DIY shower remodeling can be a pain. There I said it. Yes, I bet you were probably thinking it.
It’s a long and winding road. It doesn’t always (OK it NEVER) goes exactly as planned. Does that sound like real life to you?
While you have vision of the finished bathroom, there will be twists and turns you never anticipated until you ‘open up the patient.’ In this case the patient is your shower and bathroom.
You may be debating should I (or shouldn’t I) do my own shower or bathroom remodel? You may be wondering do I want to (or do I need to – to make the budget work and get the cool products I’d like) tackle this project?
There are a ton of moving parts. There are a number of construction skills involved in a bathroom remodeling. Deciding to hire a professional contractor (and in case you haven’t noticed the guys/gals doing this work today are in HIGH DEMAND and commanding top dollar) or DIY this job is no small matter.
In this article I’m going to take you on a journey. It’s the journey through a 3-year (yes you heard that right 3 years – although Troy wasn’t sleeping on the job, he could only work on it during weekends and vacations) DIY bathroom remodel done by Troy and Lora-Jene Daniel of Davidsonville Maryland. It’s a bathroom which now has the following:
- It uses fun (and low maintenance) new products. Check out the 2’ x 4’ polished Italian tiles below.
- It offers thoughtful and design-conscious variations on established products. The curved glass block wall with the tile border rocks the newly remodeled space.
- It’s designed to last. The barrier free waterproof tile shower pan WILL eliminate the leakage nightmare of the old shower. In addition, it will be easy to use no matter how nimble (or not) the Daniel’s are down the road.
It’s a project, quite frankly, Troy and Lora Jean would not have done through a bathroom remodeler because it would have been too expensive.
In this article, I’m going to share 7 practical tips (6 of which Troy shared with me, one I added myself) which saved Troy (and can save you) over 50% vs. hiring a contractor. Will all of these tips apply to you? Maybe or maybe not.
However, I will guarantee you this. If you use at least a few of these tips, you’ll not only save money but will be keep your marriage (or relationship) intact in the process. While I haven’t found an official stat showing how many people have gotten divorced or ended up on the latest episode of Homicide Hunter in the process of a DIY bathroom remodel, I’m betting there’s a few!
Let’s get to the tips.
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #1 – Know your goals
If you’re in the midst of ‘kicking the tires’ on remodeling your bathroom you know there is a plethora (OK, I threw in this big word to make you think I’m smart. Is it working?) of product choices and design options. However, what was obvious to me was Troy and Lora-Jene had a crystal-clear idea what was important to them. They not only knew the problems with their old bathroom but had a game plan for the new one.
First, their problems included:
- A 3’ x 3’ ‘phone-booth’ sized shower with a waaaay-too-big platform soaking tub. A ‘classic’ (sarcasm intended) 1980’s or 1990’s design.
- An old ‘mud set’ 2nd floor shower pan which leaked into the laundry room below, which made it unusable.
- Out of date 4” x 4” floor tiles which screamed out 1980’s!
- A hard water stained shower door which was flat-out ugly.
Second, they identified their goals, which included:
- A low maintenance bathroom which cuts down grout joints. The 2’ x 4’ large-format tiles and vinyl plank bathroom flooring where two products used to keep maintenance at a minimum.
- Use a glass block shower and tile design with ‘movement’. The wave pattern glass block design is soft, subtle and private – yet also simple to clean.
- A design which was not (according to Lora-Jene) ‘cookie cutter.’ Fun features like the tile boarder row in the glass block added style.
- A space which was easy to use – both now and in the future. A barrier free waterproof walk in ready for tile shower pan design made sense.
While this first tip may not sound like ‘brain-surgery’ to you, it’s really where an effective DIY shower remodel begins. As Steven Covey would say, “You begin with the end in mind.” Ask, ‘what are my goals? What problems do I want to eliminate?” Find products and systems which make this happen.
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #2 – Don’t be in a hurry
Sure, it took Troy, who did most of the ‘heavy lifting’ -figuratively and practically, three years to get this job done. However, life, and family matters, took precedent several times along the way. However, what you’ll want to realize is rushing a DIY bathroom remodel can be dangerous to your pocketbook.
