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Bathroom Remodeling Guide: Dos and Don’ts

Seven Upgrades That’ll Make You Happy & Seven You May Regret

An expertly remodeled master bathroom will provide years of pleasure and comfort. But do an amateur job and you’ll be reminded of that fact every day. It’s a tricky space, unfortunately, with lots of moving parts crammed into a tight footprint, not to mention the volumes of water ready to exploit any and all leaks. Setting a budget and planning ahead are two ways to keep your project on track and also take care to choose the best sink, countertop, and toilet for your space. The following list of dos and don’ts will help you master the remodel, whether you do the work yourself or hire it out.

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Project Manager Randy Wilson

Seven Good Ideas

When you’re investing in a home remodeling project, you want to make sure that the results not only please you but add value to your home and save you money on energy and water as well. These seven steps will help you take advantage of the latest design trends, technologies and products.

#1). Budget for the Unexpected

Hidden water damage is a common problem in bathrooms, whether from a leaky shower pan or running toilet. “If the floor feels spongy, that’s a sign of serious water damage,” says John Petrie, owner of Mother Hubbards Custom Cabinetry in Mechanicsburgh, PA. Other issues are truly hidden, for example a vent stack inside a wall that you thought you were going to knock down. 

An experienced contractor will do exploratory work early in the project to sniff out as many issues as possible. “In the case of the vent stack, we’ll investigate above the bathroom to see the pipe coming up through the house,” says Petrie. But contractors can’t see through walls, so don’t expect them to catch every possible pitfall. That’s why it’s important to build a 10 to 15 percent cushion into your budget. If nothing goes wrong, you’ll have a nice little windfall. 

#2). Hide the Toilet

A master bath that’s stylish and functional can also be discreet. That’s why it’s nice to hide this fixture away, either in its own “room-within-the-room” or behind a half wall. A piece of furniture – an armoire or dresser, say – can create the necessary barrier without the expense of a framed wall.

#3). Do Choose Appropriate Surfaces

Your master bathroom’s surfaces do more than just contribute to the overall aesthetic. They also take lots of abuse. Porcelain tile is a favorite among designers, for use on the floors and walls alike. “You can find some versions in the $5 per square foot range that look like natural stone,” says Petrie. He recommends larger tile sizes to minimize grout lines, easing the upkeep. That might mean 18-by-18-inch tile on the floors and 12-by-12-inch on some or all of the walls, perhaps transitioning to 6-by-6 tiles on the diagonal with a glass mosaic transition strip.

Porcelain is also a popular option for bathroom sinks, though it proved prone to chipping in our tests. Enamel-on steel sinks were especially durable and stain-resistant, as were stainless steel sinks, which are becoming more popular for use in bathrooms. Solid-surface sinks are another durable option that allows the sink to be integrated with the vanity countertop and, if you like, the adjoining cove or backsplash.

When it comes to the countertop, granite and quartz have migrated from the kitchen into the bathroom, where they deliver the same durability and visual interest. Laminate and solid surface are still popular as well, and can be cost-effective options, though both scratch easily.

#4). Splurge on the Shower Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring Designer Clay Bernard

The empire of the Roman tub is officially over. “People started to realize that they could count on one hand how many times they actually used the tub,” says Petrie. “We’re now using that space to create larger showers, often with his and her showerheads, body sprays, and even steam generators.”

To create this sensual experience, you’ll need a shower stall that measures at least 4-by-6-feet, larger than the 3-by-3-feet box that used to be standard. If you can take the stall up to 5-by-7-feet, you may also be able to do away with the door, since the showerhead(s) can be direct in a way that the spray doesn’t reach beyond the shower area (an L-shaped design is helpful). This will eliminate a sizable expense, especially if you were planning on a frameless door, which can be pricey. One caveat: Don’t eliminate the bathtub if there aren’t any other bathrooms in the house with a tub. 

#5). Consider Water Efficiency

Showerheads, toilets, and faucets have all become more water-efficient in recent years, thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary WaterSense program, which labels products that are 20 precent more efficient than federal standards. Our tests have found many WaterSense winners, including low-flow showerheads that deliver a satisfying pulse while meeting the flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute. “You can even have a rain showerhead these days that’s low-flow,” says Petrie.

