The Long-Neglected Upstairs Bath

Three years ago I had a great idea. An idea that was mostly driven by my desire to have one bathroom in this house that contained a tub suitable for soaking.

Anyone remember this tub (with an effing fireplace?!) from my last house?


Yeah. Me too. With pain in my heart every time I think about it.

This house has three full bathrooms, and, for the first 3 years I lived here, zero working bathtubs. I mean, there was one, kinda, but if you put more than 6” of water in it it started to leak… and it also had iron stains that made it look like someone had previously been dismembered in there.



So, back to my great idea. Three years ago I decided to do a “quick” overhaul of the upstairs bathroom. In my mind that meant taking out the old tub (which meant the old tile had to come out too) then putting in a new tub, re-tiling the floor, and maybe a coat of paint. Voila! Done! Right?

Ha. Hahaha.

Yeah, no.

What actually happened was that I tore up the tile and realized the toilet had been leaking into the subfloor for the last twenty-ish years…


I mean. I could have picked any hobby in the world. I could have been a person who golfs. But no. I had to pick the one that means I’ve spent more hours of my life then I care to think about scraping up subfloor that has been rotted and soaked through with sewer water.


After the trauma with the subfloor and my desire not to spend any more time in that room, it took me a whole year to finally tile the shower surround (and only got it done because Sarah–from the Ugly Duckling House–came to visit and got my ass in gear)…


Then I had a failed attempt at leveling the floor, and finally just said “screw it” because you can, in fact, use a bathtub that only has a raw pipe as the faucet in a bathroom that has a plywood floor


And then, guys, I just straight-up ignored this room for the last couple of years. I mean, literally every time I woke up in the middle of the night and had to pee, and then had to walk downstairs and to the opposite end of the house… at those times I was keenly aware of my failure to get the upstairs bath finished. But otherwise I mostly just avoided the idea of finishing this room.

I probably would have gone on that way for another year but when my mom was up at the house for Christmas and I was talking about my 2018 projects, she gently steered the conversation in the direction of the upstairs bath. Like, she might of mentioned how much my quality of life would be improved by having a working bathroom upstairs, and then didn’t say anything else about it until she showed up at the farm every weekend for the last 2 months with a bottle of wine and innocently asked what we’d be working on in the bathroom that day.

Moms. Amirite?

She gets all the credit for the progress I’ve made on this room so far.

First, I tore out my previous, unsuccessful attempt at leveling the floor. Then I cleaned and primed the subfloor (and drank some wine.)


I’d been very leery about using a pour-on self-lever for a lot of reasons, mostly involving prep, but I figured I couldn’t have made a worse mess than my first attempt, so used a spray foam insulation to seal any gaps between the old plaster walls and the framing, and rigged up a cardboard “seal” around the toilet plumbing.

Then we went for broke and poured the first coat of self-leveler. Mom was chief in charge of mixing…


While I poured the leveler and worked the float.


One of the many joys of a 170 year old house is that this bathroom floor was ¾” off-level over a 3-foot run of floor. Which is to say, it required a second coat of leveler the next weekend.

Because I let it sit for a week before putting the second coat on I needed to re-prime the surface (aka drink more wine)…


But after a second coat of leveler, we got there. (Or, close enough to there.)


Here’s the new floor, pre-tile:


Once the floor was mostly level I installed Schuler DITRA underlayment, and then started with the tile.


(Also, you can add “tile saw” to the list of tools my mom now knows how to use, since I conscripted her in to being the Chief Tile Cutter for this project.)

I bought this tile three years ago, when I thought this project was going to take a couple of weekends. (I know, I know, keep laughing.) At the time I thought I might try a herringbone pattern with these 8×24 tiles, but the day I was going to start laying tile both my mom and my grandma were up at the farm helping with some other projects, and when I mentioned the herringbone idea they both gave me a look that can best be translated as “are you out of your effing mind?”

And, you know, good point. It’s been three years. The last thing I need to do is make this more difficult.

So I just ran the tile straight, and they actually look great that way. It’s a lesson in 1.) don’t make things harder than they need to be, and 2.) always listen to your mom and grandma.

It’s actually been a solid seven years since I’ve had occasion to tile a floor. (Pretty sure this was the last one. [LINK]). In the intervening years there’s been an explosion of younger, awesome tradesmen who use instagram as a platform to share their work. I’ve been following @tilefreak for a couple of years, which is how I learned about the Perfect Levelmaster T-Lock system

They aren’t cheap, but The idea made a lot of sense to me and I wanted to check them out. Because I follow the tile guys I know that you have to be very conscientious about backbuttering and having enough mud under the tiles. It didn’t make it easier to lay the tile, but I think the floor is probably the best one I’ve ever done because of it.


Once the tile was in, it was time to address one of the biggest issues in this bathroom… the plumbing.


(That’s the view looking up from the closet in my home gym, which already had the ceiling torn out from the previous leaking.)

The old toilet had been leaking because the flange for the toilet was set below the tile floor (I assume a product of needing to raise the floor so much to level it.). You can see in this picture, the wax ring was barely dented and wasn’t providing a great seal.


I cut out the old flange before leveling the floor, and now that the new tile was in I was set to replace the old soil pipe with a new one.


Here’s a thing I love about my life these days. I have a tool for everything. Need to cut a PVC pipe in a tiny space? I’ve got the saw for that. Need to drill a hole through tile? I’ve got a bit for that. Need to open cans of Oatey PVC primer and cement that I literally cannot untwist the lids from? I legit have a designated can opener FOR JUST THIS REASON.


(P.S. Oatey? If people have a designated can opener just to open your shit, maybe you’ve got a packaging problem? Just sayin.)

But, despite all the tools needed, at the end of the day I had a well-installed toilet flange.


