Reflections on Doing It Yourself

All that remains for the bathroom to be done is touch up work. Touch up work in this case means:

–Removing a thin haze of grout from the tile
–Repairing the broken plaster
–Putting a removeable cover over the bathtub’s plumbing instead of the immoveable covering (except by destruction) that the last owners left

This leaves me in a position to meditate a little bit on the process of doing the project. Here are some things that I have learned:

Research the Whole Project
The goal of this project was to put up tile in the bathroom and take out the tub surround. That part of the project was researched well. Kristen even went to a class on laying tile at one point. Unfortunately we were too tile focused. In our plans the project looked like this:

1. Take down the tub surround and put up the concrete backerboard.
2. Put up the tile.

Here’s what it should have looked like:

1. Rip out the tub surround.
2. Use crowbar to remove the plaster and the lathe (thin boards that hold up plaster) behind it.
3. Put up shims so that the concrete backerboard will be level when you screw it in. This step took two days. It also involved putting up an additional 2 by 4 behind the tub, lots of measuring, and lots of cutting.
4. Put in a new mixing valve for your hot and cold water. Your old one is 20 years old and it already leaks. If you leave it in and knock it a few times during the construction process, you’ll end up putting in a new one anyway. It’ll just be more expensive if you wait.
5. Put in plastic sheeting behind backerboard.
6. Screw in concrete backerboard.
7. Put up mortar.
8. Put up tile. This also included a lot of measuring and cutting.
9. Put in grout.
10. Brush on sealer.

We had planned for everything but step 2, 3 and 4. We were only saved from disaster by happenstance which led to another insight I’ll call…

Do Not In Fact Actually Do Do-It-Yourself Projects Yourself
After ripping out the tub surround, I realized that there was a lot of drywall and plaster behind it. At that point I had to decide whether to rip that out or to just screw in the backerboard over it. Unfortunately I’m not particularly experienced in such things.

When I’m not experienced, my first instinct is to do research. That’s what you do when you’ve spent as much time in academia as I have. Research in this case consisted of calling people I know who have done significant amounts of home repair. One of them turned out to be David Bosch who I knew worked in renovating old homes. I didn’t know precisely what he did though. It turned out that he’s a carpenter.

I can’t tell you how important that turned out to be.

I wouldn’t have known to put up the 2 by 4 for support. I would have had no idea how to make the backerboard level. I wouldn’t have had the necessary tools. He knew or owned all of the above. Better than that, he was willing to spend more than 20 hours over the course of 3 days hanging out in our bathroom, instructing me in the basics of carpentry, and just doing the stuff that was in any way beyond me (i.e. nearly everything).

Along the same lines, my Mom came in and taught Kristen how to lay tile, putting in much of the mortar and tile herself.

Construction Leads You Into Odd Situations
Beyond the simple fact that we didn’t get to bathe for a couple days, the oddest situation resulted from the placement of the bathroom.

Our bathroom is on the second floor of our house. Just off of the bathroom is a balcony. We needed to cut concrete backerboard, shims, 2 by 4’s, and tile. Where did we cut them? On the balcony.

If you had told me that people would be operating power tools in the dark on my balcony, I don’t know what I would have done, but I hope I would have bought more lighting.

Brief Note to Those Who May Someday Sell Me Insurance: I solemnly pledge to never ever do it again. On the bright side, at least we weren’t also drinking beer.

Know When to Stop
You’ve got two competing needs when doing home renovations. First you’ve got to do everything needed to do a good job. Second, you have to know when to stop.

Take on too much and you’ll end up living in construction until you have the urge to finish–possibly years from now.

We could have ripped out the other walls in the bathroom too. The paneling is cheap and somewhat bad looking, but we just aren’t going to do it soon. Maybe during the summer we’ll consider it, but if we have any sense we won’t do it till next summer.

Dave knows a couple whose marriage was pushed towards divorce due to home renovations. Kristen and I want to avoid that.

One amusing result of all this is that tools and home repair actually seem interesting to me now. I’m one step closer to understanding why my grandfather actually did it for fun.

I think it’d be more fun to work on someone else’s home though. That way I’d still be able to bathe.

So if David ever needs a clueless person to hold boards in place while he works on his own house, I’m available…

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Doing It Yourself”

  1. We’re in the stage where we started too much at once, and now we have rooms with no trim that have been that way for a couple years. It’s hard to get back into it.

    On the other hand, with a room like the bathroom, you’re more inclined to finish it, since you NEED it.

    As for doing it for fun, it can be very rewarding, and once you get good at it, it’s not even that hard. I’m not very good at it yet. :)

  2. It can be extremely hard to get back to a project that you’ve started. I ripped out the lineoleum in our bathroom and didn’t get the floor sanded, stained, and covered with polyurethane for nearly two years. Even then, I ended up hiring someone.

    Personally, I’m not even good enough yet to realize when I’m biting off much, much more than I can chew. That was definitely the case with this project.

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