The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

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Main Floor Bath: the Demolition

My, oh my.


Slav has demolished the main floor bath and let me warn you, what is behind the wall is NOT pretty. If you could stomach mold and rotten wood, scroll down for more update on the state of the bath.


The exterior/window wall

I’ve shown you the state of the window. We want to assess the water damage below and around it first, so the first thing Slav demoed was the tiled shower. We were fully prepared for rotten studs, but to our surprise, the wooden structures are very much intact despite some mold on the surface. Slav sprayed on lots of bleach on the studs and we have determined that very few pieces needed to be replaced.


Slav is no stranger to demolition work. During college he spent summers in the Big Apple working for a construction company doing mold removal and demolition, and that meant wearing whole body suit and full face respirator in 100 degree and humid summer, working in old moldy buildings without electricity and air conditioning. When I offered help to him on this demo job, he was like “do not even come in I got this”. He was wearing a filtered respirator and kept the fan running during the entire demo. But I was asked to stay outside of the room hence the lack of progress shots.


Fortunately, all the wood studs are dense and solid, without any signs of rotting. All we need to replace is the window stool support and some horizontal bracing around the tub:


See the window stool? It was one pieces of granite sitting on a piece of concrete without any waterproofing material in between. The stool itself and the concrete support were removed, and the horizontal 2″x4″ below the concrete will be replaced too.


We knew about the water leak at the tub faucet. So it was not a surprise to find mold around the tub/shower plumbing. We will be upgrade all the plumbing to PEX as we did for the basement, so Slav terminated the water pipes here by soldering copper caps onto the existing copper plumbing.


The floor demo

Based on the water damage around the tub faucet, we knew there would be damages to the subfloor around the tub. Slav moved the vanity and toilet out, and pried up the tiled floor.


Removing tile is a messy job – the tiles were not only set on mortar, but also on a sheet of metal grid. Slav had to cut the metal wires periodically in order to get manageable pieces of tile off the subfloor.


Here was what the floor next to the tub looked like. The subfloor was soft under the foot, which indicated that it was rotting and needed to be replaced.


Slav called me into the bathroom after all the tiles was gone, “we have another layer of flooring underneath the tile!” he said. Yep! There was a whole layer of linoleum, probably the original flooring when the house was built.


The linoleum flooring was glued onto a thin piece of underlayment which was stapled to two layers of subfloor. Removing it was not too difficult, just time consuming because of all the staples.


The drywall demo

After all the flooring was out of the way, Slav proceeded to remove all the drywall around the bathroom:



Again, there was some water damage behind the vanity but overall the wet wall studs were in good shape. Even the bottom plate did not need to replaced. Most of the damage was on the subfloor around the tub area:


Here is a picture of where the medicine cabinet used to be. You can see the water stains on the drywall to the kitchen side. It was because of the roof leak from the kitchen exhaust vent, which we have fixed while putting in a new roof.


Slav also removed the framing of the corner column and exposed the non-functional vent tube:



This vent tub has been cut in the basement, just below the main floor level. So we will just cut it above the ceiling and terminate it in the attic.


It took a few days of demo to get all the walls and flooring out. The room might look worse, but felt a lot lighter:



Can you see Charlie in the picture above? Despite the noise the pups were very curious what was going on in the bathroom. They kept trying to squeeze in and investigate. Slav kept the door shut to contain dust and spores, but whenever the door was open, you could see one or two little black noses poking in and sniffing!

The cast iron tub removal

Slav spent an entire day demoing the tub.


The work was difficult due to how much force it required to break the cast iron, yet how little vibration it could take due to our inability of uncoupling the tub drain from the plumbing. So Slav cut the tub into sections, then used an axe to break the tub one section at a time.



At the end, he cut loose the drain part and it felt like a big victory to see the whole tub gone! Luckily, the vertical framing behind the tub were also solid and can be reused. All we needed to do was simply removing the blocking pieces to which the tub was secured.


