Need help from pros and customers on remodel

myrtle_59September 29, 2012

We are about to remodel a small master bath. It needs completely redone, new tub, toilet, vanity and sink, floor and skylight. It needs to be fresh, up to date, functional for a shower and bath every day, and something that will not be a drag when we go to sell the house in five years.

We are an older couple and never dyi types so we need to hire a contractor who will do a turnkey remodel. We do not need the latest and greatest of everything but we don't want any leaks or hassles with the contractor.

I have talked to a bath and kitchen remodeler who has a good rep and has been in business a long time. It seems they don't want to do a vinyl floor, they want to put tile on the walls, custom cabinets to the extent that imo it is squeezing too much stuff in an already very small bath. I don't want to go with a cheap outfit because I don't want problems with workmanship.

What are your suggestions about what to spend on and what to save on? The contractor is not very forth coming on how to save money. He originally said a small bath like this ran around 15 grand. Our bid was 25, and he included 'allowances' for the plumbing and electrical subs which makes me think they will run over.

Anything you can tell me from your experience about what to take into account is appreciated.

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It sounds to me like at this point you are letting the contractor decide what you want and need. I would suggest that you start doing some research for yourself. If you know what you want it will be easier to negotiate a price that is fair to both you and a contractor. There are many attractive baths here, many small and not expensive. is a very good resource for getting a general idea of what you want. It does tend towards a more modern look, but there are plenty of more traditionally styled baths, too, if you prefer that look.

I'm including a link to what you'll find here if you search this forum for "finished" using the search box at the bottom of the page. Those should keep you busy for a while.

Here is a link that might be useful: some finished bathrooms

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 9:55PM
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Writersblock has given you some good suggestions for inspiration photos. If you spend some time looking at the finished bathrooms posted here on GW, you'll find that many of them are similar in scope to your project. If you are replacing fixtures and elements in the room without relocating any of the drains or supply lines, there is no reason why you can't freshen up the look without spending a fortune.

As far as where to economize and where to spend your money, I would agree with the recommendation to use tile on the floor rather than vinyl. There are some really inexpensive porcelain tiles available and, although vinyl has come a long way, I think your buyers five years from now would regard it as a negative. However, other than the tub surround, I don't think that it is necessary to carry the tile up the wall. Given your goals, unless you have an unusual layout or size, I think you'd be fine with stock cabinetry with a nice counter. Depending on your size, you may be able to find a remnant piece of granite or quartz. But don't completely rule out going custom on your cabinetry. We have an Amish gentleman who has built four vanities for our masterbath and guest bath for considerably less than we would have spent if we ordered semi-custom cabinetry. Another way to economize is to choose chrome faucets, etc. instead of another more expensive metal finish. It's classic and there is a very wide range of options and prices available.

Keep coming back to GW with your questions. I'm just a consumer (not even much of a DIY'er!) but there are many knowledgable and helpful people here that can help you feel confident as you go forward with your project.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 9:49AM
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If you want to post room dimensions and layout, I'm sure you can get some good design suggestions here.

How much you put into the bath depends on what you like and can afford, and what future buyers are likely to expect. (I'm not big on making decisions based on resale, but you mention selling relatively soon.) Unless you have a wish list that doesn't appear in your first post, and you don't need big changes in plumbing layout and walls moved, it seems to me that you could get closer to $15k than 25k - but maybe you live in Manhattan or something and are getting zip-coded.

I agree that the tiled floor and tub or shower surround is a good idea for appealing to the future buyer, even if you don't care. If not tile on the floor, something like Marmoleum is considered pretty desirable where we live - lots of people are impressed by a "green remodel."

If you hang around this forum, you might be convinced that everyone uses marble tile and counters; there seems to be a trend that way, for sure, and it's always gorgeous! I went with a marble look-alike tile because I wanted surfaces that are as low maintenance as possible. For the same reason, I went with a Kohler cast iron shower receptor. Both decisions also saved money.