As Troy told me, “Mike, when it came to the prefabricated glass block installation, I watched the video over and over again, and you know I called you over and over again. The key was to get it right, not to do it quick.’
As my Dad would say when he was alive, “Haste makes waste.” If you decide to go down the long and winding route of a DIY bathroom remodel, you’ll want to measure twice and cut once. You’ll want to (as Troy did) watch YouTube videos over and over again.
Quick IS NOT the answer for a well-done DIY shower remodel. Thoughtful and methodical wins the day in the end.
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #3 – A wise man or woman knows what they don’t know
In the ‘old days’ before GPS became commonplace and as affordable as the Free Google Maps app on your iPhone, I used to tell my son Grant he was my GPS. My Grant Positioning System.
However, many guys didn’t have a “Grant Positioning System” like I did. They were stubborn. They wouldn’t use a map and would drive around aimlessly before stopping into a gas station and admitting ‘defeat.’ They were lost. I guess it was male bravado getting in the way of being smart (OK, as my wife might tell you’ve, I’ve resembled this fact before). They were stubborn about asking for help.
As Troy explained, “Mike a wise person knows what they don’t know in a bath remodel. You need to ‘strategically’ contract out what’s too specialized for you to do yourself.”
Sure, it ‘might’ have been nice to try to DIY the 2’ x 4’ (40 lbs. a piece) large format tiles himself. However, it seemed like a big job which needed specialized expertise. So, Troy did the smart thing. He looked for a contractor. It wasn’t easy. Four contractors told Troy, “No way am I doing this job.” They hadn’t used these large-format units and weren’t going to be ‘on the hook’ doing Troy’s job.
Troy found an excellent contractor in Chesapeake Flooring. It wasn’t cheap. It took his skilled guy 7 days, 10 hours a day, but oh how cool it looks.
In a DIY shower or bathroom remodel, you need to listen to the sage words of Kenny Rogers. You need to know ‘when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.’ A wise person will know when to DIY and when to bring in the expert.
While Troy did most of the work himself (including assembling these curved glass block prefabricated wall sections), he hired out when he needed specialized expertise.
Don’t be the ‘lost guy/gal’ who has to do EVERYTHING themselves. That’s dumb and will cost you more in the end.
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #4 – Your bathroom products don’t have to be ‘Ford tough’ (OK – I’m not even getting any money from Ford for this plug), but they do need to be ‘built to last.’
As Mom and Dad used to tell you ‘Money doesn’t grow on trees!’ When it comes to shower and bathroom remodeling, it’s not an everyday (or even every 5-year) job. If you’re like most, you want (and need) products which are built to last (and not built to leak onto the first-floor laundry room like the old mud-set shower pan in this project).
You don’t want to be ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’ (boy, I’m full of Dad’isms and Mom’isms today – ha! ha!). This is why Troy and Lora-Jene made thoughtful product decisions which were built to last. Some of these products and systems aren’t seen (they’re behind the wall), but they’ll make all the difference 10 years down the road when they’re NOT redoing the job!
Here’s 2 small (but important) examples.
- Troy used a waterproof ready for tile shower pan. This pan will not leak. In addition, since it’s made of an expanded polystyrene core, it’s light and easy to bring into the room and saves a TON of time on field installation labor. Troy loved that!
- A waterproof sealant used over the cement backer board. Did Troy have to do this step? The short answer is no. It was a small waterproofing step for the future protection behind the wall (note – another option to waterproofing cement backer board is to use extruded polystyrene wall boards).
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #5 – Don’t be afraid to innovate, as long as you’ve got good people to help along the way
Being innovative can be wonderful…until it’s not.
Innovative products and installation methods are new and exciting. However, when you do new things, you’re sticking your neck out. When you (as a DIY’er do this) you’ve got to make sure you’ve got good people to help when the going gets tough. In this project (fortunately for Troy) he made sure to select his suppliers wisely.
For the 2’ x 4’ tiles (a key design element), Troy worked through Brian Flemming of Compass Tile in Annapolis Maryland. Brian (as a material supplier) not only sold Troy the tile, but he was able to help (when Troy got turned down by 4 contractors) with a referral for a competent company to install the tile.