From the picture above and below you can see the water damage on subfloor, all near faucets and water pipes.



We will replace all the subflooring in this room. As a start, Slav cut away all the rotten subflooring along the wet wall. This process exposed all the plumbing so we can upgrade them from the top.


The rest of the subfloor was kept for now so we have something solid to walk on. They will be replaced after the plumbing is upgraded.


I guess we are getting a new floor register too.


The demo was complete!


After the demo was complete, Slav sprayed a couple rounds of bleach on all the studs and then brushed on a thick coat of this Zinsser primer to seal the wood.


We plan to waterproof not only the future shower area, but the whole bathroom before tiling, so no moisture will be able to get behind the tiles in the future. We want to make sure that nothing can grow behind the walls.


So! here it is how the room look like now – with the demo completed, we will be upgrading the electrical next, and a new window has been ordered. Our goal is to get the new window installed and the exterior wall insulated before the next snow, We also want to install better lighting and a new exhaust fan before starting the next stage of the rebuild.


To keep track, here is a simplified to-do list on the bathroom renovation:

1. Demolition – removing all the fixtures and wall/floor materials;
2. Assessing the water damage and mold control;
3. Installing new bath window and insulating the exterior wall;
4. Removing the ceiling drywall from the attic, wiring for new recessed lights;
5. Installing a new exhaust fan;
6. Upgrading wall electrical, including adding outlets and rewiring for switches;
7. Installing recessed lights and new ceiling drywall, taping/mudding/priming ceiling;
8. Pocket door framing;
9. Upgrading plumbing for toilet and shower;
10. Ordering new toilet, sink/vanity, and shower fixtures. Upgrading water lines;
11. Installing new subflooring, closing up the walls, and waterproofing;
12. Tiling the floor;
13. Tiling the shower wall with a shower niche;
14. Installing new window stool/trims;
15. Priming and painting drywall and ceiling;
16. Installing glass shower doors;
17. Installing shower fixtures, vanity/sink, and toilet/bidet;
18. Installing pocket door, mirror, and lighting.
19. Door trims inside and outside/updating nearby closet trims at the same time;
20. Accessories, plants, enjoy!

The Basement Bathroom: Before + Progress


When closing on our ranch, the most intriguing aspect was definitely getting the second bathroom. Slav and I had always lived with a single bath. Getting ready at the same time in the morning sounded exciting.

So, it might sound like a surprise that we’ve only used the basement bathroom a handful of times thus far. Well, until you see what it looks like.


Hello the future master bath.







It is not a diamond in the rough. It is the rough. We took no pleasure walking into this room, let alone using it. Sitting empty did not do this room any favor either. Over the last a year and a half, bugs and spider webs took over.


We have been wondering about the hole in the soffit above the shower. It turns out to carry an important function: the upstairs bathtub leaks and this hole lets water drain directly into the basement shower. Although unacceptable, you cannot deny the previous owner’s ability of thinking outside the box.


The soffit wrapped around the mirror wall and ended at a weird bump-out above the toilet. By opening the utility room drywall, we learned that the only thing inside the soffit was the fan vent pipe, and the weird bump-out used to conceal the water heater ventilation pipe, which has been discontinued when we upgraded to a tankless water heater.


The first order of business is to assess the room. Although small, this bathroom has the potential to be highly efficient, if we could properly address the following issues:

1. Poor ventilation.

The old bathroom fan was noisy and weak, and the only window in the bathroom does not open. Being the only old window in the basement, it will be replaced with a window that can be fully opened to the outside air. We will also install a proper fan to vent the bathroom efficiently.


2. The nearly-empty soffit.

As I mentioned, the soffit only houses the vent pipe for the bathroom fan, which will be replaced and relocated. There will be no reason for the soffit to stay, and removing it will allow us to raise the light fixture higher as well as install a taller medicine cabinet.