For cabinetry, maybe you would be happy with a ready-made vanity. If you go on amazon or you can see a huge array of them, and many include stone countertops. A vanity is something that can suck up a lot of money, which was a bit of a surprise to me. What I was looking for was efficient use of the space, so I ended up using salvaged kitchen cabinets for both a large vanity and a linen cabinet. Then I found a nice manufactured quartz remnant for the top.

I kind of splurged on the shower and sink fixtures; I decided Hansgrohe looked good and got rave reviews here, so I did that brand for everything. I learned a lot about thermostatic vs. pressure balance valves from researching on this forum, and went for the more expensive thermostatic setup. But then I got a package of chrome towel bars and hooks and such at Costco, instead of buying the brand name accessories.

Another splurge is a heated floor. Bath is still in progress, so I don't know yet if that will be money well spent.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 1:08PM
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If you're not moving any walls in the room, I'd urge you to GC this yourself. I know you said you're not a DIYer, but really all i'm suggesting is that you find and schedule your own subs who will do the actual hands on work. For what you've described above, you'll need a plumber, a tile guy, a flooring guy (if you choose to go vinyl, otherwise your tile guy is your flooring guy), and somewhere to buy a vanity, countertop, toilet, tub & faucets.

The big box stores can help with either a semi-custom line of vanities/storage cabinets for the bath in the bath area of the store or you can even go over to the kitchen cabinet section and meet with the cabinet designer to fashion your vanity/storage needs. They can also help with the countertop materials, tub, toilet, sink for the vanity, & faucets for sink & tub/shower. The big box stores can also handle the vinyl flooring purchase & install. They can likely handle the skylight purchase & install as well. That just leaves the matter of a plumber & a tile guy.

Unless you're really wanting to spend $15-25K, this is the route I would take. You could likely do this nicely equipped for around $5K if your tastes are not extravagant.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 1:12PM
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My remodel was much less than what you were quoted. I would echo some of th above suggestions. Figure out what you want first. If you are keeping the same layout and just want to change out the components and freshen the look, that's much easier. If you want or need to gut the room for some reason, much more expensive.

I posted our small bath a few months back. I kept the layout the same, but needed to change out the tub surround so that area had new drywall since the surround attched to the studs.

I bought all the major materials and accessories, the GC provided the technical things like drywall, screws, grout, wiring, etc. I spent a day driving around looking at bathroom displays. Then another day or so at Lowes picking everything out. I used a stock vanity that had good construction, a stock quartz vanity top with undmount sink, GC used a stock Sterling tub and surround that he really likes (has installed many with great results and no call backs). Materials ran about $2k or so. The rest was labor. I think we finished at just under $7k. I could have DIY'd the vanity and toilet, and paint, but it would have taken me forever so I just paid to have it all done at once.

If you start with what you want in the room, you can then look at finding them for a good price. Or look at alternatives that may cost less. Labor will be the biggest expense in many cases, and that is highly variable.

I'd get a good tub, any material you want but one that holds up well. They're hard to repair or replace. Get a good vent fan that's quiet, with a light if needed in the space. Get decent fixtures, they don't have to be expensive, but get ones that are well constructed.

Thinks like accessories, mirrors, even the toilet can be changed out fairly easily in the future if needed, though new ones do not have to be expensive.

Don't be afraid to splurge on little luxeries either! The best $100 I spent was on a double curved shower rod, rolling hooks, and a timer for the vent fan. They make me happy every day! Just some little finishing touches that make it feel like we went all out, even though we were very budget minded.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 7:54PM
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We did a total remodel for about $7500. Our local hardware store charged $7k to remove old tub, shower surround, and vanity and replaced with new cast iron tub, solid surface shower walls, and sink/vanity. The vanity was the big splurge for us - solid wood with a quartz top. DH replaced the toilet. We laid a vinyl floor ourselves - easy! We made a pattern with newspaper, traced around it on the vinyl and cut it. Dropped into place and then DH set toilet. Toilet, floor, towel bars, lighting, paint (we painted), and mirror ($30 at Big Lots for a HUGE mirror) all came to about $500.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2012 at 10:33PM
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I did three bathrooms in my previous home and about to do the master in this house.

