Monday, October 26, 2009

Adventures in Remodeling - Part 3: Come Together (right now...over me)

Day 4: October 15th, 2009

Now that the walls, floor, and ceiling were devoid of any plaster or concrete it was time to insulate and run the new electrical. While unfortunately the mess of 8 wires in the ceiling junction box could only be feasibly reduced to a mess of 6 wires, the reduction of those two wires made a noticeable difference. Two new outlet boxes were installed on the north-facing wall where the sink was - one for a outlet/switch combo and one for the vanity light.

Previously we had blown insulation on the outside wall only. This time we insulated with roll insulation which was quite a bit less messy. Just for good measure the entire room was insulated both for thermal properties and for noise-canceling properties.

Lastly we needed a sub-floor not only as a base for the cement backer board for the tile that will eventually be laid, but also for a more traversable surface on which to work. Unfortunately the dimensions of the floor to be surfaced were just slightly too big to fit on a single 4x8 sheet of plywood, so we used two 4x8 sheets of 1/4" plywood. It had to be so thin in order to fit under the edge of the existing tub and I didn't want to bury the toilet pipe in the floor by making the floor too deep.

Day 5: October 16th, 2009

After all the demolition and some light reconstruction it was finally time to pass the baton to our drywaller, Ty. His crew of three guys came to the house to hang the green board in the bathroom and hang some normal drywall in the bedroom. They made fairly quick work of it taking only two hours or so to complete the job. Wham bam thank you ma'am and they were gone.

Days 6,7,8: October 17th, 18th, and 19th, 2009

The next few days Ty stopped over to begin the process of mudding the drywall and making all those minor defects and gaps disappear. Ty didn't take very long either to mud all five walls and the ceiling. He did relate a fun fact to me however. Did you know that up until around 1980 drywall cement contained asbestos as an additive to keep it from shrinking? Apparently with asbestos added, drywall cement could be applied and it would dry exactly as applied in one day. Naturally, asbestos was removed as an additive from concerns about its health impact and no non-carcinogenic substitute has been found to keep drywall cement from shrinking which is why it's always a multi-day process of mudding, sanding and re-applying.

The magic of drywall cement and a skilled hand made several gaps and holes disappear. Unfortunately when the first team hung the drywall the completely missed one of the outlet boxes (I guess it was flush with the stud instead of standing out from it) so Ty had to do some exploratory cutting on the north (sink) wall to find it. And find it we did. A little more mudding and you could hardly tell there was ever a problem.

Days 9,10,11: October 20th, 21st, and 22nd

Once the drywall was done it was time to prime the inside of the bathroom and paint the ceiling so we wouldn't need to worry about dripping paint into the brand new tub and enclosure. Since priming isn't all that interesting I'll just skip to the tub installation.

Day 12: October 23rd

At last the fruits of our labor were about to pay off in something a bit more aesthetically pleasing than drywall (apologies to Ty) - a new tub and surround. For this job we hired Bath Fitter to break up and remove our old porcelain-covered cast iron tub and replace it with an acrylic tub and one-piece custom-fitted surround enclosure. The enclosure runs all the way to the ceiling. In addition, they were to frame the bathroom window on the west side wall, replace all the existing bath hardware, and install a new anti-scald valve in the plumbing behind the tub.

The two-man crew arrived at 8:30am, about 30 minutes earlier than I had expected, and worked all day until about 6pm. Bath Fitter's claim is they will do everything they're contracted to do in one day and clean up after themselves when they leave. They did hold up that claim and there was very little evidence remaining of their presence aside from the new tub and surround.

However, not everything went as smoothly as one would hope. In the process of installing the anti-scald valve a pipe was twisted and broken in the wall between the basement and the second floor. This resulting in two more people showing up to the house - a plumber and a Bath Fitter supervisor.

They asked Dawn for permission to cut a hole in our downstairs front room wall, just under the thermostat, in order to access the break and repair it. She gave them permission of course because frankly it wasn't likely to be fixed any other way and that's a better place to cut a hole than the dining room side of the same wall.

Somewhere in all this pipe fixing it was deemed necessary (without asking permission) to cut into my new subfloor in the bathroom. I cannot fathom why they needed to do this since there are only two pipes covered by the floor - the toilet drain and the sink drain - neither of which would be involved in fixing this breakage. If they were exploring under the floor I would have preferred a call or text from Dawn and I could tell them exactly what was under there. As such, I was left with a somewhat structurally unsound floor on the right side because they cut it in a way that the newly-unsecured piece was free to bob up and down as people walked across it.

