Where should I 'splurge' and where can I save in my new bathroom?

JaniefulJune 8, 2012

We are in the last stages of choosing fixtures for our new bathroom. This is new construction - an addition on the back of our house. But it is a basic 6 X 10 or so sized bathroom. Therefore, the layout is set. We are at the point where we have to find ways to save. We blew our budget with a full basement. I don't regret this choice one bit, but it has made us have to think twice about other things.

So I guess my question is, where are the places that you are glad you splurged and bought high quality? Conversely where are the places where in hindsight something cheaper could have sufficed?

We are definitely putting in a nice and permanent hexagon tiled floor with black accent tiles. This is a 1920s bungalow, and my upstairs bath is so sloped that when we remodeled we were unable to do this. This is my chance to do a period bathroom.

To save money, we are putting bead board on the walls instead of tile. We already have a Memoirs pedestal (bought used for cheap).

So what's left is the tub, toilet, faucets, medicine cabinet and light fixtures.

Where should I scrimp and where should I save?

I'm leaning towards getting a nicer toilet (Toto Promenade) and cheap light fixtures. But then I look at Rejuvenation and have second thoughts.

But the tub is really what has me flummoxed. In terms of the period bath, it will mostly be covered by a curtain, so I'm willing to get fiberglass. But I worry about the long term durability of this.

Any thoughts or words of wisdom would be appreciated.

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>But the tub is really what has me flummoxed. In terms of the period bath, it will mostly be covered by a curtain, so I'm willing to get fiberglass. But I worry about the long term durability of this.

To me, the tub is the one place in the whole bathroom where you for sure want the best you can afford. If you buy a crummy tub and it's a wreck in a couple of years, that's going to be the most expensive thing to change out again.

You can only save a couple hundred dollars at most by going cheap on the tub. It's just not worth it, IMHO.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 11:48AM
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Forgot to mention that if your floor can support it, you can get a Kohler Villager cast iron very reasonably from HD or equivalent, or you might even be able to find a used cast iron tub in good condition, since a lot of people are taking out tubs they don't use to put in fancy showers these days.

But I'd do acrylic before I'd do fiberglas, if your floor can't cope with the weight of cast iron.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 11:51AM
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I'd vote for a quality tub, though it doesn't have to be expensive. My GC has put in several Sterling tubs and surrounds and loves them. He has never had a problem, and he garauntees his work so he would be the one getting the distress call! We are very happy with ours, and one of their tile look models might go well with the vintage look you are building. They are made of Vykril (sp?), which is their own material. It is not fiberglass, I believe it is similar to acrylic, can't remember the details, but I was sufficient,y satisfied when I did the research.

I think the lighting and fixtures would be a good place to save. As long as the faucets have a quality construction, they should be fine. I wanted an expensive Kohler line at first, thought I'd splurge and get something nice. Due to a string of comical errors it wasn't going to work. I ended up with a very nice, solidly built Price Pfister line that was hundreds less and works just fine. But you do need to get the ones that are built well, especially since the rough in valves for the tub go in the wall.

There are also very nice toilets that are reasonable. I thought our $300 Kohler was was expensive, until I found this forum :-). But it has a chair heigh elongatedt seat, soft close lid, easy off seat for cleaning, and a powerful but lower volume flush. Plus it looks great. What more could I want?

    Bookmark   June 8, 2012 at 7:17PM
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I agree on a quality tub. will it be a tub/shower combo?

light fixtures are easier to change out later. you might even later find something you like better.

have you checked faucet prices online?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 4:31AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I would scrimp on lighting, hardware, and taps because those are easily swapped out in the future should you want to upgrade. Put your money into the permanent fixtures that you know you won't change any time soon.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 8:18AM
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Splurge on a comfortable, roomy, reasonably deep tub, a thermostatic shower valve/faucet, and a decent showerhead. Skimp just about everywhere else, especially things that can be easily changed out later if need be, like sink faucets or wall tiling. Get decent quality, but basic styles that are inexpensive.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 8:33AM
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Regarding the tub - that's the dilemma. We're leaning towards a cast iron tub for durability and longevity reasons, but then that limits our options for the surround. We really can't afford to do tile right now. I'm thinking of just putting in those cheap walls for the time being (you know, the step below fiberglass walls). We have them in our upstairs bath and they really don't bother me. I think they were a DIY project, and the guy who did it put a nice wooden moulding above it. It actually doesn't look that bad. I was hoping this would be easy to remove in the future if we decide to upgrade.

