Home & Garden Columns

About the House: Remodeling the Single Bath

By Matt Cantor
Friday December 28, 2007

Hi, My name’s Matt and I’m a recovering general contractor. It’s not easy to talk about, but I know it makes it better to get it out in the open and discuss it. 

For those of us who share this affliction (and you know who you are) there are things we prefer to leave in the past. Denial is a useful, if hobbling tool. Our suffering need not perpetuate itself if we remember this simple word. No.  

When they want it both cheap and fast, just say no. When they want you to convert the garage into a “guest bedroom” while the local building inspector is having his gall bladder out, just say no. When they want you to hire their unemployed brother from Nome (“he only drinks after lunch”), just say no. And, when a client with one bathroom wants it remodeled just say no. Ah, how many times I wish I’d observed that one.  

Aside from the fact that people get irritable after you’ve been showing up at their house for a few weeks, taking someone’s bathroom away eventually begins to cramp the relationship. I’m not so very different. Take my bathroom privileges away and I get increasingly anxious. Eventually, I leave and go stay somewhere else (I hope my wife doesn’t read this). Actually this is no joke. If you’re a contractor or a client, there is almost nothing you can do that’s more likely to lead to a client/contractor breakdown than the remodeling of the only bath in the house. 

Therefore, I propose one of two alternatives, go away on vacation and come home to your newly completed bath or add a bath. Either has great merit, when compared to the original extremely bad idea.  

Starting with idea #1 (going away), there are a few provisos one should observe. First, hire someone really good. When you don’t get a chance to check on work in progress and interact with the project, you must feel the quality of the workmanship is, at least somewhat, guaranteed. This means not hiring the cheap guy or gal. You’ll just have to hire a little higher on the price scale to feel assured that you’ll come home to your dream bath. Second, plan everything out as fully as possible. You should possess the permit and the drawings should be very detailed and clear. You should also, ideally, have everything that will go into the project at your home before you leave. The faucets, the tile, the sink, the lighting; everything. The idea is to minimize surprises.  

Here’s a 21st century tip that you might try if you go this route: Set up a website for the bath remodeling job and have your contractor snap a few digital pictures every day or two and you can check on the progress of the job from your ski chalet in Switzerland. You could even blog your responses or post responses and requests on the website. Or, you could just have a nice time and come back to your bath. In any event, plan, plan, plan. That’s the way of success. 

Now for idea #2, which, I confess, I much prefer. Adding a bath, as any realtor will tell you, is one of the best ways to increase value in your home, even if it’s tiny and poorly placed. As a family man, I can also say that there are few routes to domestic concord less circuitous than through the addition of one more toilet. While a second shower may speed the morning and make for happier campers, a second toilet has a more religious quality (if you get my genuflection). 

Again, even a very small bath made out of a former closet can transform your household. Also, your contractor will thank you. They may be far more willing to do the job in the first place but may even do this job at a lower cost and if problems present during the addition of the second bath, you (or the crew) won’t end up doing the bathroom dance.  

You won’t need a port-a-potty on the lawn (nothing say “trailer park” quite like a port-a-potty, don’t you think?). By the way, if you just happen to be installing an extra half bath without city approval, it might be best not to have that big green thing out in front of your house. Only a dumpster declares more loudly that you’re in the middle of a remodeling project. I’m not promoting the idea of work without permits, I’m just not blind. A large percentage of these projects are done in this way and to ignore this would be foolish. 

If you’re a contractor being approached by Ms. Jones to remodel that single bath, get up, take a walk around, stroll in the largest closet and repeat after me “I’m terribly sorry. I could never remodel your only bath, but let me propose something else ...”