As for toilets, several WaterSense-qualified models that use just 1.28 gallons per flush make the recommended list of our latest toilet ratings. That could save you at least 4,000 gallons and some $90 per year in water bills if you’re replacing a toilet that dates from 1995 or earlier. Choosing a faucet with an aerator can reduce the water flow in your bathroom sink by 30 percent or more.

#6). Make Room on the Vanity

Since grooming is the main task at the vanity, it’s important to have plenty of surface area to put things down. While the his-and-her double sink configuration has been popular in the past, it often makes sense to have a single sink and more counter space. “Couples I work with usually realize that the second source of water is less important than the additional countertop,”says Carolyn Cheetham, president of Design Works by Cheetham in Alberta, Canada. Besides maximizing the counter space, opting for a single sink vanity saves you the expense of the second sink and faucet. And eliminating a set of plumbing expands the available space inside the vanity. 

#7). Provide Adequate Ventilation and Light

Moisture not only breeds mold and mildew, it can take a toll on finishes and painted surfaces. A bathroom fan is the best defense. Guidelines from the National Kitchen and Bath Association call for a ducted system that’s at least 50 cubic feet per minute, though you may need twice as much ventilation if the space is larger than 100 square feet or if you plan to install a steam shower. Consider a humidity-sensing unit that will automatically turn on and off depending on the amount of moisture in the air.

As for lighting, the goal is to bring different layers of illumination into the room. A ceiling fixture is suitable for general lighting, but it will cast shadows on your face when you’re seated at the vanity. That’s why you’ll also want sconces or other vertical fixtures mounted on either side of the vanity. Some medicine cabinets are available with vertical lighting strips.

The shower and toilet should also have a dedicated task light, such as a recessed canister light. Consider fixtures that use LED bulbs. Many provided bright, even illumination in our lightbulb tests with the promise of 50,000 hours, though they do cost more. Remember to put the fixtures on dimmer switches so that light levels can be adjusted depending on the mood and task at hand. 

Seven Costly Mistakes

Avoiding these seven common goofs could save you thousands of dollars on the project, especially if you’re planning an upscale remodel. You’re also likely to enhance the comfort, style, and efficiency of the finished project.

#1). Don’t Rush the Process

Now that you’re committed to the idea of a new bathroom, you probably want it done tomorrow. But poor planning is the leading cause of cost overruns on these projects. “Nothing is more expensive than doing things twice,” says Elizabeth Goltz, owner of Design by Orion in Kansas City. Depending on the size and scope of your bath project, you should spend several weeks to a few months on the planning process. If you don’t have a Pinterest account yet, consider one. This website lets you keep a digital ideas file of inspiring images you find on the Internet, say for tile styles, favorite fixtures, and clever designs. 

As you plan the space, try to come up with a design that keeps the major plumbing lines in place. Moving the toilet from one wall to another will mean relocating a 3-inch drain line in a home, which can cost thousands. “If you can keep the toilet, shower, and sink where they are, you’ll save significantly on the project,” says Petrie. 

#2). Don’t Skimp on Skilled Labor

The do-it-yourself approach can be an effective way to trim costs, but it’s best to focus on the front and back ends of the project, say, ripping out the old tub during demolition and handling the finish painting. Leave the more complicated installations to professionals, ensuring they’re highly skilled. “A good tile setter can make a low-cost tile look expensive,” says Goltz. “On the flipside, you could spend a fortune on tile, and a bad tile layer will make it look cheap.”

Given how many trades are required for a typical bathroom remodel – plumbers, electricians, tile setters, cabinet installers, and more – it pays to find a top-notch general contractor to manage operations. Meet with at least three contractors, preferably those you find through word of mouth. Make sure the person you settle on has an up-to-date license and insurance, including workers’ compensation. And scrutinize the contract; it should list every product down to the model number and finish. And don’t automatically go with the lowest bid.

