Going back in time, I realize that I’ve either partially or fully renovated five bathrooms in my life. I’ve done everything from demolition to plumbing to laying tile, and I’ve hit many pitfalls and unexpected setbacks with each one. The whore-pink tile in our house in New York was held in place with chicken wire and cement. The floor of the jacuzzi room in that same house collapsed under me while I was demoing it. The bathroom in my rowhome was built with cardboard scraps and kindergarten paste. Almost all of them have featured leaky plumbing, substandard wiring, or rotten wood. Bathrooms are great gaping maws of money and time, and it is never an easy decision to plow ahead with a remodel unless one is independently wealthy and able to live in one of one’s other mansions while the plaster dust flies. I’ve never had that luxury, so I’m used to shitting in a bucket and showering with a garden hose.
It was, then, with some trepidation that I agreed to help my father in law rehab his guest bathroom. His house was built in the late 70’s, with all of the positives and many negatives that implies. The bathroom hosted five teenagers and shows every battle scar—it’s a miracle it hasn’t fallen through the ceiling, frankly. At some point in the distant past he got in there and pulled the tub and vanity out, and then stalled on the project. It’s been like that for years. A few weeks ago he informed us that he’d agreed to have a company come in and quote on a new bathtub, so we were sure to be on hand when the salesman came to look at it. At first we balked on the quoted price, but then deciding it wasn’t a bad idea to have them do the hardest part (the tub and surround), we signed a contract and made a plan to handle the rest ourselves.
I’d already wrapped up a bunch of other smaller projects in the house, so it was easy to pivot to demolition last weekend. I brought a bunch of hammers and chisels and saws, and had chipped all of the tile out in about an hour. Underneath that was a poured slab of 1″ concrete directly on top of the wood subfloor, which was, predictably, rotting. I was able to chip out two sections that had already cracked, but my attempt to cut through the remainder with a fiber-based wheel only created clouds of noxious dust. I backed off and let things settle, then started spraying the walls with wallpaper stripper. By about 4:30 and one run to Lowe’s I had all but two small sections offf the wall and ready for scrubbing.
This coming weekend I’m returning with a steel cutting wheel and an angle grinder, and I hope to have all of the concrete out as well as the subfloor gone. It’s going to make a mess but there’s no other way to make progress, so there it is.
Sunday was a recovery day, for various reasons. The highlight was waking up slowly and taking the family down to the Farmer’s Market for some coffee, empañadas, fresh produce, and some delicious ginger-cardamom lemonade from the same guy who sold us smoked trout. The girls made a side salad and steamed corn and we had that for dinner on the front porch, under the breeze from the fan, and it was fantastic.