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Andiy 03-18-2013 12:33 PM

1916 Bathroom gut rehab
This is actually my second major DIY rehab job in our house. I rehabbed a kitchen first, but this one is fresh in my mind, so I'll show y'all this first. We bought a brick two flat (that's a two story building with two basically identical apartments) in Chicago. Our plan was to live in one unit and rent out the other, letting someone else pay our mortgage. Well as the saying goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." We still have never rented a unit, 2+ years later. But someday...

Anyway, there was some hideous "updating" done in the first floor bathroom in 1974. And I'm pretty sure that was the year, as I saw someone had scribbled "1974" on the wall behind the giant mirror that I took down first. Yeah, call me Sherlock Holmes. The bathroom is a pretty standard size for back in those days, about 5 x 8. There was a 9 foot ceiling, as there is in the rest of the house, but the "remodelers" from 1974 decided for whatever reason to drop the ceiling by a foot, and then put a soffit over the tub. The walls were completely tiled in an oh-so-lovely beige lizard scale diamond.

Pardon the pictures, it's tough to get a full view from inside a tiny room like that:

Drop ceiling tiles in the bathroom - with a 4 foot fluorescent fixture. Very classy:

At least they went with something pleasant for the tile. Kind of a sewage-y, vomit-y, decay kind of color.

Unfortunately, the previous rehabber took it upon himself to dispose of the original door casing and replace it with tile:

After living here a while, and using the other apartment for guests only, I decided to get down to business. I was hoping to just replace the tile and ceiling and vanity (Ha! The innocence of the na´ve...) so I started poking around. The tile in the bathtub seemed like a good place to start, as there were a few loose tiles. Hmm I wonder why. More specifically, I started at the "shelf" in front of the glass block window. I don't know when the window was put in; it may have been before 1974. The vent in the window was jalousie glass, and I think there was a date on the metal from that was previous to 1974, but regardless, you can guess what was lurking under that tile.

Pictures do not do it justice. There was up to 3 inches of some kind of cement or whatever on top of mushy, moldy drywall on top of well-rotted wood.

As I would find out later, there were the inevitable leaks that did their worst.

Hello water damage!

Yeah, I knew I had my work cut out for me now, since this was rapidly turning from a retile/spruce-up-the-bathroom job to a major undertaking.

I went to ponder my situation at a local establishment. Fortunately, Chicago is chock-full of such places, and there is one with a fine and ever changing menu about 5 minute walk from here. More to come...

Andiy 03-18-2013 02:03 PM

The previous rehab consisted of drywall over the original plaster and lathe. I was really hoping to be able to do the same; my kitchen rehab introduced me to the beauty and healthiness of plaster wall demolition. Unfortunately, I began to discover that most of the plaster would actually have to come down. I guess that is the right way to do it anyway. But that doesn't provide much consolation when you are covered in plaster and lead paint dust. I methodically pulled down the plaster, double construction bagged it, and then moved on to removing the lathe. Extremely slow moving - this wasn't some easy drywall replacement deal!

Anyway... One of the cool things about a slow demo on an old room like this is to be able to do a little time travel and see the room in its various stages over the years, and to get a better idea of how it looked when it was new, almost 100 years ago. The window was just a standard sized wood window like everywhere else in the house; it doubtless had a cast iron claw-foot tub sitting below it:

Look at the "wainscotted" level of plaster, about halfway up the wall. They cut lines in it to resemble subway tiles. There obviously was some kind of beltline wood trim around the room, which of course is long gone.

The level of sophistication in the previous rehab occasionally left me speechless:

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the nauseatingly colored tile came up quite easily, and it was glued down to some beautiful original porcelain hexagon tile in remarkably good shape.

I would love to have been able to keep the same floor. Unfortunately, due to plumbing and other issues, I had to pull up the floor too. Keep in mind, there wasn't any Durock back then, the old school way was 2" of concrete on top of 3/4" planks!

AS many of you know, these jobs are like pulling the thread on a sweater: you just keep pulling and pulling, and it only seems like a little bit at a time, until eventually everything is gone. I knew once I got to this wall, that some plumbing work was on the horizon too.

The demo kept going, and I kept filling my trusty trash can, double-bagged with those thick construction bags. I'm estimating 100-150 lbs each, depending on the debris. They were heavy enough for me to have a real tough time getting them into the back of my truck, and I'm no slouch. Not including wood, cabinets or fixtures, I took 13 bags of plaster and tile out of this little room, just from the 4 walls. That would be somewhere between 1300 and about 2000 pounds. The floor was separate, and I didn't weigh it, but you gotta figure a good 6 2/3 cu. ft. of concrete, and if it is ~150 lbs/cu. ft., that would have meant another 1000 or so lbs of weight the house lost there. I guess there was no worry of these houses blowing away in the wind. They built 'em heavy back then.

I'm a good 2 weeks into this project now, and although I'm not drowning yet, I can see that the tide is rising - quickly. I guess it's about time I figure out a game plan. I have no idea how I'm going to rebuild this. Plus I'm due for a little down time, somewhere I can sit and think and collect my thoughts...

