Friday, October 26, 2012

Bathing Beauty, Part III: The Shower Surround

The bathroom just before I started demolition.
The bathroom renovation has officially begun!  In the beginning of September Aaron and I started demolishing our old shower surround to put in new plumbing and tiles in the bathtub/shower combo in our only bathroom of the house.  This is the first actual work we've done in the bathroom, so we'll call it phase one.  (We've actually done quite a bit of work outside of the actual room that will eventually be moved into the bathroom, but I'll tell you all about those things later.)  Technically, Aaron replaced the tub drain and P-trap a couple weeks before this, but it wasn't very visible so it didn't really seem like we had officially begun.

We planned for four days of work to complete the tiling job.  Four days.  I'll pause here so everyone can have a good laugh at that.  Yep; we who had never done any work even resembling what we were planning to do thought we could re-tile our shower surround in a long weekend.  We were naive in planning that out.  We really did put some thought into it, we just overestimated our abilities.  Here is our plan as it stood at the beginning of our project:

Day One (Friday): Demo existing shower surround and install new plumbing.
Day Two (Saturday): Install new plastic sheeting, concrete backerboard, and new tiles.
Day Three (Sunday): Grout.
Day Four (Monday): Apply sealer and caulk.

The plan seemed logical enough and Aaron had taken Monday off work so that, if needed, we could grout on Monday and I could seal things up and caulk by myself on Tuesday.  We went in with the mantra, "expect the unexpected."  Plus, the temperature outside was in the triple digits (and was going to be for the next week) so the thought of using the hose to "shower" in the backyard was even appealing not horrible.  Spoiler alert: I'll just let you know now that this post does not end with a completed project, but it does end on day four.  Hang on for the bumpy ride!  (The story is wayyyy too long to tell in just one post.)

I began day one by starting the demolition while Aaron finished up his week at work.  My first swing of the sledgehammer yielded poor results.  Poor may be an understatement; there was not a crack in sight.  No big deal, I thought.  I quickly moved onto plan B, a hammer and chisel (aka, old flathead screwdriver).  It was after around 2 hours of work, at which point I had only removed about 3 square feet of tile, that I knew we had not been realistic with our timeline.

Aaron using the scraper attachment.
Then Aaron got home and busted out the reciprocating saw scraper attachment he had purchased (he neglected to tell me about said purchase before then) and after another 20 minutes or so the entire top level of mismatched, not original tile was gone!  Yay!  Just like that we were back on schedule.  And then all that unexpected we were expecting happened.

The scraper attachment didn't leave a mark on the original tile.  Aaron took his first swing of the sledgehammer.  Nothing.  Next up, the crowbar.  Still, not much happened.  While Aaron continued to slam and pry the wall to no avail  I decided to remove all the mirrors hanging against the other side of wall in the dining room.  About a minute after removing the last mirror and walking into the kitchen I heard a cracking noise.  Thinking Aaron had finally gotten the tile to crack, I started to go celebrate this little victory with him, but I soon found out the cracking noise I heard was not the tile. 

The hole in the dining room wall.
There, in the very spot where the largest (and most expensive) of the mirrors had been hanging was a hole in the wall with a stud poking through.  Aaron, oblivious to the hole, was still prying away in the bathroom.  After yelling some choice words I ran into the bathroom to stop him.  It turns out that the stud he was bracing the crowbar against was not very well attached to the rest of the wall and so instead of prying the tile off it pushed the stud through the other side of the wall. 

We quickly discovered the reason for the indestructible tile.  To say it was unexpected would just be wrong.  We didn't even know such a thing existed.  What we found was a 3-inch thick concrete mortar bed reinforced by thick metal mesh  attached directly through the backerboard and gypsum board (yes, both) to the studs.  For those not in the know, that means drywall (gypsum board) was applied to the studs.  This was covered by backerboard, which is a concrete wall board.  Then a piece of metal mesh was nailed through the two wall boards into the studs, then three inches of concrete mortar was applied over the top of that, and then the tiles were applied directly to the concrete mortar resulting in a nearly indestructible shower surround.  Who knew we had a bomb shelter in our house? 

A chunk of the three-inch thick wall.

Aaron chipped and pried away what he could and brought down all the tile/concrete/etc from the small wall with the plumbing.  That marked the end of work for day one.  Not only was demo not even near complete, but the plumbing wasn't done either.  We were still hopeful that we could finish by Tuesday.  We would just push everything out a day.  We already kind of planned for that anyhow, right?

