Updated: Jul 2
The bathroom is more often than not, the one room that gets overlooked until the point that it can't be overlooked. At that point, you are dancing on the edge of an emergency, if not fully submerged.
Let me just say, it has not been a couple of weeks I want to relive any time soon. It has been stressful, it was nasty, it has taken a toll on my health, and it has been a financial burden. That being said; it could have been worse, I learned a lot, feel 100% better, and I done some things I didn't know I could do.
Awareness & Avoidance
Sometimes you know there are issues, something isn't quite right, and there is much to be improved upon. You set it aside though because you know dealing with it means that even though you feel bad, you will feel worse before you feel better. Perhaps you can't afford to deal with it at the moment and as long as it appears to be working, you turn a blind eye. I'm here to tell you, don't do it. As much as you don't want to, it's better to address the problems when they arise. When it comes to bathroom plumbing, avoiding issues means you are living on borrowed time. You don't want to wait until you are in the middle of a crisis situation.
In my case, I know full well there are issues here. My problem has been figuring out exactly what they are and to what extent. This is a very old house (over 100 years old). Very well built though. The bathroom hasn't been here that long because, for a long time, an outhouse was in use. Just guessing, I would say the indoor bathroom was installed here somewhere between the 40s-60s, closer to the 1960s, most likely.
The bathroom here was remodeled (if you can call it that) in 1997 by a group that was not masters by any stretch of the word. They weren't even very good handymen. The walls were more of a 'cut & paste' style with trim work where there shouldn't be trim work. One section of the wall was installed upside down, you know this because the flowers are pointing toward the floor. Three towel racks (one upside down) across one wall in such a small space, I could go on and on. Needless to say, there are issues and decorative bad decisions are just the tip of the iceberg. The main plumbing issues, I have already addressed, check out my post on the bathroom sink at https://www.farmshedblog.com/post/bathroom-sink-revamp
It all started when I went into the basement to hook up the water hose to water my plants. Immediately I was hit in the face by what can only be described as an outhouse odor. I don't know if you have ever visited an outhouse but if you know, you know. It was clear that something was very wrong. I am down there every day and this was unusual and very very bad.
The basement here is an unfinished basement. There are open standing rooms with block walls but it has a dirt floor and crawl spaces. Old houses have (strategically placed) holes in the foundation all around to allow proper ventilation. This basement stays cool and has a natural odor more like a cave. The odor that day was very different and very bad. It immediately alerted me that something was wrong in the bathroom. In hindsight, I was dealing with a couple of issues. We recently had a heavy storm followed by a week of very high humidity. Had we not had that, I would not have been as aware that things were worse than I thought. So, allow me to thank God for small favors.
Things to look for
Discoloration of the flooring around the toilet - This is a sign that your toilet has been leaking for a while and if black or blueish in color, that mold is growing. Either the toilet is leaking or there has been an overflow where water has gotten under the flooring.
Any rocking movement to the toilet - Toilets should not have any movement when in use. The bolts at the bottom of the toilet could be loose. If you tighten them and it still rocks, it's likely that the seal, flange, or both are faulty.
The toilet has a hissing sound and/or constantly runs. This could be because the tank parts are faulty and require repairing or replacing. It could also be the wax seal and the toilet is having to run to maintain the water level. In some cases, you may not hear a hissing sound but you may notice in the bowl that there is water movement, water coming in slowly when it should be still. Look for ripples.
The floor has a squishy feeling around the toilet. This could mean that an ongoing leak has compromised the flooring and it could be rotting or unstable.
It turns out, I had all these issues, some not as bad as I thought. My main concern health wise was mold growth. I am severely allergic. Mold should always be addressed immediately as it can be dangerous for everyone, not just those who are allergic.
Mold exposure can manifest in multiple ways. It can affect you in obvious ways such as; wheezing, asthma, runny nose, sneezing, rash, irritated throat, headaches, coughing, sinus, respiratory problems, and itchy watery eyes. There are less obvious ways it can affect you; anxiety, blurred vision, confusion, feeling generally annoyed, lethargy, memory problems, depression, disorientation, and fatigue.
I have experienced all of these for several years. My last residence was an apartment that was halfway underground and there was mold in the walls. So, it has been a long time since I have felt well. Up until recently, I had been feeling worse by the day. I believe that is why, even though I knew the bathroom issues needed to be addressed, I put it on the backburner. It was to me, like opening up pandora's box. I couldn't afford to have it done, mold removal is extremely expensive, way outside my wheel box. Also, it wasn't something I would physically be able to do myself given my extreme allergy.
People that have allergies or have been in contact with those that do, perhaps you are a parent with a child that suffers allergies, you know what I'm talking about. You no doubt have dealt with friends or family members that don't understand the magnitude. They dismiss it because they don't understand what they can't comprehend. It is similar in some ways to mental illness, if you aren't breaking out in spots or projectile vomiting, then you must be making it up. You are labeled a complainer, it's all in your head, you are imagining it, you are over-protective, you are lazy, you are exaggerating. Except you are not. It is real, you live it, and you feel it every day of your life. It is not a make-believe fairy tale nightmare. It is your daily struggle.