Next up: plumbing!

Andiy 03-23-2013 01:39 PM

Since the full floor demo was next, I had to decide what to do with that tub. Since it was is surprisingly good condition, we decided to keep it. That meant I had to figure out how to get it out of this tiny bathroom and out of the living area of the house; no small task mind you, as this thing was some thick cast iron. I wish I knew how I did it, but I was "in the zone", or I got p.o.'d enough and turned into the Hulk or something, but I got that thing up on its side, out of the bathroom, and out onto the back porch through a rather tight kitchen, with no damage. By myself. :boxing:

Now I could clean up the floor (relatively) unobstructed. Here's the best shot I have of what the floor originally looked like. Pretty cool, I think. Too bad I couldn't save it. In addition to having to pull up some ancient plumbing under the floor, the floor itself had "settled" either due to water leaks or just the sheer weight of the cement, and the tile surface was noticeably "wavy" in a couple spots. Oh well, time to pull it all out.

The majority of the subfloor planks, however, were in pretty good shape. And considering that these were up to 14' planks (again, something I discovered from the kitchen rehab) I wasn't too interested in having to cut them at the walls to replace them.

At this point, I had all but given up on the idea of drywalling over the old plaster and lathe. I could tell that the plumbing was a cacophony of pipes all over the place, old and new, so those would have to be corrected. Actually, I already knew this since I had to put all the kitchen plumbing into this wall when I eliminated the pantry in the kitchen rehab (but that's a story for another time.) Here's what I saw when the rest of that shared wet wall was opened up. The PVC and insulated copper there on the left are new stuff we put in for the upstairs kitchen when I moved the main floor kitchen wet wall.

At some point, I decided to change gears for a bit and replace the old glass block. I don't exactly remember why, but maybe it was because I saw them on sale at the HD...? Eh, whatever, it was good for a change of pace anyway. The opening was already rebricked to a standard 32x32, so this was a quick job.


During: (note that this is when I knocked a hole in the bricks for a bathroom vent. You'll notice that I didn't remove the original ceiling. There was a very good reason for that, which I will point out later. And since the ceiling was already at 9 feet, I figured I had a foot to work with, if I wanted to drop the ceiling down to 8.)


Now with some sense of accomplishment, I could continue my quiet contemplation about the new bathroom design. And you can guess where that was.

Ok, next: plumbing! For sure this time!

CoconutPete 04-04-2013 08:35 AM

Nice project!!! Looking forward to this one. Your wall o' plumbing looks like mine, I'm in for a similar "treat" when I tear mine out (1930 thoug).

Is that an old drum trap I see in the floor?

joecaption 04-04-2013 08:42 AM

Looks like any old bathroom I've ever worked on.
Something fails, just cover it over, that fails why fix it right? Lets just add another layer it will be cheaper.
One I did had hardwood with no subfloor, then tile, next was partical board glued to the tile, a layer of peel and stick tiles then another layer of tile with mastic.
The baseboards looked like they were 2" tall because no one ever took them off when adding the layers.

handyman_20772 04-04-2013 10:53 AM

Nice thread..keep the updates coming.

Andiy 04-06-2013 11:03 AM

Now that I had the floor and wall open, it was time to take a look at the plumbing. Granted, that cast iron stuff can last for a long time, but as long as the wall was open, why take the chance right? Plus 100 years leaves plenty of opportunity for wear and tear (ever think about how much gets flushed down a toilet waste pipe in that much time?) Yeah, let's replace all the plumbing.

Since the bathroom in the upstairs unit is a copy of the one I was working on, I figured it would be "easy" enough for some preventative replumbing. I wanted to get a look at the area around the plumbing upstairs, so I had to open the ceiling.

But this was no ordinary plaster and lathe arrangement, no sir. The ceiling was lathe, heavy-duty "chicken wire" mesh, cement, skinned with plaster and then the ubiquitous lead paint. I don't know the purpose of this combo, although I guess it was to help guard against the likely water leaks from the early 20th century plumbing? Whatever, they made it awfully difficult to remove. Since that mesh was so damn tough to cut, I ended up using the sawzall with a demo blade. The tool worked fine for the job, but what a )#($& mess. I think there is still dust in the air from that tiny opening I cut. That experience confirmed that I definitely would not be removing the rest of the ceiling.

Anyway, I was able to get a look at the wood and base pipe for the upstairs toilet, and it all seemed to be in reasonably good shape. So it would stay until a remodel for that bathroom. For now, I would just pull out everything up to that.

Pete, you can see the drum trap here.

And the inside. Just a whiff of that stuff makes an excellent appetite suppressant. Mmm, mmm good!

Demolition in progress. Just give me a chain pipe-breaker and that 3 lb demo hammer and let me at it!

So basically I went all the way from the stack and waste pipe upstairs to the basement. Yep, the house was on a serious weight loss plan. Geez that stuff was heavy. And the scrap collectors were happy with me that day.

