Bathroom remodels can range from simple makeovers to major renovations. For some of the smallest spaces in your home, they can also be some of the most expensive spaces to update. Whether you are dreaming of fresh, clean surfaces from head to toe or going big with major structural changes to create this new space, I’m sharing some of my best tips for planning your next bathroom project.
I’ve got several bathroom projects planned for this year and with just completing our first outside bathroom reno project, I thought now would be a great time to share with you some of the tips I use for the bathroom projects B and I work on.
As with any other room in your home that you plan to update, I cannot stress enough that planning is everything. Take as much time as is needed before you start any renovation project, to plan out everything.
That begins with figuring out just how large of a project you want to tackle. The scope of work you do can vary from simple surface updates to major renovations that impact the structure of your home. Below are the basic categories I like to lump projects into.
This is the most basic of updates and simply involves freshening up some of the common surfaces. Think “cover, not replace”. This could be giving your walls a fresh coat of paint or updating an outdated vanity with paint and some new hardware.
Demo and Replace:
This is essentially the type of project we completed in my brother’s bathroom in October. Given our tight timeline and overall budget for the project, this was the best way to make the most of a renovation without all the added costs. This type of renovation typically involved gutting the bathroom down to the bare walls (or studs) and putting back new. All locations of fixtures and overall footprint remain the same. Some minor plumbing and/or electrical may be necessary but nothing major.
Change the Layout:
In this renovation type, the scope of work involves not just gutting the space but also reworking the layout within the confines of the original footprint. This may be done to maximize space or flow in and out of the room or to create space for additional storage or a larger tub.
Change the Room:
This is by far the most extensive type of renovation and the sky’s the limit. This might include creating a bathroom where there used to be a closet or stealing space from a bedroom and closet to make a bathroom bigger. This type of project not only includes changing the footprint of the bathroom but also may include structural work in addition to electrical and plumbing.
Now it’s time for my tips for planning a bathroom renovation project.
Plan, Plan and then Plan some More
It’s always best to talk with everyone that uses the space to find out what works and what doesn’t. Find out what all members of the household envision for the look and function of the space and take notes.
Decide on a Timeline for the Project
This is one of those things where you have to be honest with yourself. How long do you want to be working on your bathroom project. Are you looking for a simple weekend makeover or are you willing to be without a bathroom for a couple of weeks?
This was one of the factors that played into my brother’s bathroom project. They only have one bathroom in their house so while they could use their camper for a few days, they didn’t want to be without their only bathroom for weeks on end. For that reason, we scheduled the project to be 95% complete in one weekend.
Make a List
I’m the detailed list maker around here and I cannot express enough how much this helps. List out the ideas, problems and design wishes that you gathered from your family. List out the things you want to replace, repair or redo.
While the needs of the homeowner drives much of a renovation, the details are where the style comes in. Gather resources online, from magazines and even showrooms and get a sense for the look, style and function you want for your own bathroom.
For my brother’s bathroom project, Crystal (my sister-in-law) is really into the farmhouse look and given the setting of their home, it’s fitting. The rest of their home however is very far from farmhouse style leaning toward a more casual take on traditional. That meant for their bathroom design, I infused touches of farmhouse for Crystal but kept the overall look a bit more timeless or classic so it flows with the rest of their home.
It’s important to consider the style of the rest of your home and how it will feel with everything else as well as your personal tastes and functional needs.
Set your Budget
Believe it or not, this is important and you may need to educate yourself a bit on the costs of materials and fixtures for a bathroom before you go any further, but make a budget.
As a reference, my brother’s “gut and replace” bathroom renovation project was around $4000. I don’t know the exact total because the homeowners purchased some of the materials and fixtures themselves. I’d estimate that it could have even been closer to $4500 with some of the accessories and add-ons and we did not charge them for labor. This was materials only.
If they would have paid a contractor to do the same bathroom, they could have easily spent $8000 – $10,000 in total.
