Comprehensive Guide to Remodeling a Small Bathroom

Small remodeled bathroom all white with hanging plant white mosaic tile and shower window
 The Spruce / Alyssa Vela

Homeowners often imagine that remodeling a small bathroom—about 50 square feet or less—will be much quicker, easier, and less expensive than remodeling a large bathroom. The reality is you may not shave off as much time and money as you had hoped since a small bathroom requires installing a lot of the same amenities and hiring the same professionals—only to work in a tighter space. Find out what parts of a remodel you might be able to do on your own and where you can potentially save some money.

Smaller bathrooms will challenge you to get creative by doing more with less space. Dip into interior design trade tricks of the trade and see how color choices, lighting, and mirrors can make a room feel larger. Approach your bathroom remodel project as a challenging puzzle and have fun solving it without breaking the bank.

About This Term: Primary Bathroom

Many real estate associations, including the National Association of Home Builders, have classified the term “Master Bedroom” (or “Master Bathroom”) as discriminatory. “Primary Bedroom” is the name now widely used among the real estate community and better reflects the purpose of the room.

Read more about our Diversity and Inclusion Pledge to make The Spruce a site where all feel welcome.

3 Types of Small Bathrooms

Bathrooms are usually categorized by their function, regardless of size. These definitions are based on where the bathroom is located in the home, its primary users, and if it includes a tub or shower. All types of bathrooms can be small bathrooms: powder rooms or half-baths, guest bathrooms, and full bathrooms.

Powder Room or Half Bath

Larger homes often have a powder room or half-bath that includes a sink and a toilet.

A powder room is a convenient extra bathroom for homes with multiple floors or larger families. The small size and the limited number of fixtures means that you can remodel a powder room reasonably quickly and inexpensively.

Since a powder room is a second or third bathroom, there is usually no need to hurry through the project. This aspect makes a powder room or half-bath perfect for do-it-yourself work.

Guest Bathroom

A guest bathroom is a full bathroom that includes a toilet, sink, and shower, tub, or both.

A guest bathroom is used mostly when guests visit or for children. Because guest baths get only occasional use, many homeowners choose to use economy fixtures and materials, significantly cutting costs.

As with powder rooms, because guest bathrooms are secondary bathrooms, the timetable isn’t as tight as it would be with a primary or only bathroom.

Another way you save: You usually do not need extra storage space in this bathroom. Take note, if you expect elderly guests or family often, you might want to include some special add-ons, like grab bars, lower counters, no-slip flooring, or a walk-in bathtub.

Full Bathroom

A full bathroom is any bathroom with a full range of amenities—toilet, vanity, sink, and tub/shower.

A full bathroom can be a primary or en suite bathroom, a guest bathroom, or a children’s bathroom. What differentiates a full bathroom from a half bathroom is that it has a tub or shower. Durable fixtures and waterproof floors and walls are essential and good storage is necessary. 

If the full bathroom is the only bathroom in the house, it must be remodeled on a fairly tight time schedule or alternate bathing facilities must be arranged.

Cost to Remodel a Small Bathroom

The costs to remodel a small bathroom, which usually means reframing, new drywall, flooring, lighting, vanity, and tiling, can average about $5,000 to $30,000. Most bathroom remodels average about $10,000. If you plan on including the highest-end tub, sink, toilet, and fixtures, you start hitting the $30,000 range. As you add square footage and make multiple appointments with professional installers, the costs go up. If the home’s plumbing pipes or an electrical system need an overhaul, the costs can skyrocket.

Small bathrooms require less material and therefore are usually less costly to remodel—but because they are smaller spaces, you are likely buying standard-sized construction materials and leaving behind a lot of cut-off material waste. A 3-foot by 5-foot powder room will cost about $1,500 to $2,250 to renovate, while an oversized 9-foot by 10-foot bathroom can cost as much as $13,500 to renovate.

