After nearly three years of letting our unfinished basement become a huge storage room for furniture, boxes, and dust, we’re finally doing something about it. Our basic floor plan is decided for the most part, but the one thing we know for sure is where the bathroom will be. So, that’s our starting point. And also, it’s probably going to be the most brutal part of the entire process, so we want to get it over with.
Unfortunately, before we can really start “finishing,” there’s some demo work to be done first. Long story short, the plumbing stub-ups are not in the correct location, but that’s because the stairs were built several inches farther north than they should have been. (We know this because we have the original plans for the house from the builders.) It’s going to be a small bathroom no matter what, but I’d rather not have my face just a few inches from the wall when I’m sitting on the toilet.
So where does this leave us? Knocking out the concrete floor to reconfigure the drain pipes, that’s where. Initially, we were just going to take out a small portion and move the toilet stub-up back a few inches, which seemed like it would solve the problem.
As you can probably imagine, removing the floor is quite an undertaking, let alone moving pipes around. We had a couple of plumbers come to give us an estimate for this type of project (including floor demo), which all averaged out to be at least $2000… 90% of which was labor costs.
But meanwhile, my resourceful husband was taking mental notes from them about how one would go about this process. He deduced that with a hammer drill, a sledgehammer, and a lot of elbow grease, he could probably knock this one out himself (pun intended).
I'll be the first to admit that I was very apprehensive about turning this into a DIY project. First of all, I know nothing about plumbing and what lurks beneath a concrete floor. But Luke seemed pretty confident in what he would find, and also assured me that floor was poured separately from the foundation walls, so this would not affect the structural integrity of the house. Good to know.
After I finally gave in, he excitedly purchased a hammer drill for about $70 (which I’m sure will get plenty of use in the future anyway) and got to work. First, he drilled holes in the concrete to help keep any cracks contained in one area. Then, starting at the shower drain, which was already framed out with 2x4’s, he chipped away at the concrete until he could really whack at it with the sledgehammer and break off some sizable chunks. Since it was kind of a one-person job, I merely offered moral support and snapped the occasional photo. It was slow going, but he was making pretty good progress:
It was in the midst of all this when we realized merely moving the toilet back a few inches still didn’t seem to do much to improve the overall layout of the awkward bathroom space. If we were going to all of this work in the first place, why not just take the as much of the floor out as necessary to relocate the shower, sink, and toilet drains wherever we want them? So, Luke drew up a new plan which utilizes the small space more efficiently. Basically, instead of having the sink, toilet, and full-size bath/shower all lined up on one wall, he rearranged it like so:
This is one of the benefits of having a husband in architecture.... he can make cool 3D plans with his nifty software. :) It's obviously not complete as shown here, so just in case it's not obvious, I labeled where the (smaller and custom-size) shower and sink will go. I'll provide more floor plan details in a future post; this drawing is just to give you an idea of the layout for now.
Back to the floor situation. We decided it would be best to cut an outline in the floor, so the concrete would come out cleanly without a jagged edge. We were able to rent a concrete saw for about $60 (for one evening). Knowing this part would get dirty, we stapled up some plastic sheeting along the joists to try and contain most of the dust.
But our two separate layers of plastic were no match. If you haven’t ever had the pleasure of dealing with concrete dust, let me just tell you that it is pure evil ground up into its finest, powdered form.
Even though we were only cutting a few feet of concrete, our basement was immediately filled with a cloudy haze, which eventually wafted upstairs to create a superfine layer of dust on everything. Luke even had to stop several times because he couldn’t see what he was doing. (He was wearing a mask and safety glasses, otherwise it would have been nearly impossible to stay down there for any length of time.) Meanwhile, I was just hoping he wouldn’t cut one of his fingers off. Needless to say, I also didn’t get any action shots of this process.
Luke is somewhere back here, sawing away...
But there was nothing to do at that point except finish the job at hand, and worry about the clean-up later. After a few hours, the outline to the two outer bathroom walls had been cut, so Luke then proceeded to chip away with the sledgehammer to make the hole bigger. (And yes, I felt like a lazy wife while all this back-breaking labor was going on.)
Eventually, the hole looked like this -- roughly about half the size of the bathroom. It was now large enough to re-work all the drain lines and pipes to fit our new plan (more on that project later). After that, we’ll fill the hole back in with concrete (or probably hire someone to do that), and then we can really start finishing this bathroom! Whew....
Phoebe inspects the progress.
NOTE: In case you’re curious, we spent several hours vacuuming and dusting the house from top to bottom, plus changing our furnace air filter. But it was nearly impossible to get all the dust. Someone later told us that by spraying the floor with water before sawing, the amount of dust could have been reduced (by how much, I don’t know). But in our haste, we didn’t do a whole lot of research beforehand. Anyone else ever learn a lesson like this the hard way??