s How to Save Big


A young couple plays around during a bathroom remodel. The women sits in the wheelbarrow and the man pushes her.

 

US homeowners spent an average of $64,783 on luxury bathroom remodels and an average of $20,420 on mid-range bathroom renovations last year.

The most expensive part of a bathroom renovation is labor, which will use up at least 20% of the overall budget.  Repairing any water damage that you discover once you remove existing fixtures can cost $250 for a leaky pipe and $800 to repair drywall. The next most expensive line item will be tile. That said, with creativity, you can save thousands of dollars on the most expensive parts of a bathroom remodel.

 

 

As Austin, Texas Bathroom Designer Kathleen Stacy Finley explains, “With clients investing so much in bathroom renovations, I like to find hacks for the most expensive parts. This can help clients save big on their bathroom remodels.” 

Read on to discover the 8 most expensive parts of a bathroom renovation and workarounds to help you save a small fortune. Or, if you don’t have time to read the whole post, download our handy 1-page cheat sheet that summarizes our very best money-saving tips:

 

 

1. Labor

 

 

 

It’s kind of funny how so many people doing a bathroom renovation consider labor as a complete afterthought.

Or maybe funny is the wrong word. Perhaps I should say sad. Or even heartbreaking.

I have a friend who fell in love with a new bathtub that was completely within her budget. However, she forgot to factor in labor. Once I gently reminded her of this fact, her face fell as if she had just broken up with her favorite lover.

Since the bathtub of her choice plus the labor was out of her budget, she was going to have to choose another tub–or find other hacks in her bathroom renovation to make up for the extra expense. (I’m happy to report that she did recover by thinking outside the box on her bathroom vanity.)

In any case, it’s important to add labor to the cost of your overall bathroom renovation budget, because it’s likely to be the greatest expense. According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association, anyone doing a bathroom renovation should expect to spend 20% of the total for a bathroom renovation on labor.

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack

 

While you won’t want to the electrical or plumbing work unless you’re trained, there is a lot you can DIY to lower the expense of your bathroom renovation. From caulking to painting and possibly even tiling, you might consider doing these tasks yourself. 

“The only caveat would be that you’ll need to buy or rent tools, and you’ll likely make mistakes, so it won’t work if you’re on a tight schedule,” says Kathleen. “Also, if the paint you chose is awful and you need to repaint, this obviously extends the project timeline. But on the other hand, if you paint the bathroom a color you hate, you can redo it and won’t waste too much money.” 

Well, before you throw up your hands and say, “I could never do that!” consider the fact that there are several highly-rated DIY bathroom repair courses online. Prices start at $12 on Udemy and go up to $250. Many are video-based and give you regular access to an accomplished bathroom contractor, who will help you troubleshoot as often as necessary.

A course like this could turn out to be an incredible investment.

 

2. Plumbing

 

a plumber moves the bathtub

 

 

When designing a bathroom renovation, one of the biggest expenses is for a plumber to attach new fixtures like a tub, sink, or toilet. In the US, bathroom renovators spend an average of $6k on this part of their remodel. (Source)

However, if you plan to change the layout of your bathroom, it’s going to cost even more. You may be tempted to move the bathtub to the other side of the bathroom, and then maybe swing the sink to a new corner. 

But beware! 

If you move a bathroom fixture like a bathtub more than three feet or to another plumbing wall, you could greatly increase the price of plumbing. The reason is that in the new location, the fixture plumbing may no longer connect to the drainpipe or cold and hot water lines.

The drainpipe is hidden behind your walls. All wastewater from various bathroom fixtures is disposed of through the drainpipe. 

When you relocate a bathroom fixture too far away from the original location, you’ll probably need to add more pipes behind the wall that connect the fixture to the drainpipe. This involves opening up the walls or floor. And that’s why it can get very expensive.

If you’re moving a shower or sink to a different plumbing wall, you’ll probably need to install a new cold water pipe and hot water pipe as well. According to Fixr.com, moving a line (cold, hot, or drain) can cost $80-$200 per line. So the sink or shower would cost $240-$600 above in addition to the regular installation cost.

However, if the lines that you want to move are embedded inside concrete, then the price escalates to $500-$1,000. And these days, most drainpipes are embedded in the concrete foundation.

And believe it or not, there’s also an order in which fixtures are located near the drainpipe, with toilets being closest as they funnel the most waste out of the house.

