This is part of my home remodel blog series to document my “highs and lows” in tackling my own projects. As I mentioned in my introduction to this blog series I can definitely hold my own when it comes to commercial remodels but when I get tools in my hands I definitely turn into more of a weekend warrior as I don’t actually make it out to the field much anymore in my current role as a commercial general contractor. This first part of the home remodeling blog will focus on what I did when my wife and I were still at our condo in downtown Denver. Unfortunately I was not taking a lot of photos at the time that remodel was completed but at a minimum I think we have most of the “after” shot that I can post!
The first remodel project that I decided to tackle in my Denver condo was my master bathroom. Let’s start with what I had to begin with:
- Plastic Laminate Countertop with Porcelain Sink and Chrome Faucet with Plastic Handle
- Sheet Vinyl – 4 Layers of it to be exact dating back to 1981 (my condo used to be a rental unit that was converted into a “for sale” unit.
- Typical White Ceramic Dal-Tile for Shower Area and “builder grade” shower/tub fixtures
- Oak Base Cabinet
- AND Finally, the nice “80’s” Vanity light fixture that people used to love so much back in the day
So here is a step-by-step process on what we decided to change and how we did it for our home remodeling adventure!
Sheet Vinyl HAD to go. Even if the look was bearable after some minor investigation it was obvious that between the 3rd and 4th layer of vinyl were the PERFECT conditions for mold to grow. The sheet vinyl took some good scraping to come up. I did have some more success when I switched from a hand scraper to a larger, heavier, long floor scraper. Luckily for me my condo was built in a full cast-in-place (CIP) concrete building so after I got through the linoleum I was able to scrape my way down to bare concrete for a great sub-floor. Again, the original vinyl was still installed from the first round of finishes in 1984 so the original sub-floor was basically preserved by the time I got to it.
New Floor Tile
We decided to go with 12” x 12” slate – I think the color was multi raja Indian or similar. I always loved the natural slate look – definitely has to be your thing but one thing on my mind was we DID live in Colorado (granted it was the middle of downtown Denver) but also my condo building had offered “builder” upgrades to everyone who had purchased a condo: so that meant that if I went with something a little different than the standard “cool loft” look that everyone else got I felt like it was set the condo a little bit apart from everything else. Before installing the tile we had to decide whether it needed a waterproofing membrane or not. For the bathroom floor I decided that it didn’t need it since it was a cast in place concrete deck anyhow. Also, I am lazy so a waterproofing membrane would have taken more time and energy so sometimes that helps me make my decision as well.
Purchasing the Tile
Call me crazy but when I look for tile or any flooring in general I tend to stay away from Home Depot or Lowe’s. I know that they are totally buying in mass quantities and you can get materials there pretty inexpensively but I also just feel like I am pay “a little” more wherever I go to Home Depot for finish materials. The trick, or what I believe is a trick, is to ask the other flooring stores to give you a “contractor’s” discount when you go there, and more often or not (especially if you are buying “regularly” priced material) they will definitely offer you some sort of a discount. The way I like to think of it is 1) first of all I am a contractor by day so, hypothetically, if the store takes care of me then for my “real” jobs I could be more inclined to come to them for business and 2) had I hired a real contractor to install everything for me they would have reached out to the store for a discount as well. For this tile I ended up finding what I needed at Carpet Connection. I am not sure how far they are spread out nationally but there are many them in the greater Denver area and I can always typically find what I am looking for at the store, especially for carpet and tile.
Installation ended up going well. The 12” tile was pretty easy to cut. It felt like it was large enough to get good coverage but not too large where it was difficult to install or level correctly. Also, I feel like this was the first big “project” that my wife Elaine and I did together, and we ended up getting a pretty good system down where she would cut and I would install. Also there was only about 24 square feet of tile to install in our tiny bathroom so it didn’t take too long to wrap it up. When we completed the installation of the tile it looked a little “raw” to us so we ended up finding a nice glossy sealer from Miracle. IF you are still installing natural slate out there I definitely recommend installing a glossy seal on top – you have to seal slate anyhow, especially in wet or high traffic areas, really any areas, and the wet look definitely made the natural colors pop!
Vanity and Cabinetry
Second on the list to replace was the original plastic laminate (P-Lam) countertop. Similar to the vinyl flooring – it did not look bad, but it still had to go. Although I didn’t mind it the units within my building had all been upgraded already so I felt like I needed to get my condo on the same level as the other condos in terms of finishes if we were to ever sell it.
Purchasing the Vanity Top
I found a pre-fabricated granite vanity top from a flooring store in the area to replace the P-Lam top. The granite vanity top was nice because it came with a sink already installed into the granite countertop, so I didn’t have to worry about cutting or finishing the sink hole for the vanity. One tip that I learned after this experience, and something that I still have to keep reminding myself, is to try and plan out everything that I would like to purchase before going out and purchasing things that I “love” but haven’t quite planned out yet. That was the case with this granite vanity top. I had purchased the top WAY before I had found what I was looking for in flooring, paint, cabinets, etc… so I ended up having this big, heavy vanity top and sink sitting in a box in my living room for MONTHS before I ended up installing it. I was so excited to see it that I purchased it WAY too far in advance and used my tiny little condo as a storage unit until I was ready to install.
