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April 24, 2013

Don’t take a bath when remodeling bathrooms

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

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Walk-in showers have become one of the most popular amenities in modern bathrooms.

It’s not usually the center of attention when homeowners are entertaining guests, but it’s one of the most important parts of any home.

The bathroom is the first place most people visit after waking up in the morning and the last place they visit before going to bed at night. It gets plenty of use, so it needs to be fully functional and convenient. It’s not always glamorous, but it can be, if luxury and comfort at home are a top priority. Either way, remodeling the bathroom can quickly bring a home more up-to-date and make it feel a lot more accommodating.

“Bathrooms used to be strictly utilitarian, but things have changed quite a bit from the old days,” said Jerry Trombly, kitchen and bath designer for John’s Lumber in Clinton Township. “A lot of people are looking for that spa-like atmosphere at home, and now they have ways of doing that without breaking the bank.”

Still, according to Mari Margaret Vaglica, director of sales and marketing for Borchert Building Company in Washington Township, the most important part of any bathroom work is to leave the heavy lifting to the experts.

“We recommend that people only do their own demolition and painting,” she said. “Anything outside of installing a new vanity or maybe a new sink, you really want to hire a licensed professional to do the work. You don’t want to overdo it and then feel sorry afterwards because, by then, it’s too late.”

John Newmyer, owner and president of Newmyer Distinctive Remodeling in Walled Lake, couldn’t agree more. He believes that too many homeowners try to take on big projects by themselves or resort to what he calls “black market or tailgate remodeling,” which often results in inferior materials and workmanship.

“I recommend that homeowners get professional help for every step of the process from contractors who do this work every single day,” he said. “People think they’re saving money by doing things on the cheap, but they’re really not. One common theme in bathroom remodeling is people going with a really cheap contractor at first, and then three or four years later, they come to us because they want to tear it all out and start over again.”

Once homeowners find their contractor of choice, there are myriad options for them to choose from. According to Denise Borchert, co-owner of Borchert Building Company, one of the biggest trends in modern bathroom remodeling involves removing “those great big Jacuzzi tubs that were all the rage in the 1980s” and replacing them with large walk-in showers. These more spacious showers often come equipped with frameless Euro glass doors, dual showerheads with multiple functions and a shower bench.

For flooring, many homeowners are opting for large tiles because they are easier to clean and maintain, and they help create the illusion of a larger space, Borchert said. Heated tile has also become increasingly popular for those seeking maximum comfort, especially during the winter.

Trombly pointed out that cabinets and vanities have become more of a focal point in modern bathrooms. He said that many homeowners are choosing taller, darker cabinets, combined with lighter-colored walls and tile.

Newmyer added that recent years have seen an increased demand for bathroom safety features that can better accommodate seniors and people with disabilities. Curb-less showers, comfort-height toilets, shower grab-bars and non-slip flooring are just some of the features that have seen a boost in popularity.

But Newmyer also cautioned homeowners against following current fads too closely. “I always tell my clients to create a home that looks timeless because trends come and go,” he said. “Don’t just follow the trends of the day because you’re probably going to end up hating it in a few years.”

For those looking to upgrade their bathroom on a tight budget, Borchert recommended using porcelain or ceramic as a substitute for natural stone or wood flooring, as well as going with wallet-friendly polished chrome finishes. Then there are the simple-but-effective strategies of installing new sinks, mirrors, cabinets and countertops, as well as changing the color scheme by applying fresh paint.

In addition, Newmyer suggested choosing glass or fiberglass shower tiles instead of ceramic tiles, and installing framed glass shower doors instead of the more expensive Euro doors. He believes that these more cost-effective options, when applied correctly, can give homeowners some of the satisfaction of having a high-end bathroom.

Still, Borchert warned that, for those who are seeking to completely reinvent their bathroom, this mix-and-match approach to remodeling can sometimes yield awkward results.

“We’re finding that a lot of people are choosing to gut their entire bathroom rather than trying to do it piecemeal,” she said. “Otherwise, the space can end up looking really outdated and old-fashioned if you have, say, modern counters and cabinets but still have that old 1970s tile.”

Trombly advised homeowners that establishing a budget beforehand is crucial. He pointed out that, when calculated by square footage, the bathroom is by far the most expensive room in the house to remodel. Newmyer said that he tells his clients to expect to pay at least $400 per square foot, depending on the quality of materials selected and the level of service required.

Because remodeling a bathroom can be such a major investment, Newmyer also recommended that homeowners thoroughly vet and research several different contractors before choosing the right one for the job.

“If you don’t trust the person that you’re talking to, then you should go with someone else,” he said. “You really need to do your due diligence and check this person’s references and track record. A lot of contractors are not as qualified as they think they are. If they’re quoting you a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

For this reason, Vaglica urged homeowners to enter their renovation project with reasonable expectations. If they want to build their dream bathroom with only top-of-the-line amenities, they should be aware that it’s also going to come equipped with a hefty price tag to match. And if compromises have to be made, homeowners need to make sure that these are compromises they can live with.

“A lot of times, people come to us with these grand, preconceived ideas that they saw on HGTV, but then they have no realistic way of pulling them off,” she said. “The best advice we have is for people to do their homework, set a budget and stick to it. It’s not that hard, but it does require you to put some time in.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.