Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My $3,054 Mobile Home Bathroom Gut and Remodel from Start to Finish

Hello, cruel world! [blows kisses]

Oh wait...is that supposed to be said during a goodbye? [scratches head]


Today you finally get to see those bathroom pictures I've been promising you for a year and half! Lift yourselves off those tenterhooks, friends.

To refresh your exhausted memories, I bought this 1957 Henslee trailer in February 2018 and began bathroom demolition in August 2018. The bathroom was barebones functional by March 2019, at which point I had to drop everything and remodel my home's exterior before monsoon season. I resumed bathroom work which was 98% completed by November 2019. I did everything myself (except the electrical and two drain hookups) while working full-time as a pizza delivery driver. My detailed receipts show this project cost a grand total of $3054 spread out over the course of 15 months.

When I bought this one-bedroom, one-bathroom 10x47 mobile home, the bathroom left a little something to be desired...

...that "little something" being my sanity.

As you can see, this vintage washroom featured the original (and horribly chipped and stained) pink sink and tub, no mirror, a leaky window, a leaky roof, peeling and moldy walls, four layers of flooring, no storage, water damage and mold from top to bottom, a shower that leaked water onto the subfloor underneath, and desert critters of all sorts taking advantage of this moisture problem. To add insult to injury, the toilet paper holder was not only a huge stretch from the toilet but faced a direct hit from the shower head. Then, last but not least, this ancient artifact of a 10-gallon water heater provided exactly four minutes of hot water and came with a convenient plastic cup to catch the rain that came through the roof from the defunct gas vent:

After a brief disapproving look at this thing, Uncle retreated back into retirement.

My aunt and uncle were extremely generous and bought me a water heater as a house-warming gift, and Uncle (a retired electrician and maintenance engineer) hooked it up for me before they headed north for the summer.

That made the bathroom somewhat bearable for six months while I formed a master plan. The roof had to be patched and the entire bathroom had to be gutted and replaced, and now that I owned it, I was excited by the possibility of what it could be. It could be safe, dry, totally cute, and built to my preferences! On my pizza delivery driver income, hiring a contractor was out of the question, so I'd have to do it all myself. But I didn't have any tools and I'd never even held a drill before, much less demolished and renovated an entire room with plumbing and electrical! Tools scared me because I didn't understand them.

But nowadays we have YouTube. The plot thickens!

I watched a ridiculous number of videos to get a sense of what tools and materials I needed. I've always enjoyed home improvement shows as a spectator, but now I was determined to finally learn this stuff well enough to do it myself. My beginner search phrases were things like "how to budget for a renovation," "how to demo a bathroom," "how to turn off the water supply," "how to unhook a sink" and so forth. Any little thing I was unsure about, I scoured the Internet for instructions. I took notes and broke everything down into teensy baby steps and micro to-do lists. I priced individual items to create a list of projected expenses and then created a monthly supplies budget to give myself a rough timeline of which tools and materials I needed when and in what order. And by the way, I did all of this with plain $2 notebooks, basic white notecards, and a few stacks of Post-It notes. No animated spreadsheets or 3D rendering software in this trailer park!

One common piece of advice on how to stay on budget during a renovation is to stick to the design plan and not make big changes in the middle of the project. E.g., don't install marble countertops and then decide you want butcher block. So, I put a lot of thought beforehand into what I wanted out of the final product and the overall style plan for my trailer (a subtle rustic theme with darker wood tones), then amassed a dizzying collection of inspiration photos. A few of my favorites:

Photo from The Handyman's Daughter

I also thought about what I don't like in other people's bathrooms. Ha! Like trying to wash my hands and accidentally knocking over 500 bottles...

Photo from LifeEdited.com

...or crazy colors and wallpaper patterns that make my reflection look green or blue or purple...

Photo from Houzz

...or windows in bathrooms because a) that renders it useless as a tornado shelter, b) I'm never 100% sure no one's peeping on me, and c) deep, dramatic shadows are not conducive to flawless makeup application...

...or walking into a guest bathroom and having nowhere to set my purse and having to wear it while I wipe my ass. Ugh. The worst bathroom makeovers are where people replace vanity countertops with pedestal sinks. DEATH TO PEDESTAL SINKS!!

Or are vessel sinks the worst? Is there anything on Earth more clunky and less ergonomic and that somehow splashes water fucking everywhere?? Below is a highly technical diagram to illustrate why they should be avoided. Study it carefully:

Wait, I know what's worse than that. When people have the opportunity to install a bit of countertop and instead choose to assault humanity with one of these monstrosities, aka a trough sink:

How rude!

K, I'll just set my comb and hairspray in the sink while I braid my hair. No biggie.

Form follows function in my house, so the must-haves for this little 6x6 bathroom were neutral colors and lighting, as much storage as possible, a decent amount of countertop space, a normal drop-in sink, and no weird feng shui where doors butt into each other or bath tubs jut into vanities.