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack

 

Keep your fixtures in the same place, or at least, against the same wall. 

Unless you’re planning to redo drywall and subflooring (which is the layer underneath the tile) anyway, consider keeping fixtures within 3 feet of their current location and against the same plumbing wall.

Let’s look at this example: Suppose you have an alcove tub that’s nestled between two walls and a third half-wall, but now and you want a freestanding tub. Is it possible for you to still get your dream bathtub? Yes, but in order to save money, locate the freestanding tub as closely as possible to where the alcove tub was.  

Even though this kind of renovation might involve destroying one of the walls surrounding your alcove tub (the half-wall), it’s cheaper to do this than to place the freestanding tub against a different wall and need to rip it open to attach the lines. 

For much more on relocating bathroom fixtures and associated expenses, read my post Can a Bathtub Be Moved?

 

3. Water Damage

 

 

 

If you think about home improvement shows, there’s always a scene when the contractors discover a rotted foundation beam or a leaky pipe. They break the news to the homeowners, who look at each other in horror as they realize they will now have to fork over thousands of dollars they hadn’t planned to pay.

You don’t want to be the star of that scene!

In order to avoid such a fate, make sure you’re building your new bathroom on a solid foundation. 

Cracks in bathtub grout or tile, leaky pipes in the walls (even a leak just the size of a pinhole!) or hardware that’s not fully attached can result in drips–and a drip of water, however minor, can result in an enormous mildew or mold problem.

Hidden mold in bathroom drywall or built-in cabinetry will weaken and rot your walls, ceilings and floors. The key word here is hidden. You can’t always see bathroom mold with your naked eye. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

If you install a new bathtub or bathroom vanity on a weak foundation, you’ll just add to the expense of what’s inevitable–the day when you’ll need to remove fixtures or break into walls in order to replace rot. 

When remodeling a bathroom, however, it’s the perfect time to search for hidden mold. You can call a mold inspector to come once your fixtures have been ripped out and before new ones are put in.

You have three choices here:

 

1. Ignore the issue altogether, stating that you don’t see any problem so there must not be one. 

 

2. Call a mold inspector. Pay $200-$500 for the inspection. During the inspection, pray they don’t find anything, because if they do, then you’re looking at a lot more–approximately $250 to repair drywall and $800 to fix a cracked pipe. (Source)

 

3. Hunt for mold yourself. (I only recommend this if there are no obvious signs of mold or mildew that you see or smell. Do this if you doubt there’s an issue but you want to take precaution and be safe.)

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack

 

There is a super simple hack. If you don’t smell any mildew or see any leaks, then as soon as old fixtures like toilets, tubs, and vanities are removed, put on an N-95 mask and hunt for mold yourself. This will save you the cost of hiring a mold inspector. 

And if you do find any problem, really, it’s better than not discovering it until your new fixtures are installed and tiles are placed. Ugh. Then you’d really be in bad shape. 

Keep in mind that mold in a bathroom wall doesn’t just affect the bathroom. It can also rot out the adjacent wall that could be in the living room. And mold in a bathroom floor can cause holes and leak into the room below. Ugh. Ugh.

To DIY a mold inspection, you’ll need your five senses (well, not taste). You’ll listen for drips, feel for moisture, look and sniff for mildew. But you’ll so need a few simple pieces of equipment including a flashlight and a moisture meter. 

A moisture meter is a little device that you can point at any surface. It will instantly tell you if there’s moisture beneath that surface and how much. You can get a moisture meter like the MMD4E on Amazon for $23. This little device is backlit, can detect moisture in studs and drywall, and can tell you if a leak is old or new.

If you do discover a problem, then you’ll need to call in an expert for help. But if there’s no problem, then proceed with the rest of your renovation. 

For much more about bathroom mold, including how to hunt it down and remediate any you find, read Bathroom Mold: A Battle Plan to Destroy It.

 

4. Tile

 

 

If you’re not careful, tile can easily become one of the most expensive parts of a bathroom remodel. Prices on tile vary wildly, with the most expensive being tile being hand-painted porcelain.

According to Homeadvisor.com:

“Retiling a shower costs $12.50 per square foot. With labor included, homeowners spend $2,000 on average, or between $450 and $10,000 depending on square footage, contractor rate, tile design and type, waterproofing and regrouting.”

