My husband and I are no strangers to bathroom renovation projects. We've tackled four bathrooms in two different houses, and while we've been ultimately pleased with each outcome, it's painfully clear we are no Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Case in point: While fixing up our first bathroom, my husband sawed through a waterline, resulting in an emergency plumbing project (and a very irritated me when I came home from the gym unable to hop in the shower).
Even if it’s the tiniest room in your house, the importance of a bathroom renovation isn’t proportional to its size. Your water closet needs to be able to endure frequent use, in addition to humidity and water splashing around from sinks, showers, and tubs.
“A bathroom remodel is the most nerve-wracking of any renovation, especially if it is the only bathroom in your home,” says Beatrice de Jong, director of residential sales at Open Listings.
This is why de Jong suggests leaving most of the work to the professionals. Nothing puts a damper on a new bathroom like a burst pipe or an electrical snafu.
So no matter how intrepid you are, leave these five projects to the pros—and ensure that your new bathroom doesn't become a DIY project from hell.
1. Installing a bath fan
A bath fan is your best defense against humidity from the bath and shower. But in many cases, installing a fan is way too ambitious for the average weekend warrior.
Although the exhaust from bath fans is sometimes routed to the attic, pros suggest venting the fan vent outside to get that humidity out of your house. This requires cutting a hole in your roof and installing an exhaust hood—not advisable for the average homeowner. Even my husband, who is currently in the thick of another bathroom renovation, recently put his frugal sensibilities aside and called in the pros to install a fan that vented properly through the roof.
2. Plumbing and electrical work
Just like in the kitchen (or anywhere else in your house), plumbing and electrical work should always be left to the pros.
Not convinced? This one is a matter of safety: “If an electrical switch was not installed correctly and poses a fire risk, it’s unlikely a homeowner would be able to tell,” says Jesse Fowler, founder of Tellus Design + Build in Costa Mesa, CA.
De Jong agrees: “With electricity in close proximity to plumbing, there are lots of moving parts that could be disastrous,” she says. Professional plumbers and electricians are “absolutely worth paying the extra expense.”
A pro will also ensure that your bathroom meets code requirements in your municipality (which is especially important for resale, when home inspectors will be looking closely to make sure your bathroom passes muster).
3. Putting in a glass shower
Dreaming of a gorgeous new glass shower for your renovation project? Even though you can order a precut-glass shower door at one of the big-box home improvement stores, installing it on your own isn’t such a good idea. The glass can weigh hundreds of pounds, requiring extreme care and precision to handle and install. A botched installation doesn’t just mean water on the floor—you could also find yourself walkin’ on, walkin’ on broken glass—and seriously injured.
4. Any kind of structural changes
If your bathroom remodel is more ambitious than a simple swap and replace of common features, that’s a sign you should call in the pros.
Moving a shower? Taking down a wall? Changing up the layout of the bathroom? A pro contractor can walk you through important considerations, like whether your bathroom is equipped to handle a double vanity or how tall your new shower should be.
“Structural changes are the risky stuff, which, if not done correctly, could be very dangerous or very costly down the road,” Fowler says.
When it comes to tile, the raw materials might not cost a lot, but the labor for installation can be pricey, Fowler says. As a result, he’s seen a lot of homeowners attempt to moonlight as tile layers, which is “almost always a very big mistake.”
Unless you, like my husband, are a bona fide Tiley Cyrus or Oscar the Grout, budget for a professional contractor to install your beautiful new tile. If you do a sloppy DIY job, your morning showers will go from relaxing to remorseful as you face your crooked Carrara and shoddy craftsmanship each day.
If you’re dying to scratch that DIY itch, don’t despair—there are still lots of projects homeowners can tackle themselves during a bathroom remodel, like painting, changing drawer pulls, and swapping out shower heads and faucets.