Every time I entered our single, lonely bathroom, my shoulders drooped. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the single bathroom in our home would no longer work. The shower walls crumbled every time I wiped them down. Grime always returned too quickly. I knew something needed to change. We needed to rip it apart and put it back together again. But, one humbling truth remained:
It’s our only bathroom.
We knew some big challenges were on the horizon, but there was one common string throughout the whole experience. My mother’s voice echoed in the back of my head, “Use it while you can.” Many times, she’d repeated these words to me at rest stops growing up. Stubborn child that I was, my response often ringed to the tune of “I don’t have to go.” Sure enough, twenty minutes later, I’d be begging for a bathroom.
Little did I know, that lesson would become such a central force in our bathroom renovation, or that I would become so well-acquainted with the bathroom at the hardware store.
If you want to skip ahead, check out what’s coming up in this post:
- Challenges We Faced in Our Single Bathroom Renovation
- 15 Tips to Help You Survive
- Want More? Other posts to help plan and inspire your renovation.
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Challenges We Faced in Our Single Bathroom Reno
Well, there’s the obvious challenge — it’s our only bathroom. Ripping it apart literally meant no bathroom. No toilet. No showers. Nothing.
Now I’ve camped with no bathroom or shower before, and let’s just say there’s a reason you won’t find me on the Pacific Crest Trail trying to walk myself to clarity. Different strokes for different folks, am I right?
If the stress of renovations make you feel like this, you’re not alone!
Still, with some creativity, we were able to renovate our single bathroom without getting a hotel. Thanks to reality, a hotel was never going to be possible in the budget. Plus, due to the fact that our walls were literally crumbling, the renovation couldn’t be put off. We simply had no choice.
We had to live through it.
We looked into getting a Porta Potty, but we couldn’t find a place that would only rent it for a only a week. We put on our thinking caps and brainstormed some ways to solve the following problems.
The Toilet Issue
We had to take the toilet off the floor twice. The first time, we tossed the old toilet as A’s Dad leveled the pitched floor that used to be a porch. After about 6 hours, we were able to install (mostly) the new toilet in its place. We used a flange extender kit similar to this one. After consulting with A’s Dad, we determined that this would be sufficient, since we’d have to remove the toilet once more to tile the floor at the end of the project.
I used to get annoyed at myself for forgetting stuff at the hardware store. But with the toilet off the floor, it was strangely a relief to have to go back for something we forgot.
On the second occasion, we weren’t so lucky. Tiling the floor meant not only taking the toilet off the floor, but we’d be unable to replace it for at least 36 hours while the mortar and grout took their turns drying. While 36 hours without a shower is doable, not using the toilet? That simply wasn’t an option.
Luckily, we know some pretty awesome people who threw us a lifeline. But, more on that later.
Hygiene Without a Shower
See how tiny the space is? I can’t even get a full view picture!
Showering was a bit more complicated. It’s easy to take a toilet off the floor and replace it after a few hours. It’s not so easy to rip out a tub/shower combo and replace it in 6 hours (aka, it’s impossible if you want to tile). We didn’t have a usable shower within the house for 9 days.
Yes, you read that correctly. Nine whole days.
Don’t worry, we didn’t go back to the middle ages. But we needed a way to clean up the debris and sweat after a long day and we didn’t have a backup shower to rely on. Suddenly, I found myself wishing we lived on the beach so an outdoor shower wouldn’t stick out like a palm tree on the Alaskan frontier.
Small Working Quarters
If you ask me, the biggest challenge was trying to make space for three people to work in the bathroom. Admittedly, we weren’t overly successful on this front. In fact, most of the work I did was while A and his dad were under the house working on plumbing or out at the hardware store. The only time the three of us could work in there comfortably was when there was literally nothing left but the studs.
Everything else was a bit pinched in the space department.
Usually I like to be more hands-on, but space just didn’t permit. A’s Dad is a master carpenter and works on houses all the time, so he took the lead on most of the projects. While it was difficult to be less hands-on than I usually am, I was happy to learn from an expert.
The Inevitability of Waiting
Tile looks amazing, but there is a lot of waiting involved. First, you have to wait for the mortar to dry enough to grout. Then, you have to wait for the grout to dry before you silicone. Finally, you think you’re done, but the waiting for the silicone to cure takes even more time.
I stared at my tiled shower for three days before I could actually use it.
It’s a good thing I like looking at pretty things, right?
15 Tips To Help You Survive
Enough about the challenges. Here are fifteen things that helped us survive renovating our single bathroom.
1. Maximize that Gym Membership
I bet Planet Fitness had no idea their “No Judgment Zone” motto would include anything having to do with a bathroom renovation. When we needed to shower after a long day of renovation, we hit the gym showers. One guy at the front desk chuckled when I told him I was only there to shower because mine was ripped down to the studs and just said “You do you” while wishing me luck with the renovation.
Workouts are also great for stress relief!
I even got a few workouts in. I know, crazy right?
But you see, I felt guilty showing up and passing all the cardio machines just to get to the showers. So, I started packing my sneakers, too.
2. Don’t take the toilet out until you need to.
We demolished everything else before we took the toilet out. Even then, we only took it out right before A’s Dad started leveling the floor. We also replaced it a little over six hours later.
If you can work around it, keep it (especially if it’s your only one). Ultimately, you only need to take it out when you’re working on the floor. And if you’ve ever been on the road in the middle of nowhere, you know how difficult it can be to be without a toilet.
3. Whenever you have access to a bathroom, use it.
Seriously — At the hardware store, the gas station on the way to the hardware store, or the grocery, use it. If you have a thing about public bathrooms, make sure you have a multi-bathroom house.
One time, I took a trip to the gas station for one reason and one reason only. Do I really need to go on?
Then, I bought an iced tea and walked out as if nothing happened. Hey, desperate times, right?
4. Make friends with your neighbors
We already knew a few of our neighbors well enough that we felt comfortable asking to use their bathroom during our renovation. And they were happy to help!
If you know you’re going to be without a bathroom, see if your neighbors can help out. Our next door neighbors are retired and have lived in the neighborhood a long time. They love seeing how we’re bringing our 1899 farmhouse back to life. They’re always willing to let us borrow tools or give us advice on contractors to use. When we shared that we were ripping apart the bathroom, they were quick to offer theirs up during the process.
We live in a neighborhood where everyone looks out for each other. It’s one of the reasons we love living here.
Plus, they always accept our constant state of construction, which is awesome.
5. Stay with friends or family
Our closest family is 2.5 hours away, so that wasn’t an option. But, some close friends in the area offered us a place to stay if we needed it. While we stayed in our house through most of the renovation, it was nice to have the option when we were planning on tiling the floor.
After all, there was no way the toilet would make it back on the floor after only six hours during that production.
I know that staying with other people can be a little hectic and crazy, especially during a renovation. But, I find that if you cook dinner and clean up after yourself, people are always happy to have you. We’re the kind of people that always lend a helping hand when people need it, and our friends are the same way. Knowing that makes asking for help a little easier.
6. Get small projects done ahead of time
We built our vanity weeks before the renovation started, partially because we knew it would take some time to build something custom.
We have a non-standard sized bathroom. Anything pre-made was either too long, too short, or too deep. So, we threw caution to the wind and built our own. Once we install it and add trim, I’ll be sharing that process and the results with you in another post, so stay tuned!
Here’s a sneak peak of our light fixture upcycle!
We also upcycled a light fixture with mason jars to put over the vanity mirror. Since these projects could be prepped before we started, we got them out of the way so we could just install them when the time came.
7. Make a budget
Okay, this may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people just hit the hardware store without doing their research first. If this process is intimidating to you, make sure you check out my post on creating a renovation budget in an emergency.
We started out with a budget of $3,300 for our bathroom, since we knew there would probably be some structural surprises (like leveling the floor) that aren’t typical in a bathroom update. Since we did all the work ourselves, so far we have stayed below that number, but we still have a few more small projects, so we’ll see how we end up. If nothing else, creating a budget helps account for any surprises you might encounter along the way.
8. Shop salvage and thrift stores to save money
When was the last time you spent less than $25 on a light fixture? By finding a $15 salvage light fixture at the Habitat for Humanity Restore (one of my favorite places to shop!), I was able to make a vanity light similar to this one for less than $25. That’s some serious savings!
