The Bathroom Report: Day 12

It’s day 12 of the master bathroom remodel.  Plumbing and electrical rough in are complete. It’s also the second full business day of no work happening because we’re waiting on the county inspector to sign off on what’s been done so far.

I’m sure building inspectors do some kind of important work, but at the moment they’re at the very top of my shit list for being the reason there hasn’t been any forward progress on this project in two and a half days. Currently there isn’t even a date specified when the fine people from the county building will grace me with their presence. 

My enthusiasm for this project is, just now, at low ebb. The notion that the government should have a vested interested in when it’s ok to go ahead and put up drywall and stary laying tile in my bathroom would feel a bit farcical if it wasn’t so damned frustrating. Paying for the privilege of being hamstrung by slow-as-Moses county inspections is made all the more insulting because I’ve had to pay for the privilege of pulling the permits in the first place.

I’m a professional practitioner of the art and science of the bureaucracy. I know there’s nothing for it but to endure the process… but don’t for a moment think that I’ll be doing it with joy in my heart. 

The Bathroom Report: Day 5

When I looked in on the work yesterday, most of the walls had been stripped back to the studs, there we gaping holes in the floor, and materials were stacked across every open foot of my bedroom floor. The whole thing looked a lot more like destruction than construction. 

Today, though, something magical happened. The crew arrived this morning and started framing. I’m ok at reading the big sweeps of a floorplan, but I’m also notoriously bad at spatial awareness. This is the first time I could start really getting a feel for how things might look when all this is over.

It was also the first time I got a sense of how absurdly large the shower I asked for is actually going to be. I’ve always smacked shoulders and elbows into the sides of every shower I’ve ever been in, so I told the designed that was the number one thing I didn’t want in this new layout. She delivered on that request in spades. In my defense it also had to be pretty damned big so that I could get away with not having to deal with water getting all over the place since I also didn’t want a shower door or curtain. Giving up a linen closet and a foot off the walk-in closet finally feels like it might have been a good idea.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I used to have to walk through the bathroom to get anything out of my closet. It was a design I hated with an irrational level of ferocity. That issue is gone now with the new door cut in and framed. It’s seven square feet smaller than it was when this project started, but still would be room for me to double the amount of clothes I have and still have plenty of empty space left over. Making that trade off was a no-brainer.

We’re all taking a breather for the long weekend, but next up will be the plumbing and electrical rough in. Then we’re off to the races with wallboard and what feels like absolute acres of tilework. 

As week one closes, I know we’re nowhere near the beginning of the end, but I feel confident we’ve at the very least reached the end of the beginning.

Approaching the line of departure…

I’ve been in pretty steady contact with the project manager who’s going to be in charge of Operation Functional Bathroom. It really does look like this show will be getting on the road starting next Monday – with the 9AM delivery of a 20 cubic yard dumpster. I’m sure the neighbors will be thrilled with that sitting on the curb for the next 20 or 30 days. Fortunately, the master HOA agreement covers many topics, but giant dumpsters isn’t one of them.

I’m still fiddling with the plan on how to keep the resident critters separated from the working party. What I’ve come up with is mostly a reversion to Jorah’s misspent youth – with all of us spending our days blocked in the kitchen or pressed into the laundry room if there’s a need for truly close confinement at any point. That should be fine in theory. In practice, I’m mostly worried how Hershel will take to this temporary new normal. His food and litter box has resided in the bathroom since the first day he came home… and with cats being creatures of habit, I definitely have questions about how well he’ll respond to suddenly finding them located elsewhere.

I’m also contemplating abandoning my bedroom entirely for the duration of this project and decamping across the hall to the guest room. I mean it would be comfortable enough, even if space would feel a bit tight. The cable jack in that room is, of course, currently buried behind one of the jam-packed bookcases holding the nonfiction section, so there’s one minor drawback to an otherwise decent plan. How well the furry critters who have never known a different sleeping arrangement on the homestead will take to it, remains to be seen.