That’s why doing some homework first and then establishing what you can realistically spend to complete your bathroom project (and then sticking to it) is key to a successful bathroom renovation.
It’s OK to ask for Help
We live in a DIY society. Everyone wants to be a home renovator or DIYer and while that’s great, some things are left to the pros. Depending on the scope of your bathroom renovation, you may need to hire a contractor. Especially for larger projects that require a lot of plumbing, electrical or framing work, you may find that you need to hire out for at least the items that go beyond your DIY skills.
If the project is borderline for your skill level, consider having a contractor on standby or at least have a list of people to call should you run into something unexpected.
Work Special Order Items into your Timeline
Big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s are great resources for getting the supplies you need for a bathroom renovation. I’m amazed at how much better their options are today compared to when we renovated our very first home in 2002 and 2003. Today there are also online sources like Wayfair and Overstock (as well as others) that also give you endless options for everything you need.
Regardless of where you purchase your supplies and materials, it’s important to factor in the lead time on special order items. From certain flooring options to custom cabinetry, anything that you purchase that’s not a stock item, will take additional time to be delivered.
It’s important to factor these lead times into your schedule so that you aren’t left with a half completed bathroom because you are waiting on your special order flooring to arrive a week late.
I mentioned this happening with my brother’s bathroom project. The flooring was the last thing they decided on because they were torn between two very different looks. We had already scheduled the project and had everything else sitting at the job site ready to go when they finally made a flooring choice. Unfortunately the flooring they chose was a special order item that would arrive 7-10 days after their bathroom was scheduled to be finished so I selected a similar flooring option that was in stock.
Fortunately for this project, the end result turned out better than maybe even the original flooring option. It’s so great, we are thinking of using the same product in our beach house. Just keep in mind that not all “plan B” choices have such a happy ending.
Don’t forget the small details
As a stationery designer for 15+ years, I’ve always put energy into the small details that others may ignore. It’s in the small details where you can really make a design special and unique and memorable. The same is true with a room renovation.
When it comes time for the small details in your bathroom like lighting, outlet covers, towel racks, artwork and decor, etc. remember the overall look you are going for and make sure every detail you pick enhances that overall vision.
In my brother’s bathroom, one of the most unique elements that sets their bathroom apart is the lighting over their vanity. The sconces weren’t expensive but they look high-end and even a bit custom which elevates the whole space. They blend all the elements in their bathroom together from the traditional vanity to the more rustic mirror.
They also didn’t skimp on the small details like their outlet covers and towel racks. They commented on how expensive these items were but knew that it was those details that would finish off their space the right way.
Things happen, don’t stress
My last tip for planning a bathroom renovation is to not stress. Whether the project becomes more than you can handle, is taking longer than expected, you open a box and find a fixture is broken or you find a repair you weren’t planning on; don’t let yourself get stressed. Whatever the problem is or the size of the time delay, remember things happen beyond your control.
The key is to focus on finding a solution (because there always is one) and roll with it. Don’t let this project stress you out.
One final example of my brother’s bathroom that relates to stress. I mentioned we originally wanted to get the entire renovation done in a three day weekend. When it came time to install their fiberglass tub, the guys opened the box only to discover that the tub had a large crack down the base nearly the entire length of the unit. Fortunately it was an instock item at Home Depot and even though we weren’t’ planning on taking time out to return and replace, we shifted tasks around and made it work.
The delay did mean finishing up some trim work and finishing details the following weekend but in the end it all worked out and the hiccup didn’t ruin the project.
Whether you are planning a simple makeover or going big with a major bathroom renovation, following my simple tips for taking on your project will go a long way toward ensuring the project goes smoothly. From taking time to plan up front, setting and keeping your budget to planning out the timeline and getting those last details right, your bathroom project is sure to make an impact on the value of your home.
In the coming months, I’ll be sharing several bathroom projects we’ve got planned starting with our first floor powder room. I’ll be showing you in real time how these exact tips work every time regardless of the size and scale of the project.
Happy bathroom planning!
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