Everything you need to know about bathroom renovations

Last updated: 19th Mar 2018

tiling a bathroom

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Before the fun of choosing tiles, bathtubs and vanities comes a long list of decisions and hard work.

Bathrooms are often one of the most important and expensive areas of the house to renovate and add value to your home.

A complete bathroom renovation can involve a number of different trade specialists from plumbers, tilers, electricians, plasterers, painters, waterproofing specialists and more. Costs can range from $10,000 for a basic small bathroom or ensuite renovation to more than $50,000 for highly customised and specially designed fitouts with high-end fixtures and fittings.

With thousands of plumbing, tiling and bathroom renovation jobs completed every year through ServiceSeeking, our expert renovations team has listed 32 key things every potential home renovator should consider before tackling the bathroom.

Download the ServiceSeeking Bathroom Guide as a PDF


 

1. What trades do I need?

Step one is the design. If it’s a complete redesign, you might want to talk with an architect or draftsperson or your builder about what you envisage. They’ll help you decide whether your vision can be accomplished realistically and what refinements are necessary..

The obvious plumber will complete a lot of your work so find one you trust. Plumbers average $86/hr. You’ll also need a waterproofing specialist (check with your plumber as many do both) and a tiler. Note that tilers generally work per metre squared than on hourly rates, so bear this is mind if you choose an intricate tiling pattern, or small time-consuming tiles.

You’ll also need an electrician. You may need a carpenter, cabinet maker, plasterer and painter as well.

2. Do I need a project manager?

Depending on the size and complexity of your project, along with the amount of time you personally have available, you might like to hire a bathroom renovation specialist, project manager or builder to oversee your project.

The biggest advantage of having a project manager is less stress for you as they will coordinate everything. They have expert knowledge in the field, contacts and experience. The reason most people don’t hire a project manager is to save money. So it’s a battle between money and stress.

3. What are Australian Standards on waterproofing bathrooms

In relation to waterproofing your bathroom, the Building Code of Australia and Australian Standards (AS 3740-1994) ensures that:

  • In the shower, the whole floor must be waterproof and the shower walls should be waterproofed up to 1800mm
  • The walls need to be waterproofed up to 150mm.
  • If the bathroom floor is made of or contains wood, or if the bathroom is on the second floor or higher, the whole floor must be waterproofed


Whoever does your waterproofing, whether a plumber or specialised waterproofer, must (depending on your state) either carry a current waterproofer’s licence or provide a statement of compliance once the job is complete to AS3740.

Each state has differing requirements for standards, so research yours on the links below.

State Regulator Phone Website
National Australian Building Codes Board 1 300 134 631 www.abcb.gov.au
NSW Office of Fair Trading 13 32 20 www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au
QLD Department of Housing Public Works 13 74 68 www.hpw.qld.gov.au
VIC Victorian Building Authority 1 300 815 127 www.vba.vic.gov.au
SA Office of the Technical Regulator 08 8226 5500 www.sa.gov.au
WA Building Commission 1 300 48 90 99 www.commerce.wa.gov.au
TAS Department of the Justice 1 300 135 513 www.justice.tas.gov.au
NT Building Advisory Services 08 8999 8985 www.nt.gov.au/building
ACT Planning and Land Authority 02 6207 1923 www.actpla.act.gov.au

4. Pipes – do they need updating?

If you’re throwing tens of thousands of dollars at a new bathroom, it’s probably wise to investigate the health of your plumbing while you’re at it. Especially if your home is older. Same goes for the electrics in an older house.

If you’re updating the pipes, you might want to consider upgrading the size of your pipes for drains in the bathroom to counter all the hair that goes down there too. And sometimes, you’ll need upgraded piping to work new fixtures that aren’t suitable to the old style or ensure adequate water pressure.

If you’re changing the layout, be prepared for big expense as you’re likely to need to remove the wall linings for access. You may need to rip up floors too, or at the very least add in new core holes for the plumbing.