(Source)

And that’s just the shower! What if you’re going to tile the walls, too? Or at least an accent wall? You can see how the overall cost of tile adds up quickly.

The reason you usually add tile to a bathroom is to give it a more textured, luxurious feel, as well as to protect walls from water.

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack

 

Instead of going for the tile that first catches your eye, look for an inexpensive tile that still has the look of luxury. Bathroom Designer Kathleen Stacy Finley says:

 

“A very inexpensive look that I love is white ceramic tile. And you can do an accent with less expensive but still pretty glass mosaic tile. I really like the one they have at Stone Tile Depot.” 

 

Check out the tile Kathleen is talking about here at Stone Tile Depot.

Kathleen says, “You could do a stripe of this to define a vanity or as a wainscot or a vertical stripe in the shower or to define the shower niche.” 

You can add any type of glass or metal tile as an accent tile, as these are usually more affordable. 

Learn much more about tile with Kathleen’s post on 10 Tips for Choosing Bathroom Tile That’s Perfect for You. And to give your bathroom a spa-like vibe, try a white ceramic subway tile, with a white accent tile. Keeping everything in white or neutrals from floor to ceiling creates a feeling of serenity. (For more hacks to make your new bathroom feel like a luxury spa, read 12 Elements of a Spa Bathroom on Bathtubber.com.)

 

Download the Genius Hacks Cheat Sheet by completing the form below. You’ll get all of our best money-saving tips in one-handy pdf that you can post by your desk to keep them top of mind as you plan.

 

 5. Bathroom Vanity

 

 

 

A bathroom vanity contains a sink, faucet, and a cupboard with storage space that conceals the sink pipes. You can also get a double vanity that has two sinks and a wider footprint than a single vanity.

The bathroom vanity can easily turn into the most expensive fixture for your bathroom. Are you replacing the whole vanity in your remodel? Or just the bathroom vanity countertop? Either way, the vanity can take a big bite out of your renovation budget.

Homeadvisor.com says:

Installing a new bathroom vanity costs $300 to $3,800, about $1,500 on average. The individual units come in two styles: premade vanities for $100 to $2,600 or custom build at $500 to $2,800. Installation runs from $200 to $1,000 per vanity.

(Source)

 

So let’s discuss:

First, the cabinetry below the vanity countertop: The vanity itself will be made of plywood, or an engineered wood product like particle board or medium-density fiberboard. Plywood, however, fares better when it gets wet. And keep in mind that your vanity is concealing sink plumbing pipes. If there’s a leak, the cabinet will get wet.

Next, the countertop. Bathroom vanity countertops are often made of glorious and gorgeous natural stone materials like marble or granite. Installed, a granite countertop can start at $75 per square foot and marble at $100 per square foot.

But both of these materials, while stunning to look at, are high-maintenance. They need daily cleaning and annual sealing to prevent stains. (For much more about the benefits and drawbacks of engineered quartz, granite and marble, read this post on Bathtubber.com.)

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack(s)

 

Well, we have two hacks for you when it comes to a bathroom vanity countertop. The first has to do with the cabinetry.

What’s trending now are vanities made from furniture. So just take a look around your house and see if there’s a sideboard or dresser that you’re ready to get rid of. Why not repurpose it instead?

Add a mounted sink and run the plumbing through the drawers below. Or carve out a hole for an undermount sink and run the plumbing into the wall behind. Once you start down this rabbit hole, you’ll quickly realize that when it comes to a repurposed dresser vanity, the possibilities are truly endless (and fun!).

If you’re going for farmhouse decor, this avenue will be an especially great fit. You may want to shop salvage stores for some vintage pieces. Not only will you save oodles, but you’ll get a customized looking vanity that you won’t find anywhere else.

And for a true farmhouse look, you may even want the pipes to show. Just be sure to coat your brand-new bathroom vanity with a waterproof glaze or waterproof paint.

By the way, there’s no rule that says your vanity must have storage. Maybe you don’t need vanity storage because you have ample space elsewhere.

But what about the bathroom vanity countertop? I promised you a hack for that, too.

Well here it is: Don’t go for marble or granite!

You heard that right. You can get almost the very same look with engineered quartz, which is made from quartz powder mixed with resin and is a considerably less expensive countertop material. Quartz is less porous and easier to maintain. 

