How I Saved $1500 in my Bathroom Renovation

Jan Romanuk and I were business partners years ago. If you are building or renovating a home (anywhere on the North Shore in Vancouver) and need a designer to choose everything or a project manager, she is the one.

There’s very little that Jan doesn’t know about the world of renovations in every aspect. She knows exactly where to source every little thing that your house might need.

Jan Romanuk measuring the sconce placement with the template of the round mirror going in my master bedroom.

Jan stayed with me this week  to manage all the details of the start of my bathroom renovation and I’m so grateful that she did. Since I spend my days either decorating or specifying colour, renovating is not what I do and I am not an expert in the minutia of what happens next inside a renovation.

The demolition happened Monday and the electrician arrived Tuesday. This means you have to have all your lighting chosen. If you don’t, your electrician will likely measure 64″ off the floor (for wall sconces) and call it a day.

Meanwhile, there are no standard measurements for wall sconces, it totally depends on where the backplate is, on any given light fixture.

This is the reason why most bathroom sconces are not installed correctly. If you were sitting here with me, after one tiny search on Pinterest, I could immediately show you bathroom after bathroom with lighting installed incorrectly.

Anyway, back to my point. This is our main bathroom that is currently completely demolished, hooray! It had a pink beige shower and tub insert that has ALWAYS been covered by a white, window pane, terry shower curtain.

I styled this bathroom because it was the one guests mostly used.

In our main bathroom, we are switching out the old pink-beige tub (below)  for a walk-in shower.

Since my bathrooms will already be over-renovated, Jan suggested that instead of installing a custom-made tiled shower base, that we install a fibreglass shower base, like this one (below).

This would save us approximately $1500 because this shower base installed will be around $1200 and a custom, tiled, shower base is approximately $2500.

Terreeia loved this idea, it’s not as slippery as tile and it feels warmer. Tile in the shower when you first step in, is COLD. And Jan says it’s expensive to heat the tile in the shower which is why most people don’t do it. It’s also less maintenance, you don’t have grout lines to worry about.

 Mine is a low-profile concealed base and it’s only 2″ high (above). Fleorco is one of the best acrylic bases. It has a non-slip surface, and feels solid underfoot.

The acrylic bases that most people remember were only designed for corner showers, and felt spongy to step on, this larger, bathtub size is relatively new.

Fluerco (This post is NOT SPONSORED by Fleurco)

Here’s a bathroom that Jan recently finished for a client with a slightly higher profile (below). In this renovation, Jan worked with the EXISTING shower base which would have been purchased by the builder in bulk.

In this bathroom, Jan was able to leave the existing flat white, 8″ x 10″ tile because it saved approximately $1500 in labour. The client wanted a modern, Carrara tile look instead. So Jan installed this surround DIRECTLY on top of the old surround.

Interior Design by Jan Romanuk, Photographed and Styled by Maria Killam

This base (above) is a Maxx shower base  which would have been approximately half the price of the one I ordered.

Jan says, that the difference in quality is significant, mostly because you’ll have no discolouration over time. And I like that mine is a lower profile as well.

So great tip right? This is a great way to save money on your shower base and use that money for the unexpected costs that are bound to come up in every renovation. For example, new exhaust fans that I just had to buy for almost $500 (for 3 bathrooms) PLUS I’ll need new ductwork which adds another $500 to the total bill.

Over to you my lovelies. Please post YOUR best money saving ideas for renovations! Thanks in advance, your comments make this post twice as great!

PS. If you are having trouble reading my blog on an IPAD, please hang in there. This glitch happened on a recent update and my web guy is re-building my site to fix it and it’ll take another 30 days to be fixed, I’m so sorry, it makes me very distraught!

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    • Yeah, that drain is nicer than the old kind.

      My money saving tip is when it works with the design, get a pre-made vanity top and use that stone as the jumping off point. If not that, go to the slab yards and find a remnant.

