Before-and-after bathroom questions.
January 4, 2010 12:10 PM   Subscribe

What do you wish you'd known before embarking on your bathroom remodel? What should I know before I do?

It's time to remodel/update the Work to Live bathroom. As this is our only full bathroom, we're planning to have the bulk of the work (demo of current tile on the walls and floor, removal of all fixtures, new drywall, simple electrical updating, and installation/tiling of tub and shower) done during a week in which we'll be out of town, so we can at least use the shower when we return.

It's a small -- 6X8 -- bathroom. While everything is being replaced, nothing is being moved. I'm hoping it'll be a fairly simple job, though I know nothing is ever as simple as it looks, or should be.

So here's my question: If you've gone through a project like this and lived to tell about it, what do you have to tell? What do you wish someone had told you before starting? Is there anything to look out for when it comes to choosing a contractor? Something you wished you'd done but didn't? Something you're sorry you did? Nice touches you'd recommend?

In short, any stories or advice would be welcome, and thanks!
posted by Work to Live to Home & Garden (46 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
I wish I had realized that it's easier to gut the room of plaster and re-drywall everything, rather than patching many damaged areas. I wasted a lot of time (DIY).

One thing I did do, and you should too, is make sure that corners in tilework (between shower walls, where the walls meet the tub or floor, etc.) are filled with color-matched caulk, NOT GROUT. It's extremely common for tile installers to just smoosh grout into everything because it saves time and attention, but grout in the corners between surfaces is almost guaranteed to crack. Grout companies make sand-textured, color-matched caulk for exactly this purpose. Make sure the tiler uses it.

I'd try some large paint swatches before they begin work, to be sure you've got your color scheme right. I painted our bathroom twice because our first color choice was so far off the mark.
posted by jon1270 at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

That putting marble tile on the wall behind where the toilet sits would screw-up the offset, making the toilet butt tight against the wall.

I never knew there was such a thing as different offsets for toilets until this happened.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:30 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is really basic, but one thing we did is buy all the materials ourselves and supply them to the contractor. Since the bathroom was pretty small (like yours), we were able to get nice tile and trim. Also, watch for sales on brands of fixtures at Lowes/Home Depot. To find a good contractor, you might check Angie's List.
posted by mattbucher at 12:31 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

ask your contractor for some other satisfied clients and talk to them.
posted by Redhush at 12:33 PM on January 4, 2010

I wish we knew we where going to have to replumb our whole house. The supply lines were all galvanized pipes from the 1960's, which have a lifespan of about 40 years. They were so rusted that I tried to unscrew one and it literally broke in half.

I wish someone had told us it would take a long time to do ourselves, and that there is a chance your partner would get pregnant during that time, leaving you to finish the project. I have a great picture of my very pregnant wife setting tile in the shower though.

I wish I had realized that it's easier to gut the room of plaster and re-drywall everything, rather than patching many damaged areas.

Also this. I thought retuxturing would hide it but it did not.
posted by Big_B at 12:39 PM on January 4, 2010

buy tile online. Even if you have to pay shipping (which often you don't), it's often way cheaper with far better selection (particularly since you live in the US). There's tons of really cool tile places online! (sigh, so much tile, so little time).
posted by kch at 12:41 PM on January 4, 2010

My bathroom remodel suffered from a lack of materials. We had water damage inside the wood walls, and decided to gut the whole thing while making repairs. What should have taken 1-2 weeks took months. First the wood was in short supply and new shipments weren't coming in quickly. We were going to have Corian shower walls and countertop, but that couldn't be installed until the walls were repaired, and the supplier wasn't able to (or unwilling) to keep the finished materials in their warehouse until we called them.

I'd check if your contractor has all materials either on-hand or reserved/secured from their suppliers. I, too, did what mattbucher suggested, but unfortunately I could only do that for the bath fixtures, tub, toilet, and cabinets. It didn't help me when it came to the wood planks or Corian.

