Old bathroom requires drastic measures


March 14, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie and Randy Johnson

The problem: A turn-of-the-century bathroom with a middle-of-the-century renovation that only made its moisture problems worse.

The solution: Replace all systems, repair every flat surface.

If you think that sounds drastic, it is; but this poor bath had suffered so many bad "fixes" that all the water problems were worse than if it had never been touched.

The main culprit was a pair of "modern" glass shower doors, installed with feckless disregard for the problems of condensation. The enclosure forced moisture upward; the old plaster ceiling became saturated and fell down in chunks. The worst possible "solution" -- a suspended ceiling to conceal the holes and a badly installed exhaust fan -- compounded the problem.

Warm moist air in the bath condensed on the relatively cool fiberglass and metal suspended ceiling, leaving it rusty and mildewed. The fan was vented into the uninsulated basement. The suspended ceiling had to go, and the plaster above was beyond saving. Removing the old plaster and lath also revealed ancient, rotting electrical wiring.

Fortunately, once the wallpaper was removed and mildew underneath killed, the plaster walls were in pretty good shape.

The first step was to let everything dry out. (It was spring and dry outside, so a good airing was all that was needed. But in humid or wet weather, it may take fans in the window and doorway to promote drying.)

The next step was to frame out a new ceiling a few inches below the second-floor joists to provide room for ductwork for the exhaust fan.

Rewiring was next, with new wires to the central ceiling fixture,the fan, a new ground fault interrupter (a receptacle that shuts off the circuit if it detects a release of ungrounded current ,, -- a hair dryer falling into the sink, for instance), and a light over the medicine cabinet.

Then the ceiling got new drywall, and the walls were smoothed with non-water-soluble plaster. (Drywall joint compound is water-soluble and shouldn't be used in the bathroom.)

All of this was enough to solve the major moisture problems. There are still a few problems with the room, however: bad grout around the tub that is allowing moisture behind the tiles; and truly ugly pink fixtures, including a tiny sink with no room to set down a razor or hairbrush and a rusty metal medicine cabinet.

How much more gets done to the room depends partly on finances, partly on taste.

The bad grout and loose tiles have to be fixed. The simplest, most inexpensive solution is to remove the bad tiles and allow the surface to dry thoroughly (including fans aimed right at it, if necessary), then repair and seal the surface, scrape out all the bad grout, replace the tiles and regrout everything. Maybe the pink fixtures will some day return to "in" status.

If you're not interested in living with a "forgotten" room, however, the sky's the limit.

In this particular bath, the minuscule old pink sink is being replaced with a 24-inch wide oak vanity, with a matching mirrored cabinet above. The counter is faux granite, the faucets brass and porcelain.

Light fixtures, one in the ceiling, one over the cabinet, will be replaced with Victorian-style reproductions.

This bath has a lot of bad tile, so it's likely that repaired patches will show. Despite the danger of damaging the surface $l underneath where tiles are still sticking, it seems better to remove all the tiles in the tub surround, repair and reseal the

surfaces and retile and regrout.

And then, because the owner of this bath is a glutton for punishment, she is going to remove all of the wall tile in the rest of the room and replace it with board and bead wainscoting more appropriate to the age of the house.

And she doesn't like pink. The toilet, which has seal problems anyway, will be replaced with something plain white and efficient. The tub, however, is a really good, roomy, cast-iron model that could cost several hundred dollars to replace (cost of tub plus plumber). But it can be reporcelained for a couple hundred.

She's still thinking about the floor.

Next: Answering reader questions.

Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a home writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about workinon houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N.Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

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