The Basement Bathroom Remodel

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For this basement bathroom remodel we’re going for a high-end, private locker room kinda feel here. Right now the room is a complete blank slate and will be around 6ft by 9ft once the framing is complete.

The blank slate

The plan, at the moment, is to use a large format cream/white tile all the way around the room up to around 3ft with drywall completing the wall. The shower will be approximately 3ft x 5ft and tiled to the ceiling. I’d like to do a doorless shower if possible, just don’t know if that’ll work. A new throne and pedestal sink will complete the major fixtures.

Concerns are plenty:

  • I’m not yet sure how to vent the bathroom. There’s no nearby windows and the only adjacent exterior wall is at the garage.
  • I will need to frame around a gas line, large drain pipe and vent. Not a big deal, just would prefer not to have weird bump outs if I can work it out.
  • I’m also considering attempting a polished concrete floor… maybe just another counter top, we’ll see.

I spent an hour or so scraping off the popcorn stuff they spray on basement walls (why do they do that?). I then rolled on a couple coats of drylock paint as some extra insurance against water getting in.

I’ve already ripped down some leftover lumber from the deck to make some 2 buh 4s. Framing will begin as soon as I find some time and energy.

9/6/19 Update: Framing is complete and cement board has started going up. The vent fan is located and ducting started, electrical connections are in progress. Need a trip to get a few odds and ends before I can complete the electrical and plumbing rough in.

9/15/19 Update: There’s been some work happening in my free time. I finished the electrical, plumbing rough-in and have all the cement board hung.

Yesterday I measured out for the shower pan, installing the shower drain flange on the top of the drain pipe, I realized I would be over 5 inches in height from the bathroom floor to the shower floor. This meant my shower curb would need to be at least 7 inches. Instead of mixing 7 bags of cement to build this massive shower pan, I borrowed a 12″ masonry saw and cut the basement floor around the drain.

Really high shower drain

Everything had gone perfectly according to plan to that point. I gave the floor a few good whacks with a heavy hammer and barely chipped the surface. So I wandered up to the garage and grabbed Bertha, my trusty 12 lb sledge, Bertha and I have been through a lot together….but I must have done her wrong because on my third swing she slipped and hit my drain pipe true and square. “F*$%” – is probably something one might say in this situation…and someone did, several times loudly.

Cement Removed

I finished busting up the small section of floor, dug until I reached below the fragments of plastic that used to be the shower drain trap, assessed the damage and planned my repair. There was just enough 2 inch pipe from a nearby junction that I could cut off the old trap and install a new one, and as luck would have it, this actually moved my drain closer to the center of the shower floor. I also spotted, while removing the broken trap, that there was a significant blockage of hard cement or mortar in there. I would guess it was close to 80% blocked. A shower installed over that would certainly have drained slowly and caused puddling water. Overall it worked out I guess.

The new trap and shower flange are now installed, tested for leaks, the hole back-filled with dirt and cement poured to secure it all in place. Once that is dry, I’ll remeasure for the shower pan and curb heights.

New drain trap and shower flange installed

11/10/2019: Finally back at it. We went tile shopping today. We ordered the tile and it should arrive in a week or so. That means I’ve got to pour the shower pan and threshold, mud and tape the cement board, RedGard the shower area and floor and hang drywall.

I’m using the RedGard as both my waterproofing membrane in the shower, but also as my break between the basement floor and the tile. It should keep my tiles from cracking where the floor has cracks.

Our tile selections, photo courtesy of the lovely Mrs EndlessToDoList

The hexegon tiles shown will be accents only. They didn’t have the matte off-white hexegon tiles in store. I’ll cut out a few white tiles from each sheet and plop in some of these.

Now if only I hadn’t spent the day sidetracked swapping out our faded, old plastic basketball backboard for a free, much nicer, steel framed backboard.

I’ve also departed from my initial idea of a pedestal sink. The location of the drain and water supply lines would have it well off center on the wall. The price of a pedestal sink is also far more than it’ll cost to build a vanity with leftover plywood and make another concrete vanity top.

“Draft” design, vanity and counter…yes, the sink needs to be fixed/resized.

I’ve also spent some time drawing in SketchUp. I’ve designed a basic 30″ vanity and a concrete countertop. I drew them up separately and clearly need to make some adjustments before I make these in real life.

11/17/19 Update: Forms were constructed and carefully installed for the shower pan. Pouring the cement required MANY trips up and down the stairs. I found half of a 5 gallon bucket is the perfect amount of cement to mix in one batch, not too difficult to get a thorough mix and not too heavy to carry through the house. I think I must have mixed 10 batches to fill the form completely.

Forms in place
Pour complete, lots of troweling needed

While waiting for this to cure I’m planning to tape and mortar the joints in the cement board. Once all of that is dry I’ll apply the RedGard ahead of tiling. Maybe I should hang the drywall before I tile….yeah, I should definitely do that.

