Tuesday Tips: Updating Your Bathroom

Ahh... the bathroom. Yes, that room in our house where we do the obvious and so much more. Hey, it makes a great place for a 10-second anger management break or to have a hushed conversation with our husband about when our house guest is going to leave. But it can also be that room that gets outdated quickly. My recent post about kitchen renovations generated a lot of debate. So now let's tackle the bathroom. Here are some tips I gathered from experts:

Tip #1: How do you know if your bathroom even needs a renovation? Stand in the doorway and look around. If something doesn't look right, then it's probably time to renovate, says Abby Buford, a Lowe's spokeswoman. Bathrooms tend to be updated every 15 to 18 years.

Tip #2: If you can't do a whole bathroom renovation, consider updating a few elements such as the towel racks, toilet paper holder, switch plates, lights, wall color and faucets. Making all the hardware match and a fresh coat of paint will make a difference for less punch to the wallet.

Tip #3: When figuring out how to re-design bathrooms, remember that guest bathrooms need to be functional, children's bathrooms need to be colorful and fun and master bathrooms need to feel like relaxing spas.

Tip #4: Keep the costs down by leaving all the major fixtures like the toilet, bathtub and sink in their current locations. "Moving it two inches could cost as much as $3,000," says Jim McCoy, president of Bath Express. Try using stock cabinets instead of custom-built ones and Corian or laminate instead of granite for the countertops. Instead of replacing the tub, think about reglazing it, a process that can run about $500. "The reglazing process will make the surface of your tub look brand new," says Sharon Dameron, co-owner of Dameron Home Remodeling.

Tip #5: If you're updating the bathrooms in order to sell the house, know the trends. Jetted tubs are out and jetted showers are in. Vanities and toilets are now a few inches higher than what we're used to for more comfort. Clear glass shower doors are making a come back as well for that spa-like experience. Heated floors are also big in bathroom renovations. "In general, bathrooms are migrating from a necessary room to a spa room," McCoy says. "If you do it right, they won't cost much more."

Tip #6: While brushed nickel seems to be the material of choice for bathroom fixtures, chrome is the cheaper alternative. And some say it looks just as nice.

Tip #7: Ceramic tile for the floors is also one of the latest trends in bathroom renovations but watch the cost. It can run anywhere from $1 a foot to $30 a foot, says McCoy. There's no need to go to the higher dollar figure, so shop around.

Tip #8: If you can only do the bathroom renovation in pieces, start with the sink, then the floor and then the tub, says Dameron. "You should focus on the elements of the bathroom that are the most visible," she says.

Tip #9: Using furniture pieces in the bathroom is not only trendy but more economical if you shop right. Buy a piece of furniture that could be used as your bathroom vanity at a yard sale. A counter can be mounted to the top with a cut-out for the sink. Just make sure the furniture piece has doors and is open inside to accommodate all the plumbing.

Tip #10: If you can't do any renovations but want to create a spa effect in your bathroom, buy some big fluffy towels, some nice-smelling candles, and soothing music and you could just possibly feel like you're at a chic spa.

Have you done a recent bathroom renovation? What did you learn? Where are the best deals for bathroom essentials such as faucets and tile? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  March 11, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Home Improvement , Tuesday Tips
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We completed a bathroom update over the holidays and spent less than $1300 with careful shopping and sourcing tradespeople from Craigslist. This is the main hallway bathroom which is primarily used by our teenage daughter and guests.

We had a travertine tile floor installed for $700 (including materials) and replaced the toilet with a nice Kohler model. We hired a painter for $200 and replaced the towel bars, tissue holder and cabinet knobs with rich-looking brushed nickel pieces for $90. The item which really finished this was a Corian countertop with built-in sink that my wife found on Craigslist for $200. This is nearly 5' long and originally cost $1100, but the seller made a design change after ordering the custom piece.

I painted the existing inexpensive wood base cabinet in a satin finish color which contrasts the walls. In addition, we installed a brushed nickel finish light fixture above the mirror.

Overall, this looks like we sent 2-3x more than we did and the improvement is night and day. We had no intention, nor budget, to replace the tub or move anything, so this was relatively easy. It does, however, go to show that careful shopping can really work out.

Posted by: Mike Sorce | March 11, 2008 8:52 AM

We just renovated our master bath and got a great deal on a sink/countertop called verastone. It's a marble composite and looks like granite or silestone, but about 30% lower cost, ordered online. Also, tiny bathrooms can be made to feel much larger by installing a pocket door!

Posted by: B | March 11, 2008 8:56 AM

Wow Mike, you should be on TV for that one

Posted by: roya | March 11, 2008 10:34 AM

We just did our guest bath. We made it bigger, so we had to move some pipes. Other than the plumbing and electric, we did everything ourselves: demo, subfloor, tiling, sheetrock, window framing, paint, putting in lights and accessories. We got a refinished clawfoot tub from the Brass Knob, and splurged at the Expo on a Kohler toilet and pedestal sink. We wanted to do an entirely glass tile floor, but at $5 EACH for a 4x4 tile, we went with every 5th tile glass in a diagonal pattern. We went with Home Depot brand (Pegasus) faucets, towel racks, etc. The clawfoot faucet kit we found online. It cost us about $5,000. If you're handy, you can easily do this. We also did our kitchen for $12,000. If we had hired someone, it probably would have been $15,000 for the bath and $25,000 for the kitchen.