Kathleen says:

“Quartz is so stain resistant and isn’t porous at all. Still you need to make sure to use cleaners that won’t change color over time. Some people think that quartz is indestructible but it’s not. If you put a very hot item on it, you’ll leave a mark. Still, there are so many different colors, patterns and textures to choose from. Quartz is the best.”

And by the way, a gorgeous piece of quartz can be used as tile. So if you have any remnants left over from your bathroom vanity countertop, consider using them as accent pieces on your bathroom walls.

 

6. Bathtubs

 

 

 

You can rack up a small fortune on a bathtub if you’re not careful. Not only should you consider the type of bathtub (e.g. alcove, jetted, corner) and bathtub material (e.g. fiberglass, acrylic, stone) that you want to get, you should also think about some of the hidden costs.

What I mean is that often it’s not just the bathtub that’s going to sink you (no pun intended!). The bathtub installation can cost more than the tub itself, depending on the type of bathtub you choose.

For example, if you get a tub made of a very heavy material like natural stone or porcelain-enameled steel instead of a lightweight fiberglass tub, you’ll pay much more for the bathtub and more for installation.

The reason is that when heavy bathtubs are placed on upper floors or decks, sometimes additional floor joists need to be added to support the weight of the full bathtub (full of water and a bather).

Also, keep in mind that when you get a larger tub type like a corner tub or an air tub, your water bill will go up.

If you are planning to get a new bathtub and want some help thinking it through, I really urge you to read my post How to Choose a Bathtub in 8 Easy Steps. In this post, I help you pick a tub that fits your budget and your space–and makes your eyes glaze over with adoration every time you look at it!

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack

 

Save tons by choosing a standard size tub that fits the existing footprint of the old tub you’re replacing. This way, you don’t have to redo walls and plumbing, or at least not too much. Plus, with a standard-sized tub, your water bill should remain constant.

Next, choose a tub made of a lighter-weight material, so that you don’t need to think about adding floor supports. Also, in general, lighter-weight bathtubs cost less. Some lighter-weight bathtub materials include fiberglass and acrylic.

Let’s say you want a clawfoot bathtub. Well, vintage clawfoot tubs are made of porcelain-enameled cast iron. One of these bathtubs weighs at least 400 pounds when full with water and a bather. 

While you can get a vintage clawfoot for around $350-$500 USD, and then restore it, there are several hidden costs to consider. Read The Hidden Costs of a Clawfoot Tub on Bathtubber.com to find out what they all are.

Meanwhile, did you know that you can get an acrylic clawfoot tub that’s made to look vintage but is much, much lighter? While the acrylic clawfoot might cost about $1,200, once it’s installed, it could easily end up costing the same as the vintage. 

Let’s look at another example of choosing a less expensive, lightweight tub that looks like a serious upscale investment.

A luxury natural stone bathtub will cost a fortune and weigh a ton (literally!). Still, these bathtubs don’t chip easily. They retain heat well and are incredibly durable. Also, you probably can’t find a more gorgeous tub type…

Except you can! 

A stone resin bathtub looks like a natural stone tub. And in fact, it’s made from ground natural stone and polymer resin. It has all the benefits of a stone bathtub, but doesn’t weigh quite as much and is considerably less expensive. Plus a stone resin tub is eco-friendly since it’s made of 100% recyclable material.

So the hack is to go for the lightweight tub that’s less expensive when you factor in installation as well.

If you want to learn more about the most popular bathtub materials, check out 8 Best Bathtub Materials: Pros and Cons here on Bathtubber.com.

 

 

7. Lighting

 

 

Calypso Six Light Chandelier

 

Kathleen tells me that the best bathroom lighting is layered. You want three different types of lighting, each with a different purpose.

If you don’t understand the reason for each of these three types of bathroom lighting, you’re going to just pick a bunch of lights you think are beautiful. Before you know it, you’ll run up a bill that rivals what you spent on tile or the vanity.

But we can head that off!

First, let’s start by understanding each type of lighting:

 

Task Lighting

This is bright lighting you want to use when putting on makeup or doing your hair. You need to see what you’re doing, so you want recessed lights overhead and maybe sconces above the vanity bookending your vanity mirror.

 

Mood Lighting

Next, to create a feel of luxury, you’ll want to include mood lighting. For this, go for indirect lighting, such as a strip of LED lights under a cabinet or behind the vanity. Use this lighting in your bathroom when you are soaking the tub and want to relax.

