Home Renovations and Interior Design

$5000 Small Bathroom Renovation With Unavoidable Surprises

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Please don’t be alarmed by my renovation sarcasm hidden in this post but it gets depressing as a homeowner to find so many problems with the biggest investment of your life. Even though we paid our mortgage off 5 years after we bought this house we put off updating the house because it was livable the way it was, until things started to happen.

In our house we have a small bathroom which is a standard 4 piece vanity, toilet, bath and shower and a large master en-suite in need of updating for top resale value. Although the dollar signs just keep on rolling we’re learning how to avoid potential problems in the future. Coming from the UK I’m still learning about Canadian homes and one thing is for sure, there’s not a lot of love in some of them.

Problems have developed in our small bathroom on the second-level thanks to some awesome home building techniques since the birth of our house just shy of 20 years ago. What was supposed to be a small bathroom renovation has turned into a small budget grab only because it’s what we don’t see that is the problem and hard to avoid. (Unless you’re Superman)


Why should you renovate your bathroom?


Everyone who comes to our house asks us why were are renovating both of our bathrooms because they “look” great. Well, they may look great but upon closer inspection you will see the cheap quality products that are starting to deteriorate.

Back in 2014 I blogged about the start of our master en-suite bathroom renovations which sadly are not completed and I’ll tell you why. I’ve started working on the small bathroom upstairs once again because we ran into a bit of a soggy problem. This wasn’t by choice as I wanted to finish the master en-suite but we had a bit of a flood that could have seen us ringing the insurance company.

Related: How our budgeted bathroom renovation saved us thousands

When we first moved into our house which had a full home inspection which we thought was the right thing to do as new buyers. Well, it is and it isn’t depending on who you hire and their background. Next round I’m hiring tradesmen even if it costs me more money upfront.

Initially the first sign of problems arose from our water softener not being looked after and sending hard water throughout the water pipes and faucets.  After replacing our failing water softener once and for all, we noticed that all the faucet valves started leaking due to the softer water breaking up the scale. That’s great isn’t it? Well, kind of, but it made so many of our faucets around the house start to leak all the time.

Related: Soft or Hard water- Is Your Water Softener Costing You Money?

One problem led to the next where we woke up one morning to find the ceiling in the kitchen started to drip water, but it was hard to determine where in our small bathroom it was coming from. We eventually traced it back to the toilet after my parents who were visiting from the UK and using the small bathroom upstairs.

My wife was in the kitchen getting some breakfast ready and when the toiled was flushed suddenly water came dripping out the crack in the kitchen ceiling. Insert frantic wife calling my name to grab towels I knew I was in for a big surprise. I had to keep telling my wife that she would be fine and that the kitchen ceiling wasn’t going to come crashing down. It wasn’t as much water as you’d think but any water is more than enough.

Mr. CBB to the rescue without a cape.

After ripping off the toilet upon inspection it turns out the hole that was cut in the floor was so big that the toilet was only bolted to the floor ring on the one side and the foam sealing gasket was installed off to one side too. After calming my wife down who was unhappy about the water damage and while soaking it up I knew this was another job to add to the “emergency renovation list“.

So in our small bathroom upstairs we now have a leaking shower, a floor that needs to be replaced and re-plumbed for the toilet and to top it off the bath has a chip in the enamel that’s started to go rusty. I did disconnect the shower valve because we already have a shower in our en-suite bathroom and the toilet is still working due to a temporary repair and a new wax bowl seal.

Renovating our small bathroom has been on my to-do list for some time so over the past 2 years we’ve purchased a new vanity cabinet, medicine cabinet and mirror. Needless to say our unfinished basement has turned into a renovation drop zone. We have renovation materials mainly for our bathrooms and hardwood flooring cluttering the space much to my wife’s dismay. It’s always hard to live through a home renovation especially when there is a child involved.


Hiring a plumber


My plan is to replace the bathroom floor myself and install a unique quality tile but will require some help from the “family plumber” when it comes to replacing the bath tub. Luckily we can count on him for any plumber related issues and he doesn’t charge us anything but a hot meal.

Apparently a reasonable estimate for a plumber to come and remove your old tub and install a new one is approximately $1,000. Remember, that’s just the labour, you still have to add in the cost of the tub to begin with. If you’ve never completed a small bathroom renovation like we’ve started it’s important to contact tradesmen to ask them what the costs will be so you know if your budget is aligned with potential costs.

Now that we have a good idea of what needs replacing, we can work on ideas about how we want the bathroom to look. Mrs CBB likes to look on Pinterest for ideas for small bathroom makeovers, bathroom layout inspiration or concepts for bathroom plans just to give me a little more work to do. I’m fine with that though because we both have to love our new small bathroom when it’s done so I’d rather make sure she’s happy the first time around.


