By Brett Martin of Popular Mechanics
Have everything on hand first
Big items such as the vanity top and special-order tile can take several weeks to arrive, so be patient. Before you take a hammer or sawzall to your bathroom, make sure everything you’re going to need — including the vanity, plumbing fixtures, any new lighting, the tub and the tile — is on hand. You might get frustrated waiting around for products, but it’s better than tearing up your fixtures and having an unusable bathroom until they arrive. Plus, when your new products are on hand, you’ll know if you need to do extra work, such as moving the plumbing lines for the sink location or running new cable for your lights.
Consider all your options
Home centers have a limited selection of vanities and tops in the store, and special orders can take four to six weeks for delivery, so take a look at other sources. Local independent suppliers who specialize in natural stone have a wide selection of tops in a range of colors and sizes. They can also custom-cut tops to fit unusual spaces and shapes. You may be surprised by how affordable the tops can be.
Or do what I did: shop online. I admit to being apprehensive about buying the centerpiece to our bathroom based on pictures and a written description, but I liked what I saw, including the price. I saved several hundred dollars compared with what home centers were charging and got attractive, top-quality products. A 48-inch-wide vanity, marble top, under mount sink and framed mirror cost us $1,300.
Plan for shower storage
You’ll want in-shower storage for your shampoo, soap, razor and body wash. But hey, you’re not in college anymore. Don’t settle for cheap plastic units that hang from the shower head or attach to rods that run from your tub to the ceiling; they look ugly and can ruin your attractive new design. A better option is ceramic tile shelving that’s installed in the corner of the shower. The shelves start at about $10 at home centers and tile stores.
An even better solution is to build in-the-wall shelving. Once you tear out the old shower, add framing between the wall studs for the shelves. The finished shelving, especially if tiled, looks attractive and doesn’t protrude into the shower, so you don’t have to worry about knocking off the shampoo bottles with your elbows when you’re singing karaoke into the shower head.
Rip up the under layment
Removing old flooring tile or vinyl can be time-consuming and difficult and can still leave behind stubborn pieces that refuse to come off. A faster, simpler way is to rip up the under layment along with the floor covering. Cutting the underlayment into small sections makes removal easier. Set the circular saw blade just deep enough to cut through the thin plywood underlayment without cutting into the underlying subfloor.
You’ll have to install a new underlayment, but quarter-inch plywood or cement board is cheap and lets you start with a clean surface. Starting from scratch also lets you get rid of underlayment that may be water-damaged, which is common around the toilet.
Use accent tiles
Mosaic or glass tile is expensive — mine cost $5 per 12-inch-square sheet — but you don’t need a lot of it to add some pizzazz to the bathroom. I used only a dozen sheets, yet it made a big impact. Using the special tiles as a border or sporadically in the tile pattern gives the design a punch of color and character.
Get a curved shower rod
A seemingly small detail, a curved shower rod adds a surprising amount of space to your shower. You’ll pay a little more, say $28 as opposed to the $6 starting price for common straight rods. In addition to the extra space, though, the curved models look nice and attach to the wall with screws instead of tension, so you don’t need to worry about them being pulled down.
Add a spacer to the toilet flange
Here’s a quick tip that will save you some trouble. If you replace a vinyl floor with tile, the extra height of the tile will probably raise the toilet enough to no longer fit snugly on the flange for the waste line in the floor. That means you’ll need to raise the flange. You can buy a wax ring extender kit at a home center or hardware store for $6. But if you need even more height, as I did, you’ll need a flange spacer that attaches to the flange with screws to give you the extra height. Once it’s in, you install the toilet normally, with the wax ring. Flange spacers are available in different thicknesses at home centers for about $3.
Update the lighting
Think of this as part of the remodel. You don’t want to end up with a new bathroom but outdated light fixtures. Plan your lighting early on so you’ll know if you need to run new cable. Consider recessed lighting over the shower for better illumination while you’re bathing. Just make sure the lights are rated for bathrooms.
Don’t be afraid to call a pro
If any part of the project takes you out of your comfort zone, call in a professional. You may need an electrician to help run cable for in-floor heating controls, or you might need a plumber’s help if the water or drain lines need to be moved. When you’re dealing with electrical or plumbing, do-it-yourself mistakes can be catastrophic.
During my remodel, I had to move the water-supply lines and the waste line in my wall to accommodate my new, wider vanity, which had a different sink location than my old vanity. I hired a plumber to handle that part of the job, and it cost me more than $500. Tradespeople aren’t cheap, but if they solve a problem, they’re worth the expense.
Splurge on something
Even a small bathroom makeover is a major expense. The urge to cut costs wherever possible is understandable, but pick your spots. Splurge on one feature you love that will define the look and feel of your new bathroom — a high-end plumbing fixture in the shower or sink, a special-order vanity top or a heated towel rack. Paying a little extra for fixtures will most likely reward you in the future. Cheap fixtures don’t last as long, and when they fail they can be difficult to replace.
I splurged in two areas, one big and one small. I upgraded my plumbing fixtures, and I also spent about $180 on a custom shower curtain from photoshowercurtain.com. It’s the first thing people comment on when they see our bathroom.