12 bathroom remodeling mistakes to avoid when planning your design

Swerve the bathroom remodeling mistakes that’ll ruin your plans with this expert advice.

White bathroom with matching tub, wooden cabinets and crittal style/black painted window frame
(Image credit: Construct Melbourne. Styling by Norsu Interiors. Photography by Simon Shiff.)

Bathroom remodeling mistakes can derail the best-laid plans. Creating a new bathroom is an exciting project, and one you’ll want to get right first time so you don’t compromise your room scheme, or end up spending more than you intended by putting errors right. 

To help your bathroom remodeling project run smoothly, we’ve asked the experts which traps homeowners fall into most frequently. With their know-how, you can create the bathroom you’ve been hankering after without encountering any costly drawbacks in the process...

1. Going over budget

To avoid going over budget, good research on bathroom remodel costs is a must. ‘Most homeowners do not research enough the different brands and product types to assess the combination of what they like with what they can afford,’ says John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada. ‘The price points for plumbing fixtures, tiles, vanities, light fixtures, etc vary widely by brand and type of material.’

Don’t forget either that a bathroom remodel may entail unforeseen expenditure. ‘As a general rule of thumb, once you have received your quote for your bathroom, you should add 20 per cent to your budget as a contingency,’ recommends PlumbNation

2. Failing to properly compare estimates

When you’re getting estimates for a remodel, it’s tempting to go with the cheapest, but this shouldn’t be the only criterion for your choice, and you should also make sure you accurately compare the details.

‘Don’t let price be the only factor when you are hiring a contractor,’ says Joy Harris of construction/remodel company Cedar Grove Maintenance. ‘Ask your friends and family for recommendations, see how long they have been in business, check their online reviews and trust your gut. If you like the contractor you will have a better experience and sometimes that may mean you pay a little more.

‘If the estimates you receive are vastly different take a look at the details – sometimes someone may have accidentally left something off their estimate which would be the reason for the price difference. We recommend using a spreadsheet to compare your estimates.’

3. Cramming too much in

Yes, it’s tempting to opt for every fixture and fitting that makes all your dream bathroom ideas come true, but you need to take the size of the room into account. 

‘Unfortunately, I’ve seen many bathroom remodels where the homeowner tried to cram too much into the space,’ says realtor Trey Van Tuyl of Discover Homes Miami. ‘This not only risks violating building codes, but can also make the bathroom uncomfortable to use.’

Be aware of the dimensions of each of the individual elements you are including in the room, too. A common error is picking bathroom fixtures and features which are too big for the space, warn the experts at PlumNation.

4. Neglecting ventilation requirements

A bathroom is a humid environment, and so it’s vital to create adequate ventilation. Realtor Trey Van Tuyl has seen many clients make a mistake with the choice of exhaust fan.

‘It’s really important to choose a fan that’ll be big enough for the space, as humidity can get trapped and lead to mold and mildew over time,’ he explains.

Remember that mold and mildew aren’t just unsightly, spoiling the look of your room, but they can have consequences for the whole family’s health. Always check the specification of the fan to ensure it’s right for your bathroom.

You should also bear in mind that exhaust fans can be noisy. ‘Choose a fan that can move a lot of air and is very quiet at the same time,’ recommends Erin Davis, lead designer at Mosaik Design & Remodeling.

5. Not paying attention to the rules on lighting

Bathroom remodeling mistakes include those with lighting: you need to be aware of the proximity of lights to certain bathroom fixtures.

‘Lighting, especially over tubs, may be present, but the rules are very specific,’ explains Ben Kolo, owner of Mr Electric of Central Iowa. ‘The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) writes the National Electric Code (NEC) electrical code. For this topic, it covers how far the light should be from tubs, and where they can be installed. An electrician will know those rules and can best serve you on lighting updates for your bathroom. AFCI (arc fault circuit interrupter) protected is required on all new lighting installed in bathrooms.’

In the UK, regulations govern the type of light you can use in area, known as bathroom lighting zones and a registered electrician can advise.

6. Skimping on storage

Bathroom clutter can compromise the results of a remodel, so make sure you build enough bathroom storage ideas into the design from the start. 

‘There are only so many ways to add storage after the fact before it becomes too cluttered to enjoy,’ says Sarah Gaffney, design and development director for Next Stage Design. ‘Invest in built-in shelving, vanities and linen closets, and custom shower niches. If you have the help of a remodeling company, they’ll be able to draw on past experience to tell you which options are best for your home.’

7. Allowing water to escape the shower

If your brand new bathroom is to stay in great shape in the long term, pay attention to shower tiling. 

‘How many times have I seen showers that don’t keep the water in the shower,’ says Ezra Laniado, owner of Los Angeles-based Landmark Construction Crew.  ‘When installing the tile of a new shower, slightly slope the tile atop of the surrounding curb inwards (not level) so that all the water drains into the shower and no water leaks out of the shower through any openings (like under the door, etc). Messing this small detail up will not only be really annoying, but it will also make the bathroom more prone to water damage and deterioration over time.’

8. Disregarding your water system 

Here’s one of the bathroom remodeling mistakes that can result in acute disappointment: a shower that isn’t as powerful as you planned for.

‘Be sure you have the correct valve and shower heads for your water system,’ says Craig Russell, founder and CEO of The English Contractor in Cincinnati, Ohio. ‘Your water source, plumbing pipe size, shower system, and shower heads all have to work together. One incorrect piece could impact your water pressure.’

9. Not choosing shower controls in time

And while we’re talking showers, it’s vital to share your plans with your plumber in good time. 

‘A common planning faux pas that can end up being quite costly to rectify is not choosing your shower controls before plumbing rough-ins are completed,’ explains Melissa Michaud, co-owner and design consultant at Firmbuilt Contracting and Design

‘If your plumber doesn’t know that you have grand plans for a glorious rain head shower fixture coming from your ceiling, plus a handheld sprayer on a slidebar, and maybe even a couple of body spray jets, you may end up with standard rough-in plumbing that will only allow for one fixed shower head leaving you with two options: abandon your plans of a spa-like oasis, or pay hundreds of dollars for a re-do.’

10. Forgetting light levels need to be adjustable

There are times of the day when you need enhanced bathroom lighting ideas to provide sufficient illumination to enable the room’s users to safely and accurately accomplish tasks like putting on make-up, shaving and so on. But this won’t always be the case.

‘Lighting needs to be adaptable,’ recommends Eric Nerhood, owner and president of Premier Property Buyers. ‘Too dark and you can’t see. Too bright and you won’t be able to just unwind in the room.’

11. Picking the wrong paint

For decoration that lasts in the humid atmosphere of a bathroom, take up the suggestion of Andre Kazi, CEO of Improovy.

‘People often make the mistake of using regular paint when remodeling their bathroom, forgetting that the shower will cause your walls to frequently get wet,’ he explains. ‘Instead, use mold and mildew resistant paint to prevent any issues of deterioration from occurring.

‘You should also use an oil-based primer before repainting your bathroom. This will help cover up any stains and allow for an even base.’

12. Putting fittings in the wrong position

One of the bathroom remodeling mistakes Randy Jones, owner and operator of Fine Remodeling, a construction company in Northern Delaware, often sees is the incorrect positioning of wall fittings. 

‘Towel bars and accessories need to be attached to framing not drywall where they will get pulled out of the wall after the first tug of the towel,’ he explains.

Think, too, about where you want mirrors to be hung. ‘Mirror height needs to be to the customer’s needs not the installer’s,’ he says.

Sarah Warwick
Freelance Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.