Posted on April 01 2019
Once upon a time, in a land not too distant from our own, there lived a quiet but mighty Laird named James and his wife Carolina. Unbeknownst to them, a silent but evil darkness had fallen upon their castle. Its musty underbelly had blanketed the walls of their privy. On the eve of the ground breaking ceremony to honour their ancestor King Renovation, Lady Carolina fell prey to the spells of Count Malagant Mould, who was responsible for the spores which enveloped the residence. Many bloody battles were fought to stave off the powerful forces of Count Mould.
First Knight Sir English Ivy fought bravely to eventually raise his hammer in victory. Despite his bitter retreat, Malagant had left his mark. Laird James and his Lady did not feel the sting of their loss. Instead, they gathered their remaining forces to rebuild Parkhurst to its former glory, if not better!
Ah, if only life was like a fairy tale which always has a happy ending. In our case, good eventually triumphed over evil, but the battles were long and bloody and left lasting scars. The drama filled saga of our unexpected second floor bathroom renovation was full of ups and downs - mostly downs! I wanted this blog to recount our journey to rebuilding it, after discovering squishy, black mould behind the tiled walls.
Unlike my previous postings, this story will focus more on how we managed to troubleshoot the many issues we encountered along the way. After all, renovations are really a series of barriers to overcome. It seems that the smaller the space, its problems are exponentially greater.
This is essentially the layout of our bathroom, except that we don't have a window in the tub area.
It seemed simple enough, although initially a fair bit of panic set in once we knew the mould had to be removed quickly. Husband charged in there with full (homemade ) HASMAT suit, rubber gloves and breathing mask. He wasn't too careful about ripping things out and quickly dumping them all in the bin outside.
Wall tiles, drywall and tub were all targeted for extrication. We knew the spores were in the air, so we had to think fast. Just leaving the door shut wouldn't be enough. What to do? I grabbed our 2 ivy plants and placed them in the closed room for about a week. After that, the room smelled fresh, like a tropical greenhouse.
TIP: Garden variety ivy plants are very good at absorbing toxic mould spores in the air whilst replacing them with good, clean air.
We decided to install a shower pan rather than another bathtub. It seems to be a good option for those who want a walk-in shower without all the work and uncertainty of custom tiled floors. Custom installations can easily leak and pool with water because of improper sloping. This is not what I would consider to be a DIY job!
We bought a pan which we thought was going to perfectly fit into the space. However, we found that it was a couple of inches too short. With the drain installed, exchanging the product was no longer an option. We needed to rework the wall studs at the back anyway for a product shelf, so we decided to build out the wall. Then we had the issue of that wall having an awkward jog in depth change to the left of the shower area. So we decided to bring the entire wall out to make it a clean, even surface. That meant extending the tiles to that entire wall.
Dilemma: We didn't purchase enough tiles to do this revised quantity of wall space and this clearance tile was no longer for sale.
We decided to make lemonade out of lemons. We found a solid grey complementary tile which colour matched nicely with the veining of our first tile. And to make a feature of the wide side wall was the idea. We decided to install them in a right angle herringbone pattern, while the other 2 sides would be laid in brick pattern.
Tip: We made sure that the second tile choice was the same size and shape as the first, to maintain continuity so the walls didn't look too busy with the 2 patterns we planned to implement.
Before any of this happened, it was pointed out to us by our plumber that the shower pan needed to be installed again. It was essentially moulded Styrofoam with a thin acrylic coating. It was very lightweight and creaked a lot when weight was put on it. The plumber thought over time it would crack and break from underneath.
We turned to YouTube and other helpful sources to learn more about installing pans. We had a decent plywood sub-floor so no leveling was required. It came down to having to use some sort of product to fill the gaps in the underside for strength. We used spray foam insulation then connected the drain again. Then it was time to frame out the new back wall with product shelf.
I call it a shelf and not a niche because I didn't want a small opening in the wall, rather a wide shelf that was just recessed into the wall. It is a cleaner look, less fussy and theoretically less work to tile.
Tip: Remember to slope the ledge so water doesn't just sit and pool on the shelf.
Once the framing was complete, it was time to install cement board as most of the drywall had been ripped out. This time we went for the bulletproof solution of using this board, as opposed to a different type of drywall which claims to be water and mould resistant. We had to do multiple layers to bring the walls forward enough to sit properly over the shower pan for ease of tiling. Cutting cement board isn't an easy task and should be done outside as the dust can be really annoying.
Note: Existing plumbing fixtures should be removed and capped until you're ready to put them back on after all the tiling is installed and grouted. Please defer to a plumber if you're unsure of doing this step yourself.
Tip: Ensure that the boards are installed evenly and the seams plastered smoothly as that helps with laying the tiles properly.
We had a lot of problems with this step. We had to play a lot with adhesive thickness to ensure the tiles didn't stick out or become recessed looking. Once the boards went up, it was time to tile.
Dilemma: What type of tile cutter is best for the job?
A: An inexpensive manual tile cutter, or
B: Wet table top tile cutter.
The answer is both. We already had A. We rented B from a big box store. It had to be done. The manual cutter can only do straight cuts. Ours is sized to handle maximum 18 inch long tiles. That meant our 12" x 24" format tiles had to be cut with a professional wet saw if it needed long cuts and/or right angle cuts.
We tried hard to plan for all the difficult cuts to be done at the end, so that the hourly rental fee for B would not be too exorbitant. We found out that not all porcelain tiles are created equal. The solid grey tiles we purchased from a higher end store cut like butter with no chipping. The same could not be said for our clearance ones. And surprisingly, Husband found that laying in a brick pattern is much more difficult than the right angle herringbone.
