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How to Renovate a Bathroom on a Budget

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Bathrooms are one of the areas where it just makes sense to spend some money updating. Think about it. They receive a good amount of use, so wouldn't you want a space you enjoy? Also, updated bathrooms (especially the master) will have a hugely positive impact on the value of your home when it comes time to sell.

That said, bathroom renovations can be daunting, with quotes for a small bathroom remodel sometimes reaching well into the five-figure range.

So are there some ways to refresh a bathroom without breaking the bank? As with most other home projects, a little creativity and willingness to put in some "sweat equity" can go a long way.

In our experience, paint, hardware and fixtures are great ways to have maximum impact with minimal investment. There are also options for a more comprehensive refresh that stop short of a complete tear out and redo.

I do need to add one caveat: while we certainly advocate for creativity and saving money whenever possible, I will never advocate for cutting corners or covering up defects. You should always properly repair issues you discover while renovating. Not only is it the right thing to do, not doing it could cost you big time down the road in the form of costly repair bills or even lawsuits.

Beware that once you get into a bathroom remodel (even if you plan on it being relatively minor), you will likely uncover issues that you will need to address before moving on, especially when it comes to plumbing.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's get down to the fun part.

During the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, we decided to tackle our hall bathroom, which we had affectionately named "the scary bathroom" due to the fact that it was always dark, no matter the time of day.

Scary bathroom as seen from our recently completed kitchen remodel. Note the darkness despite the bright, sunny day...

We knew we wanted to keep the layout, which is a good way to save on plumbing costs - it costs a lot of money to move supply and sewer lines, especially if you were not already planning to open the walls or floors.

We were confident the subfloor was in good shape (because we just recently replaced 2/3 of the subfloor in the house) and the existing tiles were largely crack-free, so we decided to lay the new tile on top of the existing (saving on demo costs and backer material). We also decided to lay the tile ourselves.

Progress pic

As for the wall tile, except for the sink area, the tiles were in great shape, but we knew we wanted a different color to really brighten the space. Rather than rip out perfectly good tile, we decided to paint it using tub and tile paint by Rustoleum (see it here on Amazon).

For the sink wall (where tiles were missing) we decided to go with a custom board and batten wall to cover up the tile.

For paint colors, we used White Dove from Benjamin Moore for the board and batten wall and trim and Benjamin Moore's Revere Pewter mixed at 75% for the few bits of sheetrock wall left to paint. The ceiling was old cypress shiplap that we exposed, denailed, sanded and sealed with linseed oil. No stain necessary for old wood like that! We were sure to seal the cracks with clear caulk, too.

All in, we spent less than $3,000 on the remodel and could not be happier with how it turned out.

The finished product

We learned several things on this project:

  1. Tiling a floor really isn't all that difficult and is a great way to save money, but it is very tedious. I would be happy if I never had to tile a floor again.

  2. Tub and tile paint is a great product. Prep work is absolutely critical, though. Also, if I did it over again, I would hire someone to apply it with a sprayer (this usually costs in the $250-300 range for a tub plus some extra for the walls). Ours turned out great rolled on, but after seeing bathrooms that were sprayed, that seems to be the route to go.

  3. Just replace your old, cheap toilet instead of trying to rebuild it. The money you save is just not worth the time it takes. I've made that mistake twice now; never again!

  4. As with any project (especially on a ~90-year-old house), plan for surprises. Our project budget would have been much less had it not been for some items that required a call to a plumber, like replacing a toilet flange, rebuilding our tub faucet valves and replacing the old cast iron tub drain line that sheared off while removing the drain trim.

After our hall bath could no longer be called scary, the next on the bathroom refresh list was our master bathroom. This one was on a slab and built around 1999, so we had no subfloor to contend with and were confident the plumbing was good to go.

Here are the before photos:

With this project, we wanted to give it a nice refresh without breaking the bank. This bathroom was already laid out nicely, was very spacious and featured an exposed brick wall (not shown in the before photos), so we decided to focus on paint and fixtures to give it a more modern look.

We painted the walls Benjamin Moore White Dove and replaced all of the hardware and fixtures with matte black.

I think it turned out extremely well, especially for a total budget under $1,000 (no calls to a plumber this time around):

I hope we made our point clear that you don't have to spend crazy amounts of money to update your space. Paint and fixtures go a long way toward giving your bathroom a completely new look and can be done yourself over a weekend.

Another room to focus on, especially if getting your house ready to sell, is the kitchen. In future posts we will go through ways to save on your remodel while still achieving a beautiful, highly functional kitchen.

Until next time, if you need any help finding or selling a home or investment property, reach out to Sally or check our SoldWithSalBR on Facebook. As always, if you have any questions relating to real estate, remodeling, Baton Rouge or life in general, drop us a line at

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