Also, you mention that you'll be out; will you have spare keys or is there someone who can grant access? I don't know if you live in a house or an apartment, but if it's a house, get one of those key-locks with a combination.

And maybe this is confirmation bias, but construction jobs never seem to finish within the estimated time. I'd have a backup plan in the event your shower is still unavailable by the time you return home.
posted by CancerMan at 12:43 PM on January 4, 2010

If you choose glass tile, as opposed to porcelain, ceramic or stone, be aware that it requires a different type of adhesive to install properly. We didn't know that, and neither did the first person who installed it. But once the tiles started popping off right and left, we knew something was up. The whole thing had to be demolished and started over from scratch.

Second part of this lesson: Make sure your contractor carries insurance to cover this sort of thing. Luckily, we got that part right.
posted by spilon at 12:47 PM on January 4, 2010

Our bathroom is about the same size as yours. We hired one crew to do the demo and install the new shower stall, (small) vanity, toilet, and floor, and hired another person to come in after the fact and re-texture/re-paint the entire bathroom. I think this was the best decision we made in the project, because the guy we got to do the texture and painting was very, very good. Lots of contractors can do a decent job overseeing the entire remodel, but when you hire someone whose sole job is doing the finish work, you can/should expect to see better results. It did cost more, but we can definitely see where we spent the extra money, and it was well worth it.

Also, because of the insane way the bathroom had been previously remodeled (tile applied over a chicken-wire framework is insanely destructive to remove), the demo was pretty hard on the drywall on the opposite side of the bathroom wall. We ended up having to do some repair work to that wall, which we hadn't anticipated.
posted by mosk at 12:54 PM on January 4, 2010

In an older home none of the wiring is up to code. You'll need a new GFI circuit in there. A nice outlet near the vanity, and bonus points for an outlet inside of a cabinet where you can leave things to charge out of site. You'll also need a fan. If I had to do it again, I'd install a fan switch that was on a timer, so that it would continue to exhaust for a few minutes after leaving the, not for the farts, for the shower...
posted by Gungho at 1:03 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do you have cement under the tile or drywall/cement backing board? (how old is the house?) Demo will take much longer if it's pre 40's construction. The cement bed for the floor can be as thick as several inches, and held together with chicken wire. Additionally, the plaster can be reinforced with the same thing. On the ceiling. No, I'm not kidding. I filled the better part of a small dumpster with nothing but debris from a 10x 8 bathroom by myself, and that was a lot of trips up and down the stairs.

Galvanized pipes will need to be replaced, and could reach far down into the walls (into the space below in some cases). What type of piping will you be using to replace what's there (plastic or copper)? Be prepared for hidden repairs behind the walls or pinhole leaks in galvanized piping that don't open until you start banging on them.

Let's see. if the house is as old as mine (1925) it's out of square in four dimensions (one more than you even considered) and will need to be shimmed/straightened to get square walls and straight tile lines depending on how much you're using. Make sure the floor is reinforced and the contractor uses the proper subflooring secured in the correct way (screwed and glued). There's nothing like having new grout crackle under your toes because the subfloor wasn't installed correctly.

Think long and hard about proper ventilation. Fresh mold in a new bathroom is an expensive drag.

Make sure you run enough electrical lines to handle everything. I find overkill on the outlets is better than extension cords.

I know I'm forgetting something, but that's three bathrooms worth of advice.
posted by idiotking at 1:07 PM on January 4, 2010

Put in electric floor heat. I wish I'd discovered the stuff when I was leveling, as oppsed to the next weekend, when I went to the store for mastic for the floor tile.
posted by notsnot at 1:09 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding a fan, and a timer. Not minutes, I run the fan for an hour. But that's cheap. Get an electric heater for under your tile floor. It's not crazy expensive (it will require its own dedicated line) but walking on my toasty warm bathroom floor on a cold morning makes leaving the house to go to work a little more bearable.
posted by fixedgear at 1:11 PM on January 4, 2010

Our bathroom is also the same size, we also planned for it to take a week while we were away, and it took three. For no particular reason, it just did. Lots of little hang-ups and fiddley bits. As long as the toilet's in, you can sponge-bath in the kitchen sink.

