Our Master Bathroom Renovation, 1 week in: It Gets Worse Before it Gets Better (right?)

April 10, 2018

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We have a long-standing relationship with DIY, and love rolling our sleeves up and making it happen. 

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Well, we’re a week deep into our bathroom renovation–(the first time we’ve contracted a crew to do a full job like this in our house) and there’s so much to share. Like, first of all, it doesn’t look like this anymore. And I don’t even miss it (yet)…talk to me in 2 weeks.

Those are the before pictures. Nothing in our bathroom we ever touched or painted or updated besides swapping out our shower head–a simple upgrade that anyone can and should do if you aren’t happy with your shower right now, today!

But besides that, we’ve just been using our bathroom as is, making mental notes of what we someday wanted to do. As the list grew, we knew our budget would have to, too. Because the list started including things that were beyond the scope of DIY. Major plumbing projects like moving toilets across the room and nixing tubs in favor of multiple shower heads. So we waited and waited and this year, we’re celebrating 5 years in our home by knocking out the last room on our list, the master bathroom–at last.

(this photo is the same angle as the one above it)

One big lesson we learned this week is you can plan and prepare for years, and there will still be 150 decisions you have to make every day–even if you aren’t the one necessarily swinging the hammer. And a lot of them have to be made on the spot. Quickly. It’s exciting and crazy and exhausting. For the sake of summary, in my mind, there were three curveball decisions made this first week–one by us, one by the contractors, and one by the plumber…that is gonna have to get fixed.

1. The curveball decision we made 

Mid last week, after they had the walls down, they ran into a few snags with the plumbing layout. In the toilet closet, Where the toilet would fall was right on a thick floor joist. It needed moved forward 4 inches. Which made our shower 4 inches smaller. (I initially thought this had to do with our plumbing for the sinks having to be built out, as well, but they are separate). After standing in the area by ourselves, and with each other and with a measuring tape and squinting, we decided to bump out the wall into our bedroom 4 inches–which is basically the thickness of the wall. To some it may sound extreme. But to us, the wall is coming down anyway to house a pocket door, and we’ve come this far. Why not keep our grand shower as grand as we wished it to be. The final shower will be 60″ wide x 48″ deep.

2. The curveball decision our contractors made

We decided not to do a steam shower a couple weeks ago. Mostly because of a tile conflict, but also three shower heads in a 5 foot area felt like it would get steamy enough. Still! Making sure our shower had enough water pressure and power and heat to it has been the name of the game all week. Two days ago, I overheard them saying, “we’re going to have to take down the ceiling.” And sure enough, a portion of the ceiling from our utility room, down the hall and into the girls’ bedroom came down so they could run the appropriate pipes–a necessity! Part of the wall in the girls’ bedroom also came down and it’s fascinating to me how this house of ours is all connected.

Sometimes, right now, it feels like every inch of the house is in shambles, but it also makes me grateful we hired this out. How scary it would have been if we had to make the decision to take down a bunch of the ceiling and the wall in the girls’ room. I don’t know if I could!

3. The curveball decision our plumber made

Because we’re running so much water to our shower, the drain pipe has to be 3″ instead of a standard 1.5″. They warned us a few days ago, a p-trap might not make the angle in the floor joists which would mean we may have to add an extra drain to the shower or the other option would be the trap would have to be concealed somehow from below?

Yesterday afternoon, we learned our plumber (who is a genius! but definitely puts plumbing over everything else) went the route of–not my problem. There is a p-trap hanging down from the ceiling in the girls’ room!

Hahaha What?! He was thinking we could just drop the ceiling there. I can’t even wrap my head around that, but we’re talking with them tomorrow about making the switch to two drains if need be.

All in all, it’s been a whirlwind first week, and my fingers are crossed that we’re still on schedule to finish by the month mark, but it’s hard to tell right now. Is this the hardest part? Moving all these pipes around? It feels like it could be.

I’m also taking notes and working on a post about living through a renovation. If you have any pro tips to share, leave them in the comments below! I’d love to add them to a post with credit.


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What do you think?

