What to Expect When Planning a Bathroom Renovation

We went to the experts to breakdown the cost of redesigning any bathroom.

Photography by MICHAEL WILTBANK

If you’re thinking of tackling a bathroom renovation, you’re probably dreaming of that chic tile pattern, a custom sink, maybe a spa-like tub or luxe marble shower. And of course, you’re probably envisioning all the stylish decor you’re going to put in there once you finish it all off. But the reality is that redesigning any bathroom—big or small, private house or apartment—is going to come with some challenges. After all, this is the place in your home that requires the most plumbing, piping, and infrastructure to make sure it all stays together and works properly.  

With that in mind, there are some important factors to take into consideration so you can keep ahead of any unforeseen, or unplanned for, costs. We enlisted our friends at Sweeten, a free renovation matchmaking service that connects homeowners with qualified contractors, to breakdown all the nitty gritty details of sprucing up that bathroom—so you can get to focusing on that dream design.

First thing’s first: Know what you want (and what you’re willing to pay for)

If your dated sink keeps leaking or you’re in the market for a vanity with more storage, you may be able to easily update the pieces without having to undergo the process of completely overhauling the space. “You can replace a toilet or vanity or take on some limited re-tiling and pay à la carte for the cost of the new fixtures and the hours of installation work,” says Sweeten in this blog post.

But beware: While updating a fixture or two may seem like the easy way out, a gut renovation may actually be the most cost effective. A full renovation allows you to plan for some potentially unforeseen costs. For example, you may go to replace your toilet, and find that the plumbing or sub-flooring needs to be re-done. Or maybe you intend to do some tiling work but realize the sheetrock behind the current tiles, along with old valves and ancient drain pipes, need to be addressed. By choosing to plan for a gut renovation, you’re planing more broadly, and will probably be able to get more done, in the right sequence (not consistently running into challenges along the way) which will be the most cost effective in the long run.

Whatever you chose, keep this in mind: Sweeten recommends budgeting at least $20,000 for a gut renovation with standard, off-the-shelf materials, fixtures, and finishes. The current national average for a mid-range bathroom remodel is $18,546, with an upscale renovation average cost of $59,979, according to Remodeling’s 2017 Cost vs. Value Report.  So know what you want, and what you want to pay for above all.

Factor in behind-the-scenes costs

You should expect the majority of your budget to go into labor costs (along with certain building regulations if you live in a city or apartment building) when planning out your new room. Of course, the labor-intensive parts like plumbing, piping, and property regulations are the less-than-glamorous part of undergoing a renovation, but you’re better off factoring them in beforehand, rather than going over your intended set budget.

“As a rule of thumb, you can expect to spend 30 percent or less of your total project cost on visible materials, fixtures, and finishes, with the rest going to behind-the-scenes costs such as labor, permits, and fees,” Sweeten says.

From demolition to design to installation, the step-by-step process requires planning ahead for cost effectiveness. Demolition, an important and labor-intensive process, can cost an average of $2,000 while waterproofing steps can add an additional $1,000.

Plus, these costs are likely to be even more if you’re planning on doing a major layout change, which will require all changes comply with certain regulations (this is especially true if you live in a city like New York). Sweeten says if you plan to rework the layout or convert a bathtub to a shower or vice versa, you are automatically looking at a baseline cost of $25,000 because you’ll need to hire a registered architect to file a permit application certifying that the plan complies with applicable codes and laws. But if it seems like you’re racking up the expenses, remember that these measures need to be taken to ensure that your bathroom renovation maintains its value over time.

Pick your materials and finishes

Here’s where you get to turn those design dreams into reality and get creative. Once the preparatory labor is out of the way, you can pick out finishes like new tile, sinks, tubs, showers, and more.

Sweeten breaks down material costs by range. If you’re looking to renovate on a tighter budget, look at big-box stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Ikea with wall and floor tile from about $3 per square-foot (sometimes even less). Prices increase if you choose to use their interior boxes but upgrade or customize the function or style, such as the door fronts, but these prices remain on the low end.

The middle range covers long-lasting products that offer great value for the money, with tile averaging about $15 per square-foot and fixtures averaging a few hundred dollars. If you pick your finishes correctly, both the low and mid-range options can offer great style and price. The high-end items are those that are highly customized, handmade, or imported items that will cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars for one piece, but have the most luxe quality.

Seeing it all come together

Installation is the final stage of the renovation process where you get to incorporate all of the materials you’ve purchased. Factoring in the price of trained installation specialists will help mitigate any surprise costs down the line. Again, since there’s a lot of plumbing work in the bathroom, this step is best left to the pros. The craftsmanship involved in the installation will affect the prices, as will the size of the pieces that need to be placed, and what degree of customization you need to make all of the pieces fit.

Knowing what to expect when taking on any renovation is key to avoiding surprise charges. Planning and budgeting accordingly will get you the best result, with (hopefully) the least stress.

Sweeten, a free renovation planning service, handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, and scope, helping until project completion. Follow the blog for renovation ideas and inspiration, and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation on Sweeten.

Get more renovation inspiration:
7 Things to Know Before You Renovate
How to Upgrade Your Bathroom Without Spending a Fortune
These 5 Bathrooms Are Inspiring Major Home Envy


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Published on February 15, 2018 - 5:15am EST

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