Designing Your Dream Bathroom: Remodeling Tips and Budget Advice

A beautiful white bathroom

What this article is all about:

 


Getting Started

Whether you’re dreaming of dual sinks or preparing for a sale later this year, remodeling your bathroom can be an exciting home improvement. Planning ahead is the key to a fun and affordable renovation project. Use our collection of budgeting tips and bathroom design ideas to hit the ground running and get your bathroom remodeled this year.

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Why Remodel Your Bathroom

Your motivation for embarking on a bathroom renovation should influence the decisions you make about budget, timeline, and scope of the project.

Many people choose to update a bathroom purely to meet their personal needs. Common renovation goals include creating a child-friendly space, improving energy-efficiency, or incorporating universal design principles to facilitate aging in place. Remodels range from investing in significant functional improvements and layout changes to simply updating the look to align with personal taste.

When renovating to fulfill your needs, you get to focus on just that: your personal desires. You may decide to make changes that future homebuyers will not view as an improvement. This can be especially true for stylistic choices; not everyone loves a colorful glass tile backsplash or a vessel sink. If this is your main motivation for remodeling, you should not expect a positive return on your investment if you sell your home.

Renovating to improve resale value potentially brings a different set of requirements. Speak with a local real estate agent to understand which features and finishes are most in-demand in your area, and get an estimate of the current and potential value of your home based on recent comparable sales. Some experts suggest that 5-10 percent of your home’s value is what you can expect to spend on a major bathroom remodel.

While an updated bathroom can raise your selling price, be sure not to over-improve for your neighborhood. Consider local standards for bathroom layout and features, as well as stylistic expectations. For example, if you live in a neighborhood of vintage bungalows, incorporating modern design elements could actually make your home more difficult to sell. And though you may love a whirlpool tub or rain shower, if those features are unusual in your area potential buyers may not be willing to pay more to get them.

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Your Bathroom Renovation Budget

Average costs

A complete bathroom remodel can be one of the most expensive renovation projects you undertake. Though the space is typically small, much of the work is technically complex and benefits from expert assistance. The wet, humid conditions in a bathroom also require special consideration when selecting materials, which can drive up costs.

According to Remodeling magazine, a midrange bathroom remodel costs approximately $16,724. They assume you’re working with an existing 5-by-7-foot bathroom space, will replace (but not move) all fixtures with standard materials, and will install new ceramic tile flooring and vinyl wallpaper. If you’re planning to create a luxury bathroom experience, get ready to spend significantly more. They estimate an upscale bathroom remodel will run about $54,115. The average cost of labor varies by where you live and your materials selections have a big impact on the final bill, but these numbers are a good starting place to understand if a full bathroom renovation is a realistic goal.

How to create a budget

Setting a bathroom remodel budget starts by examining your personal finances to determine how much you can afford to spend. The scope of your project can then be adjusted to match the scale of your budget. If the average remodeling costs quoted above gave you a minor heart attack, consider starting with a bathroom refresh instead. Do-it-yourself projects like painting, refinishing existing features, and purchasing new bathroom décor can breathe life into a tired space at a fraction of the cost of a true remodel.

If you’re ready to take the renovation plunge, follow our 5-step plan for establishing a bathroom remodel budget.

1) Determine what types of changes you’d like to make in your bathroom. Don’t limit yourself too much at this point. Some updates may be more affordable than anticipated, and you can always scale back once you’ve priced out your preferred options. Gather inspiration, and then ask yourself the following questions to frame the desired scale of your remodeling project.

General layout:

 

Functional features:

 

Decorative elements:

 

2) Select the materials you will ideally use. The key to establishing a realistic renovation plan and budget is being as specific as possible. While it may seem tedious, you’ll have to make these decisions eventually and working through them upfront allows you to scale back if needed before the project starts. The following materials selections could be required, depending on the scope of your bathroom remodel.

 

3) Calculate the total cost of labor and materials. If you are willing and able to complete the work yourself, your materials list will give you a good feel for your total investment. Don’t forget to add the cost of any building permits your locality requires. This Excel template can help track your anticipated and actual expenses.

If you’re like most of us, you’ll want to call in some pros to help with your bathroom remodel. Contact your preferred electrician, plumber, or other tradesman to get an estimate for the relevant work to be completed. Alternatively, you can request quotes from several licensed contractors in your area. A general contractor will typically manage the local permitting and inspection process in addition to assembling the team of specialists needed to complete your project. Be detailed in your quote requests to ensure the estimates account for comparable levels of work and materials.

4) Build in a buffer. A well-executed renovation project can still incur unexpected costs, and a good budget plans for this possibility. Bathrooms are especially tricky as they are prone to hidden water damage. Uncovering a major defect, like rotting walls or corroded pipes, could lead to costly repairs that are difficult for even the most seasoned professional to anticipate. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends setting aside 10-20 percent of your total budget for unplanned expenses.

