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Small Bathroom Renovation Ideas

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by Jeff Patterson in DIY Bathroom Remodel
Small bathroom renovation

Are you tired of your outdated bathtub?

Me too.

The gold 1980s shower doors, moldy caulk, stained grout lines…

If your bathroom makes you feel like you’re roommates with Tom Hanks & Shelley Long in Money Pit then read on.

But where do you begin a bathtub renovation process?

I’d like to help you start by sharing the concepts I’m going to use in my own bathroom remodel.

And if your current bathtub really grosses you out then I’ve got a special treat for you.

All 9 of my tips have the same theme: modern and maintenance-free.

I’ll repeat that last part – MAINTENANCE FREE!!!

I’m totally excited to share these tips.  Let’s get started.

Ooops, I almost forgot. Grab a pen and some paper because you’ll want to take some notes 🙂

So here’s the deal, over the next several months I’m going to do a series of posts that outline things you should consider when redoing a bathroom.

I’m doing it so that you’ll have a roadmap to follow.

Today I’m going to discuss what you should consider when renovating a bathtub or shower.

Without further ado, here are the 9 Tips along with a video that shows you what I’m talking about.

 

Tip #1 – Porcelain Tiles 

When choosing tiles I recommend porcelain because it’s harder and denser than most ceramic products.

You should definitely consider glazed porcelain tiles because they are easy to clean. The water will bead right off and soap scum has a hard time gripping to the smooth surface.

Glazed Porcelain Tiles

You’ll know a glazed porcelain tile when you see one because the surface is smooth like glass.

The other cool part is that they don’t need to be polished, waxed, or sealed. Plus they’re super resistant to harsh chemicals. Although I don’t think you’ll need harsh chemicals after reading the rest of this post.

Porcelain tiles have come down in price without sacrificing quality. And I’ve been impressed with the variety of styles you can get for $2 to $4 per square foot.

Doing some quick math, if you have a standard size bathtub (around 66 square feet of tub surround)  the total material cost is roughly $288 if you use tiles that cost $4 per square foot. This calculation also factors in 10% more material in case you’re like me and make a few mistakes!!

That’s not a bad price for a tub surround that will last 30 years or more. Just make sure to pick a tile you like!!

And finally, the bigger the tile the less maintenance because you’ll have less grout lines – which is a nice transition to Tip #2…

 

Tip #2 – Small Grout Lines 

There’s nothing worse than trying to clean stained grout.

My most popular post here on Home Repair Tutor deals with this very topic.

Grout lines less than 1/8 of an inch are good for showers because soap & body oils tend to discolor grout faster than tile.

Remember this tiny bit of advice:

BIG TILES + tiny grout lines = LESS maintenance

Small Grout LInes

Now, if you’re going to use small grout lines your tile job will need to be pretty darn good. The tiles will have to be super level and the cement board will need to be plumb.

And each tile needs to be inspected to ensure lippage is minimized.

Lippage is when tiles become uneven, or one tile is higher than the other. It can be avoided by having a good cement board installation and using a level on each tile that’s installed.

Unsanded grout can be used for grout lines less than 1/8 of an inch. Opt for this variety of grout if you do choose highly glazed tile because it won’t scratch the tile surface when being installed.

You can also opt to use epoxy grout which is super stain and chemical resistant. Before using any epoxy grout make sure your read the manufacturer’s directions.

Epoxy grout is probably the best in terms of durability but the hardest to apply to tile. It sets up faster than either sanded or unsanded grouts and can scratch glazed tiles because it has sand in it.

That said, I used epoxy grout for our shower tile floor and was thrilled by the end result (and the fact that the grout is stain free).

Two grout companies I can recommend are Mapei and Custom Building Products. Check out their websites because they have a ton of info – great for a DIY geek or someone trying to figure out what a contractor is talking about 😀

 

Tip #3 – Seal Grout Joints

Grout joints get stained because they aren’t sealed.

Both sanded and unsanded grout joints should be sealed with a product made by the same company that produced the grout.

Use Grout Sealer

Yes, this can be a pain in the butt.  Yet it’s well worth the effort.

Just think about it, you installed the tile and applied grout. This took a lot of effort.

To give up at the very end is well, kinda wimpy. And you’ll have a lot of time to reflect on this mistake while scrubbing the grout with a toothbrush.

Sealers cost less than $10 for a bottle. You probably only need one bottle since grout has very little surface area. Seriously, a little goes a long way in this case.

There’s no doubt that grout can look disgusting, but caulk get get downright nasty.

 

Tip #4 – Caulk that Has Microban

Mold and mildew.

You’ve seen it in showers and probably gagged a little.

Okay, maybe that’s me remembering something my wife said (most likely to get me to start a bathroom remodel).

