How to Renovate a Bathroom | And Keep Your Sanity

bathroom remodel

Knowing how to renovate a bathroom boils down to doing some research and writing everything down.

And  the approach to bathroom renovation is the same as the approach to bathroom remodeling. It’s just that the remodeling project is a bit more extensive. So here we treat “remodel” and “renovation” as essentially the same thing.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

1: Adopt a “put it on paper” mindset for your bathroom remodel
2: Consider the bathroom in the “whole house” context 
3: Understand how to layout a bathroom  remodel 
4: Address the 6 major bathroom space/function elements
5: Work through our 89 point bathroom remodel checklist 
6: Use a remodel project binder

Bathroom Remodels

The modern bathroom has moved far beyond being a more or less private utility room with a couple of plumbing fixtures. After the kitchen, the bathroom is now one of the most important rooms in the home. The bathroom is now taking on the character of a private spa, a luxurious and comfortable retreat, a place to relax in peace and quiet and style. It is where we start and end the day.

Bathrooms should be beautiful, comfortable and durable and the bathroom renovation tips you will find here will help you achieve this.

Simple improvements, such as new fixtures, can change the look of your bathroom. And for this perhaps all you need is a handyman or plumber.

But for truly transformational changes you need a professional remodeler, who will have the ability to rearrange the entire bathroom space and perhaps more. For example, they might be able to “borrow” space from an oversized closet to create the beautiful master suite of your dreams.

Where to Start with Bathroom Remodel

First, you must adopt a “put it down on paper” mindset. Please take a look at our post on how to approach a whole house remodel. This will put the bathroom in context and help you get off on the right foot, especially with getting and staying organized.

Start with a Remodeling Organizer Binder. And stick to it.

Don’t ignore this because you don’t think a bathroom is any kind of a big deal. You can be amazed at the number of things that can go wrong. Putting everything on paper prepares you.   

With that said, we’ll get on with what to consider when remodeling a bathroom specifically.

The Anatomy of Bathrooms – The Bathroom Layout

The key to a successful bathroom remodel is developing an appropriate scope of work and the selection of materials and products. Our bathroom wishlist-checklist below will help you develop this. 

But before we get to this we need to consider how the various parts of the bathroom work together to form a functioning whole. These are the basic design considerations we have to account for before we get to the fun part of selecting our finishes. Please see this related post:

Master Bathroom, Kids Bathroom, Guest Bathroom or Powder Room.

Your home may have a number of bathrooms. What bathroom are we talking about? And who will be using it? It makes a difference. And it is important to bear this in mind when laying our the bathroom initially and when selecting hardware and finishes. Not all questions in the checklists below will apply alike. 

Use of the Bathroom

Whether laying out a bathroom, pay close attention to who will actually be using the space. If you are planning for an extended retirement or have an elderly family member in residence, consider our suggestions on aging in place. Are there other special needs that should be accounted for, now or in the future? This can include catering for people with disabilities kor who are exceptionally tall or short. Do you need to accommodate any non-traditional bathroom activities, such as laundry or washing pets? 

Bathroom Space/Function Elements

Below we consider each of the bathroom space and function elements by way of including a questionnaire checklist for each. You can use this for your planning and budgeting.

You may notice that some points are repeated but they are in a different context, especially related to cabinetry. The redundancy is necessary.

Bear in mind that when developing a budget for a bathroom remodel the single major factor affecting the budget is the cost of the finishes and fixtures you choose. The cost of labor does not change.

The Bathroom Envelope

1: Orientation of the Bathroom. Can it be changed?

2: Is the existing bathroom large enough?

3: Have you considered changing the location of doors and windows?

4: Does the bathroom relate to adjacent rooms the way you would like?

5: Is there enough/any natural light in your existing space?

6: Could the windows be better located?

7: Would you add a skylight / solar tube?

8: Ceilings: right height, too low, too high?

9: Space for an additional shower or tub?

10: Space for a separate bidet?

11: Add noise barrier to the outside from within the bathroom?

12: Room for a sauna?

13: Room for a steam shower?

14: Can we steal space from an adjacent bedroom or closet?

15: Can it be laid out with a “wet room” to accommodate tub, shower, and toilet?

16: Bathroom addition? Depending on the layout of your home it may be possible to add a bathroom without adding to the building footprint by, for example, partially converting a laundry room into a powder room. Would you consider that?

Bathroom Mechanical and Electrical

17: Does the existing air conditioning system operate adequately?

18: How old is your water heater? Is the water temperature adequate?

19: Is there an anti-scald device on the heater?

20: Would you consider changing to an energy-efficient tankless heater?

21: Is there sufficient mechanical ventilation/exhaust fan to prevent moisture accumulation?

22: Do you object to hearing a fan while in the bathroom?

23: What do you know about water usage in your current/proposed fixtures?

24: Gallons/flush in the toilet? Gallons/minute in showerhead?

25: Are all the electrical outlets protected with GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) to prevent electrical shock?

26: Do you have enough electrical outlets?

27: Are they in the right places?

28: Do you know how the plumbing is laid out? Can it be moved around without too much hassle or expense?

Bathroom Fixtures

29: Toilet (compartmentalized from rest of bathroom); pedestal toilet or wall mount; bidet

30: Separate tub and shower or a tub shower combination.

31:  Pedestal lavatories (sinks)

32: Shower for one person or two. Shower seats.

33: Standard bathtub; whirlpool-style bathtub for one; whirlpool-style bathtub for two

34: Walk-in tub

35:  Fixed showerheads; adjustable showerheads; multiple shower heads; body sprays/jets;

36: Preferred shower features: grab bars; bench seat; body sprays; handheld faucet

37: Shower with or without dam (threshold, step, curb)

38: Shower enclosure designed as walk-in (no door) or with door.