5. How much should I spend?

A bathroom renovation will cost between $10,000-$50,000. But how much you spend depends on whether it is a main or ensuite bathroom, the location, size and value of your property.


To ensure you don’t run the risk of overcapitalising, a guide is 5% of your property cost in total renovations. So based on the current mean national house price of $679,100 (source: ABS), your total renovation budget shouldn’t exceed much more than $33,955. Obviously, the higher your purchase price the more you have to spend and still stay within the 5% range.

6. Dizzying heights

Where do you want your vanity to sit? If you don’t speak up it, it will be installed at standard height which is generally 850mm. The biggest impact on the height, is your basin type. Depending on whether your basin is a drop-in, undermount, basin, pedestal or wall mount you need to take this into account and discuss with your team before it is installed.

Likewise, the depth of your bathroom vanity will be dependent on if it is recessed into the wall or not so be sure to measure and re-measure to ensure you leave enough space to comfortably navigate the room.

bathroom measurement and fixture dimension heights

Photo credit  Decosoup

7. Recessed cisterns – yay or nay

Recessed cisterns are gaining popularity, particularly in new builds and apartment complexes, but are they right for your bathroom renovation?

The most common toilet is the close coupled due to affordability and ease of installation. They range from $300-$1000, whereas an in-wall cistern will start from close to $1000. You’ll also need to decide on wall or floor mounted.

The pros for hiding the cistern are clean and modern; space-saving; hygienic as there is no cistern to harbour dust and bacteria. The cons include accessing the cistern for replacement or repair; you can’t manually fill the cistern; it’s not as easy to turn the water off as it’s not easily seen; they are more expensive to install and may need an additional bracket for support.

The concealed cistern needs to be installed prior to walls being sheeted and are therefore suited more to full bathroom renovations where the space has been gutted.

bathroom renovation recessed cisterns

Photo credit Yates Construction

8. Wall recesses

Never throw out a rusted over-the-head shower caddy again! Inserting a wall recess or two into your shower and next to your bath is practical and aesthetically pleasing by decluttering your spaces.

9. Should I change the layout?

‘Wet walls’ – walls that contain plumbing pipes – are expensive. The fewer you have, the more money you will save. But the fewer you have, the more limited your design choices are.

Even if you don’t change the layout, altering other aspects might still have a flow-on effect such as installing a new floor could increase floor height and affect pipe positions; and wall-mounted fixtures might require modifying the stud walls.

Unless you’re knocking out walls to create a bigger space, there are likely limited options for the layout. So weight up the costs and benefits of making big changes. But key consideration in a bathroom layout include:

  • A square or rectangle bathroom layout work well. The length of the rectangle should not be more than twice its width.
  • Don’t make the toilet the first thing you see. In following this theme, place the more intimate parts of the bathroom furthest from the door.
  • Have a central area for drying off that is not cluttered by fixtures.
  • Use natural light as much as possible.

10. Dual sinks and double vanities

adding dual vanities in bathroom renovation

Photo credit My Bathroom and Kitchen

If you have the space, double vanities are a practical addition to accommodate multiple people sharing a bathroom.

While there are additional labour, material and plumbing costs associated with installing a double sink vanity, the added convenience at peak times such as the morning rush before work is highly valuable. They are generally not double the price of purchasing and installing two single sinks separately.

You should consider the type of home you are renovating – a large family home would be expected to have a double vanity in the master bedroom ensuite; while it wouldn’t be a good use of limited space for a small bathroom in an apartments.

11. Separate toilet

A separate room for a toilet (also called a water closet) is a practical feature allowing someone to use the shower while someone else uses the toilet at the same time. It definitely comes in handy for homes with only one bathroom and larger households of four or more. Some also appreciate the hygiene aspect that physically separating the toilet area from the room where you store your toothbrush gives.

