The Single Worst Mistake to Make During Your Bathroom Renovation

The perfect bath starts with an inspiration starting point like this mirror.

When Jan and I were business partners, we renovated a few kitchens together, so when I managed the renovation of my kitchen five years ago when we bought the house we’re in, I was comfortable, I felt like I knew what I was doing.

I have NEVER managed a bathroom renovation. I don’t do this for clients.  I specify colour, I style, I decorate, but I am NOT a renovator, so I was scared when it came to renovating my bathrooms.

Since everything I do goes on this blog, it has to be pretty close to perfect.  Which is the biggest reason I was afraid. I can’t afford to make the cliched mistakes that many people make when they DIY a project and really have no idea what they are doing.

It’s the reason why there are so few perfect bathrooms and kitchens in the average home. Because most people think “I got this, how hard can it be?” well, I’m here to tell you, there is almost NOTHING as detailed as interior design and renovations. If you have a measurement that is 1/4″ wrong or even less, guess what? You’re re-doing it. Or you live with it.

And if you don’t check and double check EVERYTHING? Something will go wrong, guaranteed.

Or, you have a trade on your job that does something wrong because he made an assumption, didn’t ask anyone and you weren’t there to notice? Nine time out of 10, you’re paying to have it fixed. Or, you just live with it.

Jan Romanuk (She always dresses so elegantly)

Jan has been designing bathrooms and kitchens for 30 years along with project managing renovations, and I am lucky to know her. If she wasn’t one of my best friends, I still wouldn’t have new bathrooms.

I’ve been talking to her about my bathrooms for a few years now, ever since she helped me with my kitchen 5 years ago when we moved in.

So this year she said “Maria, I have someone who can install all your tile, and–by the way–your plumbing needs to be ordered at least 4 weeks in advance”. Let’s set a date in the summer when you’ll be home.” So we did.

When I started writing this weeks post, I asked her what the worst mistake was, that homeowners make with bathrooms (obviously this applies to all renos too) and she said, the number one biggest mistake is NOT planning the entire renovation before it begins. In other words, there is no COMPLETE PLAN prior to the start of the renovation.

For example, most people assume that lighting is the last decision you need to make because it’s the last thing that will be installed.

This back plate is above the light, and the light is close to the middle of the mirror, where it should be. (source)

NOT TRUE. If you want to install decorative lighting, which is wall sconces on either side of your mirror,  it needs to be your FIRST decision.

Here the back plate is lower than the first image so that the light is still positioned close to the middle of the mirror (source)

I made the same assumption. When Jan came over to help me measure where the electrician was going to move the wires she said “Where are the specs?”, eeeeek, I had to actually finalize my lighting right then and there.

Most people put off making the decision because they don’t know, I procrastinate because I might find something better tomorrow. I need to feel like I’ve seen every single possible light fixture out there before I can make a decision. And I’m busy, I don’t have time to trawl websites for hours on end.

Anyway here’s the list, IN ORDER of what will happen during your bathroom renovation:

ORDER THE GARBAGE BIN

For demolition day.

Usually it will arrive on the day of your demolition, then you call for pick up when you’re done (in this case we only needed it for one day) and then they take it away and send you the bill.

DEMOLITION

Maria’s Kitchen inside Style at Home (photography by Tracey Ayton)

When my kitchen (above) was demolished, I saved some money because I posted it on Craigslist and someone came and took it away, I was not so lucky with my bathrooms. However, the demolition of both my bathrooms including removing the lino floor in one bathroom and the tile floor in the other which included the layer of plywood, (so that I would have an even transition) took two guys, ONE DAY.

Oh my land did they charge a fortune for the demolition!! Real estate where I live is still going crazy, so many people in our little town are selling and cashing in, and renovations are in full swing. And the trades are cashing in as well. It’s rare that anyone does anything by the hour. Everything is ‘by the job’, for example, “I’ll remove your vanity for X”, “I’ll tile your bathrooms for X”.  And the problem is, if you hire someone who doesn’t know what they are doing (for less) they might do more damage that will need to be repaired before you can continue.

