Having a family stay with us a few days is when I finally decided to remodel our gross bathroom. Our guests stayed in the lower level and had complete access to the bathroom we had put in a few years back which is what I use every day. But now I was forced to use the bathroom in the upper level just off the master bedroom. This is where the story begins.
My wife Jennifer uses this bathroom everyday and after five days of using it alongside her I was amazed that she hadn’t seriously injured herself by falling in the slippery old cast iron tub while taking a shower. I nearly killed myself in this thing when I used it and after five days I said, “enough is enough”. This bathroom desperately needed a serious remodel as it’s disgusting and dangerous. (If you remember or if you simply looked below this post you will see that I recently remodeled our home office. This is the same house and the bathroom is right across the hallway.)
Our home was built in 1964 and the bathroom had not been updated since then except I put in a new disgusting sliding glass shower door and a cheap vanity years ago trying to avoid the inevitable ….
There’s no storage space in the little old bathroom. None! Zero! All the toiletries Jennifer uses are in the halfway closet right outside the bathroom. So, everytime she washed her face she would have to open the hallway closet door and dig around to find what she needed. Plus, she keeps the door open for constant access stepping in and out of the bathroom and the door blocks the hallway. It’s embarrassing and terrible.
We called Sara from Dream House Dream Kitchens in Delafield where she runs the Dream House showroom and that was all it took. Sara has been to our home countless times and so we set up an appointment to meet and go over the details … The first idea that needed to be established was that this was “Jennifer’s bathroom” and not “our” bathroom. My bathroom was downstairs and I don’t need anything more than that.
We had a choice to make with this remodel because we have two bathrooms upstairs which are side by side and divided by a wall and there’s a door which you could access the bathroom from the kitchen and the bedroom. If all the doors were open you could make a complete circle through the house.
One bathroom is bigger which contains the tub and shower and the other small bathroom off the kitchen is considered a powder room with just a sink and a toilet. These two bathrooms are divided by a tiled wall where plumbing and electrical runs and the plan was to eliminate the powder room and make it one big bathroom for Jennifer. I just had to knock out a wall which divided the two rooms and close off the door from the kitchen and the bedroom … The total size for both bathrooms is approximately 100 sq. ft. so this is going to take some imagination along with eliminating a small pantry and rerouting the sewer vent and a whole bunch of other stuff.
Now a realtor would tell you to NEVER eliminate a bathroom as having three bathrooms is better for resale, blah, blah blah, but we’re not going anywhere. Plus I would rather have one big amazing bathroom than two small terrible ones. Wouldn’t you?
Once we decided on the design, Sara provided the rendering and we agreed to everything she suggested. The tile for the floor and shower, the grout color, the cabinets and the pulls, the free standing bathtub to the tub filler and toilet were all chosen by Sara. We were just along for the ride. I added the heated floor and a new window as there was no way I was going to tear apart the bathroom and NOT put in a heated floor or keep that terrible 1964 window..
The downside was that Sara told us that it would take 20 weeks for the cabinets to come in which was a surprise and would force us to remodel in the summer. I made a list of changes that will happen to the house for this project and presented it to Jennifer. I also suggested that it would take me 8-10 weeks to complete the job (barring any major delays) which included the demolition.
I am up to the task … ! (I think.)
July 1, 2022 – The demo phase – (I like to call this the “Surprise Phase”)
I often hear people say that the demolition of a room for a remodel is easy and goes really fast. That is not necessarily true especially if you are living in the home during the demo. This demo phase took me two weeks. That’s not very fast in my opinion and the house looks like a bomb went off in it. Dust is everywhere even if you mask off the demo area because every time you open the plastic door you track the dust everywhere you go and it falls off your clothes, and … you get the picture. Plus, after each day I would spend an hour cleaning up so we could live in a “clean” house.
I went to the city dump five times and has anyone ever tried to remove a cast iron tub? I’m here to tell you that it’s a tough job and the only way to get it out is to beat the tub into a million pieces with a sledgehammer. That’s it …. That’s how you do it. There’s no other way around it because I tried the Sawz-All and that didn’t work. You will get metal shards of razor sharp porcelain and cast iron pieces flying everywhere, not to mention you need heavy duty gloves and eye protection, ear plugs, and work boots. You absolutely need to dress appropriately for this task.