Favourite things: Installing a dimmer switch. It's nice for baths, hangovers, sleepy kids and our self-esteem due to our inevitably aging complexions. We were also pleased to have the opportunity to move the tp holder to a more convenient location - instead of attached to the vanity on the left it's now on the wall to the right. It had always felt wrong!

Least favourite thing: We didn't know they didn't seal the grout until later on, and now it's slightly discoloured.

It was also harder to match all our whites than we thought, so we didn't make ourselves crazy. The differences are minute, but the wall tiles are different than the grout (now), and than the (vintage) porcelain sink and the new toilet, than the old clawfoot tub, than the window frame and the hexagonal floor tiles...but pops of black and colour keep it from being too noticeable.

I really wish we had done a few niches, using the space in between the studs to make some small shelves or ledges - one in the shower for products and another near the sink or toilet. The shelves we installed are okay, but we had to hang them higher than we thought so that my husband doesn't bonk his head when he's er...standing near the commode. They intrude on the small space, and it would have been so much tidier to have had them built-in. It wouldn't have cost much, or added much to the time after all we went over our time and budget.

Complaints I have about other people's bathrooms:

I like a proper hand-towel hanger near the sink. I hate guessing which towel to use in a private bathroom. It's nice to leave space for that.

I just hate it when full-length mirrors are placed so I can see down.

Bathrooms that are too tile-y are also too echo-y. Look for materials that deaden the sounds a bit!

Random things we've learned since the re-do:

Choose neutral tile and furniture and fixtures, then find your accessories like towels, rugs, shower curtains and accessories - paint for such a small room is easier to match to, costs less than, and is faster and easier to change than they all are.

And, choose a paint colour that complements your complexion - my first blue was too greeny, and it made me look bilious.
posted by peagood at 1:27 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Betcha didn't know: Toilets are sold sans seat. When you go shopping for a new toilet, make sure you don't buy an ADA-compliant unit (unless you need one of course), because once you install that seat, it will be a few inches taller than a non-ADA toilet, which makes it very hard to settle down, relax, and catch up on your reading. I'm 5'4, and my toes barely touch the ground. Mr. Scratch is a foot taller and even he thinks it's too high. Not a day goes by that I don't regret this!

In addition, someone upthread mentioned corners that are off square in older houses. Too true! Non-90-degree corners, sloping floors, you name it. If your house is old (mine's 1904) be sure to hire a contractor who's accustomed to this kind of renovation. Our guy discovered that our tub wouldn't fit in the planned direction (to match up with existing plumbing and had to turn it 180 degrees on account of the slope of the floor. Being an old-school guy, he took it in stride and therefore so did we.
posted by scratch at 1:27 PM on January 4, 2010

And another thing: measure, or have the contractor measure, the depth of the wall where you'll hang a medicine cabinet. We got one that was too deep to fit the shallow wall over the sink, and although it "works" as a surface mount, it's not exactly how we wanted it. Not a tragedy, just another tip.
posted by scratch at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2010

If you're tiling the floor, use smaller tiles. Unless the floor is perfectly level and even and does not shift, you will crack tiles.

Use a high-cfm fan, even for a small bathroom. Using a 50 or fewer cfm fan doesn't get rid of the steam in ways that work well in modern houses.

I prefer semi-gloss or eggshell paint for ceilings in bathrooms; elsewhere I use flat paint. Even with greenboard, I'm a big fan of using shellac-based primer in the bathroom. I also caulk around the tub, baseboard, and floorboard using Polyseamseal as a caulk. Everything else seems to tear or leak.
posted by SpecialK at 1:46 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I re-did my 2 bathrooms, and did all the work myself. I had no idea how to do most of it, but learned as I went and am really happy about it. So my advice is:

1) Do it yourself. Since you're not moving anything, it would be (relatively) easy, MUCH cheaper, and far more rewarding than hiring a contractor. Barring that...