The next morning, we woke up and got started on demo again.  After a couple maddening hours of chipping away flecks of tile and concrete Aaron was at the end of his wits.  I had long ago
exited the room, knowing I would have
The downed wall.
been useless and in the way.  All of a sudden I heard Aaron roar and the sound of something heavy moving.  I peeked into the bathroom only to find Aaron supporting the entire long wall of the shower.  He had gotten so frustrated at not being able to knock out the tiles and concrete that he was able to pull the whole thing out by hand.  Ummmm...... superhuman strength much, Hulk?  Now the conundrum became, "How do we get a several-hundred-pound wall out of our bathroom and into the trashcan?"  Well, Aaron just slung the sledge at the now-downed wall and, sure enough, in its weakened state it broke apart into manageable pieces.

Aaron finished knocking out the remaining tile/concrete/walls as well as the old plumbing and bagged everything up to go to the dump.  Aaron made a quick trip to the office to get the work truck and then loaded all the bags of refuse into the bed (thank you lift gate).  And just in case you think I might be exaggerating on the weight of this monstrosity, our trip to the dump yielded 1,100 pounds of refuse.  Three small walls around our shower weighed 1,100 pounds!  1,100 pounds!!  I literally just had to stop typing for about 5 minutes in order to re-process that bit of information. 

Hanging the plastic and backerboard.
Our friends Ren and Mike joined us later in the day to provide some much-needed entertainment and help.  (Thanks guys!!)  Aaron and Mike were able to install the new plumbing, but at this point, Aaron was so worn out from his morning of Hulking out that he decided to call it a day a little early.  I was useless at this point since I am unable to lift a sheet of backerboard by myself, let alone screw it up to the wall.  Well, add another day to the plan.  But that was fine.  I could grout by myself and then have things sealed, caulked and finished up by Wednesday.  No problem.

Sunday morning Aaron got the plastic barrier stapled up and started hanging backerboard.  His nerves were a little on edge at this point after straying so far from our original timeline so I stayed away to avoid an argument.  Plus, I knew my work was coming up in the form of tiling, grouting, sealing and caulking.

The over-looked space.
Our solution.
At about noon, Aaron had hung the all the backerboard, but I knew by the noises coming from the bathroom that there was a problem.  Put nicely, Aaron is not one to quietly troubleshoot.  He animatedly explained to me that the tub was not installed close enough to the wall.  You see, our old tile was sticking out an inch from the wall and we had decided to install our new tile just on top of the wall.  This meant our backerboard was flush with the regular wall leaving a space a little under an inch wide between the edge of the tub and the backerboard wall.  It had been overlooked due to being covered up by the piece of plywood
covering the bathtub to protect it
from falling objects and for us
shorties to stand on.

After a couple of minutes I came up with a solution.  I hesitated to even offer it up as it was not something I'd ever do by choice, but I saw little else in terms of options so we went with it.   (Now, nearly two months later I've yet to think of anything else, so I don't feel so bad about it.  There wasn't much we could do and we definitely weren't calling in the pros.)  We added  two more layers of backerboard about 2 inches tall along that end wall to create a small step out from the wall to cover the gap.  I had seen this done in older homes with new tiling jobs as a finished product, but I never even stopped to think about the reason it had been done.  I hate the way it looks, but what else could we have done?  After this defeat we decided to take a break and do our weekly grocery shopping.

When we returned home I went back into the bathroom to begin prepping for laying the tile.  It was at this point that I noticed the valves for the new faucet were sitting crookedly in the wall.  Our faucet system is of the three-handle variety (one knob for hot, one for cold, and one for the diverter) and the hot valve was sticking out farther than the cold valve.  It was not something we could see prior to the backerboard being installed and I felt bad telling Aaron about this, since he had spent all morning putting up the backerboard, but I knew neither of us would have been happy with the outcome had we left it crooked.  So down came that sheet of backerboard and we went to work adjusting the plumbing and reinstalling the backerboard.  At this point we were both tired and let down with the day's work.  We had fallen so far behind schedule that ending the day here just seemed like the best thing to do.

Applying mortar over the mesh tape.  I'm still smiling!
Monday morning I woke up and got to work filling the spaces between the normal wall and backerboard with mortar.  (We had a hard time making straight cuts through the old walls when installing the new backerboard so we had some large gaps to fill.)  After those were filled I taped and mortared the seams of the joined sheets of backerboard.  We left that to dry a bit and then Aaron did some sanding to smooth a couple of places out on the part of the wall that would be visible after putting up the new tiles.  We also took this time to measure our new wall space so we could adjust our plans for the tile pattern. By evening it was time to start laying tile, but I was mentally exhausted and stuck trying to figure out where to begin.  I over-analyzed myself into a frazzled state and so I decided to call it a night and hold off on tiling until the following day.

 So here we are at the end of day four.  At this point we had finished all the work up to tiling, something we thought we'd be done with on day two.  It took us four days to demolish the old shower surround, replumb, and put up new walls, yet we still thought the end was in sight.  We were so naive.

To be continued...

See Bathing Beauty: Parts I and II for before photos and our inspiration for the renovation.

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