Bathroom Progress – Plumbing and Electrical!

After demo’ing the main bathroom at Berrybrier I’d been ping ponging between my house and my cousin Kristen’s basement for showers and sleeping. In the midst of all the other chaos going on at Berrybrier: the new roof, electrical work, the extremely invasive floor rehab, and the exterior painting fiasco, the bathroom plumbing was completed! I hired a plumber to do the rough in plumbing only, figuring it couldn’t be all that hard to install the fixtures so I might as well do that part myself. Also, I’m cheap frugal.

The rough in was no small job though! It involved new toilet, sink, and shower locations as well as running new pex lines from the main house inline. He also installed a shower surround which is part of my grand scheme to eventually demo this and flip the location of this shower to the other side, giving me a master bathroom. (There’s a floor plan here if you want to see how that could work.) But that’s a project for years out. For now, My crazytown bathroom seriously needed a new floor plan! See how the wall is recessed starting at the mirror? When they installed a larger bathtub, they stole 10″ of space from the room behind it and moved the plumbing back. There was an electrical fuse box at the top of the wall though, so they left that part in its original location. They didn’t build a proper new wall though, so it was a bit of a nightmare of sistered in framing pieces all crazy. The mirror makes the bump back a little difficult to see, but if you stare hard enough at the below it comes together, especially once you notice the mirror is crooked!

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Before the plumber could install the shower surround I had to rebuild this wall and make it more stable. It wasn’t structural, but I didn’t trust the existing hobnobbed-together framing. I chose to reframe the wall at the original location, removing ten inches from this main bathroom and gaining the original 10 inches in the half bathroom off my bedroom that desperately needed some extra space. I also needed to fur out the wall on the right side of this bathroomto hug in the shower surround which was 48″ wide since bathroom was 52″wide. I psyched myself up about reframing this wall for several days, talked about it a bunch with Erik (my contractor next door neighbor who saves me from my own stupidity), and rented a framing nail gun and air compressor from the local Tool Lending Library.

The electricians had begun working on the house this week and when I got home the night I planned to frame the wall… the electricity was off in the house. Arg! I was mad, because there was no way I could frame a wall in the dark without any electricity. No!! I needed to get the wall built that night so the plumber could install the shower surround onto it the next day! This is why renovation is stressful! You’re juggling about ten different schedules.

I stormed around the outside of the house ripping off the old cable cords the painters had refused to remove and pulling the lattice off the front porch rail. I could see Erik who was working on his house peering out his dining room window at the crazy lady yanking off the lattice in a bit of a rage nextdoor . He knew my plan was to reframe the wall that night.  I finished ripping off the lattice and went inside my house where I’d left my phone. I picked it up and read a text from Erik, “I thought you were building that wall tonight?” Simultaneously I heard a knock on the kitchen door. I opened it and there stool Erik, toolbelt on and drill in hand. “I came to help frame the wall!”

“I don’t have any electricity! I can’t do this in the dark!” I said. He didn’t falter, “Let me go get my battery powered light!” Within a few minutes, the whole bathroom was lit up by a surprisingly small light. But then my rented air compressor didn’t get to a strong enough pressure. Erik went and got his air compressor, but that didn’t work either. Maybe it was the nail gun itself? Or the fact that we were running it off of an extension cord that ran from Erik’s garage, over the fence between our houses, and through my backdoor?

So with that off the table, we turned to screws and his impact driver. But then he said I’d bought the wrong kind of screws and ran over to his house where he had better ones. And then he cut all the 2x4s with his circular saw using his foot as a stand in about 2 seconds. Then after watching me drive in one screw, he said, “Why don’t I do the next one? I’d let you continue, but I think we both want to finish this tonight…” And then my neighbor built me a wall while I stood outside the bathroom and watched. So… he’s a nice guy.

I don’t even have a picture of my newly framed walls because it was crazy dark the night the wall got built and the next day the plumber arrived to install the new water lines and my new shower surround right in front of it. So if you look closely at the picture below you can tell which 2x4s look newer and those are the ones that make the new walls.

Berrybrier | Shower surround.jpg

The plumber even put in blocking for my new sink as well as getting the necessary new pipes for my new plumbing locations. He also reworked the vent pipes and an outside gutter that was draining into my sewer line. I didn’t quite expect butt ends of copper pipe to be the rough-in plumbing, but I put “figuring out how to cut pipe and install water shut off valves” on my list of things to stress about later. Overall, I paid him $1178 to move all this around which was a pretty good deal for this extent of work. I’ve heard of people being charged more than that just to move a toilet! I’m lucky to have basement/crawl space access to all the pipes, allowing for an easier install.Berrybrier | Plumbing Rough In.jpg

You can see in the picture of that the shower pan was full of water too! It had to stay that way until the plumbing inspection, which of course was two weeks out. It got pretty gross!

