When we bought our house, we were thinking we weren’t buying a “project”. We liked it the way it was, and aside from some small touch-ups, we wouldn’t change much.
Instead, we’d focus on the garden, building my workshop and then projects that go from there.
Two months later, we wanted to change everything. Everything.
First up on the list was the bathroom. This is how it looked like:
We started by looking for inspiration online, and going around tile shops to find what we wanted.
The rough idea was this:
This is always the easy part. Make sure everything is disconnected (electricity, water, and if applicable gas) and go at it with a demolition hammer. At least in our case, where we were stripping everything down to bare walls.
The old shower was built very poorly and it was leaking, so some of the framing behind it was rotten.
The hard part was that the most severely affected pieces were the bottom stiles, on top of which the rest of the framing sits.
I supported the frame, cut out the stile and replaced it with a new one. Then I bolted it into the concrete slab to make sure it doesn’t move.
The new window we got was slightly smaller than the old one, so I had to build some additional framing for it, and also reduce the opening in the brick wall from the outside of the house.
The biggest mistake here was using too much color for the mortar. I thought the original mortar was slightly tinted, but I added way too much oxide and it turned out very red.
Having had no experience with brick laying, the first time the wall didn’t come out as straight as I’d like it, so I tore it down and re-built.
This time I added less colour, but it was still too much. I left it as is and decided to deal with it later.
Finally the window was in and it didn’t look too bad, at least from the inside.
At this point I had a plumber connect the water pipes for the shower and water tank, so that was all in place before the next steps. I didn’t touch the pipes for the basins, as they’d be in the same place as the old ones.
For the water tank, I had to build some framing support on top of which it would sit. The biggest mistake I made here was not recessing the mounting screws to sit flush with the framing.
I didn’t think of it at the time, but it turned out to be a problem later when tiling, because those screws made bumps in the wall which were quite difficult to flatten.
Once it was all mounted, I tested it to make sure everything is working properly.
We wanted a shower niche / recess, which I built out of marine plywood as a simple box.
The important thing here is to make sure it’s slightly slanted to the inside of the shower, so the water naturally flows out instead of collecting in the corners.
I supported this with some noggins, screwed it into the framing and then siliconed all corners and screws to make sure it’s water tight.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any insulation in the walls in the house, except for the foil.
Since I had the walls open anyway, I got some insulation batts and installed them.
This was by far the easiest part of the whole job!
The old shower had a shower tray, and underneath it was a hole for the drain pipe.
With a walk-in shower, I couldn’t have the hole there, so I had to cement it in.
The drain was prepared by the plumber, I didn’t want to risk making a mistake and then pouring concrete over - it would have been a very expensive one!
I wrapped the pipe in some foam band to help prevent cracking, and poured over the concrete.
The drain channel would go into this later, on top of a puddle flange.
At this point, I got an electrician to come and rough in the installations. We removed the existing combination heater/light, and installed 4 downlights.
The heating would be primarily through the under-tile heating, and we’d add a towel heater too.
He made the holes for downlights and prepared all the cables before I started working on the walls.
I’ve found a lot of conflicting information about what should go on the walls in the bathroom, but ended up going with Villaboard - a type of cement sheet that’s designed for wet areas like this.
I found cement sheets harder to handle than the gypsum drywall, because they’re heavier, much harder to cut accurately and harder to drill / screw into. They also tend to break easily.
There were also two holes in the wall I needed to patch - the one from the heater and the one from the built-in storage. This was just drywall like the rest of the ceiling.
Next up was patching and base coats. I used fiber-glass tape and the wet area coating compound to cover all joints, small holes and screws.
Unfortunately, at this point I discovered I didn’t flatten the walls properly. If this was to just be painted, it would have been much less of a problem, but for tiling I had to fix it.
Looking back, it would have probably been easier to just take down the lining boards and flatten the framing behind, but I underestimated the unevenness and went with another method instead.
I used tile glue to flatten everything, which meant several passes where I’d apply a bunch of glue to the wall and then flatten with a straight edge.
Even after all this, the walls weren’t perfectly flat but they were somewhat close. Again, looking back I would have done more, because this did end up showing in the tile work (to me at least; most people don’t notice).
More conflicting advice here. What to use, how to prepare it, what not to do, etc.
I used two 90x35mm boards which I bolted into the concrete so they can’t move and unglue the tiles, and wrapped them with cement sheets like the walls.
Patched them up and it was ready to go.
The building standard says waterproof to 10cm above the water pipe (i.e. shower), but I went ahead and just waterproofed the whole shower area.
This included everything from floor to ceiling (but not the ceiling itself), into the window frame and over the kerb.
