The Bathroom Problem (and 6 ways to fix it for better ROI)

To pee or not to pee. That is not the question. It’s the fact that you re-tiled your loo in 2002, and the multi-colored 1-inch square glass tile isn’t quite doing it for you anymore, so what are you supposed to do?

2024 is upon us, and simplicity is in. Time to walk away from busy, stress-inducing patterns and colors, and toward cohesive designs that tie the room together, calming colors, and natural materials–even low-lighting wins out over bright overhead lights, erring instead toward natural light when available, and bright-enough 3-4kK vanity surrounds and edge-lit mirrors. One of our broker partners, luxury and investment advisor Adam Davis Real Estate, wrote a nice analysis of current trends for 2023 last year, and while there are some ideas continuing on into 2024, I’d like to follow up with some new ideas from the contractor’s perspective below. Here are six ways to boost your WC for the new year, and with it, inject some equity into your home for refinancing, resale, or pure enjoyment.

10 Ways to Improve Your Bathroom for Max ROI & Enjoyment


This might seem obvious, but the first, easiest thing you can do is modernize the hardware and software in your bathroom. From low-flow toilets to smart fans and mirrors, literally everything in your bedroom can benefit from an update. Not every piece of new hardware needs to be expensive, but upgrading and modernizing things like mirrors, fans, towel racks, the toilet, and light fixtures can all be done for less than $5k total, and you’ll have an essentially brand-new bathroom without ever pulling out a saw. If you’re up for a DIY project, this is the way I’d go.

Examples: a low-flow toilet will be a cost-saving fixture in the long run, and will amplify the value to prospective buyers or renters who might be cost-conscious as well. Toilet installation is a matter of replacing the wax ring and operating a couple bolts and a hose–it’s not overly complex, but it can be labor-intensive. If you have some basic electrical acumen, replacing vanity mirrors and ventilation fans with smart versions of the same can be a quick job; just make sure you’re working safely, and turn off your circuit breakers before you dig into wall wiring.

All of these modernizations can be done at once, and you can flip a whole bathroom in under a day with smart purchasing and efficient labor. If you want to guarantee it gets done right the first time, and take advantage of contractor discounts & licensed, experienced specialists who work with electrical & plumbing every day, then you’ll want to give us a call or email to request a free quote.


Not all bathroom paint is created equal. Have you ever been in a bathroom where the paint looked dull, or God forbid… sticky? It’s much more common than you’d expect: many bathrooms are not painted with bathroom-friendly paint. This problem is especially glaring in older homes that pre-date modern paint chemistry and techniques, and leads to things like moisture blisters, peeling and cracking paint, separation from walls and joints, even melting and dissolving paint.

Cheap/recycled paint are hard no’s when it comes to bathrooms. If you want to make an upgrade that will bring major longevity to one of the most trafficked and durability-essential rooms in the house, stick to satin, semi-gloss, and glossy textures with mildew-resistant additives. Matte paint is more difficult to clean and susceptible to moisture issues, but if you insist, there are modern “spa-friendly” formulas that will solve those problems for a price.

Another thing to consider when repainting your bathroom: application itself. It’s essential to properly prime the paint surfaces (walls, cabinets, ceilings, etc.), and to allow ample time for paint to cure. To ensure a smooth, professional-grade finish, we often use airless sprayers rather than brushes and rollers to achieve light, even coats. To get the super clean, smooth look, expect to layer a few coats and wet sand in between each fully-cured layer. With all these steps and timing considered, a “perfect paint job” in a bathroom can take several days, depending on the tools, paint, and techniques used. It’s best if you can avoid using the bathroom for the duration of the paint project, and for 24-48 hours or more after the last coat of paint is applied.


This is an obvious part of modernizing the bathroom (and the rest of your house, for that matter), but it deserves its own section because of the vast variety of options, as well as the need for specialized work (electricians are highly recommended here, especially if you’re adding or moving fixtures).

I think that 2024 and beyond will bring more moodiness and warmth to rest-rooms. The ideal place to start is with the overhead lights, if any are present or to be added. Lean in to dimmers, recessed lighting, hidden lighting, and color-tunable lighting. Color-tunable lighting is simply lighting that you can change the color temperature of–smart/color-changing lights are a common example; these require smart-home controls like Apple Home or Amazon Alexa. There are also fixtures and other hardware that can offer this functionality. The value here, and why I believe it will only get more ubiquitous in modern bathrooms: they create a dimmable, color-controlled space that can adapt to needs like getting ready for the day, or relaxing in the tub, on the fly. If you’re thinking about lighting for hair and makeup, however, skip the overheads, and let’s talk vanities.

When doing hair and makeup, scouring your pores for defects, or ironing out wrinkles with the latest doodad, you want bright-not-blinding (i.e. dimmable) front-on light that doesn’t cast a shadow and has a neutral white color (5500k is the purest white available). In a perfect world, you’ll have light pointed directly at your face, and no shadows cast by your hand. This kind of wrap-around lighting is accomplished by edge-lit mirrors, light surrounds that aren’t comprised of directed lights (bulbs) but rather diffuse light, and secondary lights on either side to eliminate shadow. Most of these configurations are impractical without big lighting and design budgets, so I think the best way to go is to install independently-lit edge-lit mirrors–one per sink. If you love one large mirror for your bathroom, assuming you have a Jack & Jill setup, then we’d make use of perimeter light surrounds that are incorporated into the mirror mount and surrounding surfaces. Think of adding self-lit mirrors like adding two additional electrical outlets, and plan to work accordingly.