FRAMING

The only framing required in my bathroom was the continuation of a bump out that covered the fireplace pipe (below) from my family room which is on the other side of my master bath (above).

Also, in Terreeia’s bathroom, boxes needed to be framed inside the wall to hold hair products in the shower.

We continued the bulkhead and added three little puck lights for artwork to make it look intentional (above).

ELECTRICIAN

After any new framing has been done, the electrician arrives to install your recessed lights, wiring for new lights includes new switches. Most older bathrooms have bad, inadequate lighting so you’ll need new switches too, because you’ll want your sconces or bar lights on a different switch than your recessed lighting for example.

PLUMBING ROUGH-INS

Usually the rough-ins get shipped first so that the plumber can do all the behind-the-walls work, installing pipes, moving the drain (which is what needed to happen in my master where the tub was), etc. All this needs to be done before the drywall gets patched back up.

DRYWALL INSTALLATION

 

HEATED FLOORING GOES IN

INSTALL SHOWER MEMBRANE

TILE INSTALLATION

GLASS FOR SHOWER DOORS GET MEASURED

ELECTRICIAN COMES BACK TO HOOK UP THE HEATED FLOORING TO THE THERMOSTAT

DRYWALL AND MUDDING GETS DONE

CABINET INSTALLATION

Then the cabinets get installed.

COUNTERTOP INSTALLATION

The countertops get measured and a week later they arrive.

PLUMBING FITTINGS GET INSTALLED

Faucets, shower heads, toilets.

PAINTER COMES

During a new build, the first coat goes up before the cabinets are installed but usually during a renovation the painting gets done at the end.

LIGHTING INSTALLATION

Lighting gets Installed – bar light location is usually obvious, however, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post decorative lighting (sconces) MUST BE chosen FIRST before anything happens.

And that’s the list. Let me know if I missed anything! The more planning you’ve done in advance. the more perfect your bath will be.

My cabinets are in, this week the countertops will be measured and will go in the following week!

If you need help choosing tile, lighting and colours for your bathrooms, take advantage of our eDesign services here.

Who has attended the BOLD Summit? I will be on a panel about building your business on-line with other experts this September in Chicago!

Find out what it’s all about here.

You can get $200 off your registration fee by using the promo code; Maria.

We’re launching a new eDesign product to help you get your new bathroom finishes just right! Check out our “Create a Classic Bathroom” package here.

Also we are hiring a Director of Content and Partnerships! If you are a writer, decorator and stylist, and you live in Vancouver or the Lower Mainland,  click here to find out more.

Related posts:

Is your Bath Perfect? Or Perfectly Nice?

Maria’s Main Bathroom; Before and During

Maria’s Bathroom Renovation Plans; Lighting and Vanity Design

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  1. Maria,
    One thing I would add is to plan for placing of hand held shower bars and towel bars, hooks etc before the plumber arrives. Make sure there are reinforcemnts for them. Then take lots of pictures of these during construction as well as recording measurments. Do not rely on the plumber to do this as you may have a different person finishing the job or they may forget they took them. Mark the places with tape before they arrive to install the final product. By the way, marking with green tape is also good for tricky spots where craftsman may not be clear on your message.

  2. Packed post! One thing too add. Depending how extensive plumbing is you might want to book a room to stay in during that work (hopefully not during a big convention in town!). Folks with only one bath I wonder what they do…

  3. Im wondering what happens if the heater in your floors goes out? Looks like it couldnt
    be repaired unless you rip up the floors. Do you have an alternate plan for heat in the
    bathroom in case that happens?

    • We had that happen. The manufacturer sent a device (we sent it back afterwards) that marked where there was a tiny break in the wire under the tile. It told us the distance to the break, which we then referenced with photos taken of the wiring before the tile went down. With that info we only had to lift one tile and repair the wire (with a kit the manufacturer also sent). Voila – floor was back in business. The wire had been ever-so-slightly nicked during install, and it took a few weeks to stop working. Thank goodness it was easily fixed. On that note, make sure you save extra tiles, just in case.