39: Preferred tub features: grab bars; handheld faucet; pillow; heater; other

Bathroom Cabinetry and Storage

40: Cabinets with a well-organized storage system

41: Storage space for grooming equipment

42: Salon-style housing for hair blowers, curling irons, w/ electrical outlet

43: Adequate number of towel bars

44: Accommodate technology

45: Convenient place for soaps and shampoos in the shower and/or tub area

46: Towel/linen storage in or near the bathroom

47: Storage for cleaning supplies in your bathroom

48: Built-in closet

Functional Considerations in the Design of Cabinetry for this Bathroom

49: What vanity depth do you want? 21″ or 24″

50: What vanity height do you want? 32″ or 34 1/2 ” (excludes countertop)

51: Do you want a makeup counter (knee drawer vanity), single or double sink vanity, multiple vanities? Centered sink or off to one side?

52: Pedestal sink?

53: Cantilevered sink?

54: Do you need wheelchair access to your sinks?

55: Do you want a suspended vanity (cantilevered from wall)?

56: Do you need extra countertop space?

57: Do you prefer drawers or cabinets for under counter storage?

58: Do you want interior fittings (drawer accessories and organizers for makeup, toiletries etc)?

59: Do you want pull out shelves or roll out trays; sink front tilt-out trays, tray dividers?

60: Do you need a lot of storage for personal items?

61: Do you want an “appliance garage” for hair dryers and curling irons? (Hair dryer organizers are available with optional in-drawer electrical outlets to prevent wires and plugs from invading the sink space).

62: Do you require a tall wall cabinet for a linen closet or deep cabinet space?

Related Considerations in Design of Cabinetry for this Bathroom

63: Location of plumbing: Does any of the plumbing (supply lines and waste) need to be moved to accommodate the cabinetry or does the cabinetry need to conform to existing plumbing?

64: Location of electrical: Does any of the wiring (including outlets and GFI) need to be moved to accommodate the cabinetry or does the cabinetry need to conform to existing electrical?

65: Location, leveling of walls and ceiling: Will the ceiling be raised and or walls moved. Do walls/soffits/ceiling need to be plumbed and leveled to ensure a perfect fit for cabinetry and molding?

66: Selection of countertops: Material (laminate, granite, quartz, tile, etc.); color; style; edge treatment (self edge, wrap edge, edge shape

67: Selection of sinks: Under-mount, drop-in, vessel style or pedestal? How many? What color? The choice will depend on the type of countertop selected.

68: Selection of backsplash: Wall treatment behind the vanity. Will this be wallpaper, paint, tile, or the same material as a countertop?

69: Selection of plumbing fixtures: There are aesthetic and functional factors in the selection of faucets for the sinks. Need to coordinate with the selection of tub and shower fixtures.

70: Selection of accessories: There are aesthetic and functional factors in the selection mirrors, medicine cabinets, towel bars, towel rings, toilet paper holders. Need to coordinate with plumbing fixtures.

71: Selection of hardware: There are aesthetic and functional factors in the selection of knobs and pulls for the cabinetry. Need to coordinate with plumbing fixtures and accessories. Material (metal, wood, plastic); Size (length, diameter); Shape; Color; Finger pull cabinet doors (no hardware).

Bathroom Lighting

72: Does the lighting arrangement suit the uses of the bathroom? Think of task (e.g., makeup, shaving, reading) vs. ambient lighting. Is the lighting adequate?

73: Does the lighting generate too much heat?

74: What quality of light would you like in your space? And for what tasks?

75: Natural; incandescent; compact fluorescent; LED; a combination?

76: Preferred lighting arrangement: Exhaust/light(s); sconces above lavatories; recessed general lighting; heat lamp(s); other?

Bathroom Style, Appearance & Finish

77: Have you made a sketch of your bathroom?

78: Have your collected magazine clippings etc to illustrate your bathroom vision? We suggest Houzz and Pinterest.

79: Cabinetry for vanities: Single or double vanity; recessed medicine cabinets; 3-way mirrors; knee recess/makeup mirror.

80: If you are replacing your cabinets, what type of facing material do you prefer? Wood (type); painted; stained; paint or stain wash; laminate; thermofoil.

81: What cabinet door styles do you prefer? Plain front; raised panels; arched panels; recessed panels; glass fronts; self-closing doors /drawers.

82: Countertops for vanities: Ceramic or granite tile, stone, granite slab, laminate, other.

83: Vanity Backsplashes: Ceramic or granite tile, stone, granite slab, laminate, other.

84: Lavatory (sink) material: Single or double, porcelain, Integral solid surface, stainless, self-rimming above counter, under-mount, vessel, other (pedestal sink for powder room?)

85: Flooring: Ceramic tile, stone, wood (hardwood, cork, bamboo), vinyl, other.

86: Faucet finish: Chrome, brushed nickel, polished brass, chrome and brass, oil rubbed bronze, antique copper, polished brass, other.

87: Shower and tub surrounds: Ceramic or granite tile, stone, granite slab

88: Preferred shower enclosure: frosted glass, glass block, obscure glass, etched glass, clear glass, no glass.

89: Color Preferences: Paint color to complement your choice of hard finishes (countertops and tub/shower surrounds). Refer to our related post on color.

 Organization and Project Binder

Just because a bathroom remodel is not as extensive as a whole house remodel, it is still a complex exercise and requires detailed planning. See again our post on the Best Way to Approach a Home Remodel and the section on maintaining a Project Binder. Click on this image link and check it out on Amazon:

remodel binder

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