When Meg Roe recently renovated her master bathroom, she had three goals: Update the circa 1988 décor, create a space she and her husband, Jim, would enjoy, and recoup their investment when the time came to move.

Roe spent about $60,000 on her remodel, working with designer Patricia Nunan from Lifestyles Design in Perkiomenville, and contractor Chip Greth of Innovative Kitchens & Baths in Douglasville. She gutted her entire bathroom and replaced the built-in Jacuzzi with a soaker tub, enlarged the shower, replaced cabinetry, and updated the rest.

“It’s beautiful with a modern but classic look with a relaxing spa quality,” said Roe, 60, from Devon. “It’s very peaceful.”

With plans to ultimately downsize, “we actually designed it for a future owner,” she said, choosing a muted gray-blue color palette that would appeal to a new home buyer. “We were interested in making changes that included high-quality materials, real marble, frameless showers, a high-end soaker tub, quartz counters, Kohler accoutrements, and Hudson Valley lighting — all upper-end brands and quality materials.”

Meg Roe's remodeled bathroom, which includes a soaker tub, larger shower and new cabinetry.
Courtesy of Chip Greth, Innovative Kitchens and Baths
Meg Roe's remodeled bathroom, which includes a soaker tub, larger shower and new cabinetry.

Record gains in home equity in recent years have given homeowners greater confidence to invest in their homes, including redoing their bathrooms, said Nino Sitchinava, principal economist at Houzz.

But the driving force behind those renovations has changed.

“For master-bathroom renovations, in past years, the top motivation was pent-up demand — people reported that they had always wanted to do the renovation and finally had the financial means,” she said. “However, our 2018 Bathroom Trends study revealed that the top motivation now is that people can no longer stand their old bathroom — a significant shift.”

According to HomeAdvisor, the average bathroom remodel costs $10,341, with most homeowners spending from $5,955 to $14,827.

Full makeover or just a refresh?

It isn’t always necessary to gut an entire bathroom and start from scratch. But a remodel should be considered only after all the things you can’t see are up to today’s standards, said Kenny Grono, president of Buckminster Green in Northern Liberties.

“That includes plumbing pipes that are less than 30 years old, modern wiring with GFCI receptacles, and proper substrates for tile,” he said. “If those are present and the issue is aesthetic, or the homeowner needs more storage, then a refresh will help.”

The design is the critical first step. “A bathroom is probably the most complicated project in the house because there is a tremendous amount of water that you need to control,” Grono said. “Water, if it goes in the wrong place, is the house’s enemy.”

Grono also recommends having all materials in hand before work starts. “Sometimes the literature for a faucet might describe it one way, but when you get it in your hands, it’s not quite like that and that may change the design,” he said. “And sometimes things go out of stock.”

This shower in remodeled master bathroom of Ian and Beth Swedish replaced a jacuzzi bath tub. They also remodeled a second floor hall bathroom.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
This shower in remodeled master bathroom of Ian and Beth Swedish replaced a jacuzzi bath tub. They also remodeled a second floor hall bathroom.

When Ian Swedish bought his Queen Village home six years ago, he and his wife, Beth, knew their bathrooms would have to be updated. The 1970s-style décor and low-quality materials didn’t fit their style. They spent about $15,000 to refresh both their master bathroom and second-floor hall bathroom.

“It looked nice when we bought it, but as we lived in it, we realized the [previous owners] cut a lot of corners, purchased cheap materials, and it was just low quality,” said Swedish, 40. “In the master bathroom, we took out the Jacuzzi tub and turned it into a shower, added new tile, lighting, and fresh paint.”

In the second-floor bathroom, new tile and hardware, a new vanity and fresh paint “make it look totally different,” he said.

They also included small details in the shower — a three-tiered niche and step for shaving legs, a detachable rain head, and handheld shower head — to add convenience as well as style.

The bath toys and built in shelf in tub-shower of remodeled second floor bathroom in home of Ian and Beth Swedish. They also remodeled the master bathroom.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
The bath toys and built in shelf in tub-shower of remodeled second floor bathroom in home of Ian and Beth Swedish. They also remodeled the master bathroom.

For homeowners who don’t want to completely tear out old tile and replace it — like those wanting to update the pink, yellow, and green tile that was all the rage in the 1950s — there are other options. Surface refinishing is less expensive and invasive than ripping out and replacing tile.

“In as little as two days, our eight-step process deep-cleans the surface, applies our proprietary bonding agent, adds one of our custom colors, and seals the surface to make it just like it was brand new,” said Charles Pistor, president and CEO of Miracle Method Surface Refinishing, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.

While the size and style determine the cost, a basic 3-by-3-inch ceramic tile refinish costs about $1,200 to $1,400, about 75 percent less than the cost of replacement, he said.

Two new floors to go with the surrounding 1950s tile walls and fixtures.
Courtesy of Buckminster Green
Two new floors to go with the surrounding 1950s tile walls and fixtures.

Another option is keeping the colorful tile and updating around it to give the bathroom a new look. For example, Grono has replaced floor tile to coordinate with blue and pink wall tile.

According to the Houzz study, nearly half of master-bathroom renovations include the layout, 62 percent include systems upgrades, and 47 percent modify walls. When it comes to updating master bathrooms, more than four in five homeowners replace major features such as showers and vanities during renovations, Sitchinava said, including faucets, wall finishes, flooring, lighting fixtures, showers, countertops, sinks, and cabinets/vanities.

Aging in place

Baby boomers continue to drive the renovation market, both in spending and activity, representing more than half of all renovators, the Houzz study found. They’re installing features in showers like seats, grab bars, and low or no curb entries. For bathtubs, many are including non-slip floors, grab bars, and seats. Walk-in tubs, however, are less common, and a third of baby boomers are removing their bathtubs all together.

“The biggest concern for older people is falling,” Greth said. A curbless shower (also called no threshold) is a walk-in shower where the bathroom floor and shower floor are flush. There is no sill to step over. They rely on the slope of the floor to effectively contain water in the immediate shower area and direct water to the drain.

“As people get older, they can’t lift their feet up as easily,” Greth said. “I also install a tiled seat with a handheld sprayer and grab bars they can hold on to.”

Yet, a curbless shower can add a lot to the cost of a bathroom, as much as $2,000 to $5,000, Grono said. “Grab bars and a wider curb that you can actually step on are more affordable options,” he said. “A lot of our clients have us convert tubs to showers, which can make aging in place easier, and having at least one tub in the house is good for resale.”

For people who aren’t quite ready for grab bars yet, but who want to plan ahead, solid wood blocking can be installed in the wall, behind the tile. “We then take photos of where those blocks are, so they can be installed in the future,” Grono said.

An example of a handicapped-accessible bathroom with a "no curb" shower.
ED HILLE / Staff Photographer
An example of a handicapped-accessible bathroom with a "no curb" shower.