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Remodel Bargain: How to Upgrade a Bathroom Cheaply

Updated on October 31, 2015

I am by no means an expert in any field. My only claim to fame is that I have a willingness to learn and attempt new projects. I would also call myself frugal, but the hubby calls me cheap, whatever works. That being said, this is how I remodeled my bathroom for less than $400

It all started with me washing the floor in my very dated, very sinfully wallpapered guest bathroom. Near the base of the toilet I thought I smelled sewer, or mold, or something similar. Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the toilet was leaking around the base, but the previous owners had caulked around the toilet to mask it. The end result was that the nastiness was seeping underneath the vinyl flooring.

I immediately ran for my “super tool”, the internet. After much Googling and Yahooing I came to the sad conclusion that the toilet had to be pulled and the flooring replaced. This began my very first foray into the remodeling realm, which took me through several DYI milestones in very quick succession.

Damaged Vinyl Flooring

Sewer Seepage Between the Layers of Linoleum
Sewer Seepage Between the Layers of Linoleum | Source

Coordinating Bathroom Travertine Floor Tile

The first step was to pull that toilet. Now, after watching YouTube videos on the subject I quickly surmised that this was a job for Super Hubby, so I waited, not so patiently, for him to get off work. Boy was Hubby surprised when he got home; and I don’t mean the “wow, you shouldn’t have” kind of surprise, but the” Oh man, I just got home from work and now I have to play in crap?” kind of surprise. Never the less, he recovered quickly and popped that toilet out quick as a wink. It was bad. I mean really bad. The previous owners had installed the wax ring incorrectly and the sewer was spilling outside its intended tidy path. There were two layers of vinyl flooring and the leak was seeping between them. The smell was deplorable. We stuffed some plastic bags in the drain to keep the smell in and stuff out, and went shopping.

Bargain Hunting

Since I had to do the floors, it just made sense to tackle the whole room at once. While perusing my local big box store I found a few boxes of peel and stick flooring tile that were on clearance. There was enough for my project, the price was right, and they were very attractive, so into the cart they went. The next isle over was the wallpaper section where I found a nice neutral paper that matched my tiles. Usually I am one to eschew wallpaper, but I really liked the Tuscan stucco look of this, and wouldn’t you know it, it was on sale too. I found a bronze look mirror, two matching cabintet pulls, some hooks for the back of the door, and oh yea, I picked up a new wax ring for the toilet too.

A quick stop at at another bargain haunt of mine netted me some towel bars, a toilet paper holder and shower curtain rod that matched my emerging Tuscan scheme. I also found a wonderful light fixture in the oil rubbed bronze to replace the ugly brass “beauty bar” that was above the mirror. I hesitated only briefly and decided that I should be able to follow the directions enough to change the light fixtures myself.

Before and After: Wallpaper

Walls prepped, primed and ready for new wallpaper
Walls prepped, primed and ready for new wallpaper | Source
New wallpaper going up... notice the large sponge for smoothing the airbubbles.
New wallpaper going up... notice the large sponge for smoothing the airbubbles. | Source

Change Out That Dated Wallpaper

Next I tackled the wallpaper removal. This was not as bad as it could have been. I used a wallpaper scoring tool to put little cuts into the wallpaper, and then sprayed down the wall with hot tap water that had a little fabric softener in it. Wait about five minutes and then you just run your putty knife under the wallpaper and it pulls away from the wall pretty easily. Just wipe the walls down with a damp cloth to remove any leftover glue. Pay particular attention to any wallpaper borders you may have. You may neet to run your scoring tool over the wallpaper again once the border has been removed.

Putting the paper up was a little harder than removing it. All I can say is follow the manufacturer’s directions, and have several new blades for your razor knife. Dull blades rip the wet paper, which reminds me; have extra rolls of paper in the same dye lot. You can return them later if you don’t use them.

Remember to smooth out the air bubbles as you go along. I used a very large natural sponge for this and it worked really well.

Smart Bathroom Upgrades

Removing That Old Vinyl Flooring

The next day I commenced to removing the linoleum. I don’t care what anyone says… there is no easy way to do this. The first layer just pulled up leaving glue on the facing of the lower layer. This caused the lower layer to be brittle and break as I pulled it up. Then, there is the glue on the concrete, oh wow the glue. Eight hours of backbreaking work and I had the whole floor stripped and lightly sanded. A quick tip that worked for me: Soak bath towels with the hottest tap water and let them sit on the glue for about 10 min before you scrape. And wear a mask, for goodness sake, wear a mask.

