19/04/2023  •  , , ,

Cosmetic vs. Structural Bathroom Renovations

Estimated Read Time: 6 minutes

When it comes to home improvement projects, kitchen renovations often take centre stage over the bathroom. 


But they shouldn’t always! A well-done bathroom renovation can do wonders for your home. 


Whether you want to update its dated appearance, create a more functional layout, or increase the resale value of your home, there’s no shortage of possibilities when looking at a bathroom renovation. 


One important decision you'll need to make is whether your reno will focus on structural changes or cosmetic updates. Each approach has its own benefits and considerations.


At Deslaurier, we have over 40 years of experience manufacturing custom cabinets and providing design expertise. While we do not offer renovation services, we have spent decades partnering with contractors and renovators to give our clients the custom home renovations of their dreams. 


This article will detail cosmetic and structural bathroom renovations, so you can better understand which category your bathroom project falls under. 


Let’s get started! 

Table of Contents

What is a Cosmetic Renovation?

What is a Structural Renovation?

What Renovations Require a Building Permit?

Bathroom Renovators

Elements of a Cosmetic Renovation

Elements of a Structural Renovation

What is Your Bathroom Renovation?

Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets


What is a Cosmetic Renovation? 


A cosmetic bathroom renovation involves making aesthetic upgrades to a bathroom without performing any major alterations to the layout or structure of the space.


These alterations can help to give the bathroom a fresh, updated appearance without the need for extensive remodeling or structural changes. 


Cosmetic bathroom renovations are often less expensive and less disruptive than more extensive projects, making them a popular choice for homeowners who want to update their bathroom’s appearance without breaking the bank.


That being said, cosmetic renovations can still be quite expensive. Depending on the scope of your project, you could end up with new vanity cabinets, countertops and flooring! 


What is a Structural Renovation? 


A structural bathroom renovation is a whole different animal. 


They involve making changes to the fundamental layout, design, and functionality of a bathroom. This may include removing or adding walls, relocating plumbing or electrical work, and changing the shape or size of the space.


Surprisingly, a bathroom renovation that involves structural changes can require a significant investment. A bathroom can cost you anywhere between $15k to $50k depending on the choices you make. An extensive master bathroom renovation will oftentimes reach $30,000 to even $50,000 once completed. 


Of course, the good outweighs the bad, as structural renovations greatly improve the functionality, aesthetics, and overall value of your home. They’re ideal for homeowners who want to alter their existing space or revamp their bathroom design to increase their home’s future resale value. 


Unlike cosmetic remodels, more often than not a structural kitchen renovation WILL require a building permit. Let’s dive into what that entails. 

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Building Permit 


In Ontario, any homeowner can undertake a construction project on their property, whether or not they have qualifications in the field. However, doing so may require the acquisition of a Provincial (or State) Building Permit. 


The Ontario Building Code Act stipulates that: “a building permit is required for the construction of a new building, an addition, or alteration of any building or structure with a building area over 10 square metres (approximately 108 square feet).”


As we mentioned earlier, structural renovations and building permits go hand-in-hand. If your renovation adds or removes walls, doors, or windows; or relocates plumbing, electrical, or utilities, you can safely assume you’ll need a building permit for your project.


If your renovation alters load-bearing walls or plumbing and electrical, you can safely assume you’ll need a permit as well. 


For small homeowner projects, such as a bathroom renovation, the City of Ottawa estimates it will take 5 business days to review your submission and issue a permit—so plan ahead! Nothing delays a renovation project like uncompleted paperwork.


Categorizing your renovation as a cosmetic or structural project is not always as clear-cut as it seems. 


The best way to determine if you need a building permit is to contact your local building code client service centre. In Ottawa, you can dial the number for Building Code Services at 3-1-1. 


Bathroom Renovators 


Even though any homeowner can technically manage their own renovation, we typically suggest hiring a licensed renovation contractor for larger-scope projects. 


A bathroom renovation contractor will oversee your home improvement project from start to finish. 


They’ll manage the renovations’ budget, hire necessary subcontractors, deal with the building permits mentioned above, and ensure the project is completed on time and up to standard. 


One final note on Building Permits: even if your contractor agrees to handle the logistics, the liability falls on you, the homeowner. A professional contractor can apply and arrange inspections on your behalf, but it is ultimately your name on the permit.


If you’re looking at a significant bathroom remodel, it’s always best to consider the services of a  bathroom renovation specialist. 


Elements of a Cosmetic Renovation


Cosmetic renovations can include a wide variety of features. Think of them as “surface” level changes. 


So long as utilities do not move locations, you’re free and clear! 


One of the primary elements of any bathroom update is upgrading the vanity cabinets. It’s probably safe to say a lot has changed in the world of bathroom vanities since yours were installed. 


In recent years, homeowners and interior designers have revamped the look of contemporary bathroom cabinets, with increased heights and a love for the allure of suspended vanities.


Updating your cabinets will also have a domino effect on the rest of your bathroom. New vanity cabinets go hand-in-hand with new countertops and cabinet hardware. 


Re-tiling your shower walls can instantly breathe new life into a bathroom. Budget permitting, updating dated and small shower tiling with show-stopping quartz simultaneously refreshes the room and rids you of any pesky grout maintenance.


Just take a look at this beautiful shower equipped with quartz tiling from head to toe:



A bathroom is typically home to plenty of plumbing and light fixtures. Replacing sink faucets or bathroom lighting with eye-catching substitutes is a small but effective way to enhance an older bathroom design. 


Elements of a Structural Renovation


Altering or adding walls, windows, or doorways are telltale features of a structural renovation. But when it comes to the bathroom, there’s a bit more nuance involved than there is in kitchen projects. 


For example, adding or changing the location of a sink, toilet, bath, or shower all require extensive plumbing work that will open up your drywall or flooring. 


Many homeowners are veering away from the space-saving shower/bathtub combination in lieu of separate units. While it is beneficial for bathrooms with enough room, it does result in a myriad of plumbing alterations with additional pipes and a second drain. 


Freestanding tubs are truly an eye-catching addition when it comes to the bathroom. Since they quite literally stand alone, they function as a focal point of the room – almost like the kitchen island of bathrooms.  


Of course, structural renovations also involve “cosmetic” features like updating or replacing cabinetry, countertops, flooring, and other fixtures. 


For instance, the example listed above about adding or relocating a sink will guarantee the need for new vanity cabinets and countertops. 


What is Your Bathroom Renovation? 


There are several reasons to renovate your existing bathroom. Whether you want to create a more luxurious master bathroom, assess signs of damage and deterioration, or give your space an updated appearance. 


Hopefully, you should know whether your renovation will be structural or purely cosmetic. If not, a good place to start is by writing a list of the alterations you plan on making and seeing if they fit the requirements of a building permit or not. 


When determining the scope of your renovation project, it’s always important to consider your budget, lifestyle needs, and long-term plans you have for your home. 


Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets 


Every renovation project is unique, and this is particularly true for bathroom renovations. Whether you're aiming for a cosmetic makeover or planning a complete overhaul to accommodate your dream freestanding tub, we hope this article has helped you identify the category your bathroom remodel falls into.


If you have your eye on custom vanity cabinets for your upcoming bathroom renovation, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need. With over 40 years of experience in our name, we provide our clients with a fully customized design process with our talented team of designers


Book a free consultation today with a Deslaurier design expert at our Ottawa showroom!

Live outside the area? Find a Dealer to connect with near you! Interested in becoming an authorized Deslaurier dealer? Visit our Become a Dealer page to learn more!

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