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Single Handle Faucets and Countertop Surprises

My grandfather taught me, “If you don’t have the time to do it right, where are you going to get the time to do it over?”

I am a lazy guy. If there is anything I can do to avoid working hard, I will spend lots of time figuring it out. Go ahead and laugh, get it out of your system. I’ll wait. From cleaning to building, anything that will make my life easier, I will be first in line.

One of the things I am a fan of, are Single Handle Faucets. Kitchen, Bathrooms, Showers. Single Handle Faucets have the virtue of 50% less moving parts, half the number of replaceable parts, and need 2/3 less holes for installation. Having one small area to clean around rather than the deckplate that most faucets have including that place in the back next to the backsplash, is less time cleaning and more time for other things.

My current client is on the same page. In doing the previous bathrooms, Master Bath Project, Guest Bath Project we had the ability to control the entire process as we gutted and rebuilt them.

 One of the things to do in a bath project is to select the fixtures first.

A couple of reasons. First, sticker shock. Some of those elegant fixtures, and especially sets sink, tub/shower sets, are expensive. Now that you are over that, look at towel bars, hooks, t.p. holders, grabbars if you are so inclined, and try to match the finish to the fixtures you have sold your children for, remember what the goal is.

The Third Bath Project is a refresh rather than a total gut job. We are keeping the vanity and countertop, keeping the tub and tile, removing the old shower door, and reshelving the closet.

This is the new faucet for the vanity. This is a Price Phister, an elegant faucet in a brushed nickle finish, selected for style and repairability. Why would I think about fixing a new faucet? This is Arizona. We have
hard water, full of minerals, which grind the moving parts into
leaking. Replacement parts are widely available. Having spent a significant amount of time selecting a fixture,
as well as a not inconsiderable sum of money on it, It makes no sense
to buy something that will cost as much to repair as it cost in the
first place. 

Faucet1
A lot of other plumbing fixtures, most notoriously Kohler, do not have
parts that can be picked up at your local hardware or supply store. Having to wait for parts is not at the top of the list of
things you can be doing with your life. And if you use a plumber, he will have to come twice. Once to confirm that it needs repair, and again after ordering the parts, getting them in and rescheduling.

Having been through two bathrooms we were ready. So we just need to remove the old faucet and pop in the new one.

Faucet0

Surprise, Surprise,  Surprise!!!!

I have mentioned how I like surprises before,This is what was under the old faucet.

Holes

Not one hole or three holes but TWO holes. The tape measure shows that they drilled the holes on a 4 1/2 inch center, not 4” which has been standard for years.The pin hole is for the stop rod for the drain that they managed to drill off center as well. It puts a crimp into the single hole faucet deal.

There are some things I have had no experience with, fewer every year, but repairing solid surface is one of them. So while I did other things, the client tracked down a company, PRO TOPS, 623-388-0660 who said that they could make this go away. 

Since I like to share, here is the setup.

First, the top goes wall to wall, Actually imbedded into the wall. Secondly the mirror goes wall to wall, up to the ceiling. Around 12 feet. The problem is getting the top out without breaking the mirror, or destroying the top. It can’t be repaired in place.

Deck1

Mike from PRO TOPS showed up, took a look and called Mark. Mark showed up, and ten minutes later the top was out, and on saw horses ready for repair. Notice that they left the mirror back splash in place, only removing the side splashes. The drywall damage was from the original installers. Remember I said that it was in the wall.

Deck2  A couple of hours later it was back in place. With a single hole.

Deck3

We had the counter left from the Guest Bath project for material to match. This is at least 10 year old Corian.  Repairing holes requires a lot of routers, sanders and a buffer.

First you use a big V profile bit to enlarge the hole, to receive the plug. Next you make plugs using an even larger bit that cuts a large hole outside, and a matching V profile inside to fit it the hole. Then you use colored adhesive to seal the plug. Sand it down, and buff it out.

It took a couple of hours because Mike is one of those guys who does what needs to be done to get it right. The plugs were a problem producing. When he got two he liked he installed them. When he got through, one of them has a faint white line. Called ‘Bruising’. I mean it was a faint line and you has to look real hard to see it. He re-drilled it out and replaced it. This is the finished product.

HoleYou live in Phoenix or nearby, these are the guys to call.

Deck4

Guest Bath 3 Insulation and Backing

In working on the Guest Bath, insulating the walls was a given. Bathrooms are neck and neck with kitchens in being the noisiest rooms in most houses. In opening up the walls, we decided early on to replace the drywall on the back wall of the bathroom. It shares a wall with the guest bedroom, and is across the hall from the master bedroom.
Walls
The bathroom has three distinct wall thicknesses. The wet wall is 2×6, the long tub wall is 2×4 flat on the slump block, and the bath/guest bedroom party wall is 2×4.