Choosing bathroom tile


There are some great renovation ideas out there, just be careful that the cost to renovate a small bathroom isn’t going to be big bathroom money like I mentioned earlier. For our small bathroom we’ve budgeted $5,000 which includes a new bath-tub, faucets, shower head, revamped plumbing, vanity with stone (possibly granite) counter-top, new lighting, mirror, sink and floor to ceiling tiles.

Looking online for tile ideas to give our small bathroom a unique look brought us to a website called ABL Tile Centre. The website gave us tiling solutions and is the brainchild behind our current tile choices. ABL stock a large range of bathroom tiles but unfortunately for us they are on the opposite side of the world. What was important during the research phase was being able to stimulate ideas from what’s hot in the market even if we had to source ideas from around the world.

Taking a walk through Home Depot or other Canadian big box stores doesn’t cut it for us as we want a unique wow-factor and not a cookie cutter look for our small bathroom. Even our master en-suite design and look will be motivated by some pretty cool projects we’ve seen on Pinterest which is a must for anyone who needs to brainstorm for a renovation.


Research materials in advance


My advice for anyone looking to start a bathroom renovation is to take some time to visit show rooms to see first-hand and touch the materials you like. Some online companies may even send you tile samples through the mail for a small cost.

Just remember that not all tiles are the same and that price usually gives you a better quality. Inform yourself of the different materials that tiles are made of and what suitable locations they best thrive in.

Porcelain tiles compete better in wet environments because they are non-porous so a better pick for a bathroom renovation. The last thing you want is a bad case of mold or having to rip it all out shortly after.


Colour selection


small bathroom renovation with glass showerPick a colour theme and try to stick with it. Having second thoughts or changing the theme half way through could leave your look a little disjointed. Having an all-white bathroom is great but a bit clinical, break it up with some hardwood colours in the vanity and natural stone on one feature wall.

If you choose to use a coloured tile be careful how much colour you’re adding because you don’t want it to be hard on the eyes. There have been plenty of times over the years where I’ve ripped out 1970’s bathroom suites because the suite was maroon, purple or black.

Bold and vibrant colours were probably a great look at the time it was fitted but dated quickly. Try to keep things neutral and then add-on extra accessories that can be removed or updated easily and cheaply. A white bathroom suite never goes out of fashion, unless of course it has sea shells embossed into the bath itself.

Another point to keep in mind is if you have hard water in your house choosing dark tiles will only showcase the white residue left by the hard water. Think about how much that will bother you and if it does then you should go with a lighter tile.

We’re going with a white suite, stainless shower faucet (with a ceramic valve as they last longer), a dark wood vanity and cabinet and then some sort of neutral coloured tile. We haven’t got as far as settling on concrete plan but we’ve narrowed down a few tile ideas from research.

Whatever we choose will be light in colour to keep the bathroom bright. Giving your bathroom too many dark accents will make the bathroom dull unless you have an enormous amount of natural light to compensate. Not only that if you are renovating a small bathroom to begin with keeping it dark will give the allure of an even smaller space.

Don’t forget the importance of quality bathroom flooring. We’re fans of tiles and not hardwood in the bathroom for obvious reasons but many homes are now upgraded this way. We will be installing heated floors with a controller by the light switch and then tiles over the top.

Picking tiles for the floor is a lot different from those for the walls and bath surround You will have to think about the co-efficient of friction which believe it or not is actually printed on the box when you buy them.

When smooth tiles get wet they become dangerous. We currently have the builder grade linoleum floors in our bathrooms and they are a death trap to say the least. They have all the grip of a greasy fish and unfortunately our little guy has fallen a few times which is never a good thing.


Small bathroom budget surprises


You may be wondering where the rest of our $5000 bathroom renovation budget will be going so I’ll tell you.

Don’t get caught with your pants down. man in small bathroom toilet with pants pulled down

I’m taking the dry wall down on the interior wall because you can hear the toilet paper rustle in the bedroom next door. I’ll fit safe and sound insulation to reduce noise transfer because no one likes to hear what’s going on in the bathroom when it’s not them sitting on the bog.

Related: Prepare your budget for the renovation money monster

While I’m replacing the flooring, I’ll inspect the damage from the toilet leak at the same time to see how that will affect out bathroom budget which is why it’s important to budget over. Plus, this house has had many surprises already, so why not throw in some more for me to tackle.

I can be very sarcastic about our house even though we like it we don’t care for all the imperfections which could have been avoided. Our next house may just be custom-built depending on how much zest I lose for this house. Cookie cutter homes may look nice but I bet there is misery lurking all around them.

