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DIY or Hire: Bathroom

Remodeling a bathroom can be an expensive project. But you can keep costs down by doing the job yourself. Find out if you're up to the task or if you should hire a professional.

Blue and white bathroom

Determine the Scope of Your Project

Before you take a sledgehammer to that ugly tile, there are a few things you need to consider.

  1. Determine the size of the project
    Is it a large project that could take months to do on your own or is it a smaller project that could be done in a few weekends?
  2. Is this a remodel or a refresh?
    A remodel requires significantly more time and money. It would include tasks such as changing the footprint of the room, replacing shower or floor tile, and replacing a bathtub. A refresh is not nearly as time- or labor-intensive and could include projects like painting the walls or cabinets, changing out bath hardware or faucets, and hanging a new medicine cabinet and lighting.
  3. Are your skills up to code?
    Larger projects often require permits before you get started. You'll also need to ensure that your remodel is up to code. Be especially mindful with older homes. Wiring and plumbing systems can be outdated, and dealing with them can be dangerous for a novice. If you're unsure of whether a code inspection or permit is needed, contact your county's building inspection office.

Do you have any issues with asbestos, lead paint (typically found in homes built before 1978), mold or mildew or polybutylene piping? Sometimes you may not know until you start the demolition process. In any event, do not attempt to handle these issues. A pro will be needed.

Assess Your Skill Level

When it comes to remodeling, it's important to be honest about how skilled you are. Answer these questions before starting your project.

  1. Are you a home repair novice or a remodel guru?
    If you're a novice, it's probably best to hire a pro. Stick to smaller projects (paint, adding hardware or a medicine cabinet) and hire someone to handle complicated tiling and plumbing work. If not, your mistakes could cost you more in the end.
  2. How patient are you with learning new tasks?
    Do you take the time to read the instructions and follow them or do you get easily frustrated? If your patience wears thin a few pages into a complicated manual, it's probably best to call a professional. However, if you find the idea of completing a project to be challenging and rewarding, this could be right up your alley.
  3. Are you prepared?
    The unexpected comes up frequently in remodeling projects. For example, you could replace a bathroom vanity and discover that the floor is rotten underneath. Would you know what to do? This can cause delays that you may not have time or knowledge to handle.

How Much Time Will It Take?

You've assessed the size of the project and your skill level. Now it's time to talk timeline. It can vary dramatically depending on several factors.

  1. Plan for the unexpected
    If you decide to do the job yourself, be realistic about the time you can spend remodeling. Will you work on the bathroom after office hours and on the weekends or will you take time off to knock the project out quickly? Also expect the unexpected. Pad your timeline for extra trips to the store for materials, personal/work-related events that may arise or potential problems once you start remodeling. If you're hiring a pro, there are a couple of things you can do to expedite the process. Make sure that you have all materials on site before the contractor starts and ask if they'll be working on any other projects while your bathroom is being remodeled.
  2. Do you have a deadline that you're working towards?
    Are you getting a powder room ready for the holidays? Or perhaps you have an addition to your household (new baby or aging parents). You need to ensure that you're setting a realistic goal with yourself about getting this done on time. If you hire a pro, be up front that you're working with a deadline.
  3. How much is your time worth to you?
    Do you mind giving up nights or weekends in order to finish your project? If you do it yourself, you may have to use up vacation days or miss social or family events in order to finish it. For some, their time is worth more to them and they'd rather pay someone to do it.

How Much Will It Cost?

Chart: Bath Projects by Skill Level

Contractor labor costs are typically 40% of your total project. By doing it yourself, that would leave some extra money in your pocket.  Although saving that extra money sounds great, you may still feel some trepidation about taking on the whole remodel. If you want the satisfaction of doing it yourself, consider splitting up the project and handling what's within your timetable and skill level. Then save the more complicated projects for the contractor. Refer to the chart for a list of bathroom projects by skill level.

Good to Know

A benefit to doing it yourself: With the money that you'll save in labor costs, you can splurge on that fancy tile or tub that's been on your wish list.

Good to Know

If you decide to hire a professional for your bathroom renovation, you'll need to ask them a few important questions.