I used fiber-tape for all the joints, and did two thick coats. The waterproofing material was easy to apply and when dry, was like having wrapped everything in a thick layer of rubber.
The purpose of this step was to get a fall towards the drain. Building standard says 1cm per 60cm length, so in my case that was 3cm over the 180cm length.
Below the screed, I used a thin coat of tile glue to make sure it sticks better to waterproofing.
I used two timber wedges going from 3.5cm to 5mm at the drain, and two very short ones for the other side behind the drain - to make sure water doesn’t pool in the corner.
After the screed dried, I removed the wedges, filled in the holes and that was it.
This was by far the messiest, hardest, most frustrating and overall worst part of the job.
Of course, this mostly comes from my inexperience, having never laid a tile in my life 🙂
I bought a wet saw because we had porcelain tiles, but had a lot of trouble with the tiles breaking.
Near the very end of the job, I realised that was because the saw table wasn’t flat, so the tile would break under its own weight near the end of the cut.
The walls were still not perfectly flat either, and getting tiles to not stick out too much was a challenge.
Glue was everywhere. I probably should have used less of it, and made it drier. But man was it messy.
We used a tile leveling system with wedges and clips - and I don’t know how we’d do it without it. It can’t do magic, but it really helps level things and keep them in place. In addition to that, we used standard tile spacers to space the tiles.
I say we here, because I did all of this together with my wife, if I was doing it solo it would have taken three times as long, and my mental health would end up a lot worse.
Overall, it took several full weekends - morning to late night - but we managed to finish it.
After doing the walls, I installed under-tile heating, and then the floor tiles.
After tiling and cleaning everything up for a couple of days, we applied the grout and grout sealer - and finally, tiling was done!
Mainly because of problems with tiles breaking, and because of uneven walls, the edges and corners didn’t look great in all places.
To help with that, we added timber lining boards in a couple of places, and after seeing how nice that looked, added a few more.
I made a mistake here finishing those boards with can spray lacquer, not thinking that’s not water-proof.
After using the bathroom for a while, that finish started peeling off, so I had to scrape it and apply some polyurethane, which now seems to be holding up pretty well.
At this stage, I also started building the vanity, but I’ll write about that in another post.
We wanted a simple glass panel that closes most of the shower and leaves an entrance - no actual door or other frames.
To fix the glass to the wall, we used an aluminium channel we screwed in, and siliconed everything.
Originally the plan was to leave it like that, people at the store told us it was enough.
However, I wasn’t happy with stability - I was afraid if someone slipped and grabbed the glass, they might pull it off the wall. So we ended up installing a brace above the entrance, which really made it solid.
This guy really screwed up, and I was too tired of everything to chase him about it.
We bought a dual-control thermostat, to control both the under-tile heating and the towel heater. We paid quite a bit more to have this.
When speaking to the electrician, I told him several times that’s how we wanted it connected.
What he did instead was, just create an outlet for the towel heater, and then incorrectly connect the under-tile heating (!!!)
He saw the dual-control thermostat, saw it says “zone 1” and “zone 2”, and, instead of asking when he didn’t know what that was for, he connected one end of the heater to “Zone 1”, and the other end to “Zone 2”.
If you know anything about electrics (I do a bit), that’s such utter nonsense I can’t believe it. Basically, instead of creating a circuit that would make the heater work, he left the two ends dangling. Not to mention he didn’t connect the towel heater to the thermostat at all!
When we turned on the heating and it wasn’t working, he first tried to convince us that it will take a bit of time for the under-tile heating to warm up, but when it didn’t after a couple of hours, he had to come back (a week later).
Speaking to the tile heater company, he figured out how to connect the under-tile heating, but unfortunately our towel heater was doomed.
At least he managed to connect the lights properly.
There were just a few things left to do.
The vanity was nearly done, I installed the shower hardware and towel heater, and siliconed-in the toilet.
The electrician came back and connected everything together - installed the downlights, connected the undertile heating and towel heater.
Finally, we glued the mirror to the wall using fast-grab silicone, and installed the vanity.
Done, piece of cake!
It only took us ~7 months of weekends to complete 🙂
To be fair, we spent at least 4 of those months going around the stores and trying to pick things like tiles and hardware. Then not all of the other weekends were spent working - we took breaks here and there, including a 3-week vacation. It’s hard to say how much time it actually took.
I’ve learned an enormous amount about various aspects of building, from demolition through waterproofing to tiling and installing basins and such.
It’s been a very enjoyable project, with a few frustrating parts (like removing tiles, which took me weeks) and a few mistakes (like finishing timber with spray lacquer which isn’t water-proof).
After finishing, I honestly just couldn’t wait to start on the next thing! That feeling has let go of me after a while, but I’m still looking forward to whatever we renovate next.