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Small Bath Goes from Drab to Fab for Under $3,000

Jetson Green’s Preston Koerner troubleshoots his way through his sink, vanity, toilet, and shower fixture install — with words to the wise about online ordering.

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Despite some shipping delays, Preston's water-saving bathroom redo is really coming together. Image: Jetson Green

This is the third post in the series following Jetson Green’s Preston Koerner as he makes over his virtually unusable second-floor bath.

Last week, I told you about our tight squeeze bathroom footprint and the tub and tile refinishing.

With that out of the way, I painted, opting for City Storm gray in a zero-VOC paint by Valspar Plus, which is certified to be asthma- and allergy-friendly. No- or low-VOC paints are readily available at local home improvement stores. I primed with a coat of low-VOC KILZ and then covered the walls in two coats of the paint. 

Here’s the color palette for the bath:

Palette

Although I taped to protect the white tile, inevitably some paint seeped through.

Tape

Here’s a little video tour of the bathroom thus far:




I scraped the tile to remove paint, but now the line between paint and tile isn’t all that sharp. I’m going to run a thin and careful line of white acrylic caulk along the border. Then I’ll paint over the cured caulk to try to improve the transition from tile to paint. 

Installing the shower fixtures

The shower arm is white, and I painted it the same gray as the walls to see what it would look like. It looked bad. I decided instead on a chrome shower arm.

Problem was, I couldn’t get the shower arm to come out. While gently tapping the arm on the right side with the rubber end of a screw driver, I sprayed WD-40 into the shower arm threads at the wall. It still wouldn’t come loose. I soaked a paper towel in WD-40 and hung it overnight around the threads. No luck. 

I ended up buying a pipe wrench and yanked so hard it came loose. Luckily it didn’t snap; otherwise I would’ve had to break open the wall. When installing the new shower arm, I wrapped a towel around it while tightening it with the pipe wrench. But the threads still took a little chrome finish off the arm. Next time, I’ll look around to see if I can get a higher-quality shower arm. 

The Moen 90 Degree shower head installed in a jiff and has a great feel, even though it sends out less water than the last shower head. It’s not the shower head you’d use if you need to wash a cat or dog, but I’m not doing any of that. 

Showerhead

Moen makes a shower set in the 90 Degree series, but it’s the single-handle version. My shower has two handles and while there are retrofit plates available to convert to a single-handle shower set, I don’t like the look.

Besides, the existing chrome hardware still works great, though it’s covered with white minerals and other water residue. A friend told me I can restore the original shine of the chrome hardware with some vinegar. I’ll try that before the big reveal and show you how that worked. 

Next, the toilet install

Installing a toilet is usually pretty easy. You put the new T-bolts on your floor flange, place the wax ring on the ground or on the toilet, lift the toilet in place, drop it in, tighten the screws, and connect the water. 

But this toilet was a hard install because of its weight and the tight space. It’s a one-piece and weighs 105 pounds. Imagine holding it in the air and trying not to bang it into the wall (otherwise you’re liable to crack the ceramic) while trying to line up the T-bolts with the tiny holes in the bottom of the commode. 

I banged my head on the left wall and nearly broke my back, only to drag the screws through the wax ring on my first attempt. Luckily, I had an extra wax ring and put it directly on the floor for my second attempt. No joke: I still wasn’t sure that I made a clear landing. I tightened up the screws, connected the water, and flushed with a silent prayer that everything would work. 

Luckily, it did:

Toilet

Vanity install

When I purchased the vanity online, I read the specs thoroughly — or so I thought. I assumed the vanity cabinet came with the pictured sink top, but it didn’t. I had to rush ship the matching sink top to keep on schedule. 

When purchasing a sink or the countertop, decide whether to have it cut with a single hole, the centerset hole, or the widespread 8” holes. It depends on the faucet you intend to use. Even though the centerset is easier to install, I opted for a widespread model so the handles are within reach of my young boys. And in my opinion, it looks a little better. 

If you’re on a tight schedule, open your delivery boxes right away to make sure you have everything necessary for the install. The vanity assembly required wood glue, but I didn’t have wood glue. The store was closed and the glue needed 24 hours to set. So my plan to do this on Friday night was a bust. When you’re relying on weekends to make remodel progress, this is a not-so-tiny detail. 

The vanity manual instructs you to attach a horizontal 48-inch wood beam in the wall to solidly hold the vanity in place sufficient to bear about 250 pounds. Unfortunately, I have wall tile and no ability to place a beam in the wall. Instead, I screwed the vanity directly into the tile behind the sink and set it with siliconized acrylic caulk. It’s really, really sturdy, but I wish I could have lodged it into a stronger wall surface. 

The faucet installed according to the instructions, but my plumbing situation needs some future investment. Our home has galvanized pipe that’s corroded on the inside and risks eventually cracking or springing a leak. I asked a plumber about replacing the galvanized pipes throughout the house; he quoted $1,800 for half of my system, including the pipes running up to this bathroom. I’ll put this on the list of next investments.

Sink

Lighting install

I looked online for a decent vanity light and decided on a three-light set from Home Depot, which cost about $100. I went with three lights instead of four to save energy and chose a model in which I can use screw-type CFLs and LEDs as LEDs get cheaper.

Light

The install was simple:

  • Screw the plate to the electrical box.
  • Connect the wires.
  • Screw in the ground wire.
  • Screw the fixture into the wall plate. 

Tips about online shopping

It’s definitely made for some hiccups. After deciding on the Moen 90 Degree series, I found the faucet, shower head, towel hooks, and towel rods at a discount online retailer. I bought the entire set for $338, tax and shipping included. After a week, I hadn’t heard anything about shipment. I called and the retailer told me it didn’t have the parts in stock and had to order them directly from Moen — even though the retailer had nothing about this online at the time of purchase. They weren’t going to get the parts for another week and a half and then would ship them to me upon receipt, so I cancelled the entire order. 

Next, I purchased the entire lot of goods from Amazon. This time, it cost me $522, with tax and overnight shipment. Given time, I could’ve saved about $200, so I was bothered by the extra cost. When the shipment arrived, however, half of the items weren’t chrome, as pictured or described, but brushed nickel. 

Amazon offered to replace the items with chrome versions, but I found that Amazon created the mistake because it listed brushed nickel parts numbers as chrome.

Amazon

How would I know if I was getting chrome as a replacement? I decided to return the brushed nickel items and ordered the rest from FaucetDirect.com. We’ll see if I get the right ones; they’re “in the mail.” 

Bathroom remodel budget

To date:

  • Tub/tile refinish: $900
  • Broan Energy Star fan: $130
  • Moen faucet and parts: $250
  • Moen shower head: $100
  • American Standard toilet: $270
  • Kohler vanity and sink: $575
  • Hunter Bay light fixture: $100
  • Extra shelves and storage: $300
  • IKEA mirror: $30
  • Floating shelves: $40
  • CFLs, paint, caulk, tape, and other miscellaneous: $150

Total: $2,845

The costs are adding up! I’m a little over my expected budget of $2,500 because I’ve invested in top-of-the-line products and fixtures in an effort not to look off-the-shelf. 

In my last post, I’ll reveal the finished bathroom. 

What challenges have you had installing bathroom fixtures? What issues have you had ordering fixtures online? How did you prevail?

Preston-Koerner Preston Koerner

When Preston Koerner isn’t practicing law, he’s working on his sustainability-focused blog, Jetson Green, covering smart construction, resource conservation, energy efficiency, and more.

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