We often get asked about the steps that go into a successful bathroom remodeling project. Below, we have addressed three topics: bathroom design, bathroom permitting, and planning and executing a successful bathroom remodel.
Bathroom Design Process
Every bathroom renovation is unique, but successfully navigating the process from the initial design consultation to breaking ground does not work without a general structure. Our in-house team of architects, bathroom designers, and interior designers has developed and continues to refine our process. The general steps are outlined below:
Initial Design Consultation: This meeting at your home is critical for the bathroom design process to get started on the right foot. Meeting with you in the space and having an open conversation allows us to understand your needs and vision for the new space. The problems with your current bathroom are just as important for us to understand. We’ll come with a list of questions to help organize thoughts, but the meeting should be informal and conversational.
Schematic Design: We’ll use our prior conversations and measurements to put together a presentation of what the your new bathroom can be. Usually there will be multiple options, and our presentation is tailored to your preferences for format. Typically, we’ll use a combination of 3d renderings, 2d plans and elevations, and a storyboard for finish concepts.
Revisions to Schematic Design: You will come away from the schematic bathroom design meeting with a lot to think about. Typically, our clients give us feedback within a week that allows us to work towards a final schematic plan. We combine elements of two or three options that were presented in the first meeting to arrive at a final schematic (or conceptual) plan.
Trade Walkthrough: Once you’ve signed off on the schematic design, we will schedule a walkthrough with our trade partners. We’ll spend a good part of a day in your house meeting with plumbers, electricians, engineers, and others. These will be the tradesmen and women working on your project, and it is important that we communicate well at an early stage. Their feedback will also allow us to develop accurate pricing.
Selecting Finishes: By now we have a good idea of your aesthetic and will likely have the bathroom finishes planned in broad strokes. It is time to begin selecting, pricing, and documenting exactly what will be used in each section of the bathroom. We will help you prioritize selections by lead time and connect you with any showrooms that you are interested in visiting. Many of our clients finalize all or most of their selections in our offices, and we try to curate your choices to a few good ones. Others prefer to spend the time to visit tile, counter, and fixture vendors with whom we have existing relationships and negotiated discounts.
Construction Documents: Once finishes have been selected, plans will be brought to a level needed to communicate the design intent to the construction team. While some of these drawings are boring and technical, other elements are critical to make sure the final product is refined and detailed. We’ll need your input from time to time, but the ball is largely in our court at this point.
After the design is complete and before construction on a bathroom remodel can begin, a building permit is required. While many firms do not pull permits for smaller jobs, it is almost always a good idea. It gives both the homeowner and the contractor peace of mind knowing that the job will be inspected by a knowledgeable third party.
While requirements vary between jurisdictions, a building permit for a bathroom can generally be obtained in a day in Washington DC, Montgomery County, and Northern Virginia. As long as the remodel is not part of an addition or larger home remodel, the process is usually handled in person as a “walk-through” permit. The drawings needed, however, can be different depending on where you are working.
The District of Columbia requires the most thorough set of plans, including plumbing and electrical diagrams. If you are renovating a bathroom in a historic district such as Georgetown, Capitol Hill, or Mount Pleasant, you will also need to visit the historic desk if you are replacing windows or making other exterior alterations. If structural work is involved, it is recommended and often required that a structural engineer stamp the plans.
Montgomery County and Northern Virginia bathroom renovation permits generally require fewer drawings, as they rely on inspectors to enforce building code, whether it is shown on the plans or not. Like in Washington, the trades (plumbing, mechanical, and electrical) will be required to obtain their own permits. The two biggest procedural differences between working in Maryland and Washington DC are:
1. If you are remodeling a bathroom in an incorporated township like Chevy Chase, you are often required to obtain a separate permit. This is done independently from the Montgomery County permitting process.
2. If the renovation project is in Montgomery County or Prince Georges County, you will need to get plumbing inspections from WSSC as well as from the county. This can add additional days to the remodel.
Whether you are renovating in Bethesda MD, Arlington VA, or Washington DC, your bathroom designer or contractor should do the research well ahead of time to make sure you are prepared with your permit when construction begins.
Planning and Executing a Bathroom Remodel
A smooth bathroom renovation does not happen by accident. Rather, it is a carefully choreographed and meticulously planned series of steps that should be coordinated weeks in advance. In addition, the process is largely the same for the smallest bathroom in a Washington DC row house as it is for a bathroom remodel in a Bethesda McMansion. Our bathroom designers coordinate with our in-house carpenters as soon as the final plan is agreed on and we have received a signed construction contract and deposit. The preparation begins as follows:
Ordering: We identify items with the longest lead time. Typically, these are bathroom cabinetry and windows and doors (more or less eight weeks for both). However, tile and specialty items can also take a surprisingly long time to arrive. Once we identify the bottlenecks, we can prioritize.
Scheduling: Once we have a good sense of the arrival dates of materials, the bathroom designer meets with our in-house construction team to review the project. There are several parts to the meeting:
Plan review: Having another set of eyes on the plans before the bathroom remodeling work begins often allows us to prepare for potential bottlenecks and spot problems ahead of time. Everyone is on the same page before the renovation begins.
Building a Construction Calendar: The construction team builds a day by day calendar that is shared with everyone on the team. A bathroom renovation is a linear process, and if certain milestones are not prioritized, the project can extend for weeks. Generally the critical milestones are close-in inspections (to allow subfloor, drywall and waterproofing to begin), setting of the sink base cabinetry (to allow for the countertop template which typically takes a week between template and install) and countertop install (to allow for wall tile and plumbing and electrical finals to begin).
Pre-construction Meeting: Our bathroom designers and construction team will meet with you at your house one to two weeks before the remodel is scheduled to begin. This allows us to plan for practical considerations such as a temporary bathroom during renovation, what hours we will be working, and what areas of the house we can use for staging materials if needed.
Adjusting on the Fly: Having the bathroom design and construction teams in-house has many advantages. However, it also puts the responsibility squarely on us to make sure the process is seamless. On a typical day, our construction and design teams make between ten and twenty phone calls, emails, and texts with outside parties to keep the wheels turning. Supplies and finishes are ordered, tracked, inspected, stored, and delivered. Trade partners are scheduled, confirmed, reconfirmed, and adjusted based on progress. And of course, there is an open line between the bathroom designer or architect who played a critical role in the beginning and the team who is managing the day to day of the renovation. Throughout the process, the calendar will be updated, and you will be informed of any critical changes or adjustments.
“We hired Four Brothers to help us create a long-awaited third floor master suite. We had very high expectations, but the end result still managed to far exceed them, both aesthetically and functionally…….We are thrilled with our new master suite and thank Four Brothers for their hard work.”