This Space for Rent

The saga of the bathtub, a horror story in four parts

When our house was built sometime around 1909, they outfitted it with the latest appliances; gas and electric power to all of the lights, a coalburning stove in the attic, hot water heat, a two car garage, and many other modern conveniences that have since been lost to the terrors of home renovation by people who, like me, are just handy enough to be dangerous but who aren't actually handy enough to be able to make a living from doing renovations. One of the renovations (over the course of many years) was our bathtub, which went from a pretty standard tub with a pair of faucets for hot and cold water, and a fancy waste trap/plug arrangement, to a somewhat more cobbled-together arrangement with separate bathtub faucets (yes, those are sink faucets, you're not imagining things) and a bizarre and not totally functional shower/sprayer head arrangement (with separate valves to turn off the shower and the sprayer).

The house went through purgatory as Reed student housing for quite a few years, so the landlords spared every possible expense maintaining it. Thus, the sink faucets for the tub, and the new, and not quite centered, shower arrangement.

When we moved in, almost every valve on the bathtub leaked. I fixed most of them, and we managed to successfull ignore the jury-rigged arrangement of the rest of the tub for several years. We had to call a plumber once, because one of the patched-in new bits of plumbing exploded one day and we woke up to find a vast puddle of water on the dining room floor.

Before we called the plumber in, we looked briefly behind the tub and saw that the floor was pretty much disintegrated back there (from decades of leaks, maintained as only student housing can be maintained), but after the plumber left we successfully wiped that knowledge from our memory.

Fast forward to last week. I'd been sick for the whole week (yet another cold, yet more days home from work, the whole nine yards of creative despair [try hacking syslinux when you're feeling sickly, and you can guess how I felt last week when I was trying to hack syslinux]), and I finally began to feel a little bit better on Saturday morning. So I went into the bathroom and disassembled one of the shower faucets so I could repack the (surprise!) leaky valve mechanism, and when I reassembled it, the valve stem shattered (and we had to hire, on short notice, a handyman to do emergency repairs.)

When he was done and we turned the hot water back on, the hot water bath faucet started to run and couldn't be shut off. It turns out that that thing had decided to disintegrate in solidarity with the shower valve. The handyman immediately patched it up (by wedging all the parts in and tightening it hard closed), but that meant that the best and I had to go shopping for new faucets.

Unfortunately, we'd decided that we wanted to redo the faucet arrangement and make it a bit less brain-damaged. This means that when we went to the plumbing supply houses and asked about combined shower/bath valves and mentioned the magic phrases "old bathtub" "broken plumbing" "period appearance", the people we talked to immediately got dollar signs in their eyes and started talking about "oh, you'll need a new bathtub, so that won't cost more than about $1700, and you'll need a contractor to come in and replumb, and that won't cost more than about $5000, and we can build you a shower/bath valve for around $1000, because the one you have now..." -- and this was said without even seeing the plumbing -- "... doesn't meet code and will have to be removed because it doesn't have <foo>" (where foo is valves, pressure triggers, or any of a dozen other things, none of which our bathtub has, and none of which triggered a "this isn't code" warning when we bought the house. And all of these foo are, by some wonderful coincidence, too hard for mere mortals to install)

Three plumbing supply houses later, we finally got a replacement faucet. At this store we didn't bother to mention anything that included the magic word "renovation", so the replacement faucet cost $4.50 instead of the $250 that the other plumbing supply stores assured us was the cheapest you could get even the simplest faucet for.

But, this faucet wouldn't do us much good unless we installed it in the bathtub. Previous plumbing jobs had familiarised me with the plumbing technique that the landlords used -- don't use gaskets or locking nuts, do use lots and lots of filler putty and bolt things down so hard that it takes a major effort to unscrew things. This was no exception. And it was tucked under the back edge of the bathtub, in a place you can't reach without some pretty elaborate gyrations:

Looks easy, doesn't it? And just look carefully at how the pipes are just sort of tossed in there to make up for any sort of plumbing skill. It took me approximately a hour to unscrew the old (broken) faucet and screw in the new (working, so far, and there's no torrent of water down onto the first floor yet) one.

So we've now got the hot water valves fixed on the tub, and "fixed" on the shower. But the shower still leaks, so we have to replace the plumbing with a more coherent system, because the floor back there is still a complete and absolute disaster area:

Why, yes, there _is_ a floor somewhere down here, under the encrusted gunk of 95 years of deferred maintainance. And there are also a couple of holes that go all the way down to the dining room ceiling, so we're going to have to not only fix the plumbing, but we're going to have to pry up the bathtub and rebuild the floor around the nasty plumbing catastrophe that our bathroom has become.

It's the joy of home ownership. We're rich enough we can hire someone else to do the work, but I'd rather save the money and do the work myself. I can see why people like to have someone build them a house; an old house like ours is a neverending supply of unhappy structural surprises, all of which need to be fixed unless we wish to wake up one morning in a large pile of rubble.


That is the truth! An old house has a lot of character, but you pay with your sanity for many years!

John Mon Jul 31 21:52:31 2006

Are there more photos? 5 min job = an hour period!! at least think that way

Paul Nielsen Fri Nov 17 07:26:39 2006

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