If you’ve ever done a project on a house that you are currently living in, you are well aware that things always take longer than you thought they would. My latest bathroom project is no different. In February of 2018 (almost two years ago now!) I wrote a blog post for you about How I plan a Remodel and used the master bathroom of my current residence as an example. This project has basically been on my honeydo list since we have owned this house (4+ years now), and I’ve had most of the supplies in my basement, ready to go for at least two years. Anybody else ever been in this same boat?
While the actual activities required to complete this project would total just over one week’s time, when you’re living in a house, life happens. In our case, we had another bathroom we could use in the meantime, so even though we were cramped during this project, we weren’t terribly uncomfortable.
Note: I’m using ‘we’ a lot on this one because my husband and I are working on this project together! Isn’t that sweet?!
So here is the recap:
The grout is shot and the tiles are loose.
Gross boy bathroom.
Disgusting shower floor that was permanently disgusting.
The bathroom is small, but not dysfunctionally so. It’s got what it needs, with no frills or flares. We aren’t majorly changing too much here, but wanted a bigger and less gross shower.
We started the demo on June 22nd, 2019. We ordered a dumpster and sent the kids to my parent’s house for the night. Demo with a 3 and 9 year old running around isn’t very fun. It’s hard enough to keep the kitties from ‘helping’ or getting themselves into a wall space we can’t get them out of!
Before doing demo, make sure you turn the water off, and if applicable, any electrical, especially if you are opening or removing walls. Also, wear gloves, safety glasses, and at the very least closed toed shoes, but at minimum something with a sturdy sole. We have had a few nail-through-shoe incidents that are easily avoidable with proper footwear…
We started by unhooking all of the plumbing fixtures (except the toilet because we didn’t want to deal with sewer gas smell until we needed to). We disassembled the vanity which came out in several pieces. We used a box cutter to cut a line in the sheetrock where we wanted to leave the old stuff intact. Once you have this line, you can usually just make a hole in the wall that you’re tearing out and start pulling it off in chunks. The walls of the shower and future shower area came out really quickly.
The half wall that needed to come out housed the shower plumbing so we had to cut the copper out before removing that wall so we wouldn’t destroy the pipes that we wanted to reuse. We used a sawsall to cut the wall in half so we could carry the pieces out easily. It was not a structural wall so this was a quick task.
We cut the copper pipes back to where they would be out of the way for the new shower floor to go in, but still accessible for when we needed to hook up the new shower fixture. If you’ve been following my projects for a while now, you know that my husband has a rule for me working on stuff: I’m not allowed to touch things that will cause a flood or a fire, so typically no plumbing or electrical for me. I am completely fine with this arrangement, btw, but on this day, I got to do my very first soldering!
Look at me go! (Give me a break about all of the gross stuff in my hair, it was demo day ;))
Before we could remove the shower floor pan, we had to disconnect it from the floor drain, which needed to be reused. We cut around the drain area so we could pull the floor out, and then unscrew the drain pieces we wouldn’t need.
Part of the delay on this project was the location of the drain. When you’re building a shower, you have a few different options for how to handle the floor.
You can use a standard fiberglass shower floor, which limits you to a center drain or a front drain but cannot be tiled. You can order a custom fiberglass floor which cannot be tiled but you can select the drain location. You can build a concrete floor which you can tile but adds a significant amount of weight to a relatively small area. In our case, over 500lb on the second floor of a 1979 house didn’t seem like a great idea.Or, you can order a custom foam shower floor from a company like Wedi which can be tiled, you can select the drain location, and doesn’t add much weight. It does, however, cost a bit more than the above options. Both the concrete and fiberglass options would have been a few hundred dollars. I don’t recall the exact cost of the Wedi floor but I believe it was just short of $1000. Most of these shower system companies also want you to use their related products for the shower walls too, which can get really expensive, so we opted to just use the floor. The floor was another few weeks out so our project got stalled and we just enjoyed our summer for a bit.
