Feb 11

Renovation Report: The Bathroom

It’s done! At long last, it is done! We have finally finished our giant bathroom remodel. Now that we have been using the newly remodeled bathroom for over 2 weeks, I figure it is time to finally get this post up.

Warning. This is a super long post. Probably the longest post I have ever done. I thought about breaking it up into multiple posts, but I figured this is the sort of post that might only interest some readers, so I figured I wouldn’t drag it out. So, if you haven’t lost interest yet, sit back, grab a drink, and enjoy. (Special “Thanks” goes out to my beautiful wife who not only took time to edit this post for me because I was sick of looking at it, but also for putting up with nearly 4 months without a main floor bathroom.)

Let’s go back to where this all started. Here is what our bathroom used to look like.



While functional, we absolutely hated it. From the fake stone surround, to the almond fixtures, to the green floor tile, it all had to go. One thing that you might not be able to see is the fact that there is a window in the shower. Look closely. See it? Oh, that’s right, the previous remodel covered it up. However, because it is a brick house, the window still existed on the exterior. Classy.

So, our main goals for this remodel were to replace everything and re-expose the window. Not that big of a deal, right?

First step was that everything had to go. Let the demolition begin!


The stone surround actually came down fairly easily. Just a little muscle and it was out in no time. Jennie got to take out some aggression on the drywall.


It was quick work and eventually we found the hidden window! It immediately became apparent as to how much natural light we were missing out on without the window. The window itself left a lot to be desired; glass block and an aluminum clad tilt-in window that had seen better days. The insulation was a joke as well. It was sporadic at best, and I doubt it was really doing any good.


Demolition actually was a fairly slow moving and tedious process for a couple of reasons. First off, we didn’t rent a large dumpster or anything, so we were bound by what we could fit in our weekly trash can. We did amass a pile of debris in the garage in between trash can fillings, but we didn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. Also, as you might be able to see in the picture above, the previous remodeler put in horizontal furring strips. I’m still not 100% sure why they did this other than to possibly ease the hanging of drywall over some uneven studs. However, they also glued the drywall to the furring strips as well as screwing them down. This made pulling down the drywall a much bigger job than usual.


There was just a little water damage around the window frame. Thankfully, though, the damage all appeared to be very old and had already been partially fixed. We’d still need to remove and replace some of the structure around the window though.

Once I built up the framing around the window, I was able to measure for a replacement. This is one of the reasons why we started the project so early. I knew that ordering the custom window would take 2-3 weeks— during which time, we would essentially have a hole in the side of the house and we wanted the weather to be warm for that.

With the replacement ordered, it was a bit of a waiting game for it to come in. As soon as it came it, I set about installing it. For this step, I used plenty of online resources for tips. Probably the best resource I found was a series of videos at Fine Home Building for How to Install a Full-Frame Replacement Window in a Brick Wall. These videos were super helpful at guiding me through the necessary steps to properly install, flash, and insulate the window.


I ended up trimming out the exterior of the window with a PVC brick molding that won’t rot and looks nice with the rest of the windows on the house.

With the window in, I insulated the entire bathroom. Rather than just insulate the exterior wall, I figured it wasn’t going to cost much more to insulate the entire bathroom. It was pretty incredible how big of a difference getting the window and insulation installed made. The room warmed right up and was super quiet.


And this is basically where the project got put on hold. With the weather remaining warm out, and the purchase of a new mountain bike, I found better things to do.

Eventually, the weather cooled off and I decided that it was time to get back to work. Next up was drywall. I still had some plumbing and electrical to do, but I could at least start on getting the drywall up on the ceiling and walls without utilities. I used a t-brace made out of some scrap 2×4 so that Jennie could help hold the drywall for the ceiling in place while I screwed it into place. Because Jennie was helping, no pictures of that. I used standard drywall for the entire bathroom rather than any cement board or green moisture board, which is what you’d typically see in a bathroom environment. I’ll get to why in a minute.


Jennie and Bailey sacrificed their office area as the staging area for the project. Bailey made extra sure to keep an eye on things for us.