You can do the job of a general contractor—interviewing, hiring, supervising, and paying individual professionals to do their work. Hiring subcontractors can save you quite a bit of money, as you eliminate the time and overhead of the general contractor. Below is the breakdown of bathroom remodeling costs:

  • The average cost range for faucets and plumbing is between $250 and $1,450.
  • Fixtures range from $200 to $1,800 for specialty options.
  • A bathroom counter costs $200 to $1,000.
  • Cabinetry can cost $250 to $3,000, depending on the size of the space and the style.
  • Flooring is about 10 percent to 15 percent of the budget or $200 to $1,350.
  • Painting costs run between $150 and $550, depending on the paint and the size of the room.
  • Replacement light fixtures cost between $100 and $400.
  • Ventilation fans cost between $50 and $300.

If you’re a DIYer with prior construction skills, you can save considerable money doing some of these tasks. The labor to remodel the bathroom is 40- to 60-percent, usually running from $50 to $75 an hour. General contractors can cost $300 to $400 per day, and an electrician will charge about $50 to $100 per hour, while a plumber can charge as much as $2,000 per day.

Professional vs. DIY Small Bathroom Remodeling

The cost savings for a bathroom remodel project depends on what—if any—work you plan to do on your own. Most do-it-yourselfers will be able to tackle the demolition, painting, or finishing work, eliminating some of the contractor-driven costs.

Depending on your experience and inclination, you may be able to take on more complex work: tiling, flooring, installing the toilet, installing drywall, or installing a vanity cabinet and sink.

You can divide the project: some projects for you, with other projects left for the professionals. Contractors will usually agree to split work with homeowners. But it’s important to stay out of the way and let the tradespeople do their job. When you contribute, do so only on weekends or after the contractor is done.

Tip

Hiring a certified bathroom designer is another way to make your project more efficient. Designers often work with contractors they’ve used on multiple projects and with whom they have a good working relationship, so you’ll have a clear plan created by the designer and a reliable contractor able to bring it to life.

How a Small Bathroom Is Remodeled

  1. Demolish the Old BathroomAll remodeling jobs start with tearing out and removing elements you will replace. Many homeowners do this work to save money. Some remove only fixtures or flooring. Others get rid of everything down to the wall studs and floor joists. It can be hard work but is not difficult. You can do most demolition on the weekend. Plan on renting a dumpster or arrange for a disposal company to take away the demolition debris. 
  2. Build the FramingMost remodeling jobs will involve opening up some of the walls and ceilings. If you need structural framing work, like framing in a new shower stall, it helps to have prior experience or basic carpentry skills to get this right. The framing work may require an inspection to ensure the job is done correctly.
  3. Electrical WorkA licensed electrician will run new circuits where required, install lighting and vent fans, and arrange for the work to be inspected. After the inspection is complete and the walls and ceilings are finished, the electrician will return to make the final connections for light switches, outlets, light fixtures, and fans.
  4. Install PlumbingHiring experienced plumbers is vital when remodeling a small bathroom. Plumbers will plumb bathtub or shower water supply lines, drain lines, bathroom sink supply lines, and sink drains. Plumbers can remove and install toilets. If new flooring has been installed, a flange extension may need to be installed for the toilet.TipPlumbing and electrical wiring may require professional help. Many skilled remodelers will hire plumbing and electrical experts because faulty wiring or plumbing not up to code can be dangerous. Inspections are required at the start of the plumbing and electrical rough-in and at the end after the final installation.
  5. Install DrywallOnce the plumbing and wiring rough-ins have been inspected and passed, a drywall pro or DIYer can then install and finish the drywall. Drywall should never be installed in a tiled shower unit. Drywall can take a few days because the drywall compound needs to fully harden before it can be sanded.
  6. Install Shower or Floor TileTiling a bathroom can be one of the higher costs for a bathroom, both in terms of time and materials costs. Many homeowners choose to leave the installation to the pros since it is labor-intensive and requires precision. Tiling a shower can be tricky for do-it-yourselfers. But if you’d like to try your hand at installing tile in a small bathroom, tiling the bathroom floor is easier since it does not need to be as waterproof as a shower pan.
  7. Install FlooringBathroom flooring should be waterproof, easy to clean, simple to install (if you are installing it by yourself), and attractive. Popular bathroom flooring materials include ceramic tile, porcelain tile, sheet vinyl flooring, and tile or plank vinyl flooring. Avoid using solid hardwood, engineered wood, or laminate flooring in the bathroom, especially in full bathrooms. These materials are usually acceptable in bathrooms without bathing facilities.
  8. Install Cabinets and Add Finishing TouchesBathroom vanities, wall cabinets, light fixtures, towel bars, and mirrors are the last items to be installed once the electrical work and plumbing are installed, the drywall has been sealed, and the room has been painted. To save money, many homeowners choose to do this work by themselves.

