Saturday, October 17, 2009

Adventures in Remodeling - Part 1

What do you do when you have a small water pipe leak in your bathroom ceiling that destroys part of the ceiling and wall? Step 1: turn off the water to those pipes and then ignore it for two years.

Eventually however, that large hole with the raggedy plaster and lathe edge staring down at you from above the toilet must be fixed and so this year we decided to embark on one of the most ambitious do-it-yourself home improvements we've ever attempted: complete remodeling of the upstairs bathroom.

Our bathroom, a 7' wide x 9' long x 9' tall room with a toilet, 5 ½' cast iron bathtub coated in porcelain, and a long single-paned window in the tub wall is not a large room. How hard could it be?

Day 1: Saturday, Oct. 10th

The dumpster arrives in our driveway and I head upstairs to remove the toilet, dismantle the vanity and disconnect our shower head before attempting to pummel the tile walls to bits.

Dawn kicked off the festivities by taking a hammer to all the protruding ceramic
wall attachments such as the cup holders in the wall above the sink, the two towel bars, and soap dish above the tub, and the toilet paper holder in the wall near the toilet. She then proceeded to hammer down some plaster on the right side of the door.

Our first surprise came when I wrestled the old recessed medicine cabinet out of the wall and discovered a pile of old, used disposable razor blades in a pile behind the vanity. Gillette, Schick, some unreadable - there must have been about four dozen of these razor blades. It all made sense now, the small slit in the back of the medicine cabinet with a small black arrow pointing down in to the slit, sort of like a biohazard sharps unit, but much too narrow for anything that size.

The blades themselves seemed to be too new to be original to the house, so they probably came about much later with the introduction of the vanity. Then again, the recess in the wall appears to be built specifically for this vanity so I'm not sure what the actual time line of this travesty is.

Suffice it to say we were put off a bit by the rather careless design of this medicine cabinet. With the removal of the medicine cabinet, the major demolition could start.

Gentlemen, start your sledgehammers!

It should be noted at this point that my house was built in 1922. What that means in a practical sense is that my house is not built of the lightweight sorts of materials you find in homes today. Quite the contrary. My house is built from solid hardwoods, plaster, and concrete (we'll get to the concrete in a bit). Plaster is not fun to work with. Nay, I think one does not work with plaster so much as curse it because it has a tendency to crack when stressed and creat
e a holy unbreathable mess (also wholly unbreathable).

Armed with goggles, a head wrap, gloves, a respirator mask and a sledge I took to the south side wall (the one with the toilet) to see what lay in wait for me under the acres of tile. After a few good whack and bits of porcelain sailing about I realize the tile is adhered to the wall using about and inch of concrete smeared over some viciously sharp slitted metal mesh which is nailed to the lathe on the studs of the wall. Fun.

After some time messing about with various ways to remove this incredibly resilient concoction, I found the best way to take it off was in large, extremely heavy chunks. First I'd smash the tile straig
ht on with the sledge to loosen the concrete, and then using a pry-bar I'd pry the mesh from the lathe. When I was lucky a 30 lb. slab of tile, concrete, and what can really only be described as razor wire would come crashing down at (or sometimes on) my feet.

Finally after a couple hours of this I was finally able to see the light. Literally, I saw the light from my bedroom window shining through my bathroom lathe. It took a few seconds to dawn on me that I
should not be seeing any light shining through my bedroom wall.

Uh oh! The drywallers just got a little more business. Nothing left to do but tear the whole wall down so it can be replaced with new drywall an
d painted. Don't you just love these little project "expanders"?

That pretty much sums up the first day of remodeling. Here are a few more pictures to enjoy.

Tomorrow: Part 2 - Man vs. Floor


  1. OMG!! From looking at Dawn's facebook pictures, I sort of assumed that this is what happened, but your commentary confirms it!! What a mess! Are you going to do the drywall?

  2. Great pics and commentary Brion - I'm looking forward to reading "Day 2" next! ;-)

  3. No, we hired a guy named Ty Taccone to do they drywall. He did some work for my friend Ron before and he's been great. The drywalling should be done on Tuesday or Wed. morning so we'll have Wed. night and Thursday to paint the ceiling before Bath Fitter comes to remove the old tub and install the new tub and surround.

  4. Now you have a bathroom off your bedroom! I say keep it! ;0) Nice write up.