Renovation shows such as The Block, House Rules, Selling Houses Australia and Grand Designs command high television ratings in Australia, and while they are generally good television, they are not factual in what goes into the renovation of a house and in particular bathrooms.
Television renovation shows have been correctly described as dazzling high resolution, high fructose renovation eye candy. This is due to the more critical but unfortunately mundane areas of bathroom renovation not being easily translated into making excellent television programming so are at best skimped over and are generally completely ignored.
Every real estate industry expert will confirm a bathroom renovation will improve the value of your home plus improve your lifestyle. A stylish and affordable bathroom renovation is a matter of being methodical in your planning, especially if you are renovating for yourself. Above all, do not be fooled by what you see on television renovation shows as there is a substantial difference between what you see on television show’s and what is really involved. This is often when bathroom renovation regret steps in.
As a rule in homes that are over ten years old, the bathrooms are small rooms compared to homes built in the last few years. This makes older bathrooms more challenging to renovate as they are sophisticated and compact spaces. This can result in compromises having to be made but be very aware that short cuts causing mistakes and defective work in a bathroom can cause significant problems in the future and be very costly to rectify.
After 36 years in business, Whywait Plumbing has undertaken numerous bathroom renovations, and we frequently see bathroom renovation regret creep in halfway through a project. The best advice we can give you is to go slowly whether you are undertaking a full renovation or just a makeover. You must avoid the mistakes we see repeated over and over again, all of which should be reasonably obvious, and that is:
- do your homework thoroughly on what you want to achieve
- plan carefully how you are going to undertake the project
- work with companies that know what they are doing
A bathroom renovation or makeover can be project managed in two ways, both of which require you to do all of the above. Managing the project yourself is simply a matter of being organised and knowing what you want. Hiring a builder to project manage your bathroom still requires that you are organised and understand what you want but saves you the burden of dealing with the specialist trades.
No matter which route you choose, ensure you hire skilled and talented specialist trades as inevitably they will dictate how smoothly the bathroom renovation runs and the quality of the finished product.
One pitfall of using many of the so-called builders to project manage is that they are no longer a tradesman in their own right but have undertaken courses to gain a BSA builders licence. In our experience, the specialist trades they subcontract your bathroom renovation too are not hired because they are the best to undertake the job but are the cheapest companies that the builder can obtain to maximise his profit.
When choosing the specialist trades to undertake your bathroom renovation, you should always:
- check that they have a compliant contractors license
- check that they have public liability insurance of at least $10 million and can supply you with a certificate of currency
- check that they have a WorkCover insurance policy and can provide you with a certificate of currency
- check their references as many of the so-called online references are of dubious quality
- write a specification of the work you wish them to perform so that when you receive the quotes, you are comparing like for like and if getting multiple quotes this is critical so that you are setting benchmarks
- Be cautious about quotes that seem too high or too low because as always the devil is in the fine print or lack thereof
- check before you sign anything to ensure that quotes include all the smallest details and are compliant not only with your specifications but local laws and Australian standards and that it consists of the brands and models of fittings you specified and not a substitute
Despite what you see on television programmes there is a limit to what can be achieved by DIY especially in areas such as plumbing and electrical, which are two of the main specialists you will require in a bathroom renovation. While doing some work for yourself is a wise way to save some money, you also need to understand that many legal restrictions are in place for a good reason. DIY in regulated trades is a recipe for disaster with the possibility of insurance cover being denied if something goes wrong.
No matter what you get told by well-meaning shop assistants in large hardware outlets always use qualified and licensed tradesmen for regulated work such as pest control, electrical work, plumbing work, gasfitting work and waterproofing. Part of your initial planning is to know which aspects of the bathroom renovation must be undertaken by experienced, specialist and licensed trades companies.
The old saying about only getting what you pay for has never been so true, especially when it comes to plumbing products. Buying cheap or non-standard fittings is an easy trap to fall into with the proliferation of outlets selling plumbing materials, accessories, fixtures and even tools. Purchasing the bargain that is frequently an unbranded toilet or tap that looks the same as the one you saw in a shop elsewhere can quickly become the product from hell that will cost you a lot more in the long run.
If you’re buying the fixtures and fittings for the bathroom renovation yourself, always ensure that everything you buy conforms to the relevant Australian Standards. As a rule of thumb be careful about who you buy from online outlets as in our experience many of the products they are selling are brand-name fakes and are claiming to comply with Australian standards when in reality they don’t.
A bathroom renovation is expensive and needs to last for at least ten years so avoid being too trendy or bold because what is exceptionally fashionable now, and you can be sure will unfashionable in 10 years when you want to sell your home.
No matter what avoid a bold colour and design if it is a permanent feature such as the tiles or vanity or a toilet. In the permanent features always aim for a neutral understatement that will last passage of time. Painted walls can be bold and fashionable as long as they can be repainted. Otherwise, bright colours and designs should be left to the removable decorative features that you put in after you have finished renovating the bathroom.
No matter what, you need to make sure you know exactly what you want before beginning your bathroom renovation, within reason. Once you have planned your bathroom commit to it because it will cost you a fortune if you change your mind once work begins. Changing your mind on the size of a bath or shower can cost a small fortune in moving walls and pipes.
It’s not that hard to turn your bathroom into an oasis of peace and tranquillity without breaking the bank as long as you plan and are organised. Just remember your bathroom renovation is not a television programme.
Whywait Plumbing have prepared a few tips and some advice to help you keep costs down and maximise your budget when renovating your bathroom. Increasingly the plumbers at Whywait Plumbing are observing there is no disguising a bathroom in need of renovation that have some or many of the following awfully dated features:
- peach or pea green tiles,
- failing grouting in floors and walls,
- mould damage to the ceiling,
- bathroom carpet,
- gold plated taps with fake glass handles,
- poor use of space
- wallpaper that looks like it was chosen by a 70’s disco freak.
