I once held the title of Project Manager for a large-ish commercial construction company. Your job was simply to make sure that the material necessary to complete a job was purchased and delivered to the jobsite when it was needed, but not before if you could help it. Stuff grows legs and gets broken if it’s hanging around too long. You’re also supposed to make sure the correct crew or subcontractor was there to receive it and bang on it until they broke it and called you to get another one. By tomorrow, preferably.
The project manager job seemed really, really simple compared to slugging it out on my own in the residential subcontractor landscape. The main reason it was so easy was that there was a budget with plenty of zeros, and you spent it to get what you needed. You had to shop around a bit, but essentially you were a drunken sailor wandering around with tens of thousands of dollars in your pockets. Speaking of zeros, there was always plenty of zeros in pickup trucks available to do the work, instead of me hitting my thumb all by my lonesome.
Well, now I’m the crew and I’m always at the jobsite, either tiling the shower stall or brushing my teeth or something, so scheduling me isn’t a big undertaking. Buying stuff in advance was a problem, though, because we don’t have much money. I have to shop around a lot, which wastes time that could be spent tiling or brushing my teeth. And we have to “settle” sometimes. But we don’t really compromise all that much, truth be told. We just completely do without many things many other people find essential, and concentrate on the things we think are important.
So we had to have a budget for this debacle before we started, and have a plan of attack, of course. There were no Gantt charts or anything, or detailed spreadsheets for the materials. That’s a waste of time. We simply had to know if we had enough dough to finish, or we wouldn’t ever start. You can’t tear apart the bathroom and lose interest halfway through. That’s college, not construction. We had to save our pennies for a decade or so to get to this fairly expensive project. It cost more than lifting the house, or roofing it, and even more than the kitchen remodel. We had to buy stuff, and bathroom stuff ain’t cheap. Even the cheap stuff ain’t cheap.
So, here’s our budget: I figured I needed $500 for the Schluter shower stuff and assorted showery things. I figured we’d need $500 for a decent sink and the various things grouped around it, like a mirror and faucet and shutoff valves. I figured we needed $500 for all the tile, drywall, light fixtures, paint, woodwork, and band-aids. And we’d need $500 for a glass shower door.
So when I told you that the Orange Place said I wanted a $30,000 bathroom, and I said pshaw, I want a $2,000 one, I wasn’t joking. I could have spent a couple of hundred dollars and changed out a few knobs and painted the place, but we’d done that already back in the mists of antiquity and the Great Recession. It wasn’t worth doing again for less than two grand, and it couldn’t cost a penny more. That’s an easy budget to figure.
So like a good project manager, I ordered a glass sliding shower door and frame just enough in advance to get it in the house before it snowed three feet and made deliveries hinky. We didn’t get an expensive one. Holy cow the really ugly ones cost over a grand. We didn’t get the cheapest one, either. We got the cheapest acceptable one. That’s different. The cheapest ones aren’t much less expensive, but the glass is thinner than Karen Carpenter (too soon?). We got the least expensive one with slightly thicker glass. We worry less every day about busting it. It came by truck freight on a big pallet, and we worried about them busting it instead:
But they didn’t. It weighed a lot. It was as fragile as a teenage ego, but somehow it arrived unscathed, a testament to good packaging or dumb luck, take your pick. Either way, we were careful not to scathe it ourselves. We leaned the pallet against the plywood you see there, to keep it from being a hazard to navigation in the dining room. Knowing how the cat operates, I screwed the pallet to the floor so it couldn’t slide down or tip over and dash our shower door dreams to tempered bits at two AM. We’ll be renovating the dining room in blogposts shortly, so drilling holes in that floor didn’t give me the willies.
The instructions were great. I’m not being sarcastic. They were the best instructions I’ve ever seen, because there weren’t any. They sent you to a webpage and had a video of how to install it instead, recorded in a sort of cartoon world. I loved disembodied hands drilling holes on orthagonal trajectories with eighties muzak playing in the background. It sure beats reading the Chinglish version of Ikea instructions which usually come with these things.
We helped ourselves a bit with other forms of planning ahead. There was plenty of wood blocking in the walls to accept the anchors for the frame. The opening was damn near square, and curb was level and more or less at right angles to the walls. Those are the things that make the difference between having a hard time with these things or not. I gave my wife a seven-dollar industrial diamond spade bit to drill though the porcelain tile to set the anchors, instead of a diamond ring for our anniversary, but she didn’t seem to mind too much. I sleep with one eye open for any number of reasons, not just that one.
Nothing left to do but put in the shower valve and head.
And here you see how we solved the built-in bench conundrum. We bought an inexpensive teak-ish semicircular bench instead of very expensive Schluter bench accessories. It’s quite sturdy and out of the way in the corner there, and my wife loves it, and me sometimes, I guess. I didn’t have to tile it, thank jayzuz. And elegant? It’s just like Central Park in June: There’s an occasional bum on it.
[Tomorrow: Before and after pictures!]