Down the Drain

The Bare Necessities

In a modern house, a bathroom, any bathroom, is a necessity and just about any municipality will tell you that you can't move in until you have a working one. But we live by our own rules, and the contractor's progress on the bathroom pipes was, in a word, slow. The work was good, and it was hard work, but beyond the initial estimate the timeline felt like a complete afterthought. It seems there is a remodeling boom going on right now and contractors not only can't keep up, they can't even keep their people.

We were working on the bedrooms in these early weeks (Blood, Sweat and Cheers) of owning The Love Shack, and hoping they would finish the master bath before we had to pay for another month in our rental. The reason we were focused on the master was because it was not getting a complete redo, it was just getting the pipes done. We were also discussing other options, like just walking over to the beachfront hotels and acting like we owned them. Hey, people do worse things every day!

The Love Shack is a little old place...
The Love Shack is a little old place...

But before we go there, let's get into some details first. The 60 year old cast iron drain pipes were the problem, as we have mentioned. We were told that the pipes had been replaced "from the street to the house, and throughout the house". We had the pipes scoped anyway, and found that they were new out to the street, but not throughout the house at all. That's what started much of this, but there was a funny story along the way. The plumber who did the scoping sent me the videos of the drain pipes, and they were very boring as you might imagine. Until we saw the mouse in the pipe. Cute little guy, being chased by the pipe camera down the pipe toward the sewer main. Later I realized that's a 4" pipe, soooo, as Austin Powers would say, "That's a rat, baby!", and is suddenly less cute. Anyway, apparently rats live in the sewers, who knew?

The plumbing layout is as follows, from front to back: laundry (in the garage), kitchen, main bath, master bath. And all four of them feed the large drain pipe that goes to the sewer main under the street out front. For some reason, that order was also the order of how bad the pipes were. The laundry wouldn't drain at all, the kitchen wasn't far behind, and the bathrooms were the "best". We could probably get away with doing a partial fix but that was just pushing trouble down the road. We'd negotiated a price cut at closing because of these pipes and we were going to get them fixed. The roof was only a couple years old, and the HVAC system was the same, so if we could get the plumbing right, we knew the house would be good to us for a long, long time.

The Chaos

Now working with a contractor was all new to us. We've always been DIYers, from roofing to basement gut jobs, flooring, drywall, paint, trim, electrical, plumbing, you name it. But this job we couldn't do. Even if we could cut several inches of concrete, haul out the dirt, get the old pipes out, get the new ones installed and inspected, new concrete poured, etc. etc., well, we just wouldn't want to do that stuff. Not at all.

In addition, we wanted a real Florida Room, posthaste. That also involved cutting concrete and doing stucco work and other things that we're not skilled at (yet!). So yes, the contractor decision was the correct one, but it came with a loss of control and an enormous amount of chaos at times. The sheer amount of dirt *inside the house* was something to behold. There were mounds of it, in the main bath and hallway, and more mounds of it in the garage, which all got tracked straight into the house by all the workers. At one point, we were really just wishing we could pull a Barbara Eden move and cross our arms, blink our eyes, and have it done. But even if we could do that, well, "I Dream of Jeannie" taught me as a kid that magic always has a way of messing up your plans. So we did it the hard way, or rather the contractors' guys did, as if any of us had a choice.

You'll note that we only have pictures of the main bath and the garage because that's where all the work was done on the pipes. The master bath was literally accessed by starting underneath the main bath's concrete floor and burrowing under the wall to the master, with the plumber crawling on his belly and back in the dirt to connect to the shower and toilet in there. At one point, we heard him struggling and Deb offered to crawl under there for him (he's a good sized guy). His sad answer was, "You're about an hour too late.". That guy was beat, but he finished the job, and it was quality work. The kitchen pipes were accessed from the main bath as well, in the wall and in the floor, so the kitchen didn't need any demo either.

