I’m sure you’ve heard the advice sometimes offered up in times of stress: “You’ll laugh about this, one day.” Well, after about six years living in my current house (a/k/a The Money Pit), I may be just about ready to reach that point. They say that writing is cathartic, so here’s another of my occasional ‘Tales from The Money Pit’ posts.
Cliff’s Notes backstory: When I purchased this house, it had two full bathrooms: one on the main floor and one in what would shortly become known as the Basement from Hell. That’s for a future Tale, which will also explain why the entire basement had to be gutted shortly after purchase.
During the aforesaid basement-gutting, it was discovered that an entire wall behind some cabinets was black with mold, from water that had been leaking from the upstairs bathroom directly above. The plumbing was in such bad shape that it was not even repairable; the only reason those cabinets hadn’t fallen off the walls was because they were fastened to the framing studs.
This problem was unexpected, and so I went the cheapest possible route which was to install a fiberglass tub-shower combo in the main floor bathroom. It was serviceable but had several issues that I won’t bore you with here. Because I am a ‘shower person’, I really wanted to eventually convert that space to a full-size shower but it wasn’t until late 2017 that the opportunity arose.
This is a small, very basic bathroom. Nothing fancy. The area outside of the tub-shower’s footprint is only 4.5 feet wide and a little more than 9 feet long. There is, thankfully, a small closet on the same wall as the tub/shower. This leaves room along the opposite wall for only a toilet, towel bar, and 48”-wide vanity with a mirror and row of lights above it. The floor is white ceramic tile which was perfectly serviceable. The window was upgraded as part of the initial exterior renovation I did in 2013.
I absolutely hate grout, which meant that a tiled shower was never a consideration. That left only a solid-surfacing material as an option. The local company who’d installed a lovely cultured-marble-panel shower in my previous house was now out of business, so my only viable shower wall choices were Corian ($$$) or Swanstone (none of which colors or patterns I liked.) However, Kohler had just introduced a new solid-surface shower-panel product called Choreograph which I did like and was do-able budget-wise for the materials. This meant that I needed to coordinate four elements: the shower wall and shower pan materials, the carpenter (for framing and panel installation), the plumber (to relocate the drain, install the shower pan, and install the fixtures), and the electrician (to install an exhaust fan and timer.) Because bathroom’s floor and non-shower walls were remaining intact, this should have been a relatively straightforward job.
I have no idea why, after having owned and renovated four houses previously, I would have thought that.
The first step was taken in early of December 2017. Here’s the real timeline. Keep in mind that all of these people had done work for me before, so I wasn’t some unknown quantity to them (i.e., they knew I always paid my bills.)
Dec 6, 2017: Contacted the electrician, plumber, and carpenter asking to set up appointments to preview the job and get an estimate.
Dec. 12, 2017: Got a return phone call from electrician, setting up appointment for between 3 and 3:30 pm on the 16th. Crickets from the plumber and the carpenter.
Dec 16, 2017: Called the electrician at 4:30 pm to inquire as to his whereabouts and he admitted he’d completely forgotten about our appointment. Moreover, he was leaving very early the next morning for his annual end of year vacation and told me that I should call him back after January 2nd.
Dec 20, 2017: Finally heard from the carpenter who said he could not possibly stop by for an estimate until after New Year’s, and that he knows that the plumber is currently away for the holidays. (must be nice…)
Jan 6, 2018: Electrician’s visit resulted in emailed estimate received on Jan 9th. I had to wait until mid-month for the carpenter’s and plumber’s estimate appointments. Told plumber that because Kohler had told me that all Choreograph components are currently on 5-week back-order, I want them ordered NOW so they will be on hand for installation in (hopefully) March.
February 10, 2018: Reminded plumber and carpenter that their labor estimates were still needed.
February 17, 2018: Received job estimate from plumber, causing profound sticker shock. Called him to ask about status of ordered materials, including new Toto toilet, and was told “shower is still on back-order from Kohler.” Of course it is!
March 12, 2018: Plumbing supply house finally delivered all of the ordered materials. Only one man in truck, who asked “where the plumbing crew is” to help him unload. I explained that his company knew it was a materials drop-off only, installation not scheduled yet. Driver was visibly annoyed and flummoxed. (How was this my fault?) In a rare stroke of luck, the heating system company arrived at that moment to install some new equipment and their crew was prevailed upon to help the plumbing-supply driver unload several massive wooden crates into my small garage, thus taking up 80% of the available space in same.
