What I Learned from My Own Bathroom Remodel

Sound wisdom for someone who’s been there.

By Sunshine Menefe
Staff Writer


I love my bathroom. But don’t get me wrong. I spent a few painful years loathing it. It was in such bad shape and just plain gross when we bought the house that we couldn’t even use it. Then we decided to remodel it ourselves. You know, because I’m an interior designer and he’s in construction. We have all we need, right? I’ll spare myself  all the agony and won’t rehash that long year and a half. But in the end, I’m happy with the outcome and I’m about to share with you the biggest lessons we learned along the way.

1. Toss the timeline

In all my design experience, this is one of the two biggest complaints from clients and my project was no exception. No matter how well a project is thought out, things will not go as planned. The tile will take longer to arrive, workers will call in sick, the plumbing isn’t where logic says it will be, and something will have to be re-done. That’s life. Don’t have the tile guys scheduled to show up on Tuesday if the tile is supposed to be in on Monday. You’re asking for trouble. Remain flexible and add a few extra days in when planning the project. If it’s a major undertaking, consider adding as much as 2 weeks. You won’t be disappointed if things if something takes longer than expected, but you still complete the project on time. Also, keep in mind that the world will still be turning tomorrow if the timeline gets completely blown up.

2. Multiply your budget by 1/3

Guess what. All of those delays cost money. If your house isn’t exactly square and it isn’t a perfect case scenario, there will be unforeseen things arise that will cause the budget to grow. Budget woes are the other big complaint I receive as a designer. Coming in under budget is cause for celebration. But going over budget is cause for heated discussions that I want no part in. When estimating anything, I always add 10% as an “oops” factor. If anything has a pattern, like wallpaper or fabric, add 15% allowance. The larger the pattern, the bigger the “oops” budget.

3. Know when to use help

We ripped open our walls and stood there scratching our heads at the plumbing. Why would they do that? I don’t know, but now we have to pay to fix it. If it’s hidden behind a wall, I’m not touching it. The professionals can handle that. You don’t want to have a silent leak eating away at your floor joists. The only way you  know it’s there is by finding yourself sitting in your tub looking at the floor where the ceiling should be. Plumbing also has to be pressurized and deals with vacuum systems. We had a friend who was a plumbing apprentice come over and install our double shower heads. But when neither one worked, we had to call in the professional. Luckily it was as simple as a simple fix.

The same goes for electrical. If you’re not licensed, don’t touch it. My husband is an electrician and he has horror stories about going after handy homeowners who almost burnt down their houses without knowing it. It’s expensive, but not more valuable than your family’s safety.

4. Don’t do hook-ups

Friends mean well. Well, maybe. But they don’t always follow up in the best fashion. I’ve heard lots of people volunteer to help if I just call them when the time is right. But the time is never right and you may not do things the way I want them done. Unless your best friend is a trade professional, don’t test your friendship on this one. Even if they are professionals, it may not end well. My husband worked with a particular contractor in numerous jobs and he said, sure, I’ll send a tile guy your way. 6 months later. We lived a tile saw on our front porch for 6 months. Promises were broken and became a joke. We paid to be treated like crap. Just don’t do it.

5. Know when to speak up

We sat looking at the crooked floor tiles for less than five minutes before we had them torn out. Because I felt bad that the tile guy had to redo the floor, I didn’t speak up about all the other little things that bothered me, and I’m a professional! If it was for a client, there would have been a laundry list of things to fix. Now I try not to fixate on all those things when I get in the shower. Know that it’s their job to make it right. That’s what you’re paying for. Be very clear and upfront about your expectations and how you want the finished product to look. A good contractor should work with you and want your recommendation. If he doesn’t respect your input, go your separate ways.

6. Take a deep breath

It’s only a house. You will get through this and there it will get finished. There is no point in wasting precious energy on getting mad about the ups and downs of a remodel. You will get over it and you will love your house again. I promise. Just breathe.


Remodels of any size are tremendous undertakings and will test the limits of your sanity. By remembering that hiccups will happen and keeping clear and respectful communication with contractors, you can avoid major meltdowns and showdowns.




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