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LeviDIY 08-06-2009 05:18 PM

Condo Bathroom Reno (CBU, Drywall, tiling, basic plumbing)
I finished this project (well, mostly... a few finishing touches still needed) about a month ago. I could not have done it without the help of this message forum. I'll try to refer to the threads that helped when I get to those parts of the project.

For many people, this will seem like a very simple project, didn't really tackle MAJOR construction, but this was my first experience with a "room" renovation.

My fiance and I bought our first condo in May 2008 from a chain smoker, so upon move in, we ripped out carpeting and painted all the surfaces (missed a step, which is discussed here). I installed laminate flooring through about 700 square feet, and had carpet installers to the rest. I switched out light fixtures, switches and outlets, and other odds and ends. I have had no real DIY experience in the past, so everything was learned from books in the library, online and this forum.

There are 2 bathrooms and a kitchen that need to be brought up to 2009 (original construction from 1979). We decided that I'd "try" the guest/2nd bathroom to see how I could do, as we still had the master to use.

That's my story... I wasn't great with before pictures, and honestly during the various stages of this, I was so frustrated and focused that a camera wasn't top priority, but between my fiance and me, we got a few pictures I can share along the journey....

Some notes:
- This was originally supposed to be a couple weekends... ended up taking 3 months (we both work long hours, and I didn't want to do loud demo, drywall hanging late nigh b/c of neighbors), so mostly on weekends
- Money was absolutely an issue.. so I often did not have the best tools for the job, so extending the time many simple tasks needed to get it right.
- I am slow, deliberate and also nervous with this :) so I spent a lot of time thinking and reading before doing anything, much to the chagrin of my fiance who set and extended I think 3 or 4 different completion deadlines... not a very good GC :)

My purpose in posting this:
- I love reading the other project profiles in here, especially Cocobolo's ( and got a lot of inspiration from reading other's entire stories, more in depth than the questions here and there.
- To tell other brand newbies that you CAN do it, its MORE difficult than it seems, but you CAN do it
- I like to write, so bear with my wordiness :)

Enjoy, I would love to hear comments, critiques, suggestions or your own experiences along the way... I'll try to get most of this up in the next couple days...

LeviDIY 08-06-2009 05:34 PM

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Stage 1 in any project (maybe after planning) is demo, right? Well.. this being the first time I've tried anything like this, demo was VERY scary. I'm in a condo, so not sure if I'm going to cause my upstairs neighbor to fall through the ceiling, or bust through my back shower wall into the neighbor's shower. It looks so much "fun" on DIY Network or HGTV, but I was petrified... so much so that I was afraid to use the reciprocating saw and a sledge hammer on the tile...

Again, I didn't think to take too many before shots, but below you'll see the late 70s/early 80s "hollywood vanity" lights above, and the huge construction grade rectangular mirror... the empty hole is where the medicine cabinet was...
Attachment 12585

Below you'll see me scrapping the walls....
Attachment 12586

You may ask "Levi, why would you scrape the walls?" The answer was that there was "granda wallpaper" on there, and I was planning, and successful in, not ripping out ALL the drywall, and painting over the "good" parts.

Which gets me to why I got started in the first place... these bathrooms are horribly designed with no window and no external ventilation... this is a topic for another forum, but the building doesn't have bathroom venting fans, the condo assoc. will not allow you to add venting to puncture the building walls, and no one knows how to get around this (I know the code violations, they don't seem to care!).

Anyhoo... these bathrooms obviously get moisture built up, and I noticed AFTER moving in (thanks Mr. Home inspector who wasn't worth a PENNY) that the tiling in the bathrooms were loose and mildewy. Turns out, the shower surrounds in both bathrooms are on 5/8" sheetrock (fireboard for condos) and essentially barely hanging on after 28 years.

I started chipping away at the tiles with a crowbar and hammer...
Attachment 12588

Then got sick and tired of how long it was taking, said "F this" and brought out the guns...
Attachment 12587

Hard hard sweaty work, by myself, but got the whole shower surround out, took out drywall to a full stud past the tub, removed the toilet, vanity, towel racks, etc....

