Homes staffer Derick Belden updated his master bath with stunning results. Here's what he learned along the way.
Derick Belden / Photography Laurey W. Glenn

When my wife, Aimee, and I bought our house in Birmingham a year or so ago, I was most excited to finally have a garage. At last, our cars would be protected from the elements--or maybe not. After living in the house for several months, we began to notice water on the car that was parked beneath the master bath. The water wasn't there all the time; it appeared only after someone took a shower. I tried everything to fix the problem: from caulking the tub to checking drain connections and tearing some tile from the wall. Finally, exasperated and tired of trying to patch the phantom problem, Aimee and I decided to go ahead and update our uninspired, dreary bath completely. Moving up the original time frame for a renovation, however, meant we had to get creative with the budget. Careful planning and wise spending got us the pretty, sophisticated look we wanted in the bath. Here's how we did it.

Decisions, Decisions
We set a $5,000 budget and researched all the available options to keep the project within that number. Because neither of us soaks in the tub very often, we decided to keep the old 5-foot-long tub/shower and reuse the faucet and showerhead. Decorative light fixtures would have also blown the budget, and they would be difficult to wire into the existing walls, so we opted for recessed can lights in the ceiling.

Aimee and I studied books, magazines, and piles of catalogs to refine the look we wanted and to find options within our budget. Then we visited several plumbing-supply showrooms and home-improvement stores to view products and prices. The Internet allowed us to research and even purchase some products at a large discount.

Sink Smarts
Selecting the vanity was a major decision. A custom-built one, including the countertop, sinks, and medicine cabinets, would have used almost our entire budget. We considered a stock vanity that came with a marble top and sinks from a catalog. That would have been easier on the budget, but tile, faucets, medicine cabinets, and lighting still would have run up the cost. So, after doing a little more research, we decided on a pair of pedestal sinks and then splurged on the oversize medicine cabinets and faucets.

Tile Style
Because Aimee selected sinks and faucets with a vintage look, we wanted tile in a compatible style. For the floor, we special-ordered 1-inch hexagonal tile from The Home Depot. The walls reinforce the retro look with 3- x 5-inch subway tiles, which were in stock. To give the white tile more impact and hide dirt, we used gray grout.

While the square footage didn't change, the bath sure did. It's fresher, brighter, and more efficient. In the end, the whole project came in a bit under budget, and we have a leak-free bath that fits our style.

Four Lessons Learned

  1. Always include extra money in the budget to hire someone for part of the project. If we hadn't hired a tile installer, this makeover could have cost 20% less, but it would never have been accomplished in four weekends. It's also a great feeling to come home from work and have part of the project done.
  2. Keep an open mind during the process. The initial plan for this bath was to put the new pedestal sinks on the same wall as the old sink. It would have been much easier, but after placing them there to make sure they fit, they looked cramped on that wall. Moving them opened up the space.
  3. Don't be afraid to tackle something you've never done before. With patience, persistence, and a little research, almost any task can be learned. I had never rerouted plumbing but was able to tackle it one step at a time and save what it would have cost to pay a plumber.
  4. Purchase everything before you begin. Not having something when you need it causes you to lose time, spend more money, and compromise on choices.

 

 

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Where the Time Went

Saturday #1

  • Morning: Demolition begins. Start pulling the wall and floor tile up using the claw of a hammer and a shovel.
  • Afternoon: Finish removing the floor tile. Call it a day after getting all the old tile, carpet, and cabinetry pulled from the room.

Sunday #1

  • Morning: Cut and remove rotten plywood sub-floor caused by the tub leak. Open up walls by removing sheetrock and drill holes to relocate plumbing.
  • Afternoon: Install new copper water supply lines and PVC drain pipes. Cut holes for can lights and begin reinstalling sheetrock.

First Weekend Notes:

  1. Shut off all water and electricity to the room before beginning work.
  2. Be sure to cover tub with moving blankets or old towels. Falling tile can chip the porcelain finish.
  3. Clean up as you go. Don't wait until all the demolition is done.
  4. Keep a running list of items you need from the hardware store and shop at off times, such as first thing in the morning or right before close.
  5. Buy extra items at the hardware store to keep from making multiple trips. You can return what you don't use.

Wednesday-Friday #1

  • Hire tile installer; paying a professional tile installer is money well spent.

Saturday #2

  • Morning: Reset toilet. Reinstall showerhead, tub faucet, and handles after soaking them in vinegar to remove crusty water deposits and cleaning them with chrome polish.
  • Afternoon: Finish sheetrock and prep for painting.

Sunday #2

  • Morning: Connect can lights in the attic. Note: If necessary, hire an electrician.
  • Afternoon: Paint ceiling first and then walls. (Normally you'd wait to reinstall toilet until after the walls are painted, but these homeowners needed the bathroom functional as soon as possible.)

Second Weekend Notes:

  1. Hire someone to do the gypsum drywall work. Unfortunately, these homeowners learned this after the fact.
  2. The homeowner could do the electrical work, but if you don't know how, always hire a licensed electrician.

Saturday #3

  • Morning: Install medicine cabinets.
  • Afternoon: Install sinks; test and check for leaks.

Sunday #3

  • Afternoon: Install hardware such as towel bars, toilet paper holder, and robe hooks. Replace brass door hardware with chrome to match other fixtures and hardware in the room.

Third Weekend Notes:

  1. Put faucet on before installing the sink.
  2. Have toggle bolts on hand in case placement of the sink does not coincide with a stud in the wall. It's very important that the sink is securely attached to the wall.
  3. Be sure to replace door hardware if you're changing the metal finish in the room. You can order a mixed doorknob set so that one side is brass, and the other is chrome.

Saturday #4

  • Morning: Remove mirror from the back of closet door, and hang it on the wall. Trim it out with molding that matches that of the windows and doors in the room.
  • Afternoon: Begin painting trim.

Sunday #4

  • Morning: Finish painting trim and touching up the walls.
  • Afternoon: Clean the bath thoroughly. Organize the interior of the medicine cabinets, hang pictures, and install towel bars and hooks. Add accessories.

Plumbing Fittings
This project incorporates new plumbing fittings that require no soldering. They're called the SharkBite® Connection System by Cash Acme. The fittings connect pipes by using teeth and O-rings. They make a plumbing project much easier for a do-it-yourselfer and are inspector friendly.

The SharkBite fittings are available from some plumbing-supply and hardware stores. They are more expensive than a standard copper fitting, but for a small project, they are a dramatic improvement over doing it the old-fashioned way

"Makeover Tips for Your Bath" is from the June 2006 issue of Southern Living.