Sunday, February 18, 2018

Bathroom: Finishes

Choosing a color for the bathroom was a dream compared to the living room. We went to Benjamin Moore and picked out every gray swatch they had. Then, we narrowed it down to three and I picked up sample paint. We painted the options on the wall and I declared a winner. Even as I was painting Nick was saying he wasn't sure. But paint is weird. It looks different when it dries and it looks different once you've completed the entire room. Once done, we were both confident that we liked the color. Our hope with the monotone pallet is that it will remain fairly timeless and we can change out artwork, towels, and the curtain to freshen the look.

The view from the tub.

We were pleased that there was room to install sconce lighting to the left and right of the medicine cabinet. This type of lighting is supposed to be more flattering than above the mirror lighting which puts shadows on your face (so they say). The tiled area on the floor is only 4' x 6' and must accommodate a toilet and a vanity, while still allowing a door to open. Given the limited space, we wanted a vanity rather than a pedestal so there would be room to store some toilet paper and my hair dryer and brush. There were only a few options on the market that met our requirements and I'm happy with what we got. We are still on the hunt for new towels. We wanted to get bright green towels to match the green in the watercolor paintings on the wall, but that color is apparently not en vogue for linens right now.

Our original plan was to get a curved shower curtain bar and a traditional curtain. But, we feared that a curtain would make the small bathroom feel as small as it is. Plus, if I could never deal with the constant battle of keeping a shower curtain clean I'd be a happy lady. We found a bi-fold shower door that swings in and out. When folded, we can swing it toward the wall and it doesn't hit the toilet. This is handy for when we clean the tub.

Shower door swings in...
...and out.
When closed, the shower door spans about two-thirds the length of the tub. This works out just fine because we have a rain shower head, which directs the water straight down. We had a sad hiccup with this shower setup. We really wanted a thermostatic shower valve, which is supposed to be amazing. I don't know exactly why it's amazing because I've never experienced it, but it is said to keep your water at the exact temperature you want without having to run for a moment to get up to temp. We were told by our sales consultant that we could eliminate the need for one of the knobs by using the diverter knob as the on/off knob in addition to diverting. For example: knob at neutral = water off; knob to the left = on shower, knob to the right = on tub. We executed the plumbing accordingly and then walls and tile went up. When we installed the fixtures and trim, it was discovered that the diverter knob does not have an off setting. Instead, the water is a continuum of on, either at the shower head or tub. Nick called the fixture showroom and they refunded money and gave us a new part for free. It was difficult to fix, but with some creative tile cutting, we were able to make the change without ripping out the tile.
Tile cut like a storm trooper to enable switching valves.

This delayed the use of our otherwise finished bathroom for an additional two months. It would have been infuriating if I had been accustomed to using our main bathroom or if we only had a single bathroom. What would we have done?

It was difficult to get a perfect comparison photo with the door on, but hopefully you can use your imagination to piece it together. It's done!!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Bathroom: Walls and Tile

Hello, friends! In real time, Nick and I are both starting new jobs this month and had an exceptionally busy week as we finished out our old jobs before going on vacation to Kauai. We're back--shocked at the effectiveness of SPF 50 and our lack of tans, but fully used to sleeping 10 - 12 hours each night. Let us pick up where the story left off...

Having successfully installed the tub, the work turned to hired help. An electrician came in and ran all the wiring for the vanity sconces, a light above the shower and the ceiling fan. He was done in a matter of hours and the electrical inspector was there by afternoon to give approval. The next day, a drywaller came in and very quickly put in the ceiling and walls. I promise you, he came around 7am and was practically finished by the time I left for work an hour later. He came back the next day to sand his seams and do touch-up after it dried, and once that was done we were cleared to install trim and paint.

Walls installed. 
The red wall is the cement board for wet areas.
We decided to have a radiant heated floor, which would be the only source of warmth in the room (you'll remember that we removed the heat register). To do this, the tile guy set wiring into mortar. I believe he mixed the set too thick because it dried with mounds rather than settling out level. When I asked about it, the worker assured me that he would level it out as he laid the floor tile. can guess what happened there. Despite the imperfection, I seem to be the only person who notices that the floor is not perfectly level all around.

We're really pleased with the tile work. The touches of black really pop and I love love love the shower cubby! Compare to the old floor HERE.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Bathroom: Tub Installation

With the plumbing complete and inspection approved, we laid down two sheets of new plywood and screwed them into place. Next was the tub installation, which we planned to do ourselves. We purchased an American Standard porcelain-enameled steel tub. The neat thing about this tub is that it's lighter than cast iron (by a LOT), but more rigid than a fiberglass tub. The enameled finish provides a similar look and feel to a cast iron tub.

