DIY Bathroom Makeover: Update

Rule #1 of any project is “Planning can only take you so far.”  You may remember from my post two weeks ago that my initial estimate/goal for my bathroom makeover was $350 and three days. In my mind I was going to get everything done over a long weekend and have a post about installing a new toilet up for you all last week. It turns out that my estimate was, shall we say, optimistic.  I started a week late (this Saturday instead of last) and my new toilet still isn’t in yet. And my budget got shot to shit. I take full responsibility for going over budget, but the time thing is not my fault. Allow me to explain.

First we’ll discuss the budget, which is also partially responsible for me starting a week late. While the Mister and I were talking about how much I wanted to spend, he had a genius thought. Our credit card has a rewards program, and he remembered that we haven’t redeemed points in a while. When he checked, he found that we had enough points to get $400 worth of Lowe’s gift cards. Score! So I waited until the cards had come in the mail before I bought any materials.  They came last Friday, so on Saturday I took one of my teenagers to Lowe’s on a grand shopping adventure. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I have a chunk of money set aside in my head, and then it turns out that I don’t have to use that money, it sort of becomes up for grabs. I splurged. Not a lot, I promised you a makeover that cost about $350, and I really want to prove that it could be done, but I added some details that I would have skipped if I didn’t have “free money.” There is good news, though. I made an itemized list of all my expenses and, when you take out the splurges and the unforeseen expenses (more on that later), my total, after taxes, was $377.41. I came pretty darn close to my goal.  With the splurges and U.E.s I’m at about $495, not so close. So, to account for the discrepancy, with each project post I’ll include a list of necessary expenses and a second list of extra expenses so you can get an idea of where you might go over budget if you do something like this yourselves.

Now for the time thing.  Day one went about as well as I could have expected. I got most of my shopping done, assembled most of my tools, and got most of the prep work done. I say “most” because there’s always that one little thing that I forget the first time around. For example, the big trip to Lowe’s took about two hours, but then I had to run back in because I forgot something on my list, and then I had to go to Wal-Mart later on for something else, and then Sunday we had to run to the hardware store twice. I was in Wal-Mart at 7:30 this morning because, despite the fact that we own THREE caulk guns, I could not find one anywhere last night. And I bought the wrong type of caulk the first time. I’m pretty sure that I now have everything I could ever need, but I’m not ruling out the possibility of another shopping trip until this project is 100% done. Anyway, as I was saying, day one went pretty well; I worked for about eight and a half hours and stopped before I was too tired to think straight.

Day two is when everything went to hell.

I started day two by mapping out the floor and cutting the new plywood that I planned to lay down.  I tried to do the thing where you lay out a big drop-cloth and cut it to the exact contours of the room, but I gave up at the end of the first wall and just took lots of measurements instead. I then spent about two hours finding and pulling the screws holding the old floor down. It was a huge pain because most of them were buried under wood filler, glue, and the paper backing from the old linoleum that didn’t want to come up. After thirty minutes of somewhat random searching, I had a brilliant idea. Now, I don’t usually like to toot my own horn, but this was the coolest, most awesome idea ever, and it worked like a charm. One of my sons has a toy called Bucky Balls. It is a set of small, high-powered magnetic balls that you can sculpt into whatever shape you want. You can also stick them together in a long string that will swing over to a metal surface from up to an inch away. See where I’m going with this? My son and I made strings of Bucky Balls and trailed them over the floor and whenever they got to a screw, they stuck. We found screws that were buried under a 1/4 inch of miscellaneous crud. It was the most fun I had all day.

Like the last two hours never even happened.

Unfortunately, while I was having fun, a sinking suspicion started to grow. You see, when you are dealing with a second story room, you have to screw the subfloor into joists. A joist is only about 1-1/2 inches wide, so the screws should have been in relatively straight lines. The screws we found were kind of in a grid pattern, but there was more variation in the placement than I would have expected. I kept hoping I was wrong but, sure enough, when I finally pulled up the rotten floor, I found ANOTHER ROTTEN FLOOR UNDERNEATH IT. It was like the last two hours had never happened. I almost cried. One of the reasons I had felt confident that I could do this repair was that I could tell I wasn’t dealing with the original subfloor. When I pulled up the old linoleum, I could see a clear seam around the perimeter of the room. To my mind, that meant that a previous homeowner had cut out the original floor and put a new one in. Cutting out actual subfloor is an enormous pain in the ass, especially in a bathroom where there are a bunch of little corners and notches.

I took a few minutes to calm down and accept the fact that I had some more work to do, and I went back to assess the damage to what I will now call the sub-subfloor. And then the real horror began.  The sub-subfloor was in worse condition than the floor I had just taken out.  I was able to poke my putty knife through it like a knife through butter.  We are assuming that Mr. Previous Homeowner* noticed that his floor was starting to rot so, instead of cutting it out, (because that’s an enormous pain) he just slapped down some putty and a new sheet of plywood and forgot about it. He either didn’t know, or didn’t care, about the major flaw in this line of thinking. When wood starts to rot, putting more wood on top of it won’t stop the rotting process. It just keeps on rotting away, spreading the rot to other neighboring pieces of wood. What this means is that, while I was expecting some rotten plywood with a fairly sound joist underneath, what I really had was a layer of half-rotten plywood, a second layer of completely rotten plywood, and a half-rotten joist holding them up. It was actually two half-rotten joists holding them up, because there was a second one behind the first to take some of the weight of the bathtub. I made diagrams to illustrate my point:

What I thought I'd find.
What I really did find.

