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How I Turned My Loo Into a Looker on a Budget

My first challenge as a fledgling home owner was to transform my bathroom from an outdated monstrosity into a sleek, relaxing oasis for just over $500.

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Courtney's redone guest bathroom with bamboo floor

A new bamboo floor, vanity, and shower curtain helped update my small guest bathroom. All images in this post: Courtney Craig for HouseLogic

When I became a first-time home owner last spring, there was one remodeling project I couldn’t wait to get my hands on: Redoing the wallpapered, poorly lit, dated guest bathroom.

Small bathroom before

The vanity? Old and warped. The wallpaper? Something you’d see in your Aunt Ethel’s house. The floor? Ugliest linoleum in history. Something had to be done.

The Starting Point

For my first-ever bathroom remodeling project, I set two main goals:

1. Update the room in a way that would beautify and add value to my home.
2. Do it as cheaply as possible.

According to “Remodeling” magazine’s annual “Cost vs Value Report,” the national average cost of a bathroom remodel is $15,782. Although my budget wasn’t close to that, I was pretty sure I’d recoup at least the 65% of the cost the report says I should if I ever sell.

Keeping the Same Footprint

Because it’s a small bathroom — just 25 square feet, not counting the tub — the vanity needed to stay roughly the same size. I shopped a few salvage stores, but I couldn’t beat a sale at my local big-box home improvement store: $300 for a vanity base, top, faucet, mirror, medicine cabinet, and towel bars. Score.

It’s Bamboo-tiful

I wanted a flooring material that was eco-friendly as well as durable. I started shopping at the ReStore (Habitat for Humanity’s salvaged materials store) and found some beautiful blonde tongue-and-groove bamboo. Problem was, the ReStore only had enough in stock to cover about two-thirds of my bathroom floor.

Feeling optimistic, I went ahead and purchased all the bamboo they had for just $20. This was a risky move, since there was no guarantee I’d be able to find matching flooring to cover the rest. But luck was on my side — I went to a local store that sells floorboards individually, and they did sell bamboo that matched. For another $40, it was mine.

Tip: When shopping for flooring, look for a material that’s durable enough for the amount of traffic it’ll see. Bamboo fit the bill for me. And be sure to measure carefully before you shop.

Demolition Day

Fortunately, the wallpaper was easy to strip — for most of it, I could just grab a corner and pull off a large swath. For the stubborn bits, I rented a steamer from the home improvement store for an afternoon, which cost $35 for four hours.



Next, it was a snap to remove the vanity, toilet, medicine cabinet, and air vent cover in the floor.

Tip: After removing a toilet or air vent cover, stuff a rag or plastic bag in the hole so you don’t drop anything down there. Trust me, you don’t want to go after it.

Missing toilet

Demolished bathroom

Putting It All Together

The first step was painting the walls. Wanting a light and airy feel, I chose a very light green. I also gave the baseboards a new coat of white.

Next, it was time to install the flooring. First, I laid a plastic sheet over the subfloor to provide extra protection in case of a water leak. Then, I started laying bamboo. Even though I raised the flooring level, it still cleared the bottom of the door.

Bamboo floor

Then, I tucked the vanity base into the corner, attached the top, and caulked the top to the wall. The toilet and air vent cover were re-installed last. The toilet had to be secured using an extra-thick wax gasket and longer screws to make up for the new flooring height.

New towel bars, medicine cabinet, and mirror, which were included with the new vanity, provided the finishing touches. (The mirror is attached to the wall using picture hangers and screws this time, so no one should have to unglue it from the wall again.) The new shower curtain, bath mats, and pictures on the wall make this guest bathroom my own.

Small bathroom reveal

Shower curtain and air vent

Challenges

When I was just getting started on the remodel, something stopped me in my tracks: A hairline crack in the fiberglass bathtub.

Bathtub crack

After checking the floor under the tub for rot and mold, I was relieved to find there wasn’t any water damage. But a new tub was definitely not in the budget, so I bought a fiberglass sealing kit for $20 and set about repairing the crack. Good thing I picked a pleasant day when I could open all the windows, because when the label says this stuff is toxic, it’s not kidding.

The end result isn’t pretty, but it’s water-tight, and that’s what matters. Besides, if you put a rubber tub mat over it, you can’t even see it.

The only other snag was the mirror over the vanity: It was glued to the wall.

I found some instructions for removing the mirror that involved duct tape, dental floss, a hair dryer, and a putty knife. It worked like a charm, and I didn’t even crack the mirror.

By the Numbers

It took a helper and me about four days to complete the bathroom remodel.

  • Fiberglass repair kit: $20
  • Wallpaper steamer rental: $35
  • Vanity: $300
  • Bamboo flooring: $60
  • Plastic sheet between bamboo and subfloor: $10
  • Paint, 2 quarts: $30
  • Wax seal for toilet: $5
  • Shower curtain: $30
  • Bath mats: $20
  • Air vent register: $10

TOTAL: $520

Remodeled a bathroom recently? Share your stories and pictures in the comments below.

courtneycraig Courtney Craig

is an Atlanta-based writer and editor. She believes no effort is too small when it comes to green living, which she tries to keep in mind while renovating her recently purchased first home. Follow Courtney on Google+.

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