Of mushrooms, bath destruction and cost overruns…


The world’s most expensive mushrooms

On the morning of Saturday, August 22, 2009 as I stepped out of the shower to towel off, there on the floor just outside the shower door were, to my horror and surprise,  two sizable mushrooms growing and apparently thriving in the moist conditions of deteriorating tile grout.  My master bath had unintentionally become ideally suited for the growth of fungi.   After my shrieks died down, I gathered myself and took a cell phone photo which was dispatched to Ellen and Reid and my friend Betsy, who wondered aloud why I didn’t saute my find in butter and garlic.

Thus kicked off one of the lengthiest and costliest master bath makeovers in recorded history.  By the next day, gloves, a chisel, goggles and other implements of bath destruction were purchased.  My vision of a quick makeover where quickly dashed.  It would become very apparent very soon that the Taj Mahal, Eiffel Tower and Pyramids of Giza came in under budget and on time compared to my bath.  In fairness, the Raj and Pharoah had more people working on those fixer-uppers than were available for my project.  Even the Pentagon spent less on toilet seats than me.

The travails of re-doing the bath was serialized week after week to the kids and my parents.  The tortuous bath overhaul was, however, a metaphor for how letters can be used to cover a singular topic week after week to a natural conclusion.  At great personal pain, I have plucked out paragraphs from months of letters that chronicled the whole sordid affair.  Here are (read at your peril) the dispatches:

August 24 – Well, the bath demolition has commenced.  18 6×6 squares were removed last night, and already I have learned a few things.  1) there is a wall on the other side of the tile, so don’t bang too hard, lest you put a hole in it, 2) take the art off the opposing wall so it doesn’t fall, 3) wear ear plugs to muffle the banging.  My loose calculation has it that I am about 10% done with the shower but the floor is going to be a ^%$#* because it sits on solid concrete, which also has to be removed.  The floor in the rest of the bath will also be a $*^@# because it sits atop plywood which cannot be damaged either.  A plumber is going to have to come and shut off the water because I couldn’t find the turn-off valve.  As you saw, the tile has been chosen ($4/ft. vs $14/ft. for granite).  Not sure what I’ll do with the existing countertop but it’s going, too.  Will head to an aptly timed kitchen and bath show in town this weekend to get more inspiration.  But the demo part of it feels okay.  Cathartic in a sense.  Not sure how long it will take.  A couple months, maybe.  I’ve sent the mushroom picture to a few people, one of them wondering if I sautéed it.

August 31 – Ellen/Reid: The big news this week, and really the only news, relates to the demolition of the master bath.  If there is one thing that has come out of it, it is that I do not want to do demolition and tile work for a living.  It is just plain hard and exhausting.  Honestly, removing the shower tile was just tough, sweaty work.  The most I could do at one swoop was two hours.  After that, I was utterly spent.  That’s when the hammer tends to hit your thumb, or you drop stuff on your foot.  I have never been more drenched and dripping than on this job.  It was incredible.  The tools of the trade are chisels, pry bar and hammer.  That’s it.  In the driveway are 10 100 lb. bags of debris lugged down all those *^$%# steps in a RubberMaid container.  It was just exhausting.  Rule #1 is to not fill the container too much so it is unwieldy.  I nearly fell on my face going down the stairs.  Once out on the back driveway, then it was pouring the junk into plastic bags.  Ugh.  The one portion of the job that I really stewed about was the solid floor beneath the tiles.  I was expecting cement, but instead it was some sort of hard packed sand which came up in 20 minutes but was as heavy as lead.

The good news is that virtually everything that needed to be removed – tile and cement board – is gone.  The drywall remains.  The bad news is that the composite sub floor is rotted right by the shower door.  Perfect habitat for mushroom cultivation.  Rich and moist.  So now it looks as if the walls and the floors will be stripped to the studs and potential repairs made.  That’s okay.  I’d rather do it right.  I bought a good bathroom book at Lowe’s this weekend (Ellen, when I’m done with it, hopefully, I’ll send the book on to you) and it has a step by step process for reinstalling a shower basin.  Betsy and Bob came over on Saturday morning and after a breakfast of hot breakfast bread, it was on to Lowe’s where we decided on tiles.  The shower walls will be 18”x18” travertine (a natural stone), and the floor will be porcelain tiles.  The reason we did not go with ceramic tiles is that they chip and crack faster (which is what is on the current floor).  The big mirror and the green countertop are also going away to be replaced with marble.  The countertop may be split in half with the center space reserved for a nice towel rack.  The cabinets are also likely victims.  All the stuff stored in the cabinets can be stowed in the towel closet.  New and brighter lights, too.  I have a couple of guys coming in to bid on the tile work this week, and the plumbing, too.  I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid.  If someone else can do it better and faster at the right price, bring it on.

