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How to Remodel a Bathroom

Whether you’re adding a powder room, bathroom vanity or creating a serene master retreat, remodeling a bathroom is no small job. We guide you through cost considerations, when to hire a pro, and what you should upgrade.

Remodeled Bathroom Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

Whether you’re adding a powder room or creating a serene master retreat, remodeling a bath is no small job. It pays to think about what you want a renovation to accomplish long before demo starts, and that begins with asking some basic questions. Think about what you’re looking to get out of the renovation, and who will be using the space. Ask yourself if your current layout facilitates getting ready in the morning or hinders it, and how a new space could improve your daily routine.

Also consider if you’ll be moving in a few years or staying put. If you plan to sell in the near future, you may want to limit your remodel to a cosmetic update, but if you’re going to remain in the house for the long haul, you might want to incorporate universal design upgrades that will make your bath more comfortable and accessible as you age. And don’t forget to gather inspiration for your new bath; look at images on websites and in home design magazines to get an idea of what layouts and styles appeal to you.

The Cost: Consider Your Budget

Once you’ve narrowed the scope of the work, set your budget. Arriving at that number depends on how much you’re replacing and who is doing the work. Leaving the existing plumbing fixtures in place will keep expenses down, whereas a full overhaul could easily drive up costs. Remember, labor can run from one-third to half of your allotted budget, so it pays to tackle manageable tasks yourself, such as light demo or painting.

And leave a cushion: Bathrooms in particular can harbor surprises, especially when you’re removing walls and dealing with old plumbing—it’s not uncommon to take out a tub and find rotted framing and deteriorated joists from years of water damage. Set aside 10 percent of your overall costs for setbacks and change orders.

Bathroom Remodel Financing

Bath remodels can be expensive. Thankfully, there are a variety of ways to finance your renovation, including a home equity loan or line of credit, as well as FHA and personal loans. In addition, some homeowners refinance their mortgages or borrow against their 401Ks.

Bathroom Remodeling Contractors

Finally, a bathroom remodel requires a certain amount of know-how; a major overhaul is generally not a DIY job. Consider hiring a general contractor or a bathroom designer; they’ll come up with a timetable for the project and keep subcontractors on schedule.

You could act as your own contractor, but you’ll have to organize the skilled tradespeople yourself. You’ll need a plumber, electrician, tile person, and carpenter. If do you choose to act as your own contractor, you’ll also have to obtain all the building permits.

To cut down on labor costs, stick to straightforward tasks like painting or tearing out a vanity.

Types of Bathrooms

Most houses have four types of bathrooms: 1) powder rooms or half-baths; 2) ¾ baths, which have a shower, but no tub; 3) full baths, which have a tub and shower; and 4) master baths, which are usually part of a master bedroom suite.

Bathroom Remodeling Components

The Bathtub

  • Tubs are either freestanding or built into an alcove. Freestanding tubs come in a variety of styles, including clawfoot and pedestal.
  • While nothing beats the vintage appeal of a clawfoot, a built-in tub is a good choice if you prefer to take showers—it’s also easier to clean. When planning a bath, remember the floor needs to be strong enough to support not just the weight of the tub, but also the tub when it’s filled with water and a person.
  • Most tubs are made of acrylic or cast-iron; acrylic will be lighter. Note: you’ll want at least one tub in the house, even if no one in your family takes a bath—it’s important for resale value.


  • If you’re planning on adding a vanity to your bath remodel, you’ll need a durable countertop. Natural stone, such as marble, granite, soapstone, or quartzite, is beautiful but it can easily be etched or stained.
  • Fabricated solid surface countertops, such as Corian, are bath-friendly and easy to maintain. Engineered quartz can be made to resemble higher-end marbles and it’s non-porous, so it will resist staining.
  • The most economical and lightweight option is laminate, but it can peel over time with repeated exposure to moisture, and it can’t accommodate an undermount sink.


  • Since bathrooms get wet, they have their own electrical protocol. All outlets must be upgraded to GFCIs (ground-fault circuit interrupters), and make sure you have enough amps—generally a dedicated 20-amp circuit to handle all the bathroom appliances.


  • Bathroom sink faucets come in several configurations to coordinate with a preset number of holes in the countertop and sink/tub deck. Options include single-hole, centerset, widespread, and wall-mount. Single-hole faucets combine the spout and handles into one piece and are ideal for smaller sinks.
  • Centerset styles fit three-hole sinks and are often mounted on a 6-inch plate. Widespread mounts feature separate handles and a spout that are placed further apart, usually eight inches or more. Wall-mounts require a longer spout and are popular with freestanding, vessel, and wall-mounted sinks.
  • Faucet finishes range from warm (brass, oil-rubbed bronze) to cool-tone metals (nickel, chrome), and can have brushed or polished surfaces. Mixing metals in the bath is encouraged, so long as the effect is cohesive and the faucet family has the same finish.


  • Your bathroom floor should be handsome, durable, and slip resistant. Ceramic and porcelain tiles are ideal for bathroom flooring because they resist staining, bacteria, and odors.
  • Vinyl flooring, including tiles, sheets, and luxury planks, is a great moisture-resistant option. Natural stone or cement tiles are attractive, durable, and easy to clean, but they can stain and must be sealed.
  • For a safer, less slippery surface, opt for a textured tile or small tiles with lots of grout lines, and be sure to check anti-slip ratings. Because tile can feel cold underfoot, you may want to consider building in a radiant heating system. One note on hardwood: it’s generally not recommended for floors that get wet, so it’s better suited to the powder room.


  • Bathrooms tend to be small and dark, so they’re often one of the most challenging rooms in the house to light well. Start with a single overhead light to provide diffuse overall lighting. Plan to have wall sconces at eye level on each side of the mirror, or a single fixture above it for sufficient cosmetic lighting. And be careful with recessed downlights; they can cast an unflattering shadow.


