Contractors aren’t designers, either. We threw the contractor a curve when, before signing on the dotted line, we decided to replace the upstairs tub with a luxurious shower. Now it wasn’t a simple facelift. We should have hired a designer at that point.
One reason our first tile setter had problems is that no one had drawn the space for him and figured out where to start the tile and at what height. As he came to the window and had to make the tile in the shower line up with the tile outside the shower, he ran into problems.
Before the owner of the contracting company had the mislaid tile taken down, he brought in a designer to measure the room and to decide exactly where to place the tile, including where accent pieces would go. The new crew followed his drawing and had no problems.
In hindsight, the extra money the design/build firm wanted may have more than paid for our time and frustration. We spent many Saturdays shopping for tile, fixtures, and accessories. While we still would’ve had to do some of that with a design/build firm, it would have handled more details and narrowed our choices. It also would probably have saved us from ordering the wrong tub for our downstairs bath. More on that later.
“One misconception a lot of people have is that bathrooms are easy,” says Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodeling. “Bathrooms, from a design-and-construction point of view, are the hardest.”
It’s worth asking if a design/build firm has a certified bathroom designer on staff; not all do. A friend who paid a design fee to one firm was sent shopping for tile and fixtures with a woman she assumed was a designer but who turned out to be the office bookkeeper.
Lesson two: Unless you know design, it’s worth hiring a bathroom designer. Even if you don’t want to pay for a designer or a design/build firm to work on a project from start to finish, some independent designers offer advice for a flat fee—say, $250. At the very least, make sure your contractor has thought through or sketched out your bathroom, especially tile placement.
You usually get what you pay for.
That’s a golden rule you hear all the time, whether buying shoes or furniture. Still, homeowners often assume that a remodeler wanting twice the price for a project is marking up labor and materials too much. That’s sometimes true, but good subcontractors with more experience charge higher hourly rates. Bathrooms require experienced craftsmen—we learned that when our contractor brought in the second tile crew.
“A good question to ask is ‘How many of this type of project did you do in the past 12 months?’ ” says Richardson. “Ninety-nine percent of remodelers are generalists, not bathroom specialists. They may have done only four bathrooms in the past year.”
There’s no guarantee that a high-priced plumber or tile setter will do the job perfectly. Still, says Dee David, a bathroom designer in Falls Church, “you can’t get good quality at a cheap price. If you’re working with Joe in the truck, he probably won’t be able to deliver on your expectations.”
Our contractor gave us a one-year warranty on the work; the pricier design/build firm, we later learned, offers five years. In this economic climate, it’s also a good question whether a contractor will be in business next year—the more established the company, probably the better the chance.
Besides, says Mike Weaver of W.T. Weaver & Sons, a plumbing showroom in Georgetown, “people are always trying to save money, but they’ll probably not redo their bathroom for a very long time, so it’s important to do it right.”
Lesson three: If you’re paying for higher-end tile or fixtures, don’t skimp on labor.
You’ll have to take time off work to visit showrooms and meet contractors.
In an area where many people work long hours and some Home Depots are open around the clock, my husband and I assumed that bath showrooms would have evening and weekend hours. We were wrong.
Some tile and plumbing-supply shops are open Saturdays; a few are open Sundays or after hours by appointment. But many are geared to contractors, opening at perhaps 7 am and closing at 3 pm, with no weekend hours.
“If you want a good-quality designer, a good-quality contractor, you need to work with them on their schedule,” says David.