Bathroom Renovation Update

In a prior post titled “Waylaid Plans”, I mentioned that a purchase of a vintage claw foot tub became the catalyst for a bathroom renovation that was not in any of my near-turn projects for the house. I’ve initiated those renovations and I’m happy to provide this update.

The third-floor bathroom renovations began with the removal of the room’s old metal shower stall. I will admit that I thought the effort would be easier than it actually was. Old and rusted, the shower stall was heavy and well anchored into the floor and much of it had to be cut away with a metal saw before I could actually get at the cement shower base. The base itself had to be broken apart with a sledge hammer to effect removal, leaving a “hole” in the floor that went right down to the original house’s floorboards.

Also exposed by the removal of the shower stall was the poor condition of the walls that were hidden behind the stall. The plaster on one wall was cracked and contained several large holes.  The plaster on the other wall was missing altogether, exposing the wood lathe. As I have discovered during other projects, working in an old house is often more time-consuming and complicated than one would anticipate at the start of a project; there’s always a repair that remains hidden until you uncover it while making a completely unrelated repair. Thus, I ended up spending unanticipated time repairing walls using gypsum wallboard and drywall spackle. Once the walls were repaired, I tackled the plumbing.

The third-floor bathroom, prior to the initiation of renovations.
The appearance of the bathroom following the removal of the shower stall.












The shower stall piping was not of appropriate location or height for the claw foot tub and, thus, needed confirguring. This should have been simple task but, as mentioned earlier, work in an old house often becomes more complicated as work proceeds. The first problem encountered involved shutting the water off to the bathroom. After a bit of searching, I found the cold and hot water shut-off valves for the third floor behind the toilet located in the house’s second floor bathroom. Unfortunately, these valves were old and and not terribly effective at shutting the water off; despite turning the valves to their off positions, water continued to pour from the third floor sink faucet, although at a slower rate. My next attempt at turning the water off involved locating the circuit breakers for the home’s well pump.  These were located easily, although I was somewhat confused to find circuit breakers labeled for the “well pump” in two of the three electric panels that are found inside the main house. No matter, though, since switching either off separately and both together had no impact on the well; it just kept happily pumping water into the house. I finally remedied this problem by tripping the main power breaker, thereby turning off the electric for the entire house and not just the pump.

The next problem encountered was associated with the position of the copper pipe that had to be cut and reconfigured. The pipe that carried water to the shower area was installed low near the floor under molding. In addition, and in many ways more concerning, the pipe was installed very close to the plaster wall and extremely dry 112-year old wood lathe.  This would make soldering new pipe onto the old very tricky. With wet paper towels and a fire extinguisher within arms length, I proceeded to cut the pipe and then solder new pipe that would be better positioned for the claw foot tub. I admit to being very nervous, particularly when the wooden lathe began to become singed by the blow torch. I had to stop several times and change my soldering position so that I wouldn’t burn the house down. In the end,  however, I successfully completed the work without having to douse out a fire with the fire extinguisher.

Next on the list was the repair of the hole in the floor where the concrete shower base had existed. This involved installing 3/4 inch plywood over the home’s now exposed original floorboards, and then covering the plywood with a synthetic membrane that was leftover from my prior roofing work and a layer of steel mesh that I had used in my attempts to keep the squirrels out of my living room ceiling. I’m alway looking for ways to re-purpose materials!  On top of the mesh I poured masonry floor mud to level the hole with the surrounding floor, thereby preparing it for tiling. I will admit that for one fleeting moment my wife and I considered ripping up the entire bathroom floor to completely expose the original floorboards. Unfortunately, it appeared that the old rusted shower stall had leaked and rotted a very small portion of the original flooring, thereby convincing us that installing a new tile floor was the better option.

The floor in the location of the shower stall following the addition of plywood, synthetic membrane and metal mesh.
The same floor area following the addition of masonry floor mud to level the floor.

With the mud floor poured and curing, my attention then turned to the vanity. The original vanity was custom made, likely many years ago, and had a marble countertop. While the marble countertop was nice, matching the marble countertops found in the second and first-floor bathrooms, the vanity itself was not very attractive. We thus decided to remove and replace the vanity.  However, rather than removing the vanity in one piece, I was forced break it apart and remove it in pieces. This was the result of the way in which the copper pipes associated with the room’s baseboard heating system were installed. In this case, it appears that the vanity was installed first followed by the installation of the baseboard piping; the copper pipes were inserted through holes drilled on the sides of the vanity. That left me with two choices: I could cut and remove the piping before removing the vanity as a single piece, or I could take a saw and cut through the sidewalls of the vanity and thus remove the vanity in pieces without disturbing the pipe. I opted for the latter, and the vanity was cut and removed in pieces.

The hand-made original vanity after the marble top was removed.
Copper baseboard piping that was installed through holes in the sides of the existing vanity.

That sums up the current status of the bathroom renovation. The next phases of work include repairing the plaster wall behind the vanity, repairing the floor below the vanity, then tiling the floor with a yet-to-be chosen tile.

In the meantime, the claw foot tub sits in my first floor office waiting to be lugged up to the third floor. In addition, we purchased the new vanity, which currently sits in our family room also waiting to be carried to the third floor. With regard to the new vanity, my wife and I opted for a vessel-style sink that we would mount onto a vintage dresser or washstand to match the colonial style decor of other rooms in the Neebor Lee house. We ended purchasing an vintage colonial-style dry sink that will meet this objective with a little re-purposing.  As for the wash basin that is to sit on top of the dry sink, we were deciding on whether to purchase an inexpensive porcelain bowl through which I would  drill holes in it to make it into a wet sink, or purchase a $200 plus sink that was already designed for that purpose. That debate ended when I placed on top of the recently-purchased dry sink the old circular porcelain wash basin that I had just pulled from the bathroom’s now demolished vanity. One look and we decided that our search for the wash basin was over; we would re-purpose the bathroom’s original wash basin, thereby retaining a little history from the old bathroom.

The new vanity, which will consist of a re-purposed vintage dry sink along with the original vanity’s wash basin.



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