My Mom’s Bathroom Renovation Lessons

Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared both of my mom’s bathroom renovation reveals here on the blog…

Her guest bathroom.

And her main bathroom. Both spaces look incredible and she is so pleased with the end results. I mean, how could you not be?! These rooms have been transformed!Jan's bathroom renovation lessons

I know you guys always love hearing from the Janimal –  her series about downsizing was a big hit around here –  so I wanted her to write a post about this big home renovation experience. All throughout the project, I told her to think about the bathroom renovation lessons she was learning along the way so she could share them with all of you.

This was her first project of this magnitude and I’m not gonna lie, she was pretty freaked out by it all when we first started. The ordering was overwhelming. The planning was overwhelming. All of it felt like A LOT for her, which I’m sure she’ll share below. But she made it out the other side and I’m so happy that she can share her bathroom renovation lessons with all of you. Take it away, Jan.

Jan’s Bathroom Renovation LessonsA freestanding tub in a bathroom

Yes, “overwhelming” is one word I could use to describe this remodeling experience, but I would also have to throw in the words “satisfying”, and “worth all the effort” and even “What took me so long?” I have to say that I am so happy I decided to do this project and I did learn lots of bathroom renovation lessons along the way.

As I look back over all of the places I’ve lived, I realize that I have never undertaken a big remodeling project. I have only had cosmetic work done, so this whole process was new to me. Having Casey guide me through the process was a godsend, but I realized that with some good planning and a realistic idea of what to expect of the process, anyone can do it. I hope these steps can help you get started on your own project.

Use a Highly Recommended ContractorUse a respected contractor

This is probably the most important thing that you want to remember. Find someone who has lots of experience doing the kind of work you want done and get references. Lucky for me, Casey and Finn have used Patrik for all the work in their house and I know how reliable and talented he is, so choosing him was a no-brainer.Demoing the bathroom

I had Patrik come look at my two bathrooms before I did anything else. He took a look at what I wanted to be done and gave me an estimate for the price and the timing of the project. He came to look in February and told me that he didn’t have room in his schedule until May and that both projects would take a total of three weeks to finish. That gave me time to get everything planned and ordered. (Because it was only going to take three weeks, I decided to have him remodel both bathrooms at the same time, even though I couldn’t stay in my condo during the construction. I hoped my children liked me enough that they would let me stay with them during the process. Luckily, they did!)

Oh, and I know the Playbook readers always like to see real-life numbers for projects, so I’ll tell you that the cost for labor for both bathrooms was $25,000, but that also included heated flooring in the main bath. It was definitely a big chunk of change, but it was well worth it to me to be able to enjoy these bathrooms for years to come.

Have an Interior Designer Draw Up Your PlansJan's new guest bathroom mood board

At first, I didn’t see the need to spend the money on this, but I am so happy that I took Casey’s advice and had her interior designer friend, Jen, draw up the plans for both bathrooms.  She drew the architectural plans, which allowed me to view the bathrooms and make changes before I ordered anything.

Main bathroom ideasOne of the big things I wanted was a freestanding tub, but I wasn’t sure I had room and I wasn’t quite sure how it would look. Jen drew up the plans and I immediately loved the look. She also drew up a couple of different shower options and that was very helpful. I ended up changing the layout of the bench and I decided that shower doors were not that important to me – I went with the one piece of glass instead of doors. If I hadn’t been able to view the drawing, I wouldn’t have been comfortable with my decisions.Figuring out the height for the wall tile

One other important thing she did was draw the layout of the wall tile. From her drawing, I could decide how high up the walls I wanted the tile to go, and once I decided, she helped me figure out how much tile to order. (That was so helpful. I never could have figured that out on my own.)

Also, once all the drawings were done, all I had to do was give them to Patrik and his crew and they knew exactly what I wanted. They followed them exactly and everything turned out just the way I wanted. (The total price for the design of both bathrooms was just a little over $1,000 and I think it was money well spent.)

Decide Where Your Items will be Shipped and StoredBathroom renovation lessons

This will not be a big issue if you live in a house and have storage available, but for someone like me, who lives in a small condo without a lot of storage, this is a HUGE issue. Again, Casey and Finn to the rescue! They let me use a part of their garage to store all my items up until installation time and I am very grateful. If I hadn’t had their space to use, I probably would have asked Patrik if he had any storage space or I might have looked into renting a storage unit for a short time. I’m happy that I didn’t have to do either of these, but I would suggest that you figure this out before the ordering process begins.

Start OrderingJan's guest bathroom mood board

This is probably the scariest part of the renovation because you want to make sure you order exactly what you will need, without making any mistakes. I was lucky that Casey made two mood boards for me – one for each bathroom – after I had picked out what I thought I wanted. Seeing everything together in one picture helped me envision the finished project and then I started ordering.Jan's journey to downsize and finding a condo in the city

I created two spreadsheets – one for each bathroom – that listed the name of the item, the place it was ordered from, the date it was ordered, the price, the expected delivery date, a column for notes, and then a column for the actual delivery date. These were invaluable because I could keep track of everything and update the notes when I got delay notices, which definitely happened.

