DIY Master Bathroom upgrade

We finished this particular DIY bathroom upgrade project a year ago, but I never got around to scratching out the details. And since I have lost my motivation to finish the kitchen remodel, I needed a boost. Especially now that Zach is wandering around and asking when we can throw a big party thus providing me with a deadline.

So, here’s how we spent about $1500 dollars on a bathroom upgrade that has an estimated value return of at least $10,000.

In the beginning, there was a HALF bathroom and it was f-ugly. A woman was forced to share a shower with three males, and many toilet aiming fails.

A wall full of sink and counter, but no shower in sight. Surely you see how this situation just isn’t right?

A grizzled old toilet that gushed away 9 gallons of water per flush. Then a beauty with buttons swept in with a demure hush: 0.4 gallons for #1, and 1.4 for #2– a hippie heart filled with joy– what about you?

Alright, enough rhyming. Thank me now.

The only perk of the old bathroom was that the giant mirror let me photograph the whole thing. See that peculiar corner cabinet, because the giant counter was somehow lacking in storage? Now there lives a lovely little sink.

How’d we do that?

Step 1:
Decide one afternoon to start peeling wallpaper, in order to encourage husband’s enthusiasm for the project. By the way, I’m a fan of asking for forgiveness over permission– that doesn’t mean it always works in my favor.

Encourage your then 4-year-old to peel wallpaper when he’s pissed off about something. Which will work until he realizes that he’s working.

Step 2:
Fight with wallpaper for several weeks (I have a focus problem, remember?)

My removal method included scoring holes in the paper, wetting down small sections of wall with fabric softener, and carefully scraping away at the loosening paper. For about an hour.

Eventually impatience and cussing smacked careful right out of the house.

Scrape, Cuss. Scrape, Cuss. Scrape, Cuss. Gouge holes in the drywall with the arrival of an unnatural focus to WIN against paper and glue.

Step 3:
Remove the massive sink vanity. JB did this while I took the kids to a mud and i-phone filled renaissance faire. I thought it would take an hour. Four hours, a broken circular saw, and lots of scraped knuckles later he finally peeled it off the wall. But he had to cut it in half first. They didn’t skimp on much back in the Sixties.

Quickly, why would someone wallpaper a wall behind a large mirror? Why? Archaeology?

At this point we had to make a decision about the walls. Either we did a whole bunch of mudding and sanding, bought new drywall, or I applied a faux finish– Venetian plaster style. Lemme see… Yeah, faux plaster won.

Step 4:
Spend a few days pretending to be a 17th century master plaster. I have a lot of fun with plastering having done it around a fireplace as an accent wall in our previous house. It’s like grown up play dough, kinda.

There are many internet resources on faux techniques, and I took what I liked best from from several. This is a good general overview.

    1. Patched the largest of the holes.
    2. Primed the walls– mostly to seal the stale ashtray smell that wallpaper removal had released.
    3. Grab assorted trowels, scrapers, spreaders, and giant bucket of joint compound. I didn’t purchase special plaster– since I had the other in the basement already. A year later and my walls have suffered no ill effects from this choice.
    4. Small, thin coats of the plaster (or joint compound) and let each one dry completely.
    5. Lightly sand between each coat.
    6. Repeat until you are satisfied with the look, or tired of dealing–whichever comes first.
    7. Prime.
    8. Finish coat.

Seven years ago, I bought a bunch of tools for $5 from a Habitat Reuse store. And JB said we’d never need them!

Step 5:
Start laying the new floors. I highly recommend this particular flooring option from Allure: inexpensive, peel-n-stick vinyl, that is also water-proof and gorgeous? Yes, please.

Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.

Step 6:
Remove the old toilet, stuff cloth diaper into the smelly nastiness that is the sewer line. Scrape old wax ring.

Puke in your mouth. A lot. Use all the crime drama TV acquired knowledge, and rub vick’s vapor rub under your nose.

Lay new floor around the hole in the toilet.


Install new toilet. Note: Read the instructions carefully. Don’t ignore the part that mentions leveling and shimming the toilet bowl. Unless noticing a toilet leak as IT DRIPS ON YOUR HEAD IN THE BASEMENT sounds like fun.

Step 7:
We did use a plumber to install the new lines, because neither of us wanted to cut into the main cast iron pipe down in the basement. And by neither of us, I mean JB. I think we could have handled the plumbing– but wasn’t enthusiastic enough to argue my point. After that, paying the electrician to run new lines for the wall outlets–since neither bathroom came equipped with a place to plug in a hair dryer. That was just laziness on my part.

The plumber was nice enough to install the shower pan (we only paid for roughing in), though he didn’t read the instructions, either. Which turned out to be a good thing, since I had purchased the wrong size shower pan (my focus needs more focus).

This is the wrong shower pan, which was supposed to be laid and leveled with plaster of paris. And the drywall needed to come off the studs.

One new shower pan, 30 minutes of blaring Godsmack, a crowbar and a mallet, and we were back in business. Good times, destruction.

Then we had to put up the fiberglass wall surround. In retrospect, tile would have been just as easy and cost-comparable. Actually, tile probably would have been easier, once you factor in what a PITA it is to get those surrounds perfectly level and plumb.

The accent tile around the top came in 12×12 sheets, and took a few hours one Sunday morning. Which is really nothing, considering the damn wallpaper.

Plumber and Electrician: $500
Flooring: $1.99 per square foot x 30 square feet= $59
Tile: $40 (and I have enough leftover to do a backsplash around the sink
Sink and Cabinet: $99 (it was on sale!)
Sink and Shower Faucets: $200
Shower Surround: $245
First Shower Pan: $100
Second Shower Pan: $158
Paint: $40
Toilet: $199 -$100 state refund for replacing water-hog toilets = $99

Total Cost: $1540 + tax Estimated added value: $12,000.

Hunh. Yeah, I think I DO feel sort of motivated toward the kitchen now.

4 thoughts on “DIY Master Bathroom upgrade

  1. I am pondering ripping out my shower pan and tiling the whole sha-bang. What say you.. Yay or Nay? Would just replacing it with a new shower pan and tile walls be a better bet. I have never done either, but since you have done it once, I thought I would ask.

    • The hardest part of tiling is making the cuts. The rest of it is pretty damn easy. The only reason I’d hesitate on tiling the floor part of a shower is that they are slippery as hell and effin’ cold with that basement.

      But a full-on tiled shower looks pretty bad ass– and if you patiently stalk your local tile places, you can get ridiculously good deals that make it stupid NOT to do it. For your hood, it definitely sounds like the more high end you can make it look, the better you will be.

      My best piece of advice is to make your shower as close to the exact size of your tile (e.g., factors of 12 if using 12×12 tile) to minimize the required cutting.

      Ssshhhh… I periodically consider how nice it would look with tiled walls– on the one we *just* finished, but I’d never be seen or heard from again if I mentioned it. If I ever do another bathroom I would tile instead of installing the surround.

      Now– get back to work on your garage so I’ll go finish my kitchen!

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