Before installing the shower floor once it arrived, we cut back the old linoleum and subflooring and laid one nice clean fresh piece across.
The Wedi shower floor is installed really simply: just apply a mortar bed with all of the grooves from the trowel going in the same direction (so no air pockets will get trapped underneath) and smoosh it down, making sure it is square and level before it sets. The boxes of tile made great weights.
This shower floor product is great because it has all of the slope for the drain done for you and a curb already built in. Once the floor was set, we hooked up the drain pieces and taped over it to prevent construction junk from going down the drain.
We added a few studs to where we knew the future shower door would be. I had several glass companies come and bid the shower door at this point, and everyone came back really close to the same price so I ended up working with a glass company I have used in the past, M&S Glass. Originally I was thinking we would need a sliding glass door, but after measuring, we had enough space for a regular swing door which saved some money. This glass is the other big ticket item, it was about $1300 installed.
Before we could close up the walls, we needed to select our plumbing fixtures. This seems like a relatively straightforward thing to do, but we agonized over this choice for a few weeks! We even bought and returned several options before finally deciding. I thought our criteria was pretty basic, we needed a big shower head and a hand sprayer with a mixing valve that wasn’t a lever that the handshower cord would get hooked on (this drives me NUTS!) There are TONS of shower fixtures out there, but actually very few that fit this bill. Most of them have a lever mixer! We ended up with a Grohe retrofit (plumbing on the outside of the wall) fixture and then added this giant showerhead and this hand sprayer, all in about $400. I’m really glad we spent so much time thinking about this and looking at how these things work. If you want to get into multiple shower sprayers that all function at the same time, you really need to do a lot of plumbing rough in BEFORE you close up walls, so make sure you know what you’re installing before the cement board goes on.
The only thing we considered and chose not to do, that now we wish we would have, would be to add a second on/off control at the back end of the shower so you can start running the water to warm up before you get in without getting sprayed. In the end, that would have been a lot of plumbing, and while nice to have, not really a deal breaker for us.
Now that we had our plumbing fixture, and a preform shower niche that we picked up from the Tile Shop, we could rough-in the plumbing and close up the walls with cement board.
Make sure you use cement board screws so they don’t rust out in the future if they get wet!
Use the special cement board tape to tape EVERY seam and corner.
Then mortar over ALL of your tape lines. This helps create a solid wall. It is also an opportunity to feather out any uneven areas so you have flat, smooth transitions. No house is square or straight, but you can make it better by taking the time to do a good job with your mortar before you start tiling. You may need to do 2-3 repeat coats if you are transitioning an uneven area. Make sure you let it dry all the way between coats.
You need to create a waterproof barrier in the shower. In the past, we have used 4ml poly behind the cement board, but we feel this is an imperfect solution. It naturally gets holes in it from the staples that attach it to the studs and termination at the bottom and top leaves an opportunity for moisture to sneak back there as well. A few showers ago, we bought a big bucket of Red Guard. This stuff is like paint-on-rubber! It smells TERRIBLE but is really enjoyable to use. Make sure you run the bath fan and open a window if possible. It goes on pink and dries red. Also make sure you TAPE OFF any areas you do not wish to be forever red and rubbery. This stuff is serious and if you get it where it isn’t welcome, you’ll be sorry. =)
It is FINALLY tile time! Always make sure you have all of your stuff where you want it before you start tiling. You have a limited time to get things installed before your mortar sets. I got these pennies on Floor and Decor for pretty cheap. I think it was around $80 for the whole floor. Personally, these aren’t my fave, but my husband likes them and they are pretty manly, and it’s kind of his bathroom, so it’s all good. They went down really easily. Tiling onto a manufactured surface like this Wedi floor was really enjoyable! The slope was already perfect, the edges were straight! It went in really quickly.
Shower floor tile—done!