#3). Don’t Cut Corners on Key Materials

Another common mistake is cheaping out on those items that get the most use. Lifetime warranties that cover leaks and stains have become more common on all but the cheapest faucets. PVD (physical vapor deposition) finishes resisted our best attempts at scratching them, but drain cleaners can stain them slightly. Chrome was also pretty durable in our tests, but can be scratched if you rub it with a heavy duty scouring pad.

Tile is another material that you can touch and feel each day. While you can find quality options for $5 per square foot, super cut-rate tiles may have slight size inconsistencies. The results will be crooked lines that make a bathroom look shoddy.

So where can you save? Light fixtures tend to perform the same across most price points – it’s the high design that costs more. You might also find that opting for a basic finish on faucets and fixtures saves you hundreds of dollars without compromising quality. And you definitely don’t need to blow your budget on a luxury toilet, like Kohler’s $6,390 Numi, with its motion-activated lid and built-in bidet. Those are cool features, but toilets costing as little as $300 delivered the best flush in our tests. 

#4). Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

You may be the picture of good health today, but you can’t predict the future. What you can do, however, is ensure that your bathroom will serve you and your loved ones regardless of your abilities by following the basics of Universal Design (i.e. aging in place). “It is absolutely coming onto people’s radar, even younger clients,” says Alan Zielinkski, president of NKBA.

And you don’t have to worry about ending up with an institutional look. Many universal design features are now part of mainstream bathroom design. For example, the larger shower stall that’s in favor today offers easy access and universal use, provided it has a zero-threshold and a built-in seating platform. “The bench is also a nice place for an able-bodied women to sit and shave her legs,” says Cheetham. Regarding toilets, so-called comfort-height models that are easier to get on and off of are now just as common as standard-height models. Even grab bars have enjoyed a design upgrade; many now match towel bars and other accessories. And they’re not just for the elderly. Grab bars make it easier for pregnant women or young children to get in and out of the bathtub.

Even if you don’t incorporate every element of universal design into the bathroom now, it’s worth putting in the structural framework, such as blocking in the walls for future support bars. Make sure your contractor makes a drawing of the wall so that you can find the blocking if, and when, the time comes.

#5). Don’t Forget to Factor in Water Use

Bathroom fixtures have become more water-efficient, especially if you choose WaterSense-qualified models. But the trend toward tricked-out showers, often with his-and-her “shower towers” that might include multiple showerheads and body sprays, will likely result in your water and energy use going up. It also means your bathroom’s existing drain and plumbing lines might require an upgrade. “You may need to resize your water lines from half-inch to three-quarters,” says Petrie, an upgrade that can add hundreds, if not thousands, to your project.

Thirsty fixtures may require you to upgrade your water heater as well, say, from a unit that holds 50 gallons a day to one that holds 80 gallons. That could cost you another $1000 or so – figure on roughly $2000 if you choose one of the energy-efficient hybrid water heaters that Consumer Reports’ test have found to be good long-term investments.

#6). Don’t Buy Products Online Without Seeing Them in Person Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring

Going online is great for researching products and design ideas. But materials and finishes aren’t always as they appear on your computer screen. That blue-gray quartz vanity top might be more blue than gray in real life, or the light fixtures that look understated online could overwhelm your actual space. That’s why we always recommend visiting a showroom or design center before you buy. While you’re there you may even get the showroom to meet or even beat the online price. 

#7). Don’t Forget About Storage

Running from the shower to grab a towel from the hallway linen closet gets old – and cold – fast. A closet inside the bathroom is ideal, though an armoire or even just a simple chest can hangle the essentials. And a medicine cabinet is still the best place for you various health-care and first-aid essentials. 

Photo: American Cabinet & Flooring’s Showroom Bathroom Display

Copyright © 2006-2012 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.

Bathroom Refresh Q & A

From bland and basic to refreshed and beautiful, it’s probably easier than you think to transform your personal oasis – and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a few money-saving tips, as well as a few creative ideas from Carter Oosterhouse.

Pictured: Moen Voss Collection – simple lines & clean tailored structure of Voss work with any decor.

Q: What can I do to make my small bathroom feel larger?

