How To Renovate Your Bathroom With No Expensive Regrets

How To Renovate Your Bathroom With No Expensive Regrets

You’ve heard the horror stories.

You’ve even seen some first hand.

An expensive bathroom renovation.

Gone wrong!

It feels even more scary as you look at your own bathroom.

It makes you anxious. Overwhelmed.

You realize you’ll have to navigate a renovation yourself.

And soon.

But where do you even start?!

And how in the world do you prevent the very same thing from happening to you?

Of course, you’re wise enough to know that no renovation happens without a few kinks.

That’s reno reality.

But is there a better way to plan a bathroom renovation?

To prevent a big pile of mistakes?

For your bathroom to turn out the way you want?

Here’s the good news:

Following a few simple planning steps can reduce the overwhelm and make sure you’ve got your bases covered.

Even prevent some of the most costly (and common) mistakes.

The key to navigating your next bathroom (or any) renovation with way less fighting and crying?

It’s knowing the answers to these 4 shockingly simple, but OH SO CRUCIAL questions.

Question 1: What Do You Have?

Taking a cold, hard look at your bathroom is valuable.

Getting to know it’s faults reveals what you really need.

Seeing it’s good points tells you what to keep.

Grab a notebook and a pen.

We’re making a list.

And it’s about to become your MVP.

First things first…

Step 1: Assess the Context

Look at your house and neighbourhood.

  • What year is the house? Was it renovated? What was done and when?

This will help a contractor know what to expect behind the walls. Which will help him do his inspection and quote.

  • How long will you stay in your home?

Ultimately this helps you decide what’s worth doing.

  • What do your neighbours bathrooms look like?

Helpful to figure out how fancy you want to make your bathroom (aka spend).

If you live in an area where everyone has stone countertops then you probably should too. But you don’t need to be the most expensive either. Staying within what’s expected for the area to makes a more sound renovation and investment.

  • Which bathroom is this? Master, guest / kids bathroom or powder room?

Each has a different perceived importance in a house, if ever you sell. But also provides a different value for you every day you use it. So it may be worth it to spend more on one, less on another.

  • Look at what’s behind each bathroom wall. Is there space that’s not being used that could be stolen and added to the bathroom?

This will start you thinking about options.

Step 2: Picture Your Daily Routine

Every activity, done every day.

Ask yourself (and your partner):

  • What in the room irritates you every day?
  • What’s hard to use, clean, access or store?
  • What’s uncomfortable, awkward or dangerous to do or to use?

Now let’s break that down.

Start with the general.

  • How is the size of the room, the layout, the light?

Note what’s good.

And what needs to change.

Next come details.

Step 3: Note EVERY Element

Everything you see. Everything that makes it a room.

This is important. Take your time.

One single item per line.

Start at the ceiling. Work your way down and around the room, wall by wall.

For example:

  • Ceiling: plaster, paint, fan, centre light, shower light
  • Wall 1 — Entrance Wall: plaster, paint, light switch, thermostat,towel ring, toilet paper holder, door, hinges, door knob, door frame, baseboard
  • Wall 2 — Toilet/Vanity Wall: plaster, paint, backsplash tile, toilet, shelf, mirror, wall lights, vanity cabinet, cabinet pulls, sink, faucets, countertop, garbage can, toilet brush, baseboard
  • Wall 3 — Tub/Shower Area: wall tile, grout, caulking, metal tile edging, shower head, hand held shower head, shower controls, faucet, tub, soap holder, shower niche, towel holder/grab bar, shower floor tile, drain, shower rod, curtain /glass shower panel, shower door hinges, shower door pulls, horizontal tub surround, tub facing
  • Wall 4 — Towel Rack (and/or Storage Closet): plaster, paint, electric towel warmer/ towel rack, linen closet door, hinges, pull, door frame, interior shelves, baseboard,
  • Floor: floor tile, grout

Why so detailed?

Because these are ALL:

  • Things you will have to make a decision on at some point.
  • Things you’ll need to include in your budget.
  • Things that’ll cause delays, extra costs and frustration if you don’t think of them now.