Now that I am old, the kneeling and squatting can get really tiring so I have been using my meditation cushion for the bottom few rows. This allows me to sit criss cross applesauce while tiling and be a lot more comfortable! I use a score and snap ($20 at Menards!) for as many cuts as I can and save the tile saw for corners, special cuts, and cuts that are too tiny to score and snap. This way I don’t have to run down two flights of stairs to the tile saw and back up for EVERY tile that needs to be cut. This doesn’t work for every kind of tile, but it works great for ceramic.
Before putting the first row of mortar up on the wall, I find the center and draw a line all the way up. I use the center as my starting line so I have essentially even cuts in all of the corners, vs. a full tile in one corner and all of the cuts in the other corner. This is the way my Dad told me to do it in the very first shower I ever did, so this is how I still do it! I keep the level nearby to make sure my rows are straight before I get to the next one. This is especially important for the first row, because the rest of the tiles will sit on top of this. You cannot trust the floor, especially in a shower, because it is sloped on purpose for the water to drain.
I keep a bucket of water and a sponge nearby when I’m tiling so I can keep my hands cleanish and rinse any chunks of mortar off the fronts of the tiles. My helper Henry thought this was the perfect place for his cars to go for a swim while I worked
Tiling usually takes more time than you think. I try not to start if I know I can’t at least finish one wall. At the very least, you need to finish a row all the way across. While your mortar is wet, you can scootch and fudge the tiles around a bit to make things look right and line up how you want them. Once it sets, it is literally concrete and there is no fudging.
For this shower, I did the floor one day. The back wall one day. The two sidewalls one day. And the ceiling, shelf and curb another day. I had to save the curb for last because I wanted the curb tiles to set on top of the floor tiles, which hadn’t been installed yet.
All in, the tile for the shower and the floor was right around $300. The install took about 3 days of my life, but I enjoy doing it. I drink wine and listen to podcasts or audiobooks. It’s one of my favorite activities.
Then it was time for Grout! I always forget that grout is a FULL BODY WORKOUT! Smashing that grout in all of those cracks, over your head, pushing down, scraping up, etc. I get super sweaty. Henry was a BIG helper for the areas he could reach.
I love when my kiddos can help out with projects, even if it’s a tiny bit. I’m mostly not worried about them making messes, because we usually clean them up easily and I think it’s good for them to not be afraid to try this stuff. I talk to so many homeowners who wonder how I learned how to do these projects, and quite frankly, I just started doing them. While some things are a bit more complicated than others, the internet has a wealth of knowledge available for free, and if you really run into a problem, you can always bring in a professional to clean up your mess! It’s really not that scary. Don’t be afraid to tear something out and redo it if you don’t like how it worked the first time. Like any skill, you’ll get better with repetition. I have lost count of how many showers I’ve done at this point, and now I don’t think twice about any part of the process, except what tile I want to use and where I can squeeze in a 6 hour chunk of uninterrupted work time.
Note: I always recommend hiring out electrical and plumbing work unless you REALLY know what you are doing. Floods and fires aren’t cool, and I’ve read enough home inspection reports now to see that lots of people do not know what they are doing in these areas.
Tile and grout DONE!
Before we can put the toilet back on, it’s time to prep and paint the walls. I scraped the popcorn ceiling by getting it lightly wet with a yard sprayer filled with water. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then use a wide blade putty knife to drop the stuff. The water keeps the amount of dust down and makes it come off really easily. Don’t get it too wet though our you’ll end up gouging your sheetrock.
Once you have your mess cleaned up and it everything is dry, you can start the multi-day process of mudding and sanding and mudding and sanding. Start with a smallish (maybe 3”) putty knife and fill all of the cracks/dings/holes with a generous amount of mud. Don’t worry too much about it being smooth now. The mud will shrink a bit as it dries, especially if you’re filling large holes and you’re going to come back with another few coats. Any holes that are really big or joints that have the potential to move, you’ll need to tape up with some sheetrock tape. I have the meshy stuff, simply because I have a giant roll of it in my basement I need to use up, but I actually think the paper tape is nicer to use and lets you finish your mudding in fewer coats.
I used to mud, then sand, then mud, then sand, then mud, then sand. But after watching some professionals do it a few times, I noticed that they mud, mud, mud, sand. So I did that this time around and it saves a considerable amount of time and mess.
