So you’re thinking about remodeling your bathroom. You’re not alone! Bathrooms are the number one room that homeowners choose to remodel. Maybe you just need your bathroom to be more functional for your family or perhaps you’re hoping to boost your home’s resale value. Either way, it’s a good idea to learn a little bit about the process of remodeling and potential pitfalls, in order to make good choices as your bathroom is being designed and built.
- Material selection. You may want your bathroom to feel modern, or maybe retro, rustic, or spa-like. Whatever style you are going for, you’re going to want to be happy with it for the long-haul. And, if you ever plan to sell your home, you’ll want buyers to appreciate the work and money you’ve invested. The best way to do this is to avoid choices that will look dated in only a few years. While it is possible to swap out accessories and change paint colors with relatively little effort or cost, the more permanent aspects like the shower or tub, flooring and vanity are smart to keep more timeless. This isn’t to say you can’t have fun with any of these selections, but consider durability and function and go easy on flash in the pan trends.
It’s a good idea to match finishes. If you’ve chosen to work with a designer, this is an area where their expertise can come in really handy. The toilet, tub and sink should typically match (and watch out for variations within a color, even “white”!) Especially when using different brands, compare samples of materials before you buy. Hardware and fixtures should also match. You may not care too much about choosing a brushed nickel faucet and a polished chrome shower head, but the folks looking to buy your house someday might.
- Plumbing. This is a biggie. Not using a licensed plumber is a major pitfall that DIYers and sub-standard contractors can easily fall into. Plumbing is a specialty. Bad plumbing can cause the most costly problems imaginable when it comes to a bathroom remodel. Worst cases: flooding your new bathroom (and the floor underneath) or having to tear out brand new shower tile to fix bad plumbing behind the walls. Contractor hourly rates and plumber hourly rates are not that different—insist on a licensed plumber.
It’s also smart to think about replacing your shut-off valves and supply lines while you’re at it. Good shut-off valves (for under the vanity or for the toilet) are only a few dollars. Over the past forty years, home builders have typically used valves that have a rubber washer inside. This washer eventually deteriorates and then the valve doesn’t work (meaning the water won’t shut off) or, worse yet, it leaks. If you have to call a plumber back later to replace a leaking or non-functional valve, you’ll end up spending more for the service call than you would if you have them do it while they’re already on site for your remodel. Especially if you are installing a new tub or shower surround you should definitely have your shower valve replaced at that time. And, why not take the opportunity to upgrade? Maybe you’d like an energy and water saving shower valve or you’d like to raise your shower head above standard height. Whatever you want to do, now is the time. It’s a lot less costly to have it done while your new shower is being installed than to try to retrofit it later.
- Expect the unexpected. You’ve probably heard horror stories about initial bids doubling, even tripling, by the time a project reaches completion. How can you avoid this scenario? One thing you can keep an eye on when you are going over a contractor’s bid is the number of items that are listed as “allowances” vs. actual costs. This typically means that the contractor or designer is guessing at the cost for that specific material or trade specialist cost. A reputable contractor should point out to you any instances of allowances in their pricing and explain how they arrived at those numbers.
You can also think about whether you would prefer to have your project performed on a time and materials basis or as a firm bid. Time and materials means you still get an estimate for the work but you pay for the actual time and materials needed to accomplish the outlined scope of work. There is potential for risk or reward here—you can end paying more or less than the original estimate. If you opt to have the work done based on a bid, this means the contractor is supplying you with a firm price for the scope of work, regardless of how much time or materials end up being needed. There is no risk to you but also no potential savings if the contractor comes in under budget.
In either case, you should expect what are called “change orders”. Change orders occur when the scope of work increases due to a new problem being discovered or you changing your mind or adding something after the estimate has already been signed off on. No matter how much time and research you’ve put into choosing a contractor, not every potential problem can be foreseen. For instance, subsurface water damage can be difficult to discover before demolition begins. So, when you are budgeting for your project, it’s a good idea to figure in some buffer for the unexpected. It’s difficult to say how much you should expect in change orders as projects vary greatly, but we typically encourage our clients to budget for 10-20% on top of the estimate amount. This may sound scary but it’s a much better feeling to be pleasantly surprised with the overall cost than to be upset by or, worse, unable to pay for any changes down the line.
Since bathrooms are a very personal space, there is no one-size-fits-all guide to bathroom remodeling. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to go into any remodeling project with your eyes wide open and have an idea about what you can expect during the process.
Gaspar’s Construction is a residential Design/Build Remodeler and Handyman Service. We’ve been serving the greater Seattle area since 1973 and work with the best vendors and trade professionals to set the highest standard in design construction. If you live in it, you should love it!
We would like to thank Gaspers for this great post and their expertise!
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