How to Budget a Bathroom Renovation Right The First Time

How to Budget a Bathroom Renovation Right The First Time

(Image credit: Margaret Wright)

As one of the most intensely-used areas of our homes, bathrooms are popular candidates for remodeling. Though they can recoup a good portion of the costs at resale (usually 56-70%), bathroom renovations tend to be pricey. That's why it's important for homeowners to plan their budgets well. Given that more than two-thirds of renovation projects go over-budget, many homeowners could benefit from more thorough, accurate planning. Just how much does it cost to remodel a bathroom?

In this helpful guide, we arm you with tips and strategies for planning your bathroom remodeling budget and ensuring that your wallet doesn't take any surprise hits.

Average Total Cost

For conservative remodels in which you're updating only the essentials or dealing with a small bathroom, the total cost could run anywhere from $3,500 to $7,000. But keep in mind that this is on the low end of the scale—most projects are pricier. If you don't want to spend more than this, you'll likely need to make major cost-saving decisions, such as foregoing some high-quality materials or DIYing a part of the work.

According to Remodeling Magazine's 2018 Cost vs. Value Report, the average price for a mid-range bathroom remodel in the U.S. is just over $19,100. This estimate accounts for updating all appliances, fixtures, and finishes in a 35 square foot bathroom.

For an upscale bathroom remodel, the average price reaches almost $62,000. This figures expanding to 100 square feet, relocating plumbing, installing custom cabinetry, and upgrading all appliances, fixtures, and finishes, along with other alterations.

(Image credit: Margaret Wright)

Getting Started

Who Will do the Work?

The first thing you need to do is decide who will be doing the labor. Will you be DIYing your project, hiring subcontractors to handle different phases, or having a general contractor manage the entire project?

Contractors

When you hire a general contractor, they'll manage all aspects of the project, keeping everything moving forward and sometimes hiring subcontractors to handle specific elements of work. In some cases, they also include design services. You'll pay the GC a total price and they'll use your payment to cover the costs of labor, materials, etc.

You could forego a GC and hire subcontractors yourself, but the project management duties will be your responsibility. If you have the time, knowledge, and organizational skills to handle it, then you could save some money. You'll need to account for the labor costs of any subcontractors you choose to hire.

Average Rates of Subcontractors:

  • Bathroom Designers - $60-$160 per hour
  • Plumbers - $45-$65 per hour
  • Electricians - $65-$85 per hour
  • Carpenters - $70 per hour
  • Tile Installers - $5-$10 per square foot
  • Handymen - $60-$90 per hour

Whether you're hiring a general contractor or multiple subcontractors, you'll need to work out the payment arrangements with them. On top of getting a quote for the total price, you should ask them about any deposits or milestone payments that they may require.

It's important for both parties to work out the payment terms and schedule ahead of time: you'll need to make sure that you can make the payments when they're due, and the contractor will need to plan their cash flow so that they can procure materials and pay laborers.

DIY

Doing some or all of the work yourself can help you save a lot on labor expenses. Homeowners who are particularly handy may be able to handle most of a small, mid-range bathroom remodel. If you're not so skilled at installation work, you can still shave off a big chunk of your expenses by DIYing the tearout phase of your renovation.

However, DIYing does come with its own costs. You may need to buy or rent tools, equipment, and other supplies that a contractor would already have.

What's the Scope?

Next, you'll need to figure out how extensive your remodel is going to be. Are you just giving your half-bathroom a small facelift, or are you completely transforming your master bathroom suite? The scope of your remodel will determine the size and allocation of your budget.

Consider whether or not costly alterations will need to be made, such as rerouting plumbing and electricity, or knocking down a wall and extending your bathroom into another room. Nail down your plans early so that you can accurately estimate your budget.

Unexpected Costs

Unexpected costs are a common culprit of blown budgets. The tearout phase of remodels is the most risk-prone time for surprise expenses. That's because once walls and floors get opened up, hidden damage can be discovered. Mold and water damage are some of the most prevalent types, and the repair costs can run anywhere from $500 to $3,000.

Even if you're lucky enough to avoid hidden damage, you may still have to replace elements you formerly thought were fine. If it's been many years since your home's plumbing or wiring was installed, then you may need to update it to meet code.

As Mom always said, it's better to be safe than sorry: assume that you'll have unexpected expenses and factor them into your budget. Generally, it's recommended to account for an additional 10-20% in costs.

