Bathrooms are where we go to pamper ourselves, which explains why 36 percent of remodelers in our survey wish they had splurged on tubs and showers, flooring, or tile work. Be smart about where to save—so you can indulge in fixtures and finishes you’ll love for the long haul.


As with kitchen renovations, the biggest costs come when you relocate important fixtures. Moving toilets, sinks, and showers requires that workers tear out subfloors and walls to access pipes. “Moving the toilet just 1 foot can cost $1,000,” says Robert Degni, a contractor in New York City. If you only need a slight shift—because, say, you’re hoping to squeeze in a double vanity—Degni suggests using an offset flange, a $10 fix that allows you to move the toilet a few precious inches in any direction without extensive plumbing work.

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One extravagant addition that doesn’t have to break the bank? Heated floors. Just make this call early and know that it might affect your flooring options. Installing electric radiant-heat mats, rather than hydronic (water-filled) lines, can save up to $8,000. But unlike most hydronic systems, underfloor mats aren’t compatible with all solid hardwood. Adding radiant electric heat costs roughly $11 per square foot of open flooring. Plan on an hour of labor for an electrician to connect the mats and thermostat to a circuit.


Before you begin shopping for tile, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the lingo you’ll find on the packaging labels. Make sure any tile you’re considering for flooring is available in grade 1 or 2, the most durable. (Grade 3, which tends to be thinner, is suitable only for walls.) Water absorption is another important spec—the lower the number, the less water can seep through. For flooring you want tile with a rating of less than 7 percent, and 3 percent or less for shower floors.

Next, note the coefficient of friction rating, which conveys slip resistance; you’ll need a COF of 0.60 or higher for floor tile. “If you want wood floors, prefinished options hold up to water well in our tests, but save it for a half bath,” says CR flooring test engineer Joan Muratore. “For full bathrooms, where flooring can become soaked by water from the shower, tile is still preferable.” Wood-look porcelain options provide the look and wear better, too.

As for the ceiling and walls, don’t waste money on bath-specific paint. Our testing reveals that any interior paint with good scores in mildew resistance, such as Behr Premium Plus enamel, holds up well. At $28 per gallon, it’s over $40 less per can than premium bath-specific paints. Choose satin finish, or semigloss if you don’t mind the sheen—either will withstand periodic scrubbings.


If you have a dingy cast-iron tub, reglazing the surface can give it new life for a few hundred dollars. Replacing it with a soaker tub could cost $500 to $1,000 for the tub itself, plus hundreds more for installation. No space for a separate tub and shower? Don’t blow out a wall for the sake of keeping both. Go ahead and install that stand-alone shower in the master suite, but if and when you put the house on the market, having at least one tub is important for resale value.

“Double vanities are all but essential now,” Ludeman says. “Put one to work in master suites or Jack-and-Jill baths for kids.” These double units tend to run up to $500 more than single vanities, though the cost of installing the larger fixture is only slightly higher. In tighter quarters, consider a wide trough sink and two wall-mounted faucets.

Don’t get too caught up with toilet features—look to our toilet ratings. A toilet that flushes well will pay for itself if it spares you the need to call a plumber even once to free a clog, says John Banta, CR’s test engineer for toilets. Unless you opt for a space-saving wall-mounted toilet, pass on dual-flush models, none of which performed well in our tests. Plus, most new toilets use just more than 1 gallon per flush.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the July 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.