The Horse before the carriage
Bathtub cement board going up

moldy drywall

Old moldy drywall

It seems that every time we decide to focus on a particular part of the bathroom model at a time, it turns out that other parts must be done first. We are trying to keep as much of the bathroom functional possible for when we have guests, which has been relatively frequent. So, we are trying to do the tile around the bathtub while keeping the sink and the toilet functional. It seems that this will be possible, but not easy. A month or two ago, we thought we were about ready to put up the cement board to do the tile. Then we realized we should install new fixtures in the tub before putting up the cement board (see previous post). Once that was done we seemed ready to put up the cement board. As I began thinking about it though, I realized that we would have to put up new drywall where it butts up against the cement board before putting the tile up, since we have been told that the tile should overlap onto the drywall a bit. Fine. Then I started thinking about it a bit more, and realized that if I put up a small piece of drywall between the tub and the existing vanity, then we would have to put a seal there. That is no good. So maybe we do have to take the vanity out! Wait. I have an idea. Why not just cut off a few inches of the vanity? That is what I decided to do.

old drywall removed

After removing the old drywall and part of the vanity

While visiting my friend Sean last week in St. Louis, we were talking about home improvement, and I inquired if he had a reciprocating saw, otherwise known as a Saws-all. It turns out he does, and he let me borrow it. I put it to good work. I got to work about 8:00 in the morning, after having started fires in both the woodstove and the cookstove (high of about 15 yesterday and today). I started off removing remaining bits of nails from the old drywall from the studs, cleaned the plastic moisture barrier with some 409, and got ready to hang the first piece of cement board. The cement board we bought comes in 3′ x 5′ sheets, very convenient, since standard bathtubs are 5′ long. However, as I keep learning over and over again, sometimes things don’t quite fit. The cement board was too long. I had to cut about an inch off. And that of course is a real pain, but I cut it off, and then I hung it with the fancy cement board screws that we had bought. Fairly easy. At this point I decided to re-measure how high up the cement board would go. 3′ times 2 is 6 feet or 72 inches. I had cut the old drywall about 71 inches high. So, instead of taking 1 inch off the cement board, I took another inch off the drywall. I decided to try out the saws-all for this task, and it performed very nicely.

close-up of vanity

Close-up of the vanity after cutting off several inches

Once I had gotten going with the saws-all, I decided to try to take off some of the vanity. I started cutting through the countertop along one of the grout lines in the tile. This worked somewhat, but not very well, and I quickly dulled the heck out of the blade. I discovered it was much easier to chip off the mosaic tile with a chisel and hammer. Then I used the circular saw to cut through the plywood counter top. After a bunch of fiddling around, I finally figured out how to remove the drawers from the cabinet, and was able to salvage them and the metal tracks as well. Maybe we will use those elsewhere in the bathroom. I then continued for several hours sawing and hammering and chiseling, until I slowly started to get to the bottom of the cabinet. At that point I was getting hungry, so I had a little lunch, and talked with Dave and Ellen a while, who gave me some more tips on the bathroom project, including the fact that the PVC pipe in the cabinet that seemed to go to nothing did in fact go to nothing, so I cut it off (with the Saws-all). Shortly after lunch I was trying to cut through the bottom of the cabinet, and the second saw blade broke. I headed out to Pell’s, where they once again had everything I needed. I got five blades in total, including a pair of “demolition” blades. The demolition blade had no problem going through the metal of the floor heater under the old vanity which no longer works. I finally got through all the cabinet and removed all the nails from the studs, so I was about ready to hang the drywall.


The tool of the day — The saws-all. Thanks Sean!

Before hanging the drywall though, I had to put in a few more 2″x4″s as backing pieces for the drywall and cement board. The cement board was going to come out 30″ from the back of the tub, but the nearest stud was about 33″, so I cut a stud to about 84″ (since the ceiling is sloped), stuck it in, then attached it to the other stud with a few short pieces of 2″x4″. I also put in some cross pieces around the tub for the top of the backerboard / bottom of the drywall.


Extra stud attached with several small blocks.

By the time I had gotten all the 2″x4″s cut to the desired length, I was hungry again, so I had a little dinner. After dinner I decided to keep working for a couple hours more. I cut the drywall to the desired length, and then discovered 2 more slight differences when going to hang it — (1) I needed to cut out about 1/2″ more of the old drywall, and (2) I was going to have to remove a couple rows of the mosaic tile on the floor to get the drywall to fit right. After doing these 2 tasks, I was able to successfully hang the drywall (though I will have to save a couple screws for while the old vanity is out). And, around 8:30 p.m. I decided to see if all of my work with the vanity and drywall in order to correctly put up the cement board actually worked. Much to my delight, it did. I still have a good 2-3 hours left to finish hanging the cementboard. Then I’ll need a couple hours to tape and mud it, and then we can finally start tiling!

hung cement board

Several pieces of cement board finally hung
drywall by the vanity

Close-up of the cut-off vanity with drywall slipped in behind it

Blood, sweat, and tears
Bathroom progress

end of day one

Project at the end of day one. Not finished, but no leaks.

Well, we have been working on the downstairs bathroom nearly since we moved in, but it has been going very slowly. Since we have a bathroom off our bedroom, we haven’t had much pressure to work on it. But now that there is no grass to mow, we have gotten more serious about finishing the bathroom. We ripped out the drywall and tub surround quite some time ago, making the bathtub dysfunctional, but we have left the sink and toilet in a functional state, which has been handy when we have had guests. Now we are concentrating on finishing the tub, then tackling the sink and finally the toilet.

plumbing finished overview

Overview of the finished plumbing project

We bought most of the materials to tile around the tub several months ago, as well as a new vanity. We took Ellen’s advice and rented the “Hometime Tile” video from Netflix, which wa very handy. We learned that we should get cement backerboard instead of drywall to put around the tub, because it is more moisture-resistant. As we got closer to installing the backerboard, we started to realize that we should really install the new plumbing fixtures before the backerboard. So a couple weeks before Christmas I started taking off the old fixtures. I could not take them off all the way though, because that would create a leak, and the only way to stop the water to the bathtub is to shut off the water to the whole house. So, with that in mind, I wanted to make sure to start the project early in the day so I could make several trips to the hardware store.

