Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

A Few Tips to Remodel Your Bath

Is coming up with a basic plan and searching images to match the plan enough to get an estimate, and start the process? Unfortunately, no. That’s a dream, not reality.

If you were fortunate enough to attend this year’s National Hardware Show, you could meet any number of Exhibiting companies who specialize in plumbing – and I’m confident many, if not all, would be able to steer you in the right direction.

A. Check with friends for a referral.

“I’ve got a great plumber,” I’ve learned, is not enough. Checking Yelp, Home Advisor, Angie’s List and others is fine if you have nothing but time on your hands, or the luxury of months to qualify someone and get estimates. Although a “zip code entry” may deliver multiple names, estimates were high in my opinion, and when questioned, there was always a reduction. That told me the estimate was what traffic would bear and most likely, there was even more room. Not a good choice—corners might be cut to “get even” for the price reduction.

Try Home Depot, Lowe’s or Menards, if you live in the Midwest. The people they allow to post company resumes usually have very good reports. Not all of them, though. Depends on the job and what they promise.

Conclusion: Referrals are generally best, if you do your homework, and if the referral is based on a similar job. A fair price for someone with a lot of money may not be a fair price to someone else.

B. Always question the estimate.

Sure, the contractor was referred by a close friend, but go through the estimate carefully. Ask questions. It could make a difference if there are changes.

Some questions to ask:

  • Do you get a commission from vendors you recommend
  • If fixtures are included in the estimate, what is the brand, make, model, style (plastic or metal)
  • How much money have you allocated for fixtures
  • If you are using a fabricated shower base, ask for the brand, model, color, cost and the actual size of the shower area

Example: a 30-inch shower base includes a step 3.5 inches wide, reducing the actual shower area to 26.5″, a tight squeeze for good-sized individuals

  • What does “trim out shower” mean and what does it include
  • What actions define “adjust framing.” What is included and what is considered extra
  • Where will the drain be moved and what portion of the estimate is involved. For example, is the drain moved an inch or two, left or right, or does the estimate include moving the drain from the left /right of the shower base to the center. Which is it?
  • And what is the difference in cost?
  • If shower doors are not included in the estimate, what cost can be expected, and who installs them
  • If unforeseen plumbing will be done on a time and material basis, will there be a reduction in the estimate if some work is not necessary or different from described?
  • What is the time frame, start to finish. Is the plumber working on other projects at the same time?
DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

Here is a sample of one plumber’s estimate and what is lost by not defining the details.​

JOB DESCRIPTION: Remove tub, install a shower with a bench, have shower come out to the edge of the wall extension. ​The tub area was 36″ wide, from the back tile wall to the side of the tub. The side tile wall extended 2.5 “ from the tub edge– total width from back wall to side wall edge 38.5” inches.​

EXPECTATION: A shower within that 38.5-inch area.​

ACTUAL RESULT: A shower base 30 inches wide, with a shower area 26.5 in​ –12 inches less than the tub area!!!! Yes, tile was 1/4 inches, durock was 1/2 inch, and even with the mortar that still leaves 11 inches, or 7 if the entire back wall is rebuilt with 4-inch studs.


  1. 30-inch shower base was the only one in stock. (Not true​.)
  2. You were in a hurry. (An extra day would not have made a difference.)​
  3. You saw me take it out of the box. (Yes and everyone has eyes equipped with long distance rulers.)​
  4. A lot of people have 30-inch showers. (Not if they weigh more than 140 lbs and stand over 6 feet tall and don’t want to hit the glass doors as they shower.)

This owner was between a rock and a hard place. If you fire him, he has your deposit, and you do not have a finished shower. So, she bit the bullet and moved on. She believed moving the drain would have affected his profits, so he used a base to match the 30-inch tub drain.​

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

THE ESTIMATE did not cover the tile, grout and thin set (mortar). Before beginning the demo, the plumber recommends selecting and buying the tile so the job can move quickly. In this example, the owner bought the tile at a store based on the plumber’s recommendation: ​

a. “They will give you a special price because I deal pretty much the same sources.” ​This plumber refused to indicate the cost he allowed for the fixtures, posi-temp valves, and shower base. Nor did he explain what kind of adjustment was made to the framing. In the end, the owner bought her own fixtures because she wanted brushed nickel instead of chrome. ​

The plumber gave her a $200 credit (shower head and extension that she purchased) and said he did not charge for installing a niche or the 6-feet of tile base around the bathroom. He gave no credit for 1 posi-temp valve (not needed), nor its installation. He gave no credit for the bench, which he said he was unable to build. He gave no credit for installing a 30-inch shower base instead of a 32 or 34-inch base.​

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

THE END RESULT: The plumber executed the job in a workman-like manner, over an almost 3-week period. The owner paid him and vowed never again to remodel without doing her homework and making certain that the estimate itemized everything no matter how small, and no matter who gives the referral.

The owner did not buy a 72″ high shower door from the plumber’s vendor at the cost of $1900. Instead, she bought a 78″ inch tall door on sale at Menards for $600 and had it installed for $260 by a store-listed vendor who did a beautiful job.​

Should the owner have paid less? Was the job satisfactory, great or just O.K.? Were all of the estimates similar? Did she choose the least expensive? Did she get what she paid for? Should she ever ask her friend for another referral? Trust is on the table. No matter whom you trust, or the breadth of the remodeling job, you’ve got to do your homework. Details. Details. Details.

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

DIY Pipeline: Remodeling a Bath 101: Selecting the Remodeler.

Buying Tip: If you plan to replace countertops with granite, check out granite sources to determine if they have remnants from big jobs that will accommodate the length and width of your countertop and your color preferences. You’ll save money, and they will make sink and fixture cuts, as well as install. You will just need a plumber to disconnect and reconnect the old or new sinks.