Redoing Bathroom Without Taking a Bath
February 22, 2008 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Bathroom Renovation Filter: DIY vs. Contractor

We are planning for a bathroom renovation. We would like to keep the cost under $2000. We are replacing a vanity/sink fiberglass shower unit, and tiling floors. I think the hardware will be half the cost. I am concerned about the cost of labor.

When I look at the overall project, my brain says "I can do that." Can I really? What haven't I considered? In the end would I be better off just hiring a plumbing contractor and biting the bullet?

Bonus points for links to inexpensive beautiful, practical bathroom fixtures.
posted by Xurando to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
$2000 is doable. I demo'd and replaced a bathroom for $1700 and that was ripping it down to the studs and replacing absolutely everything. Keep in mind that if you're doing it in your spare time, it will most likely take a couple weeks, whereas a pro can do it in a couple days. But a pro will also charge you at least $5-6000, minimum.

Do you have a shower you can use while yours is out of commission?
posted by electroboy at 6:47 AM on February 22, 2008

Can I really? What haven't I considered?

Can you sweat fit a pipe? Cut a tile? Install and level a cabinet? Remove and replace a toilet correctly? Fit a drain?

Most importantly, do you have time? And another place to s**t, shower and shine for a week or so?

If the answers are yes, then yes you probably can do it yourself. As they say in Maine: Hard tellin', not knowin'.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:53 AM on February 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

There are no inexpensive GOOD bathroom fixtures. But there are some reasonable alternatives. The big box stores have a huge selection. The plumbing specialist shops charge a lot more but also have some fine high end options. The price is right, $2000 is very doable. Expect to spend a lot more on tile than you imagined, however. If you have a handy friend that's done tile before have them along when you purchase and be sure to attend at least one tile class before you start. The tile will make or break the quality look of the job. It's also the part that will take up the most time as you wait 24 hours each time you need things to set.
As Xurando pointed out, taking it out to the studs is really the only way to go. So be prepared to haul a lot of stuff to the dump. If you're going to install a tub, I can recommend the Americast material. It feels and sounds like iron but only weight 150 pounds.
Putting it all together, take plenty of time to make everything square - the days you spend assembling materials and reading up on how to do things will pay off in major dividends when you start the work. The bathroom is not a good place to start without plenty of preparation.
posted by ptm at 6:55 AM on February 22, 2008

We are kind of in the middle of this right now. We are probably doing it for $3,000-$4,000 when it's all said and done. We are in the Atlanta market and for resale we expect to recoup up to 80% of that cost. YMMV.

When looking at fixtures, we originally wanted cheaper ones (less expensive) than what we chose. In the end, we went with the Kohler Archer suite of pedastal sink, toilet, and tub. We did not want to replace with fiberglass. We are tiling the floors and the shower enclosure. We found that with a lot of shopping around and also seeing some of the products we were considering in situ, as it were, we decided to go with more expensive fixtures.

Tiling is a chore. I know how to do it, but for this project, especially because I want it to be very good, we are going to pay a guy to do the tile. Unless you really want to do the tile yourself, you might consider this. If you have not tiled before, take a class to see what you are getting into. I just looked at the joints and the amount of work, and the wear and tear on my knees and decided my time would be better spent doing anything else. We are installing the rest of it ourselves, redoing the sheet rock, putting in the fixtures, etc.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:01 AM on February 22, 2008

I am nearly done with my own bathroom renovation, and each major step took a weekend: ripping out the old sink & installing the new one took one weekend, ripping out the old toilet and installing the new one took another weekend, and so on.

As is always the case, taking measurements is important. Know exactly how much space you have to work with -- where the sink drain goes into the wall, where the toilet drain goes into the floor & how far that is from the wall (twelve inches? Ten?), and so on.

Once you've got all the measurements, examine your existing plumbing and pay close attention to the connections -- how big are they, what are they made of, and so on. Depending on who built your place, and how long ago it was built, your plumbing may no longer be standard.

...or skip all that, and be prepared to spend a lot of time running back to the hardware store like I did ("ah crud, I need a 5/8-to-7/8 adapter! Grr." and "what the hell kind of valve is this? Why is my cold water line made from gas-line piping? Who built this place, NASA?")
posted by aramaic at 7:08 AM on February 22, 2008

Give this a look, for ideas if nothing else.
posted by mhz at 7:15 AM on February 22, 2008

We considered this a few years ago, and came to the hasty conclusion that whilst we're fairly handy DIYers, getting something wrong in a bathroom can, at best really annoy you forever (consider how long it is that you sit on the toilet idly staring at a row of wonky tiles) and at worst cause many expensive or difficult problems to solve. Would you *really* be confident in making sure that your shower enclosure is as watertight as it needs to be? Of course, the other consideration to make is how much of an inconvenience it's going to be to not have a shower for a week (or two, or three, or five) whilst you faff about replacing it.

The guy we ended up paying to do our bathroom was superb: he had a tiler come in and do all of that in about a tenth of the time it would've taken for us to do it ourselves. The whole job (complete replacement of everything in the bathroom) took 6 days -- with us doing the work, it would've taken us a minimum of 3 months, and I suspect wouldn't have stood the test of time.