True, your contractor will add the stuff that’s hidden or forms the envelope of the room. The gyprock, plaster, cement board, grout, tile adhesive, electrical, plumbing and the like.

But you’ll still have put your 2 cents in for some of those selections. And being aware of all that will help you understand what goes into the final costs too.

Not surprisingly, it also prepares you to ask better questions when speaking with sales people or contractors too.

The more you’ve thought about now, the fewer surprises later.

Step 4: What Condition Is It In?

And decide what action it requires.

  • Can you keep it as is?
  • Or is it broken or too worn?
  • Is it so outdated it’s not efficient?
  • Can it be cleaned, repaired or improved, not replaced?
  • What is too big or too small?

Add a “condition” column to your list and note whether it’s to:

  • Keep
  • Clean
  • Repair
  • Replace
  • Improve
  • Need (more about this in Step 2)
  • Maybe Add (more about this in Step 3)

Step 5: Measure Everything and Get It On Paper (Floorplan and Elevations)

Don’t worry.

It doesn’t have to be to scale. Or pretty.

But using 1/4” graph paper helps.

You just need the placement and dimensions to be clear.

This will make calculating quantities, sizes to order more precise. Making your costs more controlled too.

  • Start with the overall dimensions of the room.
  • Indicate the location of doors and windows (entrance, closet)
  • Add door widths (not including the frame).
  • Show the direction of each door swing.
  • Indicate the location and size (width x length) of the : toilet, sink, vanity, tub/shower
  • Record the space between things too.

At this point, to keep things clear, you can make 2 photocopies of this floor plan.

One for plumbing.

Add the exact location of the CENTRE of the drain for the:

  • Toilet
  • Sink
  • Tub / Shower

One for electrical.

Add the location of anything electric:

  • Light switches
  • Thermostat
  • Ceiling fan
  • Ceiling lights
  • Wall lights
  • Electrical outlets
  • Heater

Draw each wall elevation now.

(What the wall looks like as you face it.)

Do this for all 4 walls showing wall dimensions and ceiling height.

Add each item again, but now adding the height of each thing.

  • Toilet seat and tank
  • Vanity
  • Mirror
  • Wall lights, switches, outlets, thermostats
  • Tub, shower head
  • Doors, windows and size of their trim
  • Baseboard height

This will be helpful to understand proportions of things later. Or for planning tile patterns or wall treatments.

Most importantly, it’s great for calculating and double checking quantities of paint, tile, door and window trim, base boards.

Step 6: Do the Math and Tally It Up

If you’re keeping the size and footprint of your bathroom as is this will go quickly.

(If not, you’ll do this part using the new floor plan you create in Step 3

Going back to your original list, measure each existing item.

Beside each item record what the dimensions of that item is.

But notice too what you could potentially have room for.

For example:

Towel bar — 24” to 36” long

The same for your mirror, vanity, tub or shower.

Tally up the totals for all materials you’ll need to look at.

Like paint, wall tile, floor tile, baseboard, trim, knobs, bulbs, etc.

Step 7: Take Photos

Start with a photo of all 4 wall elevations.

Then add a couple overall shots. For example, from the doorway as you enter and from the bath/shower looking out. Corner to corner are also helpful.

This is an important backup tool.

It helps you to remember details that may not be clear on your drawings.

Photos help you explain your drawing to sales or trades people later. Often they have to see the space to grasp a drawing fully.

Take photos of things that will be repaired or replaced, while you’re at it.

Take close ups of the damage too.

This will help to get proper materials and pricing for those repairs or replacements.

Save them in an easy to access file or print them out too.

Now collect your lists, drawings and photos together.

You’re starting to create a master renovation file.

The completed file is gold!

  • It’ll keep you focused and efficient as you shop.
  • You’ll use it to communicate your ideas to sales people in the stores and showrooms.
  • It’ll guide you in your purchases, keeping your budget on track.
  • You’ll share this information with the contractors you ask for quotes.

So now….

Question 2: What Do You Need?

Let’s get real.

Choices are overwhelming.

