How to Remodel Your Bathroom Without Going Broke

How to Remodel Your Bathroom Without Going Broke

Beautiful modern bathroom with natural light and a large shower. This is a homeowner's dream for how to remodel a bathroom without going broke.

The average bathroom remodel isn’t cheap. Some average bathroom remodel costs for Atlanta are:

So if you’ve got a more modest budget—say $5,000 or less—does that mean you can’t remodel your bathroom? Not necessarily. You’ll just have to get a little more creative with how you use your funds. (For example, this bathroom remodel was done for just $439!)

And that’s what this article is for: to help you find some ingenious ways to scale back your bathroom remodel budget without sacrificing your grand vision. You don’t have to do all of these things; they’re meant as ideas to help you make your budget work.

But first, you should understand where the money in a typical remodel project usually goes.

How a bathroom remodel budget is usually spent

According to The Kitchen and Bath Association, the budget usually breaks down like this:

  • Labor: 20%
  • Cabinetry and hardware: 16%
  • Fixtures: 15%
  • Faucets and plumbing: 14%
  • Countertop: 7%
  • Floor: 9%
  • Doors and windows: 4%
  • Walls and ceiling: 5%
  • Lighting and ventilation: 5%
  • Design fees: 4%
  • Other: 1%

Notice that the first 4 items on the list make up the majority (65%) of a bathroom remodel budget. So the bulk of this article will show you ways to cut costs in those areas. Let’s start with labor.

Reduce labor costs: Decide what you can take on yourself

The idea to reduce the largest expense in a bathroom remodel is twofold:

  1. Do as much as you can yourself (within reason)
  2. Avoid having to hire too many experts by eliminating complicated and costly items (like moving plumbing) out of your plan.

We’ve grouped some of the most common bathroom remodel tasks into 3 groups to help you assess which parts you can actually handle yourself and which you can avoid altogether.

And remember: Taking on more than you can handle can actually cost you more in the long run because you could have to pay someone to come fix it later.

Moderate skills: novice DIYer

You have some basic tools and have done some DIY work in the past. You can likely handle:

  • Painting
  • Hanging wallpaper
  • Adding hardware (knobs and pulls) to cabinets
  • Installing medicine cabinet
  • Installing baseboards/molding

Intermediate skills: advanced DIYer

You have completed several larger home remodeling projects and enjoy learning new skills. In addition to the tasks above, you might be able to also:

  • Lay flooring
  • Tile walls/shower
  • Install basic fixtures (faucet, toilet, etc)

Expert skills: professional plumbers/electricians

We advise leaving the following bathroom remodel tasks to a licensed professional:

  • Moving or installing plumbing pipes
  • Adding radiant flooring
  • Any electrical work
  • Installing advanced fixtures (custom showers, jetted tubs, etc.)

Find a creative alternative to new vanity/cabinets

The next biggest expense in most bathroom remodels is the cabinetry and the pulls and knobs. If you have a large bathroom and/or want some nice custom cabinets, it’ll be hard to cut costs here.

But if you have a smaller bathroom and are okay with some unconventional choices, you can do it more cheaply. Here are a few of our favorite ideas.

Refinish the vanity yourself

If your cabinets are in pretty good shape but need some freshening up, consider refinishing them. You have 2 refinishing options:

  • Stain
  • Paint

Re-staining your vanity

Your options for stain really depend on whether you want to go lighter or darker than the cabinet you already have.

To go lighter, you have to remove the existing stain or finish. You remove the existing finish in one of two ways:

  • Sanding them down to bare wood. You’ll use a lower-grit paper to remove the old finish and then smooth everything out with higher grit paper. This can be difficult when your cabinets have lots of curves or inlays.
  • Stripping them with a chemical stripper. A chemical solvent is a liquid that you put on the wood that reacts with and removes the finish. This method is less labor-intensive. However, the chemical strippers are extremely bad for your skin, eyes and lungs. So make sure you follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions.

Here’s a good article on removing existing finishes by sanding and stripping.

To go darker, you can sand down to bare wood if you want. But you also have a couple of other options:

  • Gel stain — Gel stains are thicker types of wood stain that can be applied over existing finishes. Once applied, you’ll still need to apply a protective topcoat.

DIY Vanity makeover with gel stain
An example gel stain vanity makeover. For a how-to tutorial, check out the article on designingvibes.com

  • Polyurethane + stain combos — These options are basically tinted polyurethane, which you can apply on top of an existing finish. You don’t need an additional topcoat since it’s built into the product (a major plus!).

A vanity transformation using a stain+polyurethane combo
An example vanity transformation using a stain+polyurethane combo. Check out more here.

Painting your vanity

Another option to refinish your bathroom vanity is to paint it. While that may sound simple, there are some important steps you shouldn’t skip:

  • Clean your cabinets—Use a good cleaner to remove any built up dirt and grime from the vanity. Most paint manufacturers recommend TSP substitute cleaners (like this one) because they remove dirt without leaving residue behind.
  • Sand or degloss them—You want to rough up the finish of the cabinets to make sure that the primer will stick.
  • Always prime—Primer helps bond your paint of choice to the cabinet so that the paint won’t peel off. This is especially important in the bathroom since humidity can be an issue.
  • Choose a good paint—For the longest lasting finish, get a paint that’s specifically made for cabinets or furniture. These are usually enamel-type finishes that dry much harder than normal paints.

Here’s a good step-by-step process for painting your bathroom vanity.

Repurpose an old dresser

Are you pretty handy? Love finding flea market deals on old furniture? Then instead of refinishing your existing vanity or replacing it with a new one, you could use an old dresser.

Here are some examples:

This $50 dresser was turned into a stylish new vanity.

Refinishing an old dresser
Photo source and tutorial: Beneath my Heart

And here’s another one that was turned into a vanity with a double sink.

A repurposed dresser in the bathroom of an Atlanta home
Photo source and tutorial: Shades of Blue Interiors

Paint your ugly tub or sink

Another large expense in a bathroom remodel is replacing fixtures like your sink, shower stall, toilet bathtub, etc.

If you’ve got some ugly colored fixtures you can paint some of them:

However, there’s a limit to how much you can cut costs on these fixtures. So this is likely where a good chunk of your money will be spent if you want a serious bathroom upgrade (like one of these awesome toilets).

Redo your existing faucet

Tired of those old, 90s-style brass faucets? Want the look of sparkling nickel or rubbed bronze? Paint to the rescue! (Sensing a pattern here?)

Plumbing fixture upgrades
Before/after painted faucet by Sincerely Sara D

More ways to remodel your bathroom on a budget

Of course, the ways to reduce your bathroom budget aren’t limited to the 4 major areas above. Here are a few more creative ways we’ve seen homeowners keep their remodel budgets down:

Need a quality plumber for your bathroom remodel?

Mr. Plumber is Atlanta’s leading plumber. Contact us today for help with your bathroom remodeling project.

2019-04-04T14:56:57+00:00 March 22nd, 2016|Help & Tips, Homeowner Tips|