 

Statement Lighting

Finally, choose a statement fixture that adds a focal point and a burst of style to your bathroom. Perhaps a chandelier over the tub? (Okay, I’m projecting my fantasy.) But something that makes you say, “Wow!”

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack

 

“The beauty of the layered lighting is you don’t have to spend big on everything,” Kathleen says. “Invest in the statement piece. This is where the eyes go. Then spend less on your task lighting and mood lighting.”

It’s important to put each layer of lighting on separate switches, and every light in the bathroom should be on dimmers. “It’s well worth the extra bit of money,” Kathleen says. “Dimmers let you control the overall atmosphere in the bathroom, and choosing LED bulbs will give the bathroom a look of luxury while keeping it energy efficient.”

You can check out Kathleen’s picks for the most gorgeous bathroom statement fixtures, including the chandelier pictured above. These selections are definitely on trend and will add loads of glam to your bathroom, while you recoup the price by going cheaper on your other lights.

And since lightbulbs and dimmers are so important, be sure to read Kathleen’s piece on Bathtubber.com called The Secrets to Achieve the Best Bathroom Lighting. It explains much more about the different bulb types. It also goes more in-depth on the various layers of lighting.  

 

 

8. Bathroom Faucets

 

 

One thing I can never get over is how much people spend on bathroom faucets, whether for the sink or the tub. And when it comes to faucets, knowledge is power. So let’s get learning!

You can get two models of a freestanding tub faucet, also called a “filler.” From afar, these two faucets may look identical. 

Not almost the same. But exactly!

The differences, however, are in the weight of the metal and the type of cartridge inside the faucet. The $200 bathtub filler will likely have a plastic cartridge while the $4,000 version will definitely have a ceramic cartridge; due to the cartridge type, the first filler might last 5 years while the second could last 10 or even 15 years.

If you picked them up, the more expensive filler would be much sturdier and heavier. While the less expensive faucet, might fill more slowly. 

In addition to a freestanding faucet, there are so many other types of faucets. Be sure to familiarize yourself with these types: wall-mount, deck-mount, centerset, widespread, 1-hole, 3-hole and 5-hole. 

Does this sound like a foreign language? If so,  take 5 minutes and read our most comprehensive post on this topic: Bathtub Faucet Types. Understanding the different types can help you save big!

 

Genius Bathroom Remodel Hack(s)

 

We actually have several genius hacks when it comes to faucets.

First of all, just do your research. I guess that’s not really a hack. But equipped with knowledge,  you can find the needle in the haystack. For example, this freestanding filler on Amazon.com for $285 actually does have a ceramic cartridge so it should last quite a while. 

That said, it gets 6 GPM (gallons per minute) so it won’t fill your tub as quickly a $4,000 filler that gets 12 GPM. Then again, saving about $3,800 will probably make you a tad more patient.

The next faucet hack is to get a 3-piece faucet rather than a 1-piece faucet. “You’ll often spend the same amount but wind up with a much more upscale feel to the bathroom,” explains Kathleen.

And the last faucet hack? When it comes to faucets, try a bathroom salvage store like the Habitat for Humanity Restore that collects fixtures from homes, restaurants and office buildings. You can find some gems here and save bundles at the same time.

Kathleen suggests thinking outside the box when you visit a salvage store. “You might find an industrial faucet for your home bathroom. This can add some cool intrigue, as well as a custom look to your space,” she says. “Also, wall-mounted faucets provide a unique and often gorgeous aesthetic, so be on the lookout for those.”  

 

Save Big Money on Your Bathroom Renovation

 

With these genius hacks, we hope you’ll save so much on your bathroom remodel that you can splurge on something fun to help you enjoy your new space. If you want more help walking through your bathroom renovation, definitely read Kathleen’s post 10 Steps to a Successful Bathroom Remodel. She breaks it down into manageable chunks and helps you avoid common pitfalls.

And once you make it through your remodel, how about a subscription to Bath Bevy? You’ll get a curated bath box in mail every month with 6-10 bubble bars, bath bombs, and more surprises that will delight you and help you relax in your beautiful new space!

 

Shana

Shana Burg is a bath enthusiast, content strategist, and award-winning writer. She is the founder of bathtubber.com.

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