A Guide to Remodeling a Bathroom in Washington, DC

What to know about remodeling a bathroom in Washington, DC from costs and permits to ventilation

Washington DC bathroom

Washington DC has limitless possibilities that make it one of the most exciting places to live in the U.S. If you are remodeling a bathroom there, you may find a parallel set of challenges and possibilities for your project! Not to worry: in this guide, Sweeten outlines the basic elements to know before you renovate a bathroom in the DC area.

Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering advice, support, and up to $50,000 in renovation financial protection— for free.

Defining the area around Washington DC

Remodeling a bathroom in Washington, DC first means hammering down its geography. 

The commonly held notion is that DC consists of the District, Southern Maryland, and Northern Virginia. Sweeten currently services the DC area, Montgomery and Howard counties in Maryland, and select counties in Virginia, including Fairfax and Arlington.

Exterior architecture

Part of what makes the DC area so appealing is its architecturally significant buildings. Many older and noteworthy buildings are within the District, specifically Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Adams Morgan, and Dupont. 

Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia do have some historically important buildings, but not to the extent that the District does.

In the District, Preservation Reviews by the Office of Planning tend to concentrate on exterior work. Interior alterations and non-structural interior demolition are both permitted activities but are exempt from Preservation Reviews.

Renovation bathroom costs in Washington, DC

The cost of remodeling a high-end bathroom in the South Atlantic region, which includes the DC metro area, is higher than the national average. Starting costs for a low-end bathroom remodel are between $12,000—$15,000. A mid-range budget starts at around $600 per square foot, or $21,000. A high-end remodel starts at $40,000 for a 3- or 4-piece bath. (You can read more in Sweeten’s renovation cost guide for Washington, DC).         

“Rip-and-replace” in an older home

A “rip-and-replace” bathroom remodel will always save you money over a full remodel. Like the name says, fixtures are pulled out and replaced. The footprint does not change, nor does the drywall, subfloor, pipes, or wiring. In a “rip-and-replace,” the most expensive items are the toilet, tub or shower, faucet, sink, and cabinet.

But there is a catch: Washington, DC has a significantly older housing stock. East of the Capitol, north of the K Street business district, up Georgia Avenue, and on either side of the 16th Street corridor, houses can be 100 years old or more. This means that a “rip-and-replace” remodel is usually not possible if the bathroom is in its original state.

Bathroom remodels for these older homes usually require a full gutting to expose the insides of the walls, including pipes and wiring. Knob-and-tube wiring, common in these homes, must be replaced with modern non-metallic wiring. Additionally, the service panel should be updated. When the studs are bowed or broken, they can be sistered with a parallel stud to the side. 

Many of these older DC homes were solidly built with materials considered premium for their time. Common materials that DC homeowners will encounter are cast iron tubs, two-by-fours that actually measure 2 inches by 4 inches, heavy joists, and linoleum. These items can be difficult to remove. For example, homeowners removing cast-iron tubs will need to break or cut them apart on-site to assist with removal.

The effect of climate in DC 

The DC area can get hot—really hot. While DC’s spring weather is pleasant, the summer climate turns quickly—with record temperatures over 100 F and averages in the 80s. DC’s high humidity keeps everything wet, especially moisture-prone bathrooms.

Explore with a general contractor the full range of measures to keep condensation in the bathroom at bay:

  • Adequate bathroom exhaust fan
  • Openable window, if possible
  • Dehumidifier
  • Heated flooring
  • Wall heater
  • Mold-resistant paint

Permits for Washington, DC remodels

Bathroom remodeling permits are required in the District, Montgomery County, and Fairfax County.

  • District: An Alteration and Repair Permit from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) is required. You must submit architectural plans. Since your bathroom remodel will likely be under the Department’s 1,000 square foot cut-off, you can have your bathroom remodel project fast-tracked with a counter review.
  • Montgomery County: The Department of Permitting Services will require a Residental Alteration permit. You may need additional electrical and mechanical permits, too.
  • Fairfax County: Land Development Services requires a permit for interior alterations, as well as for individual projects related to bathroom remodeling such as installing new plumbing fixtures.

Building approvals

Remodeling a bathroom in Washington, DC proper generally will be more involved than in the suburbs due to the larger number of condos and other board-controlled buildings. Within DC, this will be less of an issue as you move northward to Tenleytown, Petworth, Chevy Chase, and Takoma since more single-family residences are located there.

Even though you own everything within the walls of the condo, condo boards typically require that you submit alteration plans for approval. Bathroom remodels are of special interest since these projects touch on critical services such as electrical and plumbing that affect other units. Logistics like parking for workers, elevator usage, and demolition removal must be considered.

Condo boards each have their own personalities and requirements. Board approval can be tricky. But if you are working with an experienced professional for the bathroom remodel, they will help you navigate the approval process.

Remodeling a bathroom in Washington, DC? Now is the time.

Don’t let the possible challenges of remodeling a DC bathroom stop you! There are clear benefits of remodeling to consider; like creative exploration, personal enjoyment, and higher resale value. Find the right general contractor with the experience you need to see your dreams to completion.

Ready to start your own Washington, DC renovation? Sweeten can help!

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Sweeten outlines what you need to know when renovating or building a Washington DC porch from materials to style.

Sweeten handpicks the best general contractors to match each project’s location, budget, scope, and style. Follow the blog, Sweeten Stories, for renovation ideas and inspiration and when you’re ready to renovate, start your renovation with Sweeten.

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