Expensive materials and high-end fixtures won't mean anything if the bath doesn't function comfortably and safely. Even if you're just replacing old fixtures with new ones in the same place, you want installers who demonstrate that they are very familiar with building codes and the plumbing, wiring, and structural aspects of the job.
Mistakes in this room can be costly or even deadly, especially with the combination of electricity and water. Moving a waste stack or a load-bearing wall is nothing to fool around with, either, so choose your bath designer and installer wisely.
You have a number of options when it comes to selecting the professional who will create your new bath, including an architect, an interior designer, or a building/remodeling contractor.
If your bath is part of a whole new house or a major remodeling, all of these experts may be involved.
These pros buy fixtures and other materials from a variety of sources at wholesale and charge you the retail markup, usually in addition to a professional fee for the overall planning and supervision of the work.
Hiring licensed professionals is important: If they don't apply for permits or don't do the work according to code, an inspection by building code officials could be a bad experience for you. If inspectors can't check your wiring and plumbing, you'll be compelled to tear out new drywall and fixtures so they can.
Any violations will be your problem and your cost, and if anyone is injured on your premises later due to noncode installations, you'll be in trouble again.
For this reason, experts advise that your contract specify that the hired professional apply for the contract in his or her name, not yours. That way, the contractor is responsible for making sure all work is done to code. Even if you're planning to do much of the work yourself, apply for all required permits, make sure you and everyone else's work meets code, and cooperate with inspections at each stage. They exist for your protection.
For any structural work, you'll need a licensed architect or designer/builder as well as licensed contractors and skilled tradespeople. You can also work directly with a bath dealer who's most often a kitchen dealer, too.
Whether this dealer is a high-end specialist or from the kitchen and bath department of your local hardware megastore, the dealer sells fixtures from his or her own showroom as well as installs them.
In this case, design services to actually plan your bathroom may either be handled as a separate professional fee or built into the price of the products used in your bath (Think twice about using dealers who advertise "free design services": If it's true, they may not be around long, or the quality may not be what you expect. If the design service price is actually built into the price of the products they install for you, you'd rather know that up front, too.)
Some bath designers are specialists but not dealers. These independent designers can spec (short for "specify," or select on your behalf) products from many sources, but they do specialize in bath design (and often kitchen design as well), offering their design services for a fee or a fee plus a markup.
They may be interior designers who have decided to specialize in kitchen and bath work or dealers who no longer want to run a product showroom. Follow the same procedures as above before making your decision: See photos, get explanations, and talk to references.
Some bath designers have been qualified, through education, professional experience, and testing, as Certified Bath Designers, identifiable by the "CBD" designation after their names. (There is also an equivalent "CKD" -- Certified Kitchen Designer -- designation that may be earned, and many bath designers hold both.)
A bath specialist who is a CBD is thoroughly versed in the "back-of-the-wall" aspects of design -- electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and building, among others, as well as design principles, drawing techniques, construction estimating, and more.
Some designers charge a fee plus a markup on products they specify; others take only a consulting fee. Most design providers will ask for a retainer (i.e., a percentage of the projected design cost) in advance.
Whomever you choose, he or she may provide only the design plus consultations with you and your tradespeople. Or they may oversee the contractors who, in turn, will supervise subcontractors such as the tile-setter, plumber, and electrician.
Can you just buy the design and act as your own general contractor? You won't need to with a bath dealer: He or she will provide a complete package, from design through installation. In this case, you'll probably pay a flat fee or a percentage of the total project that covers everything. If you choose an independent designer for the greater range of product choices, you'll pay an hourly rate or a flat fee for the design.
The designer will place orders on products for you (especially important if you want to buy through a to-the-trade design center) to ensure that everything is acquired in the correct size and style. The bill may come to the designer or directly to you, depending on the arrangements made. You can then choose to take the implementation to a contractor or act as your own general contractor.
If you want to act as your own contractor, do some studying on what's involved. You'll need to be aware of local building codes and legal language to ensure that your contracts hold the subcontractors to working within the rules.
You'll also need to know how to apply for building permits and plan for inspections by building code officials as well as at least understand the basics of each function, so you'll know if a job is going seriously awry. Be patient, and keep in mind that building code enforcement is for your protection against unscrupulous or shoddy work.
Whomever you hire, you'll rely on their expertise to guide you through technical issues, and you'll count on their integrity in working within your budget. What's more, your experts and their crews will be in your home and around your family for the life of the project. So make sure they really deserve your trust!
Before you begin tearing down walls and fixtures, there are some steps you should take first to prepare for the changes that renovation bring. On the next page, learn how best to prepare for remodeling a bathroom.