And So It Begins!

The Gingerbread Diaries

Our first room renovation has finally gotten off the ground!

Friday night, after chattering to Todd over dinner about where I though we might start, I noticed he wasn’t exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of a weekend spent tearing down walls.

Jenn: Am I being annoying?
Todd: No, not really.
Jenn: Am I micro-managing?
Todd: Maybe a little.
Jenn: Is that annoying??
Todd: Maybe a little.

In his defense, I was trying to put together a week-by-week plan to make sure we could meet our proposed deadline. It went something like this:

  • Week 1: Take the room down to studs
  • Week 2: Build new wall*
  • Week 3: Electrical and plumbing**
  • Week 4: Drywall and painting***
  • Week 5: Sink/commode-side tiling****
  • Week 6: Sink/commode installation; tub-side tiling
  • Week 7: Install tub
  • Week 8: Finishing touches

But he must have gotten into the spirit of the project because he got up and wiggled some loose clapboards out of the way, just to see what things looked like inside the walls. And on Saturday afternoon we started working on the wall in earnest. Before I get to the what all those asterisks mean, here, have a video!

(Direct link for the feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries 2.3: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 1)

*A New Wall, Where Once Was Hall

So, my big idea a few weeks ago was that we could put a pocket door for the bathroom and it would a) be cool, because pocket doors are automatically cool, and b) save some usable space in the hallway since that door is usually half-open, unless the room is occupied. I have Yellow Brick Home to thank for that mini-epiphany–they were talking about an impending barn door project, I believe, which led me on a short path to pocket doors. Then I had the idea that we could gain a little more elbow room in the bathroom by bumping out the wall to where the pipe chase extended. It’s only about 6-8″ so it won’t impact the hallway in any huge way but I think those 6 inches will make a big difference for anyone washing their hands at the new sink.

This does mean, however, that we have to build in support for this wall by adding joists under the house. Thankfully this part of the house is 3-4 feet off the ground, so Todd’ll have room to work under there no problem, but we do have to cut into the existing floor to make it happen, so, yeah. That won’t be happening on a week night, it’s definitely a start early Saturday morning sort of project.

**Electrical and Plumbing in Stages

Everything in the room is moving, so almost all the supporting elements need to move, too. There’s an air vent under where the tub will go that will be re-routed to under the window, and an electrical outlet just above it that will move over to the new wall, under the light switch and next to the sink. I think. Then, of course, there’s the plumbing lines that all have to be moved.

Which ties into…

***Piece-meal Drywall and Painting

One thing we learned when we opened up the ceiling is that we do have room to raise the ceiling, at least on the hall-side, and slope it towards the exterior wall. This will make it feel less cave-like. There’s one pipe in the way, a big cast iron deal, that is the current commode’s vent. Because it’ll need to stay where it is (same with the vertical stack behind the current commode) until the new toilet is in place, that means the ceiling will need to be done later than the rest of (most of) the drywall. This is an inconvenience I can live with in exchange for higher ceilings.

Here’s a question–would you do the drywall and painting before you tile, or after? I think before, that way you’re not slopping paint over freshly laid tile and grout and have to be less careful. Not to mention this would also be before the fixtures go in and less funny angles to work in and around. Todd says it’s usually done the other way around. I suppose it doesn’t matter tremendously, since we’ll be doing things in a somewhat wonky order, anyway.

****Tiling Half the Room at a Time

Now, my one requirement for this project is that the room remain essentially functional for as long as possible. Which means that I don’t want the current toilet removed before the new one is installed. This is why half the room will be completed (walls, tiles, etc.) before the other half. Normally I’d want to be as efficient as possible, knocking all the drywall out at once, all the tile, all the painting. This is also a nod to Murphy’s Law, and a hedge against unforeseen delays, etc. I’d rather have guests using a half-finished bathroom downstairs than make them go upstairs, should we not make our deadline.

Ideally we’ll be able to work on smaller projects or tasks during the week, but I don’t want to depend on that too much since I know how our evening hours often find us drained or trying to take care of normal day-to-day stuff. And there are a few things that I can take care of on my own like fixing the window (more on that, later) and repainting the tub and painting and so forth when the time comes. At this stage of the game, though, it’s mostly Todd’s department since we’re dealing with structural stuff that I’m not as familiar with.

As far as budget goes, if you read the earlier post on the bathroom plans, I guesstimated about $2000 for the whole room, and we’re right around $400 spent so far. (Though that does include the reciprocating saw and blades, something that’ll be in use for far more than this one use, so give or take ~$100.) Still plenty left for drywall, tile, paint, and fixtures (and who knows what else).


A not-so-glamour shot of the wall-less bathroom after Sunday’s efforts.