      I have a client that has paid for a remnant that the REMNANT is 1500 for a 30″ vanity. Her bathroom is designed around that, but since her brother in law did the labor on her kitchen, they went way longer.. WAY over budget. Yesterday, I sent my plumber over to fix something her brother in law did wrong.

      **My most important advice to save money is to use competent trades people. They can make cheap materials look expensive and inexperienced people can take your expensive materials and ruin them. What if that plumbing mistake had ruined the hardwood floors in her kitchen that it had taken her 3 months to get back into….scary. This is why someone who’s done this complex project design and management is important.**

      Brava, Jan and Maria.

  1. I don’t have a tip – but I am definitely intrigued about the ‘correct placement’ of sconces. I hadn’t given it much thought, as sconces are rare in domestic settings in Australia. I was thinking of using some in our upcoming bathroom renovation. and am now intrigued. Is it in the middle of the mirror height? At head height? (What happens if, as with my husband and I, we are very different heights?). Where do you place a sconce?!

  2. A workaround for the iPad problem in the meantime is to view your posts in “reader view.” Just click on the little lines to the left of “mariakillam.com” the address bar at the top of the page, and voilà–the page loads perfectly.

    Love your website and your real world approach to design.

  3. If you have an existing shower base, can you glaze it like you would a tub? I want to change it from cream to white when we renovate.

    • Yes you can do that I’ve done it on a few flip houses. There’s a paint that our Benjamin Moore carries, I have done this-but not sure how long it lasts. It’s very smelly and you can’t use it for (I think 6 days) It looked great though!

  4. Hi Maria,
    I read on an IPad & haven’t had any problems.
    When we re-did our bathroom about 9 years ago, it just had a shower with a fiberglass base. I could never get it clean. So I thought it would be better to go with tile and use a dark grout.
    I hope you have better luck with your new base.
    My money saving idea was to not use glass shower doors & use a shower curtain. Shower doors that slide across each other have a strip in the center that you can’t get at to clean. (Are you sensing a theme here? Lol). I know it doesn’t look as lux but dirty shower doors aren’t lux looking either.
    In order for the bathroom to look nicer, I put 2 shower rods up to the ceiling. I use 2 long, 94″ panels on one rod & an extra long white liner on the inside rod. Liners are cheap & easy to replace.
    Tell Jan I like her construction boots. 😘

    • Hi Mary! Greetings from the fox valley 😉 . When we built the new bath the gc was like the shower door will be here and swing like this. Uh. No. 1. Hard local water at 25! I cannot get it soft enough either. Hard water deposits all over the place. 2. Yep I agree cleaning is harder with them.. that rubber gasket and the caulk from pan to doors. 3. This is our guest bath too and we would have shampoo etc in there and why bother paying for frosted? On top of it I dislike how the curtain or door normally are not to the ceiling. We have a 7′ ceiling and so we have a hard to find 7′ liner but I buy 7′ curtain panels which are easy to find.

  5. Hi,
    I live in Calgary Alberta. Could you share where to purchase the marble look surround to cover tile. It looks really nice and a great solution for the marble look without having to remove existing tile.
    Thank you
    Lana

      • Just a tip: Olympia will only sell to the trades as will Ames. You’ll have to have either a GC or an Interior Design Professional working with you (unless you are one yourself).

  6. Maria, so happy you’re finally getting to update your bathroom! I have been doing the fiberglass base or an onyx base ( a little more money, but not as much as tile base) for a few years now and customers love it. I used to worry that it seemed cheap, but actually people like it because of the no worry of cracking, maintenance and of course the expense!
    Make sure you’re installer/plumber installs it securely with an adhesive or something under it (we had a problem a few times with older plumber) because you can have some issues with it “giving/flexing” then you will have issues later with the tile grout/caulk chipping where they meet.

  7. One drawback to pre-made shower bases is that they do not contain a seat. For conversions of tubs to showers, or any large shower, having a seat along one side or in a corner for comfort and convenience is terrific.