So, with the holidays behind us, this weekend seemed like a good time to do the project. Saturday morning we got up around 7:30, had some breakfast, went to the bathroom, then turned off the water. As I started getting ready to take out the old fixtures, I realized more parameters I had not previously considered. For one thing I noticed that we would have to put it in a 2×4 as a backer for the fixture, and that we would want to make sure that we got it centered, at a good height, and at the correct depth from the wall. So I ended up cutting the backerboard and testing it in place to see how deep the 2×4 should be. Clare was of course very helpful in this as well. Once we had done all this, it was time to finally cut off the pipe to the old fixture. Unfortunately, we could not find the pipe cutter. On top of this, I had to go to the bathroom, and it was almost noon. So I went into town, got some lunch at Taco Bell and used their bathroom, then headed off to Pell’s hardware. I had a list of all the fittings and pipe I needed, and one of the guys helped me find everything. I also ended up buying a pipe cutter. I’m sure the old one will turn up someday.

sweated joint close up

Close up of the sweat by the where the tub faucet comes out.

Once I got home, I cut off the old pipe, and Clare helped me start measuring and cutting the new pipe, and cleaning the fittings. We were very fortunate to get a lesson in sweating pipe from Clare’s uncle Rich over the holidays. It really was a great exchange of information. We gave Rich and his family some advice on computers and digital cameras, and they gave us some advice (and tools) for gardening and home improvement. The main thing we learned from Rich is that the key to sweating pipe is that the pipe must be very clean. Cleaning it involves a special wire brush for the fittings, and some special sand paper for the pipe. After cleaning it well, apply some flux (soldering paste), and then start the soldering. We also learned that the area to be soldered must be completely dry, and that is where the bread trick comes in. There is bound to be some water in the pipes, and heating part of the pipe will cause that water to create steam, which lowers the temperature of the metal, meaning that it will never get hot enough to melt the solder. So, the trick is to shove some bread into the pipe where the water or steam would be coming in. The bread will act as a barrier for the water, but once the water is back on, the pressure of the water will easily flush out the bread.

So before doing any actual soldering, we cut all the pipe and stuck it together, to make sure it would all fit nicely. Once we had had shortened a few pieces, and made some slightly longer short pieces to go right by the fixture, we took the pipe into the kitchen to start soldering. It is kind of hard to sweat pipe in place and not burn the 2x4s, so we wanted to do as many of the connections as possible in the free and open. We successfully got 2 sweats done fairly easily, but then we started having problems for some reason. We were having difficulty getting the pipe hot enough for the solder to melt, even though the pipe itself felt very hot. One difference in our sweating from the test session with uncle Rich was that we were using propane gas instead of MAPP gas. Around this point, we also realized that there were a few more fittings that we needed, and that we might need to redo some of the connections that we tried but could not get right.

beautiful sweat

Perhaps the best looking joint we sweated

So, we took another trip in town. This time we bought some gas and used their restrooms, then we went back to Pell’s. We bought some MAPP gas (it was about $8 instead of $4 for propane), and the other fittings we needed, then got back to work. The MAPP gas definitely made a big difference. Now things were really rolling. We got all the sweats done we could in the kitchen, then moved into the bathroom. The first two sweats there were also easy. Clare used the torch to heat up the coupling joints near the top of the tub, and I came in from behind and below the tub with the solder.

Then I made a mistake. Clare went into the kitchen for something, and I was eager to see how good our sweats were, so I turned on the water. The sweats were good, but now I had just filled up the pipes with water, and we still had several more sweats to go. Rob!!!!

So, we decided to take a coffee break, and mull it over. Clare suggested trying to drain the water out somehow. There is a drain to the house which goes out near where the pipes go in. We tried that, but it didn’t work. Then Clare remembered her dad saying that if we turned the water on upstairs with the drain open, then any water on the first floor would drain out because of the pressure differential. Sure enough, it worked. We had a little dinner while the pipes were (hopefully) drying out. When we got back to work though, the pipe still would not get hot enough. Then we tried the bread trick. This seemed to help, but there was still water in the pipe. We could hear it sizzling. Eventually, we decided just to keep heating it until the water was all gone, which only took a few minutes. Then finally the solder melted.

After all this, I decided that I wanted to work a little bit more, but that Clare could do some other things if she wanted. I was almost about ready to finish off the project when Clare informed me that it was almost 10:00. So, instead I capped off the parts that go to the faucet and shower, and we called it a night.

shower outlet

Outlet where the shower head will go in. Notice I ended up using screws instead of nails.

On Sunday, Sam and Charlie came over for brunch. Naturally we spent the morning cleaning. We had some tasty vegan biscuits and gravy, played with Benjamin, and took a stroll through the woods on the unseasonably warm day (about 65ºF). Almost as soon as they left, I got back to the plumbing. It took a bit more fenagling to get the blocks to hold the shower and faucet in the right place, (and I ended up breaking one trying to hammer the shower pipe in place – nails stink). After another couple hours work though, all the pipe was in place, and there were no leaks!

Now we can finally start putting up the rest of the backerboard and start tiling. More adventures await.