September 8 – This is a watershed week for the bath.  I have come to my senses and will not do the work.  If the bids come in the way I think they will, I will pay someone for the privilege.  It will come together much quicker, in terms of weeks if not months.  Remember that huge sunflower showerhead?  I am going to have the plumber install it by running pipe through the ceiling so it hangs down.  It will be a great addition.  I don’t know how much water it will go through, but I suspect it will go through a lot.  But since it’s just me living there, it won’t matter if the water goes cold toward the end of each shower.  I’ll have to be a little more careful when you guys are down here.  Of course, Ellen you and Tim will have the master bedroom so it’s you who will have to be conservationists.  Will also yank the green countertop but am totally undecided about what to do with that.  The travertine tile is in the garage and there are still decisions to be made on floor tile.  One thing I do know; demolition is hard on gear.  In one week I wore out the fingertips in $25 gloves.

September 14 – Enclosed please find some examples of how my bathroom might appear.  I’ve ditched the marble countertop idea in favor of twin pedestal sinks with sconces (lights) and funky mirrors that pivot away from the wall.  Glass shelving will look cool.  A stainless & chrome mini-tower will fit between for towel storage and more space to set stuff.  Your thoughts are appreciated.  The sinks will come from Lowes.  The other stuff from Restoration Hardware.  Got guys coming in to bid this week.  Decided on 2”x2” travertine (natural stone) tiles for the shower floor.  Those will match the 18”x18” travertine slabs on the walls.  The 16” showerhead will be really cool.  Found a chrome pipe to extend from the wall that can hold the weight of the sunflower.  Alas, a couple of guests Friday night suggested all of the drywall in the entire room be removed because when you try to peel away the thick distressed paint on the walls now, the front sheet of drywall paper comes off with it.  Ghastly.  But doable.  Really, your thoughts are important because it’s not too late to change anything.

September 21 – The latest on the bathroom is that the second bid is due any moment now.  The first bid was $2,500 for all the labor and some tile-backing material.  It’s from a guy relatively new to the field but comes highly recommended by a neighbor.  The other bid will be a fair amount higher because the bidder has a lot more experience.  The conundrum is which do I go for: a lower amount and not as much experience, or the known quantity.  In this case, money talks.  The place is down to the studs except above the countertop.  That’s out of there this week.  Can’t wait.  This whole travail has produced a veritable cloud of dust.  The other thing that bugs me is that, try as I might, I just have no feel for design.  No real vision beyond the pedestal sinks or what I see in Restoration Hardware’s catalog.  I know that when it’s done I will wonder ‘why didn’t I do this, or how come I didn’t do that?’  But I’m trying to squeeze the job budget-wise, and anything will be better than an environment that encourages the growth of mushrooms.  I told you Betsy thinks we need to put that photo in a frame and put it on the wall.  Sounds like a good idea.

September 28 – The bath thing is stressing me out to the max, financially speaking.  I took a look at my credit card balance online last night, and I’d damned well better get it paid off in the next couple of months or with the high interest rates piling up the amount owed is going to skyrocket.  I am on a scrimping campaign for the foreseeable future.  But that’s okay.  Tonight I hope to take off the little bit of remaining drywall.  The one truism is no project is ever simple.  There is drywall behind the doors which means I have to take off the exterior door molding which will be problematic.  With any luck the tile guy begins work this week.  We’ve agreed on the price but he has yet to show me completed work from other bathroom projects.  I am anxious to get the damn thing done.  I have yet to buy the floor tile and the pipe to hold the 20 lb. shower head.  But it’s all down to the studs.

