A Decisive Bathroom Remodel — Fine Homebuilding Article

A Decisive Bathroom Remodel - Fine Homebuilding Article

A quick bathroom makeover turns into a total gut job

A total gut job evolved from a simple bathroom makeover. Photo by: Paul Waterloo

About two years ago, my fiancée, Kimberly Keslin, and I bought a 1915 bungalow in Forest Park, Ill. The first-floor bathroom had not had a makeover for many years. Immediately after we took possession, the floor-tile grout that was “fixed” just before we moved in started to fall apart. Other problems included a glass-block window vent that wouldn’t seal during winter months, a light switch placed 5 ft. inside the room, and the seven coats of paint on everything, which did not allow either door to latch properly.

We also wanted proper lighting and a place to take a shower that wasn’t in a 1928-vintage tub on a floor that was 1 ½ in. out of level. Bathing was like standing on a listing ship.

At first, I thought I would just do a quick makeover: replace the old tile, vanity, medicine cabinet, and toilet, and spruce things up with a new coat of paint. If I did all the work, keeping material costs down to $1,000 would be difficult but possible.

Forty-five minutes into the project, with about half of the floor tile removed, it was obvious that this was not going to be just a makeover. Along with the aforementioned problems, the subfloor cementboard was pulling up, and the deeper I dug, the more layers of decrepit flooring I uncovered.

We quickly decided to gut the bathroom and turn the space into our dream bathroom. Kimberly and I knew we weren’t going to move anytime soon, so it seemed like the perfect chance to design and build what we really wanted.

Seeing is believing.

Reconfiguring the floor plan

The bathroom could not be expanded because of its location in the house, and none of the walls could be moved. There’s one exterior wall, one hallway wall, one wall that backs up to the living room, and one that is a wet wall. Therefore, the biggest design challenge involved reconfiguring the floor plan to make the most of the space we had.

The door was changed from a 30-in. left-hand door to a 28-in. right-hand door, so it could clear the toilet when swinging open and allow more room for a vanity and the relocation of the light switches to just inside the bathroom entry.

Outfitting the bath

To free up valuable floor space, I removed the cast-iron radiator and installed Warmboard radiant-floor heating  after leveling the floor by sistering 2x4s to the existing joists. One advantage of Warmboard is that its 1 1/8-in. thickness makes a very stiff floor. I used it to heat approximately two-thirds of the room and purchased an extra 1 1/8-in. filler panel to heat the other third where the shower drain and the toilet waste pipe exit.

I had no idea how long it would take to install a waterproof shower system, but after a lot of research, I decided to use the Schluter-Kerdi system. I made the shower as large as possible (which was expanded during rough-in), and the final inside dimension is 48 in. by 38 in. In the corner, I incorporated a small shower seat from A Better Bench. It is a stainless-steel unit filled with dry-set mortar and then tiled.

Interestingly enough, one of the ways I was able to save on the purchase price for many products was to get them on eBay. Some of my eBay purchases included the Schluter-Kerdi components, the ceiling fan, the storage-cabinet lights, and the electrical wall plates.

The economical built-in storage consists of two Ikea kitchen cabinets. a 24-in. pantry cabinet for the main closet and hamper storage, and a 24-in. sink cabinet that I cut down to 22-in. depth to make a custom vanity. An LG Hi-Macs solid-surface countertop and sink  were fabricated to complete the custom vanity. A mirrored medicine cabinet adds to the storage in the bathroom.

The electrical system includes four separate lighting circuits, sconces on each side of the medicine cabinet, two shower lights, one light for artwork above the toilet, and the storage-cabinet lighting system, which works off its own door switch. All have separate dimmers. An electronic timer is used to power the Panasonic exhaust fan .

A Decisive Bathroom Remodel - Fine Homebuilding Article

After many trips to the tile store, we made our final choices. The tile in the room is natural stone or marble. Green marble tile is carried throughout the room as baseboard, trim, and wall tile, and is included in the floor as an inlay.

I installed an awning window in the shower to replace the old glass-block window. Because the neighbor’s house is about 20 ft. away, I put the window above shoulder height, which eliminated the need for a window treatment. The height also minimizes exposure to water during showers. We chose a Jeld-Wen AuraLast wood window  because of the 20-year warranty. I used a single coat of oil-based primer and two finish coats of oil-based paint to treat the window. Proper ventilation is also a key factor in the window’s longevity, so I installed a fan and an electronic timer that operate for 60 minutes after a shower.

What could I have done differently?

I think it would have been possible to jack up a beam in the basement to bring the floor closer to level before I sistered 2x4s to the floor joists. However, doing so might have cracked plaster walls or other finish details elsewhere in the house.

After living with the bathroom for about four weeks, we would not change anything. Increasing the size of the shower from 42 in. by 32 in. to 48 in. by 38 in. during the rough plumbing and framing was a great decision. It is very easy to swing the shower door out toward the toilet to get in the shower, and to swing it inward to get out of the shower. And the shower’s size is perfect; it can easily accommodate two people.

If I were to build another shower, I would make my own mortar bed instead of using the Kerdi Styrofoam (polystyrene) base. Having never worked with cement products before, I thought the sloping base would be hard to do. Now I have more experience than I ever imagined.

400 hours of sweat equity

I started the project in mid-October of 2006, working mostly nights and weekends. The glass shower door—one of the very last steps—was installed on April 2, 2007. I spent about 400 hours on the job. I subbed out the drywall, the plumbing, and the shower-door installation.

The tilework took me about 20 minutes per square foot, due to time spent cutting almost every sheet, and I had to lay it all out before starting. There are six types of tile in the room, not including the marble cap, and I used five different colors of grout. With 235 sq. ft. of tile, approximately 80 man-hours were put into the tilework alone.

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