Bathroom Reno - Questioning the Contractor

lisaj1354February 3, 2013

I'm planning a total gut reno of my master bathroom. Its approximately 9ft wide and 11 ft long.

Since its in the early planning stages, I am just now interviewing contractors.

What questions should I ask to ensure that the guy I pick knows what he's doing, and is using the best materials?

Thanks in advance for all your help!

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Depending on what you're planning for the bathroom - ie any bells and whistles, ask him about his experience with those.

Ask what type of pan he would use and the process for waterproofing (including what type of products he uses). Definitely find how who he uses for tile installation and his experience with different types of stone/tile. I think if you ask open ended questions you'll know if he knows what he's doing.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 2:40PM
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Yes, waterproofing is VERY important. One red flag for me is when they say "I've been doing it this way for 30 years and no one has complained." Well, after investigating for a while, I have learned that at least in the area of waterproofing tile installations, there has been significant development in technology in recent years to make this task much more fool proof now than it was 30 years ago. Do a little web searching on this topic before you talk to the contractor. I think you will find there is a pretty good consensus.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 4:36PM
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Thanks for your replies!

I have a list of questions to ask, but how do I know his answers are correct?

Other than the "I've been doing it this way forever with no problems" which would make me nuts, what kind of pan and waterproofing SHOULD he be using? What kind of grout? Sealant?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 5:44PM
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"in the area of waterproofing tile installations, there has been significant development in technology in recent years to make this task much more fool proof now than it was 30 years ago" - this is not accurate. Old methods can be absolutely fine. The "fool-proof" methods of today were developed for quickly building a large tract of homes, and for DIYers. Either method is fine in the hands of an experienced installer.

If you go down the road of asking the pro what kind of building materials he uses, you will need to know a fair bit about it, or else come off as a pain-in-the-behind homeowner, which will scare off some perfectly good contractors - especially if you are in an area where contractors are busy and can do some picking-and-choosing.

First of all I would read as many threads as you can on this forum for a taste of subjects you may tackle in your remodel. You'll find a treasure trove of info here.

There is no better place to start when finding a contractor than getting references from other happy homeowners. If you can't find one that way you are at a huge disadvantage out the gate. So whoever you interview - ask for several local references - and ask if any of them would mind if you visited to look at the work done. Several folks offered this to me, and I have offered to be that kind of reference for my contractors.

How are you finding people?

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 7:15PM
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I live in the northern virginia area and contacted 5 highly rated bath contractors from Angie's List. All of them would not install any waterproofing, not even the liquid roll-on type. They all claimed that cement board provided all the waterproofing I would need.

since my two baths have tubs and not showers and they will only be slightly used by me in the future, I am not bothering to waterproof. It wasn't worth my time or bother to find a contractor that would do it and had the sufficient experience to do it correctly. If the baths had showers instead of tubs, I would expand my search to find a contractor.

One other topic I would discuss with them is the largest tile size they will install. two of the contractors would not install tile larger than 12"x12".

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 8:03AM
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gina_w - I started with ServiceMagic and found them through that. Its turns out that one is the brother of a neighbor. I've seen his work in her house and it's lovely. I am waiting for his pricing and references list.

One other(and leading) contractor provided me with almost a dozen references, all of which I checked. I like him the best out of all of them because of some of his suggestions (based on some of what I've read here). His pricing is in the middle of the other guys I've met with.

I also checked him out with the local tile store. They know my old contractor and compared him favorably.

So overall, I'm doing ok with my choices, but want to make sure that I ask all the right questions with the potential contractors and the contractor I choose going forward.

I will ask about the max tile size and waterproofing. Frankly, I want this room to be as tight as a drum since it sits above my LR/DR and don't relish having water dripping on my head as I watch tv or eat dinner!!!

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 11:44AM
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Google search is your friend

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 1:14PM
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OK tell us more about your bathroom - what exactly are you doing to it and what products have you chosen so far (or what are you leaning toward) - then we can help you formulate questions.

IE will it be a tub or a walk in shower (or both)? If it's a walk in shower then you need to ask about a shower pan.

