I don’t believe there is any realistic square foot cost comparison one can give for a remodel project, because each is so uniquely different. I have found though, in general, remodeling a single bathroom costs more than remodeling any other room, and increasing my pricing to compensate for it becomes critical. Here are some reasons why:
1. Decreased Returns
A good rule of thumb is: The more you accomplish in one project, the better value per dollar spent. That rule of thumb is difficult to accomplish on bathroom remodels, because the amount of return from markups and labor is small compared to the amount of management and logistical energy, so a contractor should factor that into their fees. This is why some contractors don’t take on smaller projects, because they are simply not worth it.
2. Increased Management Costs
Bathrooms can have all the same steps as a larger remodel project. While the cost of each step is small compared to a larger remodel, the same amount of management is required. Also, because the bathroom can be in such a defined space with no surrounding project to work on, there may not be much for a lead carpenter or project manager to do while subcontractors are doing their portions of work. Time management can become quite expensive if a question or problem arises that needs immediate attention, or if the owner is requiring a representative from the company to be on-site at all times when work from subcontractors is being performed.
3. Abundance of Materials and Fixtures
There can be a lot of different types of materials put into a small space, like tile, heat, plumbing fixtures, glass, mirrors, storage, cabinets, trim, and more. If this isn’t figured out before the project begins, the numerous costs add up, and can become expensive to the contractor or client. Some contractors will charge extra for changes throughout the process.
4. Limited Access and Limited Space
In such a small space, only one piece of work can be performed at any time.
Because the bathroom is in a confined space surrounded by an already finished home, there is usually limited space to work in or create work stations. Many times these are set up in a garage or outside, to keep any damage to the finished home to a minimum. This increases time, as more walking trips up and down stairs or to the back of the home or basement become necessary.
5. Lower Business Volume
In my business, when remodeling a small bathroom, I’ve noticed that the volume of business is small for the lengthy time period it sometimes takes to accomplish a small bathroom project. So I have to increase my markups to compensate for the lack of business volume versus the constant—sometimes precision—attention a bathroom project may need. It also may not be worth it to the subcontractor to do smaller projects, so in order to justify the business expense and effort, the subcontractor will seemingly charge more per square foot.
It’s easy to look at a small space in need of repair and assume that the remodel will be less expensive, but I hope these reasons highlight why an increase in price per square foot on a bathroom remodel is fair not only to the contractor but also the client.