How to save more than $5,000 on your bathroom renovation

Posted: 26 June 2017 12:50 pm

How to save on bathroom renovations

Renovation expert James Mason reveals how to save thousands on your bathroom renovation.

If you've ever wondered how you can save big bucks on your bathroom reno project, James Mason author of Renovation Junkies is here to show you how a bit of hard work on your end could save you lots. Let’s dive in and find out how you can save yourself $5,000 or more.

What hiring a builder would normally cost you

The average bathroom renovation here in Australia costs around $20,000. This figure will vary depending on the size of the bathroom and what finishes are chosen.

Now, if you factor in that most builders have a profit margin of around 30% added to their costs, then that equates to you paying an extra $5,000+ on top of the $20,000 that it actually costs to renovate your bathroom. If your budget is tight, then that extra 30% or so can make or break your renovation plans.

How to save money by managing your own renovation project

If you’re the type of person who likes to get in and give things a go and you're not afraid of a little hard work, then project managing your own bathroom renovation could be for you.

However, before you jump in and start organising a bathroom renovation, you need to know how the entire process works from beginning to end. Below is a snapshot of all the critical stages of a bathroom renovation.

  • Stage 1: Research
  • Stage 2: Planning
  • Stage 3: Pre-construction
  • Stage 4: Construction
  • Stage 5: Project completion

Keep in mind that stages 1-3 all take place before you even strike the first blow on your bathroom and usually require three months or more of planning and preparation to work through.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of these stages.

Stage 1: Research

You can spend days trawling the net looking at beautiful bathrooms, but my advice is to pick a few individual websites and be structured in your approach. My two favourite websites are Pinterest and Houzz.

Simply create an account and a storyboard to save your design ideas, then narrow down each item (tiles, vanities, taps, toilets, shower screens, lighting, etc) in a separate folder.

Stage 2: Planning

There are a few key steps in this stage:

  • Create a job file structure. This is where you can store everything related to your project.
  • Draft your plans. No matter how big or small your bathroom renovation is, you must have a set of plans or a sketch with instructions to work from. There are three main options when it comes to getting plans drafted:
    • Pay for an architect, interior designer or draftsperson to design your plans.
    • Use an online software program to draft up your own design. A simple one I like to use is EDRAW, which has drag-and-drop features.
    • Sketch out your own design by hand on paper. Make sure your room and all its fittings are drawn to scale to show their exact locations.
  • Shop for your selections. Sounds simple, but trekking across the city to visit showrooms for tiles, plumbing fittings, lighting, vanities and shower screens can be a real pain. I’d advise that you block out a few weekends if you plan on securing all your fittings in one hit.

Stage 3: Pre-construction

There are two main tasks that need to be done during pre-construction and these will take a lot of effort.

1. Find contractors for your project. When requesting quotes, it’s essential that you have a structured way of documenting all the contractors that will be tendering for your project.

You should also arm yourself with knowledge about contracts and licensing for contractors. Having signed documents and a scope of work in place when engaging a contractor (even for work valued under $5,000) is crucial and can save you a lot of headaches once the project kicks off. More detailed information can be found on the NSW Fair Trading website or your state's relevant website.

2. Estimate your construction timeline. Mapping out a good construction schedule allows you to book in start and finish dates for all for your contractors and is also a good visual tool to use for planning. It also helps you avoid clashes in critical tasks and keeps you on top of things.

Stage 4: Construction

The construction stage is where all your planning and hard work comes together. It’s here that your project management skills will really need to shine and it’s your job to make sure that your contractors start when they are booked and finish when they agreed to.

Manage this stage correctly and it should all be smooth sailing from here. Get it wrong and one delay can lead to knock-on effects that could delay the finish date of your project for weeks (not good if you are a one-bathroom household).

My key tip: Always be on the phone with your tradies letting them know what’s going on. Keeping them in the loop with delays and rescheduling could help get your timeline back on track.

Stage 5: Project completion

In this final stage, it’s all about wrapping up the project so that everything is 100% complete with no outstanding defects.

Make sure you factor in a defects liability period with your contractors. This is where you retain a small amount of the contractor’s pay for a period of time, for example, 5% or 10% of the contract value for a period of three months after the work is completed. This gives you a degree of security, where if a defect arises during this period of time, the contractor will return and rectify the problem at their cost.

If they refuse to return to repair their defects (make sure you document it), then you are entitled to use that money to get someone else in to rectify the defective work.


Renovating is tough and it takes a lot of careful planning to get it right. Don't be scared off, though, as it can also be a very rewarding experience.

The question you need to ask yourself, is are you up for the challenge and the hard work to save yourself that extra $5,000+, or is that money better spent on engaging someone else to manage the project for you?

Good luck with whichever path you choose.

Finance your renovation with a construction loan

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James Mason

James Mason is a builder with over 22 years of experience in the construction industry. He set up Renovation Junkies in 2015 to help renovators get independent advice, and also hosts a successful YouTube channel called 'Our Build'.

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