(Image credit: Margaret Wright)

Material Costs

Purchase materials on your own if you can, as contractors charge a commission when you purchase through them. While building materials like insulation and drywall may be best procured by the contractor, you can definitely buy individual pieces, such as mirrors, lighting, hardware, and appliances.

Below, we give a quick overview of the typical prices associated with essential bathroom materials.

Tile

Like with most materials, tile costs depend on the type of tile you choose. Standard ceramic tiles cost $1-$5 per square foot, while ornamental mosaics can run as high as $100 per square foot.

Countertops

Low-budget options like tile, laminate, or cultured marble typically cost $4 per square foot, while upscale materials, such as natural stone or quartz, cost about $100 per square foot. Granite, a long-time favorite for luxe renovations, can cost as much as $200 per square foot. When it comes to solid countertops, you can reduce costs by choosing thinner slabs.

Cabinetry/Vanity

If you're choosing pre-built cabinets to compose your bathroom vanity and other storage solutions, you can find affordable options. At IKEA, for example, small, low-end cabinets cost $40-$90. Larger, mid-range options are priced at $200-$700.

Anything custom will cost you. If you want built-in custom cabinets, the price will be affected by carpenter fees and your choice of wood. The cost can be as much as $2,000+ per cabinet.

Sinks

Sinks are often the focal points of bathrooms. Therefore, many boast artful designs. While you can find sinks for as little as $50, designer sinks can easily cost over $1,000.

Hardware & Accessories

Small fixtures like hardware & accessories are some of the least expensive components of a bathroom renovation. You can easily find a wide selection at home improvement stores, like Home Depot. Sets including towel racks, towel rings, and toilet paper holders cost anywhere from $10 to $270, depending on material and quality.

Showers & Tubs

Showers and tubs are the bathroom showstoppers, and they're priced accordingly. The average shower installation costs $900-$2,000, but high-end showers can cost as much as $6,000. This pricing includes the cost of buying and installing valves, shower doors, the pan (floor), and the surround (walls). Standard shower/tub combos cost $500-$1,000.

The average cost of installing a mid-range bathtub is $2,500, while premium airjet tubs typically cost $13,500.

Lighting

Given that bathrooms are where we do most of our primping and grooming, it's worthwhile to have more than a single overhead light. Individual light fixtures cost about $40-$100, and some may have built-in fans for ventilation. Upscale light fixtures, however, can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that you'll need to pay an electrician for installation labor.

If you want recessed lighting, count on spending $800 or more for the fixtures and installation.

(Image credit: Margaret Wright)

Budget Allocation

The way your budget gets allocated largely depends on your design choices and priorities. But if you're looking for some standard guidelines, you can reference the National Kitchen and Bath Association's cost breakdown:

  • Design - 4%
  • Labor - 20%
  • Flooring - 9%
  • Walls & Ceilings - 5%
  • Doors & Windows - 4%
  • Faucets & Plumbing - 14%
  • Countertops - 7%
  • Cabinetry & Hardware - 16%
  • Fixtures - 15%
  • Lighting & ventilation - 5%
  • Other - 1%

Final Tips

Be Realistic: If you've got a luxurious design plan, don't expect it to build it with a small budget. Evaluate your expectations and be realistic about what they'll cost to achieve.

Predict Delays: Time is money. Delays can lead to extra storage payments, material replacements, alternative labor hires, and even hotel costs, if you can't stay in your house. Try to look for where delays may occur in your remodeling process and take preventative measures.

Plan Your Design Thoroughly: When time isn't invested in proper design planning, you can discover mid-renovation that your design isn't going to work in reality. There may not be enough space, or you may find there are interfering factors you hadn't realized before. Go through your design plans diligently to check that your new build will be as perfect as it seems on paper.

Resist "Scope Creep": Making changes or additions mid-construction always costs more. Resist the temptation to keep tacking on "just one more thing".

Get Multiple Quotes: Shop around for the contractor that gives you the best value—and that doesn't always mean the lowest price. Look for one who will give you the best quality for a price that fits your budget.

Provide Adequate Information for Quotes: Estimates based on too little information can't be accurate enough for budget planning. To get useful quotes that are better than ballpark guesses, make sure that you provide contractors with thorough documentation and invite them to assess your bathroom in-person.

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