When I purchased my home in 1983, no one told me it would replace all my former hobbies. As every homeowner knows, owning a house means either becoming a do-it-yourselfer or finding a job that pays extremely well so someone else can maintain your investment.
In 1987, sometime after replacing the carpet and installing a new water heater, I noticed that the bathroom had become outdated, difficult to clean and downright shabby. The homemade vanity had loose marble slabs and leaky, alkaline colored faucets. The toilet was permanently stained. The enamel bathtub had rust spots that were beginning to rust through.
After four phone calls to bathroom remodel contractors, I was wondering how to come up with $3,000 or $4,000. Marrying a rich man was my aunt's advice, but I'd be taking a bath in rusty water before that could be accomplished. A home loan was something I wished to avoid.
Why couldn't I put a bathroom on layaway, like a rug or jewelry? What an idea! I patched the tub temporarily with epoxy and began an eight-month search for components.
Within a few weeks I found a company to salvage the bathtub while leaving the shower walls intact. A Huntington Beach firm fits a complete fiberglass tub over an old enamel (steel or cast-iron base) bathtub. Cost was $460, and the work would be done in a few hours, with a previous visit for taking measurements.
The new 38-inch vanity top was found in the back yard of a salvage firm. There were a few scratches on the edges, and it was predrilled for a spread-set faucet. The $35 price was half the cost of even the discount places.
Several months later, a home center had a 36-inch Pullman cabinet on sale for $125. That was stored in my bedroom with a board on top for an extra dresser while I shopped around for a low-profile toilet that was found on sale at another home center for $215.
My plumber had recommended sliding shower doors that "hang" from metal brackets, making them easier to open, and a door track on the bottom that has only one side.
This makes cleaning the track a simple task. The "obscure" glass was an option that also made the doors less likely to show water streaks. I splurged for $150, and it was worth every penny on the upkeep and ease of operation. (These doors can be slid open with one finger!)
Getting everything done within a few days was made easier with the help of a competent plumber. He had already given me an estimate of $400 for installation of the new fixtures and water supply lines.
However, before the plumber could begin, the tub liner needed to be installed. The workman sent by the firm was knowledgeable and efficient. He did caution that it would be best to wait until the next day to use the tub.
Four hours after he arrived, I had a shiny, white fiberglass tub. In 1991, four years later, I still have a shiny, white tub.
The installation included a "turn and drop"-style chrome stopper and chrome overflow plate. In the meantime, they delivered my new shower doors. I could save the $50 installation cost if I did it myself, so I decided to give it a go.
Upon placing the bottom door track, I found a three-eighth-inch sway on the tub edge. After spreading the caulking, then placing a 10-pound sack of potting soil over the center of the track overnight, the door track adhered with no adverse effects.
The side frames did not line up exactly, even though they were placed over the previous mounts. However, a few extra door guides allowed the doors to seat properly into both sides of the frame. Necessary tools to fit the frame and doors were a hacksaw, electric drill, metal drill bits and screwdriver.
The finishing touch was a 4-inch strip of crown molding, added above the frame to make up the difference in height of the shower walls and the new doors. The wood molding was cut and stained oak to match the rest of the bathroom trim.
New chrome faucets for the tub/shower were purchased at a plumbing store. I intended to stay with chrome; the Pullman cabinet, though, had brass pulls. The vendor made up a combination brass and chrome lavatory faucet spread-set that complements the various metal finishes ($140 for all the faucets.)
After the plumber arrived (and expressed great relief that he would not have to install a new tub as well), we disconnected the old sink--I had already torn out the old cabinet and left a 2-by-4 to prop up the sink--and we removed the toilet.
The plumber installed all new supply lines from the wall out to the fixtures. The new vanity was 3 inches shorter than the old (in the back splash), so a piece of oak trim, stained and then treated with Varathane, was nailed with paneling nails to the wall. To complete the waterproofing, a line of caulk was run between the trim and the top of the back splash.
The total cost of the project was $1,638. The cost of the fixtures has risen about 25%, and not even that much if you shop for sales or in discount warehouses. The bathtub liners are about $500 now. The shower doors are $183 for the model I chose (plus $70 for installation, and an additional cost for removing the old ones).
But, what to do with the old bath fixtures? I remembered an article in The Times about some enterprising individuals who take used furniture and appliances into Mexico for re-sale. All the old fixtures worked, so I cleaned them up (at which point they looked so good I wondered why I had replaced them), and went to a local strawberry field.
The foreman there conversed briefly with some of his workers. After getting my address and directions, he showed up with three men and two pickup trucks and hauled everything away. (He also suggested taking the washer and dryer, but I said I planned to keep those for a while.)