Muted elegance is on display in this bathroom in its window treatments, cabinet design, and grand soaking tub.

Preparing for a Bathroom Remodeling Project

Preparing for a bathroom remodeling project involves more than just choosing fixtures and selecting paint. Check with the attorney general's office in your state and with your local Better Business Bureau to be sure there are no unresolved complaints against the professional you're considering.

For contractors, ask to see property damage, liability, and workers' compensation insurance. (Don't just take their word for it. Tell them your lawyer insists you see each individual policy and note the policy number; dates the policy is in effect; and the name, address, and phone number of each company providing coverage.

Before work starts, call to be sure policies are still in force.) If building permits are needed, make sure they're made out in the contractor's name, not yours.

Liking the professional you choose is important, because they'll be around your home and family for awhile. But before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to ask for photos of a number of bathroom designs they've executed, and ask them to explain the "before" situation -- what client problems, both design and technical, they were required to solve.

Also, be sure to ask for at least three or four references from clients for whom they've done bathrooms, specifically. Don't rely on how handsome the exterior of a house looks, how stunning a living room decor is, or how nice a new sunroom addition turned out. You want to see bathrooms and talk to their owners!

When you check references, ask if their projects were completed on schedule, if the pro was responsive to their calls, and if he or she kept them informed about the progress of the projects.

If you'll be living in your home while the work is being done, ask if the workers left the place "broom clean" at night or in a mess, if they woke the baby with loud music, and if they were easy to live with. Ask if they'd hire the contractor again or recommend him or her to family and friends.

When you meet with your prospective professionals, be sure you have an elementary rapport with them. Do you believe they're knowledgeable? Honest? Pleasant and responsive? Reliable and unflappable? Do they seem interested in your needs, your lifestyle, and your dreams? If anything "just doesn't feel right," look further. Chemistry counts!

Finally, make sure the professional gives you a quote that fully describes the work, the specific products to be used (by brand name, type, model number, color, size, etc.), the costs, the starting and completion dates (plus conditions of, and penalties for, nonperformance), and the terms of payment.

If it's a $1,500 job, you won't need a full-blown contract as you would for a job worth $15,000, but be sure the basics are covered in writing. It's your home and your money.

These homeowners clearly had a specific goal in mind for this remodeling job: more storage! The result is an ultramodern bath with cabinets built right up to the ceiling to make use of every square inch of space.

Surviving Your Bath Remodeling

If you're remodeling your only bath, the situation is much more challenging than if you're adding or expanding a second bath or simply redecorating or replacing fixtures.

Losing your one bath, even for a few days, is tough, so if you're planning a second bath somewhere down the road, it may be worthwhile for you to switch projects and install the second bath before disabling the first (and only) one.

Installers can sometimes work around the problem, keeping fixtures useable during at least part of the project, but a better alternative, depending on your situation, may be to rent a portable toilet booth like the kind used on construction sites and wash in the kitchen sink. Another option is to live somewhere else for the critical period of the project when fixtures are out of commission.

Obviously, you won't want to embark on remodeling your lone bathroom while trying to toilet train a toddler, but let's face it: Modern life is stressful. There's little point in waiting until "things" settle down to start your bath project, because that's unlikely to happen. Instead, use common sense to get the most out of your installation crew, save your house, and get your sanity back more quickly.

Before work begins, hold a preconstruction conference to give you and everyone involved in the project a chance to go over the details, ask questions, and give answers. Having a realistic understanding of what's involved with the project on a day-to-day basis will go a long way in helping you cope with the stress of disruption and inevitable mess.

Work schedules should be reviewed at this time, and you should be given clear information on whom to contact, and how, if anything seems to be going wrong. Whoever is serving as your general contractor and hiring the subcontractor specialists should be responsible for orchestrating all the elements, including when workers and materials arrive.

If either a scheduled crew or a scheduled delivery doesn't show up, contact the contractor. It does little good to rail at the workers who are there; the contractor should be reachable immediately by pager or cell phone, at least through his office. Here's where you'll be glad you asked prior clients how responsive this contractor was before you signed the contract!

As for delays, you can ask that the contract include a penalty clause that reduces your fee if the job is delayed for reasons that are not acts of God. However, the contractor may then want the contract to include a bonus if they bring the work in ahead of schedule. (Both of these clauses are common in commercial, but not residential, work.)

Most contractors will try to give you an honest ballpark estimate of when they can start the work and when they expect to complete it, but problems on jobs that precede yours and problems they discover during your project can easily delay starting or finishing your project.

Plan a solid cushion -- say a month -- for Murphy's Law to take effect, and don't schedule your job so that the work is supposed to be done two days before your daughter's at-home wedding.

Well before the crews arrive, brief your family thoroughly, and get answers to any questions they may have. Make sure the contractor has scheduled a dumpster and knows where it's to be installed on your property. When the dumpster arrives, finish any demising work you've agreed to do, and clean up the space. The day before, clear out the bathroom, and put drop cloths over furniture and floors in the hall and nearby rooms to protect them from dust, which can be considerable.

Double-check with the contractor that, when the crews arrive, they'll be affixing sheets of clear plastic like curtains over doorways to contain the dust and debris and that they'll be removing the debris to the dumpster at the end of each day. (Your contract should specify that the work area will be left "broom clean" each night.)

When the crews arrive, show them how and where to shut off and turn on the water. Then, stay out of the way except to answer questions and keep a general eye on things.

What if you want something different during the job? Changes can really add up, so don't handle them in an impromptu manner with a casual conversation. Be sure your contract includes a provision that "all changes will be handled through signed change orders," and look at what you're signing.

At the conclusion of the job, your contractor will accompany you through the project with a punch list to make sure every detail has been taken care of as agreed. Reputable professionals will be interested in making sure you're happy to sign off on the job and make that final payment. After all, they want you to provide that rave review for their next prospective customer!

Designing a bath as beautiful as this one takes meticulous planning -- from you and your contractor. Take the time to ask questions and go over every detail to ensure you end up with the bath you've always dreamed of.

So you've decided to remodel your bathroom, and you know how to hire bathroom remodeling professionals. Now comes the fun part! On the next page, check out some bathroom design ideas.

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