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Ask Madelaine...What do I need to know before I renovate my NYC bathroom?

Dear Madelaine,

I live in New York City and would like to renovate my bathroom. I’ve heard that sometimes you need a permit, sometimes you don’t, not to mention huge ranges in construction costs - What do I need to know to make the best choices for my home?


I am so excited to tackle this question because bathrooms are the number one room renovation in NYC, both for owner satisfaction and resale value.

Photograph of Kitchen Design

There are 3 primary factors that will determine the cost of your renovation:

Size: This is pretty intuitive; the larger your bathroom is, the more it will cost to renovate (provided other factors are equal). Bathroom sizes can generally be grouped into the following categories:

  • Half Bathrooms: AKA powder rooms, these usually have just a sink and a toilet, and can accomodate one person at a time.

  • Full Bathrooms: The standard 5' x 7' bathroom, these usually have a toilet, one sink, and a bathtub or walk-in shower. They can fit one person at a time.

  • Primary Bathrooms: AKA master bathrooms, these usually have a toilet, a generous vanity with two sinks, and a bathtub or large walk-in shower. There is more "open space" than in a full bathroom and it can comfortably fit two people at the same time.

  • Deluxe Primary Bathrooms: These gracious suites usually have a toilet, which may be separately enclosed, an extended vanity with two sinks and dressing table, a free-standing bathtub or jacuzzi, and a large spa shower. They can comfortably fit three or more people at the same time.

Scope: The scope of a bathroom renovation can vary from updating what you already have to relocating the entire bathroom to a different part of your home:

  • Refinish: If everything in your bathroom is in good condition/working order, but it feels a little dated, a refresh can do wonders. This generally consists of repainting the vanity, changing the medicine cabinet or hardware, painting the walls/ceiling, and maybe updating the lighting. Depending on your building's requirements, and you level of DIY comfort, you could potentially execute this scope yourself without a contractor.

  • Replace-In-Kind: If the existing layout of your bathroom works for you (and meets current code requirements), but the vanity, plumbing/lighting fixtures, and tile have seen better days, you can remove and replace all the elements in the same locations. There are several advantages to this approach:

    • It falls under the Minor Alterations category of work, so it does not need to be filed with the Department of Buildings for an alteration permit.

    • It's more likely to get quick co-op board approval since it's an upgrade rather than a substantial change.

    • Physically you know there won't be surprises during demolition that could thwart your plans (who knew there was a roof drain pipe in that wall?) with costly changes.

    • While we wouldn't recommend it, this type of work could be executed by a contractor without a design professional.

  • Gut Renovation: Everything is fair game and potentially changing. Walls are coming down or going up, plumbing and light fixtures are moving, and everything is being stripped back to the structure. This level of scope is definitely exciting, but is also the most challenging and involved:

    • This is a Type 2 Alteration, so it requires architectural drawings filed with the department of buildings and a full set of permits.

    • If you live in a co-op, securing approval could be difficult, especially if the building has a strict no-wet-over-dry policy.

    • You should have a larger contingency fund, since there will absolutely be surprises during demolition that will need to be addressed.

    • This type of work requires working with both an architect and contractor.

Finishes: There is a HUGE investment/quality range for all of the materials, fixtures, and appliances that go into your kitchen, and it's the finishes and contractor labor that will primarily determine your total investment:

  • Entry-Level: Off-the shelf items from "big-box" stores, for example:

    • Vanity: IKEA

    • Tile: Daltile

    • Fixtures: Delta

  • Mid-Grade: A combination of customized and off-the shelf items from specialty distributors, for example:

    • Vanity: Signature Hardware

    • Tile: TileBar

    • Fixtures: Kohler

  • High-End: Professional quality fixtures/appliances and exemplary craftsmanship of finishes, for example:

    • Cabinets: James Martin

    • Tile: Artistic Tile

    • Fixtures: Kallista

  • Luxury: Highest possible quality finishes, fixtures, and appliances, for example:

    • Vanity: Custom

    • Tile: Large Format Stone

    • Fixtures: THG Paris

Photograph of Kitchen Design

As you can see, there are a lot of factors that will determine the cost of your bathroom renovation!

Is a full bathroom high-end gut renovation more expensive than a primary bathroom mid-grade replace-in-kind? Can you spring for high end fixtures if you go mid-range on finishes? Is there enough savings in a replace-in-kind over a gut renovation to accommodate a washer/dryer? Honestly, there is no way to answer those questions without specific project information, but there are some general rules of thumb that can help you budget/decide what kind of renovation is best for you.

Industry benchmarks are generally for a full bathroom size replace-in-kind renovation, so you can scale up or down depending on your bathroom's size and level of involvement. For materials, labor, overhead, and contractor's margins, but not fixtures or design fees, you can estimate:

  • Entry-level renovations starting at $30,000

  • Mid-grade renovations starting at $45,000

  • High-end renovations starting at $65,000

  • Luxury renovations starting at $90,000

Fixtures can also be broken down into tiers according to finish level:

  • Entry-level packages from $1,000 to $2,000

  • Mid-grade packages from $2,000 to $4,000

  • High-end packages from $4,000 to $8,000

  • Luxury packages from $8,000 and up

Design fees can also run the gamut from basic advice to incredibly detailed drawings, renderings, and product selection. You can expect to spend anywhere from 20-30% of the total construction costs on design, with higher percentages for entry-level and mid-grade renovations (it's the same amount of work, just different finishes). If your designer is handling construction management, expect to spend at least 50% of the design fee value on this phase.

For the same medium size replace-in-kind renovation discussed above, for design fees you can expect on average:

  • Entry-level renovation design services starting at $7,500

  • Mid-grade renovations design services starting at $12,000

  • High-end renovations design services starting at $16,000

  • Luxury renovations design services starting at $23,000

It's also really important to have a contingency budget for all the little surprises that are bound to happen during the course of a renovation. Typically, you want to have 10-15% of the budget for a replace-in-kind project and 15-20% for a gut renovation.

Which brings us to our grand totals!

For a primary bathroom replace-in-kind renovation in NYC, you can estimate the following all-in total estimates:

  • Entry-level renovations starting at $43,000

  • Mid-grade renovations starting at $67,000

  • High-end renovations starting at $97,000

  • Luxury renovations starting at $135,000

Please keep in mind that these are general starting estimates only, and there is an economy of scale when renovating multiple rooms. Want to understand what your specific bathroom renovation might cost? Schedule a Complimentary Design Discovery Consultation and we can figure it out together!

Till next time…


PS - Do you have design questions? Send us an email at and we will answer it as quickly and completely as possible in an upcoming blog post!


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