A bathroom remodel provides an opportunity for dreaming. When I help clients with their bathroom renovations, I encourage them to contemplate what would make their bathrooms a perfect oasis. It’s so much fun to dream, and even more fun to transform that dream into reality.
Deciding to renovate a bathroom is a big decision, it can be expensive and in some cases very disruptive. I’ll help you step by step through the remodel. By following this 10-step process, you’ll end up with a bathroom you love. We’ll redo your bathroom but we won’t ruin your budget, or your life!
Also, download this cheat sheet and get designer hacks to save big money—we’re talking thousands of dollars!-—on your bathroom remodel. You’ll have 8 genius hacks in your hands in just a few seconds:
10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom
These 10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom provide a roadmap for all the moving parts and timelines in any renovation project. Follow the 10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom to finish a bathroom renovation on budget and on time.
1. Clarify Your Motivation
The first of the 10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom might be the most important: ask yourself why you want to remodel your bathroom in the first place. The answer will determine if you should actually go through with a renovation. It will help you direct your budget.
So get as specific as you can when you answer these questions:
- Do you feel your bathroom is dreary or dark?
- Is your bathtub uncomfortable?
- Do you hate looking at your toilet while you are in your bath?
- Do you dislike your light fixture?
- Would a new plumbing fixture do the trick?
- Are you desperate for more storage?
I’ve had a client answer the question about why she wanted to remodel the bathroom by saying she couldn’t stand looking at the trash can while in the tub. Instead of launching into a remodel, we purchased prettier storage and moved the trash can. Problem solved.
But maybe you do need to remodel the whole darn bathroom, and nothing else will do, no matter how long it takes and no matter how disruptive it is!!
When clarifying your motivation, be sure to contemplate if the remodel is just for you to enjoy or if you’re more motivated by a potential return on your investment. Often both are important. (Be sure to read Will a Tub Add Value to My Home? if you’re considering whether to rip out a bathtub or install a new one.)
2. Determine the Scope of Your Ideal Remodel
You probably know that remodeling a bathroom can be very expensive. Realtors say that when remodeling your master bath you should consider spending 5-10% of the total cost of your home on the remodel. According to Home Advisor, the average bathroom remodel in 2020 will cost $10,499.
But start by listing out everything you would love to do if money were no object. Consider this short list of things:
- Floor tile, tile bed, and grout
- Shower/bath tile, tile bed and grout
- Sink faucet
- Showerhead and fixtures
- Vanity mirror
- Towel bars and hooks
Although you’ll soon need to face reality, it’s essential to be in touch with your dream remodel. Often there are creative solutions or trade-offs you can make to achieve the desired effect without breaking the bank.
For example, I guide people toward ceramic tile when their dream is new tile and they don’t have a huge budget. Simple white ceramic tile is a budget-friendly go to. Then you can pick an interesting ceramic shape, color, or pattern as an accent. Or if there’s a little more money, find a beautiful glass tile accent.
3. Commit to a Realistic Budget
Now is the time to commit to what’s realistic for you budget-wise. Write down the dollar amount you can afford without heartburn on a piece of paper. If you want to write down a range that’s okay, too.
Expect the Unexpected
Remodels famously accrue unexpected costs along the way. You will plan for this. So deduct 10% from the number you wrote on the paper. This is the dollar amount you can actually spend.
Let’s say you wrote $12,000. Ten percent of $12,000 is $1,200, so we need to deduct that from the total number on the paper. Now you know that you can spend $10,800 including tax. Write this number or range in large print in a black sharpie, and hang it up on your wall.
The great thing about this approach is that you can calmly sip your tea—and forego a panic attack–when unexpected expenses arise, as they inevitably will since you’ve already accounted for trouble. Read Expensive Bathroom Remodel? Here’s How to Save Big.
Be sure to fill out the form below to get Bathtubber’s Cheat Sheet for “8 Genius Hacks to Save Big on Your Bathroom Remodel.” You’ll get our favorite designer hacks in a handy 1-page pdf that you can keep nearby as you plan. These tips can save you thousands of dollars:
4. Research Line Items
You are now well into the 10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom. The time has come to break out a spreadsheet and research the cost for various items you would like to include in your remodel.
Let’s say you’ve got an alcove tub that you want to rip out and replace with a freestanding clawfoot bathtub. You’ll research the cost of the tub itself, the delivery of the tub, and the installation. (Just FYI, there are other hidden costs associated with clawfoot tubs.) Then you’ll place each of these line items on your spreadsheet.
