Sunday, June 1, 2014

Home Projects - bathroom

The Hippocratic Oath cautions doctors to “do no harm.” I wish home renovators, from Do-It-Yourselfers to professionals, were required to take such an oath.

Our home was one of the last houses begun in South Euclid before the United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941 - and was completed in 1942. From then until VJ day in 1945, very few private homes were built in the United States. Following the war, the baby boom led to a need for many houses in a limited timeframe, which led to the suburban housing boom. Frankly, the build quality of those rushed houses was generally lower than their pre-WWII counterparts.

There are a number of advantages to living in an older home. For one thing, an older house has stood the test of time. Pretty much every natural event that can happen, has happened: Severe thunderstorms, minor to moderate earthquakes, severe heat and cold, along with huge piles of snow and ice – our house has withstood it all. True, even the best built houses are not immune to the ravages of time, and our home has its share of character lines. The hairline cracks in our plaster walls remind us we’re not the first family to live here. Nor do the many changes made to the house over the years, including a 12’x16’ extension built around 1970 which serves as our media room. Unfortunately, not all of the “improvements” were satisfactory. The damage a succession of owners has done to our home, under the guise of improvements, makes the damage wrought by nature pale by comparison.

For example, the bathroom. Our home has only one, and it has required more attention than any other room in the house. As originally built, the bathroom had a toilet (American Standard, Cadet model, with the year 1939 stamped on the underside of the tank lid), one sink, and one bathtub – no shower. When we moved into the home in fall 2008, the bolts that hold the toilet tank onto the bowl had rusted and a small amount of water dripped from the tank onto the floor, and the mechanicals were worn down resulting in an improperly seal for the valve flapper and a noisy, leaky tank. That was the first item we fixed – with new bolts and new innards for the tank. Same toilet, new parts, with quiet operation and no leaking. Further, we were able to make it more water efficient by simply adding a filled bottle to the tank. Over the sink was a mirror hanging from a peg, covering a hole in the wall where the medicine cabinet should have been. Correcting that was the next step, and fairly easy.
Rusted light fixtures above the sink were activated by a wall switch – but there was neither an outlet nor a vent fan. Since experiencing an electric shock in childhood I’ve avoided working with anything electrical. I made sure the power was turned off, gritted my teeth, and installed new light fixtures. But left the installation of the vent fan and a new outlet to our neighborhood repairman.

But the bathtub was the real challenge, and it was nearly six years before we got around to fully correcting the numerous issues. At some point, a previous owner added a shower to the bathtub, along with plastic tile cut with an X-acto knife, poorly fitted around the glass block window – so that when warm the tile separated from the glass block, causing water to leak down the wall. This left a lovely stain on the living room ceiling, which is beneath the tub. No amount of caulking or duct tape could reliably seal the tile, and it was so tacky looking.

Part of being a successful homeowner is knowing whether a job is a DIY candidate, or whether the professionals need to be called in. Repairing a toilet, I can handle. Installing a medicine cabinet, check. But I knew the bathtub/shower renovation was beyond my DIY abilities. After checking several options, I settled on Cleveland Glass Block. After viewing their brochures and speaking with their consultant, I made it clear I did not want a “modern” looking bathroom. Instead, I wanted to make the bathroom appear as if it always had a built in shower, with subway tile to near the top of the stall. A classic look suited for a home built in the 1940s. Cleveland Glass was able to walk us through the process of what would be done and how long it would take. They suggested replacing the existing glass block with a new, better sealed version; also, the cupboard door was in poor shape and needed to be replaced; finally the whole room would be brightened up with a coat of lighter paint.

The process of re-tiling the wall was the most time consuming. The old tile was removed, as was much of the degraded plaster. New plumbing was installed allowing for new faucet controls and a higher showerhead – I frequently bumped my head on the old one. New drywall was installed, and the tile was then meticulously placed and grouted. We had our choice of grout colors, and opted for a traditional off white. After the work was completed, we had to wait for two days before we could use the shower. Fortunately, we have gym memberships. The final product was worth both the cost and the wait.

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