I’ve hired a good crew. God knows getting that right was something I obsessed over. Now that we’re just a few days from the line of departure, though, the full weight of how radically this whole effort is going to impact my cherished daily routine – and how little direct control I have over the details – has left me feeling a bit wild-eyed and twitchy.

A mark on the wall…

I signed the contract for my bathroom renovation back in September. A few days before Christmas I got an email from the contractor stating that all supplies are backlogged, half the employees are out with the Great Plague, and every project they have is running way, way behind. Here we are in May, five months hence, and I’ve finally talked to the company’s operations manager and have a tentative start date plugged into the calendar towards the end of the month. At long last, there’s a mark on the wall.

Look, I’ve loathed the master bathroom in this house since the first time I saw the place. I almost took a pass on the house because of it. The giant tub and no shower made it mostly dead space to me. For the last seven years it has been serving as a glorified hallway where I kept the cat’s food and litter box and that I have to walk through to get to the master closet. Aside from the very big windows facing the woods and excellent natural lighting, it has no redeeming qualities at all. The room is cold as blue hell in the winter and for reasons I’ve never managed to figure out, has no particular aesthetic at all. It’s as if the original owners realized three days before they finished construction that they needed a master bathroom and scrounged up whatever parts and pieces they could on short notice.

I’m not saying this new bathroom is going to be particularly beautiful, but it’s damned well going to be functional. I’m cautiously optimistic that the designer (probably) didn’t let me get the overall look and feel too far out of whack. I mean it all looks good enough on the renderings, but there’s no way of telling what it’s really going to look like until it’s all there live and in person… which now looks like it’ll be sooner rather than later.

My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes that I haven’t spent tens of thousands of dollars on something I’ll hate once it’s all thrown together… Though the simple fact that I won’t have to schlep down the hall to shit, shower, and shave every morning will go a long way in making it a favorable outcome. Being able to do it all with toasty warm floor tiles will probably seal the deal regardless of appearance… and then I can rack and stack the list again and see what project is next.

The closet…

My master bathroom contractor called right before Christmas to let me know they had filed all the paperwork with the county to apply for the necessary permits. I’m glad to see some forward motion on this project. I’ve lived with it for seven years so I’m not really impatient, but now that I’ve started spending real money, I’d just like to get it over with. 

While I had some unallocated free time, before succumbing to whatever crud laid me temporarily low, I decided to start clearing out the linen closet and master closet attached to the master bath. The linen closet is going away completely and my closet is losing a foot to give me enough width in the shower to never worry about banging a shoulder or elbow. It’s a lot of shower, but it feels fitting to replace the enormous bathtub that’s occupied the room, unused, all this time. 

It felt like a real inconvenience at the time, but I’m beginning to see the value of moving every couple of years. It forced me to clear out the proverbial dead wood periodically instead of paying to haul it across the country. Having no such forcing function over the last seven years, things have… accumulated. This place is twice the size of the old Memphis house and even so, storage is beginning to feel constrained. It could be time for a general purge… or hiring another contractor to give me some climate-controlled storage in the basement. 

Last week, the contractor let me know that some of his team tested positive and others were exposed to the Great Plague. The translation of that, I assume, is that all previous schedules are in the wind. I expected this project would be underway in January. Now, perhaps, it’s a dream of spring… though delaying the time when I’ll have complete strangers trapsing through the house on a regular basis doesn’t bother me at all just now.

In any case, mucking everything out of my closet is now feeling very premature. 

Paper check…

It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out where my checkbook was this morning. Once upon a time, its assigned spot was laying right in the place where I kept my wallet and keys. It hasn’t lived there in a decade or more. The age of paying for things by check feels like it really ought to be over. In fact, before today, I can’t remember the last time I paid for goods or services by scrawling words on a small slip of pre-printed paper. I know this to be the case, because today I used check #5, drawn on an account that I’ve had since gods know when. 