The main bath had been recently remodeled with *lots* of tile, but they didn't fix the pipes while they were in there. We didn't mind losing their work, as we had other ideas of what that bath should look like.

OK then, on to the "before" pictures.

During the Chaos, there was concrete dust (no surprise) and dirt everywhere. It was actually like a darker, almost cappuccino-colored beach sand and it moved around like it had legs.

The entrance to the main bath is in the hallway to the bedrooms, so we walked by the dirt mound many times a day. It was a little shocking, and more so when it dragged out day by day for a couple of weeks. Finally, the plumber did his trick and the dirt was returned from whence it came.

We had a similar situation in the garage, which had its own issues, like removing the water heater and cutting through concrete that was twice as thick.

The Rebuild

During all that chaos, we were watching the calendar, and things weren't really progressing as we'd hoped. Which reminds me of yet another quote from my old boss (Hi Paul!): "Hope is not a plan". We didn't have a plan, but we still had hope!

The problem is that during demolition, even though it is necessary, it feels like things are only moving backwards. But once concrete started getting poured back in the holes and trenches, we knew it was moving forward again. The pipes had been connected to the master bath, and we pushed them to get the toilet re-installed. Finally, the contractor's lead guy walked out of the bathroom and I kid you not, announced, "OK, we are open for poopies!". It was an interesting way to put it, but it was music to our ears and we moved in the next day, about 3 days before the rental contract expired. It also kept us from using the beachfront hotels as free public bathroom facilities.

We didn't have the main bath put together yet, that was a long way off, but we had our old master bath, we had bedrooms, we had an old but working kitchen, and the dirt mounds were gone. Life was good.

At that point, the laundry was fully functional but the bathroom needed the shower pan poured, the electrical completed, and the drywall and concrete boards installed. After that, it was left to us to do the finish work. This was part of the plan because we knew we had those skills and we also knew that nobody cares more about how it is is finished out more than we do. We chose the paint color from a couple pieces of tile we found in the wall. They were the original tiles in that bath from 1962, and it was a beautiful yellow - so we matched it with a color called coconut cream :). The tiling work was very complex, making it difficult and time consuming, but we soldiered on and finished off the bath in about 10 long, hard days.

When our contractor came in to finish out the bathroom trim he really complimented us on the tile work. He said if he'd sent his best tiler, we'd have gotten a job "about like this". And we have no idea if he'd have sent his best tiler, so in spite of the work, we're very happy with that choice. At that point, we'd moved in, had 3 bedrooms in various stages of "pretty much done" and two bathrooms that were fully done. The master bath is not our style and we'll remodel it one day, but it's going to take a while to forget how much work the other bath was. At least for now all our troubles go down the drain!

We were also working on the living and dining rooms, as well as doing a few things on the outside. During the whole process, we were averaging around 6 days a week, probably about 7-8 hours a day of mostly hard labor. At the same time, the Florida Room was being worked on by the contractor, and that's well worth it's own blog post. Stick around for that exciting journey, as we go from dark cave to light and airy goodness.

TODAY'S SPECIAL: "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window". It was written by Paul McCartney and released by the Beatles, but it's hard to beat the Joe Cocker version. Didn't anybody tell her (how hard that bathroom job was going to be)? Enjoy!


  1. Kevlar on March 8, 2021 at 10:55 am

    So motivational! In the middle of our kitchen remodel, we now have a ‘surprise’ bathroom remodel, and a wedding in 8 weeks. No pressure. Take all the time you need!

    • Deb on March 8, 2021 at 11:55 am

      Gotta love surprise remodels! We are just starting the kitchen! Our surprise right now is, Norm had eye surgery today. We are having our terrazzo refinished And need to move out our minimal furniture tomorrow. Norm can’t lift anything heavier than a milk jug! I’m gonna be carrying furniture and appliances on one shoulder like they do in cartoons!

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:26 am

      Hang in there Kevlar, you can do this! As another smart guy (David C) once said, “There’s no minute like the last minute!”.