With most of the drywall up, I had to finish up the electrical and plumbing work. As part of the remodel, we decided to switch the positioning of vanity and toilet. Previously, you entered the door with the toilet on the left, then the vanity, then the tub/shower. We wanted the toilet between the vanity and the tub/shower, so the plumbing and electrical had to be moved. We also found a great ceiling fan/light combo, rather than just a ceiling fan, which would require additional wiring.

While doing the electrical, I also framed out the new medicine cabinet, a Cartwright Medicine Cabinet from Restoration Hardware.


The electrical was a breeze… except for a faulty switch that wasted my time until I tried a different one. Oh well. It is always something. Plumbing, however, was a bigger issue. There were a couple issues involved with the plumbing. First off, the original plumbing came up straight through the floor. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t work with the new vanity we had purchased. For the new vanity, the plumbing would have to come up in the wall space. That leads into the second issue; directly below the base of the wall was a floor joist, which made installing the pipes a challenge. Each of them had to be curved slightly to orient around the floor joist. The PVC waste line, however, could not be curved like the copper pipes. So, instead, the waste pipe had to be routed around the corner thhn down through the available open space.


In order to run the PVC, I had to notch some of the studs. Don’t worry though, MattyO, I reinforced the crap out of both walls. I just forgot to take a picture of that.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last of the plumbing issues. The final issue with the plumbing was the fact that our main shutoff valve for the house doesn’t entirely shut off the water; it still trickles out slowly despite being shut off. This makes sweating copper pipes nearly impossibly– pipes with water in them don’t heat up enough to solder them. Thankfully, I discovered an awesome product at Home Depot– SharkBite connectors. I was skeptical at first of their simplicity, but they lived up to the reviews. They are fittings for copper pipes (and other materials) that simply press onto the pipe with no soldering or tools required. They were the perfect solution to the problem. They are significantly more than plain old copper fittings but they saved a major headache. You can see a couple of the SharkBite connectors (right angle elbows) below.


Along with connecting up the copper pipe, I had to tie in the PVC waste line to the main stack. This wasn’t a huge job, but it required lots of figuring on how to route the pieces so that they made the correct angles.

With a break in the weather, I took the opportunity to install the proper ceiling fan vent on the roof. Previously, the ceiling fan in the bathroom simply vented into the attic, which is a big no-no because it can cause moisture build-up and possibly mold in the attic.


With a hole cut in the roof, I better figure out what I am doing now.


Whew. I figured it out. I then tied the fan to the vent using an insulated pipe.

Unfortunately, this is the portion of the work that (I think) ended up injuring my abdominal muscles. You see, the only way in and out of our attic is through a narrow opening in the back of a closet. I really have to twist and contort my body to simply pull myself up. I honestly can’t imagine being any bigger than I currently am and still fitting. Anyways, I had to contort and lift myself up and down from the attic at least a dozen times as I worked on this project. It was after that when I started to have pain in my right upper abdominal. And (stupidly), I didn’t back off from training and made it far worse.

Next up was getting the floor prepped. As you can tell from the picture below, I still have a bit of drywall to do, but I wanted to get the floor backer board down while I had some extra room to work with. In order to get the floor in, I had to remove the old toilet waste pipe because we were swapping the position of the vanity and toilet.


The old waste line (and connected waste stack) was cast iron, which can be very difficult to cut through. I was actually dreading this task because I knew that if something went wrong cutting out the toilet flange, the project would get expensive very fast. I borrowed my boss’s reciprocating saw, picked up a Lenox Diamond saw blade and got to work. Thankfully, it all went great, it just took awhile. Cutting through cast iron is a slow process and it took a good 20 minutes of cutting just to make it through the 3” pipe.

With the pipe gone, It was time to get the floor in. I used 1/4” cement board on the floor. This was used primarily to create a solid, smooth surface for adhering the tile. Because of the small space, I had to cut the board into smaller pieces than planned in order to get it into place. Once I had it dryfit, I labeled each piece and then pulled them out so I could mud them in.


