Remodel Your Only Bathroom: Maximum Gain, Minimum Pain

Cheryl Marland/flickrRemodeling any part of your house has a well-deserved reputation as ... shall we say ... one of life's more stressful experiences. This is especially true of a bathroom remodel, which demands a high degree of skill in a limited amount of space. And when the bathroom you're making over is the only one in your home, it's all the more nerve-racking. Here are our suggestions for getting the most out of the experience, while minimizing the disruption to your household.

Choose the right remodeller. You'll want have the job completed quickly and professionally, so drop the idea of DIY for anything more major than a bathroom backsplash install. Instead, find an experienced contractor with positive reviews from past customers. Hiring a small crew of 2 or 3 people is optimal -- the remodel will go faster than with a solo pro and any number greater than that quite simply won't all fit into the room at the same time, unless your bathroom is gargantuan.

Do the prep. Make sure that you have these items in hand before your bathroom is placed off limits for the duration:

  1. a detailed plan

  2. a budget that will cover the cost to remodel your bathroom plus a little extra for emergencies

  3. a building permit for bathroom plumbing and electrical work (pulling the permit is your contractor's job; double-checking that it's been taken care of is yours)

  4. a signed contract specifying the exact work to be done, materials to be used, and timeline to be followed

Choose and order all new components ahead of time as well, so the job can proceed apace. These may include a new tub, toilet, sink, vanity, medicine cabinet, tiles, light fixtures, paint, and/or hardware. Keep in mind that delivery often takes as long as 8 weeks.

Make the most of your single bathroom. If you have enough space, go with one or both of two very practical current design trends. First, install a double sink to make the morning rush hour go more smoothly in your home. Second, separate the bathtub and shower. This smart move offers a ton of advantages. How does the possibility of a tranquil home spa-style soaking tub appeal? What about the fact that dedicated showerers won't have to clean the bathtub after every spritz? Household members with reduced mobility will appreciate a shower stall with easy access as well.

Add efficient storage. Your one and only bathroom is likely to serve as Grand Central Station for everything from towels to toiletries. If you're redoing your shower, build in niches for essentials like shampoo, soap, and conditioner. Maximize wall space with carefully planned cabinetry and shelving. (Don't forget to utilize out-of-the-way spots like the area over the bathroom door.)

Upgrade your electrical supply. A all-purpose bathroom needs plenty of electric outlets for electric shavers, hair dryers, toothbrushes, and the like. While your bath is topsy-turvy anyhow, take the opportunity to hire an electrician to replace your older home's 15-amp wiring with a safe and convenient 20-amp circuit.

Expect the unexpected. No matter how carefully you plan, there'll be inevitable glitches -- maybe materials (or workers) that don't show up on time or the discovery of mold hiding beneath your old tile backer board. These little surprises are likely to mean delays and additional expense. Budget for possible cost overruns of 10-20 percent and if you're doing a complete overhaul of your bathroom, be ready for it to take up to 4 weeks, even with the best advance preparation in the world.

Prepare yourself for (temporary) bathroom-less life. No doubt about it, living without a functional bathroom -- even for one day -- will be a hassle. When you're doing a partial reno like replacing the flooring, an accommodating neighbor, your gym, or even a camping toilet are all potential lifesavers. If you're about to embark on a full scale bathroom remodel, you might want to ask your contractor to set up makeshift washing and toileting facilities in your basement. Otherwise, consider moving into temporary accommodation (with family or in a hotel room or Airbnb apartment) while your bathroom is unavailable.

Laura Firszt writes for

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