The old cast iron sewer pipe ran through the walls and up through the roof. Ugh. This was not a surprise but based on Sara’s drawing, I had to figure out a way to add the new PVC sewer pipe through the wall cavity without furring strips because the drawing was precise and did not include adding furring strips. I’m going to let the plumber figure this out.
After two difficult weeks I was able to demo both rooms and managed to save all the lumber from the walls but the floor was down to the joists. The ceiling came out exposing the rafters which eliminated all the insulation. You can look up and see the roof. Plastic was installed to the ceiling rafters because this was mid July and it was hot. I added floor supports and beefed up the joists with all the extra wood from the demoed walls which will make for a solid new subfloor which will support heavy cabinets, a new quartz countertop, heavy floor tile, a new cement mortar shower floor and subway tile that will go from floor to ceiling. The shower floor will be a charcoal colored river rock. Nice, but heavy.
Phase 2 – The build out – DELAYS – Square walls?
The plumber (Chris Elke) was called as I was down to the studs and this is when the delays happened. I was stuck not doing anything as he was three weeks out from my job. I had called Chris long before I started the demo and was working hard and fast to meet his demanding schedule which kept changing. That was the problem. I used the down time to gather supplies like drywall and wiring, anything I could think of, etc. I was able to install the frame for the pocket door during this time. In short, the remodel was done out of sequence which creates a lot more work, but at least you’re getting things done.
The plumbing downtime was a major problem for my completion schedule but I would not go with any other plumber as I have used Chris for our kitchen and downstairs bathroom because he is fast and fantastic. And after three weeks Chris called and said he was able to find time on a Sunday to start and finish the job. I told him that I was willing to help him as I had already capped off all the water pipes with Shark Bites, cut holes where the toilet and shower drain go and I had already installed the tub filler system. I was ready for him. When he showed up we completed the entire bathroom rough-in in six hours. I was exhausted.
Now the REAL build-out can begin.
I wonder when the framing square was invented? This house was built in 1964 (with Douglas Fir studs, rafters and floor joists) so it must have been after that because there isn’t a square wall in this house which makes precise measurements from a blueprint difficult to work around.
I personally despise drywall but it was added to the areas that need drywall and I took photos and measurements where the sewer pipe and sink vent went through the floor and neatly tucked into the wall. The last thing I wanted to do was drive a cabinet mounting screw through the PVC pipes. I also added metal strike plates to the base studs at the floor level.
I am not a professional drywaller but I watched enough YouTube videos to do a really good job on the drywall install, taping, mudding, and finishing. I was quite pleased with myself as it looks fantastic even though shiplap would have been my choice for walls.
The lighting was added to the ceiling and the sconces were all set up and I purchased a new ceiling vent system that is SUPER nice. This Panasonic vent has a sensor that will automatically turn on and off based on pressure sensing and humidity. I added a light in the shower and a box for a ceiling mounted chandelier that will go over the freestanding soaker tub. The new window arrived and was installed and looks fantastic.
I purchased the Schluter heated floor system and installed the floor membrane and then wrapped the wire around the small plastic “studs” the wire snaps into. This system is easy to install but it requires adding a 20 amp double pole breaker to the electric panel and I had already ran the wire up through the floor and into the wall. The thermostat for this system is wonderful, looks great, and is easy to program and set up. I love it and so does Jennifer.
Once the heated floor system was in place I installed the tile flooring.
I was on a schedule with the remodel again after the plumbing delay and the countertop installers from Designs In Marble wanted to measure for the quartz countertop Sara had picked out. I wanted to make sure everything was ready for them as they’re busy and it may be quite some time to get them back. I didn’t want another delay so once the floor was installed I brought in the three lower cabinets and put them in place.
There’s an art to installing cabinets and after studying the blueprint from Dream House Dream Kitchens, I precisely placed the cabinets in the bathroom. I purchased a laser level and set that up for the install. I shimmed and leveled the cabinets perfectly and secured them together and to the wall. I pulled out the photos and the measurements where the PVC pipes were in the wall so I didn’t drill holes through them. I also marked them on the wall in pencil as a third safety precaution.
Wow … This is starting to look like a real bathroom. Once the countertop and sink were installed, I turned on the water.