What I kept in: flooring (tile was in good condition, so covered it), tub (in hindsight, I've learned that the best time to replace a tub is with the walls out, I wish I knew that then.. now gotta hire a refinisher), drywall away from the shower.

LeviDIY 08-06-2009 06:04 PM

Shower Surround/Cement Board install
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I determined very early on that drywall/sheetrock was not meant to get wet :furious:. There are a lot of opinions here and everywhere about shower surrounds.

I was working with metal studs and building codes that required certain material between units (the back wall was a shared wall). Hardibacker 1/2" seemed to be the best thing to do.

(I'm going to be honest and fess up here... knowing that more than a few of you will shake your heads and raise your hands up skyward and say "why???" but I did the CLASSIC diyer mistake of NOT using Redguard or poly sheet behind the CBU :no:. No excuses, I didn't research it well enough, and by the time I was reading threads on it, the cement board was screwed and construction-adhesived in and not going anywhere.)

I borrowed a Miliwaukee screw gun from a co-worker, after trying 1 with my handy dandy 14 volt cordless Craftsman :thumbup: (great drill, not for screwing CBU screws through CBU and metal studs). Sped up the process considerably...
Attachment 12592

Things I learned after the fact:
- Predrilling: only realized I should do this about 4/5 of the way through hanging the CBU... especially into my metal studs... I was getting a lot of kickback and sometimes bending of the studs from the pressue, as well as some of the edges of the CBU would break apart... predrilling the CBU and the studs helped a lot.
- No need to use as much construction adhesive: remember, this was my FIRST time hanging anythign other than a picture on studs and was terrified of the thing falling down, so I went a bit overboard...
- Cutting CBU with a circular saw (correct blade of course) is fast, but DUSTY! (see below)

Attachment 12590
(I'm lucky I live on the terrace level)
Attachment 12591

I don't have pictures, but even with my stopping and thinking and re thinking, I probably wasted an entire sheet of CBU with mis cuts. Either too short, which is real bad, or too long which took me a long time cause I couldn't use the circular saw to correct such a small error.

Attachment 12593
Attachment 12594

Looks pretty good, right? I think the entire CBU process took about 3 weeks. I told you I was slow! :whistling2:

Some high/low lights of it:
- Cutting out fixture holes was REAL easy with a carbide tip circle bit for my drill.
- Started installation with regular drywall screws... got about 8 in, and realized that I might have an issue with those... switched to special hardi-screws and had to go back.
- Ceiling.. I was leaving the exisiting ceiling in (mistake... while it was OK, in retrospect, I really should have started from scratch, I think its got some steam damage... the master bath I will rip out entirely), so meeting the CBU to the existing drywall was a challenge for me to get it right
- Seams: used fiber mesh tape and premixed thinset.. seemed to work fine.
- Thinset: I'll talk more about this in the tiling posts, but I felt pre mixed for someone like me would be best, but had trouble getting it on, again, found out after the fact that adding some water might be a good thing.

Up next... issues where CBU meets Drywall... stay tuned!

LeviDIY 08-10-2009 07:50 PM

5/8" Drywall Meeting 1/2" CBU -
So, as I mentioned above, I tore out all the fireboard (5/8" sheetrock) which was in the tub/shower surround and tore it out to one full stud-length past the end of the tub.

The way the studs and measurements fell out, on the narrow ends of the tub, the CBU hit a stud perfectly at the end of tub. I had essentially 16 inches to fill on both sides with new drywall. When measuring (again, this was my first time working with these materials), I saw 1/2", and knowing drywall was typically 1/2", that made sense.

I don't own a truck, so I had rented a U Haul to get the 1/2" drywall home from HD. Truck was already returned. Cut the 1/2" drywall to 16 inches to fit perfectly in.... come back in with it... realize the rest of the wall is 5/8" and that 1/8" difference is MASSIVE when butting next to eachother. :censored::censored::censored:

Measure 5 times, buy once.

LeviDIY 08-10-2009 08:04 PM

5/8" Drywall Meets 1/2" CBU - Part 2
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After several smacks to my head and general cursing and threats from my fiance to "call someone to fix this," cooler heads prevailed and I regrouped. I was able to get some 5/8" fireboard to the condo and cut to size.