Tips for Remodeling a Small Bathroom

You may be limited by space but not by creativity. These tips for a small bathroom can make you adore your little bathroom oasis.

Create an Illusion of Space

Trick the eye and make a room feel taller. Whenever you can blur the line between the ceiling and wall, you raise the room, tricking the eye to think you are in a space larger than you are. Replace thick crown molding with narrow strips, matching the ceiling. Replace pendant lighting or hanging light fixtures with recessed lighting or wall sconces that direct light up, giving the illusion that the wall is elongated.

Lighten the Bathroom

Lighten up a small space. Avoid dark colors and contrasting hues in a small area. Light shades within a single-color family will help a small room feel larger. Match the floor tile to the wall, which will elongate the room and give the sense of more space. Avoid putting color on the ceiling, white works best. Saturate the room with natural light, if possible.

Use Bright Colors

Experiment with color. You can keep your bathroom light and airy while still adding a pop of color to breathe life or personality into the room. Go for a fun towel color and a nubby or shaggy textured bath mat to jazz up your comfort zone.

Use Large Patterns

Use large-scale patterns like oversized squares, wide stripes, and other big shapes to fool the eye and make spaces seem larger. 

Sliding Shower Doors Save Space

Use a shower curtain or sliding shower door to conserve space. Shower doors that pivot on hinges may not work for small bathrooms. Instead, use a glass shower door that slides on tracks or a shower curtain.

Curved Shower Curtain Rods

If you get a shower curtain, consider installing a curved curtain rod. The rod will keep the shower curtain from sticking to your body if you have tight quarters. Most curved shower curtain rods can provide up to 33-percent more room in the shower.

Use a Pedestal Sink or Small Vanity

Large bathroom vanities take up lots of space in small bathrooms. Consider installing a pedestal sink instead of a vanity. If you want to use a vanity cabinet, choose a vanity with rounded corners. In tight spaces, vanities with sharp corners can bruise hips. A rounded vanity will also free up a few extra inches to maneuver around the bathroom.

Use Open Shelving

Open shelves offer storage without swinging doors that can get in the way in a small bathroom. Only keep the essentials for your morning and evening bathroom routine. Move spare towels, cleaning supplies, additional toilet paper, and extra tissue boxes to another storage area or closet.

Use Mirrors

A mirror along an entire wall can help two people get ready at once in tight spaces. Mirrors also lighten the room by reflecting the light, brightening walls, and deceptively enlarging the feel of the room. Shiny fixtures and gleaming white tubs, sinks, and showers also bounce the light.

Be Creative With Towel Bars

Mount the towel bar on the door. When space is limited, mounting a towel bar on the shower door or the back of the entry door keeps towels at easy reach. 

Consider Sink/Faucet Alternatives

Get creative with the sink and faucet. When mounted on a wall, the low profile of a trough sink frees up floor space for storage. Also, you can use a wall-mounted faucet, significantly reducing the depth of your vanity and freeing up space in a small bathroom. Another space-saving sink idea for a small bathroom is to install a corner sink.

Small bathroom with bold decor

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