Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bathroom Remodel Part 2: Plumbing Adventures

Previously on the Bathroom Remodel:

Before we could put any new walls up, we had a few plumbing adjustments to take care of. Nothing too major, which is why when we got some quotes from local plumbers (coming in between $500 to $1000), Boyfiancé decided this would be a good time for him to pick up a new skill.

The new tub is wider than the old one, so everything needed to be moved over a couple of inches. We also wanted to move that shower head up because apparently everyone in the 60's was either really short, or really enjoyed squatting to rinse their hair.

Old plumbing

Then there was the issue of the new tub plumbing, but let's put off that very painful memory until later.
Plumbing is actually a fairly straightforward process. Boyfiancé did some careful planning and got all the parts he needed at the hardware store. I think just the materials were about $50, while the equipment ran another $50 (a full budget breakdown will be at the very end of this project). To start, he used a pipe cutter to slice out the parts we needed.

Then we cleaned the pipes by roughing them up with sandpaper and a wire brush and slathered on some acid flux (which eats away any impurities and keeps the copper from oxidizing). Here we have copper pipe with a brass elbow connection.

Then we fitted the pieces together and heated them up with a blowtorch. The idea was to not only get things hot enough to melt the solder, but also to create a suction effect so that when we applied the solder, it got sucked up into that minuscule space between the pipe and the joint creating a nice, air-tight seal.

And as always, soldering is best done with three hands. Just make sure that third hand holding the pipe is wearing heat-safe gloves. Once we heated the pipes, off went the blowtorch and on went the solder. I recommend watching a Youtube video. Here's the tub spout done!

Now here's where my limited exposure to interior design came in handy. Did you know that a shower control has two pieces that you have to buy separately? They are called the trim (the pretty piece that you see in the finished product) and the valve (or the rough). The valve does all the work behind the scenes when you turn those knobs. It controls the flow of hot and cold water as well as diverting water between the shower head and the tub filler. So yeah, maybe you learned something today!

Moving the fixtures was surprisingly easy, with the exception of the defective shower valve that we had to exchange after doing a complete installation and finding that it was leaky. (Edit: Boyfiancé wants me to emphasize how very shitty this particular event was. Fitting in that faulty valve took him the better part of two days with many fixes attempted to try to make it work. Please, a moment of acknowledgment for his valiant efforts).We took no chances with the replacement one however, and hooked it up to our kitchen sink to test for leaks before doing the whole song 'n' dance again.

Look at that work of art. Nicely done, Boyfiancé!

Once we got everything soldered into place, we turned the water back on and HELD OUR BREATHS OMG OMGOMGOMG.

NO LEAKS! Yayyyyyyyyyyy!! A huge sense of accomplishment, relief, and smugness was felt by all.

It might not look pretty to you, but it's downright gorgeous from where I'm standing:

I gotta say, I was pretty proud of Boyfiancé for doing all the research and being generally pretty gung-ho about learning some plumbing. Did you know that when we first started dating he SCOFFED at the idea of doing his own handiwork and said, and I quote, "I'd rather just hire someone."? Not to downplay the importance of professionals at all (as evidenced in the next half of this post), but as a lifelong DIYer, let's just say I'm pleased with his change in perspective. I guess I must have rubbed off on him in the last seven years, for better or for worse.

So the tub.

I had a feeling installing the tub would be challenging, and if Past-Me expressed this to Now-Ne, Now-Me would have slapped the plumber's putty out of Past-Me's hands and told her to call a professional.

So many problems, all of which were amplified by the fact that we had an alcove (3-walled) tub and therefore very little maneuverability. The easy part was building the frame.

K, that's out of the way. Then we assembled the drainage and overflow system.

Pretty straightforward. Now came the hard part: aligning this drainage plumbing to the existing plumbing. I don't actually have many photos of this, mostly because we were consumed with moving the tub in-out-in-out-in-out-in-out-in-out for several dry-fittings as well as notching out extra wood on the frame to get it to sit properly before finally cementing it into place. It. Was. Awful.

All of this was in preparation for the point of no return, which was finally cementing the pipes together and simultaneously gluing the tub feet to the subfloor. And so when we tested the connection for the first time and found a tiny leak, words cannot describe to you the feelings of anger, frustration, and despair we felt. Remember when I mentioned the importance of hiring professionals earlier? Put this as #1 on a growing list of things I would leave to the pros.

No pictures of the drain pipe; it's dark down there.

In the absence of a licensed psychologist to talk us off the edge of a mental breakdown, we turned to the next best thing, the Googles. It turns out that there are quite a few solutions to a leaky drainage pipe, one of which stood out to us as both crazy and genius enough to work. The concept is not unlike the soldering technique, but instead of using heat to create suction within the pipe, we used and actual vacuum cleaner. Here's what we did:

We sealed off the pop-up drain and the overflow hole, leaving a small opening for the vacuum hose. Then, while Boyfiancé held the vacuum to the opening, I reached under the tub and slathered a generous amount of PVC pipe cement on the leaky pin hole hoping that it would get sucked in and create a seal. And you what?

It worked.

Holy shit, it worked.

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted just mentally reliving that ordeal. What's sad is that this isn't even close to the only thing that's made me want to hulk out on the whole room then curl into a weeping ball. But you know what? At least we have a tub.

More frustrations to come.


  1. You're both amazing! Plumbing is one of the challenging task in home renovation. One wrong move can lead to another problem. But you both managed to handle it quite well. Congratulations! Now that your tub is set, what's next on your list?


    1. Hi Monica,
      Thank you for your comments! Tiling the walls is next on the list. Look for a post in the near future!

  2. I would like to thanks for sharing this interesting post. You done a great work and the tub are looks beautiful. Really Plumbing is not an easy task but you done a wonderful job by using some hardware and your effort.
    Posted by: Caitlyn | Buy Hardware Online

  3. There’s no harm in learning a new skill, Stephanie! I can see that both of you enjoyed your plumbing adventures. Haha! Aside from cutting expenses, you had the chance to familiarize yourself with the plumbing system. Eventually, you could fix some problems when the time comes, with or without your fiance in the house. Thanks for sharing!

    Gregg Weir @ Capital Plumbing & Heating

  4. Love the extent of your progress. That officially makes it a manual for everyone, who are either dealing with their plumbing problems, which involve some small-scale remodeling, or are going on a full-scale overhaul. That involves more than a bit of effort and maybe a few more working hands. All the best!

    Traci Romero @ Harris Plumbing