3. Builder grade finishes (of the worst variety).

Popcorn ceiling, heavily textured walls, and outdated aluminum fixtures. Ugh.




4. Direction of the door swing


Currently the door swings inside, which not only blocks the toilet paper, but also limits the usable space in the bathroom. We have discussed the possibility of removing the door completely and reinstalling it at the living room doorway. Moving the door two feet out will not only save floor space in front of the toilet, but also create better flow between the future master bed and bath.

5. Lack of storage

Currently, the only storage in the bathroom is the medicine cabinet. Unfortunately, it is made of MDF and was completely waterlogged. We have been using medicine cabinets for years and really like the hidden storage they provide. Adding a new and potentially bigger one will completely take care of the storage needs in this space.


6. The shower area

To save money and work, we plan to keep the shower area and floor tiles. Some good scrubbing and a new grout job will surely make them look as well as they function.



7. Saving space with a narrow vanity

I actually like the vanity for its narrow profile and the depth of the sink. Unfortunately, it was completely waterlogged down both of the side panel. We are in search of something similar as a replacement.


Something even more bizarre was the back of the vanity was completely removed and so was the drywall behind. A quick and dirty way to finish the plumbing job, like everything in this house. Ugh.


The Demo Progress

After getting on the same page on what to keep and what to get rid of, I took the pry bar and removed the soffit.




It is amazing how much drywall trash this small soffit turned into.


The flexible pipe you see below was for the old bathroom fan. It had been disconnected inside the soffit until we bought the house. This bathroom was used by four children and inevitably, all the moisture trapped in the soffit has led to mold behind the soffit.


The U shape pipe next the fan vent is connected to the upstairs bathtub. It leaks when we take showers upstairs. Based on the condition of the subfloor, we think it has been leaking for quite some time as well.


The medicine cabinet came off without a fight. The hanging metal box housed the broken bathroom fan.


Removing the corner soffit exposed the old ventilation pipe for the old water heater. This pipe goes up all the way to the roof. The current plan is to trim it at the ceiling level so we can re-drywall. But we also have the option of using it to vent through the roof.


The bathroom demo concluded the demolition in the basement, at least for the part that we intended to remove. While the drywall dust settles, we officially enter the planning phase, with home improvement stores to visit and plumbers to call. I cannot wait to come back for another update on this little space, which probably involves replacing the window or fixing the plumbing. The bath will only get cuter from now!


The Birth of A New Master

Holy smoke. We are officially in a 2-bedroom house now.


Remember the two bedrooms on the north end of our basement? The ones directly below Slav’s office and our current bedroom?


Well, they are now one big room…


It has been a long struggle to find a purpose for the basement bedrooms. They are small, with tiny closets, and unavoidably dark. Initially, we considered renting the whole basement out as a 2b/1b suite. After all, it was a finished space when we bought it. Although we did not like the finishes (carpet + paneling), it was still acceptable as a rental with a fresh coat of paint. But having only one laundry facility in the basement made this plan difficult to execute.

We also considered to convert the basement into a short-term rental + a guest suite by adding a private entry. But we quickly nixed the idea due to cost of cutting into the foundation and creating a new entry. Most recently, we tossed around the idea of using the bedrooms as Slav’s office + additional media room. However, this plan would have resulted in no guest bedroom in our house, which is not ideal.


As we were weighting on these options, the basement stayed empty. 18 months in, we decided to get rid of all the unwanted fixtures in the basement. Our hope was that reducing this space to its bare bone could inspire the best usage for it. To my surprise, this plan worked! During demo, we discovered the I-beam support for our house, which opened the possibility of removing the dividing wall between the bedrooms and make them one big room. This option was never on the table before. But as soon as it popped up, we could not get it out of our minds.

Slav and I are both highly intuitive people, which can be a blessing and a curse. Before we decided how to use the combined room, the dividing wall had already come down.


In fact, the dividing wall was not merely a wall, but hosting two neighboring closets. This setup is commonly seen in old houses and identical to the former closets in our bedroom and Slav’s office, which we reversed to both face the bedroom.

