Luxury for Less

It can cost $10,000 to $20,000 to have a bathroom professionally renovated—even more with high-end components. Fortunately, there are ways to improve how a bathroom looks and feels that don’t require a major investment.

Here’s a look at five projects that can provide a lot of bang for your buck…

A narrow-depth vanity and quartz countertop. Quartz is excellent for bathroom countertops, but it can be expensive, perhaps $60 to $100 per square foot. Quartz countertops, engineered from ground quartz, an extremely hard mineral, are very scratch- and stain-resistant…require very little maintenance…and look great.

To contain costs, choose a narrow depth. Countertops and vanities traditionally are 21 inches deep, but most people like an 18-inch-deep countertop as much or more—the narrower unit makes the bathroom feel bigger and makes it easier to lean across the vanity for a close-up look in the mirror. Slicing three inches off the depth of a quartz countertop saves $15 to $25 per linear foot. Bathroom vanity cabinets that are 18 inches deep are increasingly available. Savings: $100 on a four-foot-long vanity.

Helpful: If you replace your vanity and countertop, consider making it taller than standard ones, too. Instead of the traditional 31-to-32-inch height, many people prefer 36 inches when given the choice.

Better lighting. In most bathrooms, all lighting is overhead, which casts shadows and gives everyone raccoon eyes. Adding wall sconces at roughly eye level…or a bathroom mirror that has lights around its perimeter…can solve this problem and make the whole room seem brighter and more pleasant. The mirror or sconces could cost anywhere from $100 to several hundred depending on what you select.

If you opt for hardwired sconces rather than ones that plug into outlets, expect to pay an electrician between $300 and $500 to wire them into the electrical system.

Also: Consider adding LED tape lighting—long strips containing many small lights—in unobtrusive locations in the bathroom, such as the underside of the vanity. Choose spots where the tape itself cannot be directly seen—tape lighting can look tacky when it is directly in view. It provides an easy and inexpensive way to add a dramatic lighting highlight. Do-it-yourself plug-in or hardwired LED tape-lighting kits often sell for around $50 to $100.

Large floor tiles. Porcelain or ceramic tiles are a great choice for bathroom floors. They look good and require relatively little upkeep…and quality tile can be found for just $5 to $10 a square foot. Installation can add another $4 to $10 per square foot—but choosing large 18-inch-by-18-inch tiles can keep the installation costs close to the low end of that range. It takes a tile installer much less time to put in one large tile than many smaller ones. In contrast to what you might think, big tiles make small rooms feel bigger…and they require less grout per square foot, which minimizes the amount of upkeep they’ll require from you in the future.

Underfloor electric heat. This might sound like an extravagance, but if you’re replacing your bathroom floor anyway, it’s actually not that expensive. And once you have experienced warm bathroom floors, you’ll agree that it is money well-spent.

The Ditra-Heat system from Schluter Systems does a wonderful job and costs around $650 for a kit that is capable of heating about 43 square feet. It’s connected to your home’s wiring and controlled with a wall-mounted digital thermostat. Expect to pay an electrician around $200 to $400 to have it installed.

Toilet with super-slick enamel. Toilet makers have developed enamel finishes so smooth that waste has nothing to attach itself to, even on a microscopic level. These toilets can completely flush away waste using just 1.2 gallons of water—much less than older toilets. That means that it can trim about 25% from a home’s water bill (which could save you around $150 a year) and you won’t have to scrub the toilet as often.

All major toilet makers are working on smoother enamel, but Toto’s SanaGloss is easily the best—and it’s available on some ­affordably priced Toto toilets, such as the Drake, which sometimes can be found in stores for less than $350.


These bathroom features are unusual, but they can make a bathroom special…

Ethanol fireplaces can be a distinctive bathroom focal point. Prices range from less than $100 for a tabletop unit…to a few hundred dollars for a small steel fireplace mounted to the wall…to several thousand dollars for a large installed steel firebox. Ethanol burns clean, so it doesn’t require a venting system. High-quality manufacturers include ­Ignis and EcoSmart Fire.

Bidet toilet seats, which replace the standard seats on most toilets, offer cleansing water sprays. The bidet concept might sound a bit foreign, but most people fall in love with it once they have tried it.

Prices range from $100 to more than $1,000 for a version with an automatically opening-and-closing seat, remote control, warm-air dryer, two-user memory, night-light and air deodorizer.

Example: Toto SW502 B100 Washlet includes a heated seat, adjustable water temperature and water flow control for $650.