Don’t Forget to Budget for Labor
And remember you have to buy these things but also have to pay for the installation. Costs vary widely but consider that plumbers can cost $60-85 per hour and electricians can cost $65-90 per hour.
And if you choose to use a contractor, know that contractors who specialize in bathroom remodels usually charge between $65-85 per hour. Depending on where you live, these numbers can be even higher.
When it comes to budget, a bathroom remodel can be full of ecstatic highs, such as when you find a vanity for less than expected.
There are also sorrowful lows like when you realize that you just can’t get the storage you wanted if you also want the state-of-the-art freestanding tub faucet.
This is the moment of reckoning.
When making tradeoffs, always keep in mind your original motivation for the project. There are often clever ways to achieve a result.
For example, if you don’t really have the budget for a full remodel, or you have just one bathroom, consider a more interesting or bigger vanity mirror to make the bathroom feel quite different.
Keep in mind that for most people, breaking the budget they committed to won’t lead to happiness in the long run. So stay the course, remember the number on your paper. Then move forward with confidence that your end product will add joy to your life.
Know that you will continue to adjust line items on your spreadsheet and make trade-offs until your project is complete.
5. Plan Your Bathroom Remodel Project Timeline
Timing your bathroom remodel can significantly affect the level of inconvenience you experience. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you on a timeline?
- Are you looking to put your house on the market?
- Do you have houseguests coming?
- Do you have a baby coming? (If so, that is so exciting, and I am so happy for you!)
Consider the scope of your remodel. If you plan to DIY it, you will likely highly underestimate the time it will take. Think about, and factor in, time for watching youtube video how-tos, several return trips for supplies and tool rentals, and the inevitable mistakes, tear-outs, and re-dos.
If you are using a contractor, they will likely be able to give you a better idea of how long it will take. But timelines in renovation can be off because of delays in supplies, delays from subcontractors, unexpected conditions behind the walls, or even unexpected conditions across the house at the breaker box!
So plan for more time than the contractor estimates to avoid inconvenience for you and struggles with your contractor.
6. Strategize to Minimize Disruption
You may need a portapotty
Keep in mind that this isn’t always inexpensive or hassle-free. The expense depends on the level of “luxury” the portapotty provides.
The least expense is usually called the “standard” (think outhouse). Expect to spend $200 -$500/month on one of these stinkers (which may, or may not, include pumping). Some companies offer daily or weekend rates but the cost is not that much different. You could also get a super luxury bathroom on wheels (trailer) for $600 – $800/day.
You also may have to pay for a permit for your temporary throne – this depends on where you live so check your local regulations. It can be a bit of a challenge to get a portable toilet on your property because of logistical requirements.
The portable toilet must be installed on a perfectly level spot. You might be surprised how difficult it can be to find a perfectly level spot.
It also must be installed in a place that is no more than 40’ away from where the pump truck can park. This makes a backyard location a bit tricky.
However, a front yard location might annoy your neighbors and will likely be used by others (not just your work crews), particularly if you live in a central part of the city.
You can also buy camping equipment designed to act as a toilet in the great outdoors. If you do this, consider the climate of your current hometown when planning the season for your remodel.
Only remodel one bathroom at a time
It may seem like this goes without saying, but if you have more than one bathroom, don’t remodel every bathroom in your house at the same time. Unless you are moving out.
Find the Optimal Time
If you have two bathrooms things will be much easier. If you have a relatively unused bathroom in your house things will go fairly smoothly. But it may be that you have to share an already used bathroom with another family member or roommate. Pick the most convenient time for everyone to be sharing.
Consider that summer works best for families; when school is out, not everyone is trying to shower and etc. at the same time in the morning. Whatever your bathroom sharing situation, it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a general daily schedule for bathroom usage.
7. Hire a Designer Who Loves Bathroom Remodels
A designer is not necessary but can be very helpful. There are so many design-related decisions to be made when remodeling your bathroom. It can be truly overwhelming. The 10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom is a guide to help you. However, be aware that as you progress through each of the steps, you need to make many decisions.
Even when a bathroom renovation is just cosmetic, a bathroom designer can help pick flooring material, wall material, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, cabinet pulls, and more. A designer helps the client make decisions that fit their budget and style.
Questions come up that you might not have anticipated. For example:
- Should I tile the niche?
- Can I mix finishes here?
- Does this countertop material clash with the sink color?
This is fun stuff but can become daunting quickly.
Using a designer ensures that the space feels pulled together when you are done and that your bathroom suits your use and style and stays in your budget.
A cosmetic remodel means you won’t be moving any walls or fixtures. If the upgrade you intend is cosmetic, and you feel confident and know what you want, I encourage you to go ahead and try it yourself.