Phase 3 – Tub – Wallpaper
The old window was removed and the new window was installed and looks great. The tub was next and that took me a day to install only because I had to run the drain through the floor but the plumbing was already roughed in and all I had to do was connect the drain. This meant a couple of trips to Home Depot for parts. Once connected I tested it and it works great.
I had never wallpapered anything in my life so I called my sister who had some experience in this area and we wallpapered the area between the two tower cabinets and the wall behind the toilet flange. Once the wallpaper was installed I set the toilet. Nothing leaked here either and we can now use the toilet instead of having to run downstairs to use the bathroom.
Phase 4 – Pocket door
I love pocket doors … The pocket door frame had already been in place but hanging the door is another matter. It’s somewhat easy to do but there’s work involved and you need to be accurate and precise because once you enclose the frame you’re committed as fixing any mistake in the framing means tearing the wall apart. I watched a dozen YouTube videos on pocket doors and felt 100% confident I was setting it up correctly. I purchased an expensive pocket door system from Cavity Sliders which made the process much easier. (Highly recommend Cavity Sliders if installing a pocket door is in your future.)
The work involved here is in the locking system hardware. You need special tools and special drill bits and sharp chisels, because if you purchased a $1,000 door and you made a mistake you’re screwed. I went back to Youtube and watched a dozen more videos on pocket door hardware and this was helpful but my confidence was not that high. I would say I was 50% sure I wouldn’t screw it up.
I solved my confidence level by purchasing a cheaper wood door so if I screwed it up I’m only out $100. This door matches the new office door which looks great so even if this is a temporary door we’re still looking good until we order a new door.
I have set it in my mind that this was a “practice” door because the door we want is a $1,000 framed frosted glass door. What’s very odd here is that I have done everything else up to this point with 100% confidence and the room looks fantastic but this little metal $25 pocket door hardware latch has me losing sleep at night. Because, when you think about it, what good is a new bathroom if you can’t close and latch the door?
After an entire day of setting the door, cutting a hole for the latch, and then securing the latch in the door jamb, I accomplished the job and the door looks great and works perfectly. I’m very happy with how it looks and works. No wobble and the latch is smooth and secures the door perfectly. What a relief. The other nice thing is that the door looks so good we’re thinking about keeping it permanently and not spending the money on a new frosted glass door. Plus I’m not sure a frosted glass door would fit the style of the house now that this wood door is set in place. Imagine that – an inexpensive surprise.
Phase 5 – The shower – The end
Everything in the new bathroom is up and running and the only thing left is to put the shower in. I’ve been looking forward to this as this is the last piece of the project. I’m insulating walls with soundproof insulation to quiet the water noise. I have been preparing for this part of the project for weeks and it’s all ready to go.
Cement board is already here, the white subway tile and grout is in the garage and the cement for the floor is all ready to go. I made sure the walls were square and furred out any areas that needed it so there are no lips or dips in the tile.
I poured the dry mortar into the shower pan and smoothed it out around the drain with the proper slope. This is a small shower so the floor was easy to taper and smooth. Once that was done I let it dry overnight. The next day I sealed the floor with Hydroban and waited for two hours so it could dry before applying a second coat. I then spread out the thin set and added the river rock stone floor to the pan and set the drain in place. I was done for the day and the following morning I spread out the grout. It is beautiful!
Now that the floor is done I installed the cement board walls and sealed them with mesh tape and thin set. I set up the laser level on the tripod and started placing the white subway tile on the walls and inside the niche. I started my first row using a ledger board one row up from the shower floor so the bottom two rows are easy to put in place at the end as the very bottom row will have to be scribed as they sit about an ⅛” above the shower floor so I can add silicone grout between the tile and the floor. I also ordered a shower toe support that matched the quartz countertop and installed that in the back corner. This is for shaving your legs as you prop up one foot and then the other. The shower walls, niche, and toe support took me four days to complete and the small low profile shower curb took me four hours.
The glass door is on order and Hellenbrand Glass will not come out to measure until the shower is complete. But it looks amazing … I hung a cheap temporary shower curtain so Jennifer can move from the lower level to the new bathroom and use the shower until the glass wall and door is installed … The next step is to decorate as we have two walls that need artwork …