Bathroom Remodel: Splurge Vs. Save

From tile to the plumbing fixtures, get tips for where to invest money and where to cut back.
Gray Vanity With Tile Backsplash

Gray Vanity With Tile Backsplash

This vanity gets an elegant touch from a marble countertop and backsplash.

By: Kristen Hampshire

Function is the No. 1 priority in a bathroom—if it doesn't "work" for you, who cares whether the tile is patterned in period-perfect Arts and Crafts style? Ultimately, you must be able to easily, conveniently use the space and the features within it.

"In the end, you need a good quality toilet that works well, a good valve body for the faucets that gives you the type of water flow you want," says Ken Perrin, president, Artistic Renovations, Cleveland, Ohio.

That said, the bathroom should be an appealing place to go. Especially in a master suite where the bathroom becomes more of a spa/resting space than a utilitarian room, some of the bells and whistles (heated floors) are certainly worth the splurge. And, in fact, some of the luxuries that seem like they would blow your budget are actually within reach (again, heated floors).

What do you value in the bathroom? Refer to your completed Day in the Life of Your Bathroom Questionnaire and Bathroom Goals Worksheet.

Here is some general advice on where to spend and splurge:

Tile. Save money on the background tile and spend on some decorative eye candy. Or, choose targeted spaces for beautiful tile treatment—such as a vanity backsplash or a wall in the shower—and fill in the rest with economical but effective, basic porcelain. "You can do one wall of mosaic that will cost $20 to $50 per square foot, but the space is only 40 x 10 inches, and do the rest in plain field tile that is $5 per square foot," says Cassia Wyner, designer/owner, CW Design, Brookline, Mass. "It's worth spending an extra $500 for some 'wow' factor."

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathroom Tile

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Cheap: Ceramic Tile

A classic choice for bathroom flooring, inexpensive ceramic tile provides a durable, easy-to-clean surface that can be textured to prevent slippage. Image courtesy of Shaw Floors

Cheap: Vinyl Tiles

Affordable vinyl tiles can mimic the look of stone for a fraction of the cost. This surface is durable and low maintenance. Image courtesy of Congoleum Corporation

Mid-Range: Tile "Carpet"

If you want to add visual interest to a tile floor without breaking the bank, try installing a "rug" of tile in an intricate pattern in front of the vanity, surrounding the toilet or in the space where you step out of the shower.

Mid-Range: Accent Tile

To take your bathroom floor a step beyond basic field tile, try incorporating tile in various colors and sizes. Design by Gail Drury

Photo By: Designer, Gail Drury

Steep: Intricate Tile Floors

A tile floor in a beautiful, complex pattern adds an upscale touch to a bathroom. Design by Bruce Rosenblum

Photo By: Designer, Bruce Rosenblum

Steep: Floor-to-Ceiling Tile

Today's designers are taking bathroom tile all the way up the wall for an ultra-high-end look. Design by Linda Sullivan

Floor. The floor must be slip resistant (think tile texture here and larger grout lines in the shower for more traction), but it doesn't have to be expensive. And, you can turn up the appeal by installing electric heated floor mats under the tile.

Cabinetry. Don't skimp on cabinets. On a scale of good, better, best, at least choose the better option, Wyner says. "You will be opening those doors and drawers every day," she says. "And, if the cabinets are made of cheap particle board, they won't last long in a wet environment."

Countertops. The key is keeping this surface clean—and low-maintenance is a main benefit of surfaces such as quartzite (CesarStone, Cambria, etc.). But these surfaces can cost as much as middle- to lower-grade granite. So decide whether this will be a selling point of your bathroom, or if a laminate with a sharp pattern (that resembles granite, say) is acceptable. If the answer is yes, you'll save a bundle. However, Wyner advocates splurging on the material here. "Countertops can really make a statement," she says.

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathroom Countertops

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Cheap: Laminate Countertops

An inexpensive alternative to solid surface and stone, laminate countertops are available in many styles and colors and can even mimic the look of natural stone countertops. Image courtesy of Formica Corporation

Cheap: Basic Ceramic Tile

Simple ceramic tile is less expensive than natural stone and provides a water-resistant, easy-to-clean countertop surface. Design by Erinn Valencich

From: Erinn Valencich

Photo By: Federico DeVera

Mid-Range: Engineered Stone Countertops

For somewhat larger budgets, quartz countertops combine the beauty of natural stone with the durability of a manufactured surface. Photo courtesy of HanStone Quartz

Mid-Range: Solid-Surface Countertops

A compromise between laminate and natural stone, acrylic-based solid-surface countertops are stain-resistant, easy-to-clean and available in dozens of colors. Image courtesy of Formica Corporation

Steep: Granite Countertops

Though more expensive than laminate or tile, granite countertops add value to a home and offer an elegant, stain-resistant surface. Design by Beth Haley

Steep: Marble Countertops

An elegant option for high-end baths, marble countertops offers dramatic veining and lovely colorations. Most marble scratches and stains easily, so this stone is best saved for gently used bathrooms. Design by Andreea Avram Rusu

Plumbing Fixtures. It's not so easy to choose plumbing fixtures these days, and with the shower evolving into its own luxe room equipped with an array of spray heads, color therapy, aromatherapy and even seating, how do you decide what's worth the money?

