Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bathroom Renovating with a Contractor - Part 1 of 2

While we had *almost* watched enough DIY channel bathroom renovations to give us a false sense of construction acumen and can do attitude, we came to our DIY senses and realized that our time and experience called for a tandem team with a contractor.   We pulled out the good old paper phone book to find a list in our area (turns out contractors are a little behind the 8 ball in having a web presence).  After 3 different quotes, we hired the guy who seemed to know the most about what he was talking about.  Actually, I'm sure it was more complicated than that for Mr. Palindrome.  Being the MBA candidate that he is, he made a spreadsheet for all of the quote breakdowns, then worked out the best value.  My two cents was my gut reaction to the way they were talking about the project.

The full job, soup to nuts, was going to cost around $5000.  We stripped everything out except the drywall, vanity and cupboards above the toilet.  5 grand seemed like a good deal for that amount work considering we both have family members in construction who told us it would cost between 10-15,000 for a complete gut.  By keeping the same layout, we saved ourselves a pretty penny by  not having to move the plumbing around.

5k was still a tough pill to swallow so we did a hatchet job on the quote's price breakdown.   Let's just say we were on the optimistic side about what we thought we could handle.  Here's what we decided the breakdown would be between us and the contractor.

- Scrape popcorn off ceiling and paint ceiling
- Install fan
- Install lighting
- Install hardware and fixtures (shower, sink, toilet)
- Paint vanity and cabinet
- Install vanity counter top and sink
- Paint walls
- Install medicine cabinet
- Purchase tiles and hardware

- Demolition (old tile)
- Reseal shower and fix drain (remember the crazy broken/moldy tile floor before?)
- Tile and grout
- Skim coat walls (we had remnants of wallpaper that had been originally glued right to the drywall)

This part chronicles the first phase of our bathroom renovation journey.  We completed a few tasks from our list prior to the contractor coming.  We scraped the popcorn ceiling and installed the new fan with my Dad's help.
We were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we brought in the contractor to do his part.   He said it would be a quick project.  5 days max.  Done a million just like it.  We had already bought the supplies (we get a  nice military discount at Lowe's and Home Depot).  Nothing to it.

After Day 1 of demo, we uncovered some dirty little secrets.

The original tile work had been laid using liquid nails.
The studs around the shower had rotted and needed to replaced.  We had the contractor take care of those problems and told him to soldier on.  
 In went the new waterproof walls in the shower and a newly poured floor.
 Then the tile floor was laid.  You can see how the dry wall around the back was torn up after the baseboards were removed and where we had tried to strip off the old wallpaper, which resulted in us stripping off the dry wall paper to which it had been originally adhered.  The builders were real geniuses, that's for sure.  Geniuses at inventive ways to cut corners, but geniuses nonetheless.
 I think it was week 2 when the tile floor in the shower was installed.  So if you're following along, we're already 2 workdays behind schedule.
 Just when we thought the contractor had hit his stride, someone else would go wrong.  The shower drain wouldn't fit right.  The shower door that was there previously no longer fit because the tiling thickness was different.  Etc. Etc. Etc. Etc. Ad Nauseum!
After all the tiling and the skim coat was done, the contractor's work was done.  I was working from home at that time and he called me in to see the final results.  I was so overwhelmed by the transformation of the tile and so ready for the project to be over (we were on week 3 at this point) that I quickly said, "It's great!"  After he had packed and gone, I began a closer inspection only to find some problems.
 The threshold was never replaced and the skim coat material was everywhere.  There were glops on the tile work, glops on the trim, and glops on the floor.  At first mesmerizing glance of the tile, I hadn't noticed, but now these sloppy finishes were all I could see.
We called the contractor and he came out the next week to clean it up, no charge of course.  However, we still weren't too happy that it had happened in the first place.  We were also pretty bummed about the nearly tripled timeline.  It was certainly a case of pointing out the speck in his eye though since we didn't take the log out of our own eye (i.e.  finish our list) for another 3 months.  

In the next part I'll give you the story of our DIY efforts in the bathroom.  Look forward to more surprises (of the holy-crap-I-can't-believe-we-own-a-house-and-this-is-what-we-have-to-deal-with variety) and lots of bathroom humor (Installing the Porcelain Throne in Part #2).


  1. Ugh! Sometimes contractors can be real a-holes. Sorry he was a pain, hopefully it turns out nice!

  2. Wow! That was us last year. We did all the work but the plumbing ourselves fortunately. It's not easy though. Lookin good. can't wait to see the finshed bathroom.