My bathroom is so gross.
March 4, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I bought a house last year that I've been continually remodeling & up next is the bathroom in the basement. However, the walls really confuse me. What are my options? Any suggestions?

The bathroom in our basement is weird and gross. It has strange wall panels and a hideous metal shower enclosure. I'd like to start renovating it, but I'm really confused by the walls. Are these things just patterned wall panels over concrete? Also, some of the panels near the shower stall have come completely off the wall. Could someone semi-handy, but not super-handy replace these panels with something else (no idea what) without outside help? Do I need to worry about asbestos or insulation? The house was built in 1935.

I'm relatively sure that between my SO and I we can figure out how to dismantle and remove the shower enclosure, but I've never encountered one made of metal before. If you have, is there something that I should be aware of? My SO installed a vanity in our upstairs bathroom so I trust him to be able to figure out turning off the water and such.

Any help is appreciated!

Walls 1
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Walls 4
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Shower Enclosure
posted by eunoia to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My grandparents had those panels in their bathroom. I'm pretty sure they're not quite vinyl, not quite plastic...some sort of PVC, I think. They're kind of brittle, right? Like not really bendy?

I'm sure there are contractors who would come out and take a look and tell you what you're dealing with and how much they would charge to get rid of it and make something prettier. If you don't like the estimate, at least you'd know what kind of material you're looking at and what it would take to get the bathroom up to snuff.
posted by cooker girl at 9:18 AM on March 4, 2013

Think of those as a specialized sort of masonite/plywood/particleboard/generic sheet good. I'm pretty sure they're just compressed wood particles and glue, with a plastic coating to make them moderately moisture resistant. The rust spots say they're nailed up, so there are probably thin strips of wood between them and the concrete. I don't know anything about your DIY capabilities, but you can rip them off and put up whatever sort of wall you want -- tile, moisture resistant drywall, etc.
posted by jon1270 at 9:22 AM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Okay, breathe.

This is doable.

First, you're going to take ALL of that stuff down. You may have all kinds of moisture problems behind it and you're goint to want to bleach the shit out of the basement walls behind the laminate and the plastic shower enclosure. (Trust and believe, there's gonna be mold-wear resperiator masks!)

Pry bar and sledge hammer time.

You can save the sink and toilet if you like. Or not.

You can buy new plastic stuff to put on the walls, or you can tile.

It's hard to know if this stuff was slapped up right over the cinder blocks/cement foundation, or if there's some kind of backer board. Judging by the age of the plastic/laminate, whatever board may have been behind it is probably beyond gone, and you'll want state of the art green board.

This does not look like any permits were pulled to put it together. But it sure looks a lot like our basement-half bath. We had cinder blocks on 2 of the walls and a window, I just painted them pink. We had regular sheetrock on two walls, so I put pretty wall paper and some new fixtures and we're in business.

It's hard to know about asbestos. It wasn't in the acoustic ceiling tiles the previous owner nailed AND glued to the basement ceiling, but it was in the 12 tiles he put in his "darkroom" floor (and which I just peeled and stuck new cheapo tiles over).

Here's some information on the "Wilson House" the guy who developed WilsonArt Laminate.

This can be a real bear, so if you and your SO can't do this yourself, have a backup plan!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:23 AM on March 4, 2013 [7 favorites]

It looks like you need to tear that crap out, as Ruthless Bunny suggests. I agree its going to be moldy behind there, as the panels will have allowed moisture in, which may affect the studs. You need to go down to the studs to do this properly. Also if you rip the walls out its easier to update and fix the plumbing.

Even if the bathroom was permitted, it looks old enough that permit laws have likely changed. I would suggest that you can do the demo yourself (since I assume you don't need to use this bathroom for now), in order to see what the state of the walls is behind there. Rip that shit out and evaluate. Once its demoed, you can either tackle the job yourself or hire a contractor. With projects like this, the uncertainty in costs is mostly the uncertainty of what the hell is going on behind the walls. Is it all good and you can just put some new backer board up? Or is there damp/mold/termite damage which requires framing fixes? If you can find that out then you can get an accurate bid from a contractor and know what you are getting yourself into. You can also see the state of the plumbing and so on.
posted by Joh at 9:44 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

One way to figure out if the stuff is applied directly to the wall (likely) or furred out is to measure the wall thickness. If you have a bare block wall available for comparison, even better.