I figured it would be easier to deal with the 1/8" gap where the CBU hit the sheetrock because of thinset and subway tile.

I had a forum (actually, my first initiated forum here) that I asked and got a lot of help and even more important, CONFIDENCE to continue:

I know this is sappy a bit, and looking back now, such a minor thing that worked out perfectly, but at that moment, I had never seen the outcome, had no idea how good/bad/ugly this would turn out, and doubted my ability to continue the project after this dumb mistake of measuring incorrect thickness. This forum kept this a DIY project at this point. :yes:

Attachment 12673

You'll be able to see the end result when I post final pictures with the tile and all, but you can see what I did...
- Fiberglass mesh tape
- Thinset bed (one coat) on the CBU side of the tape
- Joint compound (3 coats) on the sheetrock side

I'll talk more about this in the tiling posts, but it worked out very well actually.

What I SHOULD have done was not panic and fur out the CBU as many people in this forum are saying to themselves and have said in other posts here. As you can read in the linked forum above, in my paranoia about these things staying on the wall, I used a ton of construction adhesive in addition to hardi-screws, so by the time I realized that the sheetrock was 5/8" and the CBU was only 1/2", that CBU wasn't goin ANYWHERE.

One or two panick attacks later, the lesson learned here: ask for advice from the *right* people you trust, and trust that even if you have not, they've been there before and have seen the end.

You may have noticed the blue walls in the picture above... in the next post we'll discuss color and the design process... :jester:

LeviDIY 08-10-2009 08:25 PM

Colors and the designing
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So a brief aside now that you've seen a hint of the wall coloring to talk about the design scheme.

I'm not great with that stuff, but I know what I like and don't like and I know what is pleasing to the "general eye." My fiance has a creative profession and in general creates things quite well for other people, and implements their general visions. I gave her the task of picking out colors and styles.

Money was the primary driver in this renovation in that we really didn't have much to work with (in the final post, I plan to total all costs for you, don't worry). We weren't changing out the tub (mistake), but all other fixtures needed to be replaced. The vanity cabinet was in good condition, but a bad color.

My fiance kept doubting herself to the point that I began to doubt her on the color. You'll see as the project progresses, but we wanted to make this bathroom, a guest/2nd bathroom, a bit brighter and "non boring" color. You see, we don't plan on staying in the condo longer than 5 or so years (heh.. heh... we'll see about the RE market....) and resale is always on our mind (I also think we've watched too much HGTV/DIY Network which ENGRAINS that into your head.. resale resale resale..investment investment investment...:furious: what about enjoying your own living space and paying for a roof over your head?!... alas, that is a different forum topic). The rest of the condo is fairly neutral and nothing too crazy.

Oh yeah... about priming... on recommendations here, I used Zinsser 1-2-3. I'm sold. That stuff is awesome. Coated fresh drywall, coated old-gross-ex-wallpaper-glue drywall. Once the 2nd coat of Zinsser was on, it was solid. One annoying thing for a newbie DIYer about Zinsser is that is made me NUTS on the drywall finishing because it politely points out every little imperfection in your work :whistling2:.

Anyhoo, back to the point, with colors.... I finally said just go with your gut, and put a bit on the wall and we'll see...

Well, the blue went on in a small area, and both of us hated it. Then we didn't hate it, but didn't love it. Then we loved it. Then we didn't care. Then I reprimed it cause I hated it and she got angry. Then we painted it.... (2-3 coats... 3 in the fresh drywall areas... I thought it would help "hide" some bad compound feathering)
Attachment 12677
The door and frame stayed white.

Attachment 12678
Attachment 12679
For perspective...
Attachment 12680

OK, so there it is... the vanity you can't see here, but will see later we painted (wrongly with latex.... but lesson learned as we enter our kitchen reno....) with a deep brown, and used a matching granite from HD (issues on that here: and the link to see the actual product is here. You'll see it in future pictures. We matched the curtain to the color and the bathmat.... it also ties in the existing floor tile.

Thoughts? I know you can't see the complete picture yet, but coming together...

Next up, we get to tiling and I'll also fill you on on my experiences with drywall finishing...