I absolutely should have been wearing a mask. Safety first!
After the sanding, I vacuumed and do a quick wipe down of the walls with a slightly damp cloth to get most of the dust off. At this point, the walls are looking pretty good, but inevitably I’ll notice some spots I missed when I get my first coat of primer on. After the first coat of primer, I’ll go around again with the mud and shine a light sideways down the wall to cast shadows and see what I’ve missed. Then I do a quick sanding again before another coat of primer. I’m not sure if this is an extra step or not, but it leaves me with a nice smooth wall when it comes time for paint!
I wanted to do some dark in here and I’ve been REALLY loving on the navy lately. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I LOVE Dutchboy paint from Menards, however, as I’ve been working with ‘professionals’ I’ve noticed that many of them love Sherwin Williams so I decided to give them a try. I must tell you, friends, I was severely disappointed! Not only was the paint really sticky and goopy, it had really poor coverage after THREE COATS. It was much more purpley than the swatch, and it peeled! When I went in to complain, they blamed these problems on me, because I didn’t use their brand of primer behind it, the roller I used (which THEY gave me!) was a ‘cheap one’ and I was clearly an amateur painter. Needless to say, I won’t be back to Sherwin Williams.
I couldn’t get over how poor the coverage was with this paint!
I went to Menards and picked up a can of my fave DutchBoy and had it repainted and looking great in just two coats. Sometimes the popular opinion is not the right one!
At this point, most of the hard stuff was done. The shower door guys came out and installed the shower door. My husband installed the new toilet and shower fixtures. We had originally hoped to use a really cute floating vanity we found on Wayfair, but ended up returning it because we would have had to move plumbing up or it would hang too low. We found a great one at IKEA for a third of the cost of the fancy Wayfair vanity. It has a lower profile so it takes up less space too!
Adding a new bathroom fan and installing a new duct was probably one of the most important aspects of this project. As you saw above, we had active mold growth on the walls of the old bathroom. This was due to the old bathroom fan vent being roofed over when our roof was replaced! Believe it or not, this is a VERY common occurrence. 90% of the home inspection reports I read have bath fans that either vent into the attic directly (a major cause of ice dams in the winter and other attic moisture problems you don’t want!) or have too long of a duct that won’t allow the moisture to actually exit the house, or, like we had, a vent that has been sealed or isn’t functioning properly. If you’re dealing with moisture build up in your bathroom or ice dams, this is definitely something to look into!
While I was out of town at the BiggerPockets Conference, my husband and son wrapped the project up! They picked out a mirror and light fixture, towel hooks and a rug. I came home to a mostly finished bathroom and all I had to do was a little paint touch up!
HERE IT IS!!!
The floor to ceiling shower with the extra few inches on each side makes this bathroom feel HUGE! You can easily and comfortably fit more than one person in the shower.
The floor space was maximized with the lower profile vanity and the newer toilet has a smaller footprint than the old one.
The only additional thing we will do to this bathroom to absolutely maximize the space will be to remove the in-swing door and add a sliding barndoor (I’m thinking a 5 panel, and maybe bright yellow!) to the outside of the room, but that is pretty low on the to-do list right now.
So here are the final numbers, roughly:
- Dumpster: $300
- Shower floor: let’s say $1300, it was somewhere in there
- Shower glass: $1300
- Tile/grout/mortar/misc: $400
- Plumbing fixtures: toilet, vanity, shower faucet: $800
- Lighting, mirrors, hooks: $100
- Paint/Mud: $40
- Total: $4240 -ish
- Future barndoor: less than $600
BRAND SPANKING NEW, custom, grown up, classy bathroom with oversized walk-in shower for less than $5000. What do you think about that!?
We love this bathroom. It feels luxurious and was well worth the effort and the expense and I know that when we resell this house, our buyers will love it too! Next up, the shower surround in our hall bath! We are almost done with this house!
Thanks for reading guys!