DIY Tips for Giving Your Bathroom a Facelift

Two passionate HGTV fans share how they completed a $20,000 project for $6,000.

There is beauty to be found in the undertaking of a seemingly impossible task. Building Our Rez Blogger and amateur craftsman Austin Alvarez learned as much when he and his wife Liz took on a full master bath renovation themselves in their first home. ESTATENVY chatted with Alvarez about some of the tips picked up from the experience, an ambitious DIY project that began with overconfidence, climaxed with frustration and concluded with great pride.

Do your research and consult the pros

By doing the bathroom’s plumbing and electrical work themselves, Austin and Liz saved a ton of money. That being said, “If you're going to do electrical or plumbing yourself, you can destroy your house,” Alvarez warned.

To circumvent the risk involved, he read an entire book on the basics of plumbing and shadowed an experienced electrician before taking anything on. “Learn from someone who knows what they’re doing,” he said. “I avoided mistakes by way of a pro’s supervision and guidance.”

Practice makes perfect

Wherever possible, DIYers should take the chance to do a test run. For Alvarez, this was especially important as he was building his plumbing skills. “I tested out my copper pipe sweating skills by attaching it to a hose to make sure the joints were quality,” he said. “The first several times they weren’t. But all of the leaking happened outside until the fitting was perfect.”

Start small with tiling

“Tiling is a great beginner DIY project,” Alvarez noted. Before taking on the bathroom floor, he and Liz retiled the laundry room for practice before graduating to a bigger space. “Start in the smallest area possible, and work from the corner out. We used super large tiles so there was less trowelling to be done, fewer spacers, and easier placement.” He sees it as a great learning experience, adding, “The worst that can happen is having an uneven floor, and I can live with that.”

Peruse the YouTube toilet replacement scene

Another reasonable DIY bathroom endeavor worth taking on is toilet replacement. If a bathroom is being renovated, it’s likely because its outdated, which goes for the toilet as well. According to Alvarez, there is a pretty dense catalog of YouTube videos to guide an amateur through the process. “I watched YouTube to get comfortable with basics. It covered everything: setting the wax ring, connecting the toilet to the plumbing supply line, attaching the tank to the bowl. It totally simplified the whole process for me,” he said.

Give the vanity and mirror an upgrade

One of the biggest visual returns on investment for Austin and Liz was their revamped vanity. “It was the project where we obtained that ‘wow’ factor with the least amount of work,” Alvarez said. DIYers can painting their existing vanity, remove and replace the pulls an hardware, and change out fixtures, for a simple and inexpensive yet noticeable upgrade.

Beyond the base of the vanity, theres a lot of fun to be had in updating a mirror. Alvarez suggested framing out an existing mirror with stained or painted wood. “You can also take down your current mirror and use a $5 mirror cutter to make two smaller, individual mirrors, expanding the vanity,” he said. For their bathroom, he and Liz salvaged an old window, turned it face down and cut out the trim and glass panes, then took them to a glass shop to have mirrors cut in the same size. All it took was a caulk adhesive to reinstall the new panes and complete the distinct look.

Austin’s most memorable moment from the entire bathroom renovation was the day it was complete. “You appreciate things you work hard for. If we had paid someone to do the whole thing, we wouldn't have loved it as much,” he said. “We were able to achieve the aesthetic and quality we desired while gaining skills and saving money along the way.”

He continues to take on DIY projects because he believes the more you do yourself, the more you learn and the more you can teach others. Check out Austin and Liz’s Building Our Rez blog here.