Updating Our Bathroom

Angela & I updat­ing our bath­room with new lights, sinks, faucets, and cus­tom mirrors.

Our fin­ished bath­room update

After hav­ing com­plet­ed some updates to the oth­er two bath­rooms in our house, I have to con­fess I was some­what dis­ap­point­ed every time I stepped into our “own­er’s” bath, as it was the same old builder-grade stuff. We did­n’t want to break the bank in updat­ing it, so we set out with a bud­get-friend­ly set of updates we could accom­plish ourselves.

You’ll notice that a lot of the images here are out of order, as the work isn’t real­ly done one trade at a time. But I broke this up into the sec­tions of work to bet­ter high­light the parts of each.

Lighting

The over­all light­ing lev­el in the bath­room was­n’t ter­ri­ble, but I real­ly did­n’t care for the look of the sin­gle light above the large mir­ror. I real­ly want­ed to put in some wall sconces. In order to do so, we first had to take out the old light. This was most­ly a straight-for­ward process. I would­n’t be using the exist­ing loca­tion (like I did in the oth­er two bath­rooms, more-or-less), so I cut out the wall box and then patched over the open­ing. I end­ed up hav­ing to cut the wiring, as it was (cor­rect­ly, per code) sealed into the top plate with some fire­proof­ing foam.

Dig­ging through blown insu­la­tion to drill in the wiring was­n’t too fun.

As a result, I had to install a junc­tion box in our attic. I would have to drill lat­er­al­ly through too many studs to use the approach I used to add a sec­ond light over the kids’ van­i­ty, so I instead drilled two addi­tion­al holes in the top plate (I re-used the old, cen­ter hole once I freed the cut wiring). I then ran “U” shaped sec­tions of wire to set up the three lights in series from the junc­tion box, which con­nect­ed back to the wall switch. I put in the old-work box­es and had the lights up in no time. Last­ly, I used some expand­ing fire-proof­ing foam on the holes in the top plate (no one is ever gonna check, but we’ll know it would pass a code inspection!).

Old-work box­es and wiring for lights.

I had ordered some nice-look­ing wall sconces from Home Depot and used some “Edi­son” style LED bulbs that I already had. They put out a very “warm” light, but as they’re just above eye lev­el, any­thing brighter would be too much.

These LED Edi­son style bulbs are sur­pris­ing­ly warm in color.

Plumbing

The good news was that since this was already a dou­ble van­i­ty, there was no changes need­ed to the water or drain lines. The bad news was that since this was a dou­ble van­i­ty, get­ting a new top with square bowls was the sin­gle most expen­sive item (by far) of the entire project. Even though it raised the final counter height a bit, we real­ly want­ed a slight­ly thick­er top. We found a pret­ty good deal on an acrylic Ver­sa­S­tone top with inte­grat­ed sink bowls at Home Depot (it’s out of stock at the time I’m writ­ing this, but Ama­zon car­ries a small­er size). Oth­er than the sheer weight of pulling off the old top and then putting the new top in place, this was prob­a­bly the eas­i­est part of the whole project. The cab­i­net is a “stan­dard” size, so it fit perfectly.

We also man­aged to get Moen Gen­ta faucets on sale at the Home Depot, too. They were very straight-for­ward to install except that I had to cut-down the rod con­nect­ing the sink stop­per to the pull lever, as it jammed in the drain! I did also have to get some water line exten­sions (why do plumbers install the water lines so low!). So that was a con­sid­er­able amount of mon­ey (near­ly $50) for 2″ of line. But the faucets look great with the lines of the van­i­ty top.

Our faucets installed and working!

Angela also put in a short back­splash with some mar­ble tiles. We end­ed up hav­ing to cut just a few, and I was able to use a grind­stone to bev­el the edge of a half-piece so it fit in the end. I think Angela has def­i­nite­ly decid­ed that tiling is her DIY job of choice!

Detail of mar­ble tiling, includ­ing the beveled edge I ground on a cut piece.