  1. Renovations can certainly feel like a rollercoaster ride of emotions! Hang in there – the chaos of demolition will soon give way to the promise of a beautifully transformed space. Looking forward to seeing the stunning end result! 🛁🔨 #RenovationRealities #HomeImprovementJourney

  2. Amanda says:

    Just wondering, and maybe I missed it, but what is your budget for this remodel? And how much do you average in overages? We did a rather small bathroom remodel a year ago and it was a disaster. We spent $15,000 on a tiny bathroom and it looks like a high school shop project.

    • Julia says:

      We’ll definitely do a budget breakdown when all is said and done. We were quoted about $33K for all the labor and most of the materials, we have $50K saved for it.

  3. Shannon Sword says:

    Currently planning my master bath reno that starts in May. Can You share some of the finishes you have pickedv specifically the mirrors? Thanks!

  4. heidi says:

    Our remodel starts next week so I’m so glad you are a little bit ahead of me to let me know what’s coming!! Thanks!!!

  5. Julie S says:

    I can’t cope with contractors making decisions other than what I wanted! That P trap hanging out of the ceiling is beyond words. Seriously, my husband had to communicate every design decision and be the liason when we ran into snags mid project on our reno because I could not hold a civil conversation with the fellows. My minimal people skills just vanished under the stress and expectations of having our own private home worked on. Ugh, I hope the rest of your posts on this room don’t bring back the awful memories like this one did! (Not that it’s on you, my baggage LOL)

  6. That plumber would have been fired on the spot

  7. Meredith says:

    What craziness. I’m wondering, did you consider any gray water/water reclamation steps when designing?

  8. Scott D says:

    OMG a 3″ drain for a shower? I been in the remodeling business for 17 yrs and have a master plumbers license. Keep in mind the water supply coming into your home 3/4″ . Don’t care how many shower heads you have installed, only 3/4″ of volume is coming out of pipes. A 2″ drain line is all that required by code and is more than efficient enough as long as it is vented as per national plumbing code. A toilet requires a 3″ drain hence up to 3 1/2 gallons of water passes in a few seconds when it is flushed. What a joke that plumber is and you should have the contractor send him a bill for repairing the drywall. I do everything when I have a job demo, electric, plumbing, drywall, paint and finish. Only thing outsourced is if the customer wants a granite counter. Otherwise I’m hands on with my crew and everything is done right from start to finish and not have to worry about “HACKS” that hold a license to do shady work. I bet the local code enforcement inspector will have a good laugh and take a few pics because nobody will believe what a moron plumber you hired. Sorry for your pain but get references or recommendations from township inspectors as they know who knows contractors that do good work. Hope everything works out and be patient, great results come to those that wait.

  9. Leah says:

    It’s all gonna be SO worth it! And each curveball is invaluable experience. Some tips that I think haven’t been mentioned: have a “go bag” for the fam if fumes/dust/etc. are particularly bad one day (unexpectedly so) and you need to camp at a friend’s house and buy extra plants to eat up all those extra VOCs that come with remodels. Can’t wait for more updates!

  10. Vicki says:

    You are both obviously made of sterner stuff and more patience that I have. If I saw that in my child’s room, I would have gone a little crazy. Plumbers are a different breed apparently. LOL

  11. Lori says:

    After Doing a master bath remodel a couple of years ago — my advice is to have the sheetrock repairs scheduled last. Like dead last. (But before paint, obviously). The Sheetrock guys kept having to come back to fix one little thing based on a small change … and then again …, and again as small changes were made to mirror or light or whatever placement. It nickel and dimed us to pieces!

  12. Stephanie Reiner says:

    We try to contain the dust by taping up plastic (you can buy the zippers to like a door opening to get in and out). I’d say double any time frame given you by a contractor. Try to keep the crazy contained to one room because actually living in a construction zone will get real old real quick. If this were a kitchen remodel, I’d say meal plan and try to do it during the summer so grilling is an easy option. It ALWAYS looks really bad before it starts to look better so just have patience and don’t stress about little things that go wrong because guarantee something WILL go wrong or you will discover a water leak or a pipe running through a wall that dashes your dreams of open shelves in the laundry room. We are on our third DIY live in remodel and I’ve learned to just go with the flow. It won’t help anyone or anything to stress about the process. Low expectations the whole way ????