With the pieces out, I applied a basic cement-based mortar to the floor with a 1/4” square-notched trowel. I did one piece at a time and then screwed down the pieces with cement board screws once they were in place.


With the new sub-floor in, I could finish off the drywall. I was to the piece I was dreading. This piece, along the wall with all the fixtures would require a bunch of holes cut in it to allow for the rough plumbing. I actually had what I would like to think was a brilliant idea on how to handle this. Using a scrap piece of drywall, I would hold it in place where each pipe was and cut the necessary holes. Because it was scrap, I had some wiggle room and could recut the holes if my measurements were off.


Then, I would take the template, line it up with the actual piece and transfer the markings. And it worked perfectly. Ok, almost perfectly. The template worked great when I actually used it correctly. As you can see below, I misaligned the holes for the shower valve and tub spout. Whoops! I accidentally flipped the template over when transferring the marks, so my measurements were off. No big deal though, I patched the holes. They would eventually be covered by tile anyway.


On to my least favorite activity. Mudding. It is the absolute worst. It is time-consuming, boring, and messy. After taping all of the joints, I got to work. It took a couple applications of mud before I could start sanding.


And then things really got messy.


I actually do have a sander that attaches to a shopvac, which is supposed to keep the dust down, but it is a pain to work with. Sure, it keeps the dust down, but you are constantly fighting the suction of the shopvac and it wears your arms out pretty fast.

With the drywall mudded, and sanded, I could finally start putting the room back together. This was really the turning point of the project. This whole time, I felt like I kept making more of a mess and the project seemed never-ending. However, now that the walls were up and prepped, it really felt like I could see the finish line.

So, onto the tile work. But first, a little waterproofing. For this, I used a product called Kerdi by a company called Schluter. I first learned of the product on This Old House. After doing a bit more research on the product, it seemed like the definite way to go. Waterproofing was a definite concern based on the previous water damage I uncovered, and the fact that we have a window in the bathroom, which can be an avenue for future water damage. The beauty of the stuff is that it completely waterproofs the bathroom. Once it is installed, you could technically start using the shower; tile is unnecessary and essentially becomes decoration. This is why I used standard drywall for the entire bathroom, rather than using a more typical cement board or greenboard. Schluter actually recommends (and requires for warranty) that regular drywall be used because the product adheres better. Other materials can suck the moisture out of the mortar used the apply the Kerdi, resulting in possible adhesion problems.

Anyway, I can’t say enough good things about this product. If it only works half as well as they say it does, it will be well worth it. It is super easy to put in. All you need to be able to do is work a pair of scissors and a trowel. Cost-wise, it was worth it. The product itself was about $250 to do our entire tub surround. They also make specialty products if you are tiling a full shower (no tub) or other non-typical installations.


I started by putting a narrow band right around the tub. This makes it easier when putting up the wall pieces because you don’t have to be as precise with them and it is easier working with the small pieces.


The larger pieces went up one wall at a time, with the back wall requiring two pieces. Simply trowel on some mortar, push the Kerdi into place, and then smooth it out. I used a plastic trowel to smooth it and work out any lumps or air bubbles.


One piece up. Easy as pie.

Before we had covered up the rest of the walls, we signed our work.


Probably should go back and change that to “2012-2013”. haha.

While I worked on hanging a piece, Jennie measured and cut out the next piece I would need. The material itself is like fabric and cut easily.


In a few short hours, I had the rest of the Kerdi installed. Properly wrapping the window took some extra time, but I wanted to make sure I got it right as the window was one of the main reasons I wanted to use the Kerdi in the first place.


If I had to do it over, the only thing I would do differently is that I would not have mudded and sanded the corners in the shower area. When I was finishing the drywall, I used corner tape and finished off the interior corners, which is what you would normally do for a painted wall. However, you do get a bit of build-up from the layers of mud. Add in the little bit of build-up from the Kerdi and it starts to get pretty thick. Not a huge deal, but lesson learned.

