A Real Life Look at a Massive DIY Bathroom Renovation

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Does it ever feel like you aren’t getting the whole story when it comes to DIY home renovations?  Maybe you want to know what it’s really like before you go all in.  Maybe you wonder if you just aren’t cut out for it because you can’t stop crying throughout the process and it really shouldn’t be this hard.

Well, brace yourselves because I’m going to take you behind the scenes of a major DIY bathroom renovation by yours truly, and my husband in our 100 yr. old home in Portland, OR.

I want to note that we aren’t completely new to this. I practice Interior design and have a education in the field and my husband is quite a handy builder. Even still this was our biggest challenge to date!

It started 11 months ago as I was having some tile installed in the basement, when we hit a major problem that continued to snowball until we had a bathroom/laundry room that was nothing more that an empty hole with a dirt bottom.

Today, that bathroom is my favorite room in the house, and we did every inch of work ourselves with the help of some very kind friends.  However, the process was quite painful.

Ok, rewind…

The tile guy was here to install tile in a bare area of the basement and I wanted it to continue into the basement bathroom.  While he was tearing out the old linoleum tiles in the bathroom he found some dampness and told me that he thought there was a leak and if he had to guess the shower pan was likely leaking.  I told him to tile everywhere but the bathroom and we would figure it out. 

When my husband got home we started to do some tear out to see what was going on.  Just as the installer said, the shower was leaking.  As we dug deeper and deeper it got wetter and wetter until we discovered that the shower, installed by the previous owner, didn't have a shower pan at all.   Meaning that for 7 years the shower has been leaking into the floor.

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Obviously we had to tear out the shower to get to the root of the problem.  During tear out, the wood was so wet that old, gross, wood water was squirting up into our faces.  So gross.

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Now, this bathroom is my husband’s bathroom (so we don’t have to share) it is also our laundry room and it is right next to the "guest quarters" so it is the guest bath as well.  Needless to say this was a pretty big bummer.

We tore out the shower and tore up the floor down to a wood subfloor and we were overwhelmed with where to go next so we just left it.  It sat like that for 9 months. 

 This is how she sat for 9 months. Talk about a weight on your shoulders.

This is how she sat for 9 months. Talk about a weight on your shoulders.

Fast forward 9 months…

My wonderful mom was coming to visit and she cannot live without her own bathroom.   I was tired of the bathroom hanging over my head so we decided it was time to tackle it.  After a lot of contemplating how to get the flooring done we decided to do self-leveling concrete as the actual flooring.  I don't want to get into the specifics, but basically, if we tiled it would have created a giant, awkward step up into the bathroom that would have been a definite tripping spot.  

I had chosen new shower doors already and had a general idea how I wanted the room to look. A little bit classic, a little bit modern and a little bit industrial.

On a side note, this room was the only room that was not on foundation but, rather, a giant whole beneath the subfloor, we are guessing it is because the foundation was dig out to put in plumbing. Another problem!

We wanted to pour the leveler over the existing floor, but we couldn’t for a number of reasons.  We decided we needed to pull up the subfloor and lay new subfloor that was level and didn’t move under foot. Of course, we wasted time and money by trying it the wrong way first, laying cement board over the wobbly, uneven subfloor.  After a full night of work, we came back the next day and tore it all out, salvaged what we could and started fresh.

What we found under the subfloor of this large bathroom/laundry room was 3 rickety joists holding up the entire thing. 

 It was so bad. It was a hack job to say the least.

It was so bad. It was a hack job to say the least.

 This is Blake's mind being blown!

This is Blake's mind being blown!

It is crazy that this unsecured mess held up the weight of all that was previously happening.  Luckily, we have a friend who knows framing, he helped us frame out the space and fill in the gaps with concrete.  And we got this....

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The new shower base drain fell in a different spot than where the old drain was so we had to move that as well.  That was pretty stressful since it requires some precision. 

That, and the fact that the toilet (unfortunately not pictured) sat on cement slab that was considerably higher than everything else, posed another annoying dilema.  We had to build up the floor higher. Of course, we needed to protect the pipe while still having a sturdy base to pour concrete over.

Next, we laid cement board and poured our concrete!   We had to pour it very thick in some places and very thin in others so we did it in steps.  It took a few days. In retrospect, we would have done that a bit differently, but live and learn, right?

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While pouring the final layers of leveler, we added a black dye and let it naturally swirl around giving the floor a unique touch.

Installing the shower base was a little scary as well.  I think we were traumatized by the hack job that had been done by the old owner and were so afraid of messing up the plumbing. It was a weird process that, again, required precision.  We got a couple of quotes and it was around $600 just to install a shower base.  And the plumber wanted to install it without mortar even though the directions clearly stated to use mortar. Long story short, we did it ourselves, but I’m pretty sure we procrastinated for about a week.

Once that was in, we installed tile, and shower doors, sink, cabinets above the washer and dryer and so on.

I want to tell you that once we installed the shower base things moved quickly, but that would be a lie.  It seemed that everything that could go wrong in that bathroom did.  I’m talking everything.  It felt like the room was cursed or something.  It was a very frustrating experience.  We were angry, I cried a lot, we fought, we wanted to burn the house down at points, but it finally came together.  We did a lot of watching YouTube videos, studying structure and material and how to apply them.  We learned about framing, plumbing, pouring self-leveler, etc.  Without a precise design plan I chose finishes and, well, everything.  Blake made a unique vent cover and shelf that encased the washer dryer.  I put in some plants to soften up the space, a large rug and boom!!  The bathroom was ready, just in time for my mom to visit. We are so happy with how it turned out.  Doing it ourselves, with the help of some friends, saved us thousands of dollars when all was said and done.  Trust me, we got quotes!

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 All Photos taken by me! Kristen Manning Photography

All Photos taken by me! Kristen Manning Photography

I hope this gave you a little dose of reality.  It wasn't as glamourous to do as it is on TV but it sure was rewarding when it was all said and done! I would say that it isn't for everyone and certainly not every couple. It can add a lot of stress to a relationship and to your life in general and if it isn't something you are truly passionate about then I would absolutely hire professionals. However, if you own your own home, have plenty of time, a high tolerance for stress, and have the means to fix it if you mess up, go for it!

(For anyone out there wondering exactly how much it cost us to do this bathroom, the total was $3,089.82. Since we tore out an entire bathroom and rebuilt it from the dirt up, moved plumbing, etc., we easily saved $10,000+.)