In explaining our rotten floor worries, my wife would tell others she didn’t want to find our bathtub crashing down onto the dining room table below. Meaning our cast-iron bathtub, the one that came with the house.

The one that drained poorly, at best, and required plunging and rooting once a week or more and constant cleaning of the screen to catch hair at the drain.

It wasn’t even attractive in an antique sort of way. No claw-foot style, no insulating layer for deep baths, either. And then there were the cold drafts from above.

A bathtub, of course, is the centerpiece of a bathroom. You might substitute a shower alone, but ideally you want a bath-and-shower combination, which is where we were starting.

Determining where the floor moisture was originating and how much damage had occurred would necessitate moving the tub. Was it worth salvaging? No. So make that removing the tub altogether.

The project nearly died right there. Need we mention psychological depression? Despair?

Our carpenter informed us he couldn’t take it out – that would be up to the plumbers, who replied they thought that was his job. And then, with a good deal of swearing and sweat, they relented, busting up the tub with sledgehammers that shook the whole house and likely more.

The floor underneath had escaped moisture damage, but the related piping was another matter. We haven’t seen brass pipe like this in ages, the plumbers informed us, before adding: it could burst anytime, without warning. As for our drainage problem, the old-fashioned ball-drain trap – rather than the standard U? Ours had clogged to not quite a pencil width passage, so that a few stray hairs could create blockage. In other words, we were in for some major new pipes.

No turning back now. As tile and drywall, along with some plaster and lathe, came down and out, we had a clearer picture of what was at hand. A new tub would barely fit in the old spot, and that would take some finagling.

One thing we’d agreed on was our distaste for tile. Grout’s hard to keep clean, and it cracks. While we tried blaming the squirrels for the moisture leakage that led to the floor rotting, a better argument would point to tile failure, especially in the corner between the tub and toilet. Tile, too, is unrelentingly hard, should you drop something or, worse yet, slip.

After the plumbers told us they couldn’t install a one-piece tub-and-shower surround – they wouldn’t be able to get it up the stairs, much less through the doors – we accepted their advice to buy a tub with a matched shower-surround, a three-piece unit that would snap in place. Which was fine until we discovered that would mean losing the window in the room, the one that also provided most of the natural light to the hallway. Cutting into the surround would be difficult, at best. More likely, impossible if we wanted acceptable results. No thank you, there’s enough funky work here already.

Everybody kept suggesting we reconsider tile.

We wound up turning to a composite masonry that could be cut for the window opening. It cost about three times as much as the surround, before we added in the extra labor, and wouldn’t snap into the tub as neatly as the matched unit, either, but it wasn’t tile. But tile would not have created as much dust as cutting this stuff did, either.

Our original plan, to take the composite all the way to the ceiling, failed to calculate the angles of getting the panels into place. As we tried to maneuver the precisely cut units, reality sunk in. So it was back to the masonry saw … and all that much more dust. And that was before tackling the adhesive that would hold the units to the wall – for all eternity, we’d hope.

Well, the new tub’s deeper and drains like a dream. I love the broad stream from our new shower head. We still have our window.

But there are more funky fine points than I’ll care to admit. And the remodeled room is hardly showy – certainly not what you’d expect for the price, which I’ll keep private. I’d rather say we did the best we could under the circumstances. And please don’t tell me about that “old house charm.” You’ll have to understand if we scream.


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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