Designing Your New Bathroom -- Estimating Costs

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When you think your sketches and product selections reflect what you want, you should do a cost estimate. These costs certainly include the beautiful new tub or basin, but they also include the ordinary-putty, wallboard, and whatever else you need to complete your project. If you already know that you want a general contractor to order your materials, now is a good time to hire one.

Your initial materials list should include a variety of options. You can pare the list to your final selections after you speak with consultants, contractors, and suppliers. One of the best pieces of advice at this stage is: Ask for advice. The time it takes to learn about a potential purchase is far less than the time it takes to exchange it when it doesn't work or isn't what you really want.

What you pay for your materials depends on where you buy them. Home improvement centers generally cater to broad tastes, so their selections may be limited, but their prices are relatively low. Prices at dealerships are usually higher than in home centers, but the range of products is greater. If you look around enough, you will find exclusive designer fixtures, as well as fairly standard ones. The advantages of working with a professional designer or contractor are discussed below.

The Cost of Your Time

The one intangible element in these estimations is the cost of your time. If you find remodeling relaxing and pleasurable, you should certainly do as much work as possible yourself, but if you are pressed for time or find the work burdensome and unpleasant, you will be far happier hiring as much help as you can afford and then spend your time doing something else.

Before you can determine the time element involved, you need to have some sense of what the various jobs entail. Study the step-by-step procedures in Sections Four and Five, which specify the work each task requires. You will have to estimate your own time for each task based on your skill and available time, but you can make some educated guesses. Then you can weigh your time against the cost of a professional.

Professional Services

If you expect to hire assistance, the following discussion may clarify what tasks professionals can handle at various stages in your project.

Architect . An architect is a specialist trained in structural planning. Unless you expect to move major walls or otherwise alter the structure of your building-in which case consult with an architect early-you probably don't need such a consultant.

Designer . Designers are concerned primarily with the present space, They oversee the general organization and appearance of your bathroom. Designers often work closely with a contractor to ensure quality work.

General Contractor . The general contractor will take responsibility for as much of the work as you care to pass on, including designing and planning your bathroom; stripping your old room bare; and buying and Installing new fixtures, furnishings, and decorations. The general contractor's staff may do all the tasks, or the contractor may hire any number of subcontractors to complete specific facets of the project.

Plumber . Unless you are highly accomplished at home remodeling and repairs, you will need this expert's guidance in rerouting pipes or adding new fixtures.

Electrician . If you must work with the major components of your electrical system, you are well advised to seek this professional's assistance.

Carpenter/Cabinetmaker . A carpenter is responsible for all woodworking, including repair and replacement of your subfloor, and a cabinetmaker can build cabinets to your specifications.

Floor Installers, Tile Setters, Glass Installers . These professionals are hired when you purchase your materials, and appear to perform only their special function.

Often, the outlet that sells the materials will offer professional installation.


In some states virtually all contractors are licensed; in others, almost none are. In some states only one of the company's principals or managers must hold a license for the entire company to be considered licensed. The business may then hire any number of licensed or unlicensed individuals to perform its work. Therefore, while a license may be important, other qualities, such as experience and the recommendations of satisfied clients, may be just as important as a license.

Why Hire Professionals?

It is immediately apparent that you might hire a professional to do a job that you do not want to do or that is beyond your abilities. But if you wish them to, virtually all professionals can supply the materials for their particular tasks. Moreover, professionals can buy materials at wholesale prices. Even if they mark up the materials, the price may be less than you would pay at a retail store.

You will also find that certain manufacturers distribute their wares only to the professional trade. Often theirs are the higher-priced, unusually high-quality goods.

Professionals also assume full responsibility for the orders they place, subject to the terms of your contract. They make sure each product is the correct size, shape, and color; that it is not damaged; and that it performs perfectly once it is properly installed.

Finally, a trained professional eye may detect problems or possibilities you have not perceived. Even if you expect to do most of the work yourself, you may want to use a professional consultant at various points along the way just to make sure you're on the right track.

Soliciting Bids

Although you may change your mind, you should make some rough estimates of what you want to do yourself and what you want to hire out before you solicit bids.

Otherwise, you won't know what you're asking a professional to bid on. Just materials? Just consultation? Just labor? Or all three? You should also spell out how you want the estimate broken down. By categorizing the various jobs, including an estimate of the time each task will take, you will be able to weigh the professional's prices against the cost of your own time, and determine where you can save the most money by doing your own work.

When you know what estimates you want and how you want them submitted, you can develop a preliminary list of prospects by asking friends and neighbors for their recommendations, and calling contractors associations or building trade schools in your area. You should always get at least three bids to ensure that you re get ting the best deal. Although competitive estimates for small tasks may not be worth the bother, the difference between estimates on major jobs can amount to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.

Getting References

When you've narrowed your list down to a few bidders, ask them for references. Call those people and ask if they were satisfied with the work your candidates did:

Did the job get finished on time? Did the contractor leave the jobsite clean each night? Were all parties careful with the client's property? If possible, arrange to see the finished jobs and evaluate them for yourself.

Money is not your only consideration when hiring a professional, and it is a waste of time to solicit a bid from one you might reject for other reasons.

Finally, call the Better Business Bureau, or some other consumer protection agency in your area, to make sure that a slew of serious complaints has not been lodged against the professional you're investigating. An occasional objection is nothing to be concerned about, but repeated instances of dissatisfaction are obvious signs of trouble. This is also a good time to make sure your candidate is licensed and bonded to perform the work you want done.

Getting the Estimate

When you’ve chosen your candidates, call them in to examine your bathroom and look at your sketches, materials list, and labor needs. Bear in mind that you may have to pay for estimates on large or complicated jobs. Be sure to ask about this.

Evaluating the Bids

When the bids come in, compare prices and schedules. Sometimes a conspicuously low bid omits something, and when it is added in, the bid may not be so low after all.

Reassessing Your Project

When you've evaluated all the estimates, you'll want to reassess the cost of your project. If costs are too high, you may need to scale down your project to something more affordable; if you decide you want to do more yourself, you may expand the timetable for the project.

But ultimately you will achieve a balance of design, time, and budget and can make your final plans, draw up a list of the materials you will actually purchase, and develop your schedule. Then you can hire any professionals you need.

Checklist for Estimating Costs

The best way to estimate the cost of your project is to list all the individual tasks that it will include under each heading, list the materials, tools, and supplies you’ll need. Then call or shop around to get prices Such a list lets you know sooner rather than later which items cost more than you would ever have imagined—and which cost less. Further, as you think through each task, you may decide that you would like to try doing it yourself. This will also affect your estimate. Use the sample below as a guide.


Items needed





No. Units

Estimated total costs

Install tub

White tub



2 by 4 runners


Joint tape

Plumber’s putty

Caulking gun








install tiles around tub, at base of wail, and in shower

Gray field tiles

Gray trim tiles

Tile flippers

Tile saw?

Layout rods

Compass dividers

Plumb line















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Updated: Monday, 2011-07-11 5:08