  13. Hallie says:

    Oh my gosh, I think I would be having a panic attack watching the construction spill into other rooms! Especially ones you had just finished (e.g. the girls room)! I don’t know how you are doing it.

  14. Sam Devine says:

    You two seem to have a good attitude about things. Floor joists and other hidden things can be a real pain in the butt.

    I enjoy having conversations with our clients about how many decisions they will have to make and how no budget is secure and no timeline incapable being blown. Major renovations, when done well, take time. Speed is often the enemy of quality. The best part of all of it is when a job is well done and you get to enjoy the reward for years without worry of failure.

    Amazingly poor choice to drop that trap below the ceiling like that. Very fixable but silly to have to do it.

    You should check out Mercury Mosaics tile from Minneapolis, MN. No affiliation to my company, just a product I love to use, especially in a master bath!

  15. Kristin says:

    We just lived through a big house reno, with newborn twins in the mix too! The plan was for it to be done before their birth…fast forward to me spending my entire maternity leave with the finish carpenter! My advice: don’t get attached to deadlines and don’t compromise your wants/needs just because you want it done quicker. And try not to lose your mind over ALL THE DUST.

  16. Jennifer T. says:

    So I am an architect and manage healthcare construction projects and I would highly recommend you not sleeping in your master while this work is underway. In fact I would move everything out of your master BR, especially your mattress and put up plastic sheeting at the doorway with a zipper on it to contain the dust and debris. Since you already started demo and your sheets are on the bed, I would strip the bed and wash those puppies and (if you aren’t already), sleep on an air mattress in another room. It’s not healthy to be breathing in all that dust and debris for an extended period. Yes, yes, I know contractors don’t wear masks, but that’s them and not you. Just saying. Not trying to freak you out, I am just telling you how we prep for construction in my house.

  17. That p-trap! I work for a design+build firm and I would be SO MAD (and dumbfounded) at my plumber for doing that! I don’t understand why the conversation was about lowering the ceiling below instead of raising the floor above–that would way less noticeable and all that framing is new anyway. And as a contractor mistakes like that cost me money! Glad you are taking it all in stride. I will say that not every tradesman is an artist and I frequently have to ask my subs to put their thinking cabs on and come up with less obtrusive ways of solving a problem. Design isn’t just something that happens before the construction process, you’re definitely still designing throughout the construction process. I’m loving all the updates! Can’t wait to see how things look next week!

  18. Jamie says:

    Oh man – we renovated our entire house two years ago and my biggest tips would be expect the unexpected (stuff WILL come up that you weren’t prepared for), and along those same lines just plan on it costing 50% more money and taking 50% more time then whatever you were anticipating. That way you’ll be pleasantly surprised if your project comes in on time and on budget.. but are mentally prepared if (I mean let’s be real – WHEN) that doesn’t happen!

  19. Kimberly says:

    That p-trap is hilarious! We had to have our home repiped after discovering a leak under the slab right before starting our kitchen renovation. There were so many holes cut into our walls and they ended up having to run exposed pipes in our master closet thinking we could just fir out the wall a bit (we still haven’t). To save money we decided to do the wall patching ourselves and that was one of the most time consuming parts.

    Fast forward a year from then and we started our kitchen renovation by knocking down a wall. It was an 85% DIY job and the messy part took four months(!!!). Our bedroom was cluttered with RTA cabinets, a sink, a hood vent, a dishwasher, plus all of our kitchen dishes and I felt like I was going insane (being pregnant didn’t help, either!). My tips for living through a renovation would be: 1) assume that it’s going to take longer than you think 2) try to keep the clutter confined to one area of your home, this helps “escape” it in a way. 3) make it as fun as possible for the kids, have picnics on disposable plates and spend as much time as possible outside.

    I feel for what you are going through and think it is super smart that you hired it out.

  20. Desiree says:

    Currently in the thick of a garage conversion and the amount of BS that I have had to deal with regarding the contractors that I’ve employed to do relatively simple contractor type things–like hanging drywall–has been rage inducing, so to see that P trap just hanging out there in a hole in the ceiling without your knowledge…????

