By Susan Skorupa

Reno Gazette Journal – March 26, 2011

In these economic times, remodeling projects make the bottom of the list of home expenditures. And bathroom remodels often are lower still.

But as with any room in the house, bathrooms can benefit from partial makeovers or the addition of a few changes at a time to make them seem fresh and new without a huge financial outlay. Change a light fixture, for example, or paint the walls, replace a toilet, change a vanity top to a new acrylic, or even add a luxury touch, such as a tile-floor heat mat.

“What I see with the economy, now people are staying close to home; they’re looking for more amenities at home,” said Sharen Georgeson of Crescent Design Studio in Reno.

“I see people cocooning back to their homes more, and they want those areas to be comfortable,” she said. “To come home and have a warm tub, and light candles, where they used to go to a spa.”

Energy- and water-efficiency and aesthetic value are important and manufacturers are coming up with innovations to meet those needs.

“You see it from tubs, which now have built-in heaters so you do not sit in a cold tub after 10 minutes. It’s circulating the water,” Georgeson said. “Shower heads now all incorporate (efficient water flow), and obviously also toilets.”

With lighting heading toward the replacement of incandescent bulbs with fluorescent ones, the industry is trying to come up with more attractive fluorescent fixtures, she said.

“We’re seeing things that make a more enjoyable space,” Georgeson said. “Colors are soothing. There’s a lot of prefab in granite so now you can find a piece of granite, can have cut to different lengths, 6 or 8 or 10-foot lengths, cut out for a sink and have a beautiful counter top and not have to worry about tile-setting and grout.”

In flooring, there are laminates and linoleum with wood grain, stone and plank patterns.

“In tile, we’re seeing a lot of heat mats under tile,” Georgeson said. “They’re controlled by thermostat. … You can set it so if you get up at 6 a.m., you set it for 5, and have a nice warm floor. And tile is very cleanable.”

Because bathrooms get wet, moisture should be the number-one concern, said MaryAnn Decker of Designing Women in Sparks.

Sheet vinyl flooring is a great option from the perspective of repelling moisture, she said.

“Your bathroom might end up with no seams or at the most one seam,” Decker said. “It helps cover up imperfections in the underlayment and it can be laid over existing vinyl.”

With paint, the higher the gloss, the better the paint “sheen” does in a bathroom.

“Semi-gloss is a good sheen for bathrooms,” Decker said. “It repels moisture well. High-gloss is best for bathrooms, but does not look good over large surfaces, such as walls. It’s best for smaller surfaces like trim.”

Prices, products and requirements change quickly in the bathroom fixtures market, said Roger Mills, owner of 1 Day Bathrooms in Sparks.

“Energy conservation, the whole movement into lower-flush toilets — shower heads in other states are being mandated to hardly put out any water at all,” he said. “But to me, these days the most important thing we think is to get educated about products.

“There are so many and they change so quickly, people need to talk to someone or to many people before they start a project,” Mills said.

Solid-surface materials require no grout, and grout can hold water and mildew. Water can seep through tile grout and cause problems behind the tile. Now there are acrylics with solid surfaces that hold up very well, Mills said.

High-tech plastics are highly resistant to scratch, do not fade or stain and are nonporous so they will not hold mildew.

There are products that advertise they can cover up existing tile or whatever is on walls, but old wall coverings should be removed so they can be checked for damage, then replaced, Mills said.

When replacing drywall, the old standard of green drywall for wet areas is no longer the building code, he said. “So consumers should know they need put in Fiberglass-based gypsum board.”

In bath remodeling, people are looking for elements with a lot of longevity, said Alan Hansen, president of Luxury Bath of Reno. The idea of remodeling every few years is out the window and people want their projects to last a long time.

The technical side of remodeling is about cleanliness, longevity and low maintenance; the fashion side is a gentler side, Hansen said.

“We look at bathroom remodels in two pieces,” he said. “Wet, which is the shower and bath. That is where people usually get the idea to remodel because of things like hard water stains.

And in style, bold colors are giving way to more muted tones.

“Earth tones popped up a few years ago,” Hansen said. “Now more silvers, grays and blues are coming into fashion.”

An average cost to remodel a 40 to 70-square-foot bathroom, including new flooring, vanity top with sink, toilet and tub-shower arrangement, using mid-range materials is about $8,500, Mills said. That’s down from an average of about $12,000 a few years ago because many people want to spend less.

“That’s mid-range for us,” Mills said. “It used to be more, but because of the economy we find we have had to lower prices on things and people are choosing elements that are less expensive generally. Instead of a $500 faucet, they’re buying one for $150.”

And more and more, people try to do what they can themselves and they’re doing projects in stages.

“Maybe they do a tub, toilet and flooring, and next year they do the vanity counter top and accessories,” Mills said.

“We’re also finding we’re competing more with the rest of household needs, such as roofing, outside painting, gutters, the maintenance of the home. People have to pick between replacing a water heater and fixing the bathroom.”