  4. You got it! A few details:
    The sinks have to be on site when the countertops are installed because the counter installers will attach the sinks (the plumber does the faucets)… and do you need to be either selected or on site sooner, because the counter guys need the info to cut a perfect sink shaped hole before they show up to install.
    Likewise the plumbing has to be picked early because the rough-ins get installed early.
    If you have a larger format tile, either have a very trusted installer who will work this out, or decide yourself where the partial tiles will land. Slivers are bad, often shifting the whole pattern by 1/2 a tile will let the installer cut off a sliver leaving more than 1/2 tile showing.

  5. True. I ended up with lighting above the mirror because I didn’t have my mirror picked out so I didn’t know where the lighting would go on either side. It’s fine. I still love my bathroom, but if you want those side sconces you have to have your mirror and lights picked out at the beginning.

  6. So much information! I will save this post for sure. You help us so much with your vast knowledge of everything renovation and design. Who else would give out so much information? Love you every step of the way!!

  7. Agree with Diane – have blocking (basically wood scraps) added while walls are open wherever you need to attach something to the walls. Grab bars, baskets, folding seats etc in shower. Towel bars, shelves, hooks etc for the bathroom walls. Much more stable screwing into wood than anchors. Make sure spray foam insulation is used around any penetrations, i.e. pipes, electrical conduits etc. Before closing up walls take pictures and write notes showing pipes, lines etc. Keep a laminated illustration of each wall’s elevation in the space, with exact locations clearly shown. Ask for what you want, as sometimes things you assume are expensive are cheap. Most importantly, work with people you trust and then LISTEN to their advice.

  8. I have a lot of experience in this regard, and the only thing I might add to your very complete list is to plan for some sort of access panel for the shower plumbing so no ripping out tile is necessary in case of a leak. I might also try to avoid running piping up an outside wall if your area experiences hard freezes. Not related to this, but in kitchens I’ve always bumped the cabinets out a couple of inches, if possible, to give added counter space allow plumbing to run unencumbered. It also lets one put additional insulation behind the cabinets. Great post, as usual! : )

  9. Great post. One thing that makes a huge difference when you don’t know what you’re doing is a really excellent contractor. We were blessed in that way. He even thought of grab bar reinforcements in our shower, so that when, five years later, I broke my leg, he was able to install the grab bars using the reinforcements I never thought about.

    Regarding a tradesman error, our tile guy, who did a fabulous job, did not install tile under the counter projection. Fortunately I noticed the omission and asked him to take care of it, which he did. I thought it so strange that someone who did such a good job would be willing to leave something unfinished just because you couldn’t see it.

  10. Well, Maria this couldn’t have been more timely! Demo starts tomorrow on our bathrooms. I’m so glad I read this: I hadn’t considered how high to put the sconces or where to put the hand held shower bar. I hadn’t considered taking pictures when the walls are open. Thank you! Great post!

  11. So much preparation to do before a renovation and interesting to read and see what it entails. There’s always something to learn on these posts. Looks like it’s coming along nicely and can’t wait to see the finished bathrooms. Good luck, Maria

  12. Hi Maria,
    This was all so helpful. And your readers are also commenting with great suggestions.
    My husband did our bath reno. He doesn’t trust contractors because we’ve had some bad experiences. The one thing we messed up on was not selecting our shower water valve/control before he tiled the shower walls. So we have new tile in the shower & had to use the old controls. (Banging head against the wall.)

    • Ugh. See if there’s a newer looking trim kit for that old valve. I was able to find one for a home with two baths where we didn’t want to rip out the tile because it was a color we were using throughout the rest of the hose and was in great condition. But it was corroded polished brass and now is shiny chrome like the rest of the metals in the bathrooms.

  13. My husband, who is a contractor, said trades people who charge by the hour would be more likely to “milk” the charges. Most professionals will charge by the job. He also agreed with your list. 🙂 He is just getting ready to start a bathroom reno next week.