  8. Maria I used the exact same Fleurco acrylic base in our new Master bathroom for our new house and I LOVE it. When I priced out doing a tile base I realized the price difference was not worth it. Also, I agree that there are always grout lines to contend with in a tiled base (which I’ve struggled with before). I used plain white large subway tile for the two walls and two walls of Fleurco glass panels and pretty much love my shower. You will be very happy with the Fleurco base. It is very solid, has the low profile you mentioned and very easy to keep clean. I keep meaning to post a photo of my shower on my instagram page because I love it so much but just haven’t gotten around to it. You’ve inspired me to get to it!!!

  9. This info is so timely in my life that it brought tears to my eyes. My Husband has Alzheimers and can no longer walk & is incontinent. I have been researching any solution to getting him to a bathroom in a wheelchair in order to actually get him clean. I am spending an Amazon fortune on products that substitute for bathing and this base,unlike the 20 and 30 thousand dollar estimates I am being given would be doable. Have to find out if the base can accommodate a chair without cracking but with a good but cheap tile or surround this could be my answer. Bloggers may not realize that they help their readers in many more ways than just decor. Thanks and Thanks again.

    • Hi judith.. I feel for you. I have worked in a long term care place and residents just rolled in. I am sure you have thought of tons of things.. a tiled floor with drain was what they had. You might be able to raise the bath floor to accommodate a tiled floor with drain. In our city ceiling height min. Is 7 feet. Good luck!

    • Judith, I feel for you, also. I am caring for BOTH of my parents who have dementia. One has Alzheimer’s and the other has Lewy Body Dementia. I am building a studio onto my garage and am designing around mobility and incontinence problems. The world of elder care is astounding in both it’s price tag and it’s vastness. It reminds me of when I planned my wedding. If I could find a product without that word attached to it, it was half the price. I raise our glass to us both. Here’s to creative solutions. Cheers.

  10. Michelle In Boulder

    This is a wonderful cost effective solution, but anyone that tries it needs to be mindful about the shower base. As with anything when done right it’s beautiful. I tried to do the same thing and we ended up ripping it out and replacing with tile because it looked cheap. That said, Maria’s base is much nicer than ours was. Also, her comment about overimproving is spot on. In our case, a shower base would have been underimproving for our area. Even so I wish we had picked a nicer shower base.

  11. Having upgraded four bathrooms (two entirely gutted with a change in floor plan) not all that long ago without the assistance of a designer; my best advice to save money is do your homework whether you are a DIYer or hiring out a General Contractor as either way, ‘mistakes can prove costly’ if not at present perhaps down the road. To briefly elaborate; first and foremost keep in mind one must keep in compliance with the building codes in your area and perhaps even with your House-hold Insurance Coverage no matter what! Now to answer your question Maria; I scouted out high-end show rooms first then price comparison shopped and in a number of cases ordered what I could directly from the Manufacturer and/or online. Also, as I do have the luxury of living close to the U.S.A. border I used the services of a U.S.A. Broker’s ‘Shipping Address’ so saved a bundle of $$$ in that respect due free shipping plus our Canadian dollar was at par then. To conclude; when shopping for tiles I discovered two identical ones for almost half the price in a Big-Box store that I seen in two showrooms so needless it paid for me to shop around. Also in two of the smaller bathrooms where the floor plan wasn’t changed; I recycled their custom solid built vanities which fitted the space by replacing their doors/drawer fronts/hardware, plumbing fixtures and topped them off with a new quartz counter-top. Also in one; due to its confined area and infrequent use rather than have heated flooring I opted for a recessed ceiling fixture that accommodated a heat lamp (clear bulb) which has more than sufficed.
    -Brenda-
    P.S.: Re your exhaust fans. I don’t know what type you are getting or their design but because I didn’t want the visual impact of a hunk of plastic smack in the center or offset on my ceilings …. °Û° …. I chose the type that is vertically mounted and strategically positioned them out-of sight upon first glance. (i.e.: Within skylights/over the doorways) I had to practically arm wrestle both the Electrician and my GC to have it done BUT I won as I got my way! Ha, ha. Apologize for being so long-winded.