A sketch of my hopes and dreams:

It took about three months for me to finalize my design plan and collect enough tools and materials for the first few steps. I was really nervous! What if I flooded my house by unscrewing the wrong pipe and it couldn't be fixed or something? This was my only bathroom, so if I fucked up royally and set my house on fire, I'd have to sleep in my car and shower at the gym. Well, I'd be showering at the gym anyway until construction was done, but still. I was nervous! My hands were shaking as I prepped for demo.

Oh man...what is all this stuff? Answer me, God! Or YouTube!

But demo day went pretty fast! Once my eyes got the hang of following pipes and joints and screws to figure out how things were put together, it was easy to take them apart. And I managed to not flood my house or set it on fire. #winning

Three layers of wall paneling: white plastic over original 1957 pink chipboard over raw birch.

Since I did this demo 100% myself while also working full time, ripping apart and cleaning up this entire bathroom took three days. Within six weeks I'd torn out part of the kitchen to make way for new framing, patched the roof leaks, replaced the rotten subfloor, and replaced that flimsy, leaky aluminum window with an opening for a fan that Uncle would install upon his return in winter. He later installed a new light switch, two outlets, and two drain hookups as well.

Toilet lost all its friends and was left to bowl alone. HA!
Showering at the gym every day really sucked, in case you were wondering, so there were a few projects I really wanted to learn and execute but ended up bypassing in favor of just getting this project done. For example, I wanted to replace the PVC plumbing with Pex and re-route all the drains for a better configuration, but since the PVC was working just fine and I'm not in a region subject to freezing, I skipped that. Though I still want to learn Pex someday, on a different project.

Finally it was time to select colors and fixtures:

Now that the rotten subfloor had been replaced, I stapled down luan and topped it with groutable luxury vinyl tile. Having the toilet unhooked for an entire night was a little scary, but my trailer park is right next to a Walmart...and if that isn't the beginning of a classic trailer park story, I don't know what is.

Speaking of the toilet, it got a makeover too. When I unhooked it to lay down the flooring, that upset all the toilet's ancient gaskets, washers, levers, floaties, and tubes in its tank which were apparently being held together by rust and lime scale. All the innards and Johni-Ring got replaced, and later, the seat and cover.

My trailer's aluminum siding is nailed directly to the studs, with no sheathing or vapor barrier or anything, so after treating the exposed "exterior" studs with Borax solution, I decided to build a dummy wall to both insulate the bathroom and hide the piping to the shower. I put double-reflective expanded polystyrene insulation in the gap and sealed the seams with Reflectix tape.

So this was Week 11, early November, and looking at this picture now, I'm not sure why I didn't put horizontal blocking in the framing. What the heck? Maybe because it was a dummy wall and not load bearing...? Why did I do that? No idea. I know I added extra studs to create backing for the cabinets and shower, but what's going on with that framing? I'm sure someone else will wonder the same thing down the road. Oh well. Better to make dumb newbie mistakes on an old trailer that's depreciating versus making them on a million-dollar house. At least that's what I tell myself...

Then apparently I hung some drywall, then mudded, taped, sanded, and primed it. I've since suppressed the sanding nightmares.

Next I built the base for the Lippert Components shower pan and surround in the color "Parchment":

And caulked the correctly layered joint like a pro!

The paint I picked was a serendipitous find at Walmart. Kilz had several cans of flat and satin "Sophistication" on clearance for $11/gal. I picked up one can and it was the most wonderful greige, so I rushed out and bought the last three cans. In some lighting this color is gray and in others it's tan. It's both! Meaning, it's a true neutral and goes beautifully with everything. It's very soothing and looks amazing in this bathroom. I LOVE this color!

The Wilsonart laminate countertop in "Kalahari Topaz" was a $50 pre-cut piece from Lowe's, the sink was the Lippert Components match for the shower, and the faucet is by Olympia. The cabinets are from Dimension's Timberline series, sold by online discount retailer Cabinet Giant. Kinda wish I would've mitered the corners of the countertop backsplash and positioned the sink slightly more to the right, just for more aesthetic value. Derp.

Where do I put "ironing plastic trim to laminate countertops" on my resume?

By mid-February I was ready to assemble the most difficult, most pain-in-the-ass part of the whole bathroom: the shower. My original sketch featured a frameless neo-hex shower and my initial price check showed 34" kits for only a few hundred dollars. I later realized my shower could not exceed 32" without hitting the toilet, and finding a 32" frameless, or even semi-frameless, kit in my color palette was inexplicably impossible. I scoured online for weeks and called numerous retailers only to come up empty-handed. The only thing I could find were kits with huge thick ugly door frames, which were still well over $1000 before shipping.