  14. I’m working on a business deal that I hope will come together. It will go a long way toward helping me buy a house.

    In the meantime, I’ve been spending time on a builder’s web site. The builder does beautiful work and they have one-stop shopping for all the finishes inside and out. They don’t just have a handful of options – the choices are extensive. You might want to go elsewhere for a few items, but for the most part, there is really no need.

    They can change floor plans and they say they redraw your plans seven times to get it right before beginning construction. But as I look at their plans and start thinking about what I might change, so many details come to mind that I get a headache!!! You move one thing and it impacts everything else.

    It’s plain to see how even if you’re intelligent, you could easily forget something in the design. This builder insists on everything being chosen up front, because once they quote the price, it’s written in stone.

    That said, I’m always amazed how many people DON’T choose everything before construction begins. I constantly hear of people in the middle of building houses, say they struggle to stay ahead of the builder. They don’t choose kitchen cabinets or anything until after construction has been started and the contractor needs a decision!

  15. Great review! We just got through remodeling 4 baths as part of a whole house reno and I really wish I had planned everything out a little more thoroughly. One issue for me was towel bars and toilet tissue holders – I just didn’t give much thought to where they would be best placed for function and aesthetics. At this point we’re mostly just glad it’s done!

  16. On our bath Reno the first thing they wanted was all the plumbing for the rough in. Which meant, if we wanted the shower to match the faucets elsewhere, we had to have all the fixtures chosen and ordered first.

  17. Plan for grab bars in toilet areas as well as in showers. They make some very nice decorative ones now, with matching tp holders. You will thank yourself when you are older and older guests will thank you (especially think about first floor powder room). Plan blocking for all of these fixtures and take lots of pictures with clear memos on what is what….or take a video and talk it through as you film. (“vent pipe is 24″ from outside wall”, etc. ). I had a friend hold a yardstick as I filmed so that you could see the measurement being recorded. Plan your tile layout (horizontal or vertical; tile or paint on shower ceiling; tile design in shower niches; size of tile keeping in mind grout joints so that you don’t end up with small cut pieces anywhere) so the choice of large or small scale tile or any decorative tile all work together and fit together. One of our biggest challenges and questions was how to handle tile corners and ends: metal Schluter pieces, bullnose tile or ??…also, tile comes in varying depths so if you are using a decorative mixed in with a field tile or two different company’s tiles for example, you have to account for a possible depth difference. Discuss EVERYTHING with your tile installer or designer. Choice of ventilation fans including lights/nightlights: some come on automatically when they sense moisture (if you are inclined to “forget” to turn the fan on when you shower- luckily most all f them aren’t as noisy as they used to be). Thank you, Maria for your great post – as always – and getting us started on sharing our own info.

  18. My husband and I are thinking about going away for a weekend for the first time, leaving our older teenage (almost adult age) kids at home. They are very trustworthy, but we did give them the big talk about not telling any of their friends that there are no parents at home for the weekend. One story we related was about friends of ours who went away and a bunch of kids found out, had a party and incurred about $50,000 in damages to their house! I (jokingly) told my kids that if a bunch of people DO show up, take them up to our ensuite and have their party there! My husband has been dragging his feet on doing a renovation in there and that might be the push we need to bite the bullet!

    All kidding aside, Maria, thank you for this post! I can’t wait to see the finished products! I am assuming you had to move out while all this work is being done — you can’t survive without a bathroom!!

    • Haha that’s funny! We did not move out, we have been showering at my Mom’s house which is 2 minutes away. We have had the powder room still intact until this week. Our toilet was replaced just 2 years ago in there and the flooring is the same as the rest of the house. The vanity came out yesterday because the new one is being installed today and the countertops will be measured tomorrow. Yesterday, when I came back from a bike ride I just hosed down outside, haha. I feel very fortunate to be doing all of them at once! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  19. Excellent article, Maria! Having upgraded four bathrooms not all that long ago and not having the luxury of ‘a Jan’ and only that of a General Contractor my brief advice to those that are tackling one are a) Definitely have all supplies on hand i.e.: Plumbing fixtures and trim kits, lighting fixtures, mirrors etc. but leave the choice of such things as *installation supplies* (plumbing/electrical/tiling) up to the experts b) for the trades-people post explicit instructions and if possible include a diagram for items that will be fixed i.e.: Niches and their sizing ‘n layout plus their tiling etc. c) For other items that are to be installed; supply manufacturer specs and/or make templates particularly if they are fragile i.e.: In particular for mirrors and wall lighting (or at least remove their shades). -Brenda-
    P.S.: Warning ….. these tips on the whole will help but know in my instance there was a still a few glitches but then again we don’t live in a perfect world … °Û° …. so keep that in mind.