As of this morning, I’ve handed over a paper check to the nice people from the company who will be renovating the master bathroom. I’m assuming it will have plenty of time to clear since none of us are anticipating a start date any time before the first of the year. The supply chain delays brought on by the Great Plague are apparently a very real thing. My delightfully hermetic life has mostly protected me from them. Seeing the months long lead time for ordering cabinetry and tile, though, yeah, my general mockery of just-in-time inventory when they first taught it to us in logistics school feels a little prescient. It’s the kind of system that seems brilliant in the good times, but is entirely based on the assumption that times will always be good. Personally, I’ll take old fashioned warehouses full of stuff and damn the carrying costs. 

So, the long-deferred bathroom renovation is now one step closer to getting underway. I suppose this means that we’re all about to discover if I know anything at all about design. Given certain physical space and layout limitations, I have to think the final product will end up being better than what I’ve got currently. Now, though, I’ve got to go out and find a nice antique storage cabinet since I just savagely cut the linen closet out of the plan in favor of knocking out a wall to free up more shower space.

All that’s left now is picking out tile and lighting fixtures… and the interminable waiting. I’m sure none of those things will drive me absolutely mad.

I’m going to sleep on it…

Six weeks ago, I was on a wild tear to get the master bathroom, at long last, updated to the point where it was a functional space for something beyond walking through to get to my closet and an out of the way corner to keep Hershel’s litter box. Getting proposals back that saw my own preliminary cost estimate bested by about 50% has given me a moment of pause… not because I want a real functioning master bathroom any less, but because it is only one item on my list of things to do.

The others, in no particular order of importance are: 1) Patch and reseal the asphalt driveway; 2) Repair or replace leaking gutters; 3) Replace 21 year old air conditioning condenser unit; 4) Replace kitchen counter tops; 5) Be prepared to replace all major kitchen and laundry appliances since every one of them is now well past the point of economical repair; 6) More bookcases (because we always need more bookcases here). There are, of course, other more minor items that need continuous repair and replacement as needed.

Before the cost run ups associated with the Great Plague, the price of a new bathroom would have been an all cash operation. Funding was saved and earmarked. Now, it would mean pulling a loan to cover the unanticipated increase in cost. Doing the bathroom now means sucking all the oxygen out of the room – and being unable to address any of the other projects without further borrowing or kicking them years into the future in order to reestablish a sufficient cash reserve.

I’m going to take the weekend to sleep on it. The most likely solution feels like taking on some of the smaller projects while stashing away more cash to get the bathroom done right. That’s all hoping, of course, that rampaging inflation doesn’t completely throttle the value of the dollar and that at some point the COVID premium on construction supplies and labor moderates back towards historical levels. Those are two significant “maybes’ that there is no way to control for other than sucking it up and paying the bill now.

So yeah, tell me more about this joy of home ownership, won’t you?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The office. There’s nothing like being back in the office to really drive home the absolute absurdity of basing employment in the information age solely on the ability of / requirement for someone to sit in a specific geographic space for eight hours five times a week. I’m sure there are some jobs where “being there” makes an actual difference in how well or swiftly the information flows, but in my little corner of the bureaucracy, this week has stood as stark evidence that where work is location agnostic, corralling people into an office just because it’s how we did things in the before time isn’t so much strategic decision making as it is acquiescence to organizational inertia.

2. The end of an error. The fact that a serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other unformed officials were put in a position to actively ponder how to counter the possibility of a coup d’état in the United States isn’t so much annoying as it is horrifying… but I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last 36 hours or so. I suspect that as history sorts the wheat and chaff from January 2020 the details will be far more horrific than anything we know in the present. That so many among us still think the end of the Trump Administration was “business as usual” or it was somehow the victim of a vast and unprecedented left-wing conspiracy is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

