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Renovations & maintenance

A renovated bathroom offers solace

The pandemic turned our homes into workplaces, schoolrooms, playgrounds — everything places — with family members and significant others around all the time. After the initial novelty wore off, the walls started to close in. People needed somewhere to escape, and naturally the bathroom provided the best solution.

It is the one place in the home that guarantees privacy.

And suddenly the old fixtures, smudged mirrors, tired lighting and paint bubbles in the ceiling took on added significance.

It was time to renovate.

Many realized that this functional space could be a sanctuary, a place to relieve some of the stress of being cooped up, a place that offered an escape, time to luxuriate in a long, hot soak or an extended shower.

Many features of the post-war bathroom like “built-in tubs, pedestal sinks, and lacquered tank-and-bowl toilets were a response to the 1918 flu pandemic,” according to an article in Forbes. Today, a well-appointed bathroom still suggests safety and security.

As our lives return to some sort of normalcy, this new appreciation for the sanctity of the bathroom lives on. Who doesn’t need a place to hide, once in a while, even in the best of times?

Upgrade preferences, by the numbers

Contagion aside, a sparkling bathroom is where people get ready to face the day. Over time, it has become more than a functional space and now is viewed as more of a retreat. And the way folks are renovating reflects that trend.

According to a 2021 Houzz Bathroom Trends Study, homeowners are seeking more of a “spa feel” for their bathrooms, which starts with an uncluttered layout, adds in some mood lighting, and calls for a soaking tub, which was on the wish list of almost 70 percent of respondents.

While the median expenditure for bathroom renovations was $8,000, people undertaking something more major (including a shower upgrade) might spend multiples of that. Shower upgrades include rainfall shower heads, which more than half asked for; almost a quarter wanted dual showers. Some 13 percent eyed a thermostatic mixer, a shower valve that mixes the hot and cold water supplies to set the temperature.

People remodel for a variety of reasons, according to the study, and about a third of respondents wanted more storage, while another third wanted a bigger shower. Some 14 percent of homeowners want more than one sink.

Almost 9 in 10 were looking for a style change, opting for transitional (that magical point between traditional and modern) and contemporary styles, which are roughly equal in popularity.

At the least expensive end of the spectrum, almost 40 percent of people installed dimmable lighting, a quick fix that can have a big impact.

Nearly 1 in 5 also put some form of greenery in the room to further reinforce that wellness vibe and spa atmosphere, up 5 percent from the year before. (For owners showing a house to sell or rent, It’s not a bad idea to pick up an inexpensive potted tree before prospective buyers or tenants come in.)

Nearly 1 in 5 people place greenery in their bathrooms to create a fresh and spa feel in the bathroom, up from 5 percent from the year before. (Getty Images)

Nearly 1 in 5 people place greenery in their bathrooms to create a fresh and spa feel in the bathroom, up from 5 percent from the year before. (Getty Images)

Investments that give back

There is much debate as to whether expenses will be recouped after a project, but the consensus is that doing the work is worthwhile.

According to Kitchen and Bath Shop, bathrooms can “make or break the deal in a home resale.” They recommend a new tub, creating a spa-like ambience, and/or making the shower doorless (a trend to be sure).

A few experts recommend painting the walls an offbeat color, but most recommend against it, saying it’s better to stick with the tried and true neutral colors such as white for kitchens and blue for bedrooms and bathrooms.

Kathy McCleary writes in HGTV Magazine that she and her husband “dreamed about granite counters and steam showers; what we ended up with was a new furnace, new gutters, and a draining system to keep the basement dry.”

When speaking with realtors, architects, and contractors about whether they had made the right decisions, the consensus was yes. The idea was that if the roof was leaking, buyers or renters won’t care how swanky the bathtub is.

But McCleary says that in a hot housing market, bath remodels are sound investments since people spend a lot of time in them. Having enough baths matters a lot: adding a bath to a home increased the sale price by 8.7 percent, more than twice the number for adding a bedroom.

The rise of the doorless shower

Doorless showers mean less to clean, more accessibility and a cleaner finish. (Courtesy) 

Doorless showers mean less to clean, more accessibility and a cleaner finish. (Courtesy)

In the debate over keeping or nixing the tub, streeteasy.com recommends keeping it if the home will be sold or rented to families with young children. Swapping it out for a walk-in shower, which is more accessible, appeals to older couples. Take a look at the demographics of the neighborhood to guide these decisions.

Doorless showers have gained in popularity, so installing one could increase the appeal of a bath to prospective tenants or buyers.

Doorless, also called walk-in, varieties come in several styles and have advantages over traditional, full-door models. First, it’s possible to have no rim along the side, so the bathroom floor is on the same plane — making it easier to mop.

Second, less glass equals less glass to clean, a headache in any bathroom. For those with accessibility issues, doorless showers can be designed with an opening wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

A popular doorless approach is to have the shower take up a full wall, then have a partial glass covering half to two-thirds. This configuration tends to take up more space since it needs to be deep enough to walk into, otherwise water will splash everywhere. The Spruce lists some 18 different ways to lay out and customize a walk-in.

Doorless showers cost more than a standard one because they are a custom build. A standard tub and shower costs from $1,200 to $3,000 to install, while custom doorless showers can easily cost upwards of $5,000 and are beyond the capabilities of most do-it-yourselfers. They also offer less privacy, and in some cases require additional inspections.

One extreme option is to have no door at all, though some serious space is needed for this.

A floating toilet: Is it a matter of taste?

