A bathroom remodel is a goal project for many homeowners — and it’s often considered a room that could make or break a home sale when the property is on the market. But with plumbing, tile and electrical wiring to consider, a lot of complexity is packed into a small space. As a result, the price tag on a bathroom renovation can get out of hand quickly.
According to the 2020 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study, the median price for homeowners remodeling a master bath in 2019 was $8,000. For a guest or secondary bathroom remodel, the cost for homeowners was $3,000 in 2019. If you’re looking to overhaul your entire bathroom, however, the price rises fast. The Houzz survey reports that in 2019 the median cost for a major master bathroom remodel, including new vanity, countertops and toilet, was $17,000 for a bathroom over 100 square feet and $10,000 for a bathroom under 100 square feet.
For many homeowners, a bathroom renovation that big just isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are ways to save and alternatives to pricey materials that can help make your bathroom feel new again without draining your savings.
Here are eight ways you can save on your bathroom remodel:
— Materials versus labor.
— Tub or shower.
Similar to a kitchen remodel, bathroom renovations can easily climb in total cost because of the extensive plumbing involved to accommodate the toilet, sink and tub or shower. If you want to improve your bathroom by changing where your shower or toilet is, you’re guaranteeing a higher total cost.
You’ll save the most money “if you can keep the plumbing where it is and the electrical where it is,” says Paul Dashevsky, co-founder of GreatBuildz, a free service for homeowners connecting them with contractors in Southern California.
Materials vs. Labor
When you’re working with professionals on your bathroom renovation, labor is a major part of the bottom line. HomeAdvisor reports that labor costs will account for between 40% and 65% of your total budget.
You may shrink the scope of your remodel project to better fit your budget or to make it a do-it-yourself project. Alternatively, you can take a look at your choice of materials. A prefabricated vanity or shower will cost less than a custom design that has to be put together by specialists.
When finding a contractor, however, the best way to save on the total cost of your remodel is to find a contractor you can trust and to provide the full scope of what you’d like done up front. Jon Grishpul, Dashevsky’s co-founder at GreatBuildz, explains that their company’s platform focuses on connecting homeowners with the right, properly vetted contractor because they can be hard to find on your own. If you feel you can’t trust your contractor, you won’t share pertinent information that can save you money on your remodel.
“It’s not a hold-your-breath contest,” Grishpul says, noting that if you have a hard budget you can’t go over, let the contractor know. The right contractor may even be able to provide you with alternatives to pricey materials that you didn’t know about before.
If your bathroom is getting a full renovation overseen by a contractor, replacing the toilet will be a part of the process. But if you’re looking to update your bathroom on your own, replacing a toilet requires little skill and can be taken on as a DIY project, says Chip Wade, a master carpenter best known for his roles on HGTV shows like “Ellen’s Design Challenge” and “Curb Appeal: The Block.”
To get through the steps without issue, Wade recommends looking at more than one online source or enlisting the help of a friend who has replaced a toilet before.
You can purchase a toilet through any big-box home improvement store like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They range in price from less than $100 to more than $300, depending on flush options and bowl shapes that can increase comfort level.
Another focal point in any bathroom is the sink and vanity area, and it’s also a spot that can look dated quickly as trends go in and out of style. Upgrading from a single to double vanity is a popular option, but that change can easily take your project beyond your budget.
To avoid major plumbing changes that can drive up the cost of your project, explore your options to simply replace what you have with a more modern-looking vanity. Leneiva Head, owner of Welcome Home Realty, a real estate management company in Nashville, Tennessee, recommends heading to the big-box stores to see what vanity options could give your bathroom new life. “About $300 will get you a really pretty vanity,” she says.
When working with a pro, if you have a specific vanity in mind already from a store or online, let the contractor know, as it can help you save money. “A contractor might be thinking you want a custom vanity, but you found one on Wayfair,” Dashevsky says.
For an even less invasive project, try breathing some new life into the vanity area by replacing the mirror. “Take that one long mirror that everybody has and get two shorter mirrors,” Head says. Or frame out your mirror with a pop of color or rustic wood to match your desired look.
If replacing a tub, shower or bathroom sink is outside your budget, you can still make each feature look new again by updating the faucets, knobs and handles. These fixtures are often inexpensive and serve as an easy DIY project with no real plumbing skills required.
These fixtures are easily found at home improvement stores. A variety of sink faucets are available for between $40 and $90 at Ace Hardware, while shower faucet sets that include a tub faucet, shower head and handle cost $90 to $120. Detachable showerheads cost between $15 and $35 at Ace Hardware.
New tile is often a go-to project for homeowners looking to update their bathrooms. While you may be willing to give tiling a try yourself, others hire a professional to ensure the individual pieces are laid evenly and properly secured to the wall or floor.
HomeAdvisor reports that the cost for a professional to tile a walk-in shower ranges between $2,500 and $5,000, and can climb to $10,000 or more depending on the size of the shower and type of tile you choose. Ceramic or travertine tile is more likely to be on the lower end of the cost spectrum, while marble will be more expensive.
Tub or Shower
Taking out your 1980s bathtub and replacing it with a chic, freestanding soaker tub is a pricey project that requires a lot of additional work to move drains, replace tile and maybe even remove walls to create space. Head recommends an alternative: “Tubs are expensive to replace, but you can actually have that repaired and refaced,” Head says.
Refinishing tile in a shower is also far more budget-friendly than replacing the shower. Since it involves the shower pan, or base of the shower, Wade says it’s not a good DIY project because details involving slope and angles determine whether the drain functions properly. This project also must meet municipal code, so it’s better suited for a professional.
“Unless you’ve seen it done and seen it done multiple times,” Wade says, “it’s not something you learn as you go.”
Chances are, the lighting in your bathroom could use an upgrade. Especially if the top of your vanity mirror is lined with large, round bulbs — which Head notes are reminiscent of a dressing room — you have many options to bring newer, better lighting into the space. “When you change your lighting style and type, you change the whole room,” Head says.
A monorail-style light that conceals the bulbs is available online at a variety of prices and styles, starting at $68 on Overstock.com and climbing to $250 through Shades of Light. A bulbless light bar begins at $48 and reaches beyond $480, depending on price, size and style.
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Update 02/18/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.