That depends on how you will use the space, but the key with plumbing fixtures is to never compromise quality, Wyner says. You may choose to install body sprays or a rain shower head. That's personal preference. But no matter what you decide on, be sure the fixture quality is there. "It's worth getting a better model because it affects the flow and the finish—you want it to last," Wyner says. "You don't want chrome peeling off five years later."

Cheap vs. Steep: Shower Fixtures

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Cheap: Basic Wall-Mount Showerhead

Basic but functional, inexpensive wall-mount showerheads are available in many styles and finishes. Image courtesy of Moen Inc.

Photo By: Barbara Barry

Cheap: Water-Efficient Showerhead

New low-flow showerheads, such as the Envi Eco-Performance showerhead from Moen, use less water while maintaining a powerful spray. Image courtesy of Moen Inc.

Mid-Range: Hand-Held ShowerHead

Versatile hand-held showerheads can offer multiple functions, such as a strong spray for cleaning and a soft spray for bathing children. Image courtesy of Kohler Co.

Mid-Range: Wall-Mount and Hand-Held Shower Combination

For ultimate convenience, consider installing both wall-mounted and hand-held showerheads in your bathroom. Image courtesy of Kohler Co.

Photo By: Kohler

Steep: Body Sprays

Body sprays, which are installed on the shower wall to provide a full-body massage, are an exciting upgrade that will make your shower the star of your bathroom. Image courtesy of Moen Inc.

Steep: Vertical Spa

Vertical spas surround you in water from every angle. Digital versions even allow you to save your water temperature and pressure preferences so you can recreate them at the touch of a button. Image courtesy of Moen Inc.

As for the tub, "You don't have to go for the big, spa tub anymore—a soaker tub is fine," says Ellen Rady, designer/president, Ellen Rady Designs, Cleveland, Ohio. "And a lot of master bathrooms are taking out the tubs all together as long as there is a tub someplace in the home."

And, do you really need two vanity sinks? Or, would the space be more useful if those extra inches were saved for an attractive, useful countertop? You can buy one less sink, faucet and deal with one less installation (plumbing, undermounting the fixture, etc.) if you can economize to a single vanity sink.

But pay attention to that single faucet. "You can literally buy a bathroom faucet for fifty bucks, but is it going to have decent flow? Is the finish going to wear off? Is it made out of plastic on the inside?" Wyner asks. "You want something that will last because you use the faucet many times every day."

Cheap vs. Steep: Toilets

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Cheap: Standard Two-Piece Toilet

Save money on your bathroom remodel by installing a standard two-piece toilet. Image courtesy of Kohler Co.

Cheap: Elongated Two-Piece Toilet

Taller than standard toilets, elongated two-piece toilets are more comfortable for most homeowners and more accessible for people who use wheelchairs or walkers. Photo Courtesy of Gerber Plumbing

Mid-Range: One-Piece Toilet

An upgrade from a standard two-piece toilet, one-piece toilets are easy to clean since they have no seams. Photo courtesy of Kohler Co.

Mid-Range: One-Piece Toilet

One-piece toilets are available in many sleek styles that look great in modern or contemporary bathrooms. Photo courtesy of INAX Corp.

Steep: Built-In Bidet

Available to homeowners willing to spend extra on their bathroom fixtures, a toilet with a built-in bidet adds convenience and saves space in your bathroom’s design. Photo courtesy of INAX Corp.

Steep: Wall-Mounted Toilet

A sleek alternative to the basic toilet, wall-mounted toilets save space and complement contemporary and modern bathroom designs. Photo courtesy of Toto USA, Inc.

Finishes. Chrome is generally the least expensive finish in plumbing hardware: faucets, shower heads, etc. And there's nothing wrong with this finish, Wyner says. Just avoid mixing finishes—brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze in the same bathroom are not a happy couple. And know when it's worth spending extra to achieve a desired aesthetic. "If you are doing an Arts and Crafts bathroom, it's nice to save money for that oil-rubbed bronze and some detail tiles that achieve the same look and save on field tile and perhaps by getting an old [reclaimed] cabinet that is in style," she says.

Cheap vs. Steep: Bathroom Sinks

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Cheap: Drop-In Sink

The easiest type of sink to install, inexpensive drop-in sinks are available in a variety of colors and shapes. Photo courtesy of Gerber

Photo By: studio

Cheap: Pedestal Sink

A basic pedestal sink will save floor space and add style to your bathroom without breaking the bank. Photo courtesy of Kohler Co.

Mid-Range: Undermount Sink

An upgrade from a basic drop-in sink, undermount sinks offer a seamless look and are easy to clean. Photo courtesy of Lenova Sinks

Photo By: Jay Rubinic

Mid-Range: Metal Undermount Sink

Durable and low maintenance, metal undermount sinks are a bold alternative to basic bathroom sinks. Photo Courtesy of Native Trails, Inc.

Photo By: Michael Skott

Steep: Copper Vessel Sink

For larger budgets, elegant vessel sinks offer a unique look and are available in a variety of materials, including metal, glass and stone. Photo courtesy of Lenova Sinks

Photo By: Jay Rubinic

Steep: Glass Vessel Sink

Sleek glass vessel sinks are available in many colors and shapes to complement any bathroom's design. Photo courtesy of the National Kitchen & Bath Association

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