Upgrading or even just changing the hardware is a relatively quick and affordable way to boost the esthetic of your bathroom (or any room, for that matter), and like paint, makes a big difference in perceived value (output) with relatively little input (time/money).

This is also a really easy area to get carried away in. As a rule of thumb, the shape of your hardware should be in the same world as the shape of your room and the things that fill it. In other words, no turned knobs on the drawers if everything else is clean-lines and concrete; in that case, find a complimentary material (there aren’t any concrete knobs we’re aware of, so maybe steel or brass) and similar shape. Ideally, everything in your house will feel cohesive, so consider your kitchen, other bathrooms, andother common areas whin you make selections.

A good handyperson can convert knobs to pulls and vice versa without incurring too much extra cost (wood filler will be your friend), and you might as well throw in some soft-close hardware for the drawers and cabinet doors for added modernity and safety.

In 2024, we prefer metal over wood, and recessed or invisible handles if possible. The exceptions include natural finish, finely-wrought wood hardware that is either fine-tuned or obviously handmade (we can help you source), and natural metals in simple shapes–nothing ornamental like bevels or patterns. It’s unlikely that cheap(looking) wood knobs will become popular again, especially with the affordability of sturdy, well-made metal hardware, so it’s a good idea to consider changing out everything in your house that isn’t quite current.

Energy Efficiency

While we may not experience immediate reductions in global temperature changes, we’ll definitely see the difference on our utility bill… and so will prospective buyers.

Energy-efficient options include obvious items like low-flow toilets and LED light bulbs, and less-obvious solutions like stone or tile floors and walls, which insulate and hold heat better, sub-floor heating–which can be not only efficient, but when paired with stone/tile floors, can keep the room comfortable without heating the whole house, and skylights/solar tubes. Energy efficiency upgrades should target utility-use reduction first, then comfort, then convenience. Solar tubes and water-saving measures are ideal starting points.

Ventilation is another oft-overlooked focus for energy upgrades. A good energy-efficient fan will dramatically improve the air quality, and modern models can operate almost silently, reducing noise pollution and late-night disturbances. Smart vents can detect moisture and play music with smart-home functionality.

Timeless Options

A good way to make a bathroom more expensive than valuable is to use weird colors and patterns, materials that wear out (especially if you’re an investor holding rental properties), and hardware that is more trouble than it’s worth. If we’re completely remodeling a bathroom, we’ll look at options like removing moving shower doors in favor of static partition walls and wet-rooms, luxurious and soothing natural wood surfaces for cabinets and other built-ins-and-ons, and neutral toned tile, stone, or other similar low-porosity surfaces that last forever. Some things to consider:

  • stone is naturally porous, so it will need to be sealed and maintained more frequently than tile, but it’s strong, and a good insulator
  • tile is resilient to wear, but a little less durable than stone, and doesn’t hold heat quite as well, but it’s cheaper and easier to find in quantity
  • both stone and tile are relatively easy to replace if sections break
  • wood is a good insulator, but wears out quickly and requires more maintenance and repairs over time; high-end wood selections (which you’ll want for a bathroom–cedar/redwood are naturally resistant to decay/rot, teak and hickory are good options as well) require more investment; not ideal for rentals
  • linoleum is cheap and naturally a little warmer than stone/tile, but installation/removal is messy and can be difficult, and linoleum has a limited lifespan; slightly more durable than wood, but not cheap enough to rank over tile; linoleum ages fast and is most often ugly–even when designed to look like wood or stone
  • concrete is a good bridge between affordability, insulation, and durability; formed sinks are a good example of cutting-edge use-case for this ancient medium
  • metal is durable, and the variety of metals can be put to dramatic use in the bathroom, with dark coppers, bright brass, and clean steel; pay attention to maintenance with metals that oxidize, and note that metal is highly conductive, so it doesn’t hold heat well
  • wallpaper is coming back! If you’re willing to risk the short lifespan of paper glued to a wall in a humid environment, trends continue toward bright, bold designs and patterns; think victorian foliage, jungle scenes, and stylized aquariums

Thank You

I hope this article has given you some ideas for your bathroom remodel. There are clearly many areas to spend time and make an investment that will add tremendous value to your home. If the heart of the house is the kitchen, the bathroom is the brain, and what better place to invest? Improvements to the bathroom can make the space more comfortable for everyone who uses it, and the right upgrades can ensure that value carries forward to each person who lives in the home after they’re complete. This translates to better equity opportunities, better resale value, and better overall quality of life for you and everyone who follows.

If you’re in the Portland, OR area, and considering a bathroom project, please reach out and let us get to work for you. We’re skilled at helping you plan and design your perfect potty project, and happy to pull out all the stops for you. We will make sure the work is completed efficiently and affordably, and we guarantee our labor to ensure it’s done right the first time. Freestone offers pay-at-close options if you’re thinking of selling soon, and we will beat any licensed contractor’s bid, so reach out today to get your project started.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *