13 Lessons Learned While Building a Bathroom

August 18, 2018 by George Fritts

How did I spend my summer? Well, a good portion was spent taking an unused corner of an unusually large mud room in our new house and installing a third bathroom.  While I necessarily outsourced a lot of the more technical aspects, most of the heavy lifting was done by yours truly.  As with any construction project I have attempted, there were some significant lessons to be learned:

#13: Even if they are a friend, beware if a professional tradesman suggests you could save money by doing a portion of the job yourself. Especially if it involves concrete…or digging.

Nothing gives you an appreciation for those who make their living by means of hard physical labor than doing a little bit of it yourself. When it came time to fill in the hole we made in the foundation to accommodate the rough plumbing, it was getting on toward evening.  Our plumber rather benignly suggested it might be worth my while to do the concrete work myself.  I thought to myself, “I’ve done some of that kind of thing before—how hard can it be?” I should have taken a clue from the complete attitude reversal of the plumber’s assistant/son when he realized he wasn’t going to have to spend his evening mixing concrete. I’m sure it took me twice as long as it would have taken them. Was it worth it? Meh. In any case, I am thankful for my friend and all others who do the work that the rest of us don’t.


#12: When mixing concrete with an egg-beater type mixer attachment, brace the drill against your leg. Better yet, buy a dang wheelbarrow and mix it the way your dad taught you.

Mixing concrete half a bag at a time in a 5-gallon bucket is not my idea of fun. When my plumber friend offered to leave his mixing attachment for me, it sounded like a great idea. After putting the recommended proportions of water and concrete mix into the bucket, I stuck the attachment end of the drill down in the mix, pulled the trigger…and nearly ripped my hand clean off at the wrist.  After assessing the damage, I stuck it back in the bucket, pulled the trigger…and DID IT AGAIN! I tried a couple times to brace the drill to avoid further damage to my wrist, but there was no denying the acrid smell—a clear signal of worse damage to the drill itself if I continued with that method.  The rest of the mixing was a slow process of stirring with a long-bladed shovel.  I was suddenly nostalgic for the days spent with my father mixing whole bags at a time with a wheelbarrow and a hoe.  Sometimes new and different ways of doing things aren’t better…just new and different.


#11: Self-leveling concrete…doesn’t.

Don’t expect life to be easy. Even with the smoothest stuff life has to offer, it takes a significant effort to achieve the best results.


#10: If you find yourself thinking that spending time with your grandson (or wife, or children, or pretty much any other relationship) is taking away from your reno time, you have some pretty messed up priorities.

‘Nuff said.


#9: You may be able to get away with demo’ing angry, but trying to build something when you’re angry is a lost cause.

There are many legitimate purposes to anger, but it is not a “constructive” emotion.  It is an emotion that calls for removal—for repentance.  Once a turn in a positive direction is made, dealing with the anger and converting that energy into something else (inspiration or conviction, for instance), keeps a worthwhile effort on track toward completion.


#8: Dry wall tape is one of the most humbling substances in the world.

Sometimes it takes the simplest of tasks to recognize that you can’t do everything well.


#7: It’s not going to work out the way you think.

As good as it is to have a plan, it is equally beneficial to know when that plan needs to be changed.


#6: Anything having to do with a claw foot tub is a two-person activity.

Having the wisdom and humility to recognize when you need help and then to actually ask for it saves all manner of frustration and waste.


#5: There is no such thing as a good deal on a 100-year-old claw foot tub.

I’ve seen many variations of the same sign in many different fix-it shops: “You can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick any two.” This is a rule that seems to transcend the wry humor of service-oriented businesses.  You can count on quality costing you…one way or another.


#4: If you find yourself driving to the home improvement store to get milk, it might be time to take a break from the project.

Singlemindedness can be helpful, until it turns into obsession…or distraction from the task at hand. Rest and leisure are often undervalued. Knowing when to take a break is only half the battle—you actually have to follow through and rest to avoid diminishing returns.


#3: Clean up the shed before you start.

The time and effort required to be organized is more than offset by the time and effort saved by doing so. Not to mention the emotional energy involved…Anyone who has spent a half hour looking for a tool that was “right THERE,” knows what I mean.


#2: Recognize when “good enough” is good enough.

Excellence is a worthy goal, but perfection is often neither obtainable nor advisable. Expending the resources required to go beyond excellence is wasteful and often fruitless.


#1: Unsolicited advice can save your backside.

I think it is a common tendency to be offended when someone tells us something we already know. However, if we can learn to express appreciation in these moments, we can create an environment that others feel free to tell us things that we may NOT be aware of—saving us hardship, needless expense, embarrassment…and sometimes even more dire consequences.


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