Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to share his architecture and design ideas through speculative projects. His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

The Reality of Starting a Bathroom Renovation

The Reality of Starting a Bathroom Renovation

After picking up all of the materials for my bathroom renovation, I brainstormed a good day to start this new project. As I held my forehead and stared at my desk, I thought to myself, why not start now? So on a Friday evening, I walked my dog and took my last shower in the outdated bathroom, and brought over a scraper, hammer, and work gloves. Here are ten learning experiences that I’ve had so far in my bathroom renovation project.

1. The excitement of removing the old tiles

Once I was ready to get started, I blocked off the room so that my dog wouldn’t enter, put on the work gloves, and pulled the first tile off of the wall. This one tile had already fallen off of the wall, which is what pushed me to start the bathroom renovation in the first place. Using this as my starting point, I began pulling the adjacent tiles off of the wall and quickly saw that the drywall behind was already crumbling from the constant exposure to moisture.

As I continued pulling more tiles off of the wall, the drywall continued to crumble and fall into the bathtub, which I covered with plastic. When I made it to the tiles that were further away from the shower wall, the difficulty of removing the tiles increased twofold. They no longer came apart and it was time to use the scraper, chisel, and elbow grease.

2. The amazing renovation plan

Now, let me run you through my plan for demolition in the bathroom. Initially, I was supposed to go into the bathroom with the scraper, hammer, and gloves and remove all of the tile and drywall only around the bathtub. Then, I would carefully remove the remainder of the tiles in the bathroom so that the walls were as smooth as possible. Finally, the floor would be removed and prepared for the new tile finish.

This would allow me to install a new mixing valve for the shower, fix the plumbing behind the wall, install new waterproofing membranes from Schluter, install new tiles around the tub surround, install tiles on the floor, sand the other walls, and paint them. This all sounds like a great and simple plan, right?

3. The difficulty of removing tiles

With the scraper in my left hand, I placed it at a sharp angle against the drywall above the tile and pounded the end of the scraper with the hammer in my other hand. After two hits, the tile came crashing down to the ground. I was amazed at how simple this was turning out to be! So I continued knocking tiles off of the wall around the window above the bathtub. Down came more tiles and I continued moving to the wall on the opposite side of the shower.

Once I made it to the tiles on a dry area of the wall, I hit the scraper with the hammer and nothing happened. Again, I hit the scraper and it slid a little behind the tile. With some force, the tile snapped in half and crashed to the ground. I thought this was an anomaly event and that the next tile would come out just as easy as the previous ones.

I was wrong.

4. The truth behind every renovation project

As I continued hammering the scraper at the tiles, they were all coming off in a terrible way. One tile would leave a deep impression in the drywall, the next would rip off the paper facing, and the next would reveal the thinset that held it in place. In fact, the scraper actually went into the drywall behind one of the tiles, causing it to go through the wall. If I followed my original plan of sanding and painting the wall, I would now need to either replace or patch the holes that would follow this demolition process.

After revealing this new issue, I decided to go back to the tub surround and continue removing the tiles from there. As I pulled off the wet drywall behind the tile, I saw some mold on the backside of the panel and immediately stopped. I went downstairs to grab some gear from my renovation a few years ago, suited up, and remediated the mold situation.

By now, it was late into the night and I was mentally exhausted from tackling problem after problem. In every renovation project, there’s bound to be a few unexpected problems that increase the project scope.

5. The constant mental battle

Every time I decide to pursue a new renovation project in my house, I know that there will be lots of stressful moments. For this bathroom renovation project, I knew that there would be some mold remediation involved so it wasn’t a big surprise. However, investing my time to develop a plan that I thought would work well and seeing how much it’ll have to change made this experience more stressful than usual.

Most homeowners who have pursued a DIY project in their own house have definitely experienced the stress and headaches that come at the beginning of every project. Whenever a project scope increases, the unwillingness to accept it sends a signal to our brain that leads to asking the question, “Why did I even decide to start this project?”

6. Accepting the additional work and moving forward

After hours of denying the fact that a project’s scope must increase for it to be done, one usually reaches a point of acceptance and begins planning the additional steps for the project. This typically involves a new list of materials, a new timeline for finishing the project, and some motivation. The sooner one reaches this point, the sooner the project will continue to move forward.

