9 common bathroom problems and how to fix them

Jacqueline Leppla | Improvement Center Columnist | September 25, 2015

U.S. homeowners are spending an average of $16,724 on mid-range bathroom remodels this year and can expect to recoup about 70 percent of that outlay when they sell their homes, according to the 2015 Cost vs. Value report. Surprisingly, this report shows that "upscale" bathroom remodels cost an average of $54,115, but homeowners are estimated to recoup less than 60 percent of that cost if they put their home on the market.

If you're thinking about a bathroom remodel, you may be researching claw-foot tubs and pedestal sinks, but don't forget about some of the other essentials that make a bathroom fully functional.

1. Lighting. Sconce lighting near vanities can provide uniform light, without casting shadows. ENERGY STAR recommends bath light bar fixtures on either side of the mirror, with a ceiling fixture to illuminate the entire room. Adding a light can in the shower can be helpful as well. Upgrading lighting may involve hiring an electrician or contractor and the cost will be determined by the price of any fixtures that you select. Andy Bardo, an independent handyman with 40 years' experience, estimates that homeowners typically spend between $300.00 and $700.00 on lighting and installation for an average bathroom.

2. Storage. It is impossible to have too much storage in a lavatory, and many bathrooms offer insufficient storage options. If you are trying to work within your existing space to carve out more storage, you can add a simple white tower from IKEA for $200.00 or a handsome floor cabinet from Pottery Barn for nearly $900.00. Recessed medicine cabinets can be helpful, and Kohler has options ranging in price from $47.00 to $857.00.

If you are gutting your existing bath and installing custom cabinets with built-in towers, expect to spend at least $2,000 on good quality storage solutions for an average-sized bathroom, or, you may be able to find good quality ready-made cabinets and have them installed for about $600.00, Bardo estimates.

3. Hair appliances. Do you walk into your bathroom and trip on cords from blow dryers, curling irons, and hair straighteners? They're hot when you finish using them, so shoving them in a drawer isn't viable. This is a relatively inexpensive fix, and you may be able to install a hair appliance organizer yourself. For less than $25.00, you can hook a small organizer on the inside of a bathroom cupboard door, or you can purchase a gliding under-cabinet drawer for about $150.00.

4. Power. Building codes regulate power outlet positioning relative to water sources, but you may be able to add a few outlets that enable you to avoid extension cords stretching throughout the room. While you are talking to your electrician or contractor, find out how much it might cost add an outlet for a television, install a few outlets in your storage towers, or hard-wire a towel warming rack right next to your shower. Bardo estimates the cost to add a single outlet may approximate $150, assuming there are no special electrical challenges.

5. Towels. Europeans have this figured out: Warm towels are much nicer than damp cold ones. If you loved the feeling of a warm towel after your last trip to Scotland, consider bringing that luxury home. You may need your electrician to install a wall-mounted towel warmer, but free-standing towel warmers and countertop hot towel cabinets are available for less than $200.00.

6. Floor temperature. It can be startling to step on an ice-cold floor in the middle of the night, during the winter. If your floor is dated or damaged and needs updating, consider installing radiant floor heating underneath your new tile. There are even heated mats that go under your shower floor, and the cost doesn't have to be significant. Bathroom floor heating systems begin under $130.00 and you may find one on sale for about half that price. If you purchase a thermostat with timer for about $130.00, you can program your floor to be warm exactly when you want.

7. Laundry. Kids and the occasional spouse can be sloppy when they are rushing to shower, leaving piles of clothes on the floor. If you are working with a cabinet maker to build cabinets that function well in your renovated bathroom, consider creating a tilt out or pull out cupboard for laundry containment. Or, if you have the floor space, you can buy a free-standing laundry cabinet for less than $220.00 that looks nicer than that mountain of socks and underwear.

8. Ventilation. Is your existing bathroom ceiling fan loud and ineffective? ENERGY STAR rated bathroom ceiling fans may be smart enough to detect when humidity is high and can operate quietly only when necessary. Many homeowners may be able to install a new ceiling fan themselves, spending less than $150.00 on a product that helps reduce mold buildup.

Placing all bathroom fans on a timer switch can avoid having fans running longer than intended. A simple and inexpensive timer can be installed in place of your fan's wall switch. That way, when someone turns on the fan, he or she is required to select how long the fan will run.

9. Shower comfort/safety. If your shower lacks a built-in seat, one can often be added to even a relatively small shower. A wall-mounted folding shower seat flips out of the way when not needed, and folds down when desired. Prevent slips when shaving by sitting on the seat, or use the seat for a family member who is recovering from an injury. Costs for these products range between about $60.00 to more than $300.00, but a good quality seat can be obtained for close to $150.00.

Most of the above problem areas have relatively inexpensive solutions and implementing them may make the difference between your bathroom functioning more like a spa than a locker room.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Jacqueline Leppla has renovated homes from California to Massachusetts. She has remodeled or improved nearly every room in her current home.