Reno 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Bathroom Renos

Today, we’ll be discussing two of the most exciting — and terrifying words — in the English language of design:

Bathroom renovations.

Ok, so maybe we're being a bit dramatic. Truth be told, a well-planned bathroom renovation can be a fairly smooth and cost-efficient process. But if you jump into things blindly, you're likely in for some not-so-pleasant hiccups that will have you second-guessing just how badly you need that luxurious double vanity.

Don't worry. The reality is, budget-friendly bathroom renos are absolutely within reach as long as you're willing to put in the groundwork and get a little creative with your materials.

Here's everything we wish someone had told us before we got started on our first bathroom renovation project — and a few ways that RealRooms can help you achieve a new design that is as functional as it is stylish and serene.

Perfecting your bathroom lighting

Bathrooms are where we spend the most time grooming + looking at ourselves, so good lighting is key. As always, the best light is natural light — so prioritize window exposure as much as possible. You’ll also want to consider how ceiling lights may cast shadows and lines across your reflection in the mirror. Adding bath bar lighting above your vanity or flanking your mirror with a pair of wall sconces is a good way to balance things out. 

Choosing between tubs and showers

We love a long hot soak as much as anyone else, and it’s very tempting to make a beautiful clawfoot tub the centerpiece of your newly renovated bathroom. But in many cases, a freestanding tub just doesn’t offer the long-term accessibility of a standard shower that’s much easier to get in and out of (and to clean).

There are also structural considerations. For example, if your bathroom is on the second floor of an older home, you risk causing a lot of creaky floor noise or, even worse, damage due to the significant weight of a full tub. More importantly, freestanding tubs just take up too much space, especially in smaller homes and apartments — in which case your choice just got a whole lot easier.

Get smart with storage

Bathrooms are typically small to begin with, so it doesn’t take long for a little clutter to totally take over the space. Smart storage is crucial. Our Basin Space Saver cabinets can add valuable storage space in your bathroom by utilizing the wall area directly above your toilet, and offering adjustable shelving that fits flexibly into any setup. You can also stow away all your spare towels and supplies in our clean and contemporary Linen Tower, which will help you quickly declutter to create a more organized and calming space.

Lory Wall Cabinet

Go with good grout

Grouting isn’t exactly the most glamourous aspect of bathroom renovation, but it plays a big role in tying together your design. Do you want the grout to match your tiles for a seamless look? Or do you want to create a contrasting look? A darker grout can help disguise the inevitable builds-ups of dirt and grime that bathrooms naturally attract, whereas white grout tends to yellow over time. Your choice will ultimately depend on the overall style + function of the space — just don’t leave this small but meaningful decision to the last minute!

Paint it properly

Because of all the water, steam, and moisture that accumulate daily in bathrooms, you’ll want to make sure you invest in the right paint type — and we’re not just talking about color. There are lots of “all-in-one” products that combine paint and primer, but you’re much safer doing it in two steps, using a proper water-repelling primer first and then finishing off the bathroom walls with a moisture-resistant paint that won’t start peeling off in the middle of your morning shower.

How much does a bathroom reno cost?

Alright — time to address the cheque-shaped elephant in the room. How much do you realistically need to budget for a great bathroom renovation? Obviously, it depends on a whole slew of factors; everything from square footage to plumbing, tub choice, and the raw materials that you have your heart set on for your counters + surfaces.

An old rule of thumb is that your bathroom reno shouldn't cost more than 5-10% of your overall property value. But depending on where you live, that may become a totally unrealistic measure to follow. So let's take a look at some hard numbers instead.

A 2019 report by the National Kitchen & Bath Association found that the average cost (including both material and labor) of a home bathroom renovation was $12,000 for a powder room, $18,000 for a guest bath, and a whopping $32,000 for a master bath.

We'll give you a second.

Here's the good news: bathroom renovations are one of the smartest investments you can make when it comes to improving the resale value of your home. Done properly, it's not unrealistic to expect a return on investment of 75% or more after you're done — which is a heck of a lot better than you’d typically see compared to installing a new pool or asphalt driveway. And remember: if you’re just looking for a simple upgrade with lower-end materials, you can absolutely achieve a smart reno for as little as $2,000 to $5,000.

What will be my biggest expense? 

According to a study by Consumer Reports, you can typically expect your bathroom reno budget breakdown to look something like this:

Fixtures and plumbing: 29%

Counters and surfaces: 21%

Labor: 20%

Cabinetry and hardware: 16%

Lighting and ventilation: 5%

Design and miscellaneous: 5%

Doors and windows: 4%

Again — it's nearly impossible to predict an accurate breakdown since every project is so unique. If you're doing a lot of the work yourself, labor costs will come down, but you’ll definitely want to leave things like electrical work and plumbing to experts who know what they’re doing.

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A lot to think about, huh? Just don’t forget to have some fun. Bathroom renovations can be quite laborious, but they’re also an amazing opportunity to get creative and express your home’s personality through smart design.

What other questions do you have about bathroom renovations? Tag @RealRooms on social media and let us know how we can help!