Updating bathrooms on a budget
No matter how tight your budget (or the restrictions on decorating), there’s a way to give your bathroom a new lease of life.
Our tips include low-cost refreshes you can make in just a couple of hours, plus tactics to keep the cost down even if you need to make bigger changes.
Clean and regrout
A build-up of grime, limescale and mould can quickly make any bathroom look tired, so your first step in any budget bathroom makeover should be to give everything a thorough clean. You can buy specialist products from supermarkets and DIY stores to shift tough dirt.
If that doesn’t do the trick, try an anti-mould grout-reviving pen on any stubborn patches. They come in a variety of colours to match what you already have, or – if you’re very patient and have a steady hand – to allow you to change the colour of your grouting.Alternatively, if you have a lot of tiling, you could bite the bullet and redo the grouting. If you go down this route, look for a product that will help prevent staining and mould growth in the future.
Upgrade your bathroom tiles
If regrouting or painting tiles isn’t practical, replacing them could give your bathroom a much-needed style boost. To get good value, make sure you use them wisely.
‘Tiling the entire bathroom is expensive,’ says Terry Ward from Ward Brothers Bathrooms Ltd, a bathroom fitting firm endorsed by . ‘Can you get away with only tiling around the bath, shower and sink?’
The tiles you choose can influence the price too. Standard-sized ceramic tiles start at low price,s and are generally quicker and easier to install than stone or mosaics, which can cut the cost of using a professional tiler.
Smarten up your bathroom accessories
If the budget is really tight, small touches such as new accessories can make an impact. They can also be used to add colour and style to an otherwise plain bathroom, or in a rental property where your options to redecorate are limited.
Consider buying new curtains or blinds for the window, putting up a smart shower curtain or hanging mirrors and pictures.
You can even make a difference by adding a stylish toothbrush holder, hiding toiletries in matching storage baskets and upgrading your towels.
Get a fresh coat of paint
If some surfaces in your bathroom are painted, simply refreshing the paintwork or changing it to a different colour can give you a whole new look. And because of the relatively small amount of wall you have to paint, it will take less time and money than other rooms.
Don’t limit yourself to walls. You could also give bathroom furniture a fresh lick of paint or cover up dated and dull tiles.
Just make sure you buy suitable paint. You can get mould-resistant emulsions designed for bathrooms and specialist paints for use on tiles.
Improve lighting and add mirrors
Better lighting can brighten up a bathroom without breaking the bank. You might be able to change the existing light fitting for something more stylish. Or you could opt to get LED downlights installed.
Hanging mirrors can help to bounce around the light and create more sense of space in smaller rooms.
For a modern look and a useful extra source of light over the sink, try an illuminated LED mirror. Some need to be wired in, but you can also buy simpler, low-cost models which run on batteries.
Change taps and showers
If your fittings are old or discoloured, replacing them can give your bath, shower and sink a new lease of life.
Buy the best you can afford, as it could save you cash in the long run. Cheap fittings are likely to deteriorate more quickly, meaning you’re more likely to need to call out a plumber or replace them again.
You could also consider swapping the shower head for a modern, eco model which can also reduce your water use.
Repair instead of replacing
If you’re lucky enough to have expensive fixtures and fittings which have just become worn over time, investigate whether you can repair them instead of having to fork out for a pricey replacement.
For example, if the ceramic covering on a cast-iron bath has started to crack, you could buy a resurfacing kit or hire a professional to renew the covering.
Stick to the same layout
If you have to buy new fixtures, keep the plumbing costs down by sticking to the same bathroom layout, so you can use the same pipework.
Try to replace toilets and basins with a similar style, as modern ‘floating’ toilets, where the workings are hidden behind a wall, will require a lot more disruption to install and may not be compatible with your existing plumbing.
Similarly, if you want to add a shower, opt for an ‘exposed' shower fitted directly onto the wall rather than concealed behind it.
‘If you do want a concealed fitting, you can make the installation cheaper by fitting the shower against a stud wall,’ says Ward Bathrooms Ltd’s Terry Ward. ‘This saves cutting out solid walls to accommodate pipes, valves and so on.’
Get value from your bathroom fitter
If you have limited DIY experience, it could be a false economy to attempt skilled jobs like plumbing and tiling yourself. As well as taking you far longer to complete the job, you could risk injury or end up causing damage.
If you hire a trader, get several quotes to find out the going rate for your job. Ask for itemised quotes to see if there are areas where you can save money, such as managing waste disposal yourself, if it’s practical to do so.
Check whether the trader charges a minimum rate or a call out fee, as this might mean it’s more cost effective to combine several jobs that need doing at once.
'How I transformed my bathroom for £2,000'
Homeowner Kate Martin explains how she overhauled her dated bathroom on a tight budget.
‘When I bought my flat, it was clear the bathroom needed a total renovation as it had barely been updated in 30 years. But the total budget I could spare was just £2,000.
‘So first, I looked at whether there was anything that I could keep, to shave some money off the cost. Luckily the bath and surrounding tiling was in good condition. It just needed thoroughly cleaning and descaling, and I spent many long hours re-colouring the grouting.
‘Most of the walls were painted and I knew it would be cheaper to repaint than to tile everywhere. Plus I’m a dab hand with a paintbrush so it was another way of saving on labour costs.
‘I sourced all the fixtures and fittings myself, spending hours online comparing prices from a variety of shops to find the best deals on taps, LED mirrors, bath panels and more.
‘About a quarter of the budget went on a vanity unit, as it incorporates the sink, toilet and storage, as well as hiding ugly pipework. To squeeze more value out of it, I waited until the store was running a 10% off promotion and placed my order online via a cashback site to get a few more pounds back in my pocket.
‘The biggest outlay was on labour. As well as the bathroom fitter, I had to hire an electrician to install a heated towel rail, and a plasterer to smooth out the artexed ceiling. I got several quotes and agreed fixed prices, that included all labour, materials and rubbish disposal, so there weren’t any surprises.
‘My final spend came to just £2,100 – only slightly over budget – and I couldn’t be happier with the result.’