A: Clutter can make a small space feel even smaller. So focus on storage and de-cluttering by paring down on towels and using just one large floor rug. Select one piece of art instead of lots of small pieces. To add the illusion of space, buy a mirror meant to hang on a door (only about $15 at most discount stores) and hang it horizontally over the tub.

Q: What can I do to spruce up my bathroom without totally redoing it?

A: The easiest way to make an instant impact is by replacing the first thing people notice in a bathroom – that old shower curtain. Perk up your bathroom with a matching curtain and rug. Or add a houseplant or flower to the countertop. (Just be sure to pick one that can deal with low light.)

A tip from Carter Oosterhouse: Pay attention to the small stuff. Use knobs, textures and a soap tray to help dictate your style. 

Q: I need a new vanity. How can I get one on a budget?Design Specialist: Clay Bernard

A: Here’s where it pays to get creative. Take an old kitchen island or bedroom dresser and cut a hole to fit the sink. If the top is damaged, you can cover it with broken mosaic tiles. You can also update the countertop.

A top from Carter Oosterhouse: When you’re looking to install a new countertop, remember there’s more than granite and marble out there. Take a look at concrete or butcher block. 

Q: Do you have any creative storage ideas?

A: Repurpose a couple vintage mason jars and hang them on the wall to store odds and ends like Q-tips, make-up sponges and cotton balls. Adding a shelf above the door is a great way to make use of space for things you don’t need everyday like extra toilet paper, hand soap and towels. Or use a double towel bar or longer towel bar (24″ or more) or robe hooks to keep things neat and orderly. 

Q: How can I bring that luxury hotel feel into my bathroom?Moen Twist™

A: If you’re dreaming about that beautiful hotel you recently stayed in, try bringing some of that luxury home with a space-creating curved shower rod, or add an upscale touch with a decorative hotel shelf. You can also capture the experience with the new Moen Twist™shower head. It has four different spray settings that can be changed with the flick of your wrist, and features a Spot-Resist® finish that prevents fingerprints and water spots.

Q: How important is the right lighting?

A: The right lighting can make a small bathroom look bigger or a spacious one cozier. To prevent shadowing on your face, be sure to center the lighting over the mirror. If you have two sinks, center one light over each. 

Bathroom Refresh Q & A

From bland and basic to refreshed and beautiful, it’s probably easier than you think to transform your personal oasis – and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are a few money-saving tips, as well as a few creative ideas from Carter Oosterhouse.

Pictured: Moen Voss Collection – simple lines & clean tailored structure of Voss work with any decor.

Q: What can I do to make my small bathroom feel larger?

A: Clutter can make a small space feel even smaller. So focus on storage and de-cluttering by paring down on towels and using just one large floor rug. Select one piece of art instead of lots of small pieces. To add the illusion of space, buy a mirror meant to hang on a door (only about $15 at most discount stores) and hang it horizontally over the tub.

 

Q: What can I do to spruce up my bathroom without totally redoing it?

A: The easiest way to make an instant impact is by replacing the first thing people notice in a bathroom – that old shower curtain. Perk up your bathroom with a matching curtain and rug. Or add a houseplant or flower to the countertop. (Just be sure to pick one that can deal with low light.)

A tip from Carter Oosterhouse: Pay attention to the small stuff. Use knobs, textures and a soap tray to help dictate your style. 

 

Q: I need a new vanity. How can I get one on a budget?Design Specialist: Clay Bernard

A: Here’s where it pays to get creative. Take an old kitchen island or bedroom dresser and cut a hole to fit the sink. If the top is damaged, you can cover it with broken mosaic tiles. You can also update the countertop.

A top from Carter Oosterhouse: When you’re looking to install a new countertop, remember there’s more than granite and marble out there. Take a look at concrete or butcher block. 

 

Q: Do you have any creative storage ideas?

A: Repurpose a couple vintage mason jars and hang them on the wall to store odds and ends like Q-tips, make-up sponges and cotton balls. Adding a shelf above the door is a great way to make use of space for things you don’t need everyday like extra toilet paper, hand soap and towels. Or use a double towel bar or longer towel bar (24″ or more) or robe hooks to keep things neat and orderly. 

