With our move to Texas in the next few months, we are going to need to sell our house in Ohio. We’ve considered renting it, but the tax implications don’t make that a viable option. Either way, there were some serious projects I needed to start to get the house into sellable shape. Once I was deep into those projects, I lamented to Laura that the reason these projects remained on my to-do list for eight years was because they were the hard ones!
The big to-do, the elephant in the room, was the upstairs bath. It was old, nasty, and in need of repair. For years, it sat up there, laughing at me, taunting me, daring me to try and replace its old cast-iron pipes or fix the old plaster that was falling apart. It howled with delight every time I would think about fixing it up but determined that it was just too much work and “maybe next year” would cross my lips. Each time I would use that bathroom, it mocked me. It was a constant reminder that work needed to be done, but there was no easy way to go about it.
The idea of selling the house with a bad master bathroom was what finally got me motivated enough to take up the challenge of ripping it all apart and starting fresh. Yes, I should have done it years ago, but better late than never. We both felt like the money spent on the bathroom remodel would pay for itself after a sale. The problems with the bathroom were that the water lines were galvanized steel, which rust from the inside to the point the water pressure drops to nearly zero. We were not at zero yet, but close. The plaster on the walls near the floor were coming apart from all the steam and the electrical wiring was twice as old as I was. The pedestal sink didn’t offer any storage, the light fixture was rusting and nasty, the toilet was rusty red from all the water passing through the old pipes, and the shower fixtures had so much scale and buildup, it was hard to tell that they were actually chrome.
After removing the old toilet and sink, the real work started. Tackling the plumbing first, the big problem was that the water supply line would need to be run up from the basement to the second story. It would enter where the toilet is and then need to cross over to the other side of the bathroom for the sink and shower. I took part of the shower surround down and used a saw to cut out a large section of the wall to have some working room to run the new lines. I kept all the cuts below three feet from the floor so that we could hide all the openings with wainscoting. I bought some Pex tubing, which is flexible plastic, to run up a wall from the basement. We ran a metal snake down the wall and amazingly, Laura could see it in the basement — the hardest part was almost over. Then we attached the Pex tubing to the snake and while Laura shoved the tubing up from the basement, I pulled on the metal snake from the bathroom upstairs.
Things were slow going as the pipe would constantly get stuck on something and she’d have to pull it down a bit and then I would have to pull really hard and hope for the best. After a lot of grunting and pulling, the tube shot up through the wall and I fell over on my backside. I was never so excited to see a piece of blue tubing in my life! We then had to repeat the process for the hot water line. With both lines fed to the bathroom, we were in business and ran the Pex around the tub to get it to the other side of the bathroom. Working with Pex is a blessed experience compared to old school copper or CPVC. No gluing, no soldering, no mess, no tools, nothing. It uses compression fittings that snap together and don’t come apart unless one uses a small tool we dubbed the “oopsie doopsie”, which I ended up needing to use a few times.
Then I made a huge mistake. We wanted the rest of the house to have water while we finished work in the bathroom. I had installed shutoff valves placed where the sink and toilet would go so we could turn the water back on while these were shut off. The only problem was that I forgot to close the shutoff valve where the toilet was going to go. When I went to the basement to turn the water supply back on, it started raining down from the upstairs down into the living room from the ceiling. Oh my! Kiley was in her car seat getting rained on because we were ready to head out for some well deserved dinner after a long day of work. Well, I ran back down to the basement to shut off the water and we spend a half hour toweling off the bathroom floor, the couches, and the living room floor. Yuck.
With the plumbing run, we also ran new electrical wire up the same wall that we had run the new pipe. With new wires, we could rest easy knowing that there would be no concerns of a fire or the wire failing somewhere in the wall. We put the section of tub surround back up and then took on the wainscoting job. We liked the look of the wainscot in our downstairs bath, and it would hide all the holes in the walls I had to make to run the plumbing and wires. The tough part about wainscoting and all the trim associated with it is the miter cuts involved. Nothing in a house is square, even new ones, but this old house was terrible. I had a miter saw on the floor of the bathroom so I could make cuts multiple times to get it right. The trick to putting up wainscot is to have a gap between it and the floor of a few inches. This will ensure it can be made level at the top, regardless of how un-level the floor is, and the gap will be hidden by the baseboard. We also had to take care to cut it just right where one wainscot piece would line up with the next piece so the seam wouldn’t show.
With all that up, we cut the baseboards, shoe mold, and chair rail trim pieces. A bad tub install years ago allowed some plywood the tub was sitting on to show where it butted up against the hardwood floor. Our baseboard wasn’t thick enough to hide the plywood, so I put an angled piece of crown molding where the tub met the floor. This both looks nice and covers the section of plywood that used to show. Then we bought a new tub/shower fixture kit and it makes the shower look awesome. The shower head is great and the tub faucet, shower handle, and drain piece round out the shower to make it look as good as new. No more scale and rust!
The vanity and toilet were huge headaches, for sure. The vanity needs to sit flush against the wall, but I had installed baseboard and shoe mold. I painstakingly had to chisel out those trim pieces so the vanity and sink would sit up against the wall. Then, the toilet we bought covered up the floor marks from the old toilet, but it bumped into the back wall. Bummer! We bought a new toilet that would fit, but it didn’t cover the marks on the floor from the old toilet. Laura had to sand down, stain, and then polyurethane the floor in that area to hide the old marks that now show with the smaller footprint toilet.
We installed a new light fixture and then put trim around the mirror over the sink. Most mirrors just sit on the wall with little clips, but we wanted to jazz things up a bit and hide the clips. Chiseling out little notches for the clips, we placed trim around the mirror and that makes it look a lot better than just a piece of glass on the wall. Fresh paint on the walls above the wainscoting, matching paint on the ceiling, caulk over all the wood seams, and super glossy paint on all the trim, including around the door and window rounded out the remodel. We also added two pictures from our London vacation to give the room a personal touch.
It was rewarding work and I think it will pay off when we sell the house. This bath won’t be as nice as the one we are moving into, but it’s still a great bathroom and we are enjoying it immensely. I finally have that monkey off my back and the bathroom no longer taunts me from upstairs. In the end, I think it actually appreciates all the love we poured into it. We certainly learned a lot while redoing this room. Being an old house made the work a lot harder than I thought it was going to be and I don’t wish that type of hard work and pain on anyone! To see pictures of the whole project, just click the picture above.