Generally, it only makes sense to renovate your bathroom this way if your existing layout and plumbing supports it, as the cost of structurally changing walls and re-configuring plumbing is expensive.

The downside of a WC room is that it takes up more floor space than a combined bathroom, so is more suitable to larger house plan sizes.

A real toilet renovation job from ServiceSeeking

Job Location: Sydney
Total Cost Paid: $5,000
Job description: Complete toilet room renovation- which is separate from bathroom which is to have all the old tiles removed then waterproofing floor and walls  again then re-tile the floor and walls with also needing to install a new china toilet suite.
Room size width 90 length 2400 and areas height to retile wall is 1200  high while there are 2 down pipe covers from ceiling to floor that are required to be replaced in Fire Rated Sheeting while to bottom half will be retiled over to the floor level.  

12. Mixer taps or separate single lever taps

Mixer taps generally attract a lower labour cost to install compared to separate hot and cold water taps because they do not require an isolation valve. The popularity of mixers in recent years means there is a wide array of styles and prices to choose from.

Other advantages of mixers include:

  • They are more convenient as only one hand is required to operate the tap to produce warm water
  • Energy and water efficiency savings as it is easy to turn on water at the desired temperature
  • Less clutter with a single tap versus two taps

On the other hand, mixer taps can require more ongoing minor maintenance work as the single tap handle is used more frequently, therefore parts such as washers need to be replaced more often compared to separate hot and cold taps. If you’re not replacing your sink and have existing separate taps, additional work will also be involved to convert your sink and tap plumbing to accommodate a single mixer.

14. What type of tiles

Tiles are more than just pretty patterns and colours when it comes to the bathroom. While there are many types of tiles, you need vitreous tiles for wet areas so they don’t absorb water. Glazed tiles also work. And floor tiles need to be anti-slip to keep up with all that water, moisture and soap.

Ceramic and porcelain are the most commonly-used bathroom tiles. Ceramic needs to be glazed. Be sure to check which have anti-slip properties added to determine if they are best for wall or floor tiles. Ceramic are low maintenance and can fit into all budgets.

Porcelain tiles are also low maintenance, hard-wearing and suited to most budgets with plenty of options for colours, patterns and ant-clip properties. They can also mimic a natural stone look which makes them attractive to those who like the look with the extra maintenance that natural stone brings. They can also be laid closer together to achieve more subtle grout lines.

Natural stone requires waterproofing to be used in the bathroom. Glass tiles – which are naturally water resistant – are excellent on feature walls or shower recesses due to their reflective, luminous qualities.

Tilers charge on average $50/m2 for wall tile installation.

bathroom renovation tiling

Photo credit Cut Edge Tiling

A real bathroom tiling job from ServiceSeeking

Job Location: Melbourne
Total Cost Paid: $2,100
Job Description: Hi, I require quotes for a tiler to lay wall and floor tiles for an ensuite, toilet and bathroom. Total area is 45m2 (33m2 of walls and 12m2 of floor). Work will start in just over a week with ongoing work for other bathroom renovations. All tiles and materials supplied.

15. Warm up the floors, heat lights and heated towel rails

If you’re over walking on cold tiles every time you need to go to the loo in winter, then underfloor heating is for you. Starting from $300 for a two square metre electric system, it is designed to provide underfoot warmth quickly. It is easily installed underneath tiles during a renovation. Hydronic is more energy efficient and generally used for heating a whole house, but electric will be fine so long as you just use it for a small periods of time.

Heat lights are also a great way to warm up after a shower in winter. They start from $150 for a large four light suitable for a family bathroom. Likewise, a heated towel rail from $150 for a four-rail can help with cold mornings adjustments. BE sure to use them as needed as leaving them on all day will increase your energy bill.

16. Think about where the towel rails will go

It’s surprising how many don’t make this a priority at design stage and have nowhere suitable to hang their towels. Be sure to include the towel rails in your initial concepts or you’ll be left with wet towels on the floor.