Posted by: atb | March 11, 2008 11:05 AM

In our old condo, we had a 3/4 bath - standard sink with a "oak" cabinet beneath, medicine cabinet, toilet, and a shower stall with glass doors on tracks. Pale cream/yellow diamond patterned linoleum on the floor with baseboards. Not huge, but a nice, functioning bathroom that was great for weekend guests.

None of the major bathroom fixtures were in horrible shape, but the previous owner had an affinity for peacock blue and had attempted a sponge painting job in this small space.

Full strength peacock blue underneath - pure white paint on top, thickly daubed. The texture alone was a nightmare, let alone the headache inducing color combo. The bathroom felt claustrophobic and uncomfortable as a result.

So we bought a few tall sheets of beadboard and topped them with a chair rail. (I don't remember which height, but it wasn't too far below the towel rack at the top.) Since the bathroom was small, our investment in lumber was minimal.

While it took a little bit of patience (and an replacement piece of beadboard) to make the slots/holes for the toilet fixtures and them patch them back up, it was well worth it. The effect made the small bathroom look taller and much bigger right away.

We painted the beadboard a barely off-white (two coats before it went up and a final one after it was mounted); the remaining walls and cabinet were painted an accent color from the linoleum pattern (the lino was in excellent shape and pretty neutral - we didn't see the need to replace it).

We bought simple new handles for the cabinets, a new towel rack/tp holder, a new medicine cabinet and a new, simpler vanity mirror so things looked nice and fresh.

None of these items were terribly expensive (we didn't buy dirt cheap, but we didn't buy super-expensive) and the fact they were clean and new against the neutral palette really made them look far more expensive than they were.

Finally, we bought a nice hanging cabinet in white from Target to go over the toilet to improve storage space. We also bought attractive robe hooks and mounted them on one side of the shower for extra space to hanging towels or robes after showers.

It was a vast improvement. The real estate agent who helped my husband buy the condo also sold it for us a few years later. He couldn't believe the change in the bathroom (it was so bad it was *that* memorable).

It actually ended up being a selling point - the man who bought our condo (a real estate agent himself) said he'd looked at lots of units in our community, but no one had a guest bath that looked as nice and clean and simple - yet functional - as ours.

I don't remember what we spent, but if it was more than $600, it wasn't by much.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | March 11, 2008 1:40 PM

"If something doesn't look right, then it's probably time to renovate"?

Very nice. I guess that's about what I'd expect a building supply spokesperson to say.

Posted by: duh | March 11, 2008 1:56 PM

I renovated a hall bath a few months ago & tried to be as economical as possible, without ending up with a cheap looking bath. Total was $18k, which I thought was outrageous, except that every quote I got was in that range. I had a contractor who specialized in baths. One thing I wish I had thought to do: install 2 soap dishes, one at tub level, and another for standing in the shower. the cost would have been near zero & it would have been a nice convenience.I was glad I replaced the old exhaust fan because the new one is so much better and nearly silent. If your electrical system is old,this is the time to update it so you can use high wattage hairdryers. You might also want a phone jack.

Posted by: anne smith | March 11, 2008 10:15 PM

My small 1970's hall bathroom has a beige toilet and tub in good shape, which I didn't want to replace. I replaced the vanity and sink and painted the walls the exact same color as the toilet, which helps make it disappear. Then I accessorized with colorful accessories. Total cost about $1500. Am very pleased with the results.

Posted by: Mary J. | March 12, 2008 10:07 AM

I am in the process of a full bath renovation. I found a solid wood sideboard at Second Chance in Baltimore that i am turning into a vanity with a concrete top and vessel sink. I have also found some good deals on tiles, fixtures and sinks on ebay. For flooring - i went with recycled cork ($8 sq ft) it's environmentally friendly, looks great and you don't need to add a heating element because the cork always stays at 70 degrees.

Posted by: hat | March 12, 2008 2:08 PM

We are in the middle of a bath remodel. When we moved into our house, there was a single bathroom for all 3 bedrooms, and it was 5'x20'. Yes, a bowling alley of a bathroom. We did the math and discovered we could fit two bathrooms in the same space, so we now have a small hall bath and a slightly larger master bath. We have done everything but the plumbing ourself (including pulling the permit - yes I permitted this). Our plumbing bill was around $4k, we spend $1k on faucets (2 showers, a tub, 3 sinks - it adds up) from an online source. I think all total we will have about $8k in it, but at $15-30k for a professional bath remodel like this, we are happy. And since my husband is in the trades and we have permits and inspections, I feel confident we have done as good of a job as the pros would have. Actually, I regret paying plumbers as my husband can sweat better than the guy they sent. However, since I pulled the construction permit, we had to have a licensed company pull the plumbing permit (DH can pull electrical, but not plumbing).

Posted by: rubytuesday | March 20, 2008 9:19 AM

Any "BathExpress" or "Dameron Home Remodeling"-type places that anyone would actually recommend for those of us living in what this author (and too often the Post) apparently regards as the third-wheel state of Maryland? Both are NoVa outfits, and BathExpress in particular apparently deems Bethesda and Chevy Chase(!) as the only Maryland communities worthy of its services (those are the MD places listed on their web site). I'm thinking specifically of close-in Silver Spring for a bathroom overhaul. TIA...

Posted by: Blutorg | March 25, 2008 3:20 PM

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