Green Giant 08-12-2009 12:32 PM

Looking good. Very strange to see that they won't allow you to install bathroom ventilation fans. Since they don't allow you, when you do the Master bathroom, you should do a full gut and use the mold/mildew resistant drywall. The last thing you would want is to have to rip out a newly completed bathroom because of mold. Any reason why you left the medicine cabinet to the side of the vanity?

LeviDIY 08-13-2009 06:36 PM

Thanks GG... regarding the ventilation... it is strange. I can't figure it out. Part of me wants to call an inspector over, but then the worst case scenario is all the condo owners get a special assessment to fix it? I have no idea... maybe an exception for the complex? There are 330 units here. Regarding the green board, you are 100% right on that, its a start... my solution for humidity is running fans outside the bathroom towards open windows... rrrrrr..

The medicine cabinet is just where it was... bought a newer/cleaner one. In later pictures, you'll see the mirror we hung directly behidn the vanity... its a plain old mirror... this way there is a side profile one to get closer to see when you shave,etc.

Green Giant 08-13-2009 09:45 PM

What are the rules in MD regarding homeowners doing work within a condo association? I know that in NJ they will not let you get permit as a homeowner if it is not a one family house. Additionally, for HOA and Condo Associations that I've dealt with, they required licensed contractor and electrician/plumber before they gave approval for the work.

If the Condo Association allows owners to do renovations, and building department also allows it, I would call in inspector for the master bathroom. While the vents would take away from the uniformity of the existing exterior it is nor right and I don't believe it is legal to not allow them. Whenever you do permitted work, you are suppose to bring that space up to code. For example if you wanted to just remove sheet rock in kitchen, reinsulate and new sheetrock, inspector would make you bring all outlets/circuits up to code. So by law, you need to add ventilation to the bathroom. Secondly, it is increasing the opportunity for mold and mildew to grow in the bathroom. This is your condo, and you should not be subjected to mold/mildew because they want to keep the appearance uniform outside.

Do you have access to the attic? If they don't allow you to put vent through side of building, maybe there is a gable vent that you can exhaust though, or maybe add a soffit vent.

LeviDIY 08-21-2009 12:05 PM


Originally Posted by Green Giant (Post 314162)
This is your condo, and you should not be subjected to mold/mildew because they want to keep the appearance uniform outside.

Do you have access to the attic? If they don't allow you to put vent through side of building, maybe there is a gable vent that you can exhaust though, or maybe add a soffit vent.

I'm on the bottom floor of a 4 story building, but that is a good idea... I will be continuing this discussion with our site manager over time. Appreciate the feedback and suggestion!

LeviDIY 08-21-2009 12:26 PM

Wall finishing: Drywall
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So above I told you about my issues with measuring drywall thickness accurately. It ended up working out OK, considering the agonizing I did over it.

I'll tell you about the lesson learned here in a second, but this being my first major room reno, I figured it would be easier to just cut out the existing drywall that was bad/damaged and hang some new pieces and mud them together :laughing:. Never having mudded/taped before, I didn't really know what that entailed.

I removed the wallpaper with some remover solution I diluted from HD and a paper tiger. Of course, as is inevitable with a noobie like me, I overdid the paper tiget and put in some puck marks on the drywall I was planning on keeping. I assumed (:mad:) that the new primer and coats of paint would cover this.

I also spend about 2 weeks trying to finish the seams. I bought the premixed stuff, which I know a lot of people on here dislike, but found it pretty easy to work with. The problem I had was I had NO IDEA what this would look like after the fact with primer and paint. After each coat and sanding (and subsequent dust storm), all I could see was color differentials.

After the third time of "redoing" the finish coat of mud, I just said "F it" and let it be. You know what? It was fine. I know where the seams are and where it isn't perfect, but no one else notices it when I show them my work. That's the curse of the DIYer as I've read on here before.