  21. angela s sewell says:

    Our master bath was the first thing we tackled, and by we, I mostly mean a contractor and his team. We were fortunate that nothing really popped up and threw us a curve ball, but we did have some growing pains along the way. It was worth it when it was done, but it wasn’t fun to live through. It’ll be over before you know it and I can’t wait to see the results!

  22. Abigail says:

    Well, it seems that at least you haven’t uncovered any scary problems like black mold or structural water damage. I’m renovating the ONLY full bathroom in my house right now and am more than a week behind because I discovered a huge black mold problem along with rotten floor joists.

    • Julia says:

      We feel SO LUCKY there was no mold problems. We actually couldn’t believe it considering the tub surround seemed to be disintegrating.

    • Jennifer T. says:

      Make sure your contractor (or you) sprays the mold with a 1% bleach/water solution and contains it by paiting it with Kilz primer before removing it from your home. When they take out the mold items, have them double bag it, seal it, and keep it sealed all the way to the dumpster. And no re-using bags. All bags and moldy stuff should go in the dumpster and stay there.

      • A Brown says:

        Bleach wont kill mold properly. Use Concrobium instead (sold at Home Depot). This is used after flood damage.

  23. Catherine Olney says:

    Amazing home and this is wonderful! Finding such a beautiful home in an established neighborhood! These are the homes Americans are looking to raise families in. Keep up the good work in guiding us thru renovations, the good and the ugly! Oh and the drain pipe, keep it the way it is, the plumber knows best! I am sure you will think of something, it’s such a little thing in the big picture. These are the BEST days of your lives! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Kim says:

    Cover everything in your house with blankets, plastic or anything you have that drapes over furniture and decor that is not easy to dust. no matter what there will be dust in the air from some work they do.
    Add 7 to 10 days to your expectations of finished job.
    Monitor that works they do at end of each day. Even though we had a very reliable contractor, there were little things that were done and not done that we caught at end of reno and didn’t want to call them back. ( Outlets above sink in wall were installed upside down. The more we showered, the more we saw some grout dripping, which indicated they did not seal the tile. Honest mistake, one thought the other did it
    If your contractor says he is not comfortable installing something I E colon the flooring you picked out, trust him and get the installer from flooring store you purchased from.
    Hope that you aren’t sick while they are there like I was, laying on the couch with influenza for two of the five weeksthey were working, they probably thought I was the laziest person in the world.
    Good luck and keep your sense of humor

  25. Holly says:

    So many on the fly moments! I’m sure it will be fabulous!
    The only thing though is all that extra water that will be wasted and the environmental impact it has in the long run. Take short showers ????

  26. Emily says:

    OMG. I can’t imagine what I would say to a plumber who did that. That is literally ridiculous and I think it would be hard for me to not seriously question his judgement going forward. “Not my problem” mindset on a construction project is a really, really problematic sentiment. Kudos to you for taking it in stride!

  27. Hope says:

    It took to contractors and three and a half months to finish one bathroom between the plumbing and the tiling and painting and nothing was done right except taking out everything to the Bone putting up new walls and putting in the shower floor and the tile floor in the rest of the bathroom. I’m an old fashioned girl I like tile rather than those walls the all in one piece you know what I mean lol. Anyway two months later the grout is starting to come out of the tile walls in the corners, the toilet kind of leans an eighth of an inch on an angle, the towel holders and toilet paper holders we’re all put in wrong I had to redo them myself and the caulking around my beautiful frameless glass doors you could just pull it off!! The first contractor did everything so poorly and he was here a month that it all had to be ripped out and he ripped us off for thousands and thousands of dollars and the second one before he finished the bathroom just left without getting paid his last $400. Meanwhile we need master bathroom done and I’m petrified of what’s going to happen and these are reputable people who are licensed. Go figure. Needless to say I hope everything for you goes better than its going now I love to hear the update.. I wish I could do it all myself. Because I don’t think anybody really cares anymore about their work. If it’s a little difficult and they have to go out of their way they rather not do it or they’ll charge you an arm and a leg. Well that’s my story anyway. Good luck

