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Bathroom Remodel: 12 Things to Know and 5 Costly Mistakes to Avoid

Updated: Apr 16

Planning a bathroom renovation can be an exciting but complex process. Although the bathroom is a small space compared to the rest of the home, it is easily the most elaborate project to tackle, one that requires a keen eye, attention to detail, a thorough understanding of the applicable codes and years of experience in avoiding costly mistakes. We are excited to have launched our Fast Track Design-Build Bathroom Renovation program, in collaboration with our trusted General Contractor, Noble Builder as a way to make design affordable and accessible to everyone. You can read more about it here.

That being said, we are fully aware that some of you may already have a design team or have decided to brave it alone. Having heard our fair share of horror stories ranging from tiles cracking and popping off the wall a week after install, to flooding, to unusable layouts we decided to put together step-by-step guide that is intended to help you wherever you are in your process.

bathroom remodel blue tile tile mosaic herringbone wood vanity

Modern Minimalism with Kids by AHD

Bathroom Remodel Process

1. Define your goals

Start by clearly defining your bathroom renovation goals. Determine what you want to achieve with the renovation, such as improving functionality, increasing storage space, updating the style, or enhancing energy efficiency.

rose pink blush bathroom white vanity with cabinets and open shelf below
Urban Haven Dream Home

2. Set a Budget

Determine your budget for the bathroom renovation. This will help guide your decisions throughout the planning process and ensure you stay within your financial limits.

3. Gather Inspiration

Browse through home improvement magazines, websites, and social media platforms to gather inspiration for your new bathroom design. Create a mood board or save images that resonate with your desired style and features. You will want to set a tone for your design and keep your design decisions on point. Our blog How to Create a Room That Tells a Story will help you get this step right.

colorful Master bathroom with maroccan spanish tile, floating walnut vanity, black river rock shower floor
From Spain to Turkey

4. Assess the Existing Space

Evaluate your current bathroom layout and take measurements of the space. Consider the location of existing plumbing lines, electrical outlets, and windows, as these factors may influence your renovation plans.

5. Understand the Code Requirements & Create a Floor Plan

Unless you are replacing in kind, meaning not moving any fixtures around and simply swapping them out and changing out the finishes, your bathroom renovation may require a building permit. When planning out the layout of your bathroom, nothing is more important than making sure that you are following the applicable local codes as well as the building code related to the bathroom design. At times there are two sets of codes that your municipality may have adopted that deal with the design of the bathroom, make sure you follow the most stringent one when laying out your space. If required, you will need to hire a licensed design professional to create a set of permit drawings.

bathroom layout per code

6. Waterproofing

Make sure you hire a professional to install the waterproofing and caulking. An incorrect installation can cause a huge cost in repairs from moisture damage down the road. Waterproofing must be installed on the floor (shower pan surface) and up the walls. The shower floor must drain at least 1/4″ per foot towards the drain.

7. Finishes

To ensure a flawless installation, your General Contractor will require that you provide drawings showing how the finishes will be installed: the location of the grout lines, the direction of the pattern / grain, the height of your accessories and light fixtures, etc.

If your installer DID NOT ask for these drawings, I recommend that you brace yourself for tile installed the wrong direction or pattern, grout lines that do not align, tile cut down to remnants to complete walls, etc. and you will not have any recourse on requesting for the work to be corrected. Construction Drawings are contractual documents and the installers are legally bound to following them when provided. If work is installed incorrectly, you will have the right to request

bathroom elevations

Forever by the Lake

bathroom layout

A Zen Lake House Retreat

It is important to choose impermeable finishes for your bathroom renovation in order to minimize water damage, stains, mold and mildew developing in your bathroom and also think about how the finishes will be installed.

