The Long, excruciating story of the $1000 bathtub

26 08 2007

      House countdown: T minus eight days…  We list before Labor Day.  I will be dead of exhaustion by then.

      On the plus side, I just had a nice soaky bath in my new, barely been used, one thousand dollar bathtub!  Of all the things I can’t take with me, the bathtub is the one I most regret.
       There’s a story behind the bathtub, of course.  The old bathtub was a white-enameled steel tub that was used in the Pleisocene era to bathe baby Pteradactyls that were born to unwed mothers.  It passed down through the generations, briefly figuring as an ostrich chick incubator on the Ark, and eventually was installed in this house as a conversation starter.  And boy did it start some conversations! 
      Like, “What on earth is that streaky orange stuff all over the tub?”  Answer: Potassium. 
      “Can’t you get it off?”  Ans: Yes, with a muratic acid cleaner purchased from a Janitorial supply store, unless I don’t clean it for a while, in which case I have to spray it with a high-acid urinal cleaner that emits poisonous gasses and greenish smoke.  
       “What on earth happened to your grout?”  Ans: See answer to question #2, etc…
       When the bathroom toilet line broke and began dripping through the downstairs ceiling, we realized that we would have to remove the ancient lead sewage pipe and replace it with PVC.  Thus beginning…


      In order to remove the pipe, we had to take up the toilet and bust up the tile floor.  It then became necessary to remove the wall in large pices in both the up and downstairs bath.  (The pipe in question was a T-shape, with the long top of the T extending about three feet up and down the wall.)  Unfortunately, the wall of the upstair bath was TILED in tile that matched the floor and tub enclosure.  Much of the tile had to be broken to be removed.
       We quickly discovered that they no longer make tile matching the tile installed in our bath in 1965.  (Ha ha ha ha… I can’t believe you even asked that question!  Of course not…)  So the entire wall surround and floor had to be ripped out.  At this point we’re asking ourselves, wouldn’t this be a great time to just re-do the entire bathroom?  I mean, why preserve the streaky orange tub just for sentimental reasons?
      The tub, in order to be removed, had to be sawed in three sections over the course of one very long, very loud day.
      Then there was the day Neal accidentally sawed through the hot water supply pipe and flooded the insulation layer under the subflooring.
      (Did I mention that every bit of the tile in the bathroom had to be knocked down with hammers and carted downstairs to huge rubbish piles in my garage by whining children?)
      Sawing through the iron sewage pipe burnt out five reciprocating saw blades, took six hours, and sounded like someone slowly feeding a cat tail first into an electric pencil sharpener.  The plumber holding the saw also slipped and sawed a big slit in Neal’s closet wall.
        Finally, all the demolition was done and it was time to begin re-building our bathroom!  (Do not forget that for the entire duration of this project we were relying solely on a very UNreliable toilet in a downstairs bathroom that was missing a good deal of its walls and ceiling, and was for a good part of the time entirely without a sink.  I lost my hair dryer early on in the first week and haven’t looked right since.)
      One of the early tasks in the rebuilding process was to order a new bathtub.  The first place I went was Lowe’s.  Most of what they display (I never actually got to speak to a SALESPERSON of course) are tub surrounds (def- the stuff that surrounds the tub- i.e. tile with grout that turns orange from potassium stains or large panels of fiberglass or other materials.) made of VIKREL.  I called the VIKREL people and asked, “Will VIKREL, the new wonder material that is revolutionizing bathing in America, stand up to being cleaned with a muratic acid cleaner?”  It turns out that VIKREL should only be cleaned with a mild solution of white vineagar and water on alternate Tuesdays and installed somewhere sheltered from direct sunlight.  Oh well.
      My search for the perfect bathtub continued.   After my bad experience in Lowes (waiting for an hour and a half to speak to someone while pulling my pre-schooler out of the display jacuzzi, off display toilets, out of display cabinets, and off the faucet wall which he was climbing like a rock wall only without belay) I eschewed Home Depot.  One bath fitting showcase took one look at our four kids, shoved a bunch of pamphlets in my hand, and showed us the door claiming that all their salespeople were in a seminar.  On a Saturday, the biggest sales day of the week.  Yeah… right.  Maybe we should have dressed better and made sure all the kids were wearing shoes?
      Ferguson Plumbing was the coolest place we went.  It had a corner with coloring books and toys for patiently waiting kids, but my kids were much more interested in the luxury spa bathtub display.  The large rectangular tub had a pump that caused the extra deep water to constantly overflow in a 360 degree waterfall over the edge into a catch basin.  The huge tub of steaming, clear, fragrant water was too much for my little tadpoles.  It was only by holding Patrick upside down and kneeling on Michael that I restrained them until a saleswoman could be found.  She was mercifully brief: “We don’t carry break-down surrounds for remodelling.  Try Longley!”  The look she gave me plainly said, “And hurry!”
      As I was dragging the children out the door, she did give me a bit of valuable advice about the orange water problem.  “You don’t want fiberglass,” she said.  “If your water is as bad as you say, the fiberglass would absorb the color and be orange in about three months.  My advice would be to buy a high-grade acrylic breakdown unit, like the ones they sell at Longley.”
      The lady at Longley had the great good sense to turn the show room T.V. on to Nick Jr. as soon as we trooped in the door.  And for the first time in our quest, she acted like she knew what we were talking about!  In about twenty minutes I had several print-outs in my hand of different three-piece acrylic units.  They are hard cast in three sections made to stack and snap together.  The bottom section is the tub, the middle section is most of the wall (built in soap dish!), and the top section is the ceiling.  Minimum price- $1195.00    Yikes!  BUT she guaranteed I could clean them with anything I wanted, short of a brillo pad.  Any kind of cleaner, but no scratching.