17. Storage space

Bathroom storage is often the most overlooked consideration when re-designing a bathroom.



Although there are many types of stand-alone storage options such as ladder shelves, bench boxes and hampers that can be purchased if you aren’t looking to integrate built-in storage options into your design, it’s also very important to consider the layout of your bathroom to accommodate spaces where stand-alone storage will be placed permanently. For example, it’s not advisable to reserve space very near the toilet for storing personal toiletries such as toothbrushes, or a hamper that’s very near the shower area as it can be exposed to splashback from showers.

Some less commonly utilised storage areas include:

  • Shelving space above a toilet for items such as toilet paper and candles
  • Use bare walls to install a decorative wall feature supporting individual storage jars.
  • Shelves above doorways, near the ceiling
    bathroom renovation storage space

Photo credit listingmore.com

18.Where to buy bathroom renovation supplies

Shopping choices can affect your budget big time. There are plenty of specialty bathroom renovation suppliers, but there’s also the likes of Harvey Norman and Bunnings which are great for some supplies. It pays to do your research and decide which fittings are best, which ones you should splurge on and which ones are okay to settle for generic over brand names. Keep an eye on sales, travel a bit further from home for a bargain, but be sure to have all your plans in place and measurements (done twice!) before buying items. Fittings such as tapware can make a big impact in the bathroom so while it’s a small item, don’t just dismiss it as a small cost too.

19. Ventilation

No-one wants mould – it’s unsightly, hard to get rid of and hazardous to your health. So thwart it from the get-go by installing preventative measures such as exhaust fans, natural ventilation with windows, using moisture-proofing grout, paint primers and anti-mould paint.

If your bathroom is close to bedrooms, the biggest consideration with anti-mould prevention is the noise from the exhaust fan. It could be worth spending more on a quieter unit and also investing in one with a timer or humidity sensor so it doesn’t get left on all day.

20. Timing

A bathroom renovation is definitely not an overnight job and the time from start to completion can take between 2-8 weeks.

Further delays can often be caused by specialist tradespeople being unavailable at certain times, and holding up the process because additional work afterwards cannot be completed. For example, shower and floor tiling cannot be completed until waterproofing has been completed and you have been issued a waterproofing certificate.

Attempting to fast track work is very risky and can lead to expensive and even more time consuming re-work, so it’s important to have a complete plan of your renovation timeline, what’s needed, and contingencies when things go wrong.

21. Full gut = waste removal

If you’re ripping the old bathroom right back, removing the old walls will expose any old water damage which is a great thing as it allows it to be fixed rather than covered over. This may be an unforseen cost, so be sure to keep a 10% buffer in your budget.

If you’re doing a full gut yourself, then you’ll need to hire a skip bin for waste removal or transport it to a waste disposal site. Items such as baths, shower units and vanities can be recycled so be sure to check out your local buy, sell, swap groups before heading to landfill.

In NSW, approximately 75% of construction and demolition waste is diverted from landfill.

22. Inspiration

There are plenty of renovation blogs, home magazines and TV shows to get you started. Pinterest is always a good starting point, so sign up if you haven’t already to see not only professional examples of exquisite bathrooms but amateur ones too.

Check out the ServiceSeeking Bathroom Renovation Insipiration Gallery

23. Lighting

The bathroom is one space where lighting comes in many different shapes and sizes and all are equally important. It won’t cut it to throw a single globe in the middle of the room – in addition to that overheard general lighting, you’ll need task lighting at the vanity and maybe some accent lighting to show off artwork or recess areas.

Task lighting is best as two sconces at eye level on either side of the mirror to create the best lighting for make-up application, shaving and tooth care.

24. Mirrors

Large, well positioned mirrors can add additional depth to small bathrooms and give the illusion of more space.