And, even better, a few days later…



I realize that shouldn’t be so exciting, but seriously, it’s been three years. And I have a working toilet.

Also, this is actually a toilet that Delta Faucet sent me 4 years ago to review, so… this is why I don’t do product reviews anymore.

I don’t think that after 4 years you can legitimately call this a “sponsored” product (I’m not sure they even make this model of toilet anymore, but they do make other ones.) I will say that one thing I consistently love about Delta faucets–AND this toilet–is the integrated plumbing. Their faucets hook right into the water valve and the same is true of the toilet, which made it a quick and easy install.

So, here’s the awesome thing…

My upstairs bath now has:

  • A working bathtub
  • Working sinks
  • A working toilet

It’s pretty much a working bathroom, you guys!

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s still very much not-finished.

I’ve got an ugly fan/light to replace…


Some drywall to patch where I had the old awkwardly-placed outlets moved…


Plus a few spots above the shower…


Here’s the current to-do list, as it stands:

  • Tear out closet and patch drywall
  • Re-face cabinets 
  • Level, tile, and grout floor 
  • Tile tub surround 
  • Patch ceiling 
  • Move outlets and patch all drywall 
  • Replace plumbing and install toilet 
  • Caulk tub and toilet
  • Paint radiator
  • Paint ceiling and touch-up walls
  • Install baseboard
  • Install new light fixtures and switches
  • Add cabinet “feet”
  • Finish tub plumbing for working shower
  • Get and hang mirrors
  • Get hutch for storage
  • Install shelving, towel racks, etc.

And then getting the plumbing finalized so the tub has a faucet (and working shower), and putting baseboard in, plus replacing the light in the shower, and figuring out why the other one in the old closet area won’t turn on…

And then there’s a ceiling to paint, and walls to touch-up, mirrors to buy and hang, and a hutch to find to replace the bulky closet I tore out.

It’s not exactly “close” to being done, but it’s very close to being functional, which is really what counts around here.

Who knows… if my mom brings up enough wine I might even get the kitchen done this year?

I mean. Don’t hold your breath though.

17 Responses

  1. I love you with big heart eyes right now, Kit.

    I bought my house 2.5 years ago (after living in it as a rental for 10)! I had all kind of plans that the minute I closed I was going to get to work on.

    Right now I have a big hole in my master bath (inset shelving plan).

    Half stripped stairs (carpet removed, treads stained, raw wood risers).

    1/2 of my kitchen cabinets painted.

    1/2 of my kitchen backsplash removed.

    9/10ths of the downstairs painted (I can’t finish painting the kitchen until the cabinets and the backsplash are done).

    Hardwoods covered in paint because the plan is to replace them.

    Half ripped away carpet in the landing, because the plan is to either replace the carpet or carry the hardwoods all the way upstairs ….

    And so many more things. My boyfriend has threatened me with bodily harm if I start another project before I finish one of these things.

    You make me feel so normal. 🙂 And maybe I’ll send him over here and say “see – it’s not just me!”

  2. Congratulations on such progress. And yay for your Mom. May I respectfully suggest that your Mom stay on your case about the remains of this to-do list before shifting her focus to the kitchen? You’ve got a little bit of time before outdoors start in earnest. You should be able to knock off a few more of these finishing touches.

    (And a big vote yay for bathrooms on the same floor as bedrooms. Our first house didn’t have a bathroom on the bedroom level, and I didn’t love that trek down the stairs in the dark at all.)

  3. Great post and accomplishments!!

    Love the tile, kinda looks like a hardwood floor, but in tile.

    Wondering why I am not getting email notifications for the posts here anymore?

    …and what is this HomeWood thing??

    1. The homewood thing is a content scraper… they basically steal content from sites like mine and then I have to go through an ordeal to get them shut down. One of the joys of blogging!

      I’m not sure about the email notifications. It looks like they’re still up and running, but depending on when I post it may take 24 hours to send out. Did you ever get the email for this one? If not I can try to re-set you up in the email list.

      1. No, I did not, not the last few…but saw them on FB.

        Might be my eddress, it’s an old one and going funky with several of the sites I follow/use.

  4. I need you to finish this bathroom because I need you to find a non-hideous light/fan combo. Maybe I’m using bad search terms but I can’t find one stinking non-ugly (I’ve lowered my standards from good looking down to not bad looking) bath light fan combo. I don’t want to put in a separate fan and light because its a small bath in a cape cod home so the slanted ceilings already lack space. Heck it’s your life so if all you do in this space for the next three years is find a fan/light I’ll be a happy random internet stranger.

    1. Ha. I’m only going to be about 50% helpful… I did manage to get that fan replaced this week, but I just picked a cheap fan that fit the opening I already had. (This one: ) I did see one that was a little more streamlined which might work as the only light/fan in a bathroom though. Much more expensive too:

  5. You, your mom and grandma are my inspiration and motivation. I’m redoing my spare room for my very own girl space (my home has 3 sons and a husband so this is a long time coming). I’ve used your blog to learn about drywall repair and installation, shelving, painting tips, using a mitre saw, drills, chicken care, and more. Keep the posts coming Kit!

  6. Excellent work. I love seeing this progress. I have the same kind of bathroom which needs work, but is functional. Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. KE apex suites and CX reverse herringbone seats for life. Also, lucky was it the door in the Delta One or were you too excited about the Delta one.. I slightly prefer reverse herringbone seats by CX(as mentioned above) more.

  8. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d
    definitely donate to this superb blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.

    I look forward to new updates and will share
    this site with my Facebook group. Talk soon!

  9. that is SO AWESOME! love the floor. truly beautiful tile. great job, love everything, how exciting to have a toilet upstairs after 3 years!

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I'm not interested in a mediocre life. I'm here to kick ass or die.