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8 Bathroom Design & Remodeling Ideas on a Budget

By Heather Levin

bathroom redesign blueSo you’re ready to redecorate and redesign your bathroom. But dropping $20,000 on a deluxe spa retreat is light years away from what you can afford to spend. Here’s the good news: You don’t need mega-bucks to transform your bathroom into a relaxing, cool space. There are plenty of ways to renovate and redesign on a budget.

According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report, an average bathroom remodel costs around $10,500 while an upscale remodel is going to run you a hefty $26,000. However, if you do the work yourself and get creative, This Old House estimates that you can do a remodel for $1,000 to $3,000, or even less, depending on how much you want to change.

Moreover, updating or adding a bathroom to your home is a home improvement project that adds value. In other words, you’ll recoup a significant portion of costs when you sell your home, as much as 100%.

Determine how much you can afford to spend on your remodel to determine the extent of the changes you can make. If your budget is on the low end (i.e. $1,000 or less), you’ll want to stick to cosmetic changes, such as new fixtures or a new sink, and new paint. If you have more to spend, you can focus on larger changes, such as adding tile, a bigger shower, or a window. Again, it all depends on your budget.

So what can you do to save money on your bathroom redesign or remodel?

Inexpensive Bathroom Remodeling Ideas

1. Limit Your Tile

Tile gets expensive, especially when you hire a contractor to lay it all out for you. To save money, limit the amount of tile and focus on high-impact areas like the floor (instead of the floor and inside the shower stall walls). Alternatively, you could tile one horizontal strip along the wall and paint the rest.

If you’ve got your heart set on tile that’s artistic and expensive, use it as an accent alongside a cheaper tile. Not only will the artistic tiles be more noticeable, but you’ll save a ton of money by only using a few here and there.

bathroom tile

2. Save on Counter Tops

A popular trend is to splurge on granite countertops. Because the bathroom counter is so small, the investment is often fairly low compared to what you’d spend on kitchen counters, for example.

So how can you save here? First, look at the color. Neutral colors like tan, brown, and light beige are more popular, which means they’re more expensive. To save money, consider and price out a wider swath of colors.

Another way to save on granite countertops is to buy a slab containing imperfections. The more visible the imperfection, the cheaper the price will be. Keep in mind that your sink basin will take up a lot of surface area, so if the imperfection is located where the sink or faucets will be then you won’t see it anyway!

Right now, one of the biggest trends in bathrooms is also one that budget DIYers can pull off with style. The trend is using old dressers as sink pedestals. You simply cut out the top of the dresser to accommodate a sink insert, cut into or remove interior drawers as necessary, and cut holes in the back for plumbing. These “dresser sinks” can sell for thousands of dollars in retail stores, but you can easily make your own with a budget dresser, some patience, and the right tools.

3. Paint

It you don’t have a lot to spend, then repainting will be the cheapest and, perhaps, the most effective way to give your bathroom a new look.

Here’s a word of warning, though. It’s going to take more time than you think. Why? Your bathroom may be the smallest room in the house, but you’re going to have to paint slowly and gently around the window, the tub or shower, the sink, the mirror, the toilet, the switchplates, the wall corners, and the floor. This takes time and patience (and a good supply of painter’s tape), so make sure you keep this in mind when planning your renovation.

Another thing to consider is the moisture. Since mold and mildew develop easily in a bathroom, and humidity and temperature change often, it’s a good idea to invest in high quality paint with a satin finish. You may also want to go over the ceiling with a special bathroom paint that helps resist the growth of mold.

4. Update Fixtures

Next, look at the little details. You can update light fixtures, sink faucets, towel racks, and drawer pulls for a relatively small investment. These items may seem insignificant, but updating them can make a big difference in your bathroom’s look.

