Raise your hand if you remember when I took out the flooring in my master bath?
I know. It’s been a long time. I honestly had to look it up myself. And the sobering answer? 2013. I had just nearly finished the guest bath reno and through some enthusiastic encouragement from my dad, decided he and I should immediately start on the master. Because, after all, taking the shit that’s still fully functional out of my house is exactly what will make me get things done, right?
Well, it happened that I was also working on my kitchen and my dining room at the time. Oh, and my staircase, too. My house was one giant blob of chaos. But we did it anyway. I learned new, disgusting things about my house (I still want to make a “What the FRASS?” t-shirt at some point), and assumed that in less than a year’s time (at the most, knowing how I can drag things out!), my master bath would be put back together again.
As it turned out, the bath would be unfinished for much longer than that. I have been using the nearly-(but not really, either)-finished guest bathroom ever since. But why, exactly? Have I just been lazy? Do I hate showering? Or is it something else?
The short answer for why it’s not finished comes down to simple momentum: this bathroom just didn’t want to get made. It has been filled with good intentions and a lot of bad juju. Through one mishap or another, I’ve had false start after false start. And in the end, I had to learn to overcome obstacles in my own time.
- There was the fact that I was already working on too many projects to begin with — a lot to get distracted with when I don’t really feel like doing tile work (and trust me, you need to be in the mood to do tile work).
- There was when I thought a pipe burst and flooded the room. It turned out to be just a leaky valve, but I felt pretty defeated from the stress and I ignored the bathroom once more.
And finally, there was the tile floor install. In 2015, I decided enough was enough at one point and thought hiring some outside help would be a good way to jumpstart progress. Unfortunately, it wound up being one of the bigger setbacks. I was hesitant at first, but still really excited when I hired the job and when I left home to allow the work to be done without my hovering (Dad supervised in my absence). I was thrilled to come home and see tile instead of nothing on the floor. Finally!
But as I took a closer and closer look after it was done and prepped to start grouting, I realized that there had been a lot of miscommunication and the job was not up to my liking. Womp, womp.
I told the guy I didn’t care whether he used a 1/16″ grout line or 1/8″ grout line. He wound up using both rather than picking one, without really much distinction (it wasn’t like all horizontal lines with one thickness and vertical lines with another; some would taper, some would just be thin or thicker, etc.).
I told him not to worry too much about cleaning up the buckets and sponges and stuff after he was done (I was home right after he wrapped up the work, so I would have time to pick up all that stuff). But what I didn’t expect to find was extra globs of thinset all over the room (since this was rectified porcelain tile, we had to use a bag and mix it instead of just buying a bucket of mastic). It was on the tub, squished up between the tiles, etc.
Many of the tiles weren’t level with each other, which would also be a problem once grout went in. Tiles should pass what’s called a “quarter test”, which means you can run a quarter on the surface without it getting caught on the lip of another tile. As you can see, mine was up to 1/8″ difference in height between some of the corners. My guess is that there had been some stepping on the tiles after they went in, which would mash some of them down and squeeze the underlying thinset out between grout lines (in general, you want to avoid stepping on freshly laid tiles because your body weight will undo your leveling work!).
And finally, the tiles around the toilet flange were not cut to fit well, so part of the tile was resting on top instead of around the toilet opening. The tile itself was too hard to try to correct with a ceramic blade (there are some multi-tools that have certain blades that can cut through tile, but this was not that kind of tile). I was able to pry several pieces up successfully and cut new ones before things cured, but the second tile on the front side of the flange was already hardened. This wouldn’t be just an aesthetic problem like the grout lines; if I didn’t correct this, there was a strong chance that the toilet would not sit flat on the tile or I would eventually have leaks. And no one wants to sit on a rocking, leaking toilet!
Cleaning up all of that wasn’t really what I anticipated, and it wound up being a couple of extra hours that night of scraping half-cured thinset and inspecting everything to try to get it ready for grout. Even though I said you kind of have to really be in the mood to do tile work, tile isn’t really forgiving once it’s in, so if I hadn’t cleaned it up as soon as I found it, I would be in bigger trouble the longer I waited. Fully cured thinset is kind of like concrete when it hardens, and while it wasn’t that tough to get up on glazed areas like the tub, there was a much higher risk of chipping the tile trying to remove adhesive (the floor tile isn’t glazed). If I didn’t get it up between tiles, grout could also be an issue if it’s too thin (it has a greater chance for cracking later on).
After a couple of hours on my knees and hurriedly trying to clean up the thinset and cut new tiles, I was really upset; not just about the job, or the idea of paying for work that didn’t meet expectations, or having to remove tile and redo the work myself — it was the added layer of family dynamics that also made me feel really conflicted. I hired a family friend to do the work (not the one I’ve had help in the past… a different guy), and I took his word on how much experience he’d had at installing tile (I agreed after he’d done a different type of flooring job for my dad). My dad had only the best of intentions when he kept nudging me to just hire it out and arranged for someone to do it, and the family friend was also just a friendly guy looking for some work and wanted to help.
So, basically, I was stuck between a bad execution and knowing I’d have to confess this at some point and possibly make people unhappy by telling them (it would be inevitable that it would come up; my dad and I discuss progress with my house just about every time I see him, so he would ask more and more questions if I still kept pushing back the grout job after years of not getting this done already). My gut told me to wait and do the floor myself, and I’d ignored it because it seemed like moving ahead was the thing that everyone else wanted to do, and it made sense… and sheesh, I couldn’t argue that it hadn’t been damn long enough! The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that this was a lesson I needed to learn. I’m in my thirties, yet the dynamic with my parents hasn’t changed much; I have often listened to their advice over my own, even with a house they don’t live in. I’m sure that others can relate, but it’s still weird, right?
I don’t mean to say that they don’t have my best interest in mind, but I do think that learning to listen to your own inner voice is a huge thing that a lot of us stumble with — especially if it’s in conflict in some way with those we love and whose intentions are good. I’ve gained a lot of my own skills and developed my own instincts, and I need to learn to trust those more.
I took a few hours to make as many corrections as I could, and while it isn’t perfect and needed at least one more fix (the tile that is resting on the flange), I was a lot happier with the way it looked. Not perfect, but maybe okay enough to not have to rip it all out.
When it comes to DIY, eventually, your mojo just starts to wane after a few setbacks in a single room. This tile issue was kind of my last straw of trying to get it done sooner rather than later, so once again I put it off. Sure, it was ridiculous that I had an entire room and square footage I wasn’t using, but it’s only me that lives here, so if I wasn’t ready and had a working bathroom, I just plain stopped caring. I told myself it was fine to wait, and it’s ok to let yourself work on the other things you’re passionate about and wait for inspiration. To get my momentum back, I had to work on other things that made me feel like I was accomplishing something. Lots of somethings. So, I did.
And now, finally, I found that inspiration and the materials to get things done right — even after another setback yet again, but that’s for a different post. This time, I have a deadline and I’m setting that goal to meet it, head on, challenges and all. I’m even doing more upgrades than I thought when I first started. I can’t wait to show you the plans! More on my inspiration should be posted by next Friday, but demo posts begin first thing next week!
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