Insulation
The wet wall is 5 1/2 fiberglass. the dry wall is 3 1/2 fiberglass and the long wall is 1 inch styrofoam.
The Styrofoam at 1 inch leaves a small air space, but compensates for the uneveness of the slumpblock and the mortar joints that were not cleaned up. Trying to flatten walls that have foam that is higher than the stud plane is a recipe for disaster. Not only will your fasteners ‘pop’, but your walls will not be flat. Since this is going to be tiled, this is really important.

It is already very quiet. We are also replacing the window with a dual pane slider unit.

Backing
Bathrooms get more abuse than almost any other room in the house. It pays to install backing for cabinets, fixtures, and towel bars. This photo shows 3/4” plywood as backing for a shelf above the the toilet, and backing for the back of the pedestal sink.
Backing installed to provide secure area for screwing bars and fixtures
We also installed backing on the dry wall for the towel bars. I made the backing wide and tall to give the client latitude for the shelf and to have enough for bolting the sink to the wall.

Guest Bath 2 - Fixtures

In the guest bath,we are going with a 1 piece Kohler toilet, like the one in the Master Bath. Nice Units. Comfort Height,(which means that it is 16” or so, about the same height as a standard chair)
Kohler One piece toilet
The sink is another Kohler unit. This is a pedestal unit. We have our own faucet so we will not use the one in the photo.
Pedestal Sink
They are the same color, it is the photographer.

Color Note:
White is only white as a concept. There are many shades of white. Everybody has their own idea of white. In a stroke of good fortune while looking for tile for the shower, we were at the daltile showroom looking at white tile and explaining to the guy what we were doing. They make a Kohler White Tile! And it matches! How cool is that?

Pedestal sinks make a room feel bigger, but care needs to be taken when deciding to use them. Specifically the plumbing supply lines. To keep a clean look, the supply and waste lines need to be placed close enough to be covered.

Here is our original plumbing. These are your typical tract house shutoffs. Two or three turns, plastic handles, and in places with bad water a tendency to get crapped up.
Original vanity plumbing
Here is our new plumbing. My plumber is a magician. These are 1/4 turn ball valve shutoffs. Much better in function and style.
Re-routed plumbing with 1/4 turn shutoffs
We are installing a 24” mirrored med cabinet. I installed backing as the light selection is not yet final. sconces or overhead.
Inset mirrored medicine cabinet opening

Meanwhile, I am building the towel cabinet.

Guest Bath 1

The Guest Bath Project is moving along. There were a couple of things that were a little weird. First up was the tile. They drywalled and then added concrete tile backerboard. Weird as usually you do one or the other.

Builders usually spec these houses down to the last nail and screw. There was a lot of extra labor involved in doing it this way.

Shower wall opening showing backer over drywall with chickenwire mesh.
I used a 4” grinder with a diamond blade to cut the tile and board into chunks to get it out of here. This is the most time effective strategy, but has the down side of being really dirty. They used spray foam on the exterior wall to insulate. After 35 years, you can see the cracks in the foam. One other interesting bit is that it is brittle and disintegrates to the touch.

Tile demo

The Framing

Having gotten that mess out of the way removing the rest of the drywall, we are down to the skeleton. The wet wall is 2×6”, which we will insulate as well as the rest of the bathroom walls. The outside wall is 2×4” laid flat and attached with cut nails. The window being off center is a result of some bad design. The outside of the house has a pleasing balanced look, but as you can see the balance is gone inside.

Shower demo done

Tile Mystery Surprise

Here is a closeup of the wetwall and tub. See that gap? The tub is 60”, and the rough opening is 61” This explains the tile mystery. They had to put the concrete board on this wall to overcome that framing gap. To make the bullnose tile detail come out they had to put concrete board on the other two walls, and get deep bullnose tiles to finish the ends. There was enough room with the plumbing stubs to move this wall in an inch, but they didn’t and this was the result. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise…

Framing surprise. Tub is shorter than framing. Part of the reason for the backer board over the drywall
The Fix

The plumber showed up and replaced the old shower valve and moved the supply lines for the new toilet and pedestal sink.

So I furred out the wall with 1×2 strips, and will cover the entire area with green board. The shower area will be tiled from the tub to the ceiling.

1x firring strips to correct elevation problem

I mentioned that I am not fond Surprises. But this is what makes remodeling interesting.

Master Bath Project Episode 3

In order to set the pocket door, a small amount of the old flooring needed to come up. As I have mentioned before there are always surprises in remodeling.
Floor from Hell
This is the flooring in the MBP.
From the bottom to the top is the original slab, the original linoleum installed with ‘cutback’ adhesive, thin set mortar,and the ceramic tiles.
This turned out to be the floor from hell. I had to go over the floor three times to get to the slab. First to get the tiles up, secondly to get the mortar up, and finally using an electric jackhammer to get the linoleum and cutback up.