2) You don't need a contractor just to replace stuff-- just go to Home Depot and let them do the work, or let your fingers do the walking.

3) Avoid white grout at all costs.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:09 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

idiotking: On the floor that is called wet bed. It's a mixture of sand and cement used to create a stable, leveled surface. Done well, it can last longer than you will be alive. Unfortunately, it is rarely done anymore.

Do -not- try to do the wet bed yourself. Hire a contractor that will do it (look for old Italian guys) or accept that you will have a floor that may still look great but won't have any of the longevity or stability of the wet bed.
posted by Loto at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2010

I had my bathroom redone recently. It's about the same size as yours, and it took a month.

A nice touch: I got one of those curvy shower curtain rods, and it's great.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:28 PM on January 4, 2010

1 week may be too optimistic. There maybe some surprises once everything is off, your contractors might get called off to another urgent job or the store might be out of widgets.
posted by aeighty at 2:34 PM on January 4, 2010

I replaced all my ½" shower-body pipe with ¾" and replaced the crappy lo-flo showerhead with a Speakman, and I raised the shower head 6" — it's like standing in a waterfall.
posted by nicwolff at 2:45 PM on January 4, 2010

When you are deciding what goes where, don't forget to consider what will happen when ALL of the doors are open. Find out which way the cabinet door will open.

I bought a £600 mirror-doored cabinet and discovered to my horror that the hinges were on the left, they couldn't be changed, and the manufacturer didn't even offer a model with the hinges on the right. As it was, the glass door opened straight into my enamelled radiator - both would probably have ended up trashed. (Fortunately, after a morning with a Dremel I had managed to modify the cabinet myself, so that all was well.)

Oh, and don't buy electrical underfloor heating. It's sooo wasteful - think of the planet. If you want underfloor heating then do your whole house with a low temperature water-fed system. It's very effective and really cheap to run.
posted by mr. strange at 3:10 PM on January 4, 2010

If you are installing ceramic tile on the floor (as opposed to vinyl or similar) make sure the toilet bowl flange is installed to account for the thickness of the tile. The plumber left ours at the level of the plywood underfloor and it was a pain to fix it so it would seal correctly.
posted by TDIpod at 3:25 PM on January 4, 2010

Figure out where you want towel bars or shelves before you put up drywall, and screw in some extra framing between the studs to anchor the bars/shelves. Drywall anchors aren't really strong enough, much better to screw into studs.

As long as you have time (and potentially patience) you can do it yourself.
posted by consummate dilettante at 3:50 PM on January 4, 2010

Even if you are shower people, if you are going to put in a tub make sure it is comfortable and as deep as you can afford. I have a tub that is pretty much a straight right angle and not too nice to read in. I think a powerful fan is a great idea and I have often wished ours was on a timer so that when you shower and then leave for work you aren't blowing all the heat out of the house all day.
posted by InkaLomax at 3:56 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Contractors are not 3 yrs olds who need to have every little detail admired and accepted regardless of its actual quality; they are professionals being paid to meet the standards set by you and the relevant local officials.

2. Insist on being on-site to oversee the big/expensive jobs. The crew had some "spare time" and did did the kitchen counters earlier in the day than planned so they could leave early. They then had to stay late after I had them re-lay the granite since they ran it the wrong direction and put in the sink in as an overhang after being explicitly told it was to be an underhang.

3. Be pushy about everything and inches add up. The framing ended up on just under an inch off where the blueprint indicated it should be and we let it ride, given what we thought were bigger issues. But then the plumbing was off center and the toilet really doesn't sit right and now really should be taken out and re-done.