I also found my cold water shut-off valve broken for no adequately explained reason and no mention of it to either Dawn or myself, just like the floor cut. The wood cover I had crafted to go over the toilet train was missing (and found stuffed under a pipe under the floor section they had cut) and one of the bolts for the toilet base was lost in the process as well (it had been fairly well attached to the toilet drain pipe head and provided a stop for the wood on top of the pipe).

When I got home I was left with a lovely new bath tub that worked, a lovely new surround and bath hardware, a cut up sub-floor, a broken valve handle, a hole in my downstairs wall, mysteriously low water pressure in the basement sink from the level it had been at in the morning, and no idea if Bath Fitter intended to pay for the repairs to my wall and/or stick me with the bill for the plumber. I called and left a message that night and am waiting to hear back from them. Hopefully we can sort this all out and I can still recommend them to others. At this point however, I would not recommend Bath Fitter if you have an older home with less than good condition pipes.

Days 13 and 14: October 24th and 25th, 2009

It's starting to look a bit more like a bathroom again after adding new lighting fixtures on the ceiling and the vanity. Ty is coming back on Monday to patch up some nicks and dents in the wall caused by the Bath Fitter installation crew.

Dawn seems to be pleased with the new tub after she took a relaxing bath in it on Sunday. No more stupid shelf in the back of the tub keeping her from being able to lie down almost completely (it is a 5 ½' tub). Spooks our cat also appears to like the new tub because there more room to sit and walk around on the edges now.

Update: Bath Fitter returned my call and the supervisor who was at my house explained why the floor had been cut, apologized for the cold water valve and offered to at least provide me the replacement part (because I said I can do the replacement myself), and made some tentative offer to possibly split the cost of the plumber based on how much it cost. Normally plumbing-related costs due to poor existing infrastructure is on the homeowner, which I can understand. He also asked if we needed someone to come repair the marks in the wall. This makes me feel a little better about Bath Fitter though I would have rather not had to call and ask why things were damaged or broken.

Here are a few more pictures...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Adventures in Remodeling - Part 2: Man vs. Floor

Day 2: October, 12th, 2009

With the bedroom wall down, it was time to put some plastic up in its place to help contain the dust from the remainder of the bathroom demolition. Dawn was wise enough to cover our bedroom furniture with various items to protect them from terrible terrible plaster dust. Alas, the carpet in the bedroom may have met its match this year - we'll see when it's all said and done (but I'm not holding out much hope).

Today the task was primarily removing the remainder of everything in bathroom except the floor. The lessons learned from the previous day's adventure suggested a bit more caution and a bit less sledge hammer. Suffice it to say no other walls collapsed in the demolition of the remaining three sides.

As you can see from the photos, the dust was abundant as it stuck to the plastic in the very hot and humid room (ewww sweat!). Fortunately the removal of all the rest of the tile and plaster was without event.

Day 3: October
13th, 2009

With all the walls down only the tile floor remained. Plaster, once again my nemesis, prevented me from using the sledge hammer full force lest I wish to redo my entire dining room ceiling.

For this task, my friend Ray stopped over to give me a hand (I called in a favor owed) and together we set about cracking
into this floor.

What I was expecting was tile and concrete. What I was not expecting was tile and 2 - 2 ½ inches of concrete interwoven with more razor wire mesh! I was also expecting under the tile and concrete there would be a sub-floor, but no such luck just thicker and thinner areas of concrete.

At first getting the tile out was like pulling teeth...healthy teeth. That is to say it was very slow going and took a lot of energy. But with some luck (and very careful, light sledge hammering) we were able to pull up larger and larger sections of concrete until one 2' x 2' corner of tile and concrete remained.

With a great heave and some ve
ry heavy lifting we carried this last section down the stairs and out to the dumpster.My guess is this single section of tile and concrete was easily 120 pounds. It was quite a lump to carry between the two of us. Unfortunately I did not get any photos of the floor's demolition, but Dawn was kind enough to snap a few shots the next morning of a segment of the behemoth in the dumpster and resulting "floor".

Here are a few more pictures:

Next: Part 3 - Come Together (right now...over me)

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