3. Renovation. With multiple proposals now in hand, I’m edging dangerously close to becoming a broken record that says only “That’s almost what I paid for my first condo” or “I could buy a new damned pickup truck with that.” Evaluating the proposals shouldn’t be hard since they’re all within 8% of each other. I suppose technically that’s good news insofar as it means that’s probably a reasonably accurate estimate of what it’s going to take to put a new bathroom in this place. The hurdle I’m trying to get over, is that across the range of proposals, we’re about 50% over my original planning factor and into a point where cash on hand isn’t going to get the job done. Logically I know home equity loans can be had near lifetime low rates, but it all begs the question if I’m willing to pull a loan because I’m tired of schlepping down the hall to get a shower in the morning. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The algorithm. Every third ad Facebook has served me in the last couple of weeks is some variation of “Are you saving enough for retirement?” It’s a fine question and I’m almost laser focused on what I need to do to be able to walk out the door in 14 years and 18 days and never work again, but I promise you I’m not taking financial advice from the place I go to find dirty memes and posts about who got arrested in the area.

2. Timing. I’ve been plugging away for six years, putting a bit of money back here and there to correct the deficiencies in my master bathroom. Every time I got close to hitting my estimated budget number, some other critical project would come along and shave a few thousand dollars off that particular pile of cash. During the Great Plague, I managed to finally hit my number… and of course now the cost of building material has gone through the roof. I’ve gone ahead and put out the call for quotes to a couple of local builders, though. It seems my timing for this project is never going to be good… so the only thing left is to proceed. Doing otherwise feels like an open invitation to wake up one morning after another six years and realizing I’m still schlepping down the hall to take a shower.

3. Extortion. This week, one of the main oil pipelines servicing the east coast of the United States was held hostage. It’s owners reportedly paid $5 million to a vaguely described group of Russian or Eastern European cyber terrorists to regain control of their network. Here’s the thing… the Colonial Pipeline is, by definition, key infrastructure. We’ve seen the news reports of the chaos caused by this brief interruption. Setting aside that much of the panic was entirely self-inflicted by people rushing to fill every container they could find, our enemies have also seen the chaos a service disruption in one of our major pipelines can cause. Paying out millions of dollars was a business decision… but what I want to know is why we’re not now seeing reports of cruise missiles leveling the known and suspected safe harbors from which these and other cyber terrorists operate. If a country or non-state actor blew up a building or bridge, we’d come crashing down on their head like a mailed fist. I don’t make a relevant distinction between those who’d launch a kinetic attack and those who do their damage with keystrokes. 

Pity the poor designer…

At long last, after excavating the back yard, taking down a bunch of trees, replacing the furnace, and taking on innumerable other small tasks here at Fortress Jeff, I’m finally ready to start the wheels in motion to renovate the master bathroom.

It feels strange saying that. Six years ago, I almost took a pass on this place because the bathroom was so underwhelming. If I remember correctly, I had the place written into my house-hunting notes as “revenge of the tub” because it was the second house I looked at that was otherwise very nice, but had only a giant damned bathtub in the master bathroom.

I don’t have anything against enormous bathtubs in theory. In practice, though, they’re not my thing. I had a massive jetted tub in my house in Memphis and I filled it a grand total of one time in the three years I lived there. The only thing I’ve used the one in this bathroom for is for bathing dogs – and it wasn’t particularly useful for that. As far as the way I live is concerned, a giant tub is the quintessential waste of space – and represents money better spent on heated floors and, perhaps, a monstrous shower.

“But,” some will say, “A freakishly large bathtub will improve your resale value.” Maybe that’s true, but I’m the poor dumb bastard that will be living here for the next 15 years. Putting the room together to suit my reality makes far more sense than trying to project what some notional person a decade and a half from now might want to see. 

For now, I’m gathering up the list of contractors I’ll ask for proposals and putting together a list of what I’d like to get out of this project. I feel like I have a solid grip on the big bits, but as I troll around online it seems inevitable that the fit and finish will give me no end to trouble. I almost feel bad for whatever poor designer I ends up working with me to sort out the details.

That trouble notwithstanding, I’ll be extraordinarily pleased to finally be able to take a shower every morning without schlepping down the hall.