After: installed tub.
To install the tub, a 2 x 4 is screwed into the studs of the wall horizontally. This ledger board is what the back of the tub rests upon once installed. It took us two hours of fiddling to get the ledger board installed just right. With a bit of research, we determined that we should lay a bed of mortar, which would prevent the tub from flexing and give a more solid feel. This approach reduces the slightly hollow feel/sound you experience when getting in and out of the tub. Seemed easy enough. The last video we watched before gathering our courage stressed that we should not get the mortar too wet. It was after 9pm when we setup the wheelbarrow and mixed the mortar in the garage. Nick mixed the mortar and then filled 5 gallon buckets that we hauled upstairs and dumped on the plywood sub-floor. The quick set mortar gets hot as it dries and again we found ourselves dripping with sweat. Nick quickly squeezed a thick bead of silicone on top of the ledger board and we worked together to lift the tub and bring it straight down on the mortar. This is a one shot deal. You can't move the tub around too much or you'll create air space and ruin the perfect bed underneath. As soon as we set the tub on the mortar it was apparent that we had made a grave mistake. The mortar was too dry!

We lifted the tub back off the mortar and Nick walked away. I could almost see visible steam coming out of his ears. "What do we do?!" I panicked. Nick was too upset to even respond. The quick set mortar was QUICKLY setting. It's very heavy and I knew that if we didn't get the mortar up quickly it would be impossibly stuck to the floor and very difficult to rectify. I ran to the basement and grabbed the flat bottom shovel. I chipped away at the side of the mound and got the shovel underneath. I pried at the sides and broke off manageable chunks. They were almost too hot to handle, so I propped the big pieces against the wall. We scraped the drying silicone off the lip of the tub and off the ledger board. For all that work, I could have sat on the floor and cried. We showered and went to bed. The next evening we tried again using good ol' slow setting mortar and a wetter mix. Everything went as planned.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Bathroom: Plumbing

We can do demolition and we can install the fixtures. We'll pay someone to do everything else. What's that? Seven thousand dollars for plumbing? Yeah....we can do the plumbing.

We've found that when we do things ourselves, especially when it's the first time, some money is lost on mistakes. It also takes a lot longer, but in the end, we still come out ahead on the pocketbook. The plumbing was HARD. Not because plumbing itself is hard, but because it's difficult to read and interpret the plumbing code and to even know the names of all the pieces to buy. Nick figured all of this out! We have a friend who is an engineer and designs waste water systems and he looked over our plans, but we still had a couple hard knocks along the way. The demolition was okay--we rented a clay pipe cutter to cut the heavy cast iron waste stack and removed it in 18" sections. There was only one bad incident where a husband got hit in the face by the crank arm of the tool. It's hard to say who was at fault.

Old waste stack.
Sink drain. Gross!
Once we had the new pipes in, Nick plugged all the openings in the system (connections to sink/tub, and the drains) in preparation for the cover inspection. He then climbed atop the roof and stuck the garden hose into the vent pipe to fill the entire system with water. This practice is how the inspector determines whether there are any leaks. We felt reasonably confident in our work. However, when the inspector arrived, he pointed out that we had the wrong sized pipe on the tub drain (a detail that is buried in a FOOTNOTE in the code), and the cast iron venting in the attic that we had not removed was leaking at the joints.The inspector said it was up to us whether we wanted to replace the cast iron in the attic. It wasn't bad enough that he had great concern, but we don't take the easy way out.

New waste stack.
At 6pm on a week night, we headed to the hardware station to rent a clay pipe cutter again. Our goal was to fix the tub drain and replace the waste stack venting in the attic so that the inspector could return the following day so that the other hired work would remain on schedule. Replacing the tub drain pipe was no easy matter. The pipes are glued together and a change requires cutting the connector out and putting new pieces in. It takes quite a bit of thought to figure out how to reconfigure the arrangement with new pieces to make up for the part that had to be cut out.

It was probably 9:30pm before we even started on the cast iron in the attic. I go to bed between 10pm and 11pm and stop functioning at midnight. It seemed like such an easy task, but the hours ticked away unfairly. I knew that if I stopped helping, Nick would justify going to bed with a plan to get up early to finish the job, undoubtedly miscalculating how much time it would take. My eyes crossed and I felt nauseated. It was 90 degrees in the attic and we dripped with sweat. "If I can make it to bed by 11, I'll be fine," I reasoned. Eleven came and went. "If I get to bed by 1, I can get the Golden Five and I'll be fine." At 2am, nothing mattered anymore. I could respond to instruction but was useless with independent thought. We finished our work before 3 and I passed out in bed, setting my alarm clock later than usual.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Bathroom: Holes in the Floor

With the tile off the floor, it was clear to us that we'd need to replace the sub floor. There had been water damage in the past and the floor was warped, uneven and had significant holes under the tub and toilet.