    • ooops ….. that should have read; “….. I seen in two showrooms so needless to say it paid for me ……”
      -Brenda-

  12. Thanks for your bathroom renovation tips! I’m curious about your thoughts on placing wall sconces in a bathroom, hallway, or dining room. I’ve considered putting some in my dining room but I don’t want to get the placement wrong. Which reminds me of another thing, what height do you recommend hanging pictures? Thanks so much for your blog! It’s been so helpful! By the way, we bought a 15 year old house last year and you’d be proud of the classic white bathrooms. Everyone thinks our house is new because of all the classic elements the previous homeowners used.

    • There are so many variations for picture hanging. . . it’s the same for sconces, custom to the situation! How lucky that you have bathrooms you can simply enjoy instead of waiting for the day you rip them out! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  13. I’m admittedly a little renovation shy so I’ve never done one before. But I sure wish Jan lived down here so she could manage it for me once I finally get the guts! Her renovations are gorgeous, and I love that she’s always looking for ways to save. That’s my kind of lady!

  14. Once again you have provided us, your readers with invaluable information! I’m in the beginning phases of a bathroom remodel, so this is very timely for me. As always, money saving tips are appreciated! Thank you.

  15. We wanted to add a powder room to the main floor of our ‘old, character house’ and finally landed on the mostly un-used end of my office/studio – which also backed onto a hall entrance, AND one of the walls was also where the plumbing stack was located (money saving). All for about $5,000 including plumbing, electric, toilet, chrome vanity/sink, hardware, linen towel finishes and even the door, to which our contractor added trim to echo the adjacent panelled doors. And then we painted the interior and exterior of the door in F&B ‘Off Black’ which is a dark charcoal with blue undertones (all our interior doors are done this way, with ‘white metal’ hardware). We bought mostly at ‘big box’ stores, and filled the walls with sepia, and b&w photography. He painted the walls are BM ‘Cloud White’ above the chair rail and BM ‘Chelsea Gray’ below. I found some ‘grey-washed’ laminate flooring and we now have a gorgeous powder room that visitors ooh and ahh about.

  16. I have recently finished two bathroom renovations using every scrap of knowledge gained from Maria over the years. They make me happy every time I walk in! The work was hard. I nearly drove my husband and the tile shop crazy with all my talk about “undertones”. I am guilty of over renovating but we plan to stay in this house for some time. Here are my tips for saving if you do not use a project manager.
    1. Your plumber is one of your best resources. Talk to them about brands of fixtures and taps. They know what costs more to install. Stay away from big box stores and European mfg. Try not to move pipes as it is expensive but do it if it makes you happy. A two piece freestanding tub is easier than a one piece. They know the best toilets! If your plumber will not pass his savings on to you, ask the store for the plumbers price. Baths by Design in Kelowna BC always gives the discount and are very good to work with.

    2. Have all materials at your home before you start and open the boxes to inspect! Guilty. Our entire shipment of tile sat at the tile shop for a month to be delivered when the job started. They were defective and had to be returned. We then had to revamp our entire plan and lost a lot of time. Lucky a good tile shop backed us completely. Bathroom # 2 matte white beveled tiles came in gloss. Kept them and love it!

    3. Spend $ to add lighting. Electricians are expensive but old bathrooms are poorly lit. We added very slim led pot lights to the showers and other areas and they are so worth it! They can do wonders without ripping out walls. Extra lights do not cost double!

    4. Buying from a reputable source. Our Fleurco tub had to be replaced completely. It was a brand new model and had a few bugs. The store made all the arrangements and the plumber was fully compensated for the work. Done! No problem! Our Canadian brand shower fixture needed a new cartridge. Handled fast.