There are a lot of different options, add-ons and features that can be added to your bathroom mirror to make your design really stand out. For example, a backlit bathroom mirror can instantly create beautiful soft lighting and a sense of luxury similar to a bathroom in a high-end hotel.

The shape (rounded or square/rectangle) and framing of your mirror (frameless/modern and minimal vs decorative) should complement the style of the rest of your bathroom’s interior design choices.

bathroom renovation backlit mirrors

Photo credit Thrashers Opera House

24. Going green

When building a new bathroom, it’s worth considering what environmentally-friendly aspects you can incorporate. They start as small as installing an aerator on the faucet and showerhead to reduce water consumption, choosing a low-flow toilet system, using low-VOC paint and energy-efficient lighting sources. Many of these options will not increase your out-of-pocket expense so are worthwhile as they create future savings.

25. Drop sheets

Don’t forget to buy a bunch of drop sheets to put down over your carpet or flooring from the front and back doors to the bathroom being renovated. You’ll have an influx of tradies and materials being carried through your home so protect it.

26. Portable loo

How long will you be without a toilet and shower? Discuss with your builder so you can determine whether you need to hire a port-a-loo for yourselves and the tradies you have on site. You might need to ask family and friends if you can use their shower for a few days too.

27. Two bathrooms at once

If you’re looking to renovate two bathrooms, then it’s advisable to do both at once to cut down costs by 25% or more. While it might be a massive inconvenience, it makes sense as you’ll only need the specialist trades on site once each.

A real bathroom renovation job from ServiceSeeking

Job Location: Sydney, NSW
Total Cost Paid: $30,000
Job Description:  Quote for labour only. Need to renovate main bathroom, ensuite, 2 toilets and a laundry.
Remove all fixtures and fittings fittings from all rooms
Remove all walls and tiles
Remove wall linings in main bathroom and ensuite bathroom
Disconnect and remove 2 baths
Waterproofing to Australian Standards and provide waterproofing certificate.
Install new1 x  bath, 3 toilets,  3x cabinets, 3 vanities, 2 frameless shower and fixtures like taps. These items would be supplied by myself.

28. Toilets

In addition to the aesthetics of your toilet choice, you should also consider the WELS ratings, to find the best water-efficient toilet for your new bathroom.

29. Hot water system

If your bathroom is in need of an upgrade, then perhaps your hot water system is too. Ensure your system is up to scratch for the new bathroom – you don’t want to run out of hot water! If it’s time for an upgrade of the system too, might be worth considering solar hot water too.

30. Design for accessibility for ageing

You might not be thinking about it just yet, but consider adding features to support you as you age. If this bathroom is going to be around for 20 years, consider what supports might be necessary in that timeframe. Or who else, such as elderly parents and grandparents, who might need to use the bathroom in the future. Handheld showers and easy-to-grip faucets are a start. Consider a barrier-free shower so there’s no big step into the recess. A wider doorway for walking frames or grab bars secured between stud walls are just a few things you could consider.  

31. Shower or tub

If you have small children, or likely to in the future, or you love a long soak in a bath then you probably already know you want a bath. But if your kids are grown and you hate soaking, then the choice might be harder. While some people say it’s better to include for resale, others see them as purely dust catchers. It really is a personal decision and will come down to how much space you have. Even in a small bathroom, a bath/shower combo can still generally fit if that’s what you want.

32. Are you hiding the plumbing – or not

Depending on the look you’re after, you need to decide whether you want to see or hide the plumbing supply lines. Industrial styles are popular and tend to leave the pipes exposed, but modern, clean designs will tend to hide them under or behind the vanity. It can have a dramatic effect on the overall ambience so is worth considering both options when deciding on fixtures.

Where to source tradies for your next bathroom renovation

The best way to find and hire the right tradies and bathroom renovation experts in Australia is to post your job on ServiceSeeking.com.auIt’s a free service, takes less than two minutes to post your job and there’s no obligation to hire.

Related Links

Prices quoted correct as of March 2018.