Empowered in the Powder Room

Reader Contribution by Ann B. and Poison Ivy Soap Company
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Moving into a once-abandoned foreclosure means that someone else’s headaches have become your own. The first thing we had to address was a hole in the floor of the front bathroom. It’s easier to fix this if you first remove the toilet and, if possible, the sink and cabinet or whatever else there might be. Toilets are easy. You turn off the water from behind the toilet (VERY important unless you want to be sprayed in the face in the next step) and then disconnect the hose from the toilet tank. Usually, there will be bolts that hold the toilet to the floor that may have round covers to protect them from corrosion. Toilets aren’t terribly heavy, but if you haven’t thought of it until now, pee before you take the toilets out, especially if you only have one and have no close neighbors who will let you in to use theirs while you work. Removing the sink and cabinet is similar, as far as turning off water and disconnecting hoses. If the sink seems to be adamant about remaining in place, just work around it. Unless your goal is to add more extensive work to your project.

The next step is to remove whatever remains of the flooring, in this case tiles that stick on rather like a child’s collection of good behavior points. (There was nothing good about these bathrooms.) This step is more of a fork in the road. The proper way is to remove the subflooring, the wooden layer that is the actual floor on which everything else sits. Doing this is extremely time consuming. Since my plan is to have a new house built at some point, I took the lazy fork and left the original subfloor intact. I put new subfloor on top of old, relying on whatever remaining strength the old one had left in it. If you go this route, check to see that your bathroom door will close with this added height, even though it’s really only a teensy bit.

Creating new subfloor is easiest if you get some graph paper and assign a size for each little box, like one box equals one inch or six boxes equal one foot. Then, you make a pattern on your paper that matches your floor. A word of caution: If you are doing this in an older house, be aware that right angles no longer exist! While it may seem that Pythagoras hadn’t invented his theorem until about five years before you moved into your abode, it’s more likely that the ground has settled under it and shifted things around. And it could also be that the previous owners wanted to save money as much as you did and literally cut corners in the process. While my house did not have much of this to deal with, I helped my sister with her bathroom and learned that bell bottoms weren’t the only things that expanded as they went on. The trick in that case is to measure each corner and then draw lines from one corner to another. This is hard to describe, but you are basically drawing shapes onto your wood rather than making perfect squares and rectangles. Don’t think measuring one wall or area will do it for you.

Once you have sketched out how the floor looks, you need to buy the new subfloor. The flooring usually comes in boards that are 4′ x 8′, so cut a couple of pieces of graph paper that correlate to that size. Move them around on your paper floor, so that you can see how best to cut the boards and how many you will need. I have made the mistake of guessing at the boards and making unnecessary cuts when I could have just looked it at with my graph puzzle pieces to assess the easiest way to get the pieces in place.

Now to the hardware store. Not all hardware workers are created equal. If you don’t already have a couple of workers that you know well enough to assess their strengths and weaknesses, pick the one who looks like someone you would hire for this project. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you are jumping into this on your own. Most big stores will cut the wood for you if the amount is more than one foot, so you are on your own for narrow wedges that slip between the sink and the wall or between the sink and tub. If you don’t have a truck, have them cut bigger pieces down just enough to slide into your backseat (which you need to measure before going into the store). (If you’re on a motorcycle, make a new friend or take up knitting; this project isn’t for you.

Once you get your pieces home, you will still need to do some cutting with a jigsaw in order to get around that toilet hole in the floor (unless you have one of those rare side-flushing toilets). It’s not terribly hard, so I’ve included a photo of how mine looked. I attached my subfloor with deck screws that are galvanized, which means they aren’t supposed to rust too easily. I am sure there are a few fancier professional techniques, but when was the last time you walked into your friend’s bathroom and exclaimed “why, Susan! Your floor in here is all wrong! You used the wrong technique on your subfloor!”

The final step is to put on new flooring. In the house I intend to live in and love, I will do a different flooring. For this place, I bought a cheap roll of flooring that required floor glue smeared in arches in order to attach it to the subfloor; a longer explanation is needed here but will need to wait for another time. For now, I hope you have gained a little courage in the knowledge that fixing a floor isn’t as daunting as you thought.

Ann B. operates Poison Ivy Soap Company, the business founded 24 years ago by her parents as a hobby. The company focuses on creating holistic products to help ease life’s discomforts. Ann is building an Arkansas homestead from the ground up. Follow the company on Facebook and Instagram, and follow Ann on Facebook. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

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