Bathroom Remodeling: Where to Save and Where to Splurge

By Sam Ferris

If you?ve done any type of remodeling before (and chances are you have), you know all about the biggest bug-a-boo: you can?t get everything you want. Indeed, most homeowners must pick and choose where and how they spend their budget, and sacrifices are a given. Bathroom remodeling is no different. With the U.S. average bathroom remodel cost at $16,724, it?s imperative to have a good grasp on where to spend and where to splurge so your dream bathroom and your budget don?t go down the drain. Using our expert remodeling experience, we developed the following recommendations for smart spending:

Save: Fixtures and Sink

Bathroom fixtures like faucets, door knobs, shower heads, drains, toilets, and sinks can hike up your tab at a surprising pace. It?s not uncommon to dish out $1,500 on brush nickel fixtures for a large master bathroom, for instance.

But here?s the truth about fixtures: no one notices the difference between high-end and average Joe utilities.

They do notice the difference between ugly and chic. In an interview with HGTV about remodeling a bath for resale value, Cameron Snyder, president of Roomscapes Luxury Design Center in Boston, had this to say:

??For resale, focus on the visuals: nice tile, nice colors, nice fixtures... and don't spend a lot on the high-end utilities because most people can't tell the difference.??

Aesthetic should be the focus of your bathroom remodel, and items like faucets, door knobs, and sinks are a tiny facet of your bathroom?s visuals. The more important, noticeable things? Flooring, cabinets and countertops.
Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinets
Splurge: Cabinets and Countertops

Can they get pricey? Sure, especially if you have champagne taste. According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for bathroom countertops is $2,500, while most homeowners spend between $1,500 and $6,000 for bathroom cabinets. High-end materials will certainly cost more than that.

But price tag aside, cabinets and countertops are a huge part of your bathroom?s aesthetic, particularly cabinets. They have to look the part in a newly renovated bathroom.

Leaving outdated countertops and cabinets intact in a fresh remodel is akin to wearing a tuxedo with decade-old sneakers to a social gathering. We recommend changing cabinets and countertops with a major bathroom remodel because, quite simply, outdated cabinets in a newly renovated space become an eye sore. It?s the same with countertops.
Save: Guest Bath

?We were sold on the guest bathroom,? said no homebuyer ever. Bathrooms have to be the total package when you?re selling your home: you can?t have one that?s hideous or outdated.

However, spending a huge chunk of change on your guest bathroom just isn?t worth it.

Because it?s a small part of your home, it isn?t important enough to be a difference-maker in that regard. And even if you?re remodeling for function instead of resale value, guest bathrooms just aren?t used often enough to warrant a big price tag. Stick with a modest makeover and put the bulk of your budget toward your master bathroom.

Photo courtesy of Mohawk Flooring
Splurge: Master Bath

Master bathroom remodels always yield a more lucrative return on investment. Simply put, they sell homes. From the same interview with HGTV:

??The kitchen and bathroom sell a house,? says Ken Perrin, president, Artistic Renovations, Cleveland, Ohio. ?And most people buy the most expensive home they can afford. So they don't want to buy a house with a kitchen or bathroom that need to be worked on.??

In other words, ensure your master bathroom is up-to-date and attractive. Unfortunately, that may involve an extensive renovation to include more contemporary design trends, like a large, tiled shower or new cabinetry. ?

There?s another reason to splurge on your master bath: it has to be functional.

It?s the only bathroom built purposefully for two people, after all. Function is also a big interior design trend. If you can identify awkward layout and spacing issues and fix them, do it.
Photo courtesy of Emser Tile
Save: Floor Tile

In most bathrooms, there?s a lot more floor tile than there is wall tile. So, it?s common sense to save money by choosing a less expensive floor tile. Though labor will also account for the bulk of any remodeling costs, your floors will be a sizeable portion of your budget. HomeAdvisor says most homeowners spend between $1,200 and $4,395 for bathroom floors, including tile, hardwood, laminate, and vinyl.

Buying a tile that?s $1-$2 per square foot less than you intended can knock several hundred dollars off of your bill.

Compare the following two tile options for a 100 square foot master bathroom:

Option A: $5.50/sf

Option B: $3.50/sf

Buying Option B instead of Option A will save you $200. The good news is, quality tiles at $3/sf or less do exist: you can find porcelain tiles with sophisticated glazes that last in the $2/sf price range. Do your homework, find an affordable floor tile, and splurge on your wall tile instead.
Splurge: Wall Tile

You probably won?t need as much wall tile ? including decorative and/or glass mosaics ? as you do floor tile in your bathroom. In fact, mosaic wall tile is almost always a property of design rather than function and necessity (though any flooring professional would tell you good design is an absolute necessity). It?s primarily used to accentuate your floor tile.

Both decorative and glass mosaics are costlier than regular ceramic and porcelain tile; however, since they?re a small part of your bathroom, it?s OK to pay more for one you like.

But don?t interpret small to mean insignificant. Wall tile can have a resounding effect on your bathroom?s design. In some instances, it even acts as your bathroom?s centerpiece, so to speak. That?s why we actually encourage our clients to splurge a bit on their wall tile. Coupled with the fact that you don?t need much of it, it?s a no-brainer.?

Save: Painting

Painting is arguably the most universal do-it-yourself skill in the world of home remodeling ? and it?s affordable, too. Angie?s List says to expect a do-it-yourself paint job to cost around $100-300 (that?s for a bedroom, but a bathroom will be comparable). And while Angie?s List correctly points out that there are advantages to hiring a professional, it?s also an easy way to pocket an additional $200-$500.

The biggest advantage to do-it-yourself painting: big impact at little cost.

We?ve all seen the dramatic before and after transformations. A fresh coat of paint goes a long way. And when it?s not costing you much, it?s that much better. ?
Photo courtesy of Yummy Scrumptious
Splurge: Glass

Glass costs money, obviously. According to HomeAdvisor, what you?ll pay for glass shower doors (including installation) hinges on these factors:

  • The size of your door
  • The type of door
  • The type of glass
  • Whether you need glass side panels or not
By itself, the expense isn?t too steep: HomeAdvisor estimates the average cost of glass shower doors at $900, with most homeowners spending somewhere between $400 and $1,200 depending on glass quality and how much they need. Truthfully, those numbers seem a bit low. A $1,500-$2,000 price tag isn?t uncommon in South Texas, for example.

But, the expense only starts to hurt when you?re adding it to a $10,000 bathroom remodel. Even though it may be easy for you to dismiss the idea of quality glass shower doors because of the cost, don?t.

They?re a staple of contemporary bathroom trends because of how open they make your shower space seem. Use the money you saved by doing the painting yourself on high quality, fashionable glass shower doors.

Whether you?re saving or splurging, we can help you remodel your bathroom. Click here to set up a consultation with one of our designers!