And all I did was paint it.
The wiring was up to code and intact, so we didn’t need to do anything but throw on a coat of paint and add some mason jars.
9. Keep the work zone separate
I mentioned this in another post about renovation, but I can’t stress this enough. If it’s at all possible, try and separate the work zone from your living area as much as possible. Since our bathroom is off the dining room on the first floor, that wasn’t completely possible.
However, tools and materials were strictly quarantined to the dining room, bathroom and mud room. We ate in the living room, which was our sanctuary during the major parts of the renovation. After a long day, we put on some classic shows like I love Lucy and MASH. A’s Dad loves the older shows and who doesn’t love a little Lucy?
Keeping the work zone separate helps maintain sanity when you’re living in the house you’re renovating.
10. Clean up every night
I know, why would you clean up when it’s just going to get crazy again the next day? Well, it actually helps create a clean slate for the next day’s work. It’s much easier to work when there’s no debris and tools in the way.
Plus, as the day moves on, things tend to get shuffled together. If you take 15-20 minutes cleaning and sorting your tools, it’s much easier to find what you need the next day.
It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you’d be surprised how much it helps.
11. Take the opportunity to purge
You have to clean everything out of your bathroom before you renovate anyways. Take that opportunity to get rid of expired makeup, worn or permanently discolored towels, and don’t forget those hotel shampoo and conditioner samples you’ve been hoarding (it’s okay, we all do it).
We have a small bathroom and it’s our only one. We simply don’t have room for all the “extras.” Get rid of it while it’s not in your bathroom and only put back what you need. It will simplify everything in the long run.
12. Check your dump’s rules & regulations
Our dump never used to take construction debris, so we always had to pay for a dumpster before. Recently, they changed the rules. Now, we can take up to six loads per month. I think we’ve made a total of three in our old pick-up. The fee ended up being $14 for each trip. I’ll take that over a $350 cost for a dumpster any day! While this wouldn’t necessarily work for a bigger renovation, a small bathroom renovation is well worth the savings.
13. Don’t just swing a sledge hammer during demo
You can actually do more damage than good by literally destroying your space with a sledge hammer. Pay attention to where the electric and plumbing are in the room. Open up the walls carefully until you can see where everything is. Plus, if you have duct work in your house, you definitely don’t want to put a hole through that (especially in July!). You could accumulate more costs by swinging a sledge hammer willy nilly.
Instead, make a hole where you’re sure there’s likely nothing and pull the walls down from that hole. With drywall, it’s pretty easy to pull it off. If you have plaster and lath, like we did, it will take a lot more effort. Still, it’s better to pull it off than punch through it.
14. Expect bad news
If you go in expecting the worst case scenario, everything seems like good news! We fully expected the wall where our shower was to be fully rotted through to the exterior. What we found was just a rotted window sill, which we were taking out anyways. The old plaster had actually protected the majority of the wood from moisture.
Can you say huge relief?
Plus, if you plan for the worst in your budget, finding out that it’s not that bad means $$ you don’t have to spend! That’s always good news.
15. Make time to relax and unwind
Take a drive. Get out of the house if you can!
I understand feeling the time crunch of a renovation, but make sure you put aside a little time to unwind each night. You’ll sleep better, which ultimately means you’ll work better the next day. Whether it’s taking a stroll around the block or watching some TV, make sure you relax before you go to bed.
Your body will thank you for it!
Wow! That was a lot! Hopefully you found these tips helpful. If you want more renovation tips and helpful resources, sign up for my weekly newsletter here.
Check out how I budgeted this bathroom update with my FREE Budget Planner, plus some awesome tips to help you along the way right here. Plus, get some inspiration for your design with some amazing finds you can get on Amazon, plus some ides for how to put them together here.
Let’s face it, Renovating isn’t easy! It’s especially hard when you’re taking away your only bathroom for multiple days at a time. But, there are things you can do to make things easier. If you remember to “use it while you can,” and keep all of my other tips in mind, you won’t just survive renovating your single bathroom, you’ll crush it!