upstairs bathroom updates


Posted: December 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: bathroom, oops, plumbing, progress, upstairs bathroom, water | No Comments »


Have I told you about the upstairs bathroom? There are a few stories to tell. We’ve learned that this bathroom was originally built by a previous owner, obviously another amateur do-it-yourselfer who invented a few creative (and not-to-code) plumbing techniques, like putting the sink trap (normally found directly under the sink) two stories down, in the basement. The next owners apparently had some bathroom problems because when we got here, the whole bathroom floor was covered in a thin film of foul, sludgy sewage residue, including the baseboards and, in some areas, the bottom of the wainscoting. And the toilet looked like this. UGH. Until I scrubbed it for a few DAYS, then it looked like this. (While I was working on the plumbing I discovered a pair of childrens’ safety scissors lodged in the drain-pipe, which might have been the root of the problem!) So back in 2010 I tore out all the flooring (while wearing rubber gloves and a mask!) and the baseboards and the nasty parts of the wainscoting. When I got down to the sub-flooring, I was pleased to find that it was clean, unsoiled and usable! So we left it like that, and cleaned the bejeezus out of everything else, and we’d been living without proper flooring in the bathroom ever since.

The shower stall was ugly but once we replaced the burst pipes and turned on the water, it seemed to work fine and we weren’t planning to replace it til we’d fixed up the rest of the house. And then around June, we sprung a leak! Downstairs, in our beautiful new bathroom, there was water coming out of the ceiling! It ruined some of the fresh new paint and plaster on the downstairs wall, which was kind of heartbreaking. We disconnected the water supply to the shower and set about searching for the leak. Because of the unorthodox and not-to-code nature of the plumbing situation, it was actually impossible to access the shower plumbing without either tearing out the plaster wall of the adjacent hallway, or else tearing out the shower stall itself. Unsure of the exact location of the problem, we decided to just bite the bullet and tear out the old shower stall. And when we did, we found no apparent source of the leak! Arghhhhhh. We inspected very carefully around every seam of the supply line and the drain line, and we could not find any moisture, nor any water stains or signs of leaking. Instead there was plenty of powdery, dry dust, which really seemed to suggest that there was never any leaking at all. Looking back on the situation now, I believe that the leak was not caused by plumbing problems in the shower, nor by cracks in the shower stall, but by water spraying out of the shower, on to the porous, unfinished floor and seeping down through the first-floor ceiling below. Oooops.

But we’d hacked up the old shower stall in the process of removing it, so we needed a new shower stall. After way too many days of living with no shower (thankfully we have a generous neighbor who let us use his shower!), we borrowed my parents’ pickup truck and headed to Home Depot to pick out our new shower stall. Hauled it home and wrestled it onto the front porch and … oops again! It won’t fit through the front door! And it won’t fit through the bathroom door either.

Next day we hauled it back to Home Depot and exchanged it for a two-part model that did fit through the front door. But it turned out to be a tiny bit larger than the old shower stall, so we had to rip out a partial wall (the one that supported the third side of the shower stall) to get it in. It was a pretty simple thing, it wasn’t a load-bearing wall, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but after we got the shower stall in, then we were missing that wall and it needed to be replaced.

tore out the old shower installing a new shower half of a new shower
Ripping out the old shower, hacking up the floor and walls to fit in the new one.

new shower stall! new shower

the shiny new shower unit, and the missing wall

It also seemed like a good time to replace the bathroom flooring, so we started researching Marmoleum, which my sister had used in her bathroom renovation, and seemed like the best and easiest solution. Marmoleum is the original brand of linoleum, which has made a comeback in the past few years as a green building material. It’s made from natural linseed oil, pine rosins and wood flour, without all the toxic ingredients that go into vinyl flooring. It comes in large sheets which are waterproof (except for the seams between sheets) and unlike tile it feels soft and warm under bare feet, which is important when you live in a big old drafty farmhouse in Maine!

We had to hire help for installing the marmoleum. Before he could get started, we had to remove all the fixtures from the bathroom (except for the new shower, of course).

we took all the fixtures out of the bathroom!