Vanity Top Installation
I had no plans to replace the base cabinet in the master bathroom, but wife and she was able to talk me into doing SOMETHING to it since it was original to the unit and really looked out of date. Elaine ended up tackling this project herself by removing, sanding, and refinishing the front doors and front of the cabinet as well as installing some updated hardware on the doors as well. The vanity looked like a new cabinet by the time my wife was done with it!
Wall Tile and Tub Surround
Demolition and Preparation
The master bathroom had a 5’ tub and white standard 4” or 6” “Dal-Tile” ceramic tile. I decided to remove the white tile and install some more natural slate tile – 6” tile with an accent band to be exact; to maintain my “90’s” mountain resort theme (it was well into the 2000’s by this point)! In hindsight a 6” white ceramic tile can typically stand the test of time and is already coming back into style, but it definitely didn’t fit into the new style I was going for.
I started to scrape the existing tile off with a hand scraper. However, as I started to take it down I found that the existing tile had been installed on top of standard drywall with no waterproofing membrane. I am not sure how the condo had existed for so long and with there being no problems, but regardless, I was not going to match what the tile was originally installed on! I ended up pulling out both the ceramic tile and the drywall backing. Took it down to bare studs and installed the cement board. After the cement board was installed then I made sure to tape the joints with a nylon tape. Finally, just to make sure we were good to go, I ended up installing Redguard waterproofing membrane. This stuff felt like a pretty solid product. I put a few different coats on it and really felt good about the installation of the tile.
Tub Surround Installation
We decided to install the tile with a mortar on the wall for the master bedroom instead of mastic. I had been told by someone that mortar would hold the tile up better than mastic. It seemed to work very well as I installed it and never had any issues with drooping or anything. The only major issue that I had and have come to find out it’s pretty common with natural slate tile, is that I had a lot of trouble getting grout all over the tile. It turns out that natural slate is about 10x harder to clean grout off than a ceramic or porcelain tile. My problem was that I was trying to finish the tile “right” before I was supposed to leave for California for a year. I LITERALLY stayed up the whole night trying to wrap it up. I didn’t have a chance to fully clean the grout until I got back about a year later and then ended up having to scrape all of the grout off, 6” tile by 6” tile! Lesson learned 1) never install slate tile 2) if you do install slate tile clean it thoroughly and quickly before it cures!
At the end of the day the tile looked great and we were happy with the end product. Totally transformed the shower area!
After all of the tile and countertop got replaced it was time to think about all of the plumbing fixtures. At the sink I ended up replacing the faucet with Moen satin nickel fixtures. For plumbing fixtures I looked all around including Home Depot, googled a bunch of stores, and a couple of local commercial plumbing distributors. I ended up finding that eFaucets.com online and they tended to sell pretty much any plumbing fixture cheaper then typical retail store pricing. The only catch was that I had to find a nice discount code to use while purchasing the faucet.
Shower Handle, Tub Spout, and Showerhead
One tip I wanted to share with the shower kit is that the best way to change out the plumbing fixtures at a shower is to find out exactly what mixing valve has been installed, and then replacing the handle with one that uses the same mixing valve. This will help you to avoid having to rip out all of the in-wall plumbing and having to install a new mixing valve. I was able to find out that I had a “Moentrol” mixing valve so I found a Moen shower handle that I liked to replace the existing handle. I did have issues installing the tub spout from the same kit but what I ended up finding (after racking my brains trying to figure out what was going on) that I had lost a couple of random parts that I APPARENTLY really needed for a functioning tub spout!
I ended up changing out the vanity lights with a nice satin nickel fixture, raised it up some on the wall, and replaced my “surface-mounted” medicine cabinet (that looked just as bad as the vanity lights) with a normal un-framed mirror. In addition, the original bathroom had only one light fixture, and we ended up keeping a shower curtain, so it would really get dark when we would close the curtain. I ended up installing a moisture rated can light above the bathtub and switching it on the same switch as the exhaust fan. This was a little easier for me to wire everything together, but looking back it would have probably been more appropriate to install a separate light switch for everything.
To complete the bathroom renovation I ended up re-painting everything using a white semi-gloss to brighten up the white ceiling and chose a light gray color on the walls. Since I painted this the first time my lovely fiancé (now wife) had since trumped my color decision and I had to paint “Round 2” shortly after I painted the first color.
My first “hands-on” remodeling experience with the bathroom was definitely a time-consuming and learning experience and I certainly learned a few lessons from it. What would you have done differently? Did I miss any steps? Please feel to reply in the comments section.
Thanks for reading!