Bathroom Renovations: The Good, the Bad and the Quality

We all use bathrooms for cleaning up, brushing and…well, you know. (Reading, that’s it. Reading.)

And over years and use, those bathrooms get successively grungy, old, waterstained and downright unpleasant to be in. A cramped, stained or damaged bathroom won’t sell your house, or make your rental any easier to lease out. It’s mood-deflating, expensive (when the floors and frame wood rot out, that is), and it can permanently affect your health, by breathing in mold and spores that tend to accumulate in such an atmosphere.

Updated bathrooms can contribute heavily to your home’s resale value — and recoup up to 71% of their cost, according to this helpful how-to site.  If your bathroom needs help, why not start thinking about a renovation?

You could hire someone to fix up your bathroom. A friend decided to do this — until the handyman quoted $700 for just retiling her floor, no product included. She did what any redblooded frugalist  would do: she watched a plethora of instructional videos on Youtube; bought her own tiles; then did the job herself, in about 8 hours. Do the math: $700 divided by 8. She paid herself more than $88/hr for her effort.

bathroom renovation

Doing the work yourself helps. Hire a professional for parts you can’t do, like wiring or plumbing. (Unless, like Husband the Brick, you’ve had military experience running your own electrical shop.) So does sticking to your bathroom’s original layout. (I.e., you won’t be moving pipes or breaking through walls.)

The key here is quality. You may be doing the work yourself (or hiring a friend). You may not have much to spend. But you should always get the highest-quality materials possible.

     *Never ever pay full price. No matter what. If Home Depot or Lowe’s aren’t having a sale, ask about a discount. They offer 10% ones for ‘contractors,’ as well as veterans, on occasion. Maybe there’s a senior discount.

 *Look online for discount supplies — Amazon and Overstock are good places to start.

 *Check Craigslist. (Figure out how many square ft you need, first, before buying tile and similar materials. Will that toilet work in the space you’ve got?)

 *’ReStores, run by Habitat for Humanity. These often contain high-end items donated by richer patrons, plus furniture, doors, appliances, rugs…you name it.

*Don’t skimp on the actual working items: showerheads, toilets or faucets. These really speak for your bathroom. Did you take the effort to put in nice tile and a heavy-duty sink, then a cut-rate faucet that clogs up and sprays you every time you use it? Spend more here, if you must. (They’ll last longer, too.)

bathroom renovation

 *It may take time to find everything you need. Tell friends and relatives you’re renovating. Once you find a good source, like your local ReStore, stop by at least once a week to see what’s new.

 *Your community probably hosts some kind of curbside/giveaway day. Colorado, for example has a group called Zero Landfill Denver who offer donated wallpaper, tiles and craft items twice a year. This year’s giveaways: Aug. 23 and Sept. 6, but others will be scheduled. Cost: free. (Why not help start something like this in your area, if one doesn’t already exist?)


Once you’ve got quality materials, it’s easier to use shortcuts and quick tricks to give your work even more pizzazz:

*Think trendy — but classic. Tiles have been popular for decades now, especially glass and mosaic tiles. Low-water toilets help minimize water use. Check what’s popular in your region right now — heavy Mexican quarry tiles that bring raves in New Mexico or Arizona may not be as appealing in Massachusetts or Maine.

  *Longing for a granite counter? Use granite tiles, instead – they’re easier to install and far cheaper.

    *Look for furniture that can be converted into bathroom furnishings. An old-fashioned chest of drawers might be just the thing for holding (and plumbing) that deep sink you scored at a local salvage yard. “Repurposing” is a good idea for all sorts of materials.

    *Think medium-colored grout for tiles. Too dark, and it looks dirty; too light, and it collects dirt fast visually. Pick a happy medium.

*Rip out that grubby metal tub and put in a shower, instead. Mr. Money Mustache came up with what he calls a“relatively sweet shower, cheap” using leftover tiles and pouring a concrete foundation.

    *Tile your entire area — and you won’t have to put in a shower door, either. Mexican showers are literally shower rooms, with a low wall keeping the majority of the water down the drain.

 *Take your time. Do it right.

bathroom renovation


11 Responses to Bathroom Renovations: The Good, the Bad and the Quality

  1. I’ve done more bathroom remodels than I can count so this is all great advice. I’d be wary of the concrete shower pans, though. They can be very prone to leaking if you don’t know what you’re doing, which can turn into massive repairs if the underlying floor or downstairs items are damaged.

  2. I once paid someone a lot of money to re-model our bathroom.
    It was only a couple of months later when water was coming through the ceiling downstairs that we discovered that he had used cheap plastic push fittings instead of copper pipes.
    We had to smash through his tiling around the bath to fix the problem – as he hadn’t bothered to leave an inspection panel. Just tiled the whole thing solid.
    I would NEVER pay anyone to tile my bathroom again.
    Just like the lady in your article – I taught myself the basics via a couple of youtube clips and just did it slowly.
    Over the years – I’ve developed a loathing for cheap shoddy tradesmen.

  3. We did this with the bathrooms in our house couple of years back and our sexperience shows that your pointers are spot on. We have a large shower enclosure (without a door) and it is all fine. We saved a fortune by John shopping on line for most of the material and equipment.

  4. Lowes and home depot are two of the most flexible pricing ( if that makes sense) stores that I have ever shopped at. They always have discounts and they take back anything. Just last year my grandmother negotiated with a manager at Lowes for a slightly damaged microwave that was on clearance. It was listed for $200 but she got him to take the price down to $120.

  5. We have always had help from family with bathroom remodels, but those are good tips. The point about quality faucets is a big one. We went cheap with a generic store brand faucet, and the replacement parts are really hard to find. After researching for what seemed like hours, I found the right parts. All the plumbing forums online had similar advice – “Spending $40 on an el cheapo faucet or fixture instead of $100 may save you money in the short term, but if you can’t fix the faucet or get spare parts, you’ll have to replace it over and over”. Or call a plumber at more than $100.

    Habitat Restore was also my friend. Got some good quality stuff for 80-90% off. Also shop home depot clearance – often half off or more if you aren’t too picky with styles of furnishings or fixtures.

  6. I remodeled my master bath and went through Home Depot for the glass shower surround. I paid about 1/3 more than I should have according to the installer. Call the manufacturer direct and they will put you in touch with an approved installer and save you the mark-up Home Depot charges!

  7. My hubby’s renovated our bathroom a couple of times over the year’s by doing all the work himself. It took a while because he had to keep stopping and starting it again around his day job! The only cost to worry about was materials. We probably could have got the materials cheaper thinking about it! Something to bear in mind for next time.

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