Here’s the finished floor! It’s purple! It wasn’t my first choice for a bathroom floor color, but it was the only one we could agree on at all.

new floor new bathroom floor

Once the floor was in, we put the toilet and sink back in, of course, and started planning for the next stage, re-building the shower wall and the corner soffit that we’d ripped out.


septic system


Posted: May 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: plumbing, slow progress | No Comments »


progress
laika supervises pumping of the septic tank

When we bought the house, there were a lot of unknown quantities that we had to assume were likely to become a problem sooner or later. We could see that the foundation looked good, the roof looked pretty good, and everything else looked pretty terrible. The stuff we couldn’t see: is there lead in the pipes? probably. Is the well pump broken? yes, and it’s not cheap to replace. Are all the chimneys blocked? probably. Are we going to have problems with the septic system? Easiest to assume that the answer is yes.
Given the obvious neglect to the house, we figured the septic system was probably in bad shape too. The septic tank should be pumped out every so often (my dad suggests every 10 years) or else it starts to back up and things get nasty and it can costs tens of thousands of dollars to repair or replace. Rather than wait for something to go catastrophically wrong, we decided to call somebody to come help us locate the septic system and see what work we need to do to keep it in good order. We actually had no idea *where* the septic system was even located. Old deeds suggested that our leach-field might be located off our property, under our next-door neighbor’s chicken coop! The septic guy helped us locate the sewage main coming out from the back of our house, and advised us to try and follow the main line out to the septic tank by digging little holes every 5-10 feet until the pipe leads us to the tank. Easier said than done: we spent a few weeks struggling through brambles and weeds back there, digging little holes ALL OVER the back yard. Finally we found the tank, and thankfully it was on our own property. We called back the septic guy and he took a look: he said it was overdue for a cleaning but thankfully nothing was damaged! He pumped it out and hopefully we’re good to go for another ten years. What a nice surprise to find one problem that’s easier to solve than we’d expected.


Downstairs bathroom


Posted: January 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: bathroom, plumbing, slow progress, woodworking | Tags: , , | No Comments »


Around November we decided to focus on the downstairs bathroom and try to hurry up and get it working asap. We brought in Laura (wallboard and plaster) and Lynn (carpentry) and Nate (plumbing) to look at the situation. We thought we’d finished the demolition phase, but they all said we still needed to do more demolition work before they could get started! So we laid down cardboard and plastic sheets to protect our beautiful new white oak floors, and dragged in garbage cans and crowbars and set to ripping out all the rest of the old plaster and lath. Tearing down old plaster is getting really old, it’s so dusty and gritty and icky. Also, of course (as we have now learned to expect), behind every old wall in our house is a huge stinky rats nest or squirrel nest or something, matted wads of urine-stinking filthy batting and shreds of old clothes and candy wrappers and cascades of turds and birdseed that all comes crumbling down among the plaster chunks, raining upon your face when you take out an old wall. I’ve learned to put on a hooded sweatshirt, dust mask, goggles, gloves, and cinch the hood all around my face when I’m doing this work, but I still come away picking plaster crumbs out of my clothes and birdseed out of my ears and feeling like I need a shower. Anyway, we got it all out of the bathroom now!

demolition for the new downstairs bathroom

before

ripping out plaster and lath

during

demolition for the new bathroom

after (all done with demolition, ready to start rebuilding!)

giant rat nest :(

close up on giant rat nest :(

Then Lynn set to work furring out some walls to get them ready for hanging wallboard, framing out some areas to run the pipes through. The thing about old houses is that they were never intended to have plumbing in them, so it can be hard to find (or make) a place to run the pipes through. It was kind of a big consensus decision to figure that out, with input from plumber, carpenter, myself, mike, Judy and Richard. Got it all worked out and drafted some plans and directions for the workers to refer to. I started working in Google Sketchup to try and imagine how best to fit all the pieces together.
Then Nate (plumber) came in with his trusty assistant and set to work ripping out all our old plumbing (including the beautiful plumbing work I did myself over the summer, this was heartbreaking!) and laying in fresh, tidy pex in its place.

downstairs bathroom downstairs bathroom

tidy lines of pex (heating pipes, hot and cold water and drain pipe to upstairs bathroom) and washer/dryer hookup

plumbers also did a bunch of work in the basement, had to replace the entire waste line as it was archaic and rusty cast-iron, quite difficult to join drains into it, and too narrow for modern codes. And they hooked up an old radiator in the basement, we were getting worried about the cold weather and frozen pipes in the basement so we had them hook that up to the furnace to keep the basement above freezing temperature.