Money well spent in getting someone in to do it I'd say.
posted by car01 at 7:43 AM on February 22, 2008

There are two ways to do tile wrong: getting someone else to do it and doing it youself. That's my experience so far.

Tiling is harder than it looks because you won't know if you did a bad job for a few months when the tiles begin to crack. I would suggest that you get an experienced, dedicated tiler to do the job.

Otherwise it is all pretty straightforward and can probably be done in that budget. Electrical and plumbing work is always best done by someone experienced, but doing it youself is fine given enough time. Professionals are always faster. I would also hire a professional drywall person. Again, DIY for the stuff that gets hidden. Professionals for stuff you will see.

I would look for good-but-cheap fixtures. We had to shop a lot to find the right 18" pedestal sink but it was perfect in the end. We got a toilet that came with a city rebate for being low-flush - newer low-flush toilets generally work fine. We put up subway tile on the walls and again we found lots of expensive wall tile options but in the end settled on something that was surprisingly cheap and looks great. The three axes of fixtures are good, cheap and easy to find. Pick two.
posted by GuyZero at 7:59 AM on February 22, 2008

I had this done last year (here are pics) and did little of the labor myself. I spent around $4K, bought all the fixtures and tiles myself at Lowe's. If I did it myself, I could've saved at least a thousand in labor, but I'd probably have to spend six or eight hundred in tools I'd never need again (wet cutting tile saw?). Our contractor pulled out a huge reciprocating saw and just cut the old fiberglass shower/tub unit into pieces in about 10 minutes. It all comes down to how you value your time. If you work incessantly throughout the week and only see your family on weekends and at night, you might decide that the extra thousand or so of labor is worth it.
posted by mattbucher at 8:15 AM on February 22, 2008

We started a project like this over a year ago. Right after we tore out the shower enclosure we realized that the old galvanized plumbing in our house was shot. We ended up having the whole house replumbed in PEX by a professional. The rest of the work we are doing ourselves, over a year later. Our $2000 budget went to $9000. Hopefully YMWillV.
posted by Big_B at 8:57 AM on February 22, 2008

We re-did our kitchen and bathroom last year. I did most of the demolition and finish work, but the flooring and tiling and plumbing stuff was contracted out. Very happy with the results, and it was money well spent.
posted by ducktape at 10:35 AM on February 22, 2008

Go check this site out:

John Bridge Tile Forum

I've recommended it in the past and used it extensively in my own bathroom remodel. We gutted everything, replumbed the entire house, replaced the crappy tub with a beautiful shower, tiled the floors and the vanity top. We spent a lot on tile, shower glass and custom cabinetry, but $2000 is probably reasonable if you do it all yourself (which I would encourage, if you have patience and time to do research).

Understand that it will take longer than you think. Ours took 1 year and 8 months, but we took our time to spread out the cost of the big purchases.

With the guidance of the folks on that site, you'll be able to complete a very high quality installation by yourself, as long as you do your homework and don't skimp on the foundation for your tile. Feel free to mefimail me if you want more info -- remodeling is super fun.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:05 AM on February 22, 2008

I'm in progress with a new bathroom right now. Check to see if there's a Habitat for Humanity ReStore store in your area - donated, new or used construction material to support HFH. I think y'all have me convinced to sub out the tile.
posted by theora55 at 1:11 PM on February 22, 2008

Do you have the tools to do the job? If you need to rent/purchase tools, then that really can add to the cost of the job. Do you know people who've done this work who'd be willing to talk through your plans? It helps to talk through every step of a DIY job with someone knowledgeable. They can save you a ton of headache and money. If you've got time, tools and an experienced advisor, then you can do it.

Also, I offer the following advice - Never start a plumbing job when Home Depot is closed.
posted by 26.2 at 2:23 PM on February 22, 2008

for sake of comparison, get a contractor or two to give you an estimate. they may also illuminate things you need to do you've never thought of doing. if you still feel confident about DIY after talking to them and gauging their cost versus DIY cost, go for it, but realize as other here have said, the bathroom is among the *worst* places to have something go 'not quite right' ... even with the best of contractors, things can and do go wrong. last bathroom remodel i did uncovered the fact that a DIYer back in the 1980s had sunk a screw into a water pipe but somehow it didn't fully pierce the pipe and the work being done in the bathroom was all it needed to push through and start leaking ... in a second floor bathroom! luckily said contractor was level-headed and quick about it, we managed to recover unscathed and the bathroom is now gorgeous.
posted by kuppajava at 7:23 PM on February 22, 2008

I am a complete dunder head and, with the help of my dad, we did a bathroom remodel in about three days. The tile on the walls took much longer than that, probably about a week and a half of nights after work. It didn't cost very much but we used the plumbing just as it was and didn't replace the toilet. We replaced the vanity, mirror, sink, floor, mirror light, and the walls around the shower. There is a before pic and two after pics featuring my tile in this photo set. If I can do it, anyone can.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:52 PM on February 22, 2008

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