A bathroom is a vital part of the house, which makes it among the most common—and cost-effective—places for homeowners to renovate. There’s plenty of evidence that says bathroom upgrades are worth the investment, including a recent study that found that in all 50 states, an average bathroom makeover increased a home’s resale value by more than enough to pay for the renovation.
But all bathroom upgrades are not created equal, and some flashy amenities might turn out to be a big waste of money.
We reached out to bathroom design and real estate experts to find out what changes you should avoid making, at all costs, or you’ll be paying the piper for years to come.
1. Steam shower
Steam showers have been leaving people breathless for years due to their ultraluxe vibe. But are they worth the hype and, more to the point, the $12,000-plus price tag?
“A steam shower is a popular, high-end home improvement that doesn’t deliver a return on investment,” says Christina Duffy, a designer and project director at Freemodel. “There are exceptions in larger luxury homes with space to create actual steam rooms. But for most homeowners, it’s expensive to plan and install, and the footprint of the space doesn’t make it worth the investment. The whole idea is to create a place to relax, and that’s hard to do in a normal-size shower.”
Steam showers also often require more design work, permitting, and additional installation and material costs than you may be bargaining for.
“There are plumbing modifications you’ll need to make to get adequate water volume, and possible electrical panel upgrades required to have appropriate wattage and power to run the unit,” Duffy notes.
2. Whirlpool bathtub
If you’re going full steam ahead on a fabulous whirlpool bathtub, you might want to reconsider. Installing a fancy spa-type tub, or even an oversize soaking tub, can cost up to $35,000. Those funds could be spent on much more cost-effective projects.
“Jacuzzi-style tubs are pleasant and relaxing, but their expense isn’t worth it,” says Graham Byers, founder of Best Choice for Seniors, a site that reviews products and services from various brands. “They also require regular maintenance to perform effectively.”
A less costly soaking tub is impractical, too, unless it’s an absolute personal priority, and you expect to have many years ahead of you in your home.
A luxurious tub costs around $3,000 on average, while a basic tub costs closer to $700.
“Unless you’re planning to stay in your home for many years, it’s not worth the investment. Stick to a basic model with simple features that will get the job done without breaking the bank,” says Anton Giuroiu, an architect and interior designer and the co-founder of Homesthetics.
3. Niche smart tech
Sometimes you have to wonder what the engineers of smart devices are thinking. From high-tech toilets that wipe and flush for you to smart mirrors that track and report changes to your skin (we don’t want to know!), some of the smartest tech for your bathroom appeals to a very niche market.
“Outfitting your bathroom with too many high-tech gadgets can be a turnoff for potential buyers down the line, and lead to higher utility bills today,” says Giuroiu. “The cost of these devices can also add up quickly, so be selective about which ones you really need. Essentials like a programmable thermostat and energy-efficient lighting won’t go out of style.”
Watch: How To Repair 5 Common Toilet Problems
4. Moving the plumbing and updating major fixtures
If you think your toilet, sink, or bath can be moved as a simple matter of course, it’s time to revisit that assumption. Pulling out a sink or toilet and reinstalling it elsewhere costs $3,000 or more per fixture.
Instead, make what you have a bit better.
“If your bath is already suitable and can fit the average person, do not waste the money on updating your bath fixture,” says Larry Snider, an experienced renovator and vice president of operations for Casago Vacation Rentals in Tucson, AZ.
“Instead, invest in an updated showerhead or install a window in your bathroom if there isn’t one there already,” adds Snider. “A renovated bathroom should be all about updates and comfort, so consider installing a bidet or a more comfortable toilet seat as opposed to moving the toilet altogether.”
5. Fancy lifestyle upgrades
Having a heated floor sounds like the pinnacle of luxury, but the joy of warm tootsies is often overshadowed by the expense.
“Under-the-floor heating seems like a wonderful addition to your home, but the cost of installing it can reach up to $20 per square foot, and maintenance can be equally expensive,” says Catherine Mack, co-owner of the House Buyer Network, based in Lewisville, TX. “You’ll find that you’ll never recoup the installation outlay even when selling your home.”
Other heat-focused upgrades should also be carefully considered.
“While perks like heated floors or heated towel racks can make your bathroom cozier on cold winter days, you shouldn’t expect much in the way of resale value from these additions. And keep their operating costs in mind, too,” says Martin Orefice, CEO of Rent to Own Labs in Orlando, FL.
6. Tearing out tiles
Reflooring a bathroom often seems like a straightforward way to make a big visual impact. But it is rarely worth the time and effort—unless you’re dealing with Pepto Bismol pink tiles from the 1970s.
“Unless you are looking at pastel-colored tiles or worse, tearing out old bathroom tiles is often a waste of money,” says Melanie Hartmann, owner of Creo Home Buyers in Maryland. “They are an absolute waste of time and money to tear out unless you are changing the layout of the bathroom and it impacts the coverage area.”