4. We did that trick peagood mentions of built shelves in the shower-LOVE IT!

5. Another favorite feature of mine is that we did electrical outlets in the drawers for hair dryers, etc.
posted by beaning at 4:11 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Apologies for my blunt remarks, but 1 week for a proper bathroom gut/re-fix/re-tile is unrealistic (virtually insane in my opinion). Sorry, but even if Mike Holmes shows it, it can't be done IF you want a decent job. If your general contractor is conscientious and works hard, it will take longer than this. Absolutely.

For a small bathroom you cannot jam a full crew of tradesmen in at the same time, and you will not even have enough time for all of the plaster/tile glue/grout to dry properly at each step of the process. I have worked with excellent contractors who have crammed the bathroom with talented and hard-working subcontractors 9 hours a day, and under perfect conditions, this usually comes out to 2+ weeks minimum to final finish... for a pretty nice job, that is.

The MOST IMPORTANT THING in the process is having a general contractor you can trust. Personal recommendations from people you know are the best. Otherwise, Redhush's advice about getting previous client testimonies is required. Some happy clients will even give you a brief tour if you ask nicely.

Also, a decent cost-breakdown on the quote can help put things in perspective.
Always ask the contractor for clarification on anything you can think of.
Also, if you are on vacation for this gig, keep your cell-phone handy.

Deep breath:
Home renovations are expensive.
Home renovations are dirty and dusty.
Home renovations take longer than you think.
Home renovations can be way more expensive if you have imperfect existing electrical/plumbing/structural issues.
Home renovations are more expensive if you change your mind about design choices.
posted by ovvl at 4:32 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Also note: Home renovations can be reasonably priced if you do it yourself AND you know what you are doing.
posted by ovvl at 4:35 PM on January 4, 2010

A couple of people mentioned floor heating. It may just be the crappy in-floor heating in my house (not my remodel, it was here when we moved in) but while it's awesome to warm up the tile, it may not be enough to replace you other methods of heating. So, um, don't tear out the radiator completely. The cold winter mornings in my essentially-unheated bathroom are pretty grim.
posted by cabingirl at 4:56 PM on January 4, 2010

We were glad that we made a deal with the contractor for labour only. He gave us a list of supplies that we ordered ourselves. That way, we didn't hand over a big chunk of cash at the outset and it made it a simpler prospect to hire someone else if he didn't start on schedule or we weren't happy with his work.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:58 PM on January 4, 2010

bonus points for an outlet inside of a cabinet where you can leave things to charge out of site.

Depending on where you are, this may violate electrical codes.
posted by davey_darling at 5:02 PM on January 4, 2010

I'm sorry to say this, but I ... wouldn't leave for a week during a big construction project. There are a lot of potential problems that, if caught immediately, are easily fixable, but if caught days later would mean tearing out all kinds of good work to get to. In my experience, contractors have been only as good as my supervision; back when I was more hands-off, figuring "they know their work," I got less satisfactory results, but now when I'm up in their business all the time, asking questions, making sure things are being done the way we discussed, I get much better work.
posted by palliser at 6:11 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you are going to have a new bath tub and you like to sit in the tub and soak go to a show room and try some out. I've done a bunch of remodels and I've usually been disappointed in the tub. The best was when I went to an expensive showroom and the salesman made me go around and sit in different tubs, pointing out that the pretty ones weren't usually the most comfortable. I ended up getting a nice long tub that I didn't have to sit with bent knees in and with arm rests on the side, great for resting elbows on if you like to read in the tub. If you want a jacuzzi in it, get one that has enough power, the ones at Home Depot don't. I really liked having the jacuzzi but only because I love the way it makes bubbles, I didn't really think it was that great for my aches and I probably won't get another just for the bubbles considering the expense. You also have to make sure your hot water heater is large enough to fill the tub if you get a deep one.
Ditto on getting enough outlets, with electric toothbrushes, dryers, straighteners, curlers and God knows what else, one just doesn't make it anymore.
Make sure you have some storage, more is better. Duck walking out into the hall with you pants around your ankles to get more toilet paper is something you want to avoid.
Good luck with your project.
posted by BoscosMom at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

These two recently did a bathroom remodel in their home. They're not quite finished yet, but have the process they've gone through thus far. Great blog for DIY home improvement in general.
posted by arishaun at 6:53 PM on January 4, 2010

Nthing being prepared to replumb as necessary. My husband did a cosmetic redo of a 40 year old bathroom, which meant that a flood necessitated a total remodel five years later.