8. DIY or Hire a Licensed, Insured Contractor
There are generally three ways to complete a bathroom remodel project: 1) Do it yourself; 2) Hire a Contractor; 3) Do a bit of both.
DIY Bathroom Remodel
When deciding if you will install and/or construct your bathroom remodel yourself, or you will hire a contractor, there are a few questions that can help clarify the answer:
What is the timeline?
It’s hard to gauge just how long a bathroom remodel will take if you are going to do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, it’s important to be flexible with the finish date.
Do you have at least one other bathroom?
With a DIY bathroom remodel, part of the fun is figuring stuff out. But if you figure it out incorrectly it can be particularly inconvenient. If you have another bathroom to pick up the slack, DIY is a more viable option.
Do you have electric and plumbing skills?
Are you moving or replacing plumbing or lighting fixtures? Are you clear where to turn off the electricity and/or plumbing? If you’re confident in your knowledge of electricity and plumbing, go ahead and give it a go.
Do you and your family or roommates have the right mind-set for a DIY bathroom remodel?
As is the case with much of life, when it comes to a bathroom remodel attitude can make or break you. But it’s not just your attitude that matters–you’ve got to make sure the people you live with are onboard. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you enjoy problem-solving?
- Are you patient if/when you make mistakes? Even if the consequences are that you must take a sponge bath in the kitchen for a few days? Will your roommates be patient as well?
- Do you have a trowel and a backyard?
- Is your partner/roommate okay with the consequences of your eventual mistakes?
Hiring a Contractor for Your Bathroom Renovation
Using a contractor will likely help the renovation go smoother. If you are doing a major renovation, anything beyond cosmetic, I highly recommend hiring a contractor.
Even though using a general contractor can often add 25% to your total remodel cost, they are likely getting their subcontractors for less money than you would, so, in the end, it may not be costing you too much more.
Do your research!
Don’t just hire the first name you get. Ask around, look at neighborhood list-serves. Look into the online contracting services. Of course Google your local bathroom contractors.
Interview several general contractors
Let’s say you want to get married and you’ve never dated. You’re going to want to get a feel for what’s out there. Maybe you’ll go on 5-7 dates, before you feel comfortable choosing a long-term partner.
Similarly, you’ll pick several general contractors to interview, not just one or two. Remember that you should “click “ with your contractor. Open communication will be vital to a great finished product. Not only will the process go more smoothly; you will feel so much better in your space when you are done.
An argument with a general contractor can stick around in your mind and might make you wince a bit every time you enter your bathroom for a few weeks. I hate that. It’s worth the extra investment of time to make sure you’re going with the right person.
Invite three general contractors to submit estimates
After your interviews invite three general contractors to submit estimates. Don’t necessarily go with the least expensive. If there’s a significant discrepancy between estimates you’ve received from various contractors ask why.
Be brave. Be bold.
It’s possible that a general contractor is underestimating in order to get your project, or hiring a less expensive less experienced subcontractor to get the bid numbers down.
Find an accredited general contractor
It’s also a good idea to hire professionals who are licensed, insured, and will go through the process of getting the appropriate work permits.
Ask for a license number, because you want to make sure that you are hiring someone who has the expertise to get licensed and hasn’t lost their license for poor practices.
You want to make sure they are insured because you do not want to be liable for onsite accidents or costly mistakes.
Getting appropriate permits can be time-consuming, confusing and tricky. Your contractor knows how to streamline the process and should not ask this of their client.
Invest the time to make a great choice
It’s well worth your time to go through the process of hiring a great contractor. A great contractor will be prepared for and can deal with unexpected and unfavorable existing conditions.
A great contractor has screened subcontractors and only uses reliable and skilled labor.
A great contractor will also give you a more accurate estimate of budget and time for your bathroom remodel. It’s incredibly frustrating when a project goes way, way over the cost or time expected.
A great contractor will limit inconvenience and disruption.
If you are in a one-bathroom house or will be sharing an already used bathroom, definitely consider a contractor to get the work done as quickly and pain-free as possible.
When everyone is tripping over each other for bathroom privileges it is reassuring to have a pretty good idea of when things will be back to normal.
Last Resort Option: The Hybrid Contracting Setup
There is a hybrid contracting set-up where you DIY the general contracting by doing the work of interviewing and scheduling your subcontractors.
I don’t recommend this unless it is your only option.
Researching and interviewing every subcontractor is a tremendous amount of work! And understanding how to schedule the subtractors can be difficult to master.
