From the outset, we could see our bathroom project would encompass more than just the second-floor chamber in question itself. Other crucial home repair issues of longer standing would finally demand attention in the sequence of labor at hand.

For starters, the bulkhead to the cellar had to be replaced. Bulkhead? In many old houses, it’s the entryway to the cellar, from outdoors. (Note that I say cellar and not basement – in my mind, cellars flood and require a sump pump. You don’t put a Ping Pong table down there much less try to “finish” a room.) Our bulkhead’s plywood covering had rotted badly and was padlocked from the outdoors. (Where was the key these days, anyway?) A temporary plywood layer, covered in plastic, had been dropped over the bulkhead several years ago to prevent anyone from falling through to the stairway below. As I said, temporary.

The bulkhead? What’s that got to do with the second-floor, you ask?

Just start with the plumbers who would have to access the plumbing under the house. And then let’s add the carpenter’s need to have a place to set up his table saw and similar shop work.

So replacing the bulkhead turned into a multiday opening round to enable other stages. In an old house like ours, with all of its amateur “improvements,” finding anything on the market that will fit our existing conditions can be a challenge. As we found, accommodating the nearest-size metal unit would mean building the entry wall up another foot – a good move anyway, considering the way water moves around the house … or into it. Water flowing into the cellar, if you haven’t already guessed, is not good. The bulkhead we found at Home Depot was half the price of the one at our locally owned lumberyard. That’s not always the case, in these projects, but it did sway our decision.

One down, many others to go.

At one time before we bought the house, a first-floor cubbyhole had contained a small toilet, shower, and vanity, but these were no longer usable, separated by a second section where our clothes washer and dryer were jammed in. Once our upstairs bathroom was torn up, we’d need a toilet, at the least. (We could use my mother-in-law’s shower in her apartment in the barn or, more likely for me, the ones at the indoor pool where I swim most days.) So restoring the toilet was added to the picture, for use while the upstairs work was being done. Follow this?

We’d have the toilet from upstairs moved to the first floor so the upstairs work could continue, and then return upstairs when the bathroom itself was completed and our attention turned to the downstairs space.

In the bigger picture, this space – two small connected rooms, actually – could be transformed. If we removed the useless shower, with its rotting floor and falling tile, we could use that corner for a stacking clothes washer and dryer, which would then free up the entryway for a food pantry and broom closet, where the vacuum cleaner might also reside. (Whew!) A usable toilet here, of course, would be a welcome convenience, especially when we had company over. Let’s just call that the Utility Room Project, steps one and two.

While we were at it, under the house, we’d need to address our dying hot-water heater and sump pump, which takes us back to the cellar and that bulkhead. And since we had the electrical lines in the bathroom already exposed, we decided to rewire an adjacent bedroom where only one outlet functioned.

As I’m becoming ever fonder of saying, the plot thickened.

It’s hardly worth mentioning the overdue hallway repainting that moved up on the list.


My poems on the challenges of renovations, repairs, and relating as a husband are collected as Home Maintenance, a free ebook at Thistle/Flinch editions.


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