With the Kerdi in place, I could start to figure out a tile pattern. Jennie picked out a classic white 3”x6” subway tile. So, using some tape, I marked off the wall lengths on the floor. From there, I could play with different layouts to find what worked best. Mainly, I was trying to avoid any awkward seams or rows that had really narrow pieces at the end. With the size of the tile and walls, I was actually able to find a pretty good pattern simply by centering the middle tile on the wall and working out. This doesn’t always work; but in our case, we got lucky.


With the pattern laid out, I headed into the bathroom to get to work. I started by attaching a ledger board to the wall roughly one tile height (3”) up. I had some reservations about this because it required screwing through the Kerdi membrane, which I worked so hard to install, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the waterproofing. However, Kerdi makes a sealant for just this such thing. Having the ledger board makes it a lot easier to get the first row in nice and level– especially when you live in an older house where nothing is level. In our case, the tub is ever so slightly out of level (probably due to the house settling over time). So, by using the ledger board, I could make the tile level and then worry about fitting in the bottom row at the end.

Each row of tiles had to have the two end pieces cut. I had two pieces of equipment on hand to aid in this. First, I borrowed a wet saw (tile saw) from our neighbors. Second, after reading up on it, I bought a tile snapper. Initially, I thought the tile saw was the way to go; but in the end, I used the tile snapper for 95% of the cuts. It was super easy to use and didn’t make a mess like the wet saw.


I really took my time at first, making sure everything was lined up perfectly. The tiles we bought didn’t have built-in spaces like some tiles do, so I used 1/16” spacers to give everything a uniform look. Working with the spacers did slow thing down a bit; so given the opportunity, I’d probably look for tiles with built-in spacers next time.


After I got comfortable with the process, it really started to fly. In no time, I had all of the walls done. I still had to go back and do the bottom row though. For this row, I am really glad that I had the wet saw. Because of the tub being out of level, each of these tiles had to have a little bit shaved off the bottom– something that wasn’t possible with the tile snapper. Once the bottom row was in, I lined the perimeter of the tub with a matching bullnose trim piece.


As you can see by the orange on the walls, I sort of overestimated the sizing of the Kerdi. No problem there though. I simply used a utility knife to cut it along the tiles’ edge and then peeled off the excess. I had to sand and re-mud a couple spots (ugh), but it was better than underestimating.

After the tile set overnight, I could start grouting. For the walls, we used a white unsanded grout. My only recommendation here is do NOT buy premixed grout. I originally bought some while it was on sale, then proceeded to read nothing but bad things about it, and ended up buying the correct type from The Tile Shop. Take the time and mix it yourself.


Getting the grout in really made a big difference. When it is just the tile on the wall, it never looks great. All the imperfections are magnified. Once the grout was in, it looked awesome though.

With the grout in and dry, I could tackle trimming out the window. For this, I took some measurements and then assembled the entire unit before installing it. This way, I avoided nailing through the trim and thus through the Kerdi waterproof membrane. The entire window trim unit was built with Azek PVC-material, which is a non-wood product. This is key because now there is absolutely nothing in or around the window that is susceptible to rot. The window is vinyl. The framing is wrapped in Kerdi. And the trim is PVC. To install the window, I used a generous amount of adhesive (Liquid Nails) and then caulked around the entire window with silicone caulk to further prevent water issues.


Tada! The window! This baby is waterproofed and sealed so tightly it could be used on a submarine.


Let the painting begin! My favorite interior decorator (Jennie) picked out a nice dark gray color for the walls. First though, I had to put on a coat of primer and drywall sealer. That went up quickly though. Next was the ceiling and then the walls.


We opted for a Valspar Ultra, which is a no-VOC paint. This was pretty nice because you don’t get the typical paint smell and it is safer when you have a pregnant woman in the house. It claims to be a “one coat” paint, but I have never found a “one coat” paint that actually was… So, we ended up with two coats of it for full coverage.


While the paint was drying, I decided to start reinstalling the shower fixtures. And ran into problems. Part of the remodel included changing all of the fixtures to white with brushed nickel accents (handles, faucets, etc.). Well, the brushed nickel replacements for the shower didn’t work.