Here are some finishes that we recommend:

Natural Stone

Although this is not an impermeable material, you can successfully use natural stone by sealing it with a quality sealer. After loads of trial and error and research, we discovered Stonetech Bulletproof by Laticrete and specify all natural stone to be sealed with this product and countertops to be sealed 3 times.

master bathroom free standing tub rain shower

Urban Haven Dream Home

Manmade Quartz Stone

This material is very resilient, it does not stain, it is durable and you can use light colors and have peace of mind that you will not need to replace this for many years.

bathroom remodel blue tile vanity

Enchanted Forest Maisonette

Porcelain / Ceramic Tile

Porcelain and ceramic tiles offer numerous benefits when used in various applications, such as flooring, walls, and countertops. These materials are durable, water resistant, versatile and easy to use.

Porcelain slabs are increasingly being used as countertops due to their resiliency and stone manufacturers are coming out with countless new designs for every aesthetic.

bathroom remodel vanity backlit mirror 3d tile

Forever by the Lake

Glass Tile

Although we do occasionally use this material , it is one of my least preferred materials to be used in shower or tub areas as it requires flawless installation including soft joints, anti-fracture mambrane, correct thinset and sizes no larger than 3"x6". Glass and dramatic changes in temperatures are a bad mix. Glass needs lots of room to move, or else it will crack!

Our Urban Haven Dream Home guest bathroom in the lower level features a glass mosaic tile on the tub wall, incorporating various Indian motifs. Since we wanted to incorporate artwork and memorabilia that the family had collected from their travels to India on this floor, this tile was well worth the extra attention to detail in the installation.

black and white bathroom wood vanity mosaic accent wall gold and black, hex tilek

Urban Haven Dream Home


In a full bathroom, select a wallcovering that is impermeable like a vinyl or water resistant. In a Powder Room where you are unlikely to have steam and moisture, you can use almost any high grade wallpaper.

asian inspired bathroom design, marble bathroom, mosaic tile tub surround, mixed metals

Adler on the Park Showhouse


Your contractor will encourage you to use satin, semi-gloss, or glossy finish with a mildew-resistant additive and they are not wrong to do so. However, to get the designer look, you will want to keep sheen to a minimum (unless you are going for the lacquered look) and luckily there are now products on the market that will allow you to get the flat or matte finish while providing a washable, mold and mildew-resistant finish. Here are our favorites:

For best results, don't forget to clean and prime walls!

kids bathroom design, wood vanity, bathroom with tub

Urban Haven Dream Home by AHD

8. Lighting

The ALA recommends a minimum value of approximately 1600 lumens for vanity lighting (for reference, one 60-watt incandescent bulb yields about 800 lumens on its own), although there is one important consideration that can alter this number: If the fixture you choose has an integrated LED light source, the added efficiency means you can get the same effect with a lower output (down to 1200 lumens) so bear that in mind when selecting lighting fixtures. Alternately, go for the higher end of lumen output and install dimmable fixtures on their own switch, so anyone can control the light level as needed. In some jurisdictions, lighting fixtures within 6 feet of a bathtub or shower must be wet rated. This is a safe rule of thumb for bathroom lighting, although most well-ventilated bathrooms are not considered wet environments.

Color temperature is rated on the Kelvin scale and refers to how warm or cool light appears (warmest being firelight, coolest being blue light). For most indoor applications, LED lighting should be about 2700K to 3000K, and not over 3500K. This is the closest rating to a standard incandescent light bulb, which our eyes are accustomed to.

vanity, 3d tile, backlit mirror, bathroom remodel, wood flat front cabinets

Castaway by AHD

Types of Lighting

For the best experience, you will want to provide 3 light sources for your bathroom renovation in order to be able to adapt the space to the use:

Ambient Lighting

This type of lighting should provide glare-free, general illumination in a space. Depending on the time of the day or the amount of light coming inside, you can build upon natural sunlight with soft ceiling, floor and wall lighting.

The best way to categorize the brightness of a lightbulb is by its lumens. Lumens are the measure of the total amount of visible light from a lamp or light source. As a general rule of thumb, it takes 20 lumens per square foot to create adequate ambient lighting. A typical bathroom size is 8'x5'=40sf so we will need 40x20=800 lumens for ambient lighting in the bathroom.