Mirror

If you’ve nev­er lived in a spec-built home, let me explain some­thing to you: the mir­rors are glued to the wall with con­struc­tion adhe­sive or mas­tic. It’s fast and easy to do them this way, but it is a huge pain to remove them. We lucked out in get­ting the small­er ones off the walls years ago. But the mir­ror in our bath­room was 6 feet by 3–1/2 feet. We knew it had to go, but we were more-or-less ter­ri­fied about split­ting it into a mil­lion pieces all over our bath­room. I watched a num­ber of YouTube videos about the process and it seemed that pry­ing it off all along the top by dri­ving in wood­en shims was con­sid­ered the best approach. So, I got a very large pack of 14″ shims and then pro­ceed­ed to tape up the mir­ror. You may think this was overkill for the tape, but I seri­ous­ly con­sid­ered just cov­er­ing the entire thing! Angela was there for sup­port, both fig­u­ra­tive­ly and lit­er­al­ly (do not try some­thing like this on your own!). We went through the entire pack of shims, even going so far as to re-using some that fell down and we could reach. In the end, we had them stacked about four thick. But with a final, sat­is­fy­ing pop, the mir­ror came free in one piece. It weighed 70 lbs (I did the math), which isn’t a lot for the two of us to car­ry, but when it’s that large and frag­ile, it’s pret­ty scary.

We had to patch up the walls where the adhe­sive pulled off the out­er lay­er of dry­wall paper. I’ve learned the hard way that this stuff is near­ly impos­si­ble to patch right, even with dry­wall com­pound because the inner, brown paper isn’t water proof. It just sucks up the mois­ture and then bub­bles up when paint­ed. Using a repair primer first seals off that paper. We used Zinss­er Gardz, because it’s avail­able in a quart (how­ev­er, I under­stand Roman Rx-35 Pro-999 is just as good; it just only comes in a gal­lon and this stuff goes a long way). Just make sure you cut back to sound out­er paper and paint it on with a foam brush (it’s like milk). Then you can patch up the dry­wall with com­pound, sand, and paint. 

I used some min­er­al spir­its to soft­en up the adhe­sive on the back of the mir­ror once I got it out to the garage floor on some card­board. A rub­ber head­ed ham­mer and a wide put­ty knife made short work of scrap­ing it off. I then used a cheap‑o glass cut­ter and a dry­wall square to score the front sur­face along the first cut. I was plan­ning to low­er it back over a broom han­dle as a piv­ot, but it end­ed up just split­ting as I low­ered it! One quick change over under­pants lat­er, I repeat­ed to split the small­er side into two final sections. 

I ordered a cou­ple of 6′ long, maple 1x4’s to mill up into some frames. I want­ed a nar­row, yet deep frame for each. So they were essen­tial­ly cut into 1x2’s, framed in the “skin­ny” direc­tion. The boards were pret­ty rough, with lots of chat­ter marks and snip­ing. I don’t have a pla­nar, but I was able to smooth them down with my belt sander. Rip­ping the pieces into nar­row boards cer­tain­ly relieved a lot of strain, to the point I was con­cerned I would­n’t have enough straight sec­tions to make decent frames! But the hock­ey stick end aside, I was able to mea­sure and miter each board to fit the mir­rors. I cut the dados on the table saw. The glue-up for the frames was pret­ty easy, though hav­ing only one band clamp and lim­it­ed work space meant I had to make one at a time.

I tried using some plain spar ure­thane at first on a sam­ple piece to try to match the cab­i­netry, which while also maple is now over 12 years old. It was­n’t near­ly a dark enough match, but my son helped me pick out a close col­or of get stain at Wood­craft to match one of the false draw­er fronts. So, Amer­i­can Oak col­or wiped on very thin and then fin­ished with spar ure­thane spray does a very good job of match­ing old­er maple, if you ever find your­self need­ing to do such a thing. Just be sure to do a bet­ter job clean­ing up your glue and wood filler than I did first.

I used an 18gage nail­er to rein­force the miter joints from the bot­tom and top, none of which are vis­i­ble when hang­ing. I used some thin foam sheets to pad the mir­ror and then cov­ered the back with a 1/4″ sheet of ply­wood. I used a cou­ple of sim­ple met­al clips to hold it in place. The nar­row frame means that the hang­ing hooks are vis­i­ble from the side, but oth­er­wise it’s a very clean and min­i­mal look.

It’s not all smoke and mirrors.

So that’s our final bath­room update! And mak­ing those mir­rors was a real­ly great experience.