    5.We saved money by doing our own demolition and recycling of materials. My husband is handy and did the drywall, painting, trim and cabinet install. We used a large mirror to the ceiling with holes for the light fixtures. It was way cheaper than two framed mirrors and makes my 8 foot ceiling soar. We declined the hardware from the cabinet co. and bought amazing handles from Lee Valley Tools for at least 50% savings. We saved on delivery of many things as we have a pick up truck. Wasted money on paint using a thin roller. Get the fluffy one. We now have three coats of paint! Painted my Honey Oak cabinets in the family bath a lovely greige. Used a good paint and took my time. As they are not at eye level, any imperfections are not a problem. Spent the savings on a white!!! quartz top and lovely taps. Kept the large builders mirror for now and plan to frame it. Jury is still out on this.

    6. Saved our inset chrome toilet paper holder so we did not have to redrywall! In our ensuite, it was the only thing we kept!

    7. Not a savings but if you live in a cold climate, heat your floors! We traded the power from the jetted tub and are so glad we did!

  17. Maria just to let you know I am reading this post on my iPad, and it works just fine!!
    Love all your info ( I’ve been a fan since you lived on the North Shore)
    Also love all the human interest stuff, that makes your blog always an interesting read!!

  18. I have a client right now that is renovating her whole large bathroom. The tile floors will be replaced and also her existing bath tub. The bath tub is raised and has a step up. Her husband has some physical problems so I suggested a walk in tub. She wants to replace the vanity and the large shower. Wish Jan lived in California so she could be the contractor on this project. I will forward this post to her because of all the great tips.

    Curious to see the sconces that you finally chose!

  19. I thought of another cost savings…instead of buying a typical vanity, use an antique table. I did that in our guest bath. I removed to top & gave it to our stone fabricator to use as the template on a remnant of white quartz.
    The antique table gives the bathroom some charm & no one else has one like it.

  20. My comment relates more to new construction than renovation. We recently built and went with a 7′ x 4′ curbless walk-in shower with no glass in our master bathroom. Our ceilings are 10′ but our shower walls are 7′ to allow in plenty of light. We used matte white 6″ x 18″ subway tile on the walls and matte white 2″ hexagonal tile on the floor with a dark griege expoxy grout. The opening is 32″ (no door) and will fit a wheel chair. There are two shower heads, one is a hand held sprayer on an adjustable arm and the other is a rain shower. We’re still young and in great health but it was so important for us to design a shower that would allow us to age in place. Our framers did have to frame the shower floor with dimensional lumber and drop it down 2″ to account for the lack of curb (although they used TGI’s for the rest of the house). Otherwise, constructing the shower was a simple and fairly inexpensive process. It’s a dream to maintain and has a timeless appearance. I would strongly encourage any of your readers who are building custom to consider installing something similar. Thank you for your wonderful blog. I’ve learned so much from you and enjoy your insights and observations!

  21. Excited for your new bathrooms Maria! I’m sure you will both be thrilled with the end results!

    Hubby and I have updated/renovated a total of 7 (yes, SEVEN!) bathrooms…. 4 were total gut jobs. We collectively are so handy we should have our own TV show! Pretty much anything you need to know can be learned studying YouTube lol

    All good advice given above from your readers, couple things I might add…

    – For our most recent reno we used a large square Fiberglas base and built a tiled bench beside it, all enclosed in a custom glass surround. Its totally custom looking and it’s beautiful!

    – Sometimes when you tear the builders full width mirrors off the wall they can wreck havoc with your drywall. In our ensuite bathroom at our summer house I opted to cover that one wall with shiplap. So much easier than drywall repair and adds character to the room. This bathroom also has an antique sideboard I converted to a vanity (a job not for the faint of heart lol)

    Oh, and slide bar showers are THE BEST thing ever invented! I usually combine them with a rain shower. You can run both showerheads off one control.

    Can’t wait to see your bathroom reveals!

