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Keep your bathroom remodeling costs in check

Remodeling your bathroom can be exciting, especially when you picture the finished product. But if you have to work within a budget, fears about overspending can start to sap some of your initial enthusiasm. 

The good news is there are ways to keep your bathroom remodel costs under control. 

"The best way to manage costs during a bathroom remodel is to not manage costs during a bathroom remodel," says Matt Plaskoff, founder and CEO of One Week Bath, Inc., a bathroom remodel design company.

Andy Simms, an experienced professional green builder and owner of Simms Custom Construction in Sonoma, Calif., echoes that thought: "Have a plan before you get started, and figure out your budget ahead of time."

The time you spend in the thinking and planning stages - before any of the work begins - can save you headaches and money down the road. How? By giving you time to shop for bargains on materials, find the right contractor if you need one, and make sure your bathroom plan is exactly what you want. Because once the work has started, changes to the plan can add significant cost to the project.

Keep reading to find out what experts recommend for staying within budget - and without stress.

Tip #1 - Know How to Budget

Is this a simple remodel or a dream-bathroom extravaganza? Your answer to that question might depend, in part, on your budget. 

Knowing how much you can spend will tell you what you can (and can't) include in your project. Got some extra money? Go ahead and splurge on that fancy tile. Working with a tighter budget? Maybe you can forgo replacing your sink cabinet or find other ways to limit spending.

Whatever your budget, it's important to know which expenses you'll need to take into account. To give you some places to start, Plaskoff offers this quick list of expenses to keep in mind:

Finish materials: could include tile, cabinets, counters, fixtures, mirrors, lighting, shower doors, paint, accessories, ventilation fans, etc.

Labor: if it's not you or a friend, you'll have to pay a professional to install materials.

Incidentals: Plaskoff defines as "all the things that are required but you don't see." This could include trash hauling, a temporary toilet, pipe, grout, backerboard, spacers, angle stops, drywall, wire, switches, etc.

That third item, you've probably guessed, can be the trickiest to plan for. So how do you hedge your bets?

"If the home is an older home, expect to run into more issues," says Simms. "There may be water damage under the toilet that you didn't see, or you might have to remove plaster walls down to the studs, or your wiring might have to be upgraded." His recommendation: "The older the home, the more padding you should put in your budget for incidentals." 

But while it's important to have some money set aside for the unexpected, you don't need to go overboard. "It's pretty rare that [incidentals are] over $1,000," says Plaskoff. "Out of the nearly 2,000 bathrooms we've built, I can count on two hands the projects that had issues over $500."

Tip #2 - Shop Around for the Right Contractor

Hiring a contractor for a bathroom remodel is a big decision, so don't jump in uninformed.

"It's going to be like a marriage," warns Simms. "[Workers will] be in your house, under your feet, while they're completing the work for three to five weeks or longer. You want to make sure [they're] a good fit." 

The first thing you want to do is ask for referrals from friends, co-workers, remodeling associations, consumer lists, and the Better Business Bureau, says Plaskoff.

That's because getting referrals from people you trust can go a long way toward making sure the contractor you hire is professional, courteous, and skilled.

Once you've narrowed down your choices, Plaskoff suggests asking potential contractors some of these questions:

Are you licensed and insured (including liability)?

How long have you been in business?

Do you have references?

Will you commit resources to my project on a daily basis?

Do you have experience in producing this type of project?

Getting the answers to these questions is important for a variety of reasons. You need to know if a contractor is licensed and insured in order to protect yourself and your property in case things go awry or - worst-case scenario - someone is hurt on the job. 

The other questions will help you get a sense of the contractor's professionalism and whether or not you want to hire this person to work in your home for weeks or even months. The best time to ask questions is before the demo begins.

Tip #3 - Shop Around for Materials

Just like any other purchase, if you shop around for project materials you may be able to find better deals on the brands you want. Does that mean you should buy your own materials? Our experts say: maybe.

"If you are going to do the work yourself, you should shop around," Simms says. "But always remember that price and quality go together." However, you might be able to find great deals if you're willing to search for them - and if money is tight, shopping around could help you stay within budget.

Plaskoff offers one word of caution regarding "great deals": "Typically, these are going to be closeouts or discontinued items. Beware that there may not be additional materials should you run short. And there may be a reason these were discounted and/or discontinued; often, not a good one."

And there's another danger to consider before you supply your own materials for the contractor: warranties.

"If you're hiring a contractor to do the work and you supply the materials, the contractor isn't responsible for providing a warranty for those materials," Simms warns. "It might be better to let them deal with the materials (fixtures, etc.), so if there's damage to them or they fail, the contractor is responsible for fixing the problems." 

That could be a good enough reason to let the contractor do all the shopping. But don't feel too left out. Your contractor might be willing to let you research good buys for them. This way, you could potentially save on materials and have the peace of mind that comes with your contractor's warranty.

Tip #4 - Stick to the Plan!

If you're halfway through a remodel and start changing your mind, you could see your budget skyrocket. So what's the best way to avoid an out-of-control cost spiral?

Like we mentioned before - plan ahead. "Try to get your plan all nailed down before you start the project," Simms says. "If a change happens midstream, it throws the contractor out of sync. He'll require extra things - and he'll charge for it. Once you open Pandora's box, you'll be opening yourself to extra charges and delays."

Plaskoff has some additional advice: "Avoid tweaks to the plan by proper measurements, proper layout, and an understanding of building codes and how materials go together."

That's not to say the best laid plans can't go awry, but there's a difference between changing your mind about the design and rolling with the punches as the project moves forward.

"Tweaks should really only be based on conditions that are not able to be seen until demolition takes place," Plaskoff advises. "If the plan is clearly laid out and can be visualized, there should be no reason to 'tweak' anything."

Tip #5 - Be Smart When Going Green

So you're thinking about doing an environmentally friendly bathroom remodel - but you're scared that it will run up your budget. You can rest easy. Going green doesn't have to break the bank.

"It doesn't take too much to upgrade to more green products in the house," Simms says. But be careful when you're shopping around, he warns. "There is some stuff out there that we call 'green wash' - meaning it's labeled as a green product but it really isn't." But how will you as a consumer know the difference between green wash and just plain old green?

"You might want to work with a contractor who is experienced in going green," Simms advises. An experienced green builder might know the best places to find deals on quality green products. They might also know the ins and outs of installing new technologies (like passive solar water-heating) - which might take less specialized contractors more trial-and-error to figure out.

By the way, going green doesn't mean you'll end up with a crazy modern bathroom, either. Tile is a green choice, as is choosing natural linoleum over vinyl flooring, notes Simms. 

But the best green decision you can make? Plan for the long term, says Simms: "Do something that's going to last for a long, long time - not something that will have to be replaced in a few years."