So, in adhering to the "don't change you mind in the middle of a project" recommendation, I decided to collect all the individual parts to assemble this 32" neo-hex semi-frameless almond-colored shower stall myself. I imagine this was a lot like building one's own computer tower--there are a LOT of little moving parts in there that all have to be compatible with each other. And maybe staring at a huge jumble of parts with a sinking feeling like ohhhh noooo this thing is so fucked there's no way this is going to work...

Ugh. It was such a bear. But baby steps, right? One thing a time. Here's how it went down:

First, I measured for the glass panels and called my local glass suppliers, who promptly informed me that even the thinnest, lowest-quality glass would be ~$2500 not including any hardware. Yikes! I searched a long time for discounts and alternative materials, got really despondent, briefly considered using just a shower curtain, lost all hope, then thought about using acrylic or polycarbonate which is 1/3 the price of glass. I read numerous DIY forums on the subject and the overwhelming consensus was that only an idiot would use plastic panels instead of glass in a shower "because you want a quality job that lasts a lifetime."

Well, sorry sweetheart, but this trailer isn't going to "last a lifetime." It'll probably last another 20 years tops. We're not putting performance tires on the Ford Fiesta, okay? 

I carefully weighed the pros and cons of acrylic vs polycarbonate, checked various prices between manufacturers, and ordered the acrylic panels I needed in 3/8" thickness from P&K Custom Acrylics. Then I ordered u-channels, hinges, stabilizer bars, brackets, wipes, and seals from DK Hardware. If you plan on trying this yourself, be aware that neo-hex hardware is several times more expensive than 90-degree hardware. Double derp!

Once I installed the u-channels, I trimmed the shower door with my circular saw and a fine-tooth blade. I had to do this inside because I didn't have a garage or porch or patio to use, nor any stable surface large enough other than my living room floor. Fortunately I was wearing my construction flip-flops. Did you know you can dust your entire house with compressed air and not just your keyboard?

I used my drill and my jigsaw fitted with a plexiglass blade (and a can of compressed air to keep the acrylic from melting) to slowly cut out the hinge openings using the template provided. Then I used a Dremel to sand the edges smooth:


I used this acrylic shower for the first time on St Patrick's Day 2019 and have been using it every day for a year now with no problems. If I had to build it again, I'd go with 1/2"-thick panels for extra stability because the 3/8" panels jiggle slightly when opening the door. Which is not unsafe, just a little unattractive. Acrylic is a semi-flexible, impact-resistant, buffable material that resists yellowing. Overall I'm glad I went with plastic instead of glass because it does the same exact job for far less money. There's absolutely no reason one can't use polycarbonate or acrylic for shower panels, especially in a mobile home, tiny home, RV, boat, or other unconventional living space that isn't expected to last two hundred years. The entire shower stall (pan, surround, acrylic panels, hardware, fixtures, new drain, everything--cost a total of $1138.

Whew! Now that I could shower at home instead of at the gym, it was time to build the pocket door from scratch because, again, nothing in my house is a standard size.

It was a lot less labor-intensive than I anticipated, but required tedious measuring and re-measuring and re-re-re-re-measuring. My jig was a tiny bit too small to help me trim the door perfectly straight, so while it looks nice in pictures and operates smoothly, it's a little peculiar-looking in person. But now it's enclosed in drywall and I'm done messing with it and we can just add it to the list of 1,000 mistakes my brain reminds me of every day.

Once the pocket door was enclosed, I could install the vinyl tile baseboard trim, the bridge cabinet above the toilet, the towel bar, and, most importantly, THE TOILET PAPER HOLDER NEXT TO THE TOILET WHERE IT BELONGS THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

There! The shower door can be fully opened without hitting the vanity or toilet, you can reach into the shower and turn on the water without getting your arm wet, and after showering you can open the door and easily reach the towel. Aaaaaand all the cabinet and vanity doors can open fully without bumping the shower or toilet. I planned this arrangement very carefully. 

Next I picked a curtain that matched the wall paint and hemmed it to hide the water heater:

I also swapped the thick-framed mirror I initially installed (like 11 photos back) with this frameless one that sits in a u-channel that matches the shower. My phone camera really struggled with this lighting, but these cabinets do match each other, I swear!

There are still a few trim pieces left to do, but it's 98% done!

Not bad for a 63-year-old trailer, eh?

And I got everything on my wish-list: storage, a normal sink, countertop space, a neutral color palette, and a less chaotic layout.

When I started, I knew nothing about homebuilding and tools scared me, but now I can confidently mis-measure, hammer my own thumbs, take way too long, and make hundreds of mistakes with the best of 'em. And love every minute of it!

PS - Check out these awesome tool-wielding women who inspired me:

Sandra Powell of Sawdust Girl

Ana White Woodworking

Leah Bolden of See Jane Drill

Nicole Curtis of Rehab Addict

Karen Laine and Mina Starsiak of Good Bones

And Dustin Luby of Home Mender. That dude is pretty cool too.