It is hard to tell from the picture, but the shower valve and tub spout were positioned too closely together for the new handle to fit. In fact, I had to even notch out the escutcheon plate in order to even get that to fit before I realized the handle wouldn’t fit. The only solution was to undo the work I had just finished up.

Off came the tile. Well, off came two tiles to be more precise. Understandably, I was hesitant to start ripping out tile, but there was little else I could do. Thankfully, the two tiles I had to remove came out easily .


I also cut an access hole on the opposite side of the wall, which made it easy to work on. All I had to do was lengthen one little section of pipe at least an inch. It was so frustrating because I have no idea why the previous remodelers didn’t do this in the first place. I ended up lowering the tub spout down about 2” to give everything the room it needed.


Once the paint dried and I had the tub fixtures squared away, I could start working on the floor tiles. Again, I deferred to my interior decorator on this one. If you remember, we had the large, ugly, green tiles on the floor previously. We wanted something light in color and small in size in hopes of making the room feel bigger. After going back and forth over lots of options, we ended up with a white 3/4” hex tile from The Tile Shop.

It turns out that small tiles, despite coming on 12”x12” mesh sheets, are very difficult to work with. Even though the tiles are on sheets, they are prone to the joints changing shape and the sheets getting stretched or compressed. I found a blog post over at Remodelaholic that gave me lots of good tips on how to get started and best work with the tile though.

Step one was doing a dry layout of the tile and cutting the pieces that needed to be cut. Cutting this tile was probably about the only easy thing about it. Because of the small shape and mesh backing, it was easy to cut the tile to fit around the toilet flange, walls, and door. I simply cut out the necessary tiles with a utility knife by slicing through the mesh backing. Once in place, I labeled each piece’s position on the floor with both a number and arrow indicating the direction that should be facing the tub.


And then I got to work setting the tile. One sheet at a time, I troweled on the mortar and scraped off the excess with a notched trowel. I carefully laid each sheet before pushing it into place. The trick I learned by the end of the project is to line up the sheet you are putting down with a sheet already in place and then just slide it over into position. That way, you have at least one dimension lined up from the get go. If you try to just set it in place, it will always be off and you will have to align it on both dimensions.


As each sheet went in, I used a board and rubber mallet to gently tap on each sheet to make sure all of the individual tiles were level. I had been warned that it is easy to get one or two small tiles that stand proud of the rest of the sheet, which can cause an unevenness or sharp spot once the floor is finished.

I gave the tile overnight to set up and came back the next day to grout. Unfortunately, I had to do a little bit of repair work before I could grout. With the small tiles, it is easy to missing a spot with mortar or simply not get enough mortar for each individual tile. With larger tiles, this isn’t an issue because if you only get mortar on 75% of the tile, it is still going to stick without a problem. I was able to repair the floor fairly easily. However, for a few frustrating spots were only one little tile refused to stay in position, I used Jennie’s hot glue gun to hold it in place temporarily, knowing that eventually the grout would hold it in its final position.

With all the tile in place, I mixed up some grout. Like the shower, we stuck with a white grout. However, this time, we switched to a sanded grout, which is better for wider joints and gives a little bit more traction to the potentially wet floor.


Done! Once I got the grout in, the tile looked awesome. It was definitely worth the headache to get the look we wanted. I also put in a base cove tile around the perimeter of the room. This serves as both a base trim and a way to cover up the jagged edge of the tile.


With the floor done, it was time to start putting the room back together. I got the toilet, vanity, and medicine cabinet installed. Getting the main floor toilet installed was rapidly becoming a requirement with a pregnant wife.

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We are getting down to the home stretch. And I know what you are probably thinking. They did all that work, and they left that ugly tub in there. Never fear! That was one of the last steps of the project. Our tub was in great shape and there was nothing wrong with it, except for the color. So, rather than go through the added expense and time of replacing it, we had it refinished. There is a local company called Bath Masters that handled this. I called to schedule an appointment, and they had a guy over the next day. He taped off the entire room, sandblasted the tub to deep-clean it, and then recolored and reglazed it.



The whole process took less than 3 hours and was totally worth it. It only cost $250, which is a huge savings over what a new tub would have cost considering how much extra work it would have been to remove our old tub and install a new one.