One of the interesting things about the city is the "eco system" that works in the alley: the scrap collectors. If I think there is any possible reuse of an item, I will leave it next to the garbage cans and inevitably it is gone quick. Sometimes it seems like they have cameras monitoring the alley. Last summer I took a broken down cheap old dryer out to the alley with the understanding that someone would take it. Keep in mind, there was no one in the alley when I took it out there. No exaggeration: by the time I walked the 40 or so feet back to the house, I heard some noise going on in back of the garage. So I turned around and opened the gate, and there were 3 people, busy disassembling the dryer to take it away. Like they just appeared out of nowhere.

Back to the plumbing.
I thought this was interesting: the Chinese-level QC on this pipe. Ok, it lasted for 100 years, no harm, no foul. Still...

PVC on the other hand, so much nicer to work with. Of course, I was high as a kite from all the PVC weld fumes... Man, that is some strong stuff! But they're all checked and leak-free! Any new feeds will come later. As you can see, the existing "wall" (and I use the term lightly) needs to be replaced and will actually be pulled out a bit after I throw down some new subflooring. But stage 1 of the plumbing replacement is done. Whew!

However, I still don't have the final design confirmed, so I really need to fire up the mac and get to work. Hopefully this won't be as difficult as designing the kitchen was. But Sketchup can be my friend. So, time to get creative. Now where can I go to help motivate a little creativity? Ahh, yes, I know just the place...

CoconutPete 04-08-2013 08:13 AM


What did you use where the new PVC stack meets the old cast iron one?

stamandster 04-09-2013 01:16 PM

He probably used this

Looking good btw! I'm going to have to do something similar in the coming year or two (depending on if the which takes precedence, kitchen or bath). Btw, you have to let us know what you get each time you go to think :)

Andiy 04-14-2013 12:54 PM


Originally Posted by CoconutPete (Post 1154669)

What did you use where the new PVC stack meets the old cast iron one?

Pete, there were two points in this rehab that needed a pvc-to-iron junction solution. Keep in mind there is one major waste pipe in the building. The upstairs apartment is essentially the same layout as the main floor apartment. Since I didn't (or haven't yet :( ) rehabbed the upstairs unit, I didn't remove the toilet and replace the cast iron "head" of the waste pipe there. So in that spot I just used a pretty simple rubber coupling with compression clamps. In the basement where the PVC meets the iron that goes under the concrete, there is a rubber gasket inside the cast iron with some material that we packed into the space between the metal and PVC. To be honest, I wasn't exactly sure what that was - I had one of my Polish plumber neighbors working down there, and he finished it when I was working upstairs. :001_unsure: Well, it doesn't leak anyway.

Andiy 04-14-2013 02:46 PM

I'm a little far into this project to start designing now, but since the small size of the room limits my options (structurally anyway), I figure that part of the design shouldn't be too tough. The tub, toilet, and sink will still be roughly in the same places they were, and I didn't move or seal off the window opening, so the design should be purely an academic exercise. And since I wanted to retain as much of the original appearance as possible, I figure even the final look should be pretty simple to figure out too.

My primary design tool in all of these projects is the free SketchUp program. Popularized as part of the Google productivity tools, the 3D modeling program is now owned by Trimble, but Google maintains the link on their site. If you have this program, you probably know how helpful it is. If you don't, then you really should get it. Really it is the simplest and most intuitive, yet expandable and powerful, CAD-type program available for us non-architects/engineers. I've designed a lot with this program with no actual training, everything from a simple closet organizer up to the detailed design of a 35,000 sq ft warehouse and shop. I can't recommend this software enough; I love it.

I spent plenty of time with the trusty Mac and Sketchup in the office, the kitchen table, the living room floor, and of course my favorite establishment :drink:adding all the dimensions I took from my now-gutted bathroom. Obviously, accurate measurements are necessary, but 8 years in the glass business taught me how important it was to measure right. Glass is nowhere near as forgiving (or as easy to correct) as say, wood or drywall when it comes to adjustments! Anyway, just start with the basic dimensions:

Start populating it with some of the structure:

Then let the creativity start running wild. Spend as much or as little time as needed, this is a very clean part of the job... on the computer that is.

There was the idea of wood wainscotting:

"Theater" style curtains around the bath:

And many more variations in color, tile, wall coverings, etc. But after much deliberation, and many (cyber) changes, I thought this design would help keep close to a period-correct design, and still make the room as functional and storage-friendly as possible.

This was quickly approved by the S.O. (who just wanted it to "be done already!") and my next task would be to start the rough framing and scouting up materials. I now had a very clear visual goal, so I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As I felt is was all downhill from here (ha!), it was time to reward myself with a treat, and a potent treat at that.

FYI stamandster, it was cold outside, so I was going for the BCS.

leonki 04-14-2013 11:36 PM

Omg! How did the original Reno pass inspection with that electric outlet next to the shower head!?!

stamandster 04-15-2013 11:18 AM

Nice choice on the BCS!

CoconutPete 05-08-2013 08:45 AM

Any new pictures? You stuck at the bar?

Andiy 05-08-2013 08:50 AM


Originally Posted by CoconutPete (Post 1174948)
Any new pictures? You stuck at the bar?

Ha! Thanks for the reminder Pete. I'll update later today.

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