TV shows, ads, magazines, flyers, social media.

All showing you something different. And new. And beautiful.

Like clothing, the more expensive an item, the more classic it should probably be. Trendy items date quickly.

Focus on your needs first.

Figure out what you really need. Emphasis on really.

Pretty aside…

  • What will make using the bathroom easier and safer every day?
  • What will reduce water and heating costs?
  • What will make it more comfortable?
  • Where can storage be added to the existing space?
  • Are there some special needs now?
  • Or things to add now that will be good for future, older you?
  • What’s missing that the room should have?
  • What would be nice to have?

If these items didn’t make it on your list in Step 1, add them now.

They’re probably some of the reasons for the renovation, after all.

So they’re important to think about too.

Which is what we’ll do next.

Question 3: What Do You Want?

Research is not to be poo-pooed.

Step 1: Start Browsing, Reading, Tearing, Scrolling

Research is powerful.

  • How else will you uncover what you’re after as the end result?
  • It shows you how other people have solved some of the problems you need fixed.
  • It shows you what’s possible for a space similar to your own.
  • It gives you a way to communicate what you have in your head to others. Like your partner, sales people and your contractor.
  • Helps with determining costs.

For example:

If you see a wall mounted toilet and decide that’s important to you.

You’ll show it to a sales person. They’ll tell you what extra materials and work you’ll need and the extra cost involved.

Then you can decide if it’s worth considering or not.

Then the contractor will be able to factor in the extra time and labour too.

It helps you see what you keep coming back to and so what you really like.

It can be fun too.

Take your list of bathroom “ingredients”; all the materials and items you need to put in it.

Start by searching for beautiful bathroom photos online (like Pinterest, Instagram, store websites) or in magazines.

  • Save any photo you love. Whole rooms, just a toilet, a tile or a knob.
  • Note what you like about it. Is it the colour, style, light, overall feel, size, layout? Or a single detail in the picture, like a tub, a floor, a faucet?

Step 2: Create A Favourites Folder With the Reasons Why

Seeing all the things you love is important, yes. But specifying why you like them gets you clear and specific in narrowing down your style.

Talk about it and see what you and your partner agree or disagree on.

Make a note of those things.

They’re the keepers and will help create your shopping list later.

Stand back and look at whole folder.

What keeps appearing?

Is there a theme?

  • Always white, light or bright? Or dark, moody and cozy?
  • Wood or painted finishes?
  • Tub? Shower?
  • Modern? Traditional? Rustic?

Spotting the things that you’re consistently drawn to tells you what your style is.

Now you have focus.

You may find elements of lots of styles appealing, as most people do.

But if white, clean lined, minimalist bathrooms keep coming up in your collection, you won’t waste time looking at curvy, traditional vanities, no matter how beautiful they are.

You won’t waste time ordering, buying (and returning) rustic, colourful tiles because you know the look you want, no matter how fabulous those tiles are.

Step 3: Get Your Vision on Paper (New Floorplan and Elevations)

  • Create a new BLANK floor plan once you decide what the size will be.
  • Draw new elevations too.
  • Make photocopies of these blank drawings so you can test your options and ideas.
  • Now add all the things your bathroom dreams are made of.
  • See if they fit.
  • Go back to your master list.
  • Calculate your new quantities.
  • Add the range of acceptable dimensions for the things you’ll need.

A couple tips:

Keeping drains (especially the toilet) in the same spot makes a reno faster and less expensive.

Toilets need a 30–36” space. So don’t go crazy with the size of your vanity.

Question 4: What Can You Get?

This is it.

But notice where we are now? Near the end of our planning?

Because only now is is more efficient, focused and ready.

Yes, it’s…

Step 1: Time To Start Shopping

You are now fully equipped.

You have your master file with you.

Your list tells you what you need to look at and how much or what size you need.

All the drawings and photos will communicate your ideas.

  • Take a picture of the things you like in the store.
  • Write down the dimensions and price (per unit).
  • Give yourself an option. An A option and a B, at least.

This can save time later.