Am I correct that pretty much the Kohler Villager is the only cast iron tub priced $500 and under? If not, I would appreciate the name of other brands. When I do an online search all I come up with are tubs above $1,000.

Thanks for the suggestion of the thermostatic faucet. I'll look into it.

Would you all put the toilet in as a fixture that is easy to change later? We're leaning towards a $400+ Toto Promenade, but at our recent Lowe's trip we noticed a Jacuzzi toilet that looks period enough to pass, and it is less than $200. But my gut tells me to pay for the better toilet. We are not DIYers, and I do no want trouble with a toilet in the future.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 11:08AM
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Even though you can always swap out light fixtures later, I personally think that they contribute so much to the appeal of a room and make a huge difference to the end result. Unless you're looking at some really crazy-priced fixtures, I wouldn't think that the cost for what you really like would be a giant difference?

I read a lot of threads on here, and elsewhere when choosing our toilet, and I'm pretty sure someone on this board replied to my post about the American Standard Tropic and said that they were happy with their Jacuzzi.

The toilet we chose was a bit of a splurge, BUT? I love it. If forced to, I would have downgraded my tile, my tub, my heated floor, and my thermostatic shower for the toilet, mirrors and light fixtures I chose! For me, those were the things that made me really love the bath!

So, maybe that should be your guide for choosing where to extend the budget. Put the money towards things you'd really like to have, and cut back on the things that are less important to you. After all, everyone's idea of the perfect bath is different.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our (never-ending) bath renovation

    Bookmark   June 9, 2012 at 11:39AM
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Thanks for the comments everyone.

Regarding the prices of light fixtures, they really can vary - my ideal sconces would be these schoolhouse ones I found on a restoration website, but they are $200 each. Luckily, I found some very similar ones for $50 each. That's a big difference.

BTW - I love your blog VictoriaElizabeth. I'm intrigued by the marble like porcelain you chose. We were looking for a similar tile and never found one that satisfied me. I was going down that same rabbit hole of choosing tile a few months ago, and finally we just decided to overlook the cleaning concerns and go with the hexagon (porcelain not marble, even though I would love the latter). I still worry about the cleaning of it, but it's classic and ultimately I just want it. Hopefully choosing a grey shaded grout will help.

We have definitely decided to go with the Kohler Villager cast iron tub. We'll put up a cheap surround for now and perhaps upgrade later. We're still waffling on the toilet, but even if we decide to go expensive (at least for us), we're only talking about a $200 difference.

Now, let's just cross our fingers that I can get the black hexagon tile border without it costing a fortune. If the tile setter (which we have yet to meet, since as of now our addition is just foundation walls and a basement floor) says it will cost $500 extra to do this, I will be so disappointed if we have to drop it and go with plain white.

All in all, I think we will have a nice looking bathroom for "only" around $4,000. But of course that doesn't count the other $60,000+ we are spending to get the new basement, square footage, and new plumbing, etc. to create the bathroom in the first place. :)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2012 at 8:40PM
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Considering you need to buy all the contents and tile, etc that is very reasonable. Ours was about $6500 but the bulk of that was labor. Tile is harder to change, if you want the black, go for it!

Sounds like it will be lovely. Looking forward to some pics!

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 9:33AM
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Janieful: "Any thoughts or words of wisdom would be appreciated."

Janieful, I am here to test the limits of your request for "any thoughts," but I hope that you wiil appreciate the following "words of wisdom" (and experience).

The splurge that you probably have not considered is to have an electrical outlet installed close to (no more than three feet from) your toilet. That will make installation of an advanced toilet seat/bidet seat/shower toilet seat/Washlet possible when (not if, but when) Americans finally wake up to what they have been missing and such devices become not only desirable but must-haves on this side of the Pacific Ocean. (The best surveys say that they are installed in well over 80% of Japanese households, but those data are probably obsolete; it is probably well over 90% by now.)

Or, you could install an advanced toilet seat now, and be at the leading edge of the trend, but then you may have to trim other parts of your bathroom budget.

You will have a hard time finding anybody who has used an advanced toilet seat for any duration of more than a few days or a week who would ever think of designing a bathroom without one. They are almost as much of an advance as the step of bringing the toilet inside from the detached outhouse was a century and a half ago.

Advanced toilet seats are to toilets what remote controls are to television sets; just as you simply cannot imagine having to get up, walk across the room, and fiddle with a tiny mechanical control to change channels or signal inputs on your TV set, after you have used an advanced toilet seat for even a short while, you would no more willingly go back to dry cleansing than you would go back to using the 19th century outhouse.