This was the northeast bedroom closet, neighboring a wall of graffiti. I do not miss it one bit.



The soffit above is actually an air duct painted white, and the pipe in front belongs to the HVAC system.


Behind the wall of graffiti was the closet in the formal northwest bedroom. Weirdly, the two closets was connected via an small opening. The previous owner has a small dog – maybe this opening was made for the dog?



We are fully aware the consequence of removing closets – by our city code, a bedroom has to have a closet that meets minimal size requirement. Removing these two closets and reversing the closet in Slav’s office technically reduced the number of coded bedrooms in our house to one. But closet is fairly simple to construct, and we are not planning to sell this house any time soon, so we went ahead with the demo.


Demoing the closets gave the new room good lighting from all three sides. This space became a lot more bright and pleasant throughout the day. It is amazing how a space can speak for itself. As soon as the demo was done, we knew that it would become our new master bedroom.


The east side of this 240 sqft space will host our king bed. With the headboard against the east wall, there will be plenty room on either side of the bed to walk around. One complain Slav has for our current bedroom is the space between the bed and his side of the wall is too narrow.


The west side will become a dressing area. We will be building floor-to-ceiling wardrobe closets around the two windows. There closets will be big enough to host all of clothes, camping gears, and linings.


There is also a 3/4 bathroom right off the former northeast bedroom door. In the picture below, the door direct in front leads to a lining closet, which will stay and become our bathroom closet. The bathroom is to the left.


It was the bathroom that inspired me to move the master bedroom downstairs. Slav and I both prefer a 3/4 bath to a full bath. We never liked taking showers in a bathtub and even talked about relocating the bathtub in our current bathroom to the basement bath. It never occurred to us that we could just move the bed!


The doorway on the right leads to the living area. You can also see this doorway better from the picture below. We will be adding a lockable door here and taking down the current bathroom door to add more floor space.


The door on the left in the picture above used to lead to the northwest bedroom. It will become the main entry to the master.


There are a couple things we need to address here, such as how to deal with the exposed ducts here. The old air duct extends into the room by a few feet. It not only supplies air to the basement bedrooms, but also to our current bedroom and Slav’s office on the main floor. It has to stay, and so does the HVAC line. We would need to build a soffit to enclose them.


Removing the closet framing also exposed the I-beam above. We will likely to enclose it in the same soffit with the ducts.


We also found the third supporting column (grey) tucked away in one of the closets.


My mind has been spinning since the birth of this new room. With a 3/4 bathroom next to it, and the location of the doors, it is so inclined to be a master bedroom. On the same note, our current bedroom is a much better choice for guests. It is moderate in size, near a full bath, and on the main floor.



While Slav is pocking around in the bathroom, I cannot help but thinking how I want this space to feel. As I get older, I’ve been craving more traditional Chinese elements in my space. For example, I’ve always liked the look of symmetrical partition walls as separation between two connected areas. We kind of did it in the Slav’s office by keeping some walls on both sides of the opening.


I would like to repeat the partition walls in the new master. The space is long and narrow and I think a pair of partition walls will work wonders between the sleeping area and the dressing area. Moreover, I’d like to do something more elaborate than just drywall, such as wood carving designs:

Image result for symatrical partition wall

Or some kind of moon gate like this. When used in bedrooms there are usually curtains hanging on one side of the moon gate to add privacy.

Image result for traditional chinese bedroom wood lattice

There’s still lots of work to do before we build up the bedroom. We will take the opportunity of the room being a blank slate to do some basic improvements including lighting, electrical, and soundproofing. It means that we might need to open up more walls and ceilings. We are also considering adding an egress window, which will involves cutting into foundation walls and has to be done by professionals. This will be our second Christmas in the ranch and somehow we managed to make drywall dust in both years. Fortunately the mess will be contained in one floor and kept out of our living space!

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