- Are you going to change the layout of the bathroom - where the toilet, bath amd vanity are now? If you keep the plumbing where it is, but just change all the components to new ones, it will be a lot cheaper than moving plumbing to new positions.

- Will you have a tub/shower combo? That will be a whole lot cheaper than building a separate tile shower. If you want a glass door that will run about $500 or more.

- Skylights are cheap but installation can be expensive, so get more bids on this if you are not satisfied.

- If you buy an all-in-one free-standing vanity, like this one it will be a lot cheaper than ordering a custom cabinet and buying the sink and countertop separately. Depending on the size you need, these units can look built-in.

- Ceramic tile is not expensive - look at your local Lowes and Home Depot. They've come a long way in tile design choices, including all kinds of cute trim pieces. I love The Houzz site, you can use it to get ideas for the tile look you want and you can show a tile guy the pictures to follow.

I agree that, especially if you are not changing the basic layout, you can be your own GC, or project manager, and hire these people yourselves:

Plumber - install new tub, toilet, sink
Electrician - new outlets, lighting fixtures
Tiler - tile floor, vanity backsplash, tub walls
Handyman - find one who is experienced with skylights. Also for towel rods, medicine cabinet and other miscellaneous items.

The downside of managing the project yourselves is that you will need to be organized, buy all the pieces, either at stores or online, and you will need to spend time to be home frequently to coordinate things and talk to the contractors about what you want. If you are inclined, make a list of to-do items, measure the space, draw up a rudimentary plan, purchase everything in advance, get referrals to the contractors and get their bids and schedule. Hire them, make a schedule and go for it.

If you don't want to tackle it, search for a GC that does some of the work himself instead of just being a manager. For example, use a plumbing or electrical contractor who will do work AND manage the remodel for you. They are out there. You might have to call and interview a dozen people. Ask ALL your neighbors up and down the street.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 12:35PM
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Here is a link to a thread about best bathroom remodeling decisions people made. Be sure to click on the link inside this thread that goes to an even longer, older thread. Might be some helpful ideas for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Best bathroom decisions thread

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 6:02AM
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Thank you all very much. I am taking this all in.
I have two fears because i know nothing about bath or any construction.

What kind of material do i need behind the tile to make sure it wont leak during showers? How do I know my gc knows how to do this if he is a small general? Same question about skylight. I don't want any leaks.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 7:39PM
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>What kind of material do i need behind the tile to make sure it wont leak during showers?

Here is a link that might be useful: tile basics from Bill V.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 1:07AM
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You can ask those specific learning questions separately on this forum. As you see, there are lots of experienced remodelers as well as tradespeople who can answer them in detail.

When you interview contractors, ask them these questions too.

For example, ask, "How is a shower waterproofed?" - contractors should be happy to explain everything you want to know.

If you get a contractor through a neighborhood reference and ask for a couple more references, the contractor should know how to remodel a bathroom. Always get references. When I hired, some folks even let me come to their homes to see their remodels. That was very helpful.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 6:17PM
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After reading your responses, i called a small contractor, father/son team who was recommended to me by a home inspector a few years back. We'll see if he calls back. I am curious how two men would get a cast iron tub up the steps to the second floor and into the bathroom.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 8:08PM
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myrtle - I have a father/son team working on my remodel right now, and they are capable of amazing feats of strength. I had an original clawfoot tub - about 70" long - that needed to come down a constricted winding staircase. It was incredibly heavy. They did it without complaint and didn't even scratch a wall. On the day they had to carry a 5'x5' window up the outside of the house, they brought a friend.

My guy, though very experienced, didn't know you need the plastic membrance behind the shower tile; he does it when he installs a tile floor, but didn't think it was necessary with a shower pan. I told him what I learned on gardenweb, and he was really nice about doing it my way. I think the key is to get a sense of whether your prospective contractor is somewhat flexible, if you discover something you want them to do differently (preferably in advance, of course!). I think Gina's suggestion of an open-ended question is great - it sounds like you just want to be educated, but it will tell you a lot about the guy's approach and degree of attention to detail.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2012 at 8:29PM
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