10 Steps for the Perfect Bathroom Remodel

By Kristin Luna · August 23, 2022 · 11 minute read

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10 Steps for the Perfect Bathroom Remodel

A bathroom remodel is one of the most challenging projects you can take on in your home. Bathroom remodel costs range from modest cosmetic updates ($3k) to full gut renos ($30k), with the national average coming in at $11k.

Your bathroom budget will greatly depend on the purpose of your remodel. Whatever you have in mind, these 10 steps can help you plan appropriately, anticipate problems, and ensure you end up with a room you love.

Why Homeowners Remodel Bathrooms

There are several potential reasons behind a homeowner’s decision to remodel a bathroom. For some people, it might be a combination of reasons.

Updating the Look

Happy with the layout of your current bathroom and feel it just needs a refresh? Focus your attention on material selection, and perhaps add new cabinetry or plumbing fixtures. You can find lots of ingenious ideas online for how to make a small bathroom look bigger.

You’ll still want to pay attention to the age of your home and the remodels done by previous homeowners. After all, laying new tile over a foundation rife with mold or making do with an outdated electrical system is inviting big problems down the road.

It’s best to tackle essential updates first. If your budget doesn’t allow for a full reno, you might want to hold off until you have the money to do the job right.

Recommended: 32 Inexpensive Ways to Refresh Your Home

Resale Value

If you’re updating your bathroom in preparation for selling your home, think about what potential buyers might look for. While it’s impossible to anticipate what one random buyer might want in a new home, you can research your local real estate market to learn what appeals to the majority of homeowners.

You also can find out the resale value of bathroom remodels by using SoFi’s Home Project Value Estimator.

Better Functionality and More Storage

Perhaps you’ve always hated how the door hits the vanity as it swings open. Or you’re tired of stacking toilet paper on the toilet tank and seeing makeup on the counter. Maybe you never use the bathtub and long for a large shower stall, or wish for two sinks instead of one to expedite the family’s morning rush. Or it’s possible your bathroom is a dark, moist cave, crying out for natural light and better ventilation.

This level of bathroom remodel will likely have you gutting the entire space, possibly rearranging the fixtures and rerouting plumbing. Not only will your bathroom be brand new in that case, it could be higher end, too.

Here are the 10 steps to take while planning your perfect bathroom remodel.

1. Determine What Your Bathroom Remodel Should Achieve

When embarking on any project that requires a good chunk of time and cash, you want to determine what the overall goal is for your bathroom remodel. Is it to expand the existing space? To add a shower or a tub? To improve your home’s value? Or to update a vintage bathroom to one that is more modern in design and functionality?

All of these answers will factor into your design and budget. Other considerations to make when planning a bathroom remodel include:

•   How many people will use the room?

•   How much time do you spend in the bathroom in the morning, afternoon, and evening?

•   What’s your routine — how does your current space hinder it, and how could a new space improve it?

•   Do you just want something that’s easy to clean? Or do you want to improve the look for resale?

2. Research and Budget

Before you get too far with planning, it’s good to know how much bathroom you can afford. Even if you have a ballpark figure in mind, you’ll want to understand how much a full bathroom remodel is going to cost in the end.

A bathroom remodel typically costs between $3,000 and $30,000, with $11,000 the national average. Before proceeding with your dream plans, first think about whether you’re after a basic update, a mid- to upper-range remodel, or a deluxe spa getaway. Factor in a cushion of 20% for unforeseen costs.

To keep costs down, avoid moving the existing plumbing and wiring. Some homeowners focus on just a shower remodel, which can run from $1,100 to $5,500. To get a sense of how much it would cost to update your home use our Home Improvement Cost Calculator.

Recommended: How to Pay for Emergency Home Repairs

3. Hire a Designer Who Loves Bathroom Remodels

Given the complexity of rerouting plumbing, laying tile and flooring, and installing vanities and toilets, you may need to hire a few different professionals to get the job done:

•   Interior designer, to reimagine the space and source materials

•   Architect, to handle structural changes

•   Plumber

•   Electrician

•   Tile installer

•   General contractor, to manage them all

What exactly will all these folks be doing, besides spending your money? We’ll walk you through it.

First, a professional interior designer will think of things a homeowner will not. For instance: which way the cabinet doors open, if there’s room for a washer/dryer, how a skylight could brighten the space, or ways to rearrange the room in a creative way that maximizes both functionality and efficiency.

On the other hand, if you know what you want and where to find the products you need — and you have at least some DIY experience — then you might take on the design process yourself.

A general contractor will hire and supervise the various subcontractors, and keep the project on schedule and on budget. If you’re very comfortable tackling the demolition, construction, and installation, you may not need a general contractor. Just remember that once you start exposing layers of old work, a straightforward update can devolve into something more complex.

For major structural changes, you’ll want to hire an architect, and consider bringing in an experienced plumber and electrician, too. In some places, it’s required by law.

While you’re keeping an eye on the budget, don’t forget about your valuable time. Even with DIY experience, a bathroom remodel can take homeowners several times as long as a professional to complete — and your results may not be up to your high standards.

Don’t hesitate to bring in hired help as needed. To keep your budget on track, you can still agree to take on simpler tasks like demo and painting.