Meanwhile Lynn got the bathroom all squared-away and ready for hanging wallboard! Strapping and studs on walls and ceiling. We’re going to have exposed beams on the bathroom ceiling too, as the beams in there are really gorgeous and huge, like 12″ square and very handsome.

downstairs bathroom

carpentry all finished, ready to hang wallboard!

Meanwhile, Laura (the plasterer) was working away on the kitchen. In the end, it turned out that after tallying up the cost of all this work we really don’t have enough cash to have Laura do wallboard and plaster in the bathroom, as we had initially planned! So the question is: do we hang blueboard ourselves, and then have Laura do the plaster over it? Do we hang greenboard ourselves, and skip the plaster? (this would be the cheaper choice.) Do we just go ahead and install and connect the toilet, sink, bathtub and all the appliances in the bathroom now, without having any proper walls, and then at a later date remove the appliances, do the walls, and replace the appliances? Or do we put the bathroom on hold for the moment, until we’ve got a working kitchen, and then return to the bathroom, do the walls, and then install the toilet and everything once the walls are finished?
We ended up going with the last choice. We had originally thought we’d be closing off the 2nd floor for the winter and moving our bed into the diningroom or something. But we just never really got so cold that it seemed worth the bother. So it turns out it’s fine having our only bathroom on the 2nd floor. It would be great to have a downstairs bathroom too, but it doesn’t seem as urgent anymore. And now we’re excited about working on the kitchen instead, so… for the moment the downstairs bathroom has moved to the back burner. I think we’ll hang greenboard in there eventually, we’ll do it ourselves and then get the appliances in, and it will be fantastic whenever it happens.


IT FLUSHES!


Posted: July 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: bathroom, gross, plumbing, progress | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »


dreadful bathroom IT FLUSHES!

toilet: before and after

Exciting bathroom progress: I finally got this stinking toilet clean! It took me a ridiculous amount of hard labor and experimenting with different cleaning products. I started by putting on rubber gloves and throwing away the ghastly toilet seat, then over the course of a few months I tried scrubbing it with toilet bowl cleaner, soaking it in bleach, dumping in vinegar, and scrubbing it with more cleaners (sequentially, not all at once). Each effort produced slight improvements but the real winning trick was to wait until it was disconnected (and therefore empty), then scrub the living hell out of it with a pumice stone and liberal doses of Ajax. Why did I waste so much time on this thing, instead of throwing it away and replacing it as any normal person would’ve done? I guess I hate to waste something that could be saved. I’m on a tight budget. And once I’d wasted a few afternoons scrubbing it I just refused to accept defeat and had to keep scrubbing until I conquered it. Today I declare victory!
But the best part is: it is now reconnected and it works!! The most satisfying thing about this whole weekend was completing the plumbing updates so that we once again have indoor plumbing. Just as we were re-installing the toilet, I discovered a pair of childrens’ scissors lodged in the drainpipe! Glad I caught that. Explains why it wasn’t working so well.

amateur plumbing amateur plumbing

baby’s first plumbing project! it took me a ridiculous amount of time and thought and trial-and-error and labeling and marking and color-coding (and infinite amounts of help from my dad) to figure out how to run the pipes and fit all the pieces together. But it was worth it because it WORKS.

I also improved the bathroom by ripping out all the flooring. It’s a shame because it was sort of new and relatively decent (compared to the rest of the house, that is) but it had such an unholy stink. You don’t even want to think about it. Now the flooring is all out and the smell is basically gone. The subfloor seems to be in decent condition, not too stinky, though I’m treating it with a hydrogen peroxide-baking-soda odor removal treatment just to be thorough.


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