Berrybrier | Plugged Drain.jpg

And because, literally nothing goes smoothly during renovation, when – two weeks later – the inspector came through, he walked into the house and saw some coats, vacated the house, and failed the inspection. Apparently although the Portland Bureau of Development Services states in numerous places online and in pamphlets that inspectors can review unoccupied residences without a representative of the owner, by “occupied” they really mean is there can be no personal belongings on site. At the time I was living at my cousin Kristen’s, but I hadn’t removed all my personal belongings from the house! I called the Bureau and begged them to reschedule my inspection without a two week wait. Luckily, they understood my interpretation of their rule and rescheduled the inspection for two days later, provided a representative of the owner was on site.

My angel cousin Kristen volunteered to wait at the house for the inspection since she typically worked from home on that day. The inspection sheet was supposed to come out at 8:00 that morning and provide a 3 hour block of time when the inspection would take place. I checked at 8:00am. I wasn’t on the list! I called the Bureau in a panic. Every day I didn’t get an inspection was another day I couldn’t live at my house!

Again, I lucked out and got a very sweet member of the scheduling department who told me my previous help had gone through 4 out of 5 steps to schedule my inspection, but failed to actually schedule it. However, they were able to squeeze me on the existing job list that day! Woohoo! So the inspection happened and it passed on the condition I open a mechanical permit for my new vent fan.

Then the electricians went in and installed the boxes and wires for a new sconce, can light, and vent fan! All of a sudden the room was coming together! I was so excited to be able to take the reins and start knocking out the rest of the work in this room myself!

Berrybrier | Sconce Location.jpg

And with that I was one step closer to having a bathroom! Wouldn’t it be nice to shower in my own house again?

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Light It Up, Up, Up! Light It Up, Up, Up! (But please, not on Fire!)

Speaking of things at Berrybrier that were in obvious need of immediate attention, during my first walk through the electrical at this place scared me! I went into the purchase of the house knowing that I would be dumping several grand (not a small number!) into updating the dangerous wiring! I snapped this picture with my phone at the initial walk through in order to have photographic evidence of my nightmares. I don’t know exactly what’s going on in this picture, but from what I can tell, there are three fuse boxes here and there are not enough fuses to power this house.

Berrybrier | Basement Wiring

I became quite acquainted with these fuse boxes as between refinishing the floors in the kitchen and the roof/dormer addition we blew a fuse every few days before the electricians could get in here. I also found out that the oven was on the same fuse as the dryer so the two could not be run at the same time! Needless to say, this wiring was very concerning!

The other terrifying thing with the electrical was the hot mess that was the exposed wiring in the basement. Things were spliced together all over the place by some previous DIY-er without much thought to safety or fire prevention. I had dreams of plugging in a vacuum and burning the house down, which just really makes you feel at home in a new place.

Berrybrier | Electrical

You could tell at some point, a previous owner had updated the knob and tube wiring to a modified mid-century DIY version of wiring. I couldn’t tell if that was reassuring or concerning when the electricians told me that. What I did know is I needed to get things rewired around here asap!

The thing about updating electrical is in order to pull the permit, the city gets to force you to do a few other updates as well. But they sure don’t pay for those additional requirements! One of the things they required as part of the electrical permit was updating and moving the electrical meter to bring it closer to the front of the house. Originally the meter was on the driveway side of the house near the between the master bedroom and bathroom windows. Since the electrical came from a pole on the street though, the wires had to snake along the entire edge of the house under the eaves. It looked about as lovely as the spliced wires in the basement, though the electricians assured me it was far more safe. Which was not reassuring at all, really.

Berrybrier | Electrical Meter Original

With the bathroom demo’ed, the electricians were able to come in and whip up brand new wiring in there as well as cleaning up everything in the basement and installing the new electrical meter. Moving the wires from the street was the first thing they tackled, it was a big change! Since the wires came from the pole on the opposite side of the house from the driveway, they originally snaked across the entire house before they could creep along the eaves. It was not my favorite look.

Berrybrier | Electrical Pole

The city, however, authorized new wiring that would come from the wires that snake through the big walnut tree by the end of the driveway. This meant it could be far more streamlined with a straight shot to the driveway! They added a new pole that jutted through the new roof and installed a new meter. One unfortunate thing about this new location is how dang close the meter is to the front door. Now it’s one of the first things you see on the house and it’s not a location I could dictate at all. This shot below was nabbed before the city came to change the wires to the new entry point, but you can see the new wiring. Now although there are no more wires running along the eaves, in order to get the entry to the circuit box squared away they had to run a conduit pipe halfway down the house. This is because the front half of the house only has a crawl space (no full basement).