Task Lighting: pendants

This type of lighting provides the proper level of focused, bright illumination required to perform a specific activity without strain. Measure the square footage of your task area (countertop) and multiply it by 50 to find your minimum lumen level for adequate task lighting.

Accent Lighting: wall sconces, backlit mirrors

As a general rule, accent lighting should be three times brighter than the surrounding ambient lighting for maximum impact.

We love backlit mirrors as they provide a minimalist contemporary aesthetic while providing lighting is the most flattering: perpendicular to the face. Overhead vanity lights and ceiling lights create shadows below the eyes and give the appearance of more dramatic features. Alternatively, you can use sconces located at 65" from the floor to the light bulb location to obtain a similar effect. Head over to our Design Faux Pas to Avoid At All Cost to learn more about how to use lighting design as a means of elevating your space.

Lighting Checklist

- [ ] face / task lighting: 1600 lumens

- [ ] ambient / mood lighting: 20 lumens x SF of bathroom per

- [ ] Overall, plan to have 50-75 lumens per square foot in a bathroom from all of the various fixtures. For example, a small bathroom that is 5 feet by 8 feet (40 square feet) would require 2,000-3,000 lumens (50-75 lumens per square foot).

- [ ] fan light: in the shower and toilet enclosure

9. Where to Cut the Budget

Consider if you really need that shower door. By installing a rain-shower that drops water vertically and not at an angle, you would be able to contain the water in the area that you shower and get away with a partial shower panel versus a full enclosure. By eliminating the need for a swinging door you can create a more open and airy feeling in the bathroom.

Mediterranean bathroom design, floating vanity, bold tile design

Mediterranean Flair by AHD

Unless surfaces are directly exposed to water, you can get away with limiting the tile install to your shower area and using paint on the rest of the wall surfaces and using other materials on the floor, such as wood, concrete or luxury vinyl tile.

10. Where to Splurge

Consider outfitting your vanity with at least one outlet in a drawer. This is a wonderful detail for housing a hairdryer and eliminating the need for chords hanging from the wall.

We love using built-in niches, big enough to house the products that you use on a daily basis. This way you can avoid unsightly wire racks hanging from the shower head or products left on the floor creating soap scum. I always use a flat quartz or tile as the shelf area of the niche to avoid mold in the grout lines from water dripping from the products.

shower niche, tub niche, tile design, bathroom remodel

Enchanted Forest Maisonette by AHD

We recommend installing a solid surface quartz on the curb of the shower to create one grout-free uninterrupted plane between the main bathroom area and the shower. This provides durability and ease of maintenance, as well as an upgraded aesthetic.

herringbone tile, rain shower, bathroom design

Modern Minimalism with Kids by AHD

11. From Great to Luxurious

We love a textured natural floor in the shower! It wakes up the senses by massaging the soles of your feet and creates a pleasant spa-like experience. I love to use natural stone mosaics such as river rocks, marble or stone on shower floors. The small format is also easy to work with in creating proper drainage in the shower in order to avoid flat areas where water may pool. This is a rare win win aesthetically as well as functionally.

shower enclosure, built-in bench, rain shower, mosaic tile, wood look tile

Castaway by AHD

We love using natural stone for areas that are close to touch such as countertops, shower floors, even backsplashes and walls. Carefully selected marbles such as Olympian Danby, granite, quartzite are some of the less porous natural stones that are quite resilient. They provide a luxurious aesthetic and they can be priced similarly to a manmade quartz. Don't forget to seal all your natural stone after installation! When using marble on countertop applications we triple-seal them with STONETECH® BulletProof® Sealer. Take a peak at our Zen Beach House Retreat: The Power of Design to see how we incorporated natural stone in the design of all the bathrooms throughout the home.

