7 Bathroom Remodel Ideas on a Budget

These renovation options can make your bathroom feel new again.

U.S. News & World Report

7 Bathroom Remodel Ideas on a Budget

New bathroom cabinets with granite countertopsBathroom renovation and granite installation

Replacing your outdated vanity with a more modern-looking one can freshen up your bathroom.(Getty Images)

For such a small space relative to the rest of your home, the bathroom is a place you may spend a lot of time. Aside from the necessary breaks, you also shower there when getting ready for work or might soak in the tub after a long day. And getting ready for a night out can easily add another 30 minutes to your normal bathroom time.

Why not make all that time spent in the bathroom a little more enjoyable with a remodel that not only makes the bathroom look more sleek and modern, but also helps improve its functionality?

A bathroom remodel is a goal project for many homeowners – and it’s often considered a room that could make or break a home sale when the property is on the market. But with plumbing, tile and electrical wiring to consider, a lot of complexity is packed into a small space. As a result, the price tag on a bathroom renovation can get out of hand quickly.

According to the 2019 Houzz & Home survey, the cost to remodel a bathroom continues to rise. The median price for homeowners remodeling a master bath in 2018 was $8,000, up more than 14% from 2017, when the median cost was $7,000. For a guest or secondary bathroom remodel, the cost for homeowners rose to $3,500 in 2018, up 17% from 2017, when the median cost was $3,000.

If you’re looking to overhaul your entire bathroom, however, the price rises fast. The Houzz survey reports that in 2018 the median cost for a major master bathroom remodel, including new vanity, countertops and toilet, was $17,000 for a bathroom over 100 square feet and $10,000 for a bathroom under 100 square feet.

For many homeowners, a bathroom renovation that big just isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are smaller projects you can take on that can help make your bathroom feel new again without draining your savings.

Here are seven ways you can renovate your bathroom on a budget:

  • Change the toilet.
  • Freshen up the vanity.
  • Find the newest fixtures.
  • Take on a tile project.
  • Reface an old tub.
  • Update the lighting.
  • Focus on plumbing.

Change the Toilet

You may call it the throne, but have you given some thought to how well your toilet meets your needs or how it looks in your bathroom? An older or cheap model may not be tall enough for you, it may have lost its crisp white look or may even be a dated pink or blue color you just can't look at anymore.

Replacing a toilet requires little skill and can be taken on as a DIY project, says Chip Wade, a master carpenter best known for his roles on HGTV shows like “Ellen’s Design Challenge” and “Curb Appeal: The Block,” and a consultant for Liberty Mutual Insurance. To get through the steps without issue, he recommends looking at more than one online source or enlisting the help of a friend who has replaced a toilet before.

Anticipated cost: You can purchase a toilet through any big-box home improvement store like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They range in price from less than $100 to more than $300, depending on flush options and bowl shapes that can increase comfort level.

Freshen Up the Vanity

Another focal point in any bathroom is the sink and vanity area, and it’s also a spot that can look dated quickly as trends go in and out of style. Upgrading from a single to double vanity is a popular option, but that change can easily take your project beyond your budget.

To avoid major plumbing changes that can drive up the cost of your project, explore your options to simply replace what you have with a more modern-looking vanity. Leneiva Head, owner of Welcome Home Realty, a real estate management company in Nashville, Tennessee, recommends heading to the big-box stores to see what vanity options could give your bathroom new life. “About $300 will get you a really pretty vanity,” she says.

For an even less invasive project, try breathing some new life into the vanity area by replacing the mirror. “Take that one long mirror that everybody has and get two shorter mirrors,” Head says. Or frame out your mirror with a pop of color or rustic wood to match your desired look.

Anticipated cost: A vanity without the sink is available at Home Depot for as low as $89. For a new sink included, the price begins around $300 and reaches beyond $1,500. Framed or double mirrors are also available at standard home improvement stores, but they can also be found through Ikea and Wayfair starting at around $60 and up.

Find the Newest Fixtures

If replacing a tub, shower or bathroom sink is outside your budget, you can still make each feature look new again by updating the faucets, knobs and handles. These fixtures are often inexpensive and serve as an easy DIY project with no real plumbing skills required.

To best update the fixtures, Head recommends going with what’s currently in style, whether it’s a dark brown faucet, rain shower head or detachable shower head. “When people see the fixtures in the shower, they forget about the shower itself,” she says.

Anticipated cost: These fixtures are easily found at home improvement stores. A variety of sink faucets are available for between $40 and $90 at Ace Hardware, while shower faucet sets that include a tub faucet, shower head and handle cost $90 to $120. Detachable shower heads cost between $15 and $35 at Ace Hardware.

Take on a Tile Project

New tile is often a go-to project for homeowners looking to update their bathrooms. While you may be willing to give tiling a try yourself, others hire a professional to ensure the individual pieces are laid evenly and properly secured to the wall or floor.

Anticipated cost: HomeAdvisor reports that the cost for a professional to install tile in your bathroom is, on average, $2,000 for a 90-square-foot space. Even if you want the expertise of a professional placing the new tile, you may be able to save by demolishing any existing tile on your own.

Reface an Old Tub

Taking out your 1980s bathtub and replacing it with a chic, freestanding soaker tub is a pricey project that requires a lot of additional work to move drains, replace tile and maybe even remove walls to create space. Head recommends an alternative: “Tubs are expensive to replace, but you can actually have that repaired and refaced,” Head says.

Refinishing tile in a shower is also far more budget-friendly than replacing the shower. Since it involves the shower pan, or base of the shower, Wade says it's not a good DIY project because details involving slope and angles determine whether the drain functions properly. This project also must meet municipal code, so it's better suited for a professional.

“Unless you’ve seen it done and seen it done multiple times,” Wade says, “it’s not something you learn as you go.”

Anticipated cost: The typical range to refinish a bathtub is between $329 and $596, according to HomeAdvisor. The home improvement information site also reports the cost to refinish ceramic tile is $1,075, on average.

Update the Lighting

Chances are, the lighting in your bathroom could use an upgrade. Especially if the top of your vanity mirror is lined with large, round bulbs – which Head notes are reminiscent of a dressing room – you have many options to bring newer, better lighting into the space.

Head recommends installing a monorail-style light, which still includes multiple bulbs but is connected on a solid strip for a single-light look. You can go even more modern with a light bar that doesn’t require bulbs.

“When you change your lighting style and type, you change the whole room,” Head says.

Anticipated cost: A monorail-style light that conceals the bulbs is available online at a variety of prices and styles, starting at $68 on Overstock.com and climbing to $250 through Shades of Light. A bulb-less light bar begins at $48 and reaches beyond $480, depending on price, size and style.

Focus on Plumbing

Especially if you live in a house that’s a century old or more, your budget may be best spent on some of the less-visible features that can make showering, cleaning up and using the bathroom far more enjoyable.

For the sake of updating plumbing, prepare to spend the majority of your money on the labor costs of a licensed plumber. But with new plumbing that has neither the wear and tear or interior buildup of antique pipes, you’ll experience fewer backups and maybe even see better distribution of hot and cold water.

The drain system “is not something I recommend messing around with too much,” Wade says, noting you’re more likely to come up against detailed code specifications about slope, fall, operators and other details that, if done incorrectly, won’t function as they should and could cause problems.

Anticipated cost: HomeAdvisor reports a plumber costs, on average, between $45 and $200 per hour. Expect additional materials costs if you’re replacing any pipes or drains.

Wealth of Knowledge Podcast

Wealth of Knowledge is a weekly podcast featuring tips and expert insight on all things money: personal finance, careers, investing, real estate and more.

Wealth of Knowledge logo