Floating toilets maximize bathroom space, and tend to use less water, but cost more to install than regular toilets. (Getty Images)

Floating toilets maximize bathroom space, and tend to use less water, but cost more to install than regular toilets. (Getty Images)

Having things “float” (i.e., making them wall-mounted with space underneath) is a way to make the bath seem more spacious and modern — and also helps make cleaning easier. This is especially true with the toilet. Because the tank is hidden behind the drywall, floating toilets add some floor space.

They use about 20 percent less water than standard models, so they’re more environmentally friendly as well.

Not surprisingly, installing one costs more — about $400-$800 — especially if a wall needs to be opened up. According to an article in Consumer Reports, the process is “invasive and intensive,” and it’s wise to install an access panel in the wall, as it can prevent major repairs from becoming even more expensive.

On the plus side, they make it easier to meet building clearance codes, and the open space under the bowl adds a dimension to the room.

Installation aside, expect to pay at least $300 for a basic model from a well-known company such as Duravit. For those with money to burn on a bathroom project, there are toilet bells and whistles beyond the imagination — features like “tornado flush,” UV light sterilization systems, washing features, heated seats, and more.

One of the higher-end models from a company like Toto, the Japanese company founded in 1917, can run about $16,000.

Think neutral when it comes to colors

Bathroom color schemes tend to be fairly limited, with all-white, black and white, and black and white with wood accents the most popular. Black and white is a particularly good choice because it’s dramatic without being too loud, and is generally best kept to the floors and maybe some trim.

Walls are most often white, but some decorators recommend light blue; the next most popular way to go is gray, which is used about a quarter of the time, according to the Houzz survey.

Painting an ugly — think ’80s or ’90s faux-cherry — vanity white, and replacing the top with an engineered material such as Corian or a piece of cut stone for a more upscale look, can brighten the space.

Replacing hardware and fixtures (pulls, handles, knobs) is another less expensive way to quickly add some luster to an otherwise dull space. Changing out the medicine cabinet with something eye-catching can also go a long way to freshening the look.

There are plenty of fixes, both on the higher and lower end, that can be put into play that are well short of a full renovation.

Neutral bathroom tones coupled with other upgrades increase the property value by up to 8.7 percent. (Courtesy)

Neutral bathroom tones coupled with other upgrades increase the property value by up to 8.7 percent. (Courtesy)

Four different upgrade options

Bathtubs

For a tub that allows for a good soak, there are myriad options. One major decision is form: an alcove, a freestanding model, or a walk-in.

MINOR: A 60-inch rectangular white acrylic soaking tub, meant to fit into a 32-inch-deep alcove, can be found for less than $300. It can be paired with a tub surround, about $300, that covers the three walls and turns an alcove into a shower without the need for tile.

MAJOR: The sky’s the limit for a freestanding model in resin with all sorts of bells and whistles (such as mood lighting and a build-in sound system). Even without the electronics, a nice one can cost $1,300 to $2,500. The (usually) oval shapes take up far less space.

Tile

Stylistically, it’s a way to unify the space and give it some character. White or very pale gray is the most universal, but the adventurous remodeler can go wild with color.

MINOR: Basic 3-inch-by-6-inch subway tiles — an evergreen choice — will run a little over $1 a square foot, so they’re a bargain. Swapping in a 3-inch-by-12-inch version, which is more interesting but still classic, will run closer to $4 a square foot. All come in white, gray, and colors. Penny tiles, another classic choice, can be had for about $3.50 a square foot.

MAJOR: A step up in appearance and sustainability would be eco-friendly encaustic tiles, which are made from cement. (No intense heat from a kiln required.) They come in a variety of finishes, most often an appealing matte, and are available in solids but are often used in colorful and geometric applications. The 2-inch-by-8-inch subway tiles will run about $15 a square foot.

Showerheads

For something that performs such a simple task, there are a dizzying number of choices, from a simple showerhead to a full-on system.

MINOR: Low-flow showerheads have come a long way since the early models that used needle-like high pressure to compensate for lower water volumes. Now there’s droplet technology, which changes the size and frequency of how water is delivered to make it feel like more is pouring down. Great models can be had for as low as $60.

MAJOR: For the ultimate in modern shower trendiness, try a walk-in or doorless model. To avoid soaking the whole room, these configurations use a rain can, the delightfully wide heads mounted directly. A swanky 12-inch diameter model in a glam nickel finish can run as high as $1,500, although it’s possible to find a great one for far less. These used to water hogs, but now are low-flow as well.

LUXURY: Why stop at a mere showerhead? Go for an entire system. Available features include steam showers, huge flush-mounted rectangular spray units that deliver a veritable rainstorm, multiple showerheads that come from several angles at once, plus lighting and sound. The OMEGA Multifunction rectangular steam shower cabin from Jacuzzi can be had for a cool $25,000.

Vanities

Picking a vanity is governed by space issues, and comes down to the number of sinks and how much storage will be useful (hint: a lot).

MINOR: Even a simple, one-sink vanity adds a clean look and provides a little (or a lot of) extra storage space. These are available for as little as $200 for a plain, painted-wood model for a single drop-in sink with almost no counter space and a little bit of storage; spend $500 to $700 for something with a wider stance, more counter space, and even a few drawers.

MAJOR: Those who have space might go with a double-wide vanity that houses two under-mount sinks. This will provide plenty of space for two people getting ready for work (even if “work” is in the next room).

The top models are made from hardwoods like white oak and “float” off the floor (wall-mounted, that is), with marble (or other stone) or Corian tops. It’s easy to spend $1,500, or up to $7,000, on one of these.

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