Why Is Bathroom Remodeling So Expensive?

Shocked At How Expensive Bathroom Remodeling Is?

You and I are both in agreement that bathroom remodeling is expensive. The least favorite aspect of my job as lead designer and general contractor is delivering remodeling estimates to potential clients. If I could perform home remodeling for free, I absolutely would. Everybody deserves a quality home.

When you look at a small space such as a bathroom, it can be jarring to learn that your remodeling project may be in the tens of thousands of dollars range. Hallway bathroom remodels are particularly shocking, as a small 5×8 space can still easily eat-up your budget.

Unfortunately, there are large expenses that must be paid in order to perform residential remodeling. In this article I draw upon my experience as one of the leading bathroom designers in St. Louis, MO in order to help you better understand why bathroom remodeling is so expensive.

Small luxury bathroom in a black and white color scheme used to demonstrate how expensive bathroom remodeling is.
A hallway bathroom remodel that I did for our client.

Bathroom Remodeling Is an Investment, Not a Sunk Cost

Before I venture deeper into the nitty-gritty details of bathroom remodeling, I would like to stress an important point. Home remodeling, which includes bathroom remodeling, is an investment, and not a sunk cost.

As your home appreciates in value, so does the investment that you’ve made into it. Framing your perspective on home remodeling cost around this concept can help you stomach the idea of spending such a large amount of money on a remodel.

Remodeling is a rare investment when you consider that you are able to live in your home and enjoy the remodel while the value is retained and appreciates.

A curbless shower done for our client, featuring an off-white color scheme and linear drain.
A master bathroom remodel done for a client of ours, ringing in at approximately $35,000.

What Is The Average Bathroom Remodeling Cost?

Remodeling Magazine‘s Cost vs. Value report is a phenomenal source for remodeling cost numbers that I personally encourage all of my clients to review. Their cost averages are very accurate with what I personally experience in the field. However, I am personally able to remodel master bathrooms at a significantly lower price.

The national average bathroom remodeling cost is as follows:

  • A mid-range, 5×7 bathroom averages: $24,606.
  • An upscale, medium-sized master bathroom remodel averages: $76,827.
  • A “universal design” (handicap accessible) 5×7 bathroom averages: $39,710.

Why Is Bathroom Remodeling So Expensive?

The large-ticket nature of bathroom remodeling comes from three main factors:

  1. Material Cost
  2. Installation Labor Cost
  3. Design Labor Cost

Material Cost of Remodeling

Behind every material manufacturer/supplier is a team of people and expensive machinery required to produce said materials.

It is very important to note that contractors receive steep discounts due to their dealer status with product manufacturers (if they’re even setup as dealers, many simply source from Home Depot). For instance, my average product discount is 50.5%.

This dealer discount helps to keep remodeling affordable when working with a contractor. It also helps to absorb the design fees that I will talk about shortly.

While you may think that a bathroom’s materials are pretty straight-forward, there are a few components to bathroom remodels that add a fair amount to the cost:

  • Waterproofing membranes protect the integrity of your home, and sit behind tile. A waterproofing system is a significant cost in a bathroom remodel. Waterproofing system’s typically offer a lifetime guarantee and are manufactured to be flawless, and the price reflects this.
  • Shower valves are a highly engineered component, made of solid metal with delicate internals. Shower valves can cost a couple hundred dollars alone, with especially high prices when selecting one that diverts water to a hand-held shower wand and/or body jets.
  • Vanities, especially higher quality custom pieces, can utilize a fair amount of your budget. A vanity is a fine piece of cabinetry, built to withstand moisture and deliver aesthetic appeal. The skilled trade and wood required to create vanities results in a not-so-cheap price.
  • Shower glass is another item that I find to be expensive. It is a costly endeavor to manufacture and distribute such a fragile item. Manufacturers must incorporate a glass-breakage risk premium into their prices to cover breakage and staff expenses to resolve disputes with shipping companies.
A hallway bathroom remodel of ours, which was in the $20,000s.
A hallway bathroom remodel of ours.

Installation Cost of Remodeling

By far the most expensive part of remodeling is the cost of labor. It is extremely rare to find reliable skilled tradespeople that stand by their work and will listen to feedback if things are not as they should be. I could speak on the many horror stories I’ve experienced within this industry, but I’ll spare you from it.

I pay my installers at a rate of over $100,000 per year, and they deserve every penny. Many people look down upon blue collar, skilled tradespeople but the work that they do is significant and requires finesse and years of experience. I require at least ten years of experience from my installers, but I also have an intense focus on quality.