Also, our 5/8" thick rainglass shower door was expensive, but the thunk of the door gives me joy every time I use it!
posted by mozhet at 7:04 PM on January 4, 2010

I wish that I had figured out a way to install a warmer behind a portion of the bathroom mirror, so that there would be a clear space when I got out of the shower.

It is a good idea to install the vent fan at the other end of the vent pipe, for a quiet bathroom. On the other hand, a quiet bathroom may be too quiet when you want to let loose, or otherwise want to give the impression that you don't have actual biological processes.

I am glad that I installed little tile shelves in the shower, for the soap and shampoo to rest on.

The bathroom is the most expensive room in the house, by square footage.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 7:22 PM on January 4, 2010

I've had three bathrooms completely remodeled by good people. Bathooms require attention because there's so much going on in there. In my opinion, you need to be nearby for the whole job. You need to check in every day, and be available all the time for phone calls.

I can't imagine a bathroom being completed in one week, or even two. Demo and cleanup takes at least a day. Painting probably takes a day or more. Everything in-between isn't going to take 3-5 days. For the most part, only one person can work in there at a time, and they're not going to hang out in the kitchen waiting for the others to finish.

There are going to be unexpected expenses -- things nobody could have known about before the demo. Things take longer than expected, even for honest contractors and workers, and you have to pay for it. If you insist they stick to the bid, you'll be encouraging them to cut corners, and you really don't want that in a bathroom.

Have all the fixtures (tub, toilet, sink) and fittings (like faucets, lights) on site before work starts. Inspect them. A cheap vanity can easily be reinforced before installation so it won't rack. A chipped sink can be exchanged. Missing pieces can be picked up. But don't find out at the last minute.

The more subs are involved, the more delays there will be. A separate tile person, separate plumber, separate painter, separate electrician... each of these can add a day or more. It's not bad to have several subs, but in order for them not to conflict, they need to be scheduled with some breathing room.

Your bathroom may need blocking --reinforced framing inside the wall to attach things to. All they do is put in a section of 2x4 between two studs or attached to one stud. That way, towel rods or a pedesta/walll sink can be anchored securely. This means you want to know ahead of time how long your towel rods will be and where they will go, that sort of thing.

Whenever I say, "Ill figure that out later," it comes back to bite me. Choice of baseboard, exact locations of outlets and switches, places for wall hooks, which shelf above the sink or in the corner, storage for toilet paper. And don't guess. If you gaven't picked a mirror or medicine cabinet, it can be hard to specify where the sink lighting should go, and that has to be decided while the walls are open.

Have the shower head installed high enough for a tall person. water comes out as much as 5 inches below where the pipe comes out of the wall. It's not crazy to place the pipe outlet at 80 inches.

You need a quiet fan that moves about 100 cfm.

YOu'll thank yourself later for putting a hand sprayer in the tub or shower. It makes cleaning soap scum so much easier.

I know this sounds forbidding, but really it's the way to get the best work with the fewest mistakes. Good luck with your project -- the second bathroom will be a lot easier.
posted by wryly at 7:25 PM on January 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

We did precisely the same thing you are doing, 5 years ago. Only bathroom in the house, gutted and rebuilt.

