Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bathroom Completed

I took this week off to renovate our master bathroom. It is a small bathroom, about five feet square plus shower. The goals were to upgrade the materials, echo the look of our kitchen (without being an exact duplicate), add color to the walls without making my wife pine for beige walls again, and to learn new skills.

What I started with were white melamine cabinets that were merely stapled together (not even glued) and vinyl sheet flooring that ended at the cabinet edges, and were thus curling despite a generous bead of silicone. Walls the same beige as we have throughout our house. A crappy $35 builder's quality toilet that would clog and overflow if you looked at it crossways. But what really precipitated this remodel was the sink and faucet, both of which were corroding into dust. There was also a gold chrome light fixture sporting bare bulbs, a plastic medicine cabinet surface mounted to the wall above the vanity, etc.

As with most things in the house, you don't notice. You just live with how things are, until one day you do notice. I had gotten to the point with this room soon after we finished our kitchen remodeling. I need a new sink and faucet. Well, if I'm doing that I may as well replace this ugly vanity with something nicer. Oh, while I have that out I can replace this worn flooring. And we could use a better toilet. Gee, while everything is out of the room I may as well paint the walls.

You see how it goes.

Eventually, I had a plan to replace everything except the shower. It was functional, if utilitarian. I settled on a nice, dark gray tile with hints of rust and Tuscan blue. The rust would blend with the natural cherry I wanted for my wood and the blue I would use for the wall color. The metal color we picked was nickel. Since my shower pieces were chrome, I invested in a $7 can of nickel paint and now they match the rest of the room.

The other early design consideration was the wonky way this room was built. The wall stud gap was not centered on the vanity. The electrical box was not centered on the stud gap. In other words, nothing lined up and I wasn't going to rip the drywall off and fix it, so I had to design around that. So I elected to make a narrow wall box to fill the awkward gap left by an uncentered medicine cabinet. And we chose a solid light bar fixture rather than sconces so it would look more like a general room light (which it is) rather than something specifically for the mirror. The results were not unpleasing.

The demolition went surprisingly well. In one day, the vanity, toilet, base trim, and fixtures were all out of the room. It took the bulk of the following day, however, to rip up the quarter-inch plywood off the floor. It, too, was spotty under the vanity and I had enough subflooring under it to not need its bulk. Also, by removing it I was not adding any significant height to the finished floor. That meant no door jamb cutting, not whacking off the bottom of the door, no using oversized wax rings on the toilet...lots of things became simpler.

I had never tiled a floor before. I did take a tiling class at Polaris, and people assured me that tiling was simple, but this was my first attempt. It was a lot of messy work, but I kept my tools clean and mixing thinset with a half-inch corded drill was fun. Even more fun was cleaning the mixer by placing it in a five-gallon bucket of water and cranking it.

I elected to go with a Schluter Ditra underlayment rather than cement board. Sure, that meant two different thinsets and, on top, lots of thinset to fill the waffles but it worked out fine. I noticed that my second tile didn't have good coverage on its back, so I ended up buttering them. What a mess, but in the middle of it all my wife said, "you're doing a great job." That simple praise meant a lot to me at that point, when I felt my most incompetent.

I used a borrowed wet saw and laid the whole floor out dry, so when I was setting tile it was just grab'n'go. The wet saw had a fence, but that was more of a hindrance than a help. I just used a white crayon to mark my cut lines (few, if any, were parallel to the tile edge, anyway) and free-handed the cuts. I used piano cuts to cut big notches out of the tile (for the air vent and toilet, for example). The saw I was using had some blade wobble, so I used that to my advantage. If I made my piano cuts close together, they'd self-splinter. The finest cut I made you'll not see. For a water line, I made a one-inch notch a quarter-inch from a tile edge without losing that quarter-inch finger on my first try! I found it easier to clean up my cuts on the wet saw than it was for me to use a nipper.

When I put my vanity in, I encountered my only real problem. The floor was sloped wall-to-center. With the vanity level and tight to the walls, there was a quarter-inch gap at its front edge. Dammit! It wasn't hard to shim, but how to cover that gap?

I resigned myself to using some quarter round. Gah, that would be terrible, but perhaps I could paint it black and it won't catch the eye. Then, in my shop I noticed a long piece of nickel tile edging that I had left over (I used all of two feet of the eight-foot piece at the threshold). Perfect. It fits the color scheme, it's unobtrusive, and I already had it going to waste.

Mounting the wall boxes wasn't too bad. I made a cherry cleat for the small shelves out of a missized stile I had already finished. The large box is screwed into the studs behind the shelves. If you jumped directly to this post, I have a few entries on my blog that describes what I went through to make those cherry pieces.

Toilets are easy, as is plumbing a sink. I just took my time and everything worked - which is actually a first for me when it comes to sinks. I always have a leak somewhere. Always. When that occurs, it is common for my language to sterilize small animals within one hundred feet. So this time I was prepared. I had a flashlight, I turned on each component one at a time and hunted for leaks. I shooed the kids out of yelling range and warned the wife. Nothing leaked. Everything works. Life was golden. Critters were safe.

The end result impressed me. For a small bathroom, it has a lot of storage (no more cluttering the floor around the toilet) and the materials have a nice, solid feel to them. Not unlike the bathroom of a nice hotel. Just like in my kitchen, the granite and cherry look goes well. The white accents really bring out the colors in the other elements. It was certainly worth it.

Oh, I did keep track of every dollar spend on this project. The grand total was $1734. Given the average bathroom remodel job is ten thousand dollars, I think we did very well. For that amount, we got custom made cabinetry made from real cherry, porcelain tile flooring, granite counter tops, all new fixtures, etc. There is also the intangible benefit from having done the work myself. All that pales in comparison to the thing about this project that matters most to me. My wife likes it.

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