More balls than brains

The idea that we can renovate our entire bathroom ourselves seems to fit into the realm of the impossible, which is why we are perfect candidates for the Imagine the Impossibilities Challenge, which you can read about here.

Here’s our first progress report.

Our big bathroom renovati0n is underway. We are busy applying our “good enough is good enough” and “we’re too old for that shit” models to the task. I’m a big believer in the idea that the difference between do it yourself and hiring out for remodel work is often just having the balls to do it.

There are millions of how to videos, tutorials, and blogs out there. Home Depot and Lowe’s have in-store classes weekly. If you want to know how to do something, you can find all the information you need to do it.  Most around-the-house jobs can be done by a resourceful and courageous home owner.

That’s my mindset as we set out to renovate our bathroom. Two weekends ago we demo’d the tiles (which was a lot of fun), and last weekend it was time to change the shower drain to its new location as a tub drain and install the new tub. Below is a play by play of the first 3 steps in getting the new tub in and working.

Disclaimer!  For soon-to-be-obvious reasons, we aren’t recommending that you do things the way we are.  It’s working for us, but it might not for you.  And we sure don’t want you coming after us if you follow our lead and a) burn your house down; b) destroy your plumbing; c) maim yourself and/or your new tub; or d) all of the above.

Step 1- Drainage

The first job was getting the plumbing on the waste side done. (That’s the part you can’t see when the bathroom’s all finished.)  It’s mostly a matter of cutting plastic pipe and gluing together. The pipes have plenty of wiggle room and your measurements only need to be close. Basically, you need to glue up enough straight pipes and elbows of different angles to get from here to there.

I discovered a unique feature of our split level home that made this stage easy. The second story overhang is meant to give access to the plumbing for repairs. It’s ingenious, really. You take down the overhead plywood panel and you are looking up at the plumbing. I was able to cut a hole in the sub-floor and route the pipes from the new location of the tub drain to the existing drain pipe from outside on a ladder.

Here are the bath tub drain pipes from outside looking up. The tub is located right above the pipes. Makes for easy access from a step ladder.

Another look from further out.

Luckily the tub came with rough in instructions with dimensions for this part. Of course I read them wrong and put a hole in the floor where I didn’t need one. Patched it right up though. This part wasn’t so bad. I did screw up some measurements  a couple of times but it was easy to fix as I didn’t glue everything up until after I had the tub in. I know they say measure twice and cut once, but I often reverse that. Especially if I have plenty of material to work with. Thankfully I had a looong piece of pipe. :)

Step 2- Get Out the Torch

This was fun. I had never sweated copper before so I was anxious/eager to learn. I watched a few YouTube videos on the subject. So, aiming a blow torch at the walls. What could go wrong there? Here are some pictures of the problem and procedure.

Here’s the starting situation. You can see a tube coming up off the valve assembly. That’s for the shower. The little stub that extends below is where the tub spout needs to go.

You can see from the above pic that there is a stem sticking down from the valve. My first thought was to try just extending that guy down a bit and putting a spout on it. It would mean that the hot and cold handles (from the shower) are a bit high for a tub spout. We were willing to live with this because it only meant one solder joint had to be done in the wall.

Here is the setup. You can see the pipe that needs to be attached and the torch. Torch, flux and solder was about 25 bucks at Home Depot.

I managed to figure out how to shut the water off at the meter. Once I did that, I cut the bottom off of the hanging down pipe and soldered a coupling on the L shaped part I needed to attach. There were 2 solder joints needed in the above pic. One for the coupling (used to join the new piece to the old) and one to the elbow bracket that holds the tub spout. I did these 2 solder joints in the garage so I didn’t have to have fire aimed at the wall.

Next was the tricky part. I had to put the pieces in place and solder the last joint without burning down the house. The picture below shows my setup.

Put some layers of foil behind the pipe to cut down on the heat transferance. This did a nice job. There were no burn marks on the stud or wall after I was done.

All done! That was actually pretty easy. Gave myself a good pat on the back and tested things out.  Water seemed to come out just fine. No leaks. Felt pretty good about it. Here’s a pic of the finished job.

Final solder joint up close. Oops, maybe there is a burn mark back there.