  28. Nancy Sherman says:

    OMG – I think I would have flipped out on that plumber!! :)
    Must keep a sense of humor when remodeling. Thank you for sharing it all.
    Love the nitty-gritty, makes me miss major demos – NOT ;)
    I can’t even repaint my kitchen cabinets, I’ve changed my color scheme more than once since I started dreaming about it. Maybe, just maybe you’ll give me the inspiration to just get it done this summer :)

    • Julia says:

      He is honestly the nicest, older guy. And he’s really good at what he does. I can’t be mad! I knew it would get fixed as soon as we talked to our contractor.

      • Annika says:

        Teach me how to be calm, Julia! I freaked when I saw your plumber’s handiwork and it’s not even my house. I have zero chill about these things.

  29. Stacie says:

    Oh my gosh that trap coming out of the ceiling! Hahaha! Face palm.

  30. Ellen says:

    I am super impressed with how you are dealing with the P-trap/ceiling situation… I would be losing it BIG TIME.
    But really, how does the plumber think that anyone, let alone a client with the most perfect pinch-pleated pink linen curtains, would we okay with a large PVC pipe poking out of their ceiling!?!?

  31. Betty says:

    Have our bathroom done now and yes there are always new problems. Lucky we were out if town for demo so contractor made the right decisions. Should have been down yesterday but three out of the four plumbing fixtures were missing something out of box! Having to have wood floors refinished to clean drywall,grout and dust. Glad project is almost finished

  32. Katy says:

    Have you ever thought about building your next house from scratch? We’re doing it right now and it’s SO fun. Just make it right the first time instead of buying and undoing all the bad stuff to make it howtou want.

  33. JoAnn Straub says:

    Welcome to the world of remodeling. My husband and I went for a remodel of the master bath and bedroom and all I can tell you is be prepared to be delayed to have things change and push it out to 3 weeks easily. We had to have the whole house replumbed then they started on the bathroom. Of course are issues with plumbing pipes and where something is situated, Add all the people walking in-and-out of my house all day long with the plumbers, The title guys, the countertop installers, the wallpaper hangers and the carpet layers and finally the painters. The amount of dust that spreads to the house no matter what you do is always going to be there Spent more time dusting and vacuuming then I care think about. But in the long run it was well worth it. I get more compliments on my bathroom I had a decorator come in for the blinds and such and take pictures of it and then she asked me who the decorator was and I said ME!

  34. Maya says:

    OMG the p-trap in the bedroom!! Hilarious! I vote you cut a disco ball in half, glue it to the ceiling, and call it a day ;)

  35. Maybe the plumber wanted to add a water feature or noise machine to the girl’s room. Sounds like a generous and thoughtful guy to me!

  36. Lindsey F. says:

    I know your contractor will be patching all these holes in your ceiling but could you do a tutorial and review of how it looks after patching? I want to make changes to my house but I’m so scared of patched ceilings looking bad.

    • Jamie says:

      Lindsey, we had to have our electrical rewired when we moved into our house two years ago, and our walls in the WHOLE house looked like swiss cheese! (Aka huge holes every.whereee) Once they patched them you couldn’t tell at all. Also, once you paint/hang things on the walls I don’t think any imperfections would be super noticeable anyway. I’m sure it also depends on the skill of your dry wall person! :)

  37. Oh my goodness that is hilarious! And annoying, hah. A good tip and something we always do is use painters plastic to tape off areas of the home that will not be affected by the reno to help keep dust, particles, whatever out. An air purifier can help, which I think you have. And then the number one thing after reno wraps – well, I guess number 2 after ya’ll enjoy that shower – is to change the air filters in the house. We’re always surprised how much has built up. Hang in there!

  38. Lindsey says:

    Ahh!! So exciting!! And also crazy to think that you’re only renovating the bathroom but so much is happening throughout the rest of the house too! Can’t wait to see the end result

  39. Leanne says:

    My husbands a plumber and made the decision that thered be a piece about the size of yours sticking out of the top of our wall in our only bathroom. ???? i have yet to figure out how to hide it! Argh.