Keep in mind that you don’t always have to buy towel racks at a home improvement store or IKEA. One of my friends used old plumbing for her towel racks and it gave her bathroom a very cool, industrial feel. Plus, since she rescued them out of an old house that was about to be torn down, they were free!

bathroom fixtures

5. Freshen Caulk and Grout

Another often overlooked, yet important detail, is grout and caulk. When this gets grimy, it gets unsightly. By simply cleaning the grout and adding straight, clean lines of caulk around the tub and sink, you can add sparkle for a mere few dollars. You might be surprised at what a difference this can make! Grout and caulk are both cheap, so this is a very inexpensive way to freshen up your bathroom.

6. Redo, Don’t Buy New

Replacing your old tub or shower is going to cost you a pretty penny. Instead, have it professionally relined, which is much cheaper.

However, don’t try this with sink and shower fixtures as it costs more to refinish them than to replace them. Refinishing these fixtures is more expensive because very few people decide to do it unless they have old, vintage pieces, and contractors who offer this service often charge a premium price.

However, let’s say you do have some vintage bathroom fixtures or an old tub you don’t want to get rid of. The good news? You can refinish them yourself if they’re made of porcelain, cast iron, or fiberglass. That said, it takes time and some investment. A basic DIY refinishing kit will run you $150, but you’ll also need additional supplies such as a sander, a spray gun, face masks, paint brushes, etc. You can see a good, basic tutorial for DIY refinishing at HGTV.

7. Buy Used

You can also save money on fixtures, even toilets and showers, if you purchase them used. Scour sites like eBay and Craigslist or head over to the nearest Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which specifically sells home necessities such as doors, mirrors, sinks, toilets, and tubs.

Another great place to look for upcycled bathroom accessories is Etsy. What can you find there? You’re only limited by your imagination. For instance, one Etsy artist takes brightly colored vintage Tupperware and turns them into cool hanging lamps. These could be fun and funky hanging in a bathroom! Another Etsy artist creates awesome, upcycled metal shelving that looks like a check mark. These could be fun for stacking folded towels. You can easily find upcycled bathroom accessories on Etsy by searching with keywords like “bathroom” or “upcycled.”

8. Go Green with Upgrades

When updating your bathroom, don’t forget to redesign with the environment in mind. Low-flow toilets, sinks, and shower heads will not only help you conserve water, but they’ll also save you money. Plus, water-saving shower heads and faucets often cost the same, if not less, than traditional ones. So you won’t have to spend money to save money here.

Buying used or repurposing materials is also good for the environment. In addition to searching sites like Etsy for upcycled upgrades, search for ideas and do them yourself. For example, it’s fairly easy to turn mason canning jars into soap dispensers. You can see detailed instructions on how to do it here.

Want another idea? Find three cool, vintage tin cans. Drill the tin cans side by side into a 2 foot piece of old plank. Then, drill the plank onto your bathroom wall (pictured below from laissezfaire). You now have a super cool way to store bathroom necessities like toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs and brushes, and Q-tips. You can even keep fresh flowers in one of the cans!

tin cans declutter

You can also use vintage light fixtures, old pieces of barn wood for shelves, or an old mirror above the sink. Every time you use something old instead of something new, you’re probably saving money and reducing your consumption. Both very good things!

Don’t forget to give back too. Any items you take out of your bathroom can be donated to your local Goodwill or to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Final Word

I’ve recently thought about redoing my own bathroom. My house was built in 1900 and I have one very small bathroom. Thanks to an unfortunate paint color choice, the walls look as if they were hosed down with Pepto Bismal. In other words, it really needs some work and repainting is number one on my list.

After that, I’d love to upcycle some old wood or metal to create shelving above the toilet and next to the sink. The plumbing towel racks are also definitely going in.

What about you? Do you have any money-saving ideas to redesign or redecorate a bathroom?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • dan

    fun article. One of bathrooms is an old 6 x 9 bathroom and we will start gutting it this week and hoping over the next two weeks can stay focused. This article gave me some different thoughts and I absolutely love the idea of repurposing things to be green !! thanks

    • Cheryl

      Repurposing is the best! Gives you a much better feeling than simply throwing a brand new vanity. Saving the world is pretty cool. :)

  • Brea Bathroom Remodel

    It is common when remodeling a bathroom to find plumbing problems, so it is important to have some plumbers involved in the remodel!

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