small bathroom with toilet, shower, and pedestal sink

Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Renos 4 Pros and Joes and Bathroom Update Guide

I’m sitting here at my house looking at this old outdated bathroom with pink tile everywhere. And because I’m a contractor, my family and friends always think that if I do a bathroom remodeling project at my own house, that it will be SUPER easy and fast because I do these type of projects regularly for others. However, what they don’t realize is that many of the same challenges that arise on a clients bathroom remodel can also occur on my project. This caused me to stop for a moment and ask myself “What’s the hardest part of a Bathroom Remodel?”


 The hardest parts of a bathroom remodel are knowing where to start, planning and performing demolition, minimizing dust, visualizing the finish line, living with the inconvenience of not being able to use that bathroom, and managing the schedule. That’s the quick answer. Now let’s discuss each of these challenges in more detail.


Knowing Where to Start Your Bathroom Plan

You have to know where to start planning in order to begin to budget for your project. You have to know what materials will be required and how much of each material will be required. Only once you know this can you begin to shop and develop a budget.


Many people make the mistake of waiting until they need the materials before they start shopping. This can really come back to bite you and can also blow the budget. Especially on finish items like tile. You may have budgeted $2 a square foot for tile, but the tile that you finally decide on is actually $6 a square foot.


Depending on how many square feet you will need this could result in a large cost overrun. Or perhaps you decide that you want to add accent tiles, which almost always cost more than regular tiles.


If you are doing the project yourself you will also need to know all of the little things that will be required to complete the job that. And when I say little things, I’m referring to the items that are necessary for the bathroom to properly function but don’t add anything to the look of the space. Examples include faucet supply hoses, shutoff valves, p-traps, and wood or plastic shims. If you’re working with a contractor they will likely handle most if not all of these items or at least keep you on the right track.


Bathroom Remodel Demolition

Perhaps the most physically difficult aspect of a remodel is demolition. There are a few reasons why it’s so difficult.


What to save and what to discard?

Before you physically begin demolition you have to be able to make some decisions on the front end regarding what you plan to keep and what you plan to discard. And that plan has to be flexible. There’s always the chance that you will begin demolition and discover that the components that you hoped to save are not salvageable.


Where will the trash go?

Discarding demolition waste is another bathroom remodeling factor that can make things difficult if it’s overlooked. Before you get started with your project you need to have a clear plan of how you’re going to get your demolition trash out of the property and how you will get it off-site.

As a general rule, construction waste will not be picked up by the local garbage truck. There are even some landfills that will not accept construction waste. You need to evaluate your options on the front end and decide if you will rent a dumpster or if you can use a  trailer to haul the trash to the dump.

If the bathroom that you are demolitions currently has tile floors and walls then your bathroom demolition waste is going to have lots of sharp and heavy objects  This type of trash can easily damage automobile paint. So if you’re going to haul the trash on the back of a pickup you need to be very careful. If you have an SUV you need to think long and hard about whether or not you really want to haul it in your vehicle.


How is the bathroom space put together?

Another reason why demolition can be difficult is that in order to start you really need to have a basic understanding of how the room is constructed. You need to know what’s behind the walls or at least be able to anticipate it.


There are other aspects of the project that you must always keep in mind during demolition. If you are demolishing a space that was recently in use then you have to plan for and work around the existing electrical wiring, plumbing and framing. There are other considerations to keep in mind but these are the three big ones.


How long is this going to take and how hard is it going to be?

Television has done a great job of making everyone think what all you need to do is grab a sledgehammer and start swinging and then after a few minutes of work and a commercial break the demolitions is done. This could not be further from the truth.

If you are in a newer property demolition can go much easier and faster because the building materials that have been used for the last 30 years or more are a lot less permanent than the materials used in earlier times. With that said an older bathroom is going to take a lot longer to demolish and it’s going to be a lot more work.

Really old bathrooms come with plaster walls, 2-inch thick mortar, cast-iron tubs and 1 by 6 subfloors.  It takes a lot of effort to demolish each one of these building components individually but for this project, you’re going to have to demolish all of them at the same time or one after another. You better eat your Wheaties….


Preparing for dust

Another difficult aspect of a bathroom remodel (not just demolition) is controlling dust. If you look up remodeling and construction in the dictionary, one of the definitions should read “the act of creating dust.” Many first time remodelers just jump right into the project without doing any type of preparation. This is a mistake especially if you were working in an occupied space. When you start doing demolition work in the bathroom, dust will spread to every crack and corner of the entire property if you don’t take the proper precautions up front. And the dust management should continue throughout the entire remodeling process, as nearly every task associated with the project will create some dust. 

At a minimum, you need to tape off vents, turn off heat and air systems, seal off doorways. You also need to have a designated path that you will use to enter and exit the work site. You also need to have your path covered in plastic or Builders paper or something to limit the wear and tear on the floors and minimize dust and simplify clean up.


Knowing what tools you will need

For demolition, you typically will need more tools than just a big Sledgehammer. You will need screwdrivers for outlets and switch plate covers. Crowbars and pry bars, as well as hand-held hammers, can be invaluable tools. You may also need a reciprocating saw and circular saw. You will also need pliers or a wrench uninstall any plumbing fixtures.


What to save and what to keep? Where to stop?

Earlier I mentioned the importance of knowing what you plan to keep and what you plan to discard. There is another similar decision that also must be made. You have to know what building components need to be demolished and replaced before you begin reconstruction and which materials can remain.

You will have to make judgment calls on things like studs in walls broken or cracked floor joists,  water damaged subfloor, termite damage, and wood rot. any outstanding issues relating to any of the items just listed must be addressed before any construction work begins.


Seeing the finish line after demolition is complete

Another difficult aspect of a bathroom remodel Is being able to see the finish line. the project becomes real to many people once they get well into the demolition phase. It’s normal to begin to wonder how on earth you are going to put your bathroom back together. This is even more so the case if you’re doing a complete gut remodel where you’ve taken everything out of the bathroom down to the studs and ceiling joists and floor joists.  Once you get to this stage you have to be able to trust the construction process and learn the order in which the tasks should be completed in order to put the space back together.


Plan to be inconvenienced

Another aspect of a bathroom remodel that catches many people off guard is the loss of convenience and discomfort from the loss of use of the bathroom. This is normal and it goes along with any major remodeling project especially if you are living in the space while the remodel is underway. Focus on the finish line and manage the project diligently and you’ll be at the finish line in no time. If you are remodeling the only bathroom in the house, you need to have a plan A, B, and C for where you can go to take a hot shower. And if you can, it would be smart to budget for at least a few nights at a hotel for the sake of your sanity. 



Another unforeseen difficulty that comes with bathroom remodeling is scheduling subcontractors. If there is a lot of construction going on in your area then subcontractors are probably going to be hard to schedule. You need to plan for this on the front end. Don’t create a rigid schedule that you won’t be able to stick to and will have to constantly change. And don’t forget to plan for bad weather.