The point is this, you can avoid seeing mold and mildew first thing in the morning by using a silicone or siliconized latex caulk that has Microban in it.

Microban Infused Caulk

Microban is an additive that reduces the growth of bacteria which in turn causes stains and odors. It can also reduce mold and mildew growth.

DAP makes a fantastic product called KWIK Seal Plus with Microban. This is a caulk specifically made for bathrooms.

Always, I’ll repeat myself,  ALWAYS choose a caulk made for bathrooms. Otherwise you’ll find yourself repeating this process after the caulk cracks or lifts off the tub surface.

Two extra suggestions,

  1. Fill the tub with water (up to the overflow cover plate) before caulking the tub/tile transition
  2. Caulk all corners instead of using grout

Filling the tub with water pulls the tub down and widens the gap between the top of the tub and bottom row of tiles. This allows the caulk to fully penetrate the seam.

Once the caulk is totally cured you can let the water drain. This step also prevents the possibility of the caulk  splitting or separating over time due to the expansion/contraction of the tub. This is particularly important if you prefer to take baths instead of showers.

Grout in the corners will look okay for a year or two then you’ll start to notice cracks. Again, there is slight expansion/contraction of the walls and while grout is strong it’s just not as flexible as silicone or siliconized latex caulk.

Often times the manufacturer of the grout will have a caulk that matches the color of the grout. This is a fantastic option for all of us who are anal retentive and need things to match!!

Tip #5 – Handheld Shower Heads 

Stationary shower heads are great but a handheld version is BETTER!

Handheld Shower Heads

Here are some reasons why

  1. Cleaning  small kids is easier (especially when washing hair)
  2. Pet maintenance is quicker
  3. You can use the shower head to rinse down the shower when cleaning it

If you’d like to swap out you old shower head today I can show you how to do it in 15 minutes.

Keep in mind that there are a variety of different styles available. When we redo our bathroom we’re definitely going to install a handheld shower head. Heck, it might be one of three shower heads if my wife has her way (okay, it’s actually me who wants this more than her)

 

Tip #6 – Wall Niches 

Soap dishes are one more thing to clean in a shower or bathtub.

And they’re in the corner most of the time. What happens in corners – nasty stuff to say the least.

Avoid Soap Dishes

If you’re going to remodel your tub or shower you should look into adding a wall niche. They are tucked into a recess in the wall.

Of course you’ll want to waterproof the heck out of it. This is a more modern look than traditional soap dishes.

And whatever you do, don’t opt for metal soap holders that need to be drilled into the tile.

I explain why this is a really bad idea and discuss the 8 other things you should consider when doing a bathtub renovation so that your remodel will be as maintenance free as possible.

 

Tip # 7 – Grab Bars

Bad news my friend, you and I aren’t getting younger.

But on a positive note our human mortality is being prolonged.

The average life expectancy is 79 and 81 for Americans and Canadians respectively.

Did I mention that I love you Canada, especially Toronto. What a fun city, and the Hockey Hall of Fame is there.

Having grab bars in the tub is an absolute no brainer.

Add Grab Bars

They come in a variety of styles and shapes.

Even though the one in my picture is kind of blah, you can find really stylish ones that fit your decor.

Grab bars need to be anchored to wood blocking. The blocking is usually made from 2 x 6 or 2 x something.

Just make sure you preplan and add the blocking to the area where you want the grab bars. You’ll have to do this before installing cement board.

 

Tip #8 – Opt for a Rod 

There’s nothing wrong with having a shower curtain rod.

Especially if your other option is cheesy shower doors like the ones in our bathroom.

Here’s the lowdown, if you’re revamping your bathroom on a budget you can always spend $70 on a great curtain rod and save your money until you can get a great set of doors.

Modern Shower Rods

If you’re remodeling a bathroom just to sell your house then a rod is an even better option than doors. Pocket the $300 yourself!!

Frankly, I don’t think doors look good at all with bathtubs. And if you’re doing a shower save up the money for a really stylish set of glass doors you’ll love for the next 20 years.

Make sure your shower rod’s finish matches the fixtures. Chrome with chrome. Stain nickel with satin nickel. Simple enough.

Speaking of fixtures…

 

Tip # 9 – Buy Brand Names

I’m not one for flaunting brand names.

Trust me, I wore parachute pants and flannel as a kid.

But when it comes to your bathroom go with the name brands all day long.

Buy Popular Brand Names

American Standard, Delta, Kohler, and Moen are wonderful because they usually offer lifetime warranties. And as some of you might know these companies will send you free replacement parts.

When your cartridge or faucet handles start to go bad give the manufacturer a call. I did this with Delta and they sent me replacement faucet handles worth $100. I even told them the handles corroded because of our hard water!!!

When you choose your fixtures I recommend ones with chrome or satin nickel finishes, especially if you have hard water like me. Oil rubbed bronze exposed to hard water tends to wear a lot faster than chrome or nickel.

If you’re dead set on oil rubbed bronze then investigate all the brands and read a ton of reviews.

 

There are a lot of things that go into bathroom renovations. And these 9 tips will serve you well.

To sum it up, here’s what you should use

  1. Glazed porcelain tiles
  2. Small grout lines
  3. Grout join sealer or epoxy grout
  4. Caulk with Microban
  5. Handheld shower head
  6. Wall niches instead of soap dishes
  7. Modern grab bars
  8. Shower curtain rod instead of cheesy shower doors
  9. Brand name fixtures because they provide free parts

And don’t forget to watch my video for three BONUS tips.

 

What’s Next

Our tutorial showing how to remodel a tub shower combo also has great tips – and awesome for DIY bathroom remodels!

Grab our free guide if you’re doing a DIY bathroom remodel – it shares how to remodel a bathroom in 10 days or less

Send Me The Guide

 

Thanks as always for reading, watching, and being part of our awesome community.

Ask your questions below and we’d be happy to help.

Cheers,

Jeff Patterson

 

 

 

 

P.S. Our online store has great supplies for homeowners doing a bathroom remodel. You’ll find shower systems, tiling tools, and more.

11 Comments
  1. Mendy says:

    Thanks for the info.. When we get around to remodeling our bathrooms , I will use some of this info.. Meanwhile…… I found a neat easy trick to get soap scum off of my shower door that works great ! No water or cleaner required…. The important part is to make sure you start out with a completely dry shower door. Put a towel under the shower door , Then use one of them green flat scrubbers (not sure what they are called ) the ones you use in the kitchen on pots and pans. Scrub the dry door with the dry scrubber and the soap scum comes off real easy , the soap scum powder falls on the towel.. Shower door is now completely scum free ! Quick and easy

    1. Sweet, thanks Mendy for your tip.

      I think you’re referring to a scotch brite pad. I never thought of using one on our doors.

      Definitely keep me posted on your bathroom remodel. Please share what you learn with our group of DIYers over here 😀

  2. Maggie says:

    Thanks for your timely post, Jeff. My husband just demoed our VERY small master bath and is studying how to redo it. We are opting for a glass, frameless shower (no tub), with tile inside. A new vanity, granite top, toilet and flooring. The project is running into more money as is normal. We also have plumbing and electrical projects in there. I’ll be interested to see how it comes together, and will forward you are project as well.

    1. That’s awesome Maggie.

      I’d love to see your pictures, and not just the finished product.

      It sounds like you have a great plan and the final result is going to fantastic.

      Let me know what you learn, good or bad, while doing your project.

      I’m so excited for you.

  3. Great tips Jeff. Bathroom renovation is on my to-do list. I never knew the corner caulk vs grout tip.

    I like your observation from the hotel. It amazes me how much wear you see in even the cleanest, modern hotels.

    1. Thank John, I love inspecting hotels for great ideas or things that don’t work out so well.

      Caulk versus grout is something that will save a lot of grief. I’ve yet to see grout be able to expand and contract well. It ultimately ends up looking bad and falling to pieces in the corners.

      Can’t wait to see what you’ve got in store for your bathroom 🙂

  4. Ellen Guy says:

    The grout in our bathroom floor tiles is starting to come apart. How do you replace this?
    Thanks
    ellen

    1. Sorry to hear about your grout Ellen.

      The easiest way to remove grout, and I’ve done this, is to use an oscillating multi-tool. You can buy one for $50 to $400 or borrow one from a friend.

      These tools are AWESOME at removing grout and will make the job a lot easier. Use an attachment specifically made for grout, they do cost about $20-$30 but again are well worth it.

      Then you can replace the grout with a similar color. If you know the manufacturer of the old grout or have some left over that’s even better.

      If this isn’t the case you can get a grout sample from a hardware store or tile store. They should let you take it home and match your old grout with the new versions.

  5. Nice post Jeff, silicone to all wall and floor corner junctions is the way to go for sure, its the only real way to prevent cracking.

    1. Thanks James, sounds like you’ve seen your fair share of cracked grout 🙂

      And there’s nothing worse than having to remove all the bad stuff while trying not to break a tile

  6. Alex says:

    These tips are super helpful. We’re gut-renovating our master shower, but hiring contractors to do the walls and tiling. Will buy a glass door, too. Your suggestions were super helpful. You reinforced some of the decisions we already made (porcelain tile, name-brand chrome hardware, shower door, niche vs. soap holder) and gave me a few other things to think about (shower caulk – which we already use in another bathroom -, small grout lines, and using grout sealer). Thanks!

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