Be realistic in overhaul of bathroom

Home Work

May 09, 1999|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

IT'S BEEN a couple of years since Karol renovated her kitchen, and she has pretty much forgotten the incredible hassles involved in the world's longest "simple" renovation project. At least, she's forgotten enough to be contemplating another remodeling job, this one on her antiquated bathroom.

It's the sole bathroom in the house, which dates to just after the turn of the century. The bathroom was redone probably in the 1950s, because the bathtub and sink are, um, pink. Not a nice pale pink, but a real assertive '50s pink, like the type of felt skirt that would have a black poodle on it.

The room was redone somewhat later, with a dropped ceiling and shower enclosure. The enclosure served to channel gallons of moisture up to the plaster ceiling, which at some point fell down, and instead of being repaired was covered with a dropped tile ceiling.

When Karol moved in, she took out the dropped ceiling and the shower enclosure and repaired the ceiling. She also painted the walls. The bathroom was still inconvenient, but the kitchen was a priority. Now that the kitchen's so great, the bath is becoming more annoying.

There may be no way to fix the fact that it's tiny. The whole house is pretty small. She's considering a small bump-out, maybe just a couple of feet, to get more room for a decent tub. But that kind of change would probably require a zoning variance from the setback allotments.

But she can replace the crooked wall tile, the impossible-to-clean teeny-tiny floor tiles, and the pink fixtures. She hopes to get some counter space -- right now there's no place to put anything down. And she'd like more light.

So here is Ron's advice on what Karol, or anyone considering a bathroom remodeling, needs to think about:

* Make sure your budget is realistic. Do you want a minor renovation, which might mean simply replacing fixtures, and could cost between $2,000 and $5,000? Or do you want a major change, which means tearing out the space and redoing it, and could cost between $8,000 and $15,000 (or as much as you have to spend)?

* Before you start looking for a contractor, try to get a good idea of what you want. Look at magazines, check out home-improvement stores, and keep a file of looks and items you like.

* Consider what will fit in the existing space. Or do you want to steal some space from another room, or add on some space?

* Consider who will be using the bath. If it's a master bath for the heads-of-household, that's one thing. If the whole family will be using it, that's another.

* Think about finishes, which can make a huge difference in the bottom line. Vinyl is much less expensive than ceramic tile.

* Think about fanciness. Lighting fixtures can cost from $15 to $600. A whirlpool tub can cost a lot more than an ordinary one.

* Finally -- and this is Ron's tongue-in-cheek advice for any kind of remodeling project -- consider having a marriage counselor on standby. There will be a lot of decisions and a lot of compromises.

Speaking of bathrooms, American Standard recently did a survey on how Americans feel about their bathrooms. Most people consider the bath a sanctuary, a place to unwind and be refreshed, the survey found. Most common activities (besides the obvious) were taking a hot bath, dressing and applying makeup. Forty-two percent of the people surveyed said they read a book, newspaper or catalog in the bathroom, and 10.5 percent said they listen to music or watch TV there. Sixteen percent have phone conversations.

People spend an average of 35 minutes a day in the bathroom, the study found, except for those ages 18 to 24, who spend an hour or more. However, only 17 percent admitted to singing in the shower.

The survey also found that bathrooms are not just for people. Twelve percent of those surveyed said they wash their pets in the bathroom.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and former president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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