Picture a glass and marble jewel box, plunged in light, billowing with steam. It’s furnished with a leafy hanging fern and a comfy teak bench, all drenched in a warm, pulsing summer rain.
With a setup like this, you’d sing in the shower, too.
It’s easy to upgrade any shower, and no need to rob a bank (or the nearest bath showroom). HomeAdvisor, which connects homeowners and pros, says the cost of shower remodels generally ranges from $2,300 to $8,600, adding that they can sometimes be done for less with shower kits (prefab parts that arrive separately but are designed to come together quickly, with the help of a plumber) and one-piece prefab shower stalls or liners, consisting of a single three-wall unit, typically made from acrylic or fiberglass.
Of course, you can spend much more to remodel a shower if you want to: up to $15,000, according to Angi, another contractor-client matchmaker. Now we’re talking luxe materials, customized liners with niches for soap and shampoos, grab bars, and maybe even a waterproof sound system.
Bath upgrades — including new showers — are particularly popular at a time when spending on home improvement is robust, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies: Last year homeowners spent nearly $19 billion on bath remodels. In a 2021 survey by Axiom, a Minneapolis marketing firm, some 31 percent of respondents said they planned to redo a bathroom.
And when it comes to significant upgrades, renovating the shower often tops the list.
Shower remodeling trends
Trends reflect a desire for a more sensuous wash-and-dry experience, coupled with what could be called lame-fixtures-and-finishes fatigue and spa-bath aspirations.
What do consumers want most? Let’s start with replacing the classic hot-and-cold-water mixing valve encased in a circular or lever-handle trim kit: Calibrating the water temp with one of these things is like cracking a safe, as British comedian Eddie Izzard once put it. A thermostatic mixer, in contrast, allows you to set and hold temperature and volume, making it one of most popular bath upgrades, says Houzz, the home-improvement site.
Then there’s the whole concept of a separate shower stall. Traditional bath-and-tub combo, out; a cubicle with doors or enclosures that separate the shower from the rest of the bathroom, in.
- Rainheads. These plate-size sprayers, typically mounted overhead, have been around a while, but over half of homeowners doing bathroom upgrades want them, says the 2021 U.S. Houzz Bathroom Trends Study. They retain a certain allure, thanks partly to their name and look and all-encompassing sprays.
- Barrier-free enclosures. Walk right in and — if that’s a flip-down or freestanding bench — sit right down. Aside from accessibility, curbless enclosures offer a seamless, space-enhancing look.
- More elbow room. Bigger feels more luxurious and sensual — shower with a friend! — even if it also makes the shower harder to heat. Half of all renovating homeowners (50%) increase their shower size, the Houzz survey says.
What influences the cost of shower remodels?
The cost of shower remodels depends primarily on how extensive a renovation you want. HomeGuide, a service that connects homeowners and pros, gives a range of $400 to $3,000 for a partial remodel of an existing shower, while replacing an existing stall would run from $1,000 to $8,000, and a total remodel — replacing the tile and fixtures and possibly reconfiguring the space — could be as little as $3,500 or as much as $15,000. Or, of course, more.
More specifically, the biggest factors are the size of the space, the cost of labor in your area, and choices in the number and quality of fixtures, such as hand showers and shower heads, and finishes, such as tile. Extras like radiant floor heat, steam showers and “body tiles” (wall tiles that spray water) also inflate the bottom line.
When it comes to shower upgrades, most homeowners opt for a general contractor who specializes in baths and has a solid network of subcontractors (licensed and insured, please), or a bath design-build firm that can take care of every detail, from the building permit to the height of the hand shower. GCs have different ways of calculating their costs, which include not only hiring and coordinating subs but also covering infrastructure items, like framing, subflooring, preparing walls for grab bars, waterproofing and drains; unexpected screwups, like leaks; insurance — to cover the cost of the screwups; and incidentals, like parking a dumpster.
Complexities of shower remodels
The pros can be pricey, but they’re often a necessity, as shower upgrades can be complicated. Let’s say you want to tear out a 3-by-5-foot alcove tub and replace it with a same-size shower area, plus new tile and fixtures. Removing a tub can be an undertaking, and not only because it’s a drag to break up and carry out all that debris. The tub previously functioned as a basin. Without it, the contractor will need to frame and install a shower pan and other waterproofing elements before preparing the floor for tile.
Or let’s say you are determined to have a curb-free walk-in shower. Curbs serve a purpose: They can ward off water overflows. To eliminate one, and have a shower floor sit flush with the rest of the space, the contractor must lower the framing under the shower pan or raise the floor outside the shower.
Elements of a shower remodel budget
Here’s how your shower remodel budget might break down, based on the major factors of the renovation.
Design and space planning: A pro can take care of headaches like getting a building permit and meeting code, fixture placement, and jigsaw-puzzle-style measuring and fitting. Bath designers are also helpful in choosing products. They typically command about $125 to $150 an hour, Houzz says. And, yes, they do charge for all the back-and-forth. But they can also save you money, designing a shower so that your existing drain and pipes can stay where they are (moving them really catapults a project’s costs).
Labor: In general, labor averages 50 percent of the total bathroom project prices, HomeAdvisor says. The percentage of the bottom line that reflects labor costs will change along with the scope and location of the remodel.
For example, a plumber may be able to slide a prefab shower into an existing stall in one day, while a gut remodel of a shower area, including demolition, all new fixtures, waterproofing, possible floor reframing, lighting, vent fan and so forth could take three subcontractors — pricey in certain areas of the U.S. — and several weeks.
Even if you go for a pre-made shower kit, the contractor’s bill to install it can run to $1,000, according to Angi. But don’t forget that a contractor’s services often include demolition and dumping fees, which alone can run $1,000 to $2,300, HomeAdvisor says.
Tilework (including preparing the wall, tile and grout and labor): $2 to $17 a square foot, according to HomeAdvisor, which also notes that if the walls are being waterproofed for the first time the cost of materials and installation will rise to an average $25 a square foot. Labor costs often reflect the difficulty of installing certain types of tile, such as small mosaics.
Fixtures: Count on $600 to $1,600 per plumbing fixture, including labor, HomeAdvisor says. Of course, there’s a big variety — both in terms of the types of fixtures, and the level of luxe within a fixture.
|Prefab acrylic liner
|Shower head and faucet
|Drain fittings (linear)
|Vent fan/heater and lights
|Radiant floor heating
|Frameless glass doors
The bottom line on shower remodeling costs
Shower upgrades are what make a bathroom remodel major — coinciding with a threefold increase in the overall renovation cost of $15,000 compared to $5,000 for a minor remodel, according to the Houzz survey. Angi says shower upgrades constitute 5 to 25 percent of a total bath renovation’s costs.
Of course, state-of-the-art bathrooms have a big wow factor, ranking among the top five projects that appeal to buyers, according to a 2019 remodeling-impact report by the National Association of Realtors. The NAR says new baths also are likely to add value to the home for resale. But don’t count on getting all your money back: According to Remodeling magazine, the rate of return on bath remodels in general is only about 56 to 62 percent (interestingly, the more expensive the remodel, the lower the return).
Still, there’s nothing like showering in a spacious, well-lighted place, ideally one tailored to your tastes and style. Hello, stone-lined, spiffy, sliding-door spa shower. Where have you been all my life?