Even though it’s one of the smallest rooms in a house, the bathroom is a highly labor-intensive area to renovate. The sheer compactness presents challenges— even in luxuriously large baths. Within several hundred square feet or less, you will address plumbing, electrical, tile, counters, cabinetry and perhaps some extras—from audio and video features to warming drawers for towels and heated floors.
The only way a bathroom project gets done is step by step, one task at a time. “It’s a less efficient room to renovate than others in the house because it’s so tight,” says Cameron Snyder, president, Roomscapes Luxury Design Center, Boston, Mass., and past-president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). “You can normally get one trade in there at a time.
“There is less economy of scale, and timing becomes critical,” Snyder says. “You don’t want days to go by between the plumber leaving and the electrician showing up.”
And you don’t want weeks to go by with a bathroom project on pause because you’re waiting for materials. “Do not start ripping out [the old bathroom] until your tub, tile, countertops, all of your materials on hand,” says Ellen Rady, designer/president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio.
And check the boxes when they arrive. For instance, Rady had a client who special ordered tile from Italy, only to open the box and discover most of the tiles were broken. Not to mention, the shipment was weeks late and held up the entire project. As with any renovation project, timing is everything—and timing is often an aspect of the project you can’t control. Your best bet is to simply be prepared, and to work with a bathroom designer who can usher you through the remodeling process as efficiently as possible.
That said, you don’t want to hire just anyone to remodel your bathroom. You want a seasoned pro with the proper credentials, a solid reputation, an appealing portfolio of finished projects, and references who agree that this professional met or exceeded expectations. This pro also needs to carry the right licensing, insurance—and bring lots of ideas and resources to the table.
Choosing a Project Manager
So, who is in charge of your bathroom project, anyway? That depends on the scope of the project and your goals for the outcome. You may opt to work with a licensed bathroom designer (often they also specialize in kitchen designs). A general contractor or architect may act as the lead/project manager—or the designer may have a project manager on staff that sees through the project. Designers themselves also serve as project managers, ensuring that the process goes according to plan and keeping open lines of communication.
Not sure if you’ll hire a pro or take on a bathroom remodel yourself?
Consider this: “A lot of consumers think it costs more to hire a professional, when in fact it will actually save them a lot of money in the long-run,” says Joseph Feinberg, who serves on the board of directors of National Kitchen & Bathroom Association (NKBA) and is co-founder of Allied Kitchen & Bath in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
You could spend less because designers often enjoy buying advantages and can purchase products at discounts. More importantly, licensed designers follow a code of ethics, so you can be sure you are working with someone that values your remodel project as much as you do.
“Professionals receive specific training and don’t look for ways to cut corners,” Feinberg says.
The Home Team
Your bathroom renovation project will require a band of professionals—tradespeople, contractors, designer(s) and someone to oversee the project (other than you). While you can certainly serve as the general contractor on the project, it’s a lot more difficult than it may initially seem to coordinate a bathroom project.
When hiring a designer, general contractor or any professional, be sure to do your homework. Consult with family and friends to get recommendations. Find out what certifications they hold. If a designer does both kitchen and bathroom design, find out which area is his or her strength.
“What percent of the work they do is bathrooms, and where are they sourcing their products?” says Snyder. “Are they going to send you to three or four different supply houses to be off on your own looking at fixtures, or do they have a showroom of fixtures available?”
What’s an ideal bathroom “team”? Here are a few key professionals you’ll want to invite to the job.
Plumber. If you decide to manage some of the labor yourself, do anything but the plumbing. Unless you happen to be a trained professional, it’s a good idea to outsource projects like running pipe and installing intricate shower systems to this trade pro.
Electrician. Behind the bathroom wall is an expressway of pipe and wire. One wrong move and you could cause a flood or fire at home. And since the bathroom is a small space where water (plumbing) and electrical meet, all the more reason to hire an electrician to manage the job. You may need to install new electrical outlets to accommodate a changing floor plan, or add outlets inside cabinetry for convenience.
Tile professional. A tile layer will expertly execute small and challenging tile cuts (angles, rounded edges) and prepare a subfloor that will stand up to the traffic, weather (wet!) and general wear a bathroom floor gets over time. A pro can also install heated floors.
Cabinet professional. Whether you opt for custom cabinetry or choose a standard model made by one of many quality manufacturers out there today, a professional cabinet installer will fit the piece properly into your bathroom plan and make any necessary on-site adjustments.
Carpenter. A carpenter can build and install custom cabinetry and finish trim throughout the bathroom.