  22. I just found your site/blog and I’m obsessed! Thank you for sharing your spot-on insight and tips. We recently gut renovated a 140 year old home and I couldn’t agree with you more: hiring competent professionals may cost a few dollars more up front but will save money (and a lot of angst) in the end. We hired an experienced, well-known general contractor who kept everything high-quality and on time and I am lucky enough to have a dear friend who is a designer. She helped me pick finishes (she draws from your school of white kitchens and baths, hexagon and subway tile and medium brown wood floors) that will stand up to the passing of time. I’m thrilled with our results and with such a versatile background palette I can change the feel of my home easily and relatively inexpensively with art, accessories and soft goods if I want to ‘refresh’ in a few years. A classic background also lends itself to fun holiday decorating – which my kiddos and I love to do together.

  23. Fun read Maria. After 1 minute of the water being on, my tiled base is warm and toasty. If you’re doing a walk in shower, install the controls near the door, so you can turn them on without going in (and getting sprayed with cold water!). Acrylic bases have a louder, hollow sound when water hits them, just something to consider if one person starts their morning earlier than the other.

    Can’t wait to see it finished!

  24. I am so grateful for this tip. Tired of cleaning shower floor grout, I’ve been wondering if there is a shower use that doesn’t feel and look like cheap plastic. My reno will not be for a year or two, so I am learning from your project notes. Thank you.

    My tip would be to get at least 3 estimates from contractors, and if your gut says no to any one, don’t hire them. Only pay a reasonable deposit—not more.
    Research what is fair and reasonable and customer feedback, plus what to expect from them in detailed writing, so that they cannot keep adding unexpected cost to the project. For example, an estimate that just says kitchen cabinets is not detailed enough. It should say what trims, technical drawings for approval, if the surface finish is included, etc.,.
    Hold back enough of the final payment to keep their skin in the game.
    Plan well to avoid additional costs.
    Hire a designer to help make the big decisions, such as hard surfaces and paint colors, or anything that would cost you more down the road in do overs, I highly recommend Maria’s eDesign services, which I will use again when I do my bathroom.

  25. In my walk-in shower, I used the pan floor instead of tile AND instead of the more expensive subway tile (yes, he said it cost more)I used the common square tile, set in a running bond, like one would set subway, and saved a ton of $$ and it looks like a nice variation on a theme. It’ s grouted with the same medium grey grout as my medium hex white floor tile. Also got two two-candle electrified wall sconces for $7.50 at a thrift store (rewired by the electrical contractor).

  26. Hello Maria: You are lucky to have a dream friend like Jan. I am currently planning a new master ensuite and there is definitely plenty to think about. I have looked at a tiled-base shower floor and also the Fleurco base (which is more cost efficient and easier to clean and no grout lines.) I know I want to use porcelain tiles for the walls that look like marble; The wall tiles will be probably be 12 x 24 inches so I will have less grout lines; I will also add a ceiling light in the shower installed from the attic; a new bathroom fan etc. My question is what product did your friend use on the shower walls and what manufacturer made the sliding shower door? (I really like the look of it.) Is it a Maax or a Fleurco? My major concern is we have a two-storey home and my bedroom ensuite is directly above the living room with beautiful hardwood flooring. I’m worried about leaks. Would your friend Jan recommend installing the orange Schluter system on the floors and walls for water protection. We will be ripping out a five-foot bathtub and adding plumbing above a half wall to the ceiling. We will also rip up the old vinyl flooring and remove a vanity. The replacement vanity will be 71 inches wide with extra depth drawers to hold hair spray cans, voluminizers etc so my counter will finally be junk free. I already have two lights on each side of the mirror so moving them to the right location shouldn’t be too difficult. Is there something else I should be thinking about in this renovation? Thank you for your help.

  27. I am sorry but I just cannot handle fiberglass bases or cultured marble bases. They seem so out of place in a beautifully done bathroom. They just aren’t on the same level to me and cheapen the entire room.