11/28/19 Update: With some time off leading up to the holidays, I’ve accomplished a lot. Drywall is up, a new door installed, mud and tape is done (nearly finished with sanding too).

12/01/19 Update: Continued progress in the week of thanksgiving. Primer on the drywall and waterproofing in the shower area and floor.

Once the Redgard was dry I plugged the drain and filled the shower with around 15 gallons of water. I marked the water line and left it for close to 24 hours. I was very pleased to find all the water was still there the next day.

Filled with water

With the shower confirmed as water tight I started laying out tile. The floor tile will be centered in the doorway which isn’t too complicated to lay out. The shower floor tile took a little more work to figure out. The white tile was easy enough but filling in the color in a pattern took some trial and error. I tried a few geometric designs with angles attempting to mimic the floor tile and it didn’t look good at all….horrible idea. In the end a simple layout looked best to my eye.

Initially we purchased natural stone thresholds to cap the knee wall and threshold into the shower. After reviewing the invoice, these pieces were over a third of the total cost at nearly $800. I’ve made concrete pieces myself before and have been eager to do it again. I already have some pieces of melamine for the form, the total cost to make my own will be around five dollars for a bag of concrete and a couple dollars for a tube of caulk.

12/10/19 Update: More progress, although it seems the kind where I take 1 step forward and 6 back. I’ve now laid a bed of mortar in the shower to build up to match the height of the drain.

The bed of mortar

I was extra careful to get the correct slope from all sides toward the drain. This isn’t easy and had to be checked frequently while smoodging the sticky mortar around.

Once this hardened, I re-laid the tile pattern and removed the section around the drain. I also removed the pieces that will be replaced with the colored tiles. With everything carefully laid in place, spacing between sheets double and triple checked, I cut the pieces that will fill in at the outside edges. Because of the need and desire to be accurate, I am waiting to cut the tiles around the drain until everything else is in place. This will give me the best chance at consistent grout spacing.

In order to keep everything organized, I laid all the sheets on an open section of the floor.

I mixed up a small batch of mortar, about enough for the back row, and started trowling it down. This is where things started to go wrong. With the second sheet in place I noticed, even with a healthy dollop of mortar underneath, the tile was still low compared to the lip of the drain. I smooshed some extra mortar underneath thinking I could make up the difference. I quickly realized this was going to leave me with a wavy floor and high potential for puddling. It wasn’t easy to hit the brakes, but I did end up pulling up the tile I’d laid. It took a while to wash the mortar off of them. I used the mortar I’d mixed to build up around the drain and mixed some more to be sure I was keeping the correct pitch.

Additional mortar to get the right height.

With the patch work cured I checked everything one more time expecting to be ready to lay tile, unfortunately I found one corner of the drain still was a little low and there was a slight valley in the mortar bed near the same corner. Frustrated that I wasn’t going to get the tile in, once again, I mixed up another small batch of mortar and filled the low spots.

Hopefully the final corrections to the shower pan.

With my day freed up, I decided to build the forms and make my concrete thresholds and knee wall cap. This didn’t take long on the super awesome new table saw. I already had some scrap melamine laying around, plenty for these pieces.

Forms built and caulked

I did clean up the messy caulk work once it cured, but I’m not too worried about defects. I plan to fill any holes and wet polish them. Any minor imperfection will be either filled or removed during that process. With the caulk dry and the molds wiped down a final time, I mixed up some concrete. It took about half of the 60lb bag I had to fill these. Once filled and screeded I covered them with plastic to cure.

All snuggled up, see you in a few days!

I would have bet someone serious cash that the bag said full cure in 3 days. I now see it says 7-10 depending on temperature. With 3 days in my head, I waited 4 and pulled the first piece from the mold. Looks good aside from the two cracks.

This oops actually has my head spinning with all the opportunities to salvage this piece and make it a feature instead of landfill. I could:

  • Glue it up with screened concrete mix
  • Glue it up with mortar when it’s installed
  • Grout the holes and cracks
  • Fill the holes and cracks with colored epoxy
  • Use melted crayons
  • Use glitter glue
  • Bubble gum

Ok, the last few aren’t real options…just checking to see if you’re paying attention.

More time off, more progress

Shower floor installed

I finished installing the shower floor…I do need to clean up some mortar between the tiles on top of the drain before I can grout.

Laying tile

I laid tile in the small corner of the bathroom. It was a few days before I could get back to it and finish off the other side.

All floor tile laid, needing grout

I also hand polished one of the unbroken slabs of concrete. This one goes on the knee wall.

I’m off work for two more weeks, I’m hoping to find enough time to grout all the flooring and install all the wall tile. I’ve been carefully measuring the knee wall with the cap in place. This will need to be reduced slightly towards the center of the room, it’s too tight a fit for the piece of glass I have. If the basement floor moves at all seasonally relative to the rest of the house, it could easily break the glass if it’s installed too snug.

