Ready to refresh your tired bathroom? We take a look at some of the most common bathroom update ideas and help you decide whether you can tackle them on your own.

By Kathy Barnes

Dated bathroom giving you the blues? There are many ways to breathe new life into one of the most important and practical rooms in your home. Many of these bathroom update ideas can be done on your own. Doing the work yourself can dramatically cut costs, but are these tasks suited to most homeowners' skills? We asked an expert to weigh the pros and cons of DIYing these bathroom renovations.

1. Replacing a Toilet

Most people don't know how to replace a toilet. But, upgrading from an old, ugly commode to a high-efficiency, comfort-height design is easy enough for most homeowners to tackle themselves. The process involves turning off the water supply to the toilet, removing the nuts and bolts, attaching the toilet to the supply line and to the floor, hauling away the old toilet, and then replacing the wax gasket and toilet flange. Finally, the DIYer (or pro!) fastens the new bowl in place on the floor with nuts and caulk, secures the tank and lid to the bowl, and reconnects the water line.

Potential problems include dripping water through the house when hauling out the old toilet, or failing to make the new toilet level, causing it to move under weight. Even worse, incorrect installation of the wax ring, flange, or bolts can cause water damage. "If you don't do it right, you're definitely going to have a leak," says Andy Blum, owner of Blum Remodeling Services in Jacksonville, North Carolina. "Then you'll have to have someone come in and fix it, and it won't have been worth the trouble of doing it yourself."

Bottom line: While the process may seem straight-forward, it's better to leave toilet installs to a professional to avoid risks of leakage or irreversible damage. Replacing the toilet seat can be a simple and easy update if you're not ready to replace the whole unit.

2. Installing a Shower Surround

Giving a shower stall a facelift with a prefabricated shower surround is a practical solution for DIYers. Typically made from fiberglass or acrylic, these units cover the three walls above the tub and may include tile-look walls and shelves. Here's how to replace a shower surround.

To install, you must remove everything from the existing shower and repair any damaged spots on the walls. Using the surround's carton as a template, mark off the locations of the plumbing and other items that will protrude through the wall. Transfer these markings onto the surround and cut out the holes with a jigsaw. Cut the panels to fit the wall and attach them using adhesive. Replace the plumbing fixtures and other hardware. Seal the joints with caulk. 

Bottom line: When it comes to basic three-piece surrounds, "there's no reason a homeowner couldn't do the work, but you'll need a whole lot of patience," Blum says. However, he recommends hiring a professional to install a tub-shower combo unit, a higher-end solution that covers the tub with a deck that's topped by a more intricate surround. Glass doors are also best left to the pros.

3. Changing Out a Vanity

One of the best ways to totally transform a bathroom is replacing the vanity, which is the centerpiece of most floor plans. Replacing a pedestal bathroom sink for another of the same size is likely doable for handy homeowners. Going from a bulky vanity cabinet to a sleek pedestal or upgrading from a single sink to a double vanity, however, is far more complicated.

For a simple, same-size vanity swap, you'll need to shut off and disconnect the water lines, and remove the old countertop and cabinet. To install the new unit, find the studs and position the cabinet, install the faucet, attach the cabinet to the wall, secure the top in place, and reconnect the plumbing. Another simple switch is installing an above-counter or self-rimming bathroom sink for a fresh look.

Bottom line: If you're swapping one vanity for another of the same size, go for it. For other upgrades, however, call a contractor. "Anything that involves opening the wall and moving plumbing should only be done by someone very experienced," Blum says. "If the plumbing is not right, you'll have big problems."

4. Updating Bathroom Wall Coverings

The quickest way to transform the look of a bathroom is to change the walls. Whatever wall treatment you choose, remember that a bathroom wallcovering must stand up to heat, moisture, and frequent cleaning. Mixing and matching materials for their strengths in different areas works well in this type of space.

Painting bathrooms is the cheapest and simplest wall covering option. It can also be easily paired with a partially-tiled wall or wood paneling. If using wallpaper, look for a paper that will not get damaged or peel away with moisture, and can easily be wiped down.

Bottom line: Most bathroom wall options are simple enough to tackle on your own and have it still look like a professional did it. The only option that poses challenges to detail and patience is wall tiling, especially when it comes to non-geometric shaped tiles.

5. Replacing Bathroom Flooring

Replacing bathroom tile with new tile or a different material can give a bathroom a whole new look. When choosing bathroom flooring, remember that the bath is the site of heavy traffic and the occasional tub overflow. Look for a durable material that is both beautiful and slip-resistant.

Tile and vinyl are popular and durable options for bathroom flooring. Both options can be self-installed with patience and care. Vinyl tiling is simpler than sheet vinyl, which should be left up to the pros. If choosing tile, be mindful of texture and how slippery the material is when wet. 

Bottom line: If you have the attention to detail and patience to tile an entire bathroom floor, you can do this on your own. If you are working with marble tile, check with a professional first to make sure your floors can bear the weight. Vinyl tile flooring can be done in a weekend, but leave sheeted vinyl flooring to a pro.


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