  2. Laurie on March 8, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Looks great you two! It’s amazing how many house remodels can be done to “new/old” homes! We ourselves have redone (in this order:-)) two bathrooms, kitchen cabinets, and the entire first floor with laminate flooring! Your Florida house looks fantastic! Enjoy

    • Deb on March 8, 2021 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks! I can’t count the number of remodels we have done, including a flip! But we have had to learn some new skills for this one and I would say, I’m loving the way this forever home is turning out. This is the first time that we have tackled it all at once. I don’t want to remodel forever. There is a beach just a short walk away!

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:28 am

      Thanks Laurie! We have definitely discovered a few “layers” in this house, and I’m not just talking about paint. Thanks for checking in.

  3. Paul B on March 8, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Hi Norm :-). “Hope is not a strategy. Every time I rely on hope I get screwed”. You and Deb did great, great pics!

    • Deb on March 8, 2021 at 11:58 am

      Thanks Paul, I can’t believe how many times I say, “I hope this” “I hope that” and then we laugh!

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:30 am

      Hey Paul, but, but, but, I still hang on to hope! 🙂

      • Paul B on March 9, 2021 at 8:04 pm

        Hey Norm, sometimes Hope works! Always good to have a backup plan as ya know ????

  4. Sherry Mincic on March 8, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    Has your contractor offered you a job yet? Wow- what a story.

    • Deb on March 8, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Haha, he did say something about putting me to work!

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:32 am

      He definitely wants to hire Deb to do drywall and tile. I keep trying to tell him I’m the one cutting the drywall and tile, but he only sees Deb finishing it off beautifully! Oh well, the world needs sous chefs!

  5. Sherry Mincic on March 8, 2021 at 1:44 pm

    Oh goodness- I just read a quote that I think applies…”Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition”. James Baldwin

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:33 am

      Thanks Sherry, it definitely can feel like that. 🙂

  6. Anonymous on March 8, 2021 at 4:39 pm


    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:34 am

      Thank you! I think we’re fine having missed that calling, ha!

  7. Paul F on March 9, 2021 at 3:28 am

    Would have been easier to have Zack do it!! Well done guys.

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:35 am

      Paul, we tried, but he just mumbled something about being “busy”. 🙂

  8. Mary Del Grande on March 9, 2021 at 6:39 am

    Well done! We started a bathroom remodel (13×13 ) and completed the demo ourselves with the help of our three adult children. When we realized how much plumbing needed to be done ( not in our wheelhouse) , we decided it should all be turned over to the professionals! It turned out perfect and I love my new “spa”!

    • Norm Pyle on March 9, 2021 at 7:37 am

      Sounds like you made the smart choice. We like to learn new skills, but there are limits, like time, energy, physical strength, motivation…

  9. Diana Drake on March 9, 2021 at 11:29 am

    Interesting -the FARBar contract provides buyers a time period 2 hire building inspectors 2 prevent surprises n I would have refused 2 close until the seller took care of making all this plumbing as was represented 2 u. N u saw receipts n picture proof Did your discounted purchase price compensate you enough? Thx dear adventurers 4 sharing !

    • Norm Pyle on March 10, 2021 at 6:43 am

      Hi Diana, we had plenty of time to inspect, which is when we found this issue. We were compensated for the cost, so no worries there! Thanks for the concern. 🙂

  10. David on March 15, 2021 at 1:29 pm

    Your bathroom looks superb. Paula and I are in the process of building a brand new home, and learning (sometimes the hard way) how schedules with subcontractors really work…. But you have inspired me to start a blog to go along with the photos. Of course right now our home construction project has 24″ of snow on top, so that will be another reason to delay things. We are debating about which one of us foolishly prayed for patience.

    • Norm Pyle on March 16, 2021 at 7:47 am

      David, I don’t have much schedule advice but this: an hour = a day, a day = a week, a week = a month, and if they quote anything in months, you’re really in for a long haul! Looking forward to your new blog and seeing your house pictures!

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