All of the above are standard fare in bathrooms that date back 10 years and often 25 years plus. For better or for worse, bathrooms are a place for people to stamp their own creative mark on a home that is often inexplicable in what they are trying to create with bizarre combinations such as black tiled walls and red painted ceilings. Bathrooms by their design and use factors are also prone to failure over time.
Generally a bathroom needs some for of renovation at around five years depending upon how it is used. But bathroom renovations do not have to be designer level expensive affairs. If you plan and know what you are doing it is not hard to keep a lid on bathroom renovation costs. Below are issues to be considered so your bathroom renovation costs do not blow out:
- Assess how much you need to change: The more you want to change, the more expensive the project will be, that is an absolute guarantee. If you are on a tight budget you can still make a surprising difference to the look of a bathroom by just by replacing tap handles, painting the walls and ceiling plus sticking up shampoo shelves, towel rails or a nice new mirror all of which you could probably manage yourself, providing you know what you are doing. Re-tiling of floors and walls will cost a fair bit more but there are surprisingly economical coating options that are applied directly over existing the tiles which cut costs by reducing the amount of demolition work required. Always anything involving electrical or plumbing fixtures or relocating fixtures or adding new fixtures will cost considerably more.
- Reuse or recycle fittings and fixtures: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it rules applies and there is nothing wrong with the existing fittings or fixtures themselves, you can save a lot of money and unnecessary waste by resisting the overwhelming temptation to replace them. If you think about ways you can style and theme the bathroom to utilise what you already have installed and focus on what the worst aspects of your bathroom really are. Old style taps can be replaced fairly economically and easily. If your bath and vanity basin have been seriously abused over the years it is possible to have them re-coated and looking like new for less than outright replacement. Vanity unit cupboard doors and draws can be replaced for much less than outright replacement.
- Do not move plumbing fixtures: Relocating or adding new plumbing fixtures can be really expensive. As much as possible focus on reusing the existing water supply and drainage connection’s for your toilet, shower, bath, vanity basin and floor waste as this will keep plumbing costs under control.
- Shop around for materials: This may sound obvious but requires discipline. If you have the time and inclination you will save a small fortune by shopping around and buying the necessary materials, fittings and fixtures yourself. If you are doing the shopping, make sure you have done your homework and you know exactly what you are looking for. For example there is a huge difference between wall and floor tiles. Buying a bath with a centre waste to replace one with a waste at one end will cost you more to install. Replacing a toilet requires that you are aware whether or not it uses an S or P trap outlet or whether the water connection is concealed or bottom linked. Any paint for bathroom walls need to be suitable for use in bathrooms so that your walls are resistant to moisture. If you are buying things make sure everything is ready and available when renovation starts to prevent any delays which frequently will translate into increased costs.
- Get your hands dirty: If you are willing and able you can save a lot on labour costs by doing some of the work yourself and project managing the renovation. It is likely that you will still need to hire licensed contractor’s such as plumbers, electricians, waterproofers, tilers for the renovation project, but volunteering yourself to do some of the manual work such as demolition will translate into lower labour costs. Without exception any discussion about what you can do yourself has to include a big, flashing neon warning, there are some things you just cannot cut corners on and do it yourself. Waterproofing, plumbing and electrical work MUST be done by licensed professional contractors. Doing it any other way is guaranteed to be illegal, substandard, dangerous, non-insurable and without the protections of a warranty. It is also extremely important that you are certain before you start working that there is not any asbestos in your bathroom. Asbestos sheeting was very commonly used in bathrooms up until the late 1970’s and exposure to it can lead to cancer so you will need to have asbestos removed by a specialist contractor using the correct safety gear who will dispose of it legally.
- Plan very carefully and avoid variations: Careful planning and having an exact idea of what you are wanting to achieve, what you are getting and how everything will be done before you sign any contract with a contractor will ensure you’re not stung with hefty fees for necessary changes. If you use a builder to manage your bathroom renovation it is guaranteed he will charge over the odds for variations to a contract if you have made a selection mistake or want to change your layout or add additional fixtures. Many builders will come in with a low quote with the aim to prey on clients who are not clear on their plans and have not prepared properly. Regardless of how well you perceive you get along with the builder or any of the other contractors make sure that the fittings and fixtures are exactly what you are after, and will fit exactly where they are supposed to go, the colours and tiles are exactly right, the costs are itemised on the contract, and you are certain that all labour, material and administrative costs are included. Make sure any variations are fully costed and you approve in writing before they commence.
- Things to be careful of: Make sure you have more than enough tiles because if they break in future or if break some during your renovations you want to have some spares on hand that are from the exact same batch so that they are a perfect match. Beware of non-certified plumbing fittings and fixtures which are non insurable and can make any future insurance claim null and void. Ensure all plumbing products have the WaterMark certification and comply with Australian Standards. Avoid ordering online or from overseas any plumbing or electrical fixtures as almost always they will be shoddy or inferior fittings and fixtures and will come back to haunt you. Ordering online plumbing or electrical fixtures online invariably are not worth the savings they appear to offer. Consider where you’re going to shower as your bathroom’s going to be out of action for a week or two at least and always double any timeframe you have given by any contractor. It is very common to discover rotten timber under baths or behind shower walls which will require extra work with any other savings you make being eaten up quickly if you are unprepared for that.
Ultimately your bathroom renovation is all about careful planning and managing of expectations from the beginning.