    • Yeah, as someone who designs and project manages like Jan, my advice is to have EVERYTHING on site BEFORE DEMO is started. Even with that, contractors blow it like not moving the angle stops down to clear the deeper sink. Which was closest to the garage door so the general contractor could see it. Luckily, the plumber came on a Saturday am to fix it and the counter guys came a little later that Saturday to get the kitchen counters installed. I refused to work with that general contractor again. He later went bankrupt.

  20. 1) Don’t just have the boxes onsite, you have to OPEN them and make sure it’s the correct item, instructions/templates included if needed and it isn’t DAMAGED.
    2) Check all tile boxes to ensure they match, if slight difference you can mix the tiles between the boxes (if your tiler uses one box at a time the shading differences will be noticeable), if you are using a natural tile consider ordering a little extra and culling out the ones you don’t like.
    3) Plan out storage to the item (towels, toiletries, hamper, cleaning supplies, etc…)
    4) Consider what universal design elements you can easily include (wheelchair space, curbless/low curb showers, grab bars, slip resistant floors, handheld shower sprayer, shower seat, tall toilets, wall mounted sinks)

  21. Such a great and informative post, as always Maria. I will be doing a bathroom very soon, although so excited for it to begin, very nervous too to make sure all goes well and as planned. There is a lot of information here, and I am so grateful for that. Is the picture of the black and white tile bathroom Terreeia’s bath (I do remember she likes black). Can’t wait to see the final results. oh, any ideas and thoughts about free standing tubs.

  22. Love all the details spelled out for us to see. I’ve done several bathroom renos over the years, and mine pretty much followed your list, with one exception. I prefer to have all the walls painted before the vanity and toilet is installed. It’s easier than trying to paint around the toilet, and I don’t like it unpainted back there anyway.

  23. Yes where is the finished bathroom? This was very disappointing. You talk about the recessed lighting and art but don’t show it. Don’t give ideas about on the sinks. This was all hype with no satisfying ending.

  24. Per usual. your post is timely and full of good info! I’m trying to decide whether to stay in my home, re-do the bathrooms and kitchen, or move. Haven’t done any remodeling of my own, just helped my clients choose materials.
    ,

  25. Wonderful outline, your bathroom looks like it is coming along beautifully! Perhaps a discussion on tile, or maybe I missed an earlier one. The details count and often I see bathrooms with metal strips because a bullnose tile was not used, or poorly installed baseboard trim. Including the finishing pieces can make a huge difference in the room, I think.

  26. Great informative post. All the mistakes are really important in every sense. I was planning for our bathroom renovation and this post is so helpful to avoid mistakes. Will surely take care of this things. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  27. Always enlightening Maria — thank you. Our bathroom renovation went extremely well and we are thrilled with the results. For ageing in place we put in a curbless shower, had full plywood walls installed instead of gyproc on two sides of the shower so that adding any grab bars in future would be an easy task, and we designed the door side so that the glass piece as well as the door itself can be removed for wheelchair access.
    Errors made? I miscalculated just how large our shower was going to be and subsequently had the Hi/Lo bar installed on the opposite side of where it would be more practical and require less squeegee-ing of the glass. We now have two Hi/Lo bars.

  28. Can I add that for ageing in place, we followed the recommendation of going with a smaller floor tile (we went with the small hex tile) which would add more grout lines because it’s the grout lines that provide traction for a wheelchair.