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If the thought of remodeling your bathroom puts stars in your eyes, the price tag may quickly bring you back down to earth.
The median cost of a bathroom remodel was $3,300 in 2019, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey of homeowners. A remodel is defined as a job that makes substantial changes to a room but stops short of building or tearing down walls. A major renovation, which is often a larger project, typically set home-improvers back $10,000, according to the same survey. In yet another source, Remodeling magazine suggests a midrange bathroom remodel costs about $21,377, on average, according to its 2020 Cost vs. Value report.
Obviously the cost of a bathroom remodel is hardly set in stone and difficult to estimate. It can depend on where you live, your bathroom’s size, how significant your changes are, your choice of fixtures and materials, the contractor you hire and whether permits are required.
Knowing costs in advance — and how to keep them under control — is the best way to keep bathroom remodeling dreams from flushing your budget down the drain.
Breaking down the cost of your bathroom remodel
In a breakdown of bathroom remodeling costs, the biggest single expense is labor: On average, 40% to 65% of the total price pays for professionals to tear out old elements and install new ones, according to the home improvement website HomeAdvisor.
You could do the design and installation yourself, but you'd better be sure you have the know-how. Professionals have education, skills and experience that will help keep your project on track by avoiding mistakes and dealing with hidden problems that can emerge during a renovation.
"We know common pitfalls and can point out opportunities for immediate improvement," says Tennille Wood, CEO and principal designer at Beautiful Habitat in Denver.
After labor, homeowners spend most of their remodeling budget on vanities (10%-30%), fixtures like sinks and toilets (10%-20%), and faucets and plumbing (12%-16%), according to HomeAdvisor.
How to plan your bathroom remodel project
Determine the goal: When remodeling a bathroom, set your sights on added comfort and functionality, not just resale value. The average midrange bathroom remodel recoups just 64.8% of its cost in increased home value, according to Remodeling magazine’s 2020 Cost vs. Value report.
With that in mind, decide whether you need a simple refresh or a full remodel to achieve a practical, attractive result. Painting, resurfacing cabinets and adding a modern light fixture can make a bathroom feel new without breaking the bank. But if your bathroom is poorly laid out or badly outdated, a full remodel — overhauling everything from the shower to the flooring — might be the right way to go.
Create a budget: “Have a wish list and a must-have list,” says Colin Shaw, owner of Shaw Remodeling in Niantic, Connecticut. First, price non-negotiable elements. Once your list is solid, get an estimate of installation costs from several potential contractors. Soon you’ll have a rough idea of what the total project will cost. If there’s still room in your budget, take a second look at wish list items to see what else can be included.
Do your research: Some homework is required to find the best pros and materials for your budget, Wood says. For instance:
Read reviews of products and professionals.
Ask contractors about similar projects completed; did they finish on time and within budget?
Request customer referrals and contact them about their experience.
Contact your local building department or state consumer protection agency to verify pros are bonded and licensed (if required) before you hire them.
Be sure your contractor — and any subcontractor — has current personal liability, workers’ compensation and property damage insurance.
It may seem like a lot of research before starting a remodel and hiring someone, but this can make all the difference in a successful project, Wood says.
5 tips to make your bathroom remodel affordable
Prioritize improvements: Can’t fit all the must-haves in your budget? Think of your bathroom remodel as a work in progress rather than an all-or-nothing project. Replace broken or inefficient elements first, and move on to others as money becomes available.
Don't move things: Maintaining the bathroom’s basic layout will definitely save money, Shaw says. Moving the tub, shower and especially the toilet requires complicated plumbing changes that bump up the price.
Take smart shortcuts: It can be cost-effective to buy materials yourself, then hire a contractor to install them. Additionally, "many designers offer 'design-only' services," Wood says. “This means they’ll design the space for you, but you can purchase all of the materials on your own and work directly with the general [contractor] or subcontractors."
Opt for affordable alternatives: Flexible expectations can yield big savings, like choosing stock fixtures over custom pieces and vinyl plank flooring over tile, says Helly Duncan, owner of Design Matters Inc. in Louisville, Colorado.
Do a little DIY: Even if the handiest thing you’ve ever done is assemble an Ikea bookshelf, you may be able to reduce costs by tackling some aspects of the remodel yourself. Painting is a time-consuming but easy task, for example. Opt to do it yourself and you could save up to $1,000 depending on the size of your bathroom, Shaw says. Likewise, removing old fixtures before the contractor arrives could save hundreds in labor costs and disposal fees.