With the tub done, it was time to do the final caulking. I’m still not quite comfortable freehanding my caulk job, so I taped everything off first. While it takes a bit of extra time, it really makes the job a breeze.

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And with that, the project was basically done! All the was left was “final” decorations.

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Tada! With and without the shower curtain. We have the old shower curtain back in place for now so we can use the bathroom, but we are hoping to eventually add a glass partition wall instead. We still have to shop around for that though.

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I had to stitch together some pictures in order to get the vanity and medicine cabinet all in one picture, but now you can see how everything ties together.

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After struggling with what kind of towel bars or hooks to buy, we came up empty. So, instead, I made a custom one to fit our needs. It was easy to make and just uses some blocks of wood as “hooks”. One towel for me, one for Jennie, one for Bailey, and one for Nate.

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Jennie picked out (and actually photographed), the artwork for the bathroom. She picked two pictures from our Hawaiian vacation to fancy up the place. They worked out perfectly with the color of the bathroom.

Overall, this was an incredibly fun project. Yes, it was a lot of work. In fact, it was a lot more work than I originally anticipated. But, in the end, I finished it. This project is the biggest project that I have completed by myself. In the past, I have had the help of my dad for my big projects. And while he did offer an abundance of advice and information along the way, I was able to do all of the work myself on this project. It was really a confidence boost to get it all done.

One of the questions I got a lot during this project was, “How do you know how to {insert project }?” And the truth is, I just figured it out. I grew up with a dad who did all of the home repair projects himself, so I picked up quite a bit there. When there were things I wasn’t sure about or needed to learn more about, I hit the Internet. I found a ton of super helpful sites, including John Bridge’s forums, which provided a plethora of ideas and advice.

So, there you have it. The giant bathroom remodel is done. On to the next project… finishing off (another) part of the basement and relocating my office.

Thanks for reading!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ironmanbythirty.com/2013/02/11/renovation-report-the-bathroom


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  1. Jeff Irvin

    Wow! That looks amazing!

  2. Scott

    That looks really good!! Nice job
    Scott recently posted..Weekly Ramblings

  3. Beth

    Awesome job!!!!

  4. Matt Smith

    That was the best 20 minutes of my day so far! I’ve been WAITING for this post forever!!! Thanks for the fantastic pictures and writeup. I totally know the feeling of nailing a project by yourself and the confidence boost it gives you. Everything looks fantastic! Nice work! I’ll be diving into our bathroom in the next couple months, and I’ll be getting some advice from you for sure! I loved that you guys signed your work. You’ll have to remember to tell Nathan that his name is behind that wall one day. 🙂 GREAT JOB!
    Matt Smith recently posted..Tornado Alley!

  5. Colleen


  6. Morgan

    OMG that turned out great you guys! Well done Kev! Having seen it before, you def did a number to it and it looks so good. Love the secret window, so much light!
    Morgan recently posted..The Difference A Week Makes

  7. Jon

    You wrote this COMPLETELY wrong!

    You should have broken this up into 5 posts:
    2) Bathtub
    3) Electric
    4) Piping
    5) After thoughts.

    Have you gone soft already?!?!
    Jon recently posted..Inefficient

  8. Mandy

    Wow. That looks awesome! Soooooo we are doing a bathroom right now in Caratunk. By we I mean John. 🙂 awesome job!

  9. lindsay

    i’m impressed. and glad to hear the kerdi worked well. saw that also on TOH! (i am a party animal as you know, watching TOH). should have kept that beautiful forest green flooring though… man i hope that never comes back in style (my kitchen formerly had dark green linoleum).
    lindsay recently posted..Rants and Raves

  10. Carolina John

    DUDE that is a huge project! insane. that’s a lot of tile. I actually like tile work, something about seeing all of the little lines come together cleanly is very pleasing to me. You’re right, mix your own grout. I have a wetsaw and a snapper, and the snapper is so much faster for straight cuts. Great job man. This turned out really well.
    Carolina John recently posted..That week got busy!

  11. Krista

    Great work!

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