While tearing down the walls we learned a few things:

  • The braintrust that built this room appears to have used floorboards for the walls. We thought it was beadboard, but that was just the “creative” spacing of the floor planks. It also meant that instead of removing panels, the walls came down one stubborn board at a time.
  • There’s evidence of fire damage in some of the studs and braces. Now, we know the upstairs caught fire in 1939, and the abundance of square nails in the framing leads us to believe this room might have been enclosed before the fire and suffered some damage during it. Whether it was a bathroom back then or not is anyone’s guess.
  • There’s a good chance that every time I ask Todd “Would you normally use <insert material or technique>?” Todd’s answer is going to be “If you’re going cheap.” This was the case for only putting a vapor-barrier on half the ceiling (of course the half that didn’t have the leak!), using quarter-round in front of the exiting baseboards (our stellar contractor’s option), and using larger quarter-round to “fill” an interior corner, among other things.This room was definitely the best first room to tackle in many regards!
  • We really need a shop-vac! (And a second pry-bar would have come in handy; you might notice in the video we keep trading the hammer and pry-bar depending on what section of wall we’re working on.) Dust masks are a must on this sort of project and my gel knee pads saved me when I was crawling around removing quarter round and baseboards. I have a feeling they’ll be a lifesaver when it comes time to tile!

That’s our progress so far! The next update (I hope to be able to do these weekly as the project continues) will include framing the new wall and installing the pocket door.

38 thoughts on “And So It Begins!

  1. I feel you. We finished our basement and it was a very lengthy process. It took a lot longer than I realized, too 🙁

    1. I’m really hoping we can keep the momentum going and the timeline on track for this one. Having 30 people over to the house mid-March is a good motivator, after all 🙂

  2. I would have made a week by week to-do list too! Timelines are so helpful in keeping on task and focused. Great work thus far!

    1. Todd’s a list-maker, too, so I know he gets it. A lot of the discussion was me trying to get a feel for how long each thing is actually going to take so I know not to expect more than is feasible. Managed expectations = less chance of disappointment or grumpiness!

  3. Haha, what a strange bathroom to begin with! I’m impressed how many things you two do yourselves! And for getting through taping in a home depot-like store without fighting. I don’t think I can go in one without my husband getting snippy with me. Haha.

    1. It’s possibly the worst-laid-out bathroom in the history of bathrooms, seriously. But I aim to fix that! And Todd’s very patient with my questions–we’ve spent many a date night traipsing through Lowe’s looking for something or plotting a project 🙂

    1. We got a really good deal on the house because it was in need of some serious TLC after a decade of neglect (not to mention the 90+ years that came before those last 10). We hired out the roofing and exterior work (partly because it was smarter and partly because the bank required it) but plan to do the vast majority of the renovation ourselves over the next 10 years. Todd’s a real handyman type and I just like knowing how things work (and the best way to learn, for me at least, is by doing).

    1. I think you’re fabulously creative, Ana, yours just comes out in different ways. Creativity is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it gets. Maybe it’s time to start working out a different muscle group 🙂

  4. Lol – you sound like a blogger that knows how to plan! I am right there with you about scheduling the whole project to see that it is done on time. Good luck – I look forward to seeing the progress.

    1. I like to have a good idea of what comes next and, yes, having a plan is key to any successful undertaking! I’ll keep everyone posted as we get more done 🙂

    1. Exactly–it’s the smart way, and thankfully Todd doesn’t really mind my planning (he’s a Franklin-Covey devotee, after all), I think I just caught him in a tired moment. I came home last night to him measuring the floor for level so he’s definitely not dragging his heels.

  5. way to go on being a planner – I would want to know the same things and we need to know how long until we can do all of the ‘fun’ stuff to the room right? 😉

    1. Yeah, there’s a little bit of that in there, too 🙂 I’m trying to keep the room simple and light because it’s still a small space, but I look forward to finding the right rug and accents for the room once the time comes.

  6. I’m super envious of you being able to tackle some home renovations. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do, but we just don’t have the extra cash, OR time to put into it right now. Good luck with your adventure!

    1. Thankfully Todd is the saver in our relationship (I didn’t get that gene, but I’m working on it), but this is the first room we’re tackling after a year and a half of owning the house, so took our time getting started, too. Hope you get a chance to do some renovations of your own soon.

    1. Hopefully that bears out for the rest of the project. And now that we’ve destroyed the room, we have to fix it 🙂

  7. I am impressed that you are undertaking this. We have done many home improvement projects (more than I care to remember) and they always take longer than we plan. : ( Good luck to you, can’t wait to see the finished product!

    1. That’s why I’ve already made peace with the possibility of the tub half the room being unfinished by the party/deadline. I still hope we can pull it all off in time, though!

  8. Yay for lists! I’m excited to see it finished. I’m sure it’ll be a lot of work, but saying you guys did it will make it all worth it!

  9. Soi exciting! I know it is a lot and a strain but in the end I bet you both will be thrilled with the reno. Doing it yourselves is a major plus on savings and even more on being proud of your progress! Can’t wait to see next weeks advancements

    1. Another plus to doing it ourselves is at least we’re the ones responsible for any goofs. We just uncovered a major lazy/oversight by our contractor that just makes me even more disgusted with him.

    1. I’m grateful Todd is knowledgeable about this sort of thing–he’s the reason we were able to buy a fixer-upper in the first place!

    1. Thanks, Carmela! I think I’m going to shoot for Friday recaps of the week’s progress–hopefully we’ll have something worth showing each week!

  10. I love the sliding barn door look, too. Especially when they use old wood and dont just buy it. I could watch HGTV all day. GOod luck with your project. I’m excited to see.

    1. I think they (barn doors) look right in some spaces, but maybe not nearly as many spaces as they’re used in 😉 It’s a great option if you don’t want a door that swings out or in and can’t install a pocket door because of wiring, etc. but loosing that wall space makes me less happy.

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