Wednesday, August 10, 2011

DIY Bathroom Overhaul: functional repairs

In my last post about our bathroom overhaul, I described our to-do list of ten items.  We divided the list into three phases, beginning with functional repairs.

Phase 1:  Functional Repairs

1. Fix the leaky plumbing

2. Install a vent fan to discourage mildew and mold growth

3. Repair and paint the existing cabinets

Unwanted moisture was at the core of all these initial problems.  Leaky plumbing had stained the tub with rust. Steam from hot showers condensed on the walls, streaking them with water; we knew mildew and mold would soon appear if we didn't install a vent fan. The unpainted wood cabinets showed signs of aging from the moisture, and were damaged from fifty years of use.

DIY Leak Repair

We were spurred to action when a steady drip-drip-drip from our bathtub faucet turned into a constant stream of water.  Suspecting old shower valves were the likely culprit, my husband decided to shut off the water to the house and remove them.  It took a lot of patient wrenching and finessing to get the calcified valves loose from the old pipes behind the shower wall.  His intuition was correct:  the rubber O-rings inside the valve assemblies had deteriorated to powder, and did not seal when the knobs were turned off.

New valve assemblies were purchased from a local hardware store, but a rude surprise awaited when he installed them.  The new valves leaked too.  Frustrated, he fiddled with the installation for awhile, but couldn't get the leak to stop.  He finally concluded that the new hardware was bad.  We noted that the new parts were stamped "made in China."  We've noticed that low-quality knockoff parts are increasingly common these days, and suspect that's what we inadvertently purchased.  Annoyed, he decided to order the replacement parts directly from the manufacturer of the original valves. Several weeks later, the parts arrived in the mail.  Fortunately, the second set of replacement valves worked fine, and the leak disappeared.  I scrubbed the rust and calcium deposits off the tub with some CLR. Problem solved.

It would have cost about $500-700 to hire a plumber for this job.  (That is $200 just to get a plumber to show up, $100-200 for the parts, plus about $100/hr for labor.)  As it was, we spent about $150.  DIY success!

DIY Vent Fan Installation

The next step was to install a vent fan.  This involved ducting and electrical work.  A vent fan sucks moisture into an air duct, which directs the moisture out of the house via an exterior vent.  The fan is hard-wired into the bathroom circuitry, and operated by a timer switch on the wall.

After crawling around in the attic, my husband announced that we had existing ductwork that could be modified to include the fan.  He also decided to move the light switch into the bathroom rather than leaving it in the hallway outside the door.  

He spent a couple of miserable hours crawling around amid fiberglass insulation in the tiny attic to modify the nearby duct, then ran wires from the fan itself to the new switch location on the wall.  He sawed a hole in the ceiling, and another one in the wall.

He installed the fan in the ceiling, wired it to a digital timer switch, and then rewired the light switch from the hallway to the bathroom.   

It cost about $200 to buy the parts and tools needed for this step.  At this point in the remodel, there was very little visual payoff for all the hard work.  The room still looked hideous, but at least the plumbing worked and the room didn't turn into a steam box after a hot shower.

DIY Cabinet Repair

Painting wood cabinets is relatively straightforward, if time-consuming.  Our cabinets were chipped from fifty years of use, and covered with varnish that was showing its age.  We removed the cabinet drawers and doors, sanded off all the varnish, and used wood putty to repair chips and cracks.  I decided white painted cabinets would brighten up the dim room.  White would look fine with the existing yellow, and would also work with any new color we chose for the walls.

It took primer and several coats of latex paint to fully cover the wood grain. In retrospect, we could have saved ourselves one to two coats of paint by using an oil-based primer instead of the water-based one we chose. We could have also saved a lot of brush work by purchasing a small roller frame and ultrasmooth roller covers. Live and learn.

It shouldn't have taken more than a couple weekends to get all the way through this part of the project. As it was, we let our cabinet repair project drag on for about six weeks. The demands of a little baby killed our momentum, so pieces of cabinet sat in the garage untouched for awhile. Our progress was roughly as follows: Sand cabinets. Pause. Putty cabinets. Go for a weekend hike. Prime cabinets. Go on vacation. First coat of paint. Second coat of paint. Pause. Third coat of paint. Buy new hardware. Pause. Reassemble cabinets. That's how it goes when you have a million other things to do and lack motivation to wrap up a project like this.

This was one of the cheapest improvements we made.  A can of paint, a can of primer, wood putty, and a few miscellaneous painting supplies came in around $75.

The newly painted cabinets helped brighten the space somewhat, but we still had a lot of work to do before the room would start to look good.  We decided to put the rest of our improvements on hold, in favor of tackling other problems elsewhere in the house.

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