However, for most of us, the biggest impediment to joining the inevitable wave of the future is the lack of an electrical outlet close to the toilet. Once you have that outlet in place, it is easy and not terribly costly ($500 range) to upgrade to a advanced toilet seat, but retrofitting an existing bathroom with a properly placed electrical outlet is likely to double or triple the cost of the upgrade. The time to put in the electrical outlet is at the overall planning stage where you are now.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 5:56PM
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Interesting thoughts, although I doubt I can convince my husband to pay for an outlet there. I can certainly try, though. I keep on bringing up new outlets and light fixtures, and all he sees are dollar signs.

The advanced toilet makes sense to me - at least much more than a separate bidet would. I have never used either, but bidets take up so much space. The one in all model is much more practical.

To go off your remote example, it sounds to me like a Japanese style toilet is similar to one's experience of a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). Those who have never used one can't understand why I and others rave about it, because they have no idea what they are missing. But once I was introduced to one over ten years ago, I was never able to go back and watch TV the "normal" way.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 8:04PM
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Janieful: "The advanced toilet makes sense to me - at least much more than a separate bidet would. I have never used either, but bidets take up so much space. The one in all model is much more practical."

The advanced toilet seats are not, strictly speaking, direct replacements for bidets, though one generic term for advanced toilet seats is "bidet seat."

The first and foremost function of an advanced toilet seat is water washing a bit further to the rear than a bidet cleanses. Cleansing the anus with water is far superior to wiping (and spreading) with dry paper.

Most current models of advanced toilet seat have a second washing function called "feminine cleaning," or a variant thereof, which has many similarities to the function of a bidet. As you may guess, that function directs the water somewhat further forward than the primary function does. However, in "real" bidets, the water comes from the front, whereas in advanced toilet seats, the water approaches from the rear, so there is a difference.

The various brands of advanced toilet seats approach these functions in different manners. Inax, which invented the advanced toilet seat category, determined that the optimal angle of incidence of the spray on the anus should be 70 degrees from horizontal or, in other words, just 20 degrees from vertical. The Inax advanced toilet seats therefore have spray wands for posterior cleansing that extend out fairly far, so that the spray can be more nearly vertical.

Toto, the biggest player in the market, was obsessed by the spectre of "backwash," the (small proportion of the) water that rebounds off the user's posterior, and accordingly Toto Washlets are designed to spray water at the anus at 43 degrees from horizontal, which reduces (but does not not eliminate) the amount of backwash that hits the spray wand. But spray directed at Toto's 43 degree angle does not wash as effectively as the 70 degree spray of the Inax models does. Inax addresses the backwash matter with an aggressive self-cleaning cycle for the spray wands, executed both before and after each use.

As to the feminine function, Toto can get by with a single wand for both posterior and feminine cleansing, with two spray nozzles in the single wand, because the 43 degree spray angle for the posterior wash already is so shallow. Inax has to use a separate dedicated spray wand for feminine cleansing, because the wand that Inax uses for posterior cleansing would not be positioned well for the feminine cleansing function.

But, whether or not you use the toilet seat for bidet-like functions, water-assisted posterior cleansing is a huge step up from dry wiping after a bowel movement. There probably is no way to upgrade your bathroom more effectively than to replace a passive toilet seat with an advanced toilet seat.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 11:29PM
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I totally agree that it's a good idea to install the outlet for a future Washlet (or one of its cousins) now, when the electrical work is being done. It only occurred to me a few days ago that I might want to persuade DH to get a Washlet eventually, so I walked into the BR, where our plumber and our GC were working. Asked them how complicated it would be to install one. They looked at me, looked at each other, sighed, and said, "If only you'd mentioned this when the electrical was being done." IOW, when the wall was torn out and the plumbing and electrical lines were being installed. If we want one in the future, now the electrician will have to go in under the vanity and run a line from there to near the toilet, a much bigger job. It's do-able, but will cost more.

Janieful's example of never going back once you've had a DVR is a good one!

Where we splurged - we replaced a dreadful 24 year-old drop-in acrylic neo-angle shower with a larger, rectangular tiled custom one, with frameless glass. And we installed good lighting - replaced one ancient dropped single globe with three cans and two sconces that it took a long time to decide on (from Pottery Barn). Finally, excellent lighting in the bathroom.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 5:45PM
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