     They arrived in two weeks.  The first snag was that they didn’t fit in the garage, and the delivery man said that he could not, under any conditions, open the packaging and move the sections into the garage.  I threw a cat fit in the driveway, cried and pleaded, and he finally broke down and moved them for me.  (Don’t you hate women who cry to get their way?) 
      On their next visit, the plumbers measured them and promptly announced that they wouldn’t fit through the bathroom doorway.  When, in tears again, I murmured sadly,”I only thought about whether it would fit the tub enclosure, I never thought about the door way…”  the man replied callously, “Most people don’t.”  He gave me the card for a contractor who could widen the doorway and left.
       I called the contractor about six times in the next two weeks.  He never returned my calls.  Finally, in desperation, Neal went up with a saw and a hammer and he WIDENED that doorway.  And it stayed widened, too!
       So, then we got the plumbers back in there again.  Their first thought was that the doorway wasn’t wide enough.  When I had proved, mathematically, that it indeed was wide enough, he condescended to come down to the garage and look at my beautiful bath tub.  He stared at it like it was a snake.  He looks at it and says, “Sorry lady, we don’t install that kind of tub.”  He walked upstairs and started packing up his tools.
      “What!” I cried, hung between starting some kind of conniption fit or bursting into tears again.  “What do you mean you don’t install this kind of tub?  Did you or did you not measure it just last week?  Why didn’t you tell me then that you didn’t install it?”
      “That kind of tub is made to be built in as part of a new house.  You can’t put it in as a renovation.”
      “It was sold to me as a break-down model specifically FOR renovations!  If they were installing it in new construction it wouldn’t come in three pieces!” 
      My devastating logic rendered him momentarily speechless.  He looked at the ceiling.  He looked at his shoes.  Finally he said, “Well, let me call someone.  Do you have the installation instructions on the blasted thing?” 
      Of course, the tub didn’t come with instructions.  Ha, ha, ha!  How silly of you to ask!  I spent the next thirty minutes calling Longley, getting someone on the phone who knew something about installation (harder than it sounds), and working through a service website on my slow computer.  Finally, I drug back into the bathroom and announced dolefully, “They’re going to mail me the installation instructions tomorrow.”
      “‘S Ok,” he said, “We’ve got her plumbed in.”  And indeed they did!  I was thrilled.  “Now, don’t get excited,” he said.  “It ain’t stable.  Floor’s crooked.  We’re going to pull her out, and then what you’ve got to do is shim the floor up level.  I bet your husband can do that.  And then we’ll come on back and install her.”
        I must have looked rather nonplussed by this announcement because he looked at the floor and he looked at the ceiling again.  Then he said, “Well, maybe we could just stick something under there now.  Let me work on it.”
      I went downstairs to take about four tylenol and call my husband to whine for a while.  When I came back upstairs they were trying to put the middle section on upside down and without the connecting pieces in place.  When we got that little bobble straightened out, he climbed in the tub full of grit and nails with his big old work boots.  I could hear the scratching and scraping like fingernails on a chalk board.  I RAN and grabbed a blanket off one of the beds.  ANYTHING!  Does the man not realize he’s walking on a thousand dollar bathtub?  I frantically gestured for them to get out and spread the woven blanket for their feet.  He looked at me like I was the last nut on my family tree, but he stepped back in the tub on the blanket.
       “Now about right here is where I’m going to put in the shower,” he said, drawing a big X high on the wall, about six inches lower than the ceiling.  “Your husband’s a tall man, and we want the shower to be high enough for him.” 
      “Ummm… Are you sure you’ve measured this right?” I asked timidly.  “You see, it’s a three piece unit with a false ceiling.  Is the X low enough that it will let the shower head be mounted under the ceiling?”
       I swear I saw all the blood drain from his face.  The X was obviously NOT high enough.  I think at that point he surrendered to the tub.  He got out and began packing up again.  “I tell you what, you have your husband install that #%##^@  thing, and call us and we’ll install the shower head when you’re done.  But I tell you now, it can’t be done.  That thing’s got to be built in as new construction, and I’m not messing with it any more.”
      “But wouldn’t it be easier to plumb the shower head NOW, rather than rip open the wall of the linen closet?” I asked desperately.  “I’ll run right down and measure it myself!”
      “Maybe, but I ain’t doing it.”  He declared.  He picked up his tool box and stuffed his bandanna in his back pocket.  “What you should have got was one of those fiberglass panel surrounds they sell at Lowe’s.  Cost you sixty bucks, and I could have put it up in twenty minutes.  Do it all the time.  Bye now ma’am.”