Be prepared with the fact that your renovation budget may suddenly increase if you find something more important to fix first before calling it your finished small bathroom project. This is why it’s taking me so long to finish the first bathroom renovation. I’d rather do it right the first time even if we don’t plan to stay living in this house.


Treat your renovation with quality


small bathroom renovation 2I’ll keep plugging away at our bathroom renovation and share some photos of the finished space in an upcoming blog post along with the total amount we spent to renovate our small bathroom.

There is nothing worse than setting up the next homeowner with a low-quality, shady renovation that will only cost them money to replace. You wouldn’t like it if someone did it to you so budget appropriately and spend the money to buy good materials that will protect your housing investment for the long-term.

Have you done a small bathroom renovation which turned into a bit of a money pit? Tell me about it below or email me with your story to canadianbudgetbinder@yahoo.ca

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All images below from freedigitalphotos.net

  • toilet courtesy of Mister GC 
  • glass shower courtesy of nuttakit
  • bathroom courtesy of Suat Eman
  • man sitting on toilet courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen





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  1. The most important thing in bathroom renovation is to update the cabinets. They create the main style for the room, like wheels for a car.

  2. We also reworked our master bath 2 piece to add in a shower. We refer to it as the “Tiny Bathroom” and jiggled more room out of a 5×5 space by borrowing 1 foot from the bedroom. Some space savers we used – we installed a pocket door and instead of towel bars ( not enough wall space) we installed IKEA wall hooks and sewed loops on the towels. Oh, I should mention a bit of a disaster with shower install, broke a glass door and it shattered everywhere – what a mess. We were anxious about having another one shipped across Canada in one piece but breathed a sigh of relief when It arrived safely. In the end it was all worth it, our little bathroom has everything we need and no more:)
    Good luck with your bathroom renos!

  3. Our two bathrooms are in desperate need of renovation, but we haven’t made room for them in our budget. I’m also afraid that we may end up with more than we bargained for due to “surprises”. If we decide to make it happen at some point, I’ll come back to this post to remind myself of your wise tips. I look forward to seeing the photos when you’re done.

    1. Yes it’s amazing what we can uncover if we really look. I can see why people who have their house built are constantly on the job site to make sure things are done right however you would expect the company that is hired to do that. It’s a rushed world my friends.

  4. We renovated our bathroom from November to April this year, for a total cost of $3,800, including towels and accessories. It was a long time coming, from the 1970’s black and bubblegum pink porcelain tiles, with at least with a couple of “suit coat and tie” freshen up’s in between. The long and short of it is that we had floor space that we replaced with 8 tiles from time to time, so imagine living with that for 25 years and 7 people in one single bathroom! It was too small and too unmanageable.
    Everything needed replaced top to bottom. The tub finish had worn off, the floor was peeled (right down to the plywood, thanks to a particular housemate who loves to pick at things incessantly), and the faucets, sink and toilet leaked. The vanity was plywood that had split. Enough of that nightmare.
    Living with renovations is tough on everyone, pressure on the renovator, pressure on the Mum who has to ensure everyone gets clean and stays sane.
    Ripped out a closet in an adjacent bedroom to bump it out another 3 feet, use the old chimney frame from the oil furnace to create a towel/storage area with a laundry chute.
    Budget brilliance…..tub surround from a Restore for $75 (it was new but had some minor cracks in the finish from people moving it), refinished with $100 of material. A vanity from an old dresser found on Kijiji for $200 (mostly solid wood.), new laminate on top to make it waterproof (with an edging to ensure the rest didn’t get ruined. Everything done by hubby, he has so many talents. New faucet handles that are in sync with the bathroom style. (Silly, I know, but brilliant because it doesn’t look stock.)
    Budget busters…..first toilet broken in the first few days as the hammer fell off the ladder. Tin ceiling (special order). New type of laminate floor that is water resistant (for real.) Cedar walls. Special order laminate for counter top.
    Creative custom bathroom, built with our hands, definitely not your ordinary retreat.
    I put our reno on Pinterest, so proud of the results! It fits our style and personality and location. And our family size.

  5. Oh wow! We are currently just painting the bathroom and some small tiles! The guy at Home Depot caught us looking at some different tiles and he does the workshops there. He suggested that if we buy the more expensive tile to buy less and to frame it with a plain tile. I go onto Pinterest all the time and as I am being frugal will be using the blue paint from Rhias room. Paint is so expensive here but, again, we have budgeted for more than needed. Will take some before and after pics for you! Hopefully this is done next week. All depends on getting the guest room finished!

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