Attachment 12932

Drywall finishing lessons learned:
- You save no time trying to match up new drywall to old drywall, just remove it all in a small bathroom type room.
- Following up from the first lesson learned.. gross wall paper that is really on there is more easily removed by removing the drywall entirely (I'm currently going that route in my kitchen).
- If you aren't removing the drywall, a skim coat over the old drywall should cover up those pocks... I did not do this... they are there, I notice them, others don't unless pointed out, and a good deal are behind where the vanity mirror hangs.
- Seal and negative pressure would be nice things for our lungs when in the rest of the house
- Should have added some water to the premixed stuff to get it on the wall smoother
- A good primer/sealer covers the drywall compound and you don't need to agonize over it too much... the most important part of finishing seems to be the feathering out on the side.
- Being the cheapo that I am, I bought PLASTIC (I can HEAR the pros out there just cringing) knives... WORST. MISTAKE. EVER. I'm going to be doing more drywall in my kitchen, I swear I will invest in proper knives.:eek:

Up next: will detail my tiling adventure... sorry for the delay in posts.. started on the kitchen reno so that's taking all my free time now... going to be rewiring stuff tonight, and drywall going up over weekend, so assuming I haven't electrocuted myself, should be posting by end of the weekend :)

LeviDIY 08-26-2009 07:15 PM

Adventures in tiling tub surround
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In case you were wondering, I did not electrocute myself working on the kitchen (though I did come close recently: :whistling2:

Tiling. Where to begin.... design would be first. We both decided that we wanted something clean, did not want large shower stall 12"x12" type tiles.. didn't think that looked good with a tub. We also decided we wanted something kinda neutral (again, condo.. resale appeal importance). We liked the subway tile design and it fit what we were looking for... also didn't hurt that the "snow white" ceramic subway tile at HD was like $0.19/tile.

Went to a few stores, and really debated for a while about doing an accent line or two with glass tile or maybe some black to break up the wall. After not being able to find something that worked with our general theme and other colors, including my confidence to blend it together... we just decided to run the subway/brick pattern from the edge of the tub all the way up to the ceiling.

As you probably could guess, I sat on the edge of the tub for about 45 minutes before cracking open the thinset and loading up the trowel, just thinking about what I was doing (this after reading a book and countless hours on this forum and other online sources). :online2long:

Rather than take you through the minutes blow by blow, below are a few highlight pictures, then I'll just give some lessons learned at the end:

First few courses (note the lack of a ledger board... see lessons learned below):
Attachment 13063

Starting to come together, this probably took only 1/2 hour to get done.. once I got going, it really went. Problem: I ran out of thinset (grossly underestimated.. yes, I bought the premixed stuff) and had to run to the store. (Note the green plastic tub protection.. see lessons learned below):
Attachment 13064

2/3 walls mostly done (note a very slight.. 1/8" drop off from left to right on back wall.. see lessons learned below) plus the soap dish. Also, bottom left of picture, hard to see really, but there are two end caps. A side note... NOWHERE could I find 3"x6" tiles with the 3" side on one end rounded off. I was baffled. You can find it in 2x6 or most others, but not 3x6 (which is the most common subway tile size). I had to buy 2x6 end caps and run them vertically. It worked, but not the original intent, which messed up my wall plan:
Attachment 13065

Closeup of the soap dish, I'm very proud of this, and quite frankly, the noobie that I am, did not expect the thinset + grout + caulk to hold it, but it does. I have a new appreciation for any shower insert thing, I never knew how HEAVY they were and how LIGHTLY they are attached!
Attachment 13066

Final product, grouted and sealed :thumbup::
Attachment 13067

Lessons learned:
- Preparation of work area: go overboard. The amount of time I spent in that tub, I really needed to protect it more. I had leftover plastic tarp (MAYBE 2 mil thick) that I used. Not good enough. Plus, I did not secure it well enough, as you can see in some pictures, it fell down in parts. Many little glops of thinset and grout and other random things got down under there. I tried to clean them up when I noticed, but caused damage to the tub. Can not say enough about this.

- Ledger board: Use one. I knew this. I read books and stuff online, they all said it. I bought some 1x2's and measured and cut them to the length of the back and side walls. After picture 2 above, I ran out of thinset, came back from the store, and noticed there was a slight slight (1/8") drop off from left to right along the back wall - the tiles on the right side sorta slide down a bit. The thinset had already set and I didn't want to rip it all off and damage the CBU. I tried to compensate on the rest of the courses up the wall, and no one notices it until I point it out specifically and they get up close to look at it, but the curse of the DIYer is in full effect on this one. When I did the side walls, I used one and they are perfectly straight.