  40. Emily says:

    This is a very timely project for me to follow along with, as we are in the midst of renovating our master bathroom! We are taking one large bathroom, and making it a small guest/kids bathroom and a small en suite. I was hoping we would hire out the job, but alas we are doing it ourselves! It may be salt on the wounds to see how quickly your crew overtakes us!

  41. Lissa Walker says:

    I am laughing at the plumbers decision. Although, it is not funny at all.
    Those of us who have done retro reno’s certainly understand.
    My hubby who knows nothing about reno since I am always the contractor always tells me-oh just go or be gone when they are there. Perfect example of why we sometimes needs to micro-manage.
    AND YES, do the dust removal. Otherwise it lingers everywhere for weeks and weeks

  42. Rachel says:

    I can’t believe the plumber just cut a hole in the girls’ ceiling and left that pipe hanging down! How is that okay? Hang in there – it’s going to be great when it’s done!

  43. Molly says:

    I can’t get over your plumber’s decision to just drop a gigantic P trap through the ceiling! Who wants a weirdo bump out like that in a bedroom?! That’s such an amazing example of ‘not my problem’

  44. Candice says:

    After each renovation we’ve done, we had a team come in for dust removal. They use super, super powerful vacuums and vacuum every surface, crevice, furniture and upholstery item, and HVAC. It’s priceless. Otherwise you will be dealing with residual dust for weeks. It’s anout $500 – $700 in our part of the country, but so worth it.

  45. Kelly says:

    Lol what?! How could your plumber think that “just lower the ceiling in the bedroom” was an acceptable solution?? Too funny. Love the updates!

    • yasmara says:

      Why didn’t he just ask you??? I primarily work at home & my favorite contractors/subs have been the ones who are not afraid to just ASK ME what to do when they come to a decision point. Bonus points if they have a specific recommendation & can tell me why they think it should be one way vs another.

  46. Kristin says:

    I love hearing about t he bathroom and all, but what I really need to know is where to find those shoes!

  47. Karen says:

    House in (construction) shambles – ahhhhh!!! Here’s my story: Feb 2017 our big renovation started (half our house, the heart of our house – kitchen, living, dining, family rooms, about 1500 SF, leaving our only living spaces the bedrooms, laundry room, and mancave). It took five months to re-do that space, which included cooking out of my laundry room for three months. (But I did it! We were able to eat at home five/nights week!)

    That landed us into July, and we were going to lay hardwood in the master bedroom. Well, the contractor and flooring guys discovered our master bath was leaking. Huh, ok….then let’s just start renovating the master bathroom!?!? I was SO burned out from our big reno that I….so I took 2-3 months to select materials, layout, etc. We also told our contractor he could “take his time” b/c as a family living in a construction house were OVER IT.

    FINALLY in the middle of January the master area was completed – we moved back into the space, YAY! Then, on Jan 23rd….we had a FLOOD in our kitchen (old pipe under slab). This was DEVASTATING. My new kitchen has major damage, hardwood floors (which were glued down) are demo’d out. The water ran through the kitchen, and into the mancave, sunroom (off kitchen), and garage. Most repair work in those other spaces is complete, thank goodness. It’s 2.5 months later and our concrete slab is still too wet to reinstall the floors. Two weeks ago we fully moved back into the kitchen/dining, and we’re embracing the ‘industrial look” our concrete (slab) flooring brings. I’m hoping another month or two and the slab will be dried out enough but who knows! (We also added re-piping all lines in our house to our list of improvements – and we installed this:

    Construction in your home is GNARLY! After the flood repair is complete we’re taking a year break and then we’ll tackle the last bathroom and laundry room. And THEN think about the 1 acre yard, HA! Hooray for buying a fixer!

  48. hey guys, I cannot wait to see the final project as it unveils… good luck and greetings from Bucharest, Romania! ;)

  49. AIMEE FEATHER says:

    Prepare for the dust that comes with dry wall repair and sanding. If you can get another air purifier for the basement, that might help. That is my least favorite part of the construction process — all if the dust. But, this is all really exciting. It will be worth it when it’s done!

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