How to Remodel a Bathroom on your Own (DIY)

bathroomI recently wrote a guest post for Dave Carlson at Young Adult Money about how to remodel a bathroom.  I included a few costs, and it’s a great read if you are contemplating a new bathroom remodel.  You can spend a few hundred, or many thousands.

There are many improvements that you can make to a bathroom to make for a more modern look. You can spend quite a bit of money on it, or you can do it in a less expensive way. Money spent modernizing a bathroom goes a long way, and much of the investment can be re-cooped in increased property valuation.

Be sure to check out this bathroom remodel page too.

You can go out and hire one of the big name bathroom remodeling companies, and spend in excess of the national average for a bathroom remodel of $16,128. For that money, they will line the bathtub and put in a new shower surround. They might do something with the rest of the walls, or not. It’s going to be difficult to part with that money, knowing that just delayed your eventual retirement date by about twelve months.

Let’s break down the remodeling by section, and address each improvement one at a time. Most of these can be done on a piece meal basis as you have time, or money. They are not hard tasks, and many are DIY projects. You can do a 100% remodel, yourself, for under $1,500. It will be a better job than any one-day remodeling company can do.

Floors – Total DIY Cost: $200

The floors in most bathrooms should be tile, if yours is not, read further. If you have vinyl or the stick on squares, get rid of them. The stick on squares will only be OK if you want something quick to mask the existing floor, like when your mother-in-law comes to visit.

Remove the toilet and vanity. Put up the old flooring, all the way to the subfloor. Inspect the subfloor for rotten areas and any water damage. If the floor is weak under the toilet, reinforce the area, using treated 2x4s and joist hangers between the existing floor joists if you need to. Patch in the new subfloor with ¾” treated plywood.

Once you have the subfloor solid, with no rotted areas, put down a cement backer board. Since you do not have a toilet or vanity installed, it’s a pretty easy task. I use ¼” lightweight backer board material, designed for under tile.

The tile that you use should be a non-slip version. Both ceramic and porcelain are OK, but make sure if you are getting out of the shower, with wet feet, the slippery surface does not become an accident waiting to happen.
The bathrooms in my apartments are about 5’ x 8’, and I have used both 12” and 18” tile. Both sizes look great. I was initially worried about the 18” tile being too large, but they were fine.

Tile costs about $1 per square foot for the tile itself. Backer board is under $10 for a 4’ x 4’ sheet. Tile easy to install, but installers generally charge ~$4 per foot. Tile is easy to cut, and a bit messy if you cut dry tile indoors. Pick up a cheap wet saw, and save all of the dust. Use the plastic ‘T’s to help keep the tile in a straight line. Use a thin-set mortar to set the tile, and a dark colored grout to hide dirt.

Ceilings – Total DIY Cost: $100

There is not much to do with the ceiling, other than paint it with a non-mildewing paint. Bright white is the best, and I use a semi-gloss. If you have a popcorn ceiling, and some small places are coming off, you have several choices. You can scrape the entire ceiling to get a flat ceiling, re-spray the popcorn with a compressor and hopper, or just buy a spray can of ceiling popcorn at Home Depot and re-spray the blemished area.

If you do any scraping of popcorn ceilings, be sure to spray it with water and wait 15 minutes. Spray it a few times in those first minutes, as the water will continue to soak up into the popcorn, and once it is soaked, the popcorn will be easy to scrape.

Anther ceiling improvement is a new bathroom fan. Most bathroom fans are too loud. There are fans out there that run super quiet, for less than $100.

Walls – Total DIY Cost: $150

Walls are like ceilings, it’s mostly paint. You can tile them, but it is far cheaper to just paint them. Fill in any holes in the wall(s), sand the area smooth, and remove the towel bars before you start.

Use a good non-mildewing paint, designed for kitchen and bathrooms. You can use a wainscot on the lower part of the wall, if you want. You can buy paneling, which looks like wainscot. Simply cut the 4’ x 8’ piece into three 32” pieces. That $25 piece of paneling will cover 12’ of wall. Add some top and corner trim, and you are all set.

Tub/Shower – $500 to $750

Replacing a tub is expensive and a lot of work. Do not do it if you do not have to. One alternative is to paint a tub. For ~$500, you can hire out the task of painting a tub. I had an old cast iron tub painted, and it worked great. It was an old 1920’s tub that had the finish of sandpaper the finish was so worn out. The contractor came in, and completed the painting in a day. It was like a brand new tub when he was complete.

If you have a fiberglass tub, you can polish it, or have it painted. They paint fiberglass boat hulls and the paint holds up, a tub is not much different.

If you have a tub with a separate wall surround, you can also replace the surround before the tub is painted. Matching the color of the surround to the tub might be difficult, but the painter can paint both. For about $200, you can get a decent price sub surround. They are not too difficult to replace, but might stretch the amateur’s ability just a bit. A good surround might add more shower shelves or hand holds.

Shower Doors are another easy fix. A glass door looks nice, but is difficult to clean. They are just over $100, and install in less than an hour. Never put a glass door in a rental, as renters do not clean them.


No bathroom remodel is complete without replacing some fixtures.

  • Complete Double Vanity: $550

A decent vanity should be put in. If you have enough room for a double vanity, with two sinks, so much the better. A decent 60”, solid oak front vanity can be purchased as a ready to assemble (RTA) cabinet for ~$200, plus shipping. The double vanity top is another $200, and faucets another $150.Stay away from particle board in a bathroom, the sink can leak, and the sides can sit in water if you have any kids splashing in the tub. You can never go wrong with solid wood. The inside of the vanity, under the sink, can be lined with a small piece of vinyl flooring. That will spruce up even an old vanity. Caulk the edges with clear caulk to hold it down, and never worry about a leaking sink drain ruining the vanity bottom again.

  • Medicine Cabinet: $100

A simple flat mirror can be installed on the bathroom wall, or a medicine cabinet can be installed. Either one works, but the flat mirror is cheaper.A toilet topper will look great, and is also fairly cheap.

  • Toilet: $200

If you are replacing a toilet, go with the highest flush power toilet you can get. That will save future clogging and over flow issues. There is nothing worse than a clogged toilet over flowing onto the bathroom floor, and then soaking up into your particle board vanity.

        • Doors/Knobs/extras: $100

You can also replace door knobs, cabinet knobs, and shower doors. Even changing the shower curtain and floor rugs can make a big difference. Replacing a flat door with a six-panel door makes a large noticeable improvement. Towel bars and toilet paper holders, are all inexpensive and easy to replace.

Have you ever remodeled a bathroom?  What was your experience like?  Was it expensive?

This post was originally published here

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