There are lots of moving parts, and there is an order to when the subcontractors do the work. Generally, one set of subcontractors has to be out of the way when the next set of contractors arrives.
If one set of subcontractors is delayed and is not finished in time for when the next contractors are scheduled to start, it can quickly get tricky.
Contractors deal with this regularly and have ways to manage it, and you may not have their tricks up your sleeve.
9. Match Solutions to Costs for a Bathroom Remodel
Look back at your motivation for remodeling in the first place. Now that you have a preliminary budget in place, as well as a plan for who will do the work, it’s time to finalize the solutions in light of the costs.
In other words, you will nail down the scope of the remodel in light of your budget.
Work back and forth with your solutions and the costs of those solutions to come up with a workable remodel that fits in your budget. A contractor or designer can help you with getting the most bang for your buck.
A bathroom remodel just for you
If you are renovating just for you, without worries about ROI, it’s time to prioritize your motivations.
Start with what bothers you the most and the solution for that.
Then list the changes you would make to fix what else you don’t like. An obvious one would be if you hate your tile, change the tile.
Or, if you hate the pale blue color scheme in your current bathroom and you just love orange and yellow, go for that color scheme.
When you have finished prioritizing your list and your solutions, it’s time to make final cuts to the project.
A bathroom remodel for resale
Some of my clients are getting ready to sell their homes and hope to make an impression with the master bathroom. This is a proven effective strategy for helping your house stand out. It’s the “flip” strategy.
According to Remodeling Services, you’ll want to invest more in cosmetic details, replace out-of-date fixtures, install good lighting, and a double sink. When it comes to the bathtub/shower, the advice is:
Replace an old bathtub with a large, walk-in shower or luxury tub: If you’re renovating a master bathroom, and you have more than 1 bathroom in the home, it’s a good idea to invest in a fancy, luxury bath tub in the master bath. Buyers love this feature, and it makes the space feel more luxurious.
A bathroom remodel for both you and resale
Most people want to renovate because they want to enjoy their new bathroom now, but also hope to have it add value to their home. In this case a hybrid of the “resale remodel” and the “personal remodel” is called for. But you should emphasize the resale remodel. Why? Because a bathroom is an intimate space.
A bathroom with overly personal permanent touches ( “I just loved those tiles with pictures of spiders on them”) can be a deal-breaker. You never want to feel like you’re bathing in someone else’s bathroom, it can be less relaxing.
10. Prepare for Construction
The last of the 10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom, involves getting your bathroom ready for construction. You’ll need to remove everything from drawers, countertops, shelves, racks and hooks. Remove all artwork from the walls. Remove anything that might conceivably get damaged.
Now it’s time to think about where you’re going to store it. I remember during my own bathroom remodel, I threw all the contents of my vanity in a box and put it in the back of the storage unit, behind and under several boxes.
A few weeks later, I was getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner. I desperately wanted my curling iron. I tried to get to it with no luck. Some of the boxes in the way were really heavy. Had I looked at my calendar and planned ahead, I would have been gorgeous.
Instead, my hair looked like it was Halloween. Oh well.
The moral of the story is to think carefully about how you store bathroom items during the remodel.
10 Steps to Remodel a Bathroom Reduces Stress
Follow the ten steps above and your bathroom remodel will be much less stressful. Then sign a contract or go rent some tools. The bathroom you’re dreaming of awaits you.
How do I budget for a bathroom tile project?
Budgeting for a bathroom tile project can be complicated. You’ll need to pick a color scheme, an accent tile you love, and consider shape and size of your main tiles.
There’s an easy 10-step process I’ve created to simplify your life. Download The Bathtubber’s Official Bathroom Tile Budget Calculator and follow the steps to work through a bathroom tile project with ease.
How do I choose bathroom lighting?
The secret to achieving amazing bathroom lighting is to work in layers. Each layer serves a different purpose.
- The first layer of lighting is utilitarian and illuminates specific tasks, such as putting on makeup.
- The second layer creates a mood, such as hidden accent lights on dimmers or a strip of LED lights under a vanity.
- The third layer of bathroom lights makes a statement.
Find out more by reading Secrets to Achieve the Best Bathroom Lighting.
Will a tub add resale value to my home?
One of the most important decisions you can make in a bathroom remodel is what to do with your bathtub or shower. This is a complicated decision and there are many factors that should contribute to your choice.
Considerations include the number of other bathrooms in the home, the number of other bathtubs in the home, the median price point of homes in your neighborhood, and how long you plan to stay in your home before putting it on the market.
For much more information, check out Will a Tub Add Value to My Home?