 

Q: How can I bring that luxury hotel feel into my bathroom?Moen Twist™

A: If you’re dreaming about that beautiful hotel you recently stayed in, try bringing some of that luxury home with a space-creating curved shower rod, or add an upscale touch with a decorative hotel shelf. You can also capture the experience with the new Moen Twist™shower head. It has four different spray settings that can be changed with the flick of your wrist, and features a Spot-Resist® finish that prevents fingerprints and water spots.

 

Q: How important is the right lighting?

A: The right lighting can make a small bathroom look bigger or a spacious one cozier. To prevent shadowing on your face, be sure to center the lighting over the mirror. If you have two sinks, center one light over each. 

Bathroom Remodeling Tips

A single bathroom remodeling tip could inspire fresh thinking for your entire remodeling project. Trends area always being updated, so it’s useful to know what’s new in home bathroom design. You’ll find bathroom remodeling advise and inspiration here.

Express Yourself

Choosing Colors: A fresh coat of paint is an easy way to give your room an instant face-lift. Single color schemes make small rooms larger and a neutral palette can expand your space more. Or, add drama with colors like deep reds, eggplant, ochre, and dark blues or greens. 

The Personal Touch: Collections and objects that express your personality or your family history will make your home interesting to your guests and more enjoyable for you. 

Imported Ideas: Consider letting a favorite hotel or restaurant, or an outdoor spot that you enjoy, provide the inspiration for your bedroom, dining room or bath. 

Planting Style: One beautiful plant can be a strong design statement. Your style sense will determine whether a dramatic green plant or a bright floral bouquet is best for you.

Dynamic Design

The Right Finish: Now more than ever, you have choices for kitchen and bath fixtures. While matte or polished chrome are always popular, homeowners are choosing darker finishes such as oil-rubbed bronze and wrought iron. Consider the look and feel you wish to create when deciding. 

Bright Ideas: Halogen downlights and scones provide whiter light and fresh designs. Visit the lighting section of your home improvement center to get a better idea of these styles.

Quick ‘n Easy: Multi-purpose rooms need to switch moods easily. Today’s high-tech dimmers let you fine-tune your lights – even dim or raise them with a remote. 

Mix It Up: Today’s larger kitchen has room for variety. Mix-and-match styles and wood types for an eclectic feel that adds a unique look, from baseboard to hanging cabinets.

Packs a Punch

High-Performance Shower: Today’s shower design offers unprecedented opportunities for adding deluxe features – massaging vertical spas, rain shower showerheads and luxurious materials such as glass, tile and stone. 

Organized Kitchen: Specialized storage systems, appliances and fixtures speed meal preparation and keep entertaining organized. Choose open shelving for quick access. Locate a faucet next to the range to fill big pots quickly and conveniently.

Design Focus: A single, dramatic focal point for a room you’re remodeling makes the improvements more obvious. Try a special piece of furniture, an interesting piece of art or one wall that’s boldly colored.

Double Duty: Lighting is a sculpture as well as illumination. Choose light fixtures in shapes that are pleasing to look at – whether they’re switched on or off.

Works for Me

Getaway Baths: The bath can be a relaxing, serene environment. Add massaging or rain showerheads, a deep Zen soaking tub and even music and candles to enhance the revitalizing experience. 

Counter Space: If your bathroom is being shared by the family, counter space is critical. Consider a vanity with cabinets for extra storage and organization.

Ageless Amenities: Features usually associated with older homeowners – easier access, brighter lighting and convenient handholds – are helpful at any age. Adding them with your remodel could improve your home’s resale value.

Bed and Breakfast: Adding a morning bar to a master bedroom with an elaborate, built-in countertop and sink is a great way to add luxury and functionality.

Practical Approach

Finding Your Design: Start a scrapbook of design ideas you find in magazines and online. This will help you establish a foundation for your remodeling project. 

Sketch Your Layout: This will help you understand how you would like your new room to look and help you change the little things that you don’t care for in your current design.

Set a Budget: By outlining how much you can spend on each phase of the project you will be able to see if you can splurge on the extras; like a contractor or if you need to cut and do it yourself.

Set a Timeline: This will help you keep on track and allow you to achieve your remodeling goals.