Flush with New Ideas
It’s one of the most important rooms in the house — resale-wise, and otherwise. And yet, many people live with something that’s been outdated for 20 years or more. New materials, products, and techniques provide an array of creative and often-affordable options for giving the bathroom a new life.
A bathroom makeover can be functional and involve a simple update, or turn the space into a spa-like retreat with recessed lighting, a heated floor, a spacious tiled shower with multiple shower heads and built-in benches, or a deep soaking tub where the water vibrates in response to soft music.
The choices are almost limitless, and thanks to new materials and technology, there are solutions for every budget that result in a fresh, clean, updated look.
“The two rooms that affect resale value the most are the kitchen and the bathroom; they tend to be most expensive to remodel, but are also the most important,” said Jason Cusimano, owner of Bathfitter of Western Mass. in Greenfield, which specializes in customized acrylic tub liners, wall systems, and shower-to-bath conversions.
Jim Belle-Isle agrees. “The bathroom is the first thing people see in the morning and the last room they see before they go to bed,” said the owner of BathCrafters in Chicopee, which also specializes in custom acrylic tub liners, wall systems, and conversions.
The two rooms that affect resale value the most are the kitchen and the bathroom; they tend to be most expensive to remodel, but are also the most important.”
Affordable Baths Inc. in Springfield, meanwhile, does complete makeovers that begin with gutting the entire room. The existing footprint can be replicated, or the room may get an entirely new design, which allows a homeowner to be as creative as their budget and imagination allow.
“Many people are suffering with bathrooms that have been outdated for 10 or 15 years; they wait to remodel until they are ready to put their house on the market, but if you are going to spend the money, you should do it at least a few years before you sell so you can enjoy it,” said Craig O’Connor, owner of Affordable Baths, adding that a remodeled bathroom adds instant equity to a home.
Local bath remodelers say the majority of their clients are 35 and older, and are remodeling or making changes because the room is outdated or has problems due to mold and mildew. Baby Boomers also make up a large part of their business, and those who plan to stay in their homes often want the bathtub converted into a spacious shower stall with grab bars, a seat, and recessed soap holders.
“Twenty years ago, we did one shower conversion for every tub makeover. Now the ratio is one-to-one,” Cusimano said as he spoke about the growing trend. “The bathroom usually has a small footprint, but eliminating a tub can make the space seem amazingly larger.”
Trends and styles come and go, but white fixtures are the most popular, followed by neutrals that include beige and gray. Although many remodeling shows on TV feature bathrooms with intricate tiles and daring designs in shower stalls, grouted seams require maintenance, and most New Englanders want surfaces that are easy to clean and prefer wall surrounds or large, block-style tiles.
For this edition and its focus on home improvement, BusinessWest explores options offered by local remodelers that range from complete makeovers to less-costly renovations that include relining and resurfacing tubs, sinks, wall tiles, and bath surrounds, extending their life and giving them a clean, updated look.
O’Connor’s Springfield showroom contains tiles, vanities, showerheads, shower stalls, faucets, lighting, countertop samples, flooring, and everything else needed for a complete bathroom remodel. The typical cost of a job in New England is $14,000, but Affordable Bath can usually do a complete remodel for $10,000, as long as the footprint isn’t changed. However, the price rises if people choose costly options such as heated floors, custom tile bath surrounds, or vanities larger than 36 inches.
The room is gutted down to the studs, and the remodeling takes a week or two to complete. It can be inconvenient for homeowners who have only one bathroom, but the new bath or shower is ready for use by the end of the first week, and clients are offered Porta Potty units.
Gunmetal-gray-colored vanities are growing in popularity, but most people choose shades of brown, and quartz countertops are replacing granite; the material is slightly more expensive, but doesn’t require maintenance and resists stains.
O’Connor told BusinessWest that many people whose master bathrooms have Jacuzzi tubs are eliminating them or replacing them with deep-soaking or claw-foot models.
Claw-foot tubs come in cast iron, which retains the temperature of the water for long periods of time, or acrylic, which weighs less and is a good choice for second floors.
Some Baby Boomers and seniors are also looking toward the future and choosing walk-in tubs.
“The surfaces are heated, and the jets can be positioned to hit the knees, hips, or lower back,” O’Connor said, adding that roll-in showers with fold-down seats and grab bars are another option that eliminate the need to step over a wall to bathe.