See for yourselves which is more difficult. Vertical spacing is very important for tile installation. You don't want a sliver of space at the top or even at the bottom, if you do not intend to cover up any gaps with baseboards.
Dilemma: We had a void at the top, too slender for tiles.
And to fill it with grout would have looked really amateur and telling of the fact that we didn't do it right. We needed something to act as trim work, which would be the right thickness and be completely water resistant. And it would look more intentional. We wandered our big box store for solutions. We found aluminum trim used for window screening. It was the right dimension and of course waterproof as its intended use is for all kinds of weather. And most importantly, it looked pretty nice.
Making the necessary holes in the tiles for shower fixtures wasn't an easy task. We had to eventually purchase a new diamond drill bit specifically designed for cutting porcelain. That was yet another expense incurred.
Tip: Apply masking take to the areas where you will be drilling so as not to shatter nor damage the tiles in any way.
When it was time to grout, we found a light grey which worked with the 2 tiles.
Tip: Remember to wear eye protection, gloves and breathing apparatus as grout powder is known to have carcinogenic properties as mentioned on their labels. If possible, do the mixing with water and stirring outside.
Tip: Do not necessarily follow the instructions for amount of water to add.
The texture should be like smooth, wet cement. Husband had a really hard time applying it with the float as the first batch looked and worked like hardened cake batter. But he pressed on with it and finished.
Dilemma: The result wasn't good. Many places were either missing grout or it went on looking very clumpy due to its thickness. We finally decided to throw caution to the wind and just add more water to the second batch used to reapply the entire area. The second coat was much better and easier. However, after the first application, we noticed something strange.
Dilemma: The grout turned white over time. The product has a warning that it has a known chemical reaction to porcelain tiles.
Obviously the companies that make grout have not advanced nor compensated for the major shift from ceramic to porcelain and stone tile use. Husband had to call into the company to enquire about solutions. They said to wait for the grout to set, then purchase a solvent to reverse the effects. Huh, another expense and more time needed. We decided not to do it as the white worked well with our tiles.
Tip: Remember to use a grout sealer.
We have not always done this in the past. If it's an area where there is a lot of water, like a shower, it's a good idea. Use a small artist's brush and apply carefully to the grout. Don't wait too long to remove excess on the tiles. After all the tiling was done, trim work installed, fixtures put back, edges and seams silicone sealed, it was time to get the glass enclosure. This was the step I looked forward to but also dreaded due to the cost. Most models I had seen were close to $1,000. That was certainly not in our budget!
Again, we hit the local big box store for ideas and inspirations. Just our luck, we found some in a clearance area and they were the width we needed! The renovation gods were on our side that day! This photo is a close match to what we bought.
Dilemma: The doors were less than 6 feet high with a wide aluminum trim at the top to hide the track mechanism. Husband is taller than that. I imagined him banging his head every sleepy morning as he tried to step into the shower.
Clearly this product is better suited for sitting on bathtubs rather than on low shower pans. No wonder it was on sale! So again, we found ourselves having to think outside the box for a solution. Initially my preference was to have a fixed glass panel without a door. Perhaps it was time to implement this idea. We decided to use just one of the doors as that fixed panel. How to attach it properly?!
We scouted out a local specialty hardware store for ideas. They led us to a glass company which suggested using a narrow aluminum channel at the side, which can be drilled into the wall for support. Theirs was expensive. We found a comparable product at a big box store. The idea was to use clear silicone inside the channel for the glass to be adhered. Then a bead of it at the bottom to adhere the glass to the shower pan. The bottom came with an aluminum channel already, so the look was nicely continuous.
Dilemma: We didn't remove the excess silicone fast enough.
There are smears which seem impossible to remove. We have yet to figure this one out. If anyone out there has any solutions, please let me know! We have tried paint thinner, acetone, rubbing alcohol, gentle scraping, heat applied before the scraping and the solvents. So far, nothing has worked.
We had one more issue to deal with. When husband removed the bathtub, some of the existing floor tiles also came off. So there was a line of unfinished floor in front of the pan, which had to be cleverly covered. Replacing with existing salvaged pieces seemed improbable as the decade old adhesive still remained on the subfloor.
We thought that a threshold piece of stone would work. But they are really expensive. So we used one of the leftover aluminum pieces from the shower door kit as a cool floor trim. It looks nice as it matches nicely with the other cool metals in the bathroom. Then we were done. Basically.
Oh yes, I purchased a cool ceiling fixture online. It was inexpensive and echoed in style with one on our main floor. This one had to hug the ceiling so as not to interfere with husband going in and out. And the black works well with the overall colour scheme of the bathroom.
Sort of Dilemma: The soothing monochromatic room looked very nice, but it needed a little something for interest. We found these really fun hooks at IKEA. They are made of sturdy rubber and each can handle 50 lbs of weight. Plus I love a bit of whimsy in a room. It wasn't easy drilling holes to install them. We had to push through thick porcelain tile, adhesive and multiple layers of cement board and drywall to get the anchors in. But they look great; they are the perfect punctuation of colour and personality in an otherwise soothing and calm room.
We finally finished. It took exactly one year minus 2 days. It's not perfect, but we love it. I especially love the rain shower head. That was the only new fixture we purchased. The opening at the back is quite wide and water does get out. But because that back wall has been tiled, there isn't much worry about it getting wet.
This journey has been a really painful one - mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. Deciding to tackle it ourselves to save money has been rough. We still spent a lot more than we thought even though we kept the existing floor, sink/vanity and mirror and most of the fixtures.
Still, it was worth it in the end. I wanted this blog to give you an idea of how things went step by step, warts and all. Washroom renovations are not for the faint of heart. But if you feel you can do it, go for it! Here are some photos of our finished product.