5) Adjust your plans as needed. If the total estimated cost of your desired plan – including materials, labor, permits, and a buffer – comes in at or below your initial budget cap, congratulations! You are ready to start your bathroom renovation project. Otherwise, revisit your plan details and identify areas where expenses could be reduced or completely removed. If you’re working with a general contractor, they can recommend adjustments as well. According to the NKBA*, a typical remodeling budget breaks down as follows:

Remodeling expense Percent of budget
Design fees 4%
Installation 20%
Fixtures 15%
Cabinetry & hardware 16%
Countertops 7%
Lighting & ventilation 5%
Flooring 9%
Doors & windows 4%
Walls & ceilings 5%
Faucets & plumbing 14%
Other 1%

 

*Source: National Kitchen and Bath Association Bath Planner

Ways to save money

The best way to cut the cost of your bathroom renovation is to reduce the scope of your project. For example, changing the overall size and shape of your bathroom or moving a water-based fixture to a wall where plumbing does not currently exist are typically expensive updates. Sticking with a main bathroom layout similar to your current one should reduce the base cost of your remodeling project.

If your budget is still overblown, refine your materials selections to save even more money. Off-the shelf items can be just as beautiful and functional as more expensive custom creations. Consider selecting a few major pieces to invest in – like a dual-flush toilet, quartz countertop, or heated flooring – and plan to upgrade easy-to-retrofit items like cabinet hardware at a later date.

Completing some or all of the remodeling on your own can also save money. However, a DIY bathroom renovation is not for everyone. Be realistic about your abilities and the time required to complete each task. It doesn’t take much for a DIY plumbing job to turn into a flooded bathroom, and electrical wiring mistakes have serious safety implications. Overestimating your skills could cost more in the end if you need to call in a professional to correct your work. Also consider when you’ll be available to work on your project (after work or weekends?) and how long you’re comfortable living with that bathroom out-of-order.

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Three Things Every Bathroom Needs

Regardless of personal style, all bathrooms will benefit from these important features.

Water-resistant materials

It goes without saying that the materials used in a bathroom should be designed to endure direct contact with water or damp air. However, it’s easy to lose sight of this requirement when trying to manage the cost of a full bathroom renovation. At best, poorly chosen materials simply won’t stand the test of time. At worst they can create a dangerous situation. Keep the following tips in mind when choosing materials for your new bathroom.

Check the UL rating on all light fixtures. Lighting approved for damp locations will be adequate for many bathroom installations, but wet-rated fixtures are typically needed in areas that may come in direct contact with water, like a shower stall light.

If possible, avoid wallpaper. Humid bathroom conditions cause some wallpapers to blister or peel and are a breeding ground for mold. Consider using high quality paint with a satin or semi-gloss finish instead.

Choose hard, non-absorbent flooring materials. Traditional selections include porcelain tile and vinyl. Skip porous natural stone flooring, which stains easily. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends avoiding carpet in a bathroom. Carpets foster mold growth and absorb bathroom bacteria. Excess moisture in carpet padding can also lead to subfloor decay.

When it comes to storage, consider investing in plywood-based or bamboo cabinets. The structural strength of particleboard tends to diminish faster than other traditional cabinet materials in moist conditions. However, solid wood is often expensive and may warp over time when regularly exposed to high humidity. Bamboo is an increasingly popular choice due to its aesthetic appeal and superior dimensional stability when compared with conventional hardwoods.

Adequate ventilation

If there’s one thing you want to get right in your bathroom, it’s the ventilation system. Your bathroom vent performs the critical function of shuttling damp air from the room in addition to removing unpleasant odors. Failing to adequately vent a bathroom can lead to mold and mildew buildup – which is both a health hazard and a potential source of structural damage to your home.

The number of exhaust fans, position, and ventilating power needed depends on the size of your bathroom and the types of fixtures you’ve installed. The Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) recommends using a vent configuration that exchanges the air in the bathroom at least eight times per hour. You can learn more by reading the HVI bathroom ventilation guidelines, or talk to an expert at your local home improvement store. Don’t forget to check that your bathroom fan actually vents to the outdoors. Sending damp air into the wall or attic will only cause problems in other areas of your home.

Safety features

An easily overlooked but critical aspect of good bathroom design is safety. Basic features like grab bars in the shower, tub, or toilet areas are helpful for residents of all ages. Homes with aging adults or children may require additional accommodations.

Be sure to prioritize slip-resistant materials when designing the shower and floor. If using tile, look for a textured or matte finish. Smaller tiles with lots of grout lines also offer additional traction.

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Resource Center & Glossary

Key terms – in plain English

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – A U.S. federal agency and national health institute. The CDC researches and provides information to the public on health-related issues, including infectious disease, injury prevention, and environmental health.

Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) – The leading provider of performance certification for home ventilation products. HVI is concerned with both the health and energy-consumption impacts of the products it reviews.

National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) – A non-profit trade group supplying guidance and design standards for the home. With an emphasis on universal access, the NKBA assists both homeowners and industry professionals in creating safe and effective spaces.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) – A non-profit product safety testing organization. UL provides certification for a number of household products, including appliances and cleaning supplies.

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