March 20, 2018: Paid the plumber’s bill for delivered materials while staring disconsolately out of window at the latest 12″ of new snow; bathroom job remained on hold, seemingly forever.
April 14, 2018: Received estimate from carpenter for shower work, triggering sticker shock 2.0. Signed the contract and resigned myself to a near-penniless old age after all this was paid for.
May 4, 2018: Asked carpenter, who needs to co-ordinate with plumber, when the bathroom job might start, now that winter appears to finally be over. Received reply asking if next Thursday would be okay with me (as if I haven’t already been waiting months for this??) Emailed electrician, who also has to be there, to advise of same (with fingers crossed.)
May 10, 2018: Miraculously everyone showed up at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. Electrician arrived first, removed existing exhaust fan in shower only to discover that there was NO ductwork running from it to the roof vent and thus it had been spewing moisture-laden air directly into attic insulation daily for the past 3 years, probably causing mold growth. My reaction to this news is not suitable for inclusion in a general-readership website.
By 4 pm the fiberglass unit was out, the new rough plumbing in, the necessary electric rewiring done, and some (not all) of the new drywall installed. Drywall and sawdust everywhere. The regular Thursday-lawn-cutting guys didn’t even attempt to get through the phalanx of trucks filling up my driveway, so the grass was not cut. Next step: install the shower walls.
Intermission: It must be mentioned here that, Kohler Choreograph shower kits being a brand-new product, few carpenters had ever installed any. I addressed this by making sure that the carpenter and crew had a copy of the printed instructions from Kohler, plus a can of mineral spirits that it specified must be used to clean the panels before applying the required adhesive in a specific illustrated pattern for proper adhesion. This is important because, as we all know, manufacturers seize with glee on any possibility that “incorrect installation” could be the cause of any future warranty claim.
May 11, 2018: Carpenter installed Choreograph panel on ceiling, braced it, and left it to cure until Monday morning. Left apologetic message for lawn guys asking if they could pleeease come back to cut the lawn which, due to recent rain, had grown like gangbusters.
May 14, 2018: Received text message from carpenter at 7:10 a.m. saying that he can’t make it today and so will come tomorrow instead. No response from the lawn guy.
May 15, 2018: New shower pan installed on a cement base. Back wall panel installed, braced, and left to cure “until Thursday or Friday.” Backyard grass (and weeds) now at least 6″ high because of no cut last week and subsequent rain again. Lawn crew again a no-show on their usual Thursday, no idea why.
May 18, 2018: Naturally, the carpenters returned on Friday rather than Thursday. Side panels were up, got braced, and were left to cure. At least the lawn finally got cut (just before it began raining again.) Carpenters to return on “Monday or Tuesday.” Plumber said he will come on the 24th to install shower controls and the new toilet. Discovered, after the carpenters left, that someone had managed to poke a large hole in the bathroom window screen, probably with a piece of the ‘bracing’ wood. Patched it with duct tape temporarily.
May 22, 2018: Carpenter crew caulked the concerningly-wide edge seams in the shower and applied the floor trim. Of course, the caulk color is a totally different white than the panels are. Murphy’s Law. It was also discovered that the wall-shelf package was missing one of its two mounting brackets and so it could not be installed. Learned that the parts replacement kit was on 28-day backorder from Kohler (déjà vu.) Carpenter also opened the parts packet for the shower bar and promptly broke off two of the four mounting clips for the end trim pieces which, for some inexplicable reason, are made of plastic rather than chrome like the entire rest of the bar is. This part-packet, too, was on a 28-day backorder from Kohler (question: Is everything??) Decision was made to not install the bar until the shower-door guy could do his thing… but carpenter had no clue as to when that might occur. Discovered after the carpenters left that they never bothered to use the required cleaning solution on the back of the shower wall panels (can of mineral spirits still sealed/full) and can only imagine what other parts of the installation instructions they likewise totally ignored – such as the adhesive pattern. This still gives me random nightmares about the panels suddenly falling off the walls or ceiling someday.
May 23, 2018: Plumber called to reschedule the next day’s trim/toilet installation until the 29th, due to big emergency job that just arose elsewhere.