  • When choosing a sink style, consider function and space requirements. For instance, a pedestal is perfect for powder rooms or small baths, since it’s space-saving, though it lacks storage and a roomy deck for accommodating toiletries.
  • A sink that’s combined with a vanity will offer the most counter space and storage below, so it’s a good bet for high-traffic full baths.
  • The vessel sink, which consists of a large bowl that sits on a counter, has potential for a storage cabinet below, but is limited on counter space.


  • When adding a walk-in shower, make sure there’s enough room to open and close the door—you’ll need about 30 inches clearance. Think about the entrance—do you want a shower with a curb to corral water run-off, or a curbless style that you walk right into?
  • If you’re remodeling an existing bath, consider converting an alcove tub to a shower, since the framework for the enclosure will already be in place.
  • To keep an existing tub and simply add a shower, you’ll need to retrofit the plumbing one of three ways: You can replace the existing tub spout with a diverter spout that allows you to connect to a showerhead; install a separate showerhead and valve on the wall; or add a handheld showerhead.


  • By the time you’ve fit the shower, sink, and toilet into the layout, there’s not much room left for linens and toiletries. Plan ahead by integrating storage into your design from the very beginning. Allowing for tiled niches between wall studs, built-in shelves, and deep medicine cabinets can help keep clutter out of sight.


  • Not only are neutral colors calming, they react well with your bathroom’s lighting to cast a flattering glow on your complexion. Lighter hues will also make your bathroom appear more spacious.
  • Since bathrooms are wet environments, consider an anti-microbial paint formula specifically designed to resist mold and mildew. If you’re using regular paint, opt for a satin or semi-gloss finish, which is recommended over flat or eggshell finishes because it’s easier to keep clean.


  • Since bathrooms are often smaller spaces, splurging on a higher-end tile can be a good investment, so long as it’s timeless in its appeal.
  • Popular tile types include ceramic, porcelain, glass, natural stone, cement or encaustic, and subway tile, which remains the most enduring style. Be sure to pay attention to wetness ratings (whether a tile is appropriate for a shower floor, for example), and slip-resistance ratings for safety.


  • There are two main types of toilets: freestanding, which is plumbed in from the floor, or wall- hung. Among those are petite options, designed for tight spaces such as small powder rooms: hidden-tank ones, where the water storage vessel is mounted inside the wall, and water-conserving models.
  • Look for a toilet with a Maximum Performance (MaP) score of 500 or higher, which includes many with the WaterSense rating. While the toilet is likely the hardest working fixture in your bathroom, it shouldn’t be the focal point. One solution is to incorporate a privacy closet or a low wall if you have the space.


  • Without adequate ventilation, a bathroom can become damp, musty, and downright hazardous to your health. The right fan will remove moisture, reducing the chance for mold and mildew to grow. It should be vented to the outside (not the attic) to ensure continual fresh airflow, which can also protect your moldings and fixtures from water damage and decay.

Bathroom Improvements to Consider

A remodel should make your bathroom more efficient and stylish. Re-examine the layout of your existing bathroom to see how you could improve function.

A major overhaul might involve moving walls and rearranging the layout. If you’re looking for a return on investment, think about adding a first-floor powder room or creating a new master suite. If your vision doesn’t seem like it could fit in the allotted space, consider stealing square footage from an adjacent closet or bedroom. Staying close to the existing plumbing lines is key to keeping costs in check.

Remember: you don’t have to rip out all the fixtures and reconfigure the layout to get a bathroom that feels fresh—updated tile, lights, and a new vanity can transform a room. Adding a shower fixture to an existing tub can improve functionality and installing a frameless glass door will make your bathroom feel larger and more open. Other space-saving upgrades include swapping a swing door for a pocket one and installing wall-mounted toilets or sinks.

Some improvements are invisible but can make a world of difference down the road, such as replacing plumbing drainpipes with wider 2-inch ones, especially in baths shared by multiple family members. Planning on aging in place? Put in the blocking for grab bars between wall studs now, while you have the walls open. And if you’re adding a soaker tub, you may want to put in a higher capacity water heater.

Repairs and DIY Projects

The bathroom is the hardest used room in the house, so common problems frequently crop up. At some point you’ll probably need to snake a clogged drain, re-anchor a towel bar, and replace a failing flapper on the toilet.

Other routine problems include low water pressure (the culprit may be limescale buildup—you’ll have to descale the showerhead), and caulk that’s seen better days (if it’s looking brown, mildewed, or pulling away from its seam, it’s time to reseal it).

When it comes to upgrades, you’ll need to decide what you can tackle on your own. Swapping out a light fixture, replacing a faucet, and installing a new air vent are straightforward tasks. Other easy, DIY-friendly jobs include putting in a prefabricated shower surround and changing out an old vanity for a new one, provided the dimensions are similar. Other projects, like installing a pedestal sink, upcycling a vintage dresser into a vanity, or retiling the shower require a bit more skill.

Recommend Tools and Equipment

You’ll need a few basic tools for most bathroom repairs. First and foremost, you’ll need a good plunger. To handle other basic plumbing emergencies, you’ll need water pump pliers, which must be big enough to fit around pipes, an adjustable wrench, a basin wrench, and a decent screwdriver. Two other tools to help free blockages in the bathroom are a closet auger for the toilet, and a snake for drain traps.

Additional tools for projects and upgrades include a standard level, tape measure, hammer and cordless drill with driver and bits. For tile jobs, plan to have on hand a wet saw, trowels, grout float, grout sponge, chalk line kit, rubber mallet, tile spacers, and a bucket for the thinset mortar.