Berrybrier | Dormer

Electrical is time consuming too! The guys came out for 3 full days plus one half day to get this all worked out. They updated me daily on all the terrifying discoveries they made – like the wiring to the garage was through a 1950’s extension cord hidden in the poured concrete behind the house and spliced into other interior wiring (AHHHH!!!). My team was super nice, but it took more handholding than I would have thought. In an ideal world, I would have been there to answer questions and generally more available to the electricians. It all worked out in the end, but it could have saved me some hole patching. Ha!

Now, electrical work is not all that pretty or exciting; it’s one of those hidden things that makes your house tick though! The final product cost me a pretty penny, so appreciate some afters okay?! First, check out how light and bright my basement is with some cheap lights picked up at the Restore! It’s so bright, my picture turned out truly horrendous from the blow out.

Berrybrier | Basement Light.jpg

This is a huge improvement over the dark dismal space the basement started out as when I bought the house though! Let’s start a competition for worst photo in this post, shall we? Entering this guy below — which while blurry and taken on an iPhone — shows how dark it was in this space before. The only lights were pull-cord, single bulbs scattered haphazardly throughout. You had to walk halfway down the stairs just to get to the first pull cord light! Now you flip a switch at the top of the stairs and a small sconce and the three big lights above come on, lighting up the whole space!

Berrybrier | Basement Before.jpg

And that crazy batch of wires above? That area is totally cleaned up now! There’s still an electrical box here, but the wires and crazy fuse box on fuse box are gone! The wire in this picture is actually cable wiring that’s been cut and needs to be removed (again on my to-do list).

Berrybrier | Old Wire Location

All the wires that were spliced together all terrifying and dangerous in the basement ceiling are now rewired and organized too. The ceiling is looking much more colorful and much safer now!

Berrybrier | Basement Wires

All these wires lead to the best part of the electrical work too! Look at this new circuit box, y’all! Not only is it labeled, but if something blows, I just have to flip a switch rather than going all the way to the store and buying a new fuse. It’s so amazing to have this and to be able to confidently turn off the electrical if I need to replace a light fixture or update an outlet. It’s a huge relief and it has a much larger capacity! No fuses have been blown since the electrical was upgraded.

Berrybrier | Circuit Box

Speaking of safety, the last upgrade at Berrybrier was adding a grounding wire to the house! Yup, nothing was grounded before. Yikes! Now this copper wire goes from the circuit box through the ceiling to the ground outside. It’s a vast improvement for safety!

Berrybrier | Basement Ground Wire

At this point, anyone reading this who’s had to do any electrical work before is counting the numbers in there head. Yes, this cost thousands of dollars, but this was money well spent, that I allotted for this even before deciding to purchase. There is nothing scarier than fire hazards in the home and old houses go up like kindling. The peace of mind I now have is priceless! But the electrical work was not at all! I spent about $8,500 on this project. This included:

  • updating and cleaning up all the dangerous basement wiring
  • adding new GFCI outlet, sconce, ceiling fan to bathroom
  • moving city electrical meter and rewiring all house electrical to new location
  • adding a new 200amp circuit breaker
  • adding new fan boxes in the upstairs bedrooms
  • replacing outlets in the upstairs bedrooms
  • installation of grounding
  • installing new grounded 30amp circuit for dryer
  • adding a sconce and 3 new light fixtures in basement, removing old fixtures
  • disconnecting power to garage and removing wiring between house and garage
  • adding a whole house surge protector
  • installing a dedicated grounded outlet for the fridge
  • Adding two outlets and an overhead light to the new dormer
  • adding new ceiling fixture at the top of the stair well with a switch be the bedrooms and a remote switch at the bottom of the stairs
  • Plus $200 – $300 in electrical permits pulled from the city

It did not include the installation of any of the fixtures which would have been another $1000 dollars, a bullet I wouldn’t have wanted to take even if it was $250. I don’t mind installing new lights, the electricians were shocked by that! They were also nervous about the liability of me installing my own fixtures, so definitely discuss this at length with your electrician before they start (I did not and it was confusing). Berrybrier isn’t burning down anytime soon though! This place is no longer a fire hazard! Which is a good thing since I came home last week to my sister blowtorch in hand toasting homemade marshmallow fluff on a s’mores cake she made! That’s enough fire danger for me!