What NOT to Do During a Bathroom Renovation

Updated: Dec. 01, 2023

When it comes to updating your bathroom, what you don't do is just as important as what you do.

A bathroom renovation is a surefire way to add value to your home, along with a sense of contentment to your day-to-day routine. Envision going from a dingy old bathroom with outdated everything to a light, bright and spotless new one. However, you risk a serious letdown if you make certain mistakes during the renovation process.

Here are eight things NOT to do during a bathroom renovation.

Don’t Fail to Plan

Before you start ripping out tile, ordering towel bars or re-working the plumbing, take a step back and map out a complete plan. That wisdom comes from John Judd, Jr., co-owner of Judd Builders, an Asheville, N.C.-based construction company that specializes in custom homes and remodels.

“Figuring (it) out as you go does not work,” Judd says.

What goes into said plan? For starters, the design and layout. Judd says you also need to select your fixtures and cabinets (toilet, shower, vanity, etc.) and decide whether you need to bring pros in for more complicated tasks, as electrical work.

If you don’t plan and just dive right in? Expect to spend a lot of extra time and money. You’re also bound to experience a few extra headaches and lots of hassle, because you’ll quickly realize your new tub won’t fit through the door, or that the faucet you picked out isn’t compatible with your sink.

And don’t let the fact that you’ve never designed a bathroom before keep you from taking this critical step. Some cabinet manufactures and home improvement stores offer this service free to customers. You can also use web-based or downloadable design apps to help create your plan. Some, like Sketchup, are free.

Don’t Forget to Vent

Even the most luxurious bathroom is a fail without proper ventilation. “If you don’t (install a fan), you will get high humidity and may have mold and moisture issues,” Judd says. Plus, building codes require bathrooms to have an exterior window or a fan that exhausts to the outside.

Another problem? Installing a fan that exhausts into the attic. In this case, you’re just moving the moisture — along with the risk of mold — from the bathroom to another location, Judd says. The solution is obvious: Install a fan with exterior exhaust.

Ariana Lovato, a National Kitchen & Bath Association-certified designer and owner of Honeycomb Home Design in Shell Beach, Cal., recommends the Panasonic Whisper fan. It’s quiet, easy to install, energy efficient and can be used in a shower enclosure if — and only if — it is GFCI protected, according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Don’t Use Improper Materials

Some things, like shower enclosures, are made specifically for bathrooms. Others are more ambiguous. Paint is the perfect example of this — as long as your ventilation is on point, you’ll be fine with a satin sheen paint, says Lovato. And some, like certain types of wallpaper and tile. fall squarely into the “don’t use” category.

“It is really not advisable to use regular wallpaper in a moist environment like a bathroom,” Lovato says. Vinyl-backed wallpaper is the way to go, she says, because regular wallpaper will peel and fade quickly in a bathroom.

The same goes for natural stone tile, says Judd. If you’re going to use tile in your bathroom, he recommends porcelain because of its fail-safe properties. “Natural stone (requires) more sealant and more upkeep and that is hard in a bathroom or shower when you have soap suds,” he explains. “It can be a maintenance and cleaning nightmare.”

Don’t Skip Underlayment

And speaking of tile, Judd says if you’re installing tile flooring — or any type of flooring for that matter — don’t neglect putting down underlayment between your subfloor and finished floor. Why? Because the underlayment acts as a protective membrane between the other two layers, shielding your flooring from humidity and flood damage and reducing the risk of other types of damage (like cracks in the grout).

Underlayment is available in materials like foam, cork and polyurethane, depending on the specifics of your flooring. Judd says he likes Schluter-brand products for their waterproofing qualities and warranties.

Don’t Cover Your Tub With a Plastic Liner

If your bathtub has seen better days, it might be tempting to simply glue a PVC or acrylic bathtub liner over the surface of your existing tub/walls instead of replacing the tub altogether. After all, the liners typically cost less than a full-on replacement. They also help improve the aesthetics of your bathroom in no time flat. You’ve probably seen TV ads for the companies that promise to refresh your bathroom with one of these liners in less than a day.

Unfortunately, all you are really getting with these liners is a case of too-good-to-be-true. “I don’t recommend them at all,” says Eldon Rameaux, a plumbing inspector in West St. Paul, Minn. “You will get water and moisture behind (it), so you are just asking for black mold.”

Better to find another way to upgrade an unsightly bathtub. Of course, you can remove the entire tub and start fresh. Or leave the tub itself in place and retile the walls. Depending on the type of tub you have, you can refinish or paint it. Or perhaps it just needs a really good cleaning and some new hardware? In any case, don’t trust the liners.

Don’t Put Your Toilet in the Wrong Place

A toilet is a central feature in any bathroom, but that doesn’t mean you want it to be the centerpiece. “You never really want a toilet directly across from a door opening so you are staring at the toilet (from the adjacent room),” says Lovato. From an aesthetics perspective, Lovato says it’s much better to have the vanity in the line of sight.

Furthermore, select a toilet that fits properly in the allotted space. Every state, Rameaux says, requires a 15-inch gap between a toilet and whatever is next to it, measured from the center of the toilet’s base. Does your vanity drawer hit the toilet when you open it, or are you unable to stand in between your toilet and the shower? This means your space is too tight. Options include moving the toilet, getting a smaller toilet or swapping the vanity out for something that allows for the required space.

Don’t Overlook Storage

Have you ever stepped out of the shower, only to realize you forgot to grab a towel from the hallway linen closet? If so, lack of storage in your bathroom is at least partly to blame.

If you are renovating a bathroom, take the opportunity to fix this problem by incorporating at least some space for storage (like a place for towels) into the design, says Lovato. No, you don’t need an expansive bathroom to make this happen. Functional storage options for small spaces exist as well. Think carts with wheels, over-the-door hooks, medicine cabinets that double as mirrors and over-the-toilet shelving.

Lovato also urges would-be bathroom remodelers to consider the size of their personal care items when selecting a bathtub or shower. The shower ‘”niche,” the inlet in your tub or shower wall that holds shampoo, soap, etc., should be tall and wide enough for your products, Lovato says. “We will literally measure our clients’ shampoo bottles to make sure they (will) fit,” she says.

Don’t Prioritize Looks Over Durability

While Rameaux says he understands the draw of sleek-looking bathroom faucets, it is a mistake to select your bathroom faucets based on looks alone.

Sometimes, he says, faucets don’t have a whole lot to offer other than looks, and you’ll find yourself replacing them sooner rather than later because the finish rubs off and no longer looks good. Or, worse, that pretty faucet doesn’t hold up to normal use. You get a lot more bang for your buck, he says, with a standard single-handle model than with a “fancy” faucet.

Likewise, Lovato says be wary of overly-trendy bathroom design. “What you see on Pinterest is … beautiful, but it isn’t for everybody’s house,” she says, adding you don’t want your design to scream “2021!” in a few years when you go to sell your home. Instead, be mindful of your home’s overall look and feel, and be sure to create continuity between the bathrooms and nearby spaces so it feels cohesive.

“I think areas where you can inject some style are with light fixtures and mirrors,” she says. “But stay a little more traditional on plumbing fixtures and not doing everything in black or brass if it doesn’t suit your house.”