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My Small Bathroom Remodel Recap

What I learned about costs, design, and hiring contractors while planning a small bathroom remodel.

By Ross Gordon on Apr 5, 2014
My Small Bathroom Remodel Recap

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Recently, my wife and I decided to remodel the three small bathrooms in our townhouse. When we moved in six years ago, we remodeled everything besides the bathrooms; we didn’t have the budget at the time and focused on the kitchen, floors, basement, and a few other improvements. But after six years, we could no longer bear the avocado-green bathtubs and plum floor tile. We dug in our heels and embarked on our first small bathroom remodeling project. Here’s what I learned from the process.

Budget Your Bathroom Makeover

Before I started looking for a contractor, I researched what a remodeling project like ours may cost. I started by using the ImproveNet’s bathroom remodel cost estimator to get a general idea of the range of bathroom remodeling costs in my area. But because our bathrooms are pretty small, I wanted to get a better idea of what a small bathroom remodel would cost compared to a larger bathroom. So I took my search for information offline. 

Since we live in row of townhouses where all units have the same layout, I decided to ask a few neighbors what they paid for recently remodeled bathrooms. The price range was greater than I anticipated. Prices went from $3,000 to $12,000 per bathroom. But at least this gave me an idea of where to start. Because we plan on moving in the next 6-12 months, I wanted to see if we could do all three of our bathrooms for under $20,000. Two of our bathrooms are 15ft x 8ft and the powder room on the main floor is about 7ft x 7ft.

Finding the Right Contractor for A Small Bathroom Remodel

There are two directions you can go when remodeling bathrooms: you can hire a design/build company that can help you with your project from start to finish, including designing what your bathroom will look like, or you can design it yourself and hire a contractor to install everything. The second approach may be too much for some people remodeling larger bathrooms, but it will save you money when remodeling small bathrooms. So I planned to design my own bathroom.

When asking neighbors about the cost of their bathroom remodels, I also asked them about who they used and how happy they were with their contractor. One of my neighbors gave me the name of a contractor he used and I called him for a quote.

He bid $7,500 for labor for all three bathrooms, a very fair price. Plus, my neighbors highly recommended this contractor. Not expecting to get much of a price-break, I asked if he could do any better on the price. To my surprise he said that since he had nothing booked in January, he could do it for $6,500 and could start on Monday (this was on a Thursday). I accepted.

Small Bathroom Remodel Tip: It never hurts to ask a contractor if he can do better on his price, especially if it’s the slow season.

Pro Tip: Don’t know a good contractor? Use ImproveNet to find local contractors and get free estimates.

Gathering Ideas and Buying Materials

One of the obvious challenges when remodeling a small bathroom is dealing with space limitations. Many of the amazing bathroom designs online simply don’t work on smaller bathrooms. So I decided to look for ideas that worked well for smaller bathroom remodels.

First, I focused on color schemes. My wife and I don’t always have the same taste in design, so browsing pictures together made it easy for us to find design ideas we both liked. We decided to go with a gray scheme for our master bathroom and convert the bathtub into a small walk-in shower. For the kids bathroom, we went with white.

Once we had the colors down, we focused on materials. I paid close attention to floor tiles and wall tiles in the pictures and noted what styles I liked best. I noticed the contrast between colors and sizes of floor tiles and wall tiles, also noting designs that used different shower floor tile.

Last, we looked at vanity sets that matched. We considered things like wood finish, counter tops, not many sinks, faucet types, and drawer hardware design and finish.

We saved pictures of everything we liked along the way. Once we were ready to buy, we looked at the major home improvement stores and found materials that closely matched. We added multiple designs to our cart and then slowly weeded things down to our top two or three favorites. We then went to the store to see all the in-stock items in person. We finalized what we wanted and purchased everything we needed. The total cost came to about $7,000.

Small Bathroom Design Tip: Use sites like DesignMine and Houzz to find and save ideas for your project.

Project Setbacks and Mishaps

What’s a remodeling project without a few surprises? If you are going to remodel your bathrooms (even small ones), be mentally and financially prepared for a few setbacks. Here are a few that we encountered in our project:

When our contractors initially demolished the master bathroom, one of the pipes from the toilet leaked water (thankfully it was clean water). The water dripped through our kitchen ceiling, ruining a large area of drywall. Our contractor fixed and repaired the ceiling and it’s as good as new.

Another set back happened when our contractor saw our vanity once it arrived and realized it had a double sink instead of a single sink, like our previous vanity. He did not initially estimate the additional plumbing needed to use a double basin vanity. That cost us an extra $250. We also ordered a custom tile for our walk-in shower walls that required more grout work than the contractor originally estimated for. However, he did not charge extra for this.

Pro Tip: Have your contractor review all of your materials before you order them and ensure the cost to install them is in line with his original bid. If not, ask for a new quote or pick new materials.

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Next, after the contractors hauled our vanity upstairs and configured the plumbing, they took the vanity top out of the box and we realized something looked off. The countertop was wrong. We took a closer look at the vanity and we realized it was not the one we ordered. We called the company we got it from and they acknowledged they had a mix-up in the warehouse. After the vanity sat in the middle of our bedroom for a few days, they sent someone to pick it up and the correct vanity arrived about a week later. This set us back about a week.

Pro Tip: Check the product ID numbers on all deliveries against what you ordered before bringing anything inside.

We had a few other minor setbacks related to mismatched finishes on certain hardware items and accessories (Who knew there was a difference between satin and nickel finish on towel racks!?). We also bought the wrong light fixture, which was easy to replace.

Enjoying Our Newly Remodeled Bathrooms

It cost us about $14,000 to remodel all three of our small bathrooms. We got a great price and the new designs make our home more valuable and more enjoyable to live in. My wife and I wondered why we didn’t do it years ago. Although our small bathroom remodeling project was not without its stressful moments, we love the results and so does the little guy.

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