       Well, it took Neal a little more than twenty minutes to install the top piece of the tub and drywall it in.  (And he did it WITHOUT tearing out the window frame, which the plumbers had declared was absolutely necessary.)  It’s up now, but it still doesn’t have a shower head.  We’re working on that.
      The room has only patched subflooring for a floor.  The walls are bare drywall with a big hole for a medicine cabinet, no sink, no toilet, a bare bulb for a light fixture, and heaps of tools on the floor. 
      But it has the three necessary things: a tub (with surround!), hot water, and a door that locks.

 It seemed like the pinnacle of luxury to me!

(As a post script… I called my father-in-law up to tell him how the renovation project was coming.  His sole comment was, “Wouldn’t it have been easier to get one of those fiberglass kits from Lowe’s?”  I think God is definitely developing some self control in me, because I did NOT throw the phone through the wall.)




One response

15 10 2008
Bonnie with a Tub Problem

Thankyou, thankyou for your bath tub story, and for the forewarning. We’re about to start this project of tearing out the ancient enameled steel bathtub (really, you had to cut it in three pieces??)and trying to figure out what to put in afterwards. I guess we’ll go with the easy surround you can get from Lowes. But I’m afraid no bathtub will fit withought widening the doorway. Did you keep the doorway widened? or patch it back up to previous size afterwards?

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