Merry Christmas

A couple days of chaos followed by some recovery and more progress.

The shower and floor tile are now grouted, which does a lot to reduce the busy-ness of the patterns. We also picked a color and I painted the ceiling and walls. I did take some time to cover the new tile before painting.

I also set up a wet polishing station in my basement workshop. Previously I polished the concrete pieces by hand. This took a while and didn’t get the same result as using the power polisher. Using a squirt bottle with water, I carefully polished the thin knee wall cap. The piece looked much better until I picked it up. The vibrations from the polisher must have caused some cracks because it came apart into 5 or 6 pieces.

With two broken, I set out to polish the last remaining piece, the doorway threshold. It came out great and didn’t break. Some adjustments to the doorway and the threshold and I installed it prior to grouting the floor.

With the weather here unseasonably warm, I also spent some time outside rebuilding the moulds for the two broken pieces. This time I plan to partially fill them with a very thin mix then set it strips of cement board to hopefully provide some additional rigidity. This is essentially skim coating the cement board in reverse. We’ll see how it works.

Happy New Year

We’re well into January of 2020. I’ve tiled the walls, all aside from the bottom pieces. I’ve started installing the trim molding, I remade the two broken concrete pieces, and they both broke again. And I caught a sinus infection or something, it put me out of commission for two weeks.

Some more photos of the wall tile installed, but still needing grout.

Although it cracked, I installed the piece on top of the knee wall anyway. I globbed some mortar in the crack and smooshed the pieces together. After polishing the whole thing, after waiting a few days for the mortar to fully set up, it came out great. I’m glad I polished this one after it was installed, but the power polisher definitely made a mess.

I should have some time this weekend in order to finish up the bottom row of tile all the way around and install the shower threshold. That’ll get polished in place as well. The trim molding should go quickly and once that’s done I’ll be ready to start grouting….lots and lots of grouting.

I’ve also found a solution for my “glass won’t fit” problem. In taking several measurements I found that it’s really only one spot on the ceiling that is too snug. I’ll find a way to shave that spot down, spackle it and re-paint. Far easier than trying to thin out my concrete cap any further.

The Busy Season

January and February are crazy months when you are raising a wrestler and a gymnast. For those that don’t know, a gymnastics meet takes around 3-4 hours for the competition and awards. As my daughter has climbed the levels, this is increasingly capped at both ends by a 2+ hour drive. Wrestling….those meets are even longer. A weekend tournament starts with check in around 7am, matches start around 8-9am, awards usually wrap up between 3-5pm. That’s a long day, luckily because he wrestles for the high school, wrestling is usually only an hour or less of driving….usually.

With all these sporting events to watch, projects take a back seat.

There has been some progress and a big old oops discovered.

First the progress. I’ve installed all remaining tile, I’d only had the bottom row left to do. The molding was caulked and painted and I cleaned the extra mortar from between the tiles. I’ve grouted about halfway around the room, installed and polished the shower threshold and mostly painted the door. Just a second coat on one side of the door remains.

Now the oops…

During a slow morning at work in the cube, I was thinking about what I have left to do in the bathroom (of course the project, what did you think I meant?….gross). Part of that is build the vanity, connect the water supply and sink drain….DRAIN???

I don’t recall seeing the drain pipe sticking out of the wall. Panic ensued as I scrolled through photos on my phone only to confirm.

I had framed the wall further away from the concrete basement wall than the old room, this meant the goose neck of the drain was completely behind the cement board. I clearly just missed cutting that hole.

And then I tiled over it.

Luckily I found a free x-ray vision app for the phone, most of the good ones are $1.99. I used it to locate and mark the center of the hole, carefully drilled through using a masonry hole saw and….bam, like it’d been there all along.

Found it!

Ok, x-ray vision apps are not a real thing. What I really did was find an old picture with the framing in place (photo below). By inserting the picture into Sketchup, I used the software to measure from the top of the drain collar to the center of the drain opening. I also measured the width of the closest 2×4. Knowing the 2×4 width is 1 1/2″ I applied some algebra (see, it is useful in the real world) and got my measurement, 17 1/8″.

Some careful measuring and maybe a little bit of luck.

Recovered from another DIY blunder, I moved on with the grouting. Though a keen eye will spot that there is a threaded twist collar in the wall….not ideal.

The Virus (March 15, 2020)

With the recent “lock downs” of schools, after school activities, sporting events etc. I suddenly have a lot of extra time to work on the project. It’s nice to have something to keep me busy and help keep my mind off of what’s going on around the world. A friend in Germany said they’re all required to stay home as much as possible. It sounds like everything except for grocery and pharmacy businesses are closed. Best wishes to you and yours during this…

Regarding my project however, I’ve managed to FINALLY complete the grouting. Tiling the walls….ugh. Looks great, but it was a lot of work. I finished that up yesterday. Today I installed the glass panel for the shower, tested my plumbing work and cleaned.

