Given how many trades are required for a typical bathroom remodel—plumbers, electricians, tile setters, cabinet installers, and more—it pays to find a top-notch general contractor to manage operations. Meet with at least three contractors, preferably those you find through word of mouth. Make sure the person you settle on has an up-to-date license and insurance, including workers' compensation. And scrutinize the contract; it should list every product down to the model number and finish. And don't automatically go with the lowest bid. Another common mistake is cheaping out on those items that get the most use. Lifetime warranties that cover leaks and stains have become more common on all but the cheapest faucets. PVD (physical vapor deposition) finishes resisted our best attempts at scratching them, but drain cleaners can stain them slightly. Chrome was also pretty durable in our tests, but can be scratched if you rub it with a heavy-duty scouring pad.
And you don't have to worry about ending up with an institutional look. Many universal design features are now part of mainstream bathroom design. For example, the larger shower stall that's in favor today offers easy access and universal use, provided it has a zero-threshold and a built-in seating platform. “The bench is also a nice place for an able-bodied women to sit and shave her legs,” says Cheetham. Regarding toilets, so-called comfort-height models that are easier to get on and off of are now just as common as standard-height models. Even grab bars have enjoyed a design upgrade; many now match towel bars and other accessories. And they're not just for the elderly. Grab bars make it easier for pregnant women or young children to get in and out of the bathtub.
Budget for the unexpected. Hidden water damage is a common problem in bathrooms, whether from a leaky shower pan or running toilet. “If the floor feels spongy, that's a sign of serious water damage,” says John Petrie, owner of Mother Hubbard's Custom Cabinetry in Mechanicsburg, Pa. Other issues are truly hidden, for example a vent stack inside a wall that you thought you were going to knock down. An experienced contractor will do exploratory work early in the project to sniff out as many issues as possible. “In the case of the vent stack, we'll investigate above the bathroom to see the pipe coming up through the house,” says Petrie. But contractors can't see through walls, so don't expect them to catch every possible pitfall. That's why it's important to build a 10 to 15 percent cushion into your budget. If nothing goes wrong, you'll have a nice little windfall.
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