Below is a list of every skilled tradesperson required to complete a bathroom remodel:

  • Rough carpenter
  • Finish carpenter
  • Tiler
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Drywaller
  • Glaziers
  • Tuck-pointers, occasionally.

Each of these tradespeople have expensive tools, decades of experience, and work trucks required to haul debris and said tools. Perhaps now you are beginning to see why bathroom remodeling can be so expensive.

Design Labor Cost of Remodeling

As you just saw, many trades are involved in bathroom remodeling. One of my jobs is to ensure that these tradespeople have the necessary blueprints and supervision required to successfully execute the bathroom remodel.

Additionally, I utilize professional (and expensive) design software to create the plans that you and I will review during the design process. These plans are required by the city to obtain building permits, yet another facet of my job as designer and general contractor.

It goes without saying that I must charge for the time spent designing, supervising installers, and navigating the complex permit process, as I’m not too keen on working for free. However, as mentioned earlier, I can procure materials at a 50.5% discount, which creates buffer room for my fees and markups.

When you combine the material, labor, and design cost involved in a bathroom remodel, you can see how bathroom remodels can be so expensive.

A white, beige, and green bathroom featuring a curbless shower and linear drain.

How Bathroom Remodeling Cost Varies By Company

In case you didn’t know, all businesses factor their expenses into the sales price of their products or services. That’s right, even the indirect expenses separate from materials, such as labor, rent, and company car payments and gas expenditure. If they didn’t the business would quickly go under as it would no longer be financially solvent.

This means that a company with larger expenses (overhead) will have to maintain either a higher sales volume, and/or a higher sales price.

While it’s possible to obtain economies of scale in some businesses, such as manufacturing, the residential remodeling industry doesn’t exactly offer this luxury. You cannot mass-produce a custom tailored design and install.

What I’m trying to say is, the larger the remodeling firm with which you work, the higher the sales price is likely to be. This is not always the case if the remodeling firm is a well-oiled machine and is able to spit out the volume required to maintain their large overhead.

Further, a company that is able to obtain labor and/or materials at cheaper prices is also able to pass along those savings to their clients (unless they would rather retain those savings as profit, which they likely will).

Choosing a remodeling firm to work with is a hard endeavor. I recommend having three to four firms out to give you design advice alongside estimates. From there, you can select which firm you feel most comfortable patronizing.

What some of my competitors charge is outrageous, and can frankly be classified as price-gouging. I recently had a client receive a $45,000 estimate for their 5×7 hallway bathroom. I could perform that same bathroom remodel for $23,000. I believe that this boils down to salesperson greed.

How to Save Money on Your Bathroom Remodel

The most effective way to save money on your bathroom remodel is to perform the labor yourself.

If you wish to perform a permitted bathroom remodel (which is necessary when changing electrical, plumbing, or performing waterproofing), then you will need to submit design drawings to your city.

You may choose to perform your own bathroom remodel without permits. There are a few ways this can come back to haunt you, but you may choose to proceed anyways (I cast no judgment):

  1. If a city inspector catches you mid-remodel, you will have to pay a small fine (depends on city/county), and potentially tear out your work.
  2. Homeowner’s insurance may not cover damages to non-permitted work.
  3. Future home buyers may be dissuaded from purchasing due to lack of permits.

I recommend consulting with a contractor in order to obtain permit design drawings, obtain a no-obligation quote, and to potentially take advantage of their dealer-status product discounts.

As we discussed earlier, larger companies have more overhead, which increases the probability of a larger sales price. It is in your best interest to receive multiple quotes from both small and large remodeling companies. Doing so will allow you to select a firm that fits within your financial objectives.

Remember: good work ain’t cheap, and cheap work ain’t good.

It’s Getting Late, Let’s Conclude

We discussed how remodeling is an investment, and how several components make up the sales price of a remodel. Remodeling requires the work of several skilled trades, which drives up the price. Further, designing a bathroom and the materials involved also contribute to the pricey nature of bathroom remodeling.

Larger companies may not offer the best pricing, so it is good to obtain several quotes from a mixture of companies. Of course, performing the labor yourself will save you thousands.

I hope that I have thoroughly addressed your questions. I wish you the best of luck with your remodeling project, and if you live in St. Louis, MO, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

About the Author

Thomas Borcherding is a professional kitchen & bath designer, and a member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). He is the second-generation owner of Homestar Design Remodel, and takes great joy in providing those in St. Louis with high-quality, affordable home remodeling.