This past weekend the lovely wife announced it’s time to upgrade the plumbing fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen. OK, she didn’t actually say “plumbing fixtures,” but more like the faucets and shower thingys.
Already my mind was spinning.
How much is this going to cost?
Can I do some of the work?
Do I need to hire a plumber or, gasp, a plumbing contractor?
Yeah, the way things work around the house is like the TV or internet connections: “I don’t care about the details, as long as they work and I don’t have to mess with them.”
In this post we look at the cost of typical plumbing upgrades, helping fellow homeowners plan for future purchases and improvements.
Plumbing Upgrades are More Than New Faucets
Plumbing upgrades can be costly depending on the age of the home, the types of pipes installed, and the types and quality of new fixtures desired.
Dated bathrooms will need an update and upgrade at some point, with homeowners most likely replacing the sink with granite counter tops, a new vanity, toilet, and tub or shower or both.
The same goes for kitchens: new sink, faucet, counter top and backsplash, maybe even a dishwasher or refrigerator with in-door water and ice maker features.
Upgrades also happen elsewhere in the home: a new water heater, a laundry room tub/sink installation, and (if it’s a really old home) there’s the replacement of galvanized piping with copper or another material to consider.
Upgrades to low-flow toilets or shower heads can put money back into the homeowner’s pocket due to lower utility bills, although savings may not be immediately recognized or even noticed. It does feel good, however, to conserve water and help the environment.
Rough Idea of Plumbing Upgrade Costs
Gathering an accurate cost estimate for plumbing upgrades is difficult because many variables are in play, including the cost of the materials chosen and the hourly or project-based rates charged by a plumber or plumbing contractor, should you choose to use a professional for installation.
The following list provides a very rough, ballpark estimate for some costs you may incur. Our advice to get started:
- Go to an area home improvement center and shop for faucets and toilets (and tile, if need be). Take pictures of the items you are thinking about (don’t forget the information placard, price tags, and dimensions for reference later). You can comparatively price shop locally or via the Internet.
- Create a bill of materials, or BOM, for the major purchases of your project — a faucet and toilet for the guest bathroom, as an example. Include on this sheet any additional materials you may need: plumber’s putty, teflon tape, new hoses.
- Add a second sheet to your spreadsheet for additional project-related but not plumbing-specific like new counter tops, backsplash tile, flooring tile, towel holders, and so on.
- If you’re not going to do the installation yourself, call your plumber or plumbing contractor and have him visit the house for a consultation and quote. He may have access to better pricing for the materials needed, so it can’t hurt to ask — especially when you’ve done your homework.
Replacement Kitchen or Bath Faucet
Mid-level faucets are easily north of $100, with some (the designer stuff) approaching $300-$500 or more. Don’t forget to tack on the cost of a plumber or plumbing contractor (at least $100-$200 or more, depending on the time it takes to install) if you choose not to do the project yourself. If you do it yourself, make sure you have the needed tools. Nothing is worse than starting a project, then having to stop everything and run up to the home improvement store for a wrench.
An elongated, tall toilet will run between $100 and $200, more when you consider material, finish, and brand-name manufacturer (or specialty designer). Don’t forget to tack on the cost of a plumber or plumbing contractor (at least $100-$200) if you choose not to do the installation yourself. If you do it yourself, don’t forget to buy a quality wax seal. The one that ships with the toilet isn’t always the best. No need to but the super-expensive one, either; the mid-price seal will do just fine.
Large Kitchen or Bath Sink (porcelain or stainless steel)
Just the sink itself could cost between $600-$1,000, although it could be lower if you are installing new counter tops (like granite) and get a discounted sink price from an area home improvement center, builder’s supply store, or plumbing contractor. If you don’t do the installation yourself, remember you will be paying someone’s installation fees, which may also include hidden delivery and/or clean-up/removal costs.
Depending on material and finish chosen and function (soaking or whirlpool) a replacement bathtub can cost as little as $200 but more likely $600 to even $1,500. Don’t forget to tack on the cost of a plumber or plumbing contractor (easily north of $200, maybe as high as $500, depending on what is involved installing the tub).
Connect Laundry Tub
Laundry tubs themselves are not terribly expensive, starting at $100-$200. As with the other upgrades, you’ll need to factor in the cost of a plumber or plumbing contractor, who may need to install new water lines (if none exist). This could easily run $400 or more if new plumbing infrastructure is installed.
Hot Water Tank
A new hot water heater, depending on size and manufacturer, can cost as little as $250-$500, although most large family-sized units are around $1,000 (with installation) and as much as $2,000/$3000 depending on size and technology involved. As with the other upgrades, you’ll need to factor in the cost of a plumber or plumbing contractor, who will charge at least $200-$400 for installation (assuming there are no issues with the install).
Replacement of Galvanized Pipes with Copper
This is a tough one, depending on what needs to be done and the difficulty. In general, it’s not cheap. A ballpark figure would be $2,000-$2,500, and this would not be something a homeowner does on his own, preferring to hire a plumber for his expertise dealing with pipes, not just fixtures.
How to Lower Plumbing Upgrade Costs
If you are physically able, have the knowledge and skills, and are not shy tackling challenging do-it-yourself projects, you can save hundreds of dollars on installation fees.
In many situations, however, the more intense work should be completed by an experienced plumber or plumbing contractor to ensure the work is efficient and safe.
Sometimes you just may not want the hassle of working in tight, narrow, uncomfortable spaces (under sinks) or the uncertainty of learning something new that could break or fail and cost you even more money. If this is the case, it’s probably best to hire a plumber or plumbing contractor for peace of mind.
Water damage is a common result of inexperienced homeowners trying to complete challenging plumbing projects on their own. Homeowners are not familiar with plumbing materials, connections, or best practices, and inevitably unforeseen problems arise (often due to not being prepared) that they may or may not know how to handle.
In the end it pays to hire the right plumber or plumbing contractor. Find someone in the area you can trust, who will advise you on the best strategy and schedule for the upgrades you want to make. Some projects can be done right away, while others may need to wait for something else (upgrading pipes, for example) to be finished first.
Other than replacing an air conditioner or furnace, plumbing work is generally the most expensive work you’re likely to have done on the home because you may need the services of a skilled professional.
When thinking about plumbing upgrades, it’s worth considering return on investment.
The sad truth is that when it’s time to sell your house, most buyers expect the home to have a working plumbing system with no issues like pipes that need to be replaced. Whether you can regain the investment of more expensive bathroom and kitchen faucet fixtures, a fancy shower stall or tub, that remains to be seen.
However, in most locations realtors consider remodeled bathrooms (with at least granite counter tops and quality fixtures) and kitchen (with at least granite counter tops, quality fixtures, and stainless steel appliances) to be a worthwhile upgrade/investment when trying to sell.
How much you invest in plumbing upgrades is up to you and what you ultimately want to achieve.
This is one of those situations where you don’t do the work in order to make money or recoup money. You do it because you live in the home, you want to enjoy it, and one day it may help you sell.