Nick determined where he'd need to cut along the interior walls and how to create new supports so that the structural integrity of the room was not compromised. He gave careful consideration to where he planned to route the new plumbing in the basement and where the new sub floor would need to be secured to the beams. And, since we were saving money doing this work ourselves, we decided that Nick should have a new top of the line drill. We actually got a Milwaukee set of two--a big one and a small one with a hammer drill feature. The right tools make a job so much easier! We lament waiting so long to have upgraded.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Bathroom: Demolition OR Aggression Therapy

Everyone thinks demolition sounds like fun. "Ooh...hitting things with a sledge hammer. Yay!" It is a little bit fun, but more so for the instant gratification. We don't use sledge hammers, though. For lathe and plaster you can do quite well with a regular hammer and a small crow bar. If you do it just right, you can remove nice big sections of plaster and then pop off the lathe. It's a dusty, dirty mess and is most comfortable if you cover nearly every bit of skin, but then you get sweaty and that's also disgusting. We wore respirators, ear plugs and protective glasses, but the glasses get foggy, sweaty, and clouded with dust and are a constant hassle. We did our best to contain the dust in the bathroom by taping up a sheet of plastic. Given the many steps up to our front door and the narrow hallway, we opted to carry the refuse out to the dump truck by the five gallon bucketful. Quite a workout!

We had considered keeping the cast iron tub. Several of the contractors we spoke with thought we should, but in retrospect, we concluded that they just didn't want to deal with its removal. Cast iron is a quality material, but the tub was pitted and not in the very best shape. It just seemed like if we were going to have a new bathroom, we deserved to have an ALL new bathroom.

Dilemma: how to remove the tub? Our neighbor said that he and a buddy carried his cast iron tub out in one whole piece. "No problem for two guys," he said. He even offered to help. I had read a blogger's account of torch-cutting their tub into two pieces in order to remove it. She said it took 3 hours to cut! Ugh! I then turned to YouTube where I learned that you can whack a cast iron tub repeatedly with a sledge hammer (there you go!) until it forms a weak spot and begins to shatter into pieces. We borrowed our neighbor's maul axe and I was the first to have a go at it. Nick didn't seem optimistic and left me to wear myself out with this foolish attempt. After maybe five minutes of whacking, I broke through with a nice hole in the side. Nick seemed impressed. I couldn't get the break to expand over the top, so he took over and completed the task. Let me tell you, even broken in two, this tub was HEAVY! We are grateful that it doesn't cost anything to dump metal at the transfer station, because they charge by the pound.

It was no easy feat to get the old floor up, but with a masonry chisel and a lot of determination, we did it. We stood in the empty room and I commented that I already liked it better than before. "I can't imagine standing right here and actually enjoying being in this room."

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Bathroom: The Before

The most complex and difficult project thus far was the bathroom remodel. Nick and I agreed that we'd pay someone for this project, but even still, there were a lot of things we knew we could do ourselves to save a buck. To set the stage, it's important to appreciate how disgusting the bathroom was. It was so gross that we actually never used it. It was most often a repository for tools and dust. The bathroom was bright orange and someone had installed Travertine tile in the shower. What you cannot see is the mildew on the ceiling of the shower cove and the exposed-element heat lamp/fan. Perhaps with a modest amount of effort we could have made this bathroom temporarily usable, but since the bathroom remodel was going to be "the first thing we do", there seemed no point. So, for several years while we worked on everything else (note the irony), we used the marginally better basement bathroom where we rigged up the small claw footed tub with a shower riser and curtain.

Upstairs bathroom - before.
Basement bathroom - interim setup.
A lot of people thought the original floor was neat, and for a quick minute Nick even considered reviving the original toilet. We flip flopped on whether to keep the arch, part of the house's original charm, but once I saw a photo of a very similar bathroom with the arch removed, its fate was sealed. You'll note that it's a VERY small bathroom. A tall person could practically wash his feet in the tub while sitting on the toilet. Removing the arch would open up the room and make it seem bigger.

Scary selfie - demolition girl!
With those details confirmed, I donned my demolition garb and we got to work!