4. Refine Your Bathroom Remodel Plan

If your dream bathroom doesn’t seem as though it could ever fit in the space you have, think about what’s on the other side of the bathroom walls. Can you steal square footage from an adjacent closet, adjoining bedroom, or underused hallway? Is it possible to punch out an exterior wall to add square footage?

Other options to consider: whether you want the toilet out in the open or housed in its own private water closet, and what kind of special storage you need — for hair tools, makeup, and other everyday essentials?

Choosing the style of bathroom you want can also be complicated. You may love the look of the industrial-style bathroom in your favorite restaurant, but will it look right in your Craftsman bungalow? Designers recommend that you look to the rest of your house for inspiration or consult resources like Pinterest for ideas.

5. Approve Your Bathroom Remodel Design

Next you’ll consult with your interior designer and/or architect to review preliminary floor plans and sketches. These will show how the room’s components — shower, vanity, any cabinetry — fit in the space.

At this point, you’ll focus on the big picture: where the major elements go and the functionality of the space. Don’t worry about the finishing touches like colors and materials. These drawings and scope of work will be used to interview contractors and solicit estimates.

Once the measurements are nailed down, you’ll know how many square feet of tile you’ll have to order or how big of a marble slab you’ll want for the countertop. You or your designer can use this information to start shopping around for the best price on materials.

6. Choose Your Bathroom Materials, Finishes, and Colors

Now it’s time to research materials, so you’ll have a basic knowledge of what you need and how much it will cost. Marble may look great, but it’s not stain-resistant and so is a pain to maintain.

Maybe you want to look at easy-to-clean options. Or perhaps you didn’t know that wood can indeed work for countertops in bathrooms if properly treated. Or you weren’t aware of the vast stone possibilities that could work with your design.

7. Work on Design Development and Construction Documents

At this stage, you should be actively reviewing the floor plan, elevations, tile layout, and any other relevant drawings associated with your project. More planning on the front end of the project means fewer mistakes will arise later in the process.

You’ll also want to be kept up to speed on everything that goes into your project: what materials will be used and how they will be laid out. If something in construction drawings isn’t specified — such as general tile layout or how you want trim pieces in your shower niche to look — chances are your tile installer will make a decision on the spot, especially if you’re not around on the install day.

This stage will also involve pulling permits. If you’re working with a knowledgeable contractor, they will likely take this on. Many are skilled at navigating the process with contacts they’ve made at the local planning office. If you’re doing much of the work yourself, you’ll need to brush up on what permits you’ll need, and where and how to submit drawings for approval.

8. Get Estimates From Contractors

It’s a common process to get three separate estimates from licensed contractors for each home remodel project in which you bring in professional help. If you’re already working with a designer, he or she may know skilled contractors or can help you interview professionals to make sure they’re right for the job.

It helps to know about what goes into a contractor’s bid. Don’t let the highest bid scare you, and don’t immediately jump on the lowest bid.

9. Plan for Installation and Prepare for Bathroom Demo

In an ideal world, you will have every last detail planned and every material picked out and ordered before construction starts. The last thing you want is to get halfway through your remodel and have to tell your construction crew to take a two-week break while you wait for that back-ordered marble to arrive from Italy.

You’ll want to nail down the nuts and bolts of how construction will flow and where supplies will be stored. You’ll need a dry space inside for most materials, so you’ll need to decide where you’re going to keep displaced furniture and household items while construction is underway. Can you make space in your garage or on the side of your house?

Other questions to consider:

•   Are you prepared for the disruption?

•   What time will the workers be there, and will someone be on-site to answer questions and oversee the construction?

•   Will it affect your work schedule or any trips planned?

•   Where will you shower during construction?

•   Do you have an alternate place to stay should the inconvenience of not having a bathroom become too much?

•   Who in your family will be available should a construction question come up?

•   Think about how long the crew will be there and if the materials will arrive in time.

Any last-minute decisions need to take top priority to ensure a smooth-running bathroom remodel that stays on budget and on time.

10. Make a Post-Completion Punch List

The National Kitchen & Bath Association recommends that you keep all receipts, contracts, warranties, and product information for every major purchase so that you understand how to care for and maintain the materials.

Nevertheless, it’s highly likely that something with your bathroom remodel will go wrong. Maybe you overlooked something, materials arrived broken or scratched or not at all, there’s a dent in the wall, or the caulk was too messy.

Now is the time to make a list of these things, either in an informal email or more formal document with your contractor. Get it into the hands of the person responsible for correcting the mistakes and include a date by which the fixes and finish work should be completed.

It’s normal for a contractor to return several times to address any post-project concerns, so try not to worry. Everyone makes little mistakes in a big, complicated project like a bathroom remodel. Just hold off making your final payment until the problems are fixed.

The Takeaway

Bathroom remodel costs can vary widely from $3k to $30k, with the average about $11k for a full bathroom. Most of your money will be going to labor (typically $50–$70/hour) rather than materials. To keep costs down, take the time to plan meticulously and get multiple bids from contractors.

Need a way to finance your new bathroom remodel? Check out SoFi unsecured Personal Loans. Compared to a home equity line of credit (HELOC), which may only cover a handful of projects, a SoFi Personal Loan of up to $100,000 allows you to use the money for whatever your dream bathroom demands.

Get prequalified online for a SoFi personal loan with no fees required and no obligation.

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