Are you moving the location of anything - toilet, sinks, etc?

What kind of tile pattern or design are you doing?

all this will help us guide you.

And do research kerdi, hydroban, etc. on this site.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2013 at 5:33PM
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Tile board is not waterproof, although it is of course far far better than sheetrock, and sheetrock was used in showers for many years. Some bathrooms I've seen tiled on sheetrock, including my own 1960's home, are holding up fine. Many have not held up that well. We are simply arriving at better techniques to avoid the problems that many bathrooms did have over the years. A waterproofing layer applied on top of the tile board will diminish the chances of moisture getting through, into insulation, framing and so on, causing mold. Its become an industry standard.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 10:08PM
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phylhl - It is a gut reno. I am moving everything. The bathroom is a jack and jill with the Master Bedroom on one side and the guest bedroom on the other.

The vanity is moving into what is now a hall closet.

The space that now holds a tub/shower combo will be turning into a corner shower, and the new tub will be placed where the vanity and toilet are and will butt up against the new shower. Lastly, the toilet is being moved to the side of the tub.

I've included the new layout. Its NOT very good but will give you an idea of what I'm doing.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 10:04AM
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I learned a lot about the tiling process from the John Bridge website, enough to help my husband re-do our tub surround.

For bathrooms make sure they use cement board, especially made for wet/moist areas. We also used product called RedGuard from Home Depot. It paints on red and is like an extra moisture barrier around windows and shampoo nooks.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 10:52AM
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lisa - for that corner shower, I would recommend a kerdi system for the floor, drain, walls, etc. it's made by schluter. if it's installed according to their specs, they warranty it for 15 years. email me if you'd like to see photos of my kerdi shower. it's a little more expensive BUT like yours, ours is above our brand new kitchen and it's also a steam shower, so i wanted the best. from everything i've read here it's the best. my installer (based in rhode island, and certified) said that it's easier to install as well. he swears by the system and explained to me that once the kerdi membrane is on the walls - you could literally take a shower with just that (meaning before the tile!).

The other biggie with yours is the plumbing - since you're moving everything. i think you're going to want to meet with his plumber and tile installer. ask questions about how they'll move the plumbing and waste, how they'll deal with floor joists, etc. Ask about code (spacing around the toilet - since it's between a 1/2 wall and a tub.
are those pocket doors? If so ask whether the mechanisms are noisy and if that pocket door can go behind the toilet.
who's installing the vanity? or does it come assembled?
I can't think of anything else - in a bathroom it's all about plumbing and waterproofing - and then the aesthetics of the tile pattern.
don't need to worry about grout and sealer just yet.

what tiles have you chosen? what tub/toilet/sink have you chosen?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 11:20AM
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phylhl - again, thank you!

I have already spoken to him and his plumber about the plumbing move. I also know that there won't be a joist issue - they are wide open and there is 14 inches to play with between the bathroom floor and the ceiling for the first floor. The only concern is the stack//angle as far as code is concerned and we won't know a thing till the wall is open. I might have to reconfigure everything at that point!!

The contractor does pull permits, so it will all be up to code.

The doors are not pocket doors.

The contractor will be installing the vanity. I still haven't picked one out. It depends on the tile color I choose, and I'm starting my tile shopping this weekend when my mom comes to visit. She loves doing stuff like that and is always the voice of reason.

I'm going for a classic/traditional look with subway tile and a basket weave detail (probably). I'm just trying to balance my love for fabulous tile with a tight budget.

Colors will either black/white or creme/light grey. I almost prefer the creme/gray because its not as clinical feeling. I just don't want it to look dated ('Oh...that was done in 2013'). I've attached a link to my favorite tile, which has both the grey and creme colors in it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Favorite tile

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 12:21PM
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that looks so pretty. i did my master in creme/grey and we love it. trying to find latest pix to show you. I did a similar mosaic for the accent and 4x10 subways.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 1:44PM
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phylhl - I'd LOVE to see pics!! And any info you can give me regarding tile choices.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 5:46PM
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