To figure it out measure the inside window from face-of-glass to outside edge of panel board. Then go outside and measure from glass to outside face of siding/masonry. Do some math (use standard thickness materials, such as 8" for cmu) if you're left with extra unexplained thickness, then it's likely furred out. Or, do the easy thing and poke a hole to investigate.

The material looks like it's similar to that in my grandparents' house: paneling that's 1/8th inch thick.

Before you go too far check into which permits are required in your jurisdiction. Plumbing and electrical work can be more involved when bathroom remodeling is undertaken.
posted by mightshould at 9:58 AM on March 4, 2013

Just look at this as a total gut job. You need to rip everything, I mean EVERYTHING out of that bathroom, down to the studs. Then just build it back up, as long as you're fine with the layout, meaning you don't want/need to move any plumbing around.

Check the existing studs for rot and replace the ones that need replacing. Use today's moisture resistant backer board as your wall base, then cover with tile or shower surround or whatever. Install new fixtures, and voila! New bathroom!

If he's capable of installing a vanity, I'm pretty sure you guys could handle this.
posted by wwartorff at 10:10 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Looks like fiberglass-reinforced plastic wall panels. They're fairly resistant to moisture, so you may want to consider replacing it with the same kind of material, but with a nicer look. Of course, the most water resistant thing would be to apply tile directly to the concrete walls, if this is possible. No organic material to grow mold.

You can replace that beat up metal shower stall with a modern equivalent.

Whatever materials you use to rebuild this bathroom, you're really going to want an exhaust fan to carry moist air outside. Is there already one installed?
posted by orme at 10:24 AM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just did a similar project. Mine was lined with plywood panels.

It isn't too bad if you're comfortable using a crowbar and a hammer (wear eye protection and a mouth mask) to rip everything out, and putting up moisture resistant drywall (greenwall or similar).

While you've got everything open, wash the walls and studs with a mold and mildew cleaner/preventer - bleach, TSP, vinegar, - depending on your tolerance for chemicals/greenness. (Not in this project but when I've lived in places that have issues with bugs, I've sprinked diatomaceous earth on all the vertical surfaces inside the walls; its a great barrier.) Also when everything is open, bring a heater and/or humidifier down there and leave it on for 24 hours or so to really dry everything out.

A decent looking plastic shower kit to replace whats there is also not a huge expense or difficult to install.

Make sure the drainage is done right - you may need a plumber to get all the angles and venting right. Install a fan that vents outside.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 11:18 AM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm about 99% sure the walls are simply melamine sheet paneling (aka showerboard). My grandparents had that exact same pattern in their bathroom when I was younger. Agreeing with everyone else here - rip it out completely (hope it's not just glued to the cement). Put up some furring strips and some greenboard (or cementboard and tile), and put in a basic acrylic shower stall, and enjoy.
posted by jferg at 4:48 PM on March 4, 2013

> Could someone semi-handy, but not super-handy replace these panels with something else (no idea what) without outside help?

Yep, totally. Like others said, it's a type of paneling. Just pull it all down. From the gaping, it looks like it was probably attached to studs or the like, rather than being glued firmly and directly to a plaster or concrete wall. If this is indeed the case, thank your gorram lucky stars. And bonus, if your house is also old-school drafty like mine, you may not even have to worry much about mold or mildew in the walls. (Mine's about 50 years older than your whippersnapper, though.) Definitely check for rot, though.

Basically, pick a loose bit, slide your crowbar behind it, and just pull it off the wall. Don't worry about ripping it, obviously. When you get up to those little molding strips around the edges, lever 'em out with the edge of your crowbar, and they'll go pop! pop! pop! as the little nails slide out of the wall, which is immensely satisfying.

And while you're gutting the bathroom, I'll join everyone in recommending that you gut the entire room. Including the floor! You want to check those floor joists for rot and for funky settling and appropriate weight-bearing capacity before you install a new shower.
posted by desuetude at 9:10 PM on March 4, 2013

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