You can see I’ve still got my shims holding the glass panel in the correct position. I’ve caulked everywhere but where the shims are. Once it’s cured I’ll remove the shims and caulk the hole.

My opening for the glass turned out to be slightly trapezoidal. The joists are not perfectly level and I intentionally had the knee wall sloped slightly towards the wall to avoid water running out onto the floor. I installed an aluminum C-channel on the ceiling and had to recess one end of it into the drywall a bit in order to accommodate the glass. Finally got the loose fit I was looking for after 3-4 adjustments. I’ll need to clean up the ceiling in that area.

After testing the plumbing, I started cleaning. In order to keep the bathroom clean I needed to also clean my adjacent workshop, the filthy path between the two and the route up the stairs.

Exciting, all that remains is the vanity and sink. I’m planning to re-check the dimensions on the vanity I already designed, re-run the cut list optimizer and start building (but not today).

Vanity Built!

I managed to complete the vanity, getting it all sanded and painted and the door installed.

Now for the vanity top and sink, I cut up a sheet of melamine to make the form. The basic form is easy, making my sink bowl however….not so much. I had to make a 3D CAD drawing in order to get all the angles and measurements to get this right. Really it just needs to be close. The gaps will be filled with drywall compound and the whole thing will get a coat of left over, gloss white paint to get a nice smooth surface.

And the real thing…

With a first coat of the drywall compound applied I will wait until that hardens before sanding and applying a final smooth coat.

Lesson Learned

Did you know that caulk expires? I do now! Apparently this is the worst case failure. It just stays goopy for eternity. After several days waiting for it to firm up, I ended up scooping it all out with some wooden shims. I also wiped everything down with paper towel and various cleaning solutions. I had purchased this tube at the same time as the one used for the thresholds and knee wall cap. One was good, the other not-so-much.

I ended up finding another old tube of white caulk in the basement. I popped it open and laid a bead out on the workbench to see if it would firm up. It did, despite having expired over a year ago. I never did like chemistry.

Resetting the Form

Once the caulk set up, I went back and cleaned up the excess, wiped down the form and prepped for the concrete pour.

Pouring the Sink

I’ve learned to mix the concrete fairly wet after the countertops a few years back. This pour happened in two stages because of the integrated sink. First I poured what will be the countertop. That was leveled out, vibrated to removed as much air as possible and screed. With the countertop “good” I set the upper half of the form in place, this would define the thickness of the sink and hold the concrete in place around the sink mold.

It required a little more effort to get the concrete into the sink area. Placing a handful and smooshing it down in. The upper mold started to float up off the lower mold after filling it around halfway. I ended up clamping it down as you can see in the photos. I used a few different techniques to smoosh the concrete into this section. Fingers, chunks of wood and other things that were laying around and looked like they might work. I didn’t vibrate this section, I was worried this would just result in it coming out the bottom. I should have vibrated it a little. There were a handful of voids in the sink but not so bad that I had to scrap it.

I removed the upper mold after a handful of days. I scraped and smoothed a little with a putty knife, wet it down and covered it with plastic sheeting to finish curing.

Out of the Mold

I pulled it from the mold one day shy of two weeks. It came out great and very solid. There are some hairline cracks at the sink knockouts, I suspect these are caused by the wooden dowels swelling when I added water mid-way through the curing process. I’ve wiggled the section and it seems to be very solid. I attribute that to the use of the Quikrete with fiberglass mixed in.

I built a frame/table thing to hold the sink while I polished it and a ‘splash shield’ using the melamine from the bottom of the mold. This kept me mostly dry while using the wet polisher. A neighbor donated an old shower curtain to add to my shield, that added to the staying-dryness.


I couldn’t wait to start polishing.

The top came out great, and the sink is a great shape. After filling in the voids it looks much better.

A couple weeks later…

After having sufficient time to complete the curing process, I’m finally able to install and seal the countertop/sink. Once the plumbing connections are made, and a small repair to the ceiling is finished, this room is DONE!!!!

Oh, and we will eventually hang a mirror over the sink…

Sink installed, ready for sealing

And….running water!

Finally got around to buying the supply lines and drain pipe extension required to finish off the sink. I found that the countertop where the faucet sits was slightly thicker than the faucet manufacturer deemed necessary. I had to thin out the lock nuts that secure the faucet to the countertop in order for the supply lines to fully seat and seal.

No Leaks!!!!

We still need a mirror and I need to touch up the ceiling….but this room is now fully functional.

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Husband, Dad, Engineer and Saw Dust Aficionado
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