The most important thing to do is have a deadline in the contract for being able to get in and use the shower again. Enforce it with a daily penalty, agreed on in the contract. In my case it was $250 day, IIRC. The contractor requested, and received, a clause calling for a similar bonus if he reached that milestone early. In our case we were moving out of the house and living in an apartment around the corner, so every day counted and it was worth $250/day to me to get back in the house and get closer to normal life. Make sure that the clause defining this bonus/penalty says that there are NO circumstances that extend the deadline. Weather, city inspections, subcontractor problems -- not your problem. Remember, he agreed that he could have it done by that date,and it's his job to worry about how much schedule buffer he should budget for. Note: the contractor may not like you at the end of the project. MeMail me if you want more info about this contract stuff.

If you are having custom cabinetry built, pictures of design elements are nice, but you must annotate those photos with exactly what you liked about each photo. "Doors like this" or "sink like this" and so forth, written alongside each photo. Don't just hand him a pile of photos/clippings during a verbal discussion and expect him to remember and understand what's in your mind's eye. Our custom work arrived completely wrong, but fortunately could be reworked.

Personally I think it's a bad idea to be out of town while this work is being done. Checking on my worksite once a day wasn't often enough. It's amazing how much miscommunication there can be.

If you pick a bathtub faucet that has a single-handle controller, make sure that you can control both temperature and volume with it. Most control only temp.

We went all out and the bathroom is the nicest room in the house now!

On preview:
* Part of our design included a powerful squirrel cage fan exhausting to outside (not attic!). I love my half hour showers.
* We got the "elongated" style of toilet, because I'm tall, and love it.

posted by intermod at 7:33 PM on January 4, 2010

We had our contractor do everything but the painting and sealing the grout. It was great to have it done, but we had to make sure our tile and fixtures were all ready at the same time he had the crew scheduled to go.
I second staying away from white grout. My mom's looks terrible in her bathroom.
Agreeing that you may need to be prepared to redo the plumbing. We did. Glad we did, but it was unexpected.
Also agree with getting a larger ventilation fan even for a small bathroom. We just did a total remodel of our tiny bathroom and the fan is just not cutting it in there.
Our contractor did a great job, but we had him put in our towel bars and things and he didn't put them where we wanted. It was good to be there in order to tell him where to move them.
Oh, and if you have a special layout for how you want the tiles to look - be sure to be specific and draw out an example as you go over the plan. Our tiles were installed in a horizontal rather than vertical pattern, but luckily we like it after all.
Hope you love the finished product! We love ours!
posted by LilBit at 8:00 PM on January 4, 2010

I haven't remodeled a bathroom, but for maybe a decade I've been collecting a list of fussy things that annoy me about the bathrooms I've had to live with, so I could avoid the same problems when I someday own my own house. Here's what I've got:

- Electrical outlets should not be above the toilet-paper holder, because the cords for hair dryers get caught around them in the midst of the drying process. Ditto for big cabinet handles below the outlets, if they're the kind of thing a cord could get caught on.

- If the TP holder is one of those pretty bars that is only attached on one end, so you can just slide on a new roll, orient it with the attached end closer to the toilet. Otherwise the person sitting there will be constantly pulling the roll off the fixture as they try to pull the TP.

- Built-in shelves in the shower are a godsend. Put in as many as you can fit. It sucks trying to balance lots of bottles on a tiny little corner, and most fixtures you can buy to add to the shower after the fact are (a) too small, (b) prone to spilling heavy shampoo bottles on your toes, and (c) not as pretty as well-planned spaces built into the wall itself.

- This is probably personal preference, but doors on a shower are sooo much nicer than a curtain. I guess you have to be more fastidious about cleaning them instead of replacing a $10 curtain liner, but they never blow into the shower or stick to you while you're trying to get clean.

- Kind of a no-brainer, but towels should hang somewhere that can be reached from the shower, so nobody has to drip water all over the floor to get them.

- Paired mirrors that can be angled to see the back of your head are really nice. When I was a kid we had a mirrored shower door, and the medicine cabinet door opened to the appropriate side so it could be angled for a back view. This was especially nice because the cabinet door would stay wherever you put it (as opposed to swinging open or shut), so we could dry our hair and see the back at the same time.

