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Phouka Home

" There ought to be a room
in every house to swear in. "
-- Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Replacing our Bathroom

A good example of one of our projects that has run completely amok is the recent re-build of our bathroom.

First, some background: Our bathroom was added to the house in the late 30s, as far as we can tell. It was simply built in the screened in porch off the service entrance of our house (I'll tell you how we know this in a minute). It was actually a pretty good bathroom, but the fixtures were in very bad condition. We were happy with it. It had one of those vinyl shower surrounds, and sheet vinyl on the floor. 1x4s for trim. Not good, but how much time do you spend in the bathroom, really?

We did minor project to replace the tub surround after we discovered mushrooms in the wall. Demolition revealed two layers of wallboard, one layer of plaster, insulation, and the original screen. (See, I told you I knew it was the screened in porch!) New tile board went up, and all was well with the world.

Things were fine for awhile. Then my mother in law came to visit. I looked at the bathroom and told my husband that under no circumstances would his mother see the linoleum in the bathroom. I don't care what he did, he could put down asphalt, but she was not going to see the disgusting mess that constituted the bathroom floor. I'd burn it first.

The Bathroom Project

Replace the linoleum in the bathroom with something else. Anything else. Just do it in the next three days. We figured this would entail removing the toilet, securely fastening the old floor down, and laying new sheet vinyl. People do this all the time.


First trip to the home store: One box of vinyl floor tiles, two tubes of caulk, one box of plaster of paris or something to fix gouges in the wall, two plastic spackle knives, fifteen paint chip cards, a new box knife (the previous one having been lost somewhere). Two hours wandering the home store.

I should have panicked right then.

Out comes the toilet (if you've never done this, make sure you have something to bail with). I read the instructions and remind him to disconnect the water supply first. Mark puts it in the hallway to the bathroom, so we have to step over it every time. I make a mental note to replace the toilet guts with new ones.

I should point out right now that in the five years we've been doing home projects, our roles have been become VERY well defined. I do the measuring and layout, he does the grunt work, I do the detail work. He demolishes and does the nailing and tablesaw stuff, I do the painting, sanding, tiling, etc., and cleanup. I am also the only one who reads instructions, so I usually have the books out and he usually listens. So.

Mark measured the floor, intending to put the vinyl tile directly over the old linoleum. I discreetly mention that he should remove the baseboard moldings before doing this. Fifteen minutes later, I hear lots of bad words coming from the bathroom. Prying up the baseboards has revealed that they were caulked to the floor and pulled up a large portion of the top layer of the vinyl floor with it. Not the back of the floor, mind you, just the top colored layer. The floor is no longer anywhere near smooth enough to put down tile. I am not a popular person.

It takes Mark two hours to get the rest of the flooring up. He discovers a tremendous amount of water damage and rot around the bottom of the tub. The plywood for the subfloor was laid directly over the tongue and groove porch floor, which has rotted out. He pulls out the plywood, and discovers gaping holes in the porch floor. Pulling off the rest of the molding has also crumbled the plaster and drywall at floor level, and the door, minus it's molding, doesn't look so securely fastened.

The next trip to the store was for plywood and waterproofing for the floor. I tagged along to look for new molding. Mark decides that if I'm going have new molding, he might need an air compressor and finishing nail gun to install it. I finally drag him from the tool aisle to show him the light fixture that I found. We have to run back in from the parking lot to get the waterproofing stuff and a few wood shims. Did I mention that the electicity is now off and there are no outlets in the bathroom?

Five hours later, the new sub floor is down. Of course, Mark had to crawl around in the bathroom with spackle and patching compound to even out the dips in the floor and repair places where it was missing entirely. He also made the erroneous assumption that the room was square and started with the plywood in one corner, necessitating cutting all the rest of the pieces at some bizarre calculated angle.

Have you noticed I'm not involved here? He threated to stuff me down the toilet drain if I so much as stuck my head in the room. I wonder why?

The next morning, I am sent out to the home store for a carpet to vinyl edge, and another box of wall spackle. I return with two 8x11 rugs, the carpet edging, and a gallon of mediterranean green paint.

I drive back to the store for wall spackle. At least I brought back lunch, the ungrateful wretch.

By noon, the room is ready to put down the tiles. We eat lunch and admire the perfectly level floor. Then we read the instructions and realize that the tiles need to sit in the room at a temperature between 65 and 75 degrees for 48hrs. Deciding that sitting on top of the dryer through three loads of cloths is probably all the tempering they'll need, we ignore the instructions. I measure and cut, Mark puts the tiles down and rollers them.

It's only a 6x9 bathroom. It takes two days and one more trip to the store for box knife blades and a wax toilet ring.

Success! Mark caulks around the tub and replaces the toilet while I return to the home store for molding. They were offering a spong painting seminar, which got me thinking and I bought the stuff to sponge paint the bathroom, even if I didn't go to the seminar.

How much harder could it be?

We both admire the bathroom, and things are going well until I mention that the hideous little sink no longer looks ok in our nice new bathroom and couldn't we get that really nice Victorian style pedestal sink I just saw at the home store?

Mark says nothing. He pulls out the sink so I can paint, and leaves for class, mumbling somthing decidedly uncomplimentary under his breath. I paint the bathroom. When he returns and wants to put the old sink back up, I point out that it will not be any harder to put up a new sink and...well, you get the picture. Off we go, trundling to the home store yet again. We buy the pedestal sink, a new faucet with spiffy porcelain handles labelled 'hot' and 'cold', and three GFC outlets, since he figures if we're going to replace everything else, we might as well make sure the damn things are in there. I am corralled in the home store and forced to leave before I had a good look at the new brass bathroom accoutrements.

I walk to the neighbors house to borrow plumbers putty when I admit that I threw the old pot away since it looked like dried up spackle. Mark is beginning to grind his teeth, and installs the outlets in the two bathrooms. We assemble the new brass faucet into the sink while sitting on the dining room floor while our neighbor the electrician graciously re-installs the GFC outlets in the bathroom so the kitchen lights will still work.

The drain on the pedestal sink is not long enough to go into the existing drainpipe.

Mark returns from the home store with replacement parts. Too big. He stomps out to the workshop and returns with a re-engineered drain pipe that fits. I don't ask any questions. In no uncertain terms (and in some very certain ones) I am banished from the bathroom until the sink is successfully connected to the drain, the water, and the wall.

The New Bathroom

Finally! The floor is level and looks great, the toilet flushes, the sink is in, everything is painted, and the contents of the bathroom returned to normal.

Total cost (not including the living room rugs): $650. Seven trips to the hardware store. Much marital difficulty. Mark is justifiably proud of the new, extremely attractive bathroom.

I probably shouldn't have pointed out that the handles on the faucet were on backwards.


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All content ©1998-2009 R. Fingerson
Last updated 03/05/2009