We’re designing Seattle’s first office building to housing conversion since the pandemic. Read more…
Sliding mirrors in the master bath. – Remodel in a Tudor-style home: Morning Light Master – Board & Vellum

Ask an Architect, Custom Residential

What Really Adds Cost To Your Home Remodel?

Have you ever heard that moving a toilet is a budget-busting home improvement? Would it surprise you to learn that we think this is debatable? There’s no doubt that home remodels cost money, but the big-ticket changes might not be what you expect. So what’s really going to impact your project budget?

April 8, 2021

“Why on earth didn’t they just move the toilet?” This may seem like an odd way to start a blog post, but I have a story. I was once in a beautifully remodeled home where every detail had been thought through. Well, almost every detail. In the guest bathroom, the side of the toilet was only inches from the wall. If you stand to go to the bathroom, you might not be bothered but if you sit down, you would be riding this ceramic throne side-saddle.

What happened here?

The short version of a long story is that someone was given the wrong information. In a remodel that could have easily cost three-quarters of a million dollars or more, this homeowner was probably convinced by some cousin (I have no clue why, but nine times out of ten it’s a cousin passing this information on) that moving a toilet was a budget buster. So, instead of exploring options for a more usable toilet position, the toilet stayed put.

Let me end your (likely non-existent) suspense and tell you that whoever offered that advice misled this homeowner. If you’re spending three-quarters of a million dollars on a home remodel, the couple grand it costs to move a toilet can likely be squeezed into the budget. Your guest might not notice you shaved a few bucks-per-square-foot off your tile, but they will remember having to squeeze themselves onto your poorly placed toilet.

Heck, I’m writing about it now because it still sticks in my memory. And, for the record, I have no recollection of what that tile was.

So, what’s really going to add cost to your remodel project?

The budgetary decisions you make during a remodel are critical to ensuring you get a well-balanced project. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unknowns or bad pieces of information about what will actually or significantly add cost to your project. So, what does add cost?

Moving a Toilet

We’ll start with the obvious one. It’s generally a few grand to move a toilet and the cost and feasibility of that move are impacted greatly by the access to that plumbing (if it is open from below all the better). Many remodels end up benefiting from a different layout for the toilet and it shouldn’t be a budget breaker. We think it should almost always be on the table. Especially if it means avoiding the situation described above.

Walk-in shower with two shower heads and a built-in bench under the eaves.
Building a Better Bathroom

Not all bathroom layouts are created equal. Moving a toilet can sometimes give you the freedom to build the bathroom of your dreams.

One scenario where moving the toilet might be cost-prohibitive is if you’re doing a cosmetic, in-place, or low-budget remodel of your bathroom. Then the advice of not moving the toilet should be adhered to.

Bumping Out a Wall

Well, you can but that doesn’t mean you should. Moving an exterior wall in any capacity involves all sorts of costs. Permitting, foundation, waterproofing, insulation, electrical, windows, and on and on. The reality is that moving your wall a foot is almost the same cost of moving it three or more feet.

Modern Kitchen in a Craftsman Home – Board & Vellum
Make Moving a Wall Worth It

If you’re going to move a wall, make sure it’s worth the cost. The additional space in the Modern Kitchen in a Craftsman Home made moving the wall a worthwhile improvement that was also worth the money.

If you’re going to bump out an exterior wall it should be part of a much larger remodel and really necessary. If you’re thinking about tacking on a small powder room, you might want to reconsider. It’s going to cost you, so finding a space inside is likely a better value.

Digging Out a Basement

Maybe! But it isn’t cheap. We’ve written before about the benefits and drawbacks of different types of additions.

Seattle Box Remodel – Board & Vellum – Bar in the basement LEGO room.
To Dig or Not To Dig

Digging out a basement for extra space can seem like an attractive option for more space. But it’s also one of the hardest ways to do so. Make sure you talk to a design professional early on so you can gauge whether this path is feasible for your project budget and goals.

There are some great opportunities to go the basement route but, generally, digging down is usually only on the table when the other options aren’t feasible because it will add cost to your project.

Extending Your Basement

Let’s just get this out of the way: basements aren’t cheap. In some instances, they might not be crazy expensive, but generally, they are a major cost.

Light-Filled Basement Remodel – Den with Built-In TV and storage under stairs.
A Little Light Goes a Long Way

For the Light-Filled Basement Remodel extending the basement made it possible to capture much needed light, making the space bright and usable for the family.

If you’re already digging down for new footings for a crawl space under a new addition and you have a flat site with no adjacent buildings nearby and easy construction access, then going down a little more to get a basement could make sense. That’s a lot of “ifs.” Any other scenario and it is probably a much more major expense.

Popping Out a Dormer

You probably don’t really mean a little dormer, do you? This one is so understandably common: you have a house with a sloped ceiling and a dormer would open up room, and maybe you could add a little bathroom or a bedroom or home office.

Sliding mirrors in the master bath. – Remodel in a Tudor-style home: Morning Light Master – Board & Vellum
Adding A Little Room

A well positioned dormer is a great way to add small spaces, like this bathroom in the Morning Light Tudor. If you’re considering more, you may want to think about another option.

If you really do stick to a simple dormer and it isn’t more than a third of the size of the current roof and you aren’t adding lots of new floor space (just maybe additional head height) then yes, this one is straight-forward. However, if you’re thinking of a giant dormer the length of your roof, the sad truth is you might as well just rip off the whole roof and start from scratch. This is one to talk through with your architect as soon as possible.

The list of considerations could go on. It’s safe to say that there are so many factors that your situation should be examined on a case-by-case basis. One simple dormer on one house could be a far more complicated addition on another house. Think of these as good rules of thumbs and not definitive rules.

Most importantly, though, be aware of who you are. Being self-aware and knowing what you really want and don’t want in advance of construction will avoid lots of challenges. In the end, this is your project. Go into your project with as much understanding of what makes sense for your budget and be true to what is really going to make your project special and worth the effort. And remember, that some things are worth the money.

Would you like to read more from the team?

If you enjoy reading our blog as much as we enjoy writing it, that just makes our day! You might also enjoy a few of the related posts below. And, if there is a topic that you wish we would cover, let us know!

How to Determine Your Project’s Program

When folks are setting out on a design journey, many, but not all of them, come to us knowing exactly what they want to do with their project. If you’re someone who isn't quite sure, how do you go about figuring out your dream project’s program? And what can we do as designers to help?

How To Update a Short-Term Rental Property

As schedules remain flexible and more folks are able to work from anywhere, there has been a huge surge in the short-term rental market. The pandemic has fueled a strong desire for individuals and families to get away from their everyday life and into something new, so let's talk through what it takes to get a property ready for renters.

How An Architect Can Help Before You Buy A House

Ever heard of someone buying a house only to learn their big remodel dreams aren’t possible? The competitive real estate market can add pressure to buying a home before you have the full picture. That’s where we come in! An architect can help you understand the potential of a house before you even make an offer.

Considering a project? Or, just curious about something?

Send us your questions about design, architecture, interiors, landscape, LEGO rooms… Anything, really. We’re always eager to meet new people, and we’d love to get to know you, your project, and your goals.

Get in touch.