May 25, 2018: Carpenter and shower-door guy spent the better part of two hours installing same, during which shower-door guy repeatedly informed me how awful my choice of shower door was, that I could have “done much better”, that he had “no idea why anyone would choose this one”, that “X brand is much better quality” and other pithy comments of that kind. Bit my tongue to keep from asking him why the *bleep* he would think that this information served any purpose whatsoever at this stage of the game. (He was brought in by the carpenter, not moi, by the way.)
May 26, 2018: After leaving the shower untouched for two days as per instructions, I discover that Nasty Showerdoorguy failed to seal around the lower door bumpers with caulk as per the installation instructions. Having sworn that he would never darken my door again, I went to Home Depot, bought silicone caulk and sealed them myself.
May 28, 2018: Plumber called and strongly suggested that the toilet swap be postponed until after the cesspool replacement job was completed, so as to avoid the necessary jackhammer vibrations causing the new toilet to have to be later re-set. This made sense, so agreed that shower trims would be the only thing done the next day. (Cesspool job was not even scheduled yet…)
May 29, 2018: Plumber’s assistant installed the shower controls. Shower stall needed to be thoroughly cleaned and the surrounding room walls primed and painted. Also needed to air out bathroom for two hours because of the truly overpowering amount of Axe Body Spray that the plumber’s assistant had apparently bathed in. (Why do twentysomething men do this? Seriously.)
May 30, 2018: Whilst cleaning the shower wall panels, discovered an area just at eye level on the back wall that was either defective or damaged. Emailed the carpenter (after a two-hour cooling off period so that I would not insert any profanity into the text) advising him, with photos, that I am going to contact Kohler and put in a warranty claim. Received no response from carpenter, but Kohler rep contacted me within hours.
June 4, 2018: Kohler service rep examined the area and said “no possible way” that the panel left the factory like that; the area was definitely a botched attempt to mask an accidental gouge with silicone. He did his best to address it but it’s still visible close up. Advised carpenter (who had already been paid in full) of this via email and asked for either a partial refund or a complete re-do (which I didn’t really want or expect but it functioned as an unpleasant alternative.)
June 6, 2018: Carpenter replied that because he was going to bill me for ‘additional prep work’ anyway, he will, out of the goodness of his heart, not send me that extra bill (and sent a CC to his lawyer.) As far any future work, he suggested that I find someone else who might “better meet [my] high standards.” Yep, you got that right, buddy.
It had taken six months, to the very day, from the first steps of this Very Simple Shower Project. I can’t help wondering if this is typical. But the saga wasn’t quite over yet!
One of the glass shower doors had a black streak that I thought was just some adhesive from one of the several Kohler stickers that I removed. However, it resisted all attempts at removal, so I called Kohler’s warranty department again for suggestions. They sent out a rep who determined that it was a defect in the glass and they would ship me a new glass panel – but they do not do installations, I’d have to find someone to do that. So, the replacement door sat in its huge almost 7 ft high crate, in my garage, for five months before I could find anyone willing to swap out the existing glass panel for the new, and I still had to pay them $200 for the privilege. It’s an inescapable fact that nobody wants to bother with Small Jobs.
The new Toto toilet? It sat in boxes in the garage too, until the Big Dig in July. The first time I used it, it was obvious that it was lower than it should have been. I had specified the correct toilet originally. The plumbing supply house blamed the plumber for ordering the wrong base, and the plumber blamed the supply house for sending the wrong base. I didn’t care who blamed who, as long as the wrong base was swapped for the correct one! Of course, the correct base was on back order and didn’t get delivered until September…
Oh, and that small shower shelf was never installed, because I discovered via one of my photos that the carpenter never added a framing block for it as I had originally told him to. (What a surprise.) The solid chrome shelf is quite heavy and can’t be installed without a backer-block, so I ended up giving it away.
And, in a final ironic p.s., a few months after the shower debacle was over, Kohler launched their own network of “partner installers” who are supposedly trained in how to do this sort of thing in one or two days. In these instances, it is called LuxStone instead of Choreograph but they are the identical product (retail = Choreograph, purchased/installed via a Kohler partner = LuxStone.)
I really think that there should be a special Murphy’s Law for bathroom renovations. Perhaps something along the lines of “The simpler you think a bathroom job is, the more money will end up going down the drain!”