We also love 3-dimensional tile that are textural and engage the senses. A 3-dimensional wave or dune pattern is very fluid and calming and can create a relaxing haven environment. The vanity lighting can play a key role in enhancing the 3D effect of the tile when paired correctly.

wood vanity, backlit mirror, marble tile, 3d tile, powder room design

Castaway by AHD

Using natural veneer for your bathroom vanity will create a more luxurious design, however for a more resilient finish, we love using Treefrog Veneers, which blend the beauty of real wood veneers with the durability of laminates.

master bathroom design, wood veneer flat front cabinets, backlit mirror, ann sacks tile mosaic

Castaway by AHD

Floating vanities with lighting below create a sense of openness and lightness in the bathroom. Floating vanities require adequate structural support from the wall, water supply and drainage. For more information on considerations for a floating vanity install check out this article.

floating vanity with lighting, backlit mirror, wall-mounted  faucet

Forever by the Lake by AHD

Mixing Metals

The days of matching the same metal color for lighting, cabinet hardware and plumbing are over. You can create a more layered and richer aesthetic by mixing metals. This might sound intimidating however you can follow this simple recipe: select a dominant metal finish for the room and coordinate accent metals with that. Aim for a 70/30 ratio, where the dominant metal choice is on 70 percent of the lighting, accessories, hardware and plumbing, and add one other metallic colors to make up 30 percent of the accent choices.

Many lighting manufacturers offer fixtures that blend two different metal finish colors. Incorporating one of these fixtures is a great way to tie in the metal combination in the rest of the bathroom.

Make sure to choose contrasting tones. For example, try black plus gold or silver, or chrome plus gold. Using metals that look too much alike gives a dated look – one that seems like a mistake.

wood vanity, blue tile mosaic, vanity light, silver and gold fixtures

Enchanted Forest Maisonette by AHD

Consider a curbless shower if you are going for a high end aesthetic or is you have a a smaller bathroom. A cubless shower will make the bathroom feel roomier as it eliminates the divide between the shower and the rest of the bathroom however it will require that you treat your entire bathroom as a wet room therefore the entire bathroom will need to be waterproofed and the entire floor will need to be able to slope towards the drain.

curbless shower, rain shower, gold plumbing fixtures, marble bathroom, scandinavian bathroom design, modern bath

Scandi-Modern by AHD

12. Common Mistakes

With such a technical project on your hands, there are many things that can go wrong. Here are a few common mistakes and how to avoid them:

1. Coordinate the size of your vanity mirror with any lighting to be installed above or sconces on the either side. The electrician will need to know exactly where to place the j-boxes in order to clear your mirror. We typically tile the wall behind the sink or provide a waterproof wallcovering. Once the j-box has been located in the tile or wallcovering you will not be able to change this without ripping out all the wall finish.

In our Modern Minimalism with Kids project we had planned for a beautiful arched mirror with a shelf to go over the vanity. Even though it was clearly stated on our construction documents that the J-box for the vanity light needed to be relocated, the tile went up before the electrician was on site and this was missed. To avoid any further delays, we selected a new mirror to fit the space and found a new use for the arched mirror. This was a happy accident in our case as wel love the final design and would not change a thing.

master bathroom with calcutta quartz countertop and peach pink rose pastel color walls mixed metals sconces above mirrorrs

Urban Haven Dream Home

2. Request for all grout joints to be sealed! Though this is always specified on our construction drawings, I found that I need to personally remind the GC/ installer to complete this step on every project.

3. Save time and money by knowing what type of plumbing you have and what type of valves you’ll need before ordering faucets and shower systems. ½-inch copper plumbing is standard, but your home may have a different size or material. The visible plumbing under the bathroom sink is a good indicator, but your contractor will be able to advise you exactly which valves, connections, and fixtures to order.

4. Tearing out walls and moving plumbing can be a major expense. When planning your remodel, consider the size and footprint of your existing bathroom and where the utilities are located.

5. If you are switching manufacturers for your faucet or shower head keep in mind that the valve trim kits might not match. You may have luck by staying within a certain manufacturer, but for the most part trying to swap a trim kit onto an existing valve may or may not work. And it's more likely to not work than to work.

Are you contemplating a bathroom renovation? Tell us about your biggest challenges that you are running into! Did we leave anything out that you think should be added to the list?

And if you would like our help in making this a smooth and painless process, please reach out. Bathroom renos are our favorite projects!

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