It’s not easy remodeling green AND cheap – my $800 bathroom redo

bathroom before

Bathroom before

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve done cosmetic surgery on our bathroom. Our house has two bedrooms and one bathroom on the main level. When we moved in three years ago, a previous owner had redone the bathroom with a pedestal sink and some cheap melamine cabinets.

The decor included features like purple paint (almost every room in our house has a purplish-toned paint), a mirror in which Mr. Cheap could not see his head and cabinets that looked like they were exploding as water had caused the composite shelves to puff up.

More than a year ago, I decided it was time to make some changes. I set aside some money to pay for a new vanity and I started shopping. Well, virtual shopping: Every month or so I would take a trip to local home stores and check out online sites looking for that perfect vanity. It needed to meet several criteria: it needed to be 28 inches wide or less, I hoped it would have drawers for storage, and I needed to find a wall cabinet that matched vanity. In addition, I wanted a sink surface where I could set things down — like my makeup bag — when I was getting ready in the morning.

My plans were to redo the bathroom last summer. In reality, I just completed the project last night. Here’s how it went.

Bathroom after

Bathroom after

Choosing the vanity. As I alluded to above, I looked for a vanity for more than a year. I finally found something that would work — sizewise and stylewise — at Costco online. It came with a mirror that, wonder of wonders, lets Mr. Cheap see his face. Green score: It’s not green; it was shipped all the way from China. Cheap score: The vanity and mirror came out at one of the lower prices I’ve seen for what appears to be a quality piece — $500 including shipping.
Choosing the cabinets. Once I had the vanity picked out I started looking for cabinets that match the wood. Eventually, I settled on, which has a wide selection. In fact, they even have some green options there. Unfortunately, the green options were more expensive and came only in natural pine. If I were looking for a rustic or Scandinavian look, maybe I could’ve pulled it off. But of course they didn’t offer any matching natural pine vanity. So that was out. Green score: Again, not green. Shipped from China. Cheap score: Just over $100 for two cabinets including shipping.

Bathroom before
Bathroom after

Bathroom after

Bathroom before

The paint. Every time I paint something I plan to buy low-VOC paint. This time, I even thought of it as we were choosing our colors. Then I went up to the paint counter and purchased regular paint. Green score: Argh. Cheap score: Excellent! Before I purchased I went online and found a $10 off coupon for a purchase at Lowe’s using a Visa card. (Hurry, shoppers! It’s good through today.) That made the paint about $20 a gallon. When we got up to the counter we discovered that we qualify for a $5 per gallon mail-in rebate, bringing the total to $15 a gallon — and it’s good paint.

The hardware. I had to buy a new faucet, because the holes are farther apart than our old sink. Those puppies aren’t cheap. Green score: Doubtful; it’s just a regular faucet from Home Depot. Cheap score: Very low — although I selected one of the less expensive faucets, it was nearly $140.

The plumbing and labor. I did all the painting and plumbing work myself, which we estimate saved about $500 minimum. It was not especially difficult, just a bit annoying. One of the most frustrating aspects was that tightening the water shutoff valves took 25 minutes because they were so stiff. We purchased very little new plumbing — one pipe to connect to the sink drain, and one new pipe nut. I did have to purchase a basin wrench for $10 to install the faucet. Mr. Cheap caulked, filled the hole where the original medicine cabinet was in the wall, cut molding, set nails the old owners never had set, and hung the cabinets on the walls.

Other new additions. We’re not really updating anything else in the bathroom. I did add shelf liner to our new cabinets, but I used some flat cork and some shelf liner that was lounging idly on our laundry room shelves. Green score: Pretty good. Cheap score: Couldn’t be better.

Waste. We had several items to discard after the re-do.

  • The old étagère. This is a fancy name for the over-toilet cabinet. I Freecycled ours last week.
  • The old pedestal sink. I’ve offered this to my sister. They might use it to complete the roughed-in bathroom in their basement.
  • The old medicine cabinet. It’s not in the greatest shape, but I’m going to donate it to Goodwill, and hopefully someone will find a use for it.
  • The packing materials. These were serious business. Every item came packed very carefully, wrapped in layers of Styrofoam and cardboard. The good news was that the only trash we had was a few plastic lashings that held boxes together. Watch for another post on how we recycled the goodies that our new furnishings came in.


(Sorry that shot is blurry – I must’ve been high on styrofoam fumes! And it *does* include the packaging from a small chest we also purchased.)

Overall? This is hardly a green renovation. I would’ve loved to do so much better on that score. But after hours of work looking for environmentally sensitive products, it seems there aren’t very many out there, unless you are fortunate enough to find something used that you can repurpose. I’m disappointed in myself that I forgot to buy the low-VOC paint. Other than that … better luck next time.

Financially, I think we came out ahead. Our total spend was about $815 for a new sink, vanity, faucet, bathroom paint job and two medicine cabinets — all installed.

It’s too late for me, but if you have any green (or cheap!) renovation tips, please share them here.

* Edited to add hyperlinks.


7 thoughts on “It’s not easy remodeling green AND cheap – my $800 bathroom redo

  1. EcoBella says:

    Great redo on your bathroom, just LOVE the sink size! Going green is more difficult than people realize and it does take thought and time. along with dollar investment.

    Look forward to you sharing your next project ;~)


  2. erin says:

    I think your bathroom looks great but I was really surprised that they even sell VOC laden paint any more. Maybe I am spoiled because I live in Portland, OR or maybe it is because I have my “green blinders” on when it comes to paint. The VOCs in paint give me a head ache like no other so I avoid them at all costs. Interesting note though – even if you buy a low or no VOC paint, there is often paint in the pigment. If you bought a dark red no-VOC paint you actually are probably ending up with VOCs. I don’t know that all brands are like this but that is what I was told at Miller paints (our local spot). It is possible that others like Yolo may not be the same.

  3. cheaplikeme says:

    Oooh, it turns out my paint is almost low-VOC … It says it has “less than 150 g/L VOCs” — low enough to meet the “Green Seal Standard” per this site:

    And my remodel felt cheaper after I read an article in the paper today that said that simple bathroom redo’s can be done for amounts only “in the low thousands.” Whoo hoo!

  4. Condo Blues says:

    After I remodled my 1/2 bath, I donated the old sink, faucets, and light to Habitat for Humanity. They have home improvement thrift stores, where they sell the donated items and the money they make goes back into the charity. It’s also one of my favorite thriting spots, but the things I find are usually good for small projects or small parts of large projects.

    I think your bathroom looks great! I wouldn’t feel so bad about the no VOC paint. I read in the New York Times that professional painters who use no VOC paints are usually asked to repaint those jobs every two years or less because the no VOC paint don’t wear as well as the non VOC bad for you paint. They didn’t mention any specific brands so I’m hesistant to say that I’d never use low/no VOC paint (because I really hate repainting rooms.) But when it comes time for me to paint, I’m going to do some research to see if there are some brands that wear longer than others.

  5. Sara Williams says:

    This is really great. My girlfriend used this company in LA called Designers Call and they came in and basically helped her to do the same thing-but it was more collaborative so it wasn’t expensive. I think companies like this are great for those of us who don’t have the talent nor time to remodel our bathrooms on our own. Great job!

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