Installing the New Floor Tiles

Once I had the walls done and there was no chance of getting glue or paint on the new flooring, I started laying the tiles. This was as easy as they say it is; just follow the manufacturer’s directions. Remember to always start in the center of the room, and butt those pieces up against one another nice and snug. You really don’t want to have open seams or gaps between the tiles, trust me on this one. Once that was done I sealed the seams with a seam sealer for that type of flooring.

Before Pictures

Before: ugly wallpaper and outdated fixtures
Before: ugly wallpaper and outdated fixtures | Source
Sink removed from vanity to facilitate attaching faucet
Sink removed from vanity to facilitate attaching faucet | Source

Changing those Ugly brass Light Fixtures Out

Next I turned my attention to the lighting fixtures. Now, by all means if you do not feel 100% comfortable with electrical wiring, have someone else do this. Just remember to shut off the breaker for the lights that you will be working on. I ran an extension cord from the bedroom and plugged in a standing lamp to give me enough light to work by.

I just removed the old fixture from the wall. This exposed the large wiring nuts that connect the house wiring to the fixture wiring. I removed these and trashed the ugly light bar. Then you just do the reverse with the new fixture: Attach the wiring paying attention to ensure the colors match up; screw on the wiring nuts to cover the exposed wires, and attach the fixture to the wall. I used the same process to change out the ceiling light as well. Since I was feeling like a real go getter, I changed the outdated receptacle for one of those that have its own breaker, which of course is usually required within 3 feet of a water source anyway.


Replacing a Bathroom Faucet

At this point I decided that an oil-rubbed bronze faucet would dress up that old bathroom vanity quite nicely. These are usually quite expensive, but, you can check online; I found one online for a fraction of the cost with free shipping. You just can't beat that.

Attaching the new faucet wasn’t even that bad. I just turned off the water, disconnected the water lines from the wall, loosened the goose neck and then removed the whole sink from the top of the vanity. This made it very easy to attach the new fixture and reach those crazy nuts at the back. Then I just dropped the sink back in, and reattached the drain and water lines. You will need some plumbers putty for seating the sink back to the base, and some plumbers tape for keeping the drain pipe from leaking at the joint. I haven’t had a single leak in this bathroom.

After Pictures

After DIY Bathroom Remodel
After DIY Bathroom Remodel | Source
After DIY Bathroom Remodel
After DIY Bathroom Remodel | Source

Replace Old Bathroom Accessories

Now the Hubby is called back in to reattach the toilet. This is a relatively quick and simple job, but the toilet is so heavy and unwieldy that I couldn’t even attempt it alone. Pay particular attention to your wax ring; this was the root of our whole problem in the first place.

Now it is just a matter of changing the cabinet hardware, hanging your towel racks and shower rod, and voila, a whole new look! Don’t forget a a new set of coordinating towels,rugs and shower curtains.

Total price tag on my complete overhaul of the guest bath was under $400. Not bad if watching those interior design shows is any indicator of cost to redo the whole room including plumbing and electrical fixtures.

This particular project gave me the tools and experience I needed to tackle my kitchen remodel a few months later.



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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good job

    • Mrs. Obvious profile image

      Willow Mattox 

      8 years ago from Northern California

      I did two bathrooms myself too but for alot more money. We had extensive floor damage and had to replace the subfloor and also some drywall due to mold damage. Yours look really nice and stylish!

    • cartechz profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow. This looks great. Thanks for sharing this. I think taking advantage of a modeling architectural software to design your bathroom is a great idea.

    • Vicki99 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Meridian Idaho

      Thank you. I really did have fun and learned alot from this project.

    • uliveulearn profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      Good job on the bathroom and the hub. Makes me want to get to work.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks for the good info & how-to. Not sure if I would ever be brave enough to take on such a project since I am all thumbs.

    • Vicki99 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Meridian Idaho

      Glad to hear that my story inspires someone! If I can do it, anyone can.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub. Love before and after pics. Oddly inspirational too. Motivates me to fix that ugly sink I've been living with. Thanks!

    • Vicki99 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Meridian Idaho

      Thank you. It is a great feeling when you finish a project like this, isn't it?

    • h.a.borcich profile image


      9 years ago

      Great hub! We just refinished 3 bathrooms just as you have :) Holly


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