7. Re-planning the bathroom renovation project

As I stressfully paced around my living room, my mind was thinking about every possibility out there to complete this renovation project in a short time frame. At this point, I was exhausted. So I decided to sleep for the night and continue demolishing the bathroom walls on Saturday after my morning meetings.

By the time I finished all of my meetings, it was mid-afternoon and I started demolishing more of the bathroom walls. As I continued hammering away at the tiles, I realized that it was much easier to grab ahold of the drywall and tug it off of the stud. This would quickly pull off both the tile and drywall from the tub.

However, as I excitedly pulled off more of the drywall sections, I realized that I forgot to cut the old caulk between the ceiling, which I wanted to save and reuse, from the walls. As I pulled, the caulk stripped off a section of the old paint and some of the paper facing on the drywall ceiling.

Great move…

So I decided to stop demolishing the project until the week after I return from the American Institute of Architect’s conference on architecture at the end of April. This would give me some time to relax and come up with a new game plan for this bathroom renovation project.

Currently, the scope of the project has grown to gutting the entire bathroom, installing green board drywall for mold resistance, and then installing everything else as I described above. Although this sounds like a minor addition to the project, it will take time to install new drywall to the entire bathroom.

8. Determining a new deadline for the project

With this additional scope in mind, I’ve decided to put the project on hold until Andrea returns from her trip to New Mexico where she’s working at a national lab. When she’s home, we’ll be able to demolish the bathroom together and console one another in times of frustration. This simple change in deadline made this project less stressful because it reminded me that I should slow down and work on this project at my own pace.

Although we’ll be renovating the bathroom at a slower pace than I anticipated, my goal is to have the renovation complete and ready to use before the end of May. With both of our full schedules, we’ll have some time in the evenings and weekends to work on this project.

9. Finding facilities to use the bathroom and shower

Fortunately, Andrea and I live in a more populated area of Buffalo, NY where our local gym is three blocks away. Currently, I no longer have access to my shower and eventually, we’ll lose access to all plumbing fixtures in the bathroom as we drywall and install tile. We’re looking at approximately one full week of having no toilet and shower in my one bathroom home.

So far, living without a shower in my home hasn’t been difficult. In fact, it’s made me go to my local gym more often to work out and shower afterwards. I’ve also found myself waking up earlier than usual because I know that I’ll need additional time in the morning to work out and shower. I’ve also been fortunate in that my architecture office has showers for everyone to use after working out at the gym, running, or biking during our lunch break.

If you only have one bathroom in your home, take some time to plan ahead and figure out where you will be able to go to use the bathroom and shower.

10. The realities of starting a bathroom renovation

Many of us look at our old kitchens, bathrooms, floor plan layout, and other aspects of our homes and we see opportunity for something better. Sometimes, we’re forced to renovate a portion of our home because of potential health issues like removing the mold in my bathroom. Our initial thought is to thoroughly plan our project(s), which makes it seem like a deceptively easy task.

In reality, the moment we move from pen on paper to hammer in wall, the entire project scope will change. There are so many unknowns with every house renovation project that we can’t possibly have a perfect plan. The moment you open a wall to investigate, you immediately learn something new about your home. Perhaps your window sill is completely rotted or the builder drilled a big hole through the center of your 2x4 wall framing for a large galvanized pipe (yes, that’s what I’ve found in my project so far).

Aside from all of the heartaches, headaches, and sleepless nights where you wonder about how you’ll ever get this project done, you’ll reach a point where you’re at ease. You’ll tell yourself, nothing could be worse than the mess you’ve already made. A creative energy will rise within you and all of a sudden, you’ll realize that you just have to continue pushing forward with the project. Screw by screw, you’ll build a better place for your family and yourself.

Before you know it, the project will be done because you’ve created the place that was once just an imagination. You’ll stand back and see a space that you once lived with become a place that you want to live within.

And that, my friends, is the reality of starting any renovation project. Good luck to all of us who have our hammers in hand. Let’s finish the project(s) that we’ve started! 

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