Tips for Renovating a Bathroom on a Budget

Tips for Saving Money on a Bathroom Remodel

Are you in need of a bathroom makeover but don’t have a large budget? When we bought our house there were two bathrooms. We HAD to change the one of them ASAP. See what it looked like before.

Large Jacuzzi tub (no shower – that handheld shower is it)

Identify the Problem in Your Bathroom

1.) Safety – The problem with this bathroom is safety. This is a terrible bathroom for a teenage boy or a seventy year old woman. Most accidents in a bathroom are related to people slipping and falling getting out of the tub.

What you may not be able to see in the photo is that the tub is quite deep. It’s very hard to get in and out and not very safe. It was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but totally not functional. As you step out of the super deep tub, you land on slippery marble.

2.) Wood walls around a tub – There is no shower on the wall and the room is surrounded by wood. How is that a good idea for any human who bathes every day?

Your problem could be purely cosmetic, like you hate the tile. The key to saving money in a bathroom remodel is to identify the problem you want to solve. Don’t try to change everything.

My plan for solving these two problems was simple. I wanted to pull out the gigantic Jacuzzi tub and put in a regular tub with a regular shower in the wall. That sounds simple right? WRONG!

Understand What Blows the Budget for Your Bathroom Remodel

Changing/moving Fixtures

Changing the placement of plumbing fixture is expensive – If you move a tub, toilet or sink that makes the price jump up quickly.

In this case, I thought it was just switching out a bathtub. There’s a lot involved with that kind of change that requires cutting into the walls and floor. To add a wall shower you have to put the plumbing behind a wall. To replace a huge tub with a smaller tub means moving a drain and breaking into the floor.

Disturbing the Existing Floor

One change can multiply into lots of changes before you know it. You need to consider how the things you plan to change will affect the rest of the bathroom. For example, I didn’t consider that the floor. With a smaller tub I would need more tile.

Once I pulled out the old giant Jacuzzi there were sub floors underneath it. The same applies for moving or changing a vanity. There can be sub-floor under a vanity (which means raw wood). Any change to the size of placement can mean you are forced to change flooring.

You can remodel your bathroom at a fraction of the cost if you can keep the existing toilet, sink and tub/shower. The tile, floor and walls are much less expensive to replace. If you can focus your remodel only on these elements you will save money.

Tips to Hire a Contractor

Interview – Always meet with multiple contractors before you start your project. I found mine on Angie’s List. I like Angie’s list because you can read reviews.

Home Advisor is owned by the same company as Angie’s List, but they require you to put in your phone number and contractors call you, instead of the other way around.

Ask For References – Unless you have the freedom to miss work for days or weeks, these people could be in your home alone. Call a reference and as if they were professional and if their work was performed as they described.

Get Bids in Writing – Ask each contractor you interview to spell out exactly what they will do and give you a bid in writing.

Don’t make any assumptions about what your contractor will pay for and what you are expected to provide. Ask them to include that in the bid. You may be surprised at what you get. For small jobs you might get someone’s hand written notes on a piece of notebook paper.

For example, they might give you an dollar allowance for a tub, faucet, etc. or you might be required to provide these fixtures. If you have to buy fixtures or tile, make sure you know exactly what you are supposed to provide and plan ahead. Many of these things take weeks to get.

Know exactly what you want – Have a concrete idea of what you want to do before you meet contractors. Put your plan in writing so each contractor gets the same description. This is the best way to keep your budget in check.

Your budget can balloon if you start changing or adding things as the process goes. That’s why it is important to stick to your stated plan unless you want to spend more.

Don’t Be In a Hurry – Often contractors who do small projects are fitting you in around larger projects. Your project may not be the most important one they are working on, so often the time can move around (and extend). Be aware that they never finish when they say they will.

How To Save Money in a Bathroom

There are many ways to save money when you remodel a bathroom.

1.) Use Inexpensive Subway Tile – My biggest money saver was the tile I chose. Is it a fancy cement tile with a pattern? No. Subway tile has been around forever and it’s very cheap, but classic. All of the tile in these photos was purchased for $350. White subway tile with grey grout can’t be beat for low cost.

2.) Reuse what you can – If you have a good contractor they can reuse trim, tile, faucets, etc.

The wood around the tub in my redone bathroom was around the old tub. They just trimmed it to fit after carefully removing it. I had a lot of marble from the bathtub deck that was taken out. We reused it around the window.

If you have to change the foot print, look for materials that match your existing floor so you don’t have to completely redo the floor. Even if it isn’t a perfect match, once the floor is finished and you put a rug down it will be hard to tell.

My bathroom has a marble tile, and I needed more since my new tub was about half as big. I made a lot of phone calls and brought home multiple samples to find the closest match. It was not perfect but I only had to buy eight squares. Can you tell? All the tiles at the end of the tub are new.

This save and reuse approach requires that your contractor is careful. It’s often easier to break everything as they take it out. If you want to be able to reuse anything be sure to tell them that up front.

3.) Comparison Shop – Shop for your own faucets, tub, sink. You can even find fixtures for a steal on Craigslist or at second hand stores in your area. I know because I’ve sold multiple bathtubs and sinks through Craigslist.

If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, there are inexpensive options at Home Depot, Lowes or online stores like www.faucetsdirect.com. Be prepared to wait, because sometimes delivery can take a few weeks.

4.) Recycle – Recycle what you can’t use. By recycle, I mean sell. Again, it’s important for the contractor to know that you want to sell things they take out so they don’t damage them during the demolition.

I sold the bathtub faucet (those are so expensive), the bathtub and the sink from my master bathroom. I’ve even sold a toilet. You’d be surprised who is looking for these things on Craigslist.

5. Know your limits – I had a fixed amount to spend. I wanted to replace the pedestal sink but a new vanity was out of my budget. Focus your dollars on the problems you identify at the beginning and stick to it.

Conclusion

Renovating a bathroom can be costly, but there are ways to keep your budget in check. I didn’t mention DIY as a way to save money because I know my own limits and renovating a bathroom is beyond them. You don’t have to renovate your bathroom yourself to make it affordable, but you do have to get the right contractor, recycle what you can and comparison shop your fixtures.

renovate your bathroom on a budget

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One Comment

  1. This article was very well written and presented. There is a new trend in home remodeling called DIY plus. My company, RemodAssist, is one of the pioneers in this new trend. In a nutshell, we will coach our clients on how to complete their DIY project successfully. Our coaching is done virtually so it’s incredibly easy, safe and convenient. The homeowner saves thousands by doing the work themselves all while having an experienced contractor “by their side” to help them through it.

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