“We’ve created bathrooms that range from a basic remodel that meets practical needs to spaces that provide the comfort of a private, spa-like retreat,” he continued, noting that the company recently remodeled a master bathroom and installed an oversized Jacuzzi tub and separate shower with multiple showerheads, custom tiles, a built-in bench, and a frameless glass exterior.
Although a complete makeover is the ultimate choice, there are many options for people who don’t need or want that option or can’t afford it. They include having a custom-made acrylic tub and liner installed over the existing one. The liners usually have lifetime warranties, and the entire job can be done in about two days and enhanced with a new sink with fancy faucets and a new toilet.
“We have more than 1,000 acrylic molds that fit every cast-iron or steel tub, along with multiple designs and colors,” Cusimano said, adding that bronze or brushed nickel drains or overflows are popular and an average job costs $3,000 to $4,000, although prices for tub-to-shower conversions range from $1,000 to $7,000, depending on factors that include how much plumbing is required and whether the homeowner wants built-in seats and other high-end features.
He told BusinessWest that acrylic is a very high-end plastic and far more durable than old bath surrounds that tend to be made of fiberglass. The material is easy to clean, and the finish never wears off, as acrylic is not a coating.
Many bathrooms remodelers are called upon to change have baby-blue or pink tubs and fixtures, and tiles that were also used as wainscoting and were popular in the ’40s and ’50s.
The tiles are often removed before a new wall system is put in place, and water damage caused by small cracks in the tiles or grouting behind them is repaired.
“There can be hundreds of seams in a tiled bathroom where water can get in,” Cusimano said, adding that some people have no idea that this has been happening.
Most tub liners and wall systems need beading where the edges meet, but new barrier materials are infused with mildicides and antimicrobial additives.
The wall systems Bathfitter uses don’t come in pieces, but are custom-made after taking measurements with a laser. They extend from the edge of the tub or shower to the ceiling, and the corners are bent so there are no seams inside the tub.
Soap dishes and corner caddies can be added, along with acrylic on the ceiling, and bowed rods are gaining popularity as they make the area seem more spacious.
BathCrafters also makes custom tub liners that are formed to fit perfectly over existing tubs, and if tile walls are in excellent shape, Belle-Isle said, they can be covered with acrylic liners, which reduces the cost of removing them. In addition, tile wainscoting in dated colors can be covered with tile-shaped acrylic.
“The biggest decision they have to make is whether they want a shower door. It does pose a maintenance issue, but some people want glass doors without metal frames,” he noted.
Although tub surrounds come in many colors and designs, neutral palettes allow people to change the look of the bathroom in the future without having to spend a lot of money. “People can get creative with floor tile, vanity tops, and paint colors,” Belle-Isle said, adding that he often reminds customers that it is much easier to redo a floor than a tub and surround.
“Remodeling can cost a lot, but the main issue in a bathroom is usually the tub or shower. Many don’t want to completely gut the room, but they do want a look that is modern and doesn’t require much maintenance, and we can provide that,” he continued, adding that everything he installs is customized to fit.
Miracle Method of Ludlow offers another option that is the least expensive choice but completely updates the look of a bathroom, tub, or shower area and extends the life of existing tubs and showers that are scratched, chipped, or contain outdated colors. After the tub or wall surround is professionally cleaned, a high-end coating is applied, which contains a bonding agent that fuses with the old surface.
Owner Jim Kenney says the entire process takes five to six hours and cures overnight. Prices start at $585 for a standard bathtub, and sinks, countertops, and tiled walls can also be sprayed.
“We can change the entire color scheme and use the same acrylic on tile walls, which will give the room a fresh new look and bring it up to date,” he explained.
In addition, Miracle Method does step-through cutaways in bathtubs that turn them into shower stalls and are popular with seniors. “We cut a 24-inch wide step into the side rail so it is easier to get into,” Kenney explained, adding that he leaves five inches on either end of the cutaway and can install grab bars and apply a non-slip surface to the floor before the coating is sprayed onto it. The cost of this makeover with grab bars is about $1,450, and it is a growing part of his business.
Bathrooms are used on a daily basis by homeowners as well as their guests, and can reflect a person’s decorating style or simply serve as a functional room that meets basic needs.
But the look and age of the tub, sink, toilet, and walls can make it a place to avoid or one that is enjoyable to visit, Belle-Isle said. “When the environment in a bathroom is pleasant, it makes a big difference in a person’s overall mood.”