For the glass block shower and base system Troy looked for a supplier (with installation experience) who would go beyond selling the individual glass blocks (by this I mean just selling blocks in cartons and saying ‘find your own base and installation kit, buddy). He looked for a company (OK – this is a shameless plug, but our company helped here!) who would sell a complete glass block shower kit (including the prefabricated and curved sections and a shower pan to go with it).
As Troy told me, “Mike, when you’re going to innovate, make sure you’ve got people who have ‘your back.’ The devil (and the difficulties) are in the installation details.”
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #6 – Expect the unexpected…and don’t get (too) frustrated along the way
DIY shower remodeling can (and will) be bumpy.
As Troy said, “Mike, a remodeling job is ALWAYS more involved than expected.” I would double-down on that statement and say you need to add ‘fudge-factor’ (‘er that would be money) into your budget for the ‘unanticipated.’
Troy and Lora-Jene had challenges. They needed to remove door framing to get the tub inside the room. They had a subfloor which was wet and damaged from the shower above. They had urethane grout which was time consuming to remove from the glass blocks. They had a vent stack which had to be moved.
If you think you’ve got it ‘all figured out’ before you start, you’re probably wrong. Expect (and budget for) some unexpected. There will be curve balls. Don’t get frustrated. Realize they will come with the DIY territory.
Practical DIY shower remodel tip #7 (this one’s from me) – Make sure you get one of those understanding spouses or partners (before the project) or spend a few bucks fixing up your garage!
While my wife Rose is an unbelievably beautiful (inside and out) woman, I’ll tell you this – there’s NO WAY she would ever endure a 3-year master bathroom remodel. I’d be out on the streets or livin’ in the garage!
While in Troy and Lora-Jene’s case they did have 3 other bathrooms in the house, you need to come to grips up front that a DIY shower remodeling project will (likely) take longer than if you hire a professional contractor.
If you go down the DIY road, be realistic how long it will take. Ask other DIY friends and relatives how long it took them. Ask what they did to shorten the start-to-finish process. Did they order the materials before demoing? Did they line up contactors for parts of the job they weren’t confident doing before starting?
Don’t go into remodel job with stars in your eyes (thinking about all the money you’re going to save and how cool it’s going to look). Be realistic. Do things up front (planning and buying products and knowing your installation approach) so the project won’t drag out (especially if your spouse or life-partner will want to kill YOU if they’re living in the middle of the project which seems like it will never end.).
Be smart. Be realistic. Plan ahead. Stay married (or together). Don’t kill each other in the process!
Here’s the bottom line for Troy and Lora-Jene’s project.
At the end of this long and winding DIY shower and bathroom remodel job they saved over 50%. Sure, it involved a LOT of Troy’s sweat equity. However, by doing it (mostly) themselves they were able to upgrade the products they used and save significant money.
Was it easy? No, way.
Was it a lot of hard work? Oh yah!
Is it right for you? I can’t say.
Here’s what I will tell you, no matter if you decide to DIY it or professionally contract the job.
Be realistic. Set goals up front. Be wise. Know when to hold them (do it yourself) and when to fold them (contract to others). Get help and advice along the way.
As a company who supplies glass block shower kits, ready for tile shower pans and even cool grout free (large format) waterproofing shower wall panels (which look like actual tiles), I and my team (which includes Terry, Diane, Georgia, Dylan, Jeff, Ryan, Chelsea, Michelle and Stacy) would be honored to help you.
Call us. Text us. Email us. We’re here for you, just like we were fortunate enough to help Troy and Lora-Jene.
How can I (or a member of my team) help you?
Call us at 877-668-5888 for nationwide wholesale supply on products like laminated wall panels, glass block shower kits or ready for tile shower pans. For a local project call 216-658-1280 in Cleveland or 614-252-3242 in Columbus.
If you’re a remodeler or builder and want practical advice on remodeling products, industry trends, marketing and sales tips to grow your business (and cut day to day hassles), start reading my newest blog – Innovate Builders Blog. It’s packed with ideas you can use now. Click here to Sign Up for the Innovate Builders Blog.
If you’re in the building business, click here if you’d like to learn how to become a shower wall panel dealer or call and ask for Mike at 877-668-5888.
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