In case there won’t be enough in stock, can’t be delivered on time or you have to switch things to stay on budget.

  • Show the sales people your notes.
  • Ask them if it’s possible to incorporate that item, given your space.
  • Ask what you need to double check to be sure it will work. (Like the structure of the floor for a big bathtub full of water.)
  • Ask about ease of cleaning and maintenance, extra utility costs or other potential surprises. (Like a heated floor or steam shower.)
  • Ask them if they have the quantity you need in stock. Ask about the delivery time, method and costs. Ask about their return policy.

Step 2: Write ALL the Information In Your Master List

When you get home, after many research trips like this, look at all the photos and notes you’ve compiled.

Put together your favourites.

This forms the design plan for your room.

  • Have you found everything on your original list?
  • Do they all work with the style you want?
  • Compare them with your floor plan. Will they really fit?

Money time…

Step 3: Add It All Up, Discuss, Juggle, Decide…Repeat

  • Juggle your A and B options until they fit the investment you want to make.

The must-haves and what’s not so important after all.

  • Make a new list of what you will buy.
  • Call or visit each vendor to order samples.
  • Also ask for specification sheets.

These tell you more about dimensions, parts, weight and installation.

  • Ask if any special materials are needed, extra materials, extra parts to buy separately. Include those things in your list.
  • Check and reserve stock. If they don’t have stock ask again what the delivery lead times will be.
  • Write this all down on your master list beside each item.

Test all the samples together in the light of your room.

Step 4: Time To Find A Contractor

Get referrals from friends, neighbours and showrooms. But also try to see the work that was done. Even better if it’s a home or budget similar to yours.

  • Ask if they were pleased with the experience and how the contractor worked.
  • Did they arrive on time, protect the rest of the house, and reasonably clean up each day?
  • Did they communicate well, answer questions, explain things clearly?
  • Were they transparent and detailed about payments and costs?
  • Did they stay on the job, finish on time and on budget?
  • Did they do a walk through at the end to touch up anything missed (deficiency list)?
  • Were they detail oriented with rough and finishing work and permits?
  • Did they respect the property and take pride in their work?
  • Will they meet regularly with you for an update and to show the work done during the renovation?
  • Were there any issues after the work was done?

Call the top 3 contractors you’ve found and set a date for them to view your project thoroughly.

Have a copy of your file ready to send to each contractor before they visit.

  • Including all floor plans, estimated quantities, house photos and construction date, .
  • Add your the inspiration pics to show what you’re shooting for and all the items (with specs) you want to use.

They’ll use it to create as precise a quote as possible.

Ask them to verify all your quantities and selections before they make their quote.

Make your expectations clear.

Ask what theirs are for you.

  • Like keeping pets and kids away.
  • Or providing a bathroom they can use.
  •  Or room to work or park outside.

Step 5: Place Orders, Receive and Double Check

Having everything ordered so it’s on site when the work begins is a step often most often ignored.

This gives you the chance to verify:

  • no parts are missing
  • nothing is damaged
  • they sent the right thing
  • you have the right quantities (like enough tile even if some is inevitably broken
  • you still like it

And gives you time to fix it before all your trades are booked and ON SITE waiting. Or worse, having to postpone your job until things get sorted.

Now…go ahead…

Hire your contractor.

Enjoy the experience.

Because all your preparation will make everyone’s job easier.

  • Fewer (if any) last minute changes.
  • And faster decisions if issues do arise.


How does it feel knowing exactly what goes into a bathroom renovation?

Better still…

How prepared, organized and ready to renovate do you feel right about now?!

Overwhelmed by options? Not any more!

Scared to make decisions? Not you.

Unsure what you’ll end up with? Nope.

You’re eager to start.

Excited to see it finished.

Confident you have it under control.

And soon, with a successful bathroom renovation behind you, you’ll be proud to show it off!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy

By signing up for this guide, you will also be added to my mailing list. You will receive periodic updates and special offers from me via email. I will not sell or distribute your email address to a third party at any time. View my privacy policy.

A No-Fail Guide to Choosing the Right Paint Colour (The First Time)