Spend or save? Top tips on how to renovate your bathroom

Posted 21 August 2015 by Stephen Maunder

Kitchens and bathrooms are two of the most important selling points of a property, and are also among the most popular update and extension projects. Just how much value an extra bathroom will add depends on the number already in the property, their current condition and whether they are conveniently located, but it can be as much as 6%.

Whether you want to add a new bathroom to maximise value, ease pressure on the existing facilities in the peak morning rush, or simply to indulge in a touch of luxury, it makes sense to ensure the project is cost effective, says Michael Holmes, spokesperson for The London Homebuilding & Renovating Show. Here Michael shares his top tips on where to spend and where to save...

1.  Is it necessary to spend a large amount of money on plumbing?

Getting the layout right is vital for a well functioning bathroom and this will usually mean altering the plumbing unless starting from scratch, even though this will usually add to the cost. If you want to fit oversize showerheads, power showers and mixer taps successfully, you will require good water pressure (at least 3 bar) and a plentiful supply of hot water, so discuss this with your plumber as you may need to upgrade your current heating and hot water system.

Solutions include fitting a high-output combi boiler providing high-pressure hot water on demand, a large pressurised ‘unvented’ hot water cylinder, or at least adding booster pumps to the flow from your existing hot water cylinder.

VERDICT: SPEND – It will be more expensive if you have to replace plumbing due to poor quality fixtures or installation problems.

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2. Is there a difference between top range bathroom ceramics and discount pieces? 

When it comes to ceramic plumbing fixtures, it’s hard to tell the quality of simple white sanitaryware simply by looking at it. Most sinks, lavatories and toilet bowls appear to be manufactured in the same way and just the design counts.

Even if you don’t opt for expensive pieces, if you mix and match your ceramics with high quality taps and fittings from different suppliers, you can successfully enhance the aesthetics of your bathroom.

VERDICT: SAVE – Evaluate the deals that each supplier provides and then select the items to suit your budget and taste.

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3. Can I conceal the plumbing in my bathroom?

If you are looking for a clean, uncluttered look in your bathroom that will maximise the sense of space, then concealing the plumbing runs, WC cisterns, and the body of shower and tap mixers will all help, as will using wall mounted sanitaryware, frameless shower screens and large mirrors.

A false wall with a 100mm clear void behind it in which plumbing can be concealed is a simple tidy solution, built using either timber or metal studwork covered in tile backing board, or plasterboard.

Steel frame modules for wall mounted basins, WCs and bidets are a worthwhile investment, reducing costs through ease and speed of installation. Modules for a WC or basin cost from £150-£400 when you use ranges from Geberit Duofix, Grohe Rapid or Screwfix.

VERDICT: SPEND – To ensure the best possible use out of your space, house plumbing in a service void behind a false wall.

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4.  Is flooring important?

Flooring can be relatively inexpensive with vinyl and ceramic tiles costing as little as £6 to £8 per square metre. These surfaces can be installed on a DIY basis providing you take your time and practice first and ensure the substrate is well prepared. Ceramic tiling is a DIY skill you can master, buy ensure you buy the correct adhesive, grout, tile spacers and tools, including hiring a good quality tile cutter.

VERDICT: SAVE – Tiles are a hardwearing finish and you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a great look.

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5. Are expensive showers worth it?

Shower trays and enclosures, if not installed correctly, can leak around the seals which can damage floor finishes and structure and the ceiling, decoration and furniture in any rooms below. It’s worth buying quality and making sure the installation is exactly in accordance with manufacturers instructions (especially for wet room trays, which can leak easily if the timber floor structure around it moves at all).

VERDICT: SPEND – Investing in a high quality shower tray and enclosure or door will be beneficial in the long term, as they will be less susceptible to wear and tear.

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6.  Mirror, mirror on the wall, does it pay to invest?

A cleverly sized and positioned mirror is a great way to make a bathroom appear more spacious. This inexpensive feature is also a necessity. The best way to create the illusion of space is to have mirrors cut to fit wall to wall and or floor to ceiling.

Some fit a mirror under the vanity unit, or to the side of a bath too. Mirrors are not expensive but having them template and predrilled for mixer taps or light fittings will add to the cost. Where a bathroom has no windows, a large mirror and good lighting will compensate. 

VERDICT: SAVE – Mirrors are not an expensive feature, although having a fitted mirror templated and predrilled for mixer taps or light fittings will add to the cost.

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7.  What’s the fuss about underfloor heating?

There’s nothing like stepping out of the bath or shower onto a lovely warm floor, especially in the winter months when a tiled floor could be chilly, which is why underfloor heating is a must-have luxury in a bathroom update project.

Electric tile warming systems range from around £25 to £45 per square metre, and as they are only 3-6mm deep they can be installed beneath ceramic tiles or engineered wooden flooring without significantly increasing the finished floor height. Another form of heating such as a radiator or heated radiator towel rail is still likely to be necessary in a smaller room without much floor area.

VERDICT: SPEND – An inexpensive luxury that you can’t afford not to install.

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8. Is panelling the be all and end all for your wet room?

Panelling can be cheaper than laying ceramic tiles on your wall to achieve a watertight decorative finish. Traditional wainscot tongue-and-groove boards or Georgian raised panelling are currently popular as is v-grooved moisture resistant MDF that looks like wainscot panelling. Any timber material must be painted to seal it from moisture if it is to last in wet conditions.

VERDICT: SAVE – A designer look for less than the cost of ceramic tiles, and easy for the DIYer to install.

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9. Is stylish brassware worth it?

Poor quality taps wear out incredibly quickly and inferior metal castings can sheer in no time requiring replacement of the whole fitting and the result can be a messy leak and expensive repairs. It’s worth paying for quality brassware with ceramic disk valves.

VERDICT: SPEND – Focus your budget on the things you will use most.

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10. Should there be light?

Bright lighting can help a bathroom feel fresh and hygienic and it needn’t cost much money to upgrade from the typical single central pendant light fitting to a multi-directional spotlight fitting with four or five bulbs.

Make sure your new light fitting is fitting is IP-Rated (waterproof) for use in bathrooms. A dimmer switch fitted outside can allow you to change the atmosphere from wake-up bright, to relaxing twilight and is a simple and inexpensive (£25-30) replacement for a conventional switch.

VERDICT:  SAVE – You can upgrade a single pendant to a multiple spotlight fitting and dimmer for well under £100.

 The London Homebuilding & Renovating Show takes place at Excel London from  25-27 September

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