October 5 – The bathroom project is both slow and high priced.  It is incredible to me how much money things cost both in terms of material and labor.  Now I’ve purchased just about everything; tile and stone, lights, pedestal sinks and faucets.  The so-called “free” jumbo showerhead will actually cost me a pretty penny because one of the plumbers said it requires a special brass valve with chrome “trim” (a spiffy plate and level to cover the valve) plus added piping up through the ceiling.  The showerhead is so heavy it cannot be supported by a regular pipe coming out of the wall.  So it must come straight down from the ceiling.  It’s only money.  Just look at it as my way of infusing money into the local and national economies.

October 13 – Signed a contract with the plumber on Saturday and put a 50% deposit down.  He was supposed to start today, but for the life of us we could not find the water shut off valve for my unit.  We looked everywhere.  Water needs to be shut off because he’s replacing the valve in the shower unit.  Because the big sunflower is a Grohe, and the existing valve is a Moen, the two aren’t compatible.  So I had to order a new valve and polished nickel cover last week and it isn’t here yet.  The plumber suggested we drop the showerhead pipe straight down from the ceiling.  He thought a pipe straight out from the wall would’ve looked goofy.  It will be good to have tangible evidence of progress.  Betsy and Bob estimate I saved about $5,000 by doing my own demolition.  Still haven’t decided in a tile contractor or an electrician but will in the next couple of days.  Ready to have the thing done.

October 19 – Ellen/Reid: There is an old saying about being ‘Penny wise and pound foolish.’  I am the living embodiment of that adage.  So I go online the week before last to buy matching faucets for the Kohler pedestals.  I want to buy Kohler so the look is relatively the same, and since I am on an economy kick, I go with two of the lowest priced faucets.  They arrive on time and are beautiful (Kohler collection) but there is one hitch: they are not made with a center rod with which to pull/push the stopper that is found on 99% of faucets.  I’d have to use a rubber stopper on a chain.  Very old school.  For a few dollars more, about $20 per faucet, there is another matched set that has the center rod.  So now, at my expense, I have to return the faucets and buy new ones.  What a *%^$#@ idiot.  But on the bright side, the plumbing is now roughed in and the electrical guys come in Wednesday to do the wiring and install some canister lights.  The bids are coming in higher than expected.  The tile work starts October 29.  Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel.  So I am scraping nickels and dimes together to pay for it all.  I’ll need a small home equity loan to finance the whole ordeal.  The alleged ‘free’ jumbo showerhead will, in reality, cost me about $1,000 to install in added plumbing costs because it will hang straight down from the ceiling.  Penny wise, pound foolish.

October 26 – This is a key week in the life of the bathroom.  The drywall work needs to be done and the tile guy is allegedly to begin laying the tile at the end of this week.  The rough plumbing and electrical work is finished.  They will both come back once the drywall is finished.  Kind of drug my feet on the drywall when I should’ve been making calls for bids.  Two guys are expensive but can get the work done.  Another guy is a convicted felon but he is mentored by a good friend of mine at church but he is much cheaper.  Torn between the two. The bids have all been higher than I would’ve thought.  My garage is filled with torn out stuff, including the jade-green double sink countertop that Betsy wants me to keep for her.

November 2 – The drywall is up and should be – knock on wood – finished today.  It’s starting to look like a bathroom again although the tile guy has delayed his work for the third time.  He doesn’t get a move on until Wednesday, and that’s just the prep work.  The real laying of the tile does not start until next week, and that’s when I head to Hilton Head.  Go figure.  But the plumbing is roughed in, as is the electrical, and now the drywall.  It’ll happen.  Because she said she cannot trust my judgment with color, Betsy, and Bob, picked me up early Saturday morning and we headed to Lowe’s to pick out paint colors.  Something like “Rusty Cordovan” was the choice.  I will do the painting myself.  But there is still work to be done: selection of a glass shower door, trim and molding, purchase of mirrors and towel bars, etc.  Cannot wait to shower in it.  The toilet is still sitting in the garage and I have to clean and polish it up.  I suppose I should buy a new one but this figuratively makes me feel a little better to be saving a few bucks.

November 9 – To sound like a broken record, the tile guy is to start today.  He was delayed a bit by family illness and a minor drywall error on one of the walls by the bathtub.  That is being corrected today so he should be able to begin laying the floor in the shower.  While I’m gone he is to finish all the tile work in its entirety.  Then I can paint.  Then the electrical and plumber guys can come back in and finish attaching what they need to attach; i.e. canister and sconce lighting, and the sinks.  Believe me, I am ready to be done with dust and clutter and just want to stand under the new shower and soak it all it.

