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Know what you’re getting yourself into before committing to a DIY bath remodel

Demolition is but one of the costs you need to consider when you do a bath remodel project. (Tim Carter)

I want to remodel our dingy bath, but I need to get a handle on what the project will cost before I start. My wife doesn’t want me to tackle the job myself, even though we have a second bathroom we can use during the project. What’s the best way to determine a price if I do the work myself? What’s the best way to get the firm price if I have to hire a pro? –Paul D., Fairfax, Va.

I’ll bet you and your wife are excited about your upcoming bath remodel. My customers always loved seeing their old bathrooms transformed into a personal oasis in just a matter of a week or two. I hope you can do your job that fast to keep family stress to a minimum.

You’re approaching the job the right way by not starting until you know the exact price. The good news is that it’s not as hard as you might think to compute the price, especially if you’re not paying for any labor. If you do win your wife’s confidence and she gives you the green light to do the job yourself, then you just need to create a detailed material list.

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To do this, all you need to do is stop and break down the job into its components. Here’s a list I feel will be of great help. A typical bathroom remodel would have these different tasks: demolition, rough carpentry, rough plumbing, rough electric, ventilation, insulation, drywall, flooring, finish carpentry and fixtures, finish plumbing, painting, finish electric and punch list.

Your job is to look at each of those categories and make a secondary list of all the materials or supplies that are required to complete each category. Let’s take just one of them and I’ll try to help, even though I don’t have your plans in front of me.

Let’s look at the finish carpentry task. You are probably going to need the following items: new baseboard trim, new trim around the bathroom door, towel bars, medicine cabinet or mirror, toilet paper holder, robe door hooks, hand-towel wall hooks, window trim, screws, nails, anchors, etc. Each job is different, so you need to think it through what your job will require.

Take a few hours and create a similar list for each and every task. Whatever you do, don’t guess at prices. If you’ve not yet looked at the price of new plumbing fixtures, especially high-quality ones, be prepared for sticker shock.

I’ll also offer up a tip for you. Do not even consider starting the job until you have all the materials on site. I’m not just talking about basic materials like drywall and paint and other sundries, but all your plumbing fixtures, faucets, cabinets, sinks, countertops, light fixtures, etc.

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You may need to look at these things to get accurate dimensions so you don’t make mistakes. One common mistake made by rookies is the placement of electrical boxes on the wall where the mirror will be. I’ve seen many a homeowner have to move a box because the light fixture that was selected interfered with the mirror or medicine cabinet door. All of these conflicts need to be resolved early in the job.

If you decide to use a professional for the job, all you have to do is develop precise plans and specifications before you even call a contractor on the phone for a bid. It’s extremely important to have a list of each and every item you plan to have in your new bathroom.

This means you need to pick out all the plumbing fixtures, the vanity, the top, all faucets, any and all wall fixtures, flooring and all trim. You need exact model numbers, finishes and colors.

Here’s one example of why this is important. The cost for the electrician for your job could be two wildly different numbers. Imagine if you decide to add all sorts of new lighting, change the location of the ventilation fan, add towel warming bars and so forth instead of just installing new light fixtures in their current location.

When you have everything selected, the contractor and all sub-contractors know what they have to do to put those things in. They can compute the correct amount of time. If you make the grave mistake of working off of allowances, then your job costs will spin out of control with expensive change orders. Change orders are the fastest way to blow a construction budget.

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Be sure you protect yourself when working with the contractor when it comes to money. Do not give any money to the contractor in advance unless he must purchase special-order items for your job. If that needs to happen, you can always purchase them yourself and have them in your garage for the contractor when he arrives. The contractor should have charge accounts at local suppliers for all stock items.

Remember, the contractor doesn’t pay his employees, subcontractors, etc., in advance, so there’s no reason he needs money from you before the job starts. Simply agree on a payment schedule tied to work that’s completed to your satisfaction. You may write the contractor two checks a week if the job is going fast, but always make sure you have enough money to finish the job in case the contractor disappears.

Need an answer? All of Tim’s past columns are archived for free at You can also watch hundreds of videos, download Quick Start Guides and more.