Why go to all this trouble? This is the right way to do this, for a couple of reasons. One is the vanity is going to be a counter with drawers, suspended between the walls for the shower and tub. (No base cabs to hide things. Two is to check the floor for level and to note any low or high spots that may cause water to pool as this is a ‘wet’ room. Third is being able to check the slab for cracks from settling, or any other irregularities, that would prevent the tile from being laid smoothly.

Shower Wall

Having removed the rest of the closet, the cultured marble sides and shower pan, the counter and cabinets from the old vanity, it was time to open the walls for a serious look at the plumbing. (Note: In the kitchen or bath, you always want to check the plumbing. If you have to replace or move it, you need to know what you are working with)

Vanity Wall Take 1
We have removed the drywall, and have a better idea of what we are up against. The bathroom is on an exterior wall. This is a slump block wall with 2×2” studs nailed in with cut nails. Some of these will require ‘blue screws’ to refasten the studs, and repair spacing as the plumber does his thing.
(Tech Tip: You can still get cut nails, but trust me on this, you try to refasten 20 year dry studs with cut nails, you will break the studs, and loosen what little grip the others have)

Demo to studs
Notice that the back wall is basically blank, but the shower wall with the light coloration is where the builder foamed the plumbing wall with urea formaldehyde foam. Why he did not foam the other exterior wall is a mystery for the ages. Also you can see that there was a bathtub originally in this location, The client had remodeled this room about 20 years ago.
Note that the copper pipes are playing peek a boo in the block wall.
Vanity Wall Take 2
The vanity area is interesting as there is a lot of foam surrounding the supply and drain. It gets better You can see evidence of a leak with the mold on the drywall, which was hidden by the cabinets, and you never would have seen it or been able to track it down, without going this far in dismantling the bathroom.

Removing the rest of the drywall and crap on the wall we now see this.
Demo behind old vanity
A closer look reveals that the last guy used spray foam and drywall mud as the clamping for the supply and drain line.
Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!
This is so bad on so many levels. Valve replacement, leak repair, pipe movement in turning off and turning the main water supply, and so on. You can see that there was a leak with the mold evidence on the sole plate under the drain. Notice that they had broken the block for the supply lines. The weird thing here is there was no insulation of any type in that area. Anywhere but the desert, these would have frozen and burst.

Discovered the clean out for the drains here, in the pony wall behind the tub. I can only imagine where the hell this goes.
Hidden Cleanout behind existing tub

The Comfort Station
Moving on to the other side of the room where the toilet will be going. Yes it is staying in the same location as moving a toilet in a concrete slab is a very big deal.

At this point we are going to break to plan our next moves.

Plumbing Circuits

Having done more remodeling that most folks, one of the things that bugs me is the lack of attention to residential plumbing. Specifically to creating plumbing circuits like electricity has. In a lot of cases electricity has dedicated circuits, which allow you to turn off specific portions of your house. So why don’t designers think about this? They do it in commercial work.

They have no problem designing a 6000 square foot house with bathrooms on opposite ends of the house, kitchens and laundry rooms as far apart as is possible, making the plumber happy with all the extra material and labor, but not thinking about the homeowner or remodeler.

Typically, to remodel a bath or kitchen, you have to shut off the water to the entire house as well as turning off the water heater. Although newer plumbing does have shutoff’s on both sides of the water heater.

Consider a typical bathroom. The cold water is supplied to the sink, toilet, and shower/bath. But there are shutoff’s on the sink and the toilet you cry. Fair enough if all you are doing is replacing a faucet or a float valve.
Your shower/bath has no such provisions.

It would cost the price of a couple of valves to install shutoff’s for various rooms. This would allow you to shut off just the water you need when remodeling.

Something to think about.

Orphan Tools - Basin Wrench

When you are confronted with the prospect of replacing a faucet, you need a basin wrench.

Basin Wrench
It has a spring loaded jaw, a swivel head and a sliding ‘T’ handle. All which are necessary to get this tool to do it’s job.

In the world of remodeling and home repair there are a lot of tools you need, tools you want, and tools that have a single purpose in life that you hope that you never have to add to your tool set.

The basin wrench is one of these. It has only one purpose. It tightens or loosens the nuts that attach the top of your water supply lines to the bottom of your faucets.
As you can see, the space you have to work with is very small, and no amount of cursing, or any other tool will fit into this space.

basin wrench at work
There is an alternative. In the case of drop in sinks or small vanity tops, you disconnect the supply lines just north of the shutoff valves, and the drain line at both sides of the ‘P’ trap, and remove the sink entirely from the cabinet or countertop. You can turn it over and reach everything to replace your faucets.

This has it’s perils, if you have a cast iron sink, or a one piece counter and sink arrangement. The bathroom sinks are not too bad to do this way. The kitchen sink with a garbage disposal adds another level of complexity to the mix.

You will probably need a basin wrench.