Ordering WoesBathroom renovation lessons

This is where my biggest bathroom renovation lesson was learned – ordering the tile. (I have to preface this by saying that Covid has wreaked havoc with shipping for all kinds of building materials, so this may not have been an issue without Covid as a factor.)Choosing tile for my new kitchen

I decided, early on, that I loved the look of the Cloe tile line (that you can find in Casey’s first-floor bathroom), so I decided to use the 5” x 5” white tile in the guest bath and the 3″ x 8” gray subway tile in the main bath. I placed my order for each online. My order was accepted, showing that the tile was in stock, and my credit card was charged.Choosing new shower tile

A week or so later, I got a notice that the tile was back-ordered and wouldn’t be available until June. Ugh! That wasn’t going to work, so I canceled the orders and found another website, and ordered from them. The same thing happened here – my order was accepted, and my credit card was charged. I thought I was all set, but again, the tile was back-ordered and wouldn’t ship until June. So now, not only did I still have no tile on order, but a couple of weeks had passed, and I had thousands of dollars charged to my credit card. Canceling the orders and getting my money back was an issue that took a long time to resolve.

In the meantime, I was getting very worried that Patrik and his crew would be ready to work and I would have no tile for them. So, I went to a local tile place, called The Tile Outlet, and picked out a similar tile. Not only were they knowledgeable and helpful but I was able to order the tile and they told me that they would keep it at their warehouse until I needed it! The only caveat was that the tile was a special order and I couldn’t return it. “No problem,” I thought, “my Cloe tile is back-ordered until June!”

Well, wouldn’t you know, a few days later, out of the blue, the 5” x 5” white Cloe tile showed up at Casey’s house, before I had gotten through the process of canceling the order and getting my refund. Ugh again! And now, the new tile I ordered from The Tile Outlet couldn’t be canceled. I ended up with over $1,000 of extra tile that I couldn’t return. At this point, I was so happy to have tile for Patrik, so I wasn’t even that upset, and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore was thrilled to get my extra tile!Jan's bathroom renovation lessons

My biggest advice here is to deal with a local tile store. The tile you find online might seem like a good price, but when you add in the shipping cost, you are almost assured of finding a better deal locally, and they might be able to store it for you! And you will get much better service when you deal with someone face-to-face.

Share Your Plans With Your NeighborsMy biggest bathroom renovation lessons

I live in a building with a total of nine units, spread across three floors. We have a homeowner’s association, but I never read the rules about construction – big mistake! A few days before Patrik was supposed to start, I informed my neighbors, on a group text, that I was going to have work done. I wanted to warn them that there would be some demolition noise and let them know that workers would be in the building.

Immediately, the president of our association wrote back on the thread, saying that each owner in the building had to vote as to whether this kind of construction would be approved. What? I never read that in the by-laws. I also needed to provide a Certificate of Insurance from Patrik, along with a Waiver of Lien at the end of the project. All of my neighbors were nice, and they all voted “in favor”, but it was embarrassing to have all of that out there on a text. I also wanted to make sure I inconvenienced them as little as possible, so I was constantly worried that the crew would be too loud or messy and that I would hear about it. Luckily, they were very professional and there were no other issues. The lesson here – Read the rules before you start your construction project!

Show Your AppreciationMake sure to buy donuts and goodies for your crew

Patrik and his crew are such great workers, and they tackle any issue with very little fanfare. That’s one thing I loved about them. Nothing was ever a problem. They were happy to figure out whatever I wanted, always with a smile on their faces. To keep them happy, I bought them “treats” regularly. I bought donuts and coffee for them a few times. I also put a case of water in the refrigerator and brought cookies. They were always thrilled with these small tokens of appreciation, and I know they went above and beyond to please me. At the very end of the project, I also gave each of the workers a monetary tip and I know they were pleased. Next time I have a project, I know they will be happy to come back.

Go For It!My mom's bathroom renovation reveal

The final lesson I learned is that I should never have waited so long to have this done. I have always hated my bathrooms, especially the tile, but it seemed like renovating them would be such an enormous pain, so I kept putting it off. A gray and gold bathroom revealNow that I look back, I see that it did take some work getting everything figured out and I was inconvenienced for three weeks, but those were small issues in the overall picture. I LOVE both of my bathrooms! I feel like I am in a fancy hotel room when I am in my shower, and I wish I would have done this years ago.

Jan's Bathroom renovation lessons
Rory decided to hop into our little photo shoot. Hi, Rory!

So, the lesson here is don’t wait! If you want to do some remodeling, go for it! The reward is so much bigger than the inconvenience!


Bathroom Renovation Lessons

Catch Up On Jan’s Bathroom Series

The Year of Casey

Hey there!

I’m Casey Finn, the voice behind The DIY Playbook. I’m a Chicago gal teaching you how to design, DIY, and maintain your home…by yourself! Learn more about me right here.

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