In the back of my mind, I had known that we might have to do some joist repair. As squishy as the floor was, it was wishful thinking to assume that the rot hadn’t gone that far down. However, I was unprepared for the giant pile of crap that I did find, so I called in reinforcements. My friend Robbie came over and helped me remove the nastiness and replace the joists. And while I waited for him to show up, I painted some cabinet doors, because painting soothes me.

Sitting in the bathroom with my feet in the garage.

It took us a few more hours, but we got everything safe and supported enough to stop.  I ended the night saying, “Well, I’m sitting in the bathroom with my feet in the garage, but I don’t think the bathtub will fall through the floor, and I’m too tired to do anything else. Let’s call it a night.” I re-hung the bathroom door and closed it so no one would accidentally fall through the giant hole we left while trying to pee in the middle of the night and went to bed. I then spent the rest of the night waking up at every little noise, thinking that feral raccoons were trying to get into my house through the hole in the floor.

All told, I lost almost a full day to my stupid floor-under-a-floor. Most of day two went to fixing it, and day three started off very slowly because of my sleepless night. The good news is that I now have a beautiful, solid floor that no one will fall through, and I slept well last night knowing that the raccoons couldn’t get in.  And, for all that it sucked, the extra work only added $7.78 in unforeseen expenses for a new length of 2×12 to repair the joist.

I try not to be too hard on Mr. Previous Homeowner. I’m not a licensed contractor, and I’m making a lot of this up as I go along. Chances are, if someone ever has to go in and repair the work I did, Future Homeowner will think the same things about me as I’m thinking about Mr. P.H.

Now I’m off to lay down the new linoleum so I can get the new toilet in. Tune in next week, same bat time, same bat channel, to hear all about that adventure.

Cost for fixing floor:

1 sheet 23/32 plywood: $17.97

8′ of 2×12 joist: $7.34

Waterproof caulk: $2.28

6% sales tax: $1.65

Total: $29.25

* Lest I be accused of gender bias, when we moved in a neighbor told us that the previous owner was a man who liked to do home repair.

This is my son, lightening the mood by looking up through the hole in the floor and saying, "Well now, there's your problem..."

By [E]SaraB

Glass artisan by day, blogger by night (and sometimes vice versa). SaraB has three kids, three pets, one husband and a bizarre sense of humor. Her glass pendants can be found at if you're interested in checking it out.

8 replies on “DIY Bathroom Makeover: Update”

Change the colors in the room and we have the same damn bathroom. (except, mine is on the first floor and we caught the rot before it got too far into the floor) I am not kidding. The sink, the cabinets, the shower fixtures, the toilet “hole” (<– official term) are all in the same spots.

Also, your son is adorable.

We're doing a full resurfacing job. The floor is getting retiled, the shower is getting retiles, the counter is getting retiled. The omg hideous texture is coming off the walls. Oh, and there is some mild rot behind the shower fixtures. That has to be fixed.

Super fun! Good to know others are out there leading the way. Good luck!

Ours has been dubbed the poo-hole, or excrement abyss if you are feeling fancy.

I really wish that we were getting new tiles in the shower, but we decided that the shower and countertop were better left for another day. A day at least six months from now because that’s about how long it takes for me to get over the “I’m never doing this kind of thing ever again feeling.”

Good luck with your project, I would love to see pictures when you’re done :)

Oh, there will be pictures. :)
Including shots of my dad tearing laminate off the wall exposing the long-lost floral wall paper underneath. This is laminate that was used in the shower, ps. Laminate that cracked allowing water to soak into the wall. Super. It was a joy to tear that worthless plastic out of my bathroom. :)

This made me laugh out loud! I know I wouldn’t have been laughing if it were ME finding the rotton sub-sub-floor, but your telling of it was hilarious! I started laughing at the picture of you sitting with your feet dangling into the garage and snorted snot at the feral raccoons!

Great diagram, by the way, and the pictures are priceless!

Thank you. And I didn’t even put in the part where I had to hang upside down with one foot in the tub and the other on the remains of the floor and my head in the hole to cut out the old joist. I’d file that one under “Don’t try this at home,” but it’s a bit late for that.

(Seriously, don’t try that at home. It was the stupidest thing I’ve done in a long time.)

Wow. There’s always something that comes up, but while reading this, I almost starting crying tears of frustration for you. Glad to hear you’ve recovered and that everything’s moving along.

Silly question, but I imagine you have another full bathroom that you’re family is using in the interim? Or do you have a very, very nice neighbor?

You’re so sweet :) The one thing I can say about the added frustration is that when I finally had the nice, clean, solid new floor in place I was positively euphoric. I walked around for an hour smiling at everyone and saying “There’s a floor.” And occasionally I would go into the bathroom and bounce on it, just to feel it not bouncing under me.

We have a full, if small, master bathroom. One of the carrots I am dangling before myself to stay motivated is that, when I am done, I will no longer have stinky teenaged boys using my bathroom anymore. They can go back to using “their” bathroom. And their towels.

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