Step 3- Stick the Tub In

How hard could this be? The tub is super light. It’s acrylic with fiberglass backing. Rita and I were able to move it up the stairs and into the bathroom, no problem. When we got it into the bathroom, though, we couldn’t quite figure out how to get it in.

The tub is 60 inches wide. The area that holds the tub is about 60 1/8″ wide. The rest of the bathroom is narrower than that. This means that the bath tub couldn’t sit down flat anywhere but in the area of the bathroom where the sheet rock has been removed. It wasn’t a matter of setting it down and shoving it into place.

We wrestled with it about 3o minutes or so trying to tip it one way and another to wedge it in. It just seemed like the space was too tight. I was paranoid the whole time about breaking a piece off or scratching it. At one point we got it wedged in so tight I thought it wasn’t going to budge.

Rita was about ready to call someone to come and help. I wasn’t ready to quit yet though. Sometimes you have to be stubborn you know? That’s where balls are more important than brains. My brain couldn’t see a way to make it work. There was one corner that needed an inch or so of wiggle room. But I figured if I could get that I could maybe make it slide down a bit more.

This tub wasn’t going to budge.

Rita and I sat and pondered several different options including taking down part of the wall or removing some copper pipes in the way (all very time-consuming and making a big project even bigger.) What I ended up doing was chipping out the sheet rock and making a hole to allow the offending corner to slide down a bit. You can see the hole below.

This hole allowed the corner of the tub to move just enough for us to get it unstuck. That’s our bedroom you’re peeking at. It’s OK though.  I know how to fix that. For real.

This turned out to be just enough room to get things moving again. I crawled under the damn thing and shoved it around until it wanted to fall on top of me (more balls than brains.) Once it started to slide down all I had to do was get out of the way and guide it into place. Once the damn thing finally slid into place there was less than a 16th inch space on either side. Still not sure how we got it in there but it’s not coming out ever.  At least, not in one piece.

This is me under the tub trying to get it to budge. Rita didn’t think this was a good idea. At this point though the tub was not going to win.

This shows the clearance between the edge of the tub and the studs. It’s even tighter on the other side.

We sat there in amazement looking at the tub in all its glory. It was a great moment. We had done the impossible and weren’t quite even sure how we did it. The moment was short lived, though. Take a look at this picture. See the problem?

Craptastic! The spout and knobs are off center. And the stud is right in the way.

Yes, the whole thing is off center. Two options here. I can move the tub out from the wall until it centers with the plumbing, or I can move the plumbing. My first instinct was to move the tub. It would mean a re-do of the drain pipes below but that would be easier to take than doing more soldering in the wall. I figured I could easily shim the studs enough to get the tub out a few inches, centering it on the fixture.

This sucker just fits.

You can see in the above photo that I have about 2 inches to play with. Just enough to get the tub centered with the fixture. This was the plan. Well, at least until I turned on the water again…

I turned on the water to test the tub seal. When I did I turned it on a bit more than I did the first time I tested it. Water came shooting out of the shower head. Crap! I was thinking this might be a problem. The length of pipe between the valve and tub spout was too long. It was causing water to push up into the shower. There was too much back pressure. Turns out I’ll have to take the whole thing out and redo.

My next try is to move the handles and valve lower. This will allow me to have a short pipe between the valve and tub spout. This will also mean a longer travel up to the shower head. I think this will create the right kind of pressure situation so that water won’t spill out of the shower head when I turn the tub on high. What do I know though? I’m operating more on balls here than brains.

So, another 50 bucks at Home Depot and I now have copper elbows, couplings and 12 feet of pipe ready to go. Not exactly sure what I’m doing but I’m feeling a bit more confident now that I’ve managed to do a few good solder joints. I think there are 15 or so I need to do to get this thing up and running. It won’t be pretty but I think it just might function. Hopefully I won’t burn down the bathroom in the process.

In the meantime, we do have a functional bath tub.  You’ll just have to imagine it with water in it.

Whaddya think?

We’re thinking we might turn this whole thing into a book:  Renovation by Dummies.  Got anything to tell us about our project?  ‘Cause we could probably use some help, maybe from someone who has just as much balls, plus a little more brains.