Are you in need of a bathroom makeover but don’t have a large budget? Any home renovation can be expensive, but a bathroom renovation can come with a hefty price tag. When we bought our house there were two bathrooms. We HAD to change one of them ASAP. See what it looked like before.
Identify the Problem in Your Bathroom
The first thing you want to do before beginning a bathroom remodel is to identify the most important things that need attention, you may not need to remodel the full bathroom or change the bathroom layout. If you identify your priorities you can set a realistic budget and stick with it.
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 the placement of plumbing fixtures 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 in your bathroom remodeling plan 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 whole 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. 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 remodeling project on only these elements you will save money.
Tips for Hiring a General Contractor
Interview – The first step is to meet with multiple contractors before you start your project. Labor costs will account for 40-65% of your remodeling budget so this is an important step. I found my contractor 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. Talking with previous clients is an excellent way to determine if the contractor completed the work in a timely and professional manner.
Get Bids in Writing – Ask each contractor you interview to spell out exactly what they will do and give you the project costs 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 a 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 wall tile I chose. Is it a fancy cement tile with a pattern? No. Subway tile has been around forever and has a classic look. This is a good choice and will help keep your bathroom remodel costs in check. 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, shower heads, towel bars, medicine cabinets, bathroom fixtures, etc. This is a great way to save a little money.
The wood around the tub in my remodeled 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 down a rug it will be hard to tell.
My bathroom has a marble tile floor 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 in the new bathroom, be sure to tell them up front.
3.) Comparison Shop – Shop for your own faucets, tub, sink, bathroom vanity. 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, you can find reasonably priced new fixtures 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 remodeling 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 how many people are 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.
Renovating a bathroom can be costly, but there are ways to keep your budget in check. I didn’t mention the DIY approach 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. Remember small changes can have a big impact and the best approach is to determine your unique needs in order to have a successful bathroom remodel and a new space you will enjoy.