- Can you work in an out-of-sight place to store a plunger and a toilet brush? It's not the end of the world to see them tucked in the corner by the toilet, but it's so much nicer not to.

- Definitely have TP storage available within reach of the toilet, in case somebody doesn't replace the roll.

- If you get a pedestal sink, make sure you know where you're going to put your garbage can. People who are used to tucking it under a 4-footed sink or a vanity sometimes forget that that space won't be available, and you end up with a weird garbage can sticking out in the room somewhere underfoot.

- Also with the pedestal sink, consider where you will set your soap. If you like a nice round pump bottle (like the Method soaps) and your sink only has a narrow space for a bar, it's not going to balance there. Like I said, these are fussy things, but might be worth considering.
posted by vytae at 8:58 PM on January 4, 2010

I had been looking for ages for a "rain shower" style shower head that wasn't crazy expensive. I finally found one for less than 10 dollars at Ocean State Job Lots. Oh my God, major upgrade!

Another upside was finding that I take shorter showers now, I feel really rinsed off instead of standing there hoping I was getting properly rinsed off.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 9:49 PM on January 4, 2010

The cheapest sink from the big box store will chip after only a few years. Said sink was not worth it.
posted by oceano at 10:01 PM on January 4, 2010

Storage, storage, storage.

If you're taller than 5'6" consider that in your planning. My shower head is 7' and my sink is 39" tall with a raised faucet so I don't have to hunch over to wash my hands. I replaced a 12" tall toilet with a 17" tall one. Bliss.

Just take all the drywall out of the entire wall if you are doing anything to it, it's easier to replace than to patch.

Plan on redoing all of the wiring and plumbing and insulation while you have the walls torn up. if you don't have to- bonus. For this reason I'd have them at least do the demo before you go out fo town so you know what you're dealing with.

Don't drive yourself nuts. I really, really wanted a wall mount sink and spent forever looking but couldn't find one in my price range. I got a vanity sink. I like it just fine.

Buy your own supplies and give them to the contractor, or at least hand them a list of exact model numbers, colors and prices.

Buy too much tile from a place that allows returns. Keep some of the extra for repairs later on.

Line up a place to shower for a week or two: the gym, a neighbors, work... you will need it.

Talk to your contractors about your ideas ahead of time, they do this stuff a lot and often have great ideas that you might not have considered. My contractor took my floorplan which was merely OK and made it awesome! He also saved me a ton of money and was honest and helpful about addressing the problems he found once he opened up the walls (see above about planning on replacing everything! I had a drain that ran uphill and wiring that was characterized as "insane"). Needless to say I had a great contractor who I trust absolutely.

If you have a general contractor pay them based on time & materials and not on a single bid. Most good contractors will be happy to do this on a remodel for an older house because it is hard to bid the work not knowing the condition of the wiring/ plumbing. If they don't want to do that ask them why not, but imho the odds are you are being over-charged.
posted by fshgrl at 11:19 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never understood why people put the shower tap/thermostat/other controls in the centre of one of the 4 walls (assuming your shower is square or rectangular). Draw a square, then draw a circle inside it to indicate the floor area you'll be using when you take a shower, and immediately you'll see the taps are located exactly where you're most likely to hit them. This can cause bruises and/or sudden, unintentional changes in water temperature. Locate the taps etc. in one of the corners, where the likelihood of bumping into them is vastly reduced. This will of course need to be planned well in advance to bring the cold and hot pipes to the right place.

And don't install only the fixed overhead shower-head, but the detachable hand-held version (either as well or, if the fitting is robust enough, as the only version) for rinsing your, er, more private parts.
posted by aqsakal at 2:29 AM on January 5, 2010

Response by poster: Great answers -- thanks for all your advice. I'll have the AskMe minds to thank for those aspects of the project that go well.
posted by Work to Live at 7:30 AM on January 5, 2010

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