November 16 – Stayed home for an hour this morning to meet the tile guy.  In theory, there were bad storms in Charlotte last week that stopped him from doing the work he was supposed to do while I was gone.  The rough work, the cement board and such, is done.  He said today that he will devote the rest of the week to my project.  Uh huh. But they sure like to get paid on time.  And then, the plumber left a voicemail to say he’d had his gall bladder removed and he’ll be out for two to three weeks which means the sinks and the shower items won’t be installed.  Honest to God, Rome was built faster than this shower has taken.  I suppose it’s inching its way toward completion.

November 30 – The shower is nearly finished.  Only the grout remains of the tile work, and the plumbing and such can be completed by the end of the week.  One thing about contractors, their hands are always out.  My tile guy underlined his request for his third and final payment.  Whoopee.  It does look pretty nice though.  I’m sure a designer would do it differently, but that’s why that make nice magazine pages to provide inspiration.  In my case, it was the Restoration Hardware catalog.

December 7 – Well, in theory the bath should be finished by this weekend (at least the tile work and the plumbing finished, not sure of the electrician can make it just yet).  But I’ve heard these oaths before and nothing has been done.  Last week was the first time I was truly perturbed by the snail’s pace of things.  But when it comes time to get paid, they want it and they want it now.  I’m afraid to tally up the final cost, but my educated guess says somewhere in the $9,500 – $10,000 range.  That shower damn well better work.  I’m mildly worried that the 50 gallon water heater won’t be enough to supply the new showerhead.  We’ll see.  I’m just tired of the dust and the debris and the commotion.  Part of the garage was reclaimed this weekend.  Demolished the old bathroom cabinets and stuffed it all into the garbage bin.  Was going to donate them to the Habitat for Humanity Restore but without a top, the custom sized cabinets wouldn’t have been much use to anyone.  Betsy has claimed the green countertop, so it is still languishing in the garage.  Did buy a $300 Kohler ‘comfort height’ toilet to match the pedestal sinks.  This weekend will be devoted to putting up all the matching towels bars, mirrors and other accoutrements (glass shelving, toilet paper holder, towel rings).  Until that’s done, won’t know for sure precisely where the sconces will be placed.  That will cost a few more bucks to position correctly.  Still haven’t ordered the shower glass door.  That’s in the works.  Cha-ching goes the cash registers.  Kind of numb to the costs right now.  Have dipped into a few thousand dollars in home equity loan to pay for it all.  I’ll install a cheap shower rod and curtain until the glass is ready.  The wood trim won’t get done until January.

December 14 – Finally, there is a functioning bathroom.  The final coat of tile sealant is being slathered on today and then at long last the shower will be available to me.  There are a few odds and ends yet to be done; $1,000 ‘heavy glass’ shower door, wood trim, and electrical fixtures to be installed.  The huge shower head is in place but the plumber did not have a 12” polished nickel pipe to suspend it from the ceiling.  So it’s hanging from a short temporary pipe which has the sunflower nearly on the ceiling.  He’ll order a pipe ($100) from Grohe and it takes about 10 days to arrive.  But I installed the mirrors, the glass shelving and towel racks over the weekend.  Also repainted the walls since the paint was a little thin in spots.  Shaved in there this morning just for the experience.  But it felt good for a change.  I’ll email pics when all is said and done.  Amen.

January 4, 2010 – This is about the last you’ll have to put up with hearing about the new bathroom.  The glass shower door is to be installed tomorrow afternoon.  They call it a “heavy” glass door because it is 3/8” thick.  I paid extra to have a coating put on to reduce the potential for stains and water damage since glass is actually porous.  Once that’s done, only the wood trim remains.  Haven’t bought that yet but will soon.  My neighbor Mike is planning to help me with that since he has all the tools.  His fee is a couple bottles of Jack Daniels. That’s as cheap as any of the labor has been.  Ellen, I spent your Restoration Hardware gift certificate (thanks) on some really nice towels.  Once this is all wrapped up, a cleaning service recommended by Betsy will come in to do the sordid work.  They deserve your pity considering the dust and residue of neglect and construction.

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One response to “Of mushrooms, bath destruction and cost overruns…

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