- Thinset: I liked the pre mixed... no mess, easy to work with. A little pricey, but overall, worked for me. From what I read, stay away from mastic for wet areas, but you wouldn't know that from the people in the tile aisle at HD.

- Tiles: I bought about 15% more than my math called for, and used almost all the overage... see below on cutting...

- Cutting: I borrowed a small, cheap wet tile saw from my uncle, otherwise I would have bought it for $80. Never used one before, but took 1 cut to figure out speed and pressure, as well as its limitations (hard to do angles). I bought a 1" diameter carbide tipped circle bit for my drill which was great for my fixture openings (used the same bit to cut those into the CBU). Made a ton of a mess on my patio, and probably swallowed a few ceramic shards here and there, but very very easy.

- Measuring/Layout: this probably took THE MOST time and cause me THE MOST aggravation of the entire tiling part of the project, and of the entire bathroom reno :wallbash:. In theory, a subway layout is easy... count the number of courses you need up the wall, and cut tiles in half for half of those to offset and make the brick pattern. Well this works perfectly if you have walls that (in my case) were a multiple of 3 inches (given the 6" tile length). My back wall was not. THEN I had to debate how to handle the corners and the corresponding side walls... do I wrap the pattern around or start over on the side? I decided to try to wrap around... on the first side wall I did, I ended up with 1" tile at the end (before the end cap.. see 2nd picture above). This being my first tile job, I thought that was OK. It is that... OK. It doesn't look great. On the other side wall, I gave up the perfect brick pattern and offset the 2 courses not in the center, but off by a 1/4" to get a 2 inch end piece to look better. No one notices.... except me....

- CBU Screws: screw them in all the way. And the coat of thinset over them... make sure its not too thick and bumpy. Causes the tile on top to not set up perfectly... I learned the hardway after it was too late. :furious:

- Grouting: really really really easy I found. Was nervous (what else is new), but nothing. The only thing is to really wipe the haze away earlier than later. To my eye, its still got a bit of haze that I could never get off cause I was "too tired and it can wait till tomorrow."

- Sealing/Caulking: Sealing was a no brainer. The caulking was an adventure, figuring out technique took a bit and about 2 full rolls of paper towels to figure out (had to start a forum for advice:

- Final course at tub lip and ceiling: this took a while as my ceiling isn't straight nor was my tub. Cut each tile individually.

In general... the tile measuring was the worst. Did I mention that already? I'm sure there was a better way to do it, I just kept getting frustrated and my fiance (and I as well) just wanted to get going, enough sitting around thinking... plus my uncle wanted the saw back :no:.

Up next: Plumbing and fixtures!

Quadfam4 08-27-2009 01:11 PM

You are making me scared!!!!!!! We havent gotten to the tiling part of our reno yet due to LOTS AND LOTS OF PLUMBING WORK more plumbing work then we originally planned for. I like the subway tiles but I still think because I am going with a darker slate like floor tile that I am going to continue the 12x12 tiles in the bath/Shower surround but using a mosaic accent tile as well to break up the space. I am terrified to tile I think you are doing a great job so far.

LeviDIY 08-28-2009 09:59 AM


Originally Posted by Quadfam4 (Post 320091)
You are making me scared!!!!!!! ....I am terrified to tile.

Don't be.. I've been following your project thread as well.. the tiling can be intimidating the first time, but my biggest lesson learned is in the planning/measuring stage... I was impatient, but you almost have to plan for EACH tile, especially on ends or transition areas... it'll be easier given your choice of a larger tile (that equals less total tiles to figure out :)).

Good luck to us both!!:thumbup:

Quadfam4 08-28-2009 12:13 PM


I am sure I will do fine but the cutting scares me. Not because of the blade or anything its getting it tight around the places that need to be cut like the gas lines and stuff. I bought a mosaic accent tile for the shower surround they are 12x12 mesh backed which I will be cutting into strips of three. Just kind of nervous about the tiling because I have spent so much extra money on it and I want it to look good when I am done. Keep me posted on your reno and I will keep you posted on mine.


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