Upgrading a bathroom is the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it activity. Some people enjoy meandering through a showroom making dozens of decisions about faucets and shower pans.
Others (like me) loathe every minute. I speak from experience, as my wife and I are in the midst of a bathroom renovation.
It’s overwhelming. Sinks and surfaces all look clean and shiny when new. But after a few months of use, the water spots, rust-hued mineral deposits and moldy caulking spoil the fun.
Even if you keep your bathroom spotless, you’ll spend many thousands of dollars on tubs, tiles and vanities. How can you choose the right product to fit your needs? And how do you know you’re getting a good deal?
Let’s assume you’re a do-it-yourself type, so you don’t hire a professional designer to guide you through the process. That means you’ll need to do some self-study to get familiar with what you’re up against.
Start by perusing sites such as Houzz and Instagram to get ideas and inspiration. On Pinterest, it’s easy to shop for specific products that come with tags.
Given the physical exertion of walking around a showroom for an hour or more (to combat fatigue, I kept thinking about my next meal), virtual showrooms are easier on the feet. Examples include Pirch and Ferguson, says Tricia Zach, head of research at the National Kitchen & Bath Association in Hackettstown, N.J.
“Once you know what you’re looking for, you can go to the manufacturer’s website,” she said. “Many manufacturers have multiple [product] lines or brands,” so sussing out differences in cost and quality among the luxury, mid-level and budget offerings makes you a more educated consumer.
Use their online search tools that prompt you to specify the material, finish and style you prefer. This alone is a worthwhile exercise: You’ll need to make these decisions eventually, so you might as well start early.
Yes, online research takes time. But if you stroll through a showroom—perhaps the one your contractor recommends—your choices are limited to whatever products that particular business carries.
Even within the vast confines of a massive showroom, there’s only so much room for displays that you can see and touch. Yet just when you’re about to collapse from the weight of all the choices that surround you, the salesperson may compound your early-onset headache by plopping dozens of thick catalogs on a table for you to flip through.
That’s why doing your homework in advance helps narrow your focus and preserve your sanity.
To assess quality, pay special attention to the material. Faucets with lots of metal or ceramic parts are better than those made of plastic, says Leslie Eiler, design manager at Seattle-based CRD Design Build.
“Some tubs are made of fiberglass, which I think is better than acrylic,” Eiler said. “If it’s cast iron, can you get it into your house? We’ve had to lift it through a window,” and then there’s the issue of whether your floor can withstand the weight.
Eiler also cautions against choosing acrylic shower pans, which she says can be soft, easily scratched and at risk of turning yellow over time. She prefers fiberglass.
In addition to choosing the right material, consider your short- and long-term goal. Unless you’re planning to sell your home soon, little remodeling details will remain with you for a long time, which makes them big details.
Both Zach and Eiler emphasize the value of “universal design”—a concept that promotes accessibility for a wide range of people of varying ages and needs.
Integrating safety features into your bathroom upgrade doesn’t have to add significant cost or compromise the aesthetics. Nonslip shower and tub surfaces, strategically placed grab bars (that double as towel bars) and a single-handle faucet (easier for individuals with arthritis or limited mobility—or to prevent kids from scalding themselves by accidentally turning on hot water) can make sense.
If you’re always on the lookout for a good deal, you won’t find this kind of shopping particularly satisfying. A salesperson in a showroom will tally the cost of the items you choose—and perhaps indicate the difference in price between two tiers of quality—but it’s not like you can price-shop with ease.
It’s possible to jot down the model number of a specific product and then search online to try to buy it cheaper. But that entails risk.
“You can get burned,” Zach said. “There’s fraud out there.”
If you possess boundless energy, visit a competitor’s showroom, devote another chunk of time to inspect shower heads and light fixtures and ask the salesperson to itemize the cost of what you’ve selected.
“Different showrooms have different brands,” Zach said. “Still, it’s hard to price-compare” because you’ll rarely pit two identical products against each other.