In Walks an Angel
Not a day goes by that I don't realize how blessed I am to have the cousin I do. She has a daughter with worse allergies than mine and so she fully understood what I was facing. It was she that warned me of the discoloration of the floor around the toilet. She felt sure it was mold growth. I had no idea, I assumed it was just old stain from who knows what. She graciously offered to take on the cleanup in exchange for my helping her do some painting at her house and meatloaf dinner. Done deal.
It didn't end there though, there was a squishy feeling to the floor. Plus, I have no idea what condition the toilet flange was in or when the wax ring had been replaced last. Either 1997 or hopefully sooner. A wax ring lasts between 20-30 years and I am at 25 so, there ya go. I knew I would need a plumber but would I also need a contractor to repair the floor? Which would I need first? Too many factors to deal with. What I needed was to KISS, Keep it Simple Stupid.
My cousin had to reel in my brain and remind me that first, we had to know what we were dealing with. We needed to pull up the flooring and check two things; whether there was mold and whether the floor was stable. She pulled up the linoleum in one corner and confirmed there was mold growth and also that the floor was stable but uneven. It wasn't level and that was why it gave the feeling of being squishy. That's a relief. Meanwhile, this being a Friday, I scheduled a plumber for Monday morning. The main thing when dealing with mold is to eliminate its water supply. So, once the cleanup takes place, the plumber will be able to handle the repair and all will be right with the world.
There is much debate over how to clean up mold; whether to use bleach or vinegar. Bleach is better for non-porous things like countertops. For wood, you need to use vinegar. Vinegar is porous and will kill the mold in the wood and prevent it from reoccurring. Not so with bleach. If you use bleach on wood, it won't get inside the wood and after killing the surface mold, the mold will eventually return and be worse in what is referred to as 'mad mold'.
We set out early Saturday to gather all the things we would need to accomplish the cleanup and lay the flooring. Some you may have on hand but here is what was needed:
Disposable mask & gloves
Distilled white vinegar (not apple cider vinegar) - They make a cleaning vinegar. It's better but you are only talking about a 1% difference. So, either one is suitable.
Paper towels & trash bags
Razor blade and/or utility scissors
Scraper, putty knife
Linoleum - measure the space and get a piece of suitable size with a little extra. I have a small bathroom so I scored a 6'x8' section for under $20. It has a rubber backing which is better than the kind with a paper backing. It lays flat.
The process is as follows:
Don mask and gloves
Pull up the flooring, bag it, and remove it from the house
Spray vinegar over the whole surface generously and allow to sit for an hour
Mix a tablespoon of baking soda per 1 cup of water until dissolved
Wipe up the vinegar and scrub the floor with baking soda and water
Spray the surface again and allow to sit for another hour
Wipe it dry
I wasn't able to get a before picture because I wasn't allowed in the bathroom nor would you want to see it anyway. Here you are able to see how large the stain was. All of the mold is gone but the wood was very wet from the cleaning. This was good we did this a few days before the plumber arrived because it had ample time to dry. In the second photo, you can see the floor is almost completely dried out and those upside-down flowers. You can also see that the previous flooring was applied with liquid nails. Another faux pas of the 'handymen' from 97. Yes, I know the door and frame need a coat of paint. I'll get to it, I promise, but not today.
At this point, we didn't lay the new floor because the toilet would need to be repaired first. The flooring would need to go underneath and there was no way we were about to make a bad situation worse by removing the existing toilet before the plumber could do his thing.
In Walks the Plumber
First, he assessed the damage, which wasn't as bad as we thought. He cleaned the base area and informed me he killed a massive amount of septic fly larvae. What the hell? I didn't even know there was such a thing nor did I want to know. I guess knowing is better than not knowing and best of all, they are dead. He replaced the flange, and wax ring, and installed new bolts on the base.
After finishing up, he told me I would need a new toilet, he had to 'cheat' to get the toilet to sit right meaning the tank is cockeyed and not level as it should be. This is because of the rough-in size. The rough-in is the measurement from the wall (not the baseboard) to the bolts of the toilet. I knew this house has a 10" rough-in but I didn't know the toilet that was here is for a 12" rough-in. Great...well a new toilet would be nice. The one here is a low-seater, hard on the knees. He made the offer to install one when I got one. He cost me a $95 service call on top of $95 an hour. So, even though he was great, I really wasn't in a position to have him return in addition to the cost of a new toilet. I'm not begrudging him for his well-earned skill in a high hourly fee but I wish I had a job where I'd get $95 just for showing up. Overall, I am glad he answered the call, there are a few that didn't answer the phone or acknowledge the voice mail that was left.
My cousin and I decided since the flange had been replaced and the worst taken care of, perhaps we could do the installation ourselves. I set out to find a toilet. I didn't need a top-of-the-line model but didn't want a cheap one either. I went with a trusted brand, an American Standard. So, with that in mind, I bought one with a 10-inch rough-in that was taller than the one I had, the Cadet 3.
As nervous as we both were about it, it was surprisingly easy to do and not a big deal at all. Having a partner made all the difference too, it gave us the confidence to go through with it. Neither of us would have been able to do the lifting on our own and set it right. A strong man would have had very little trouble. I wish I had taken photos of the installation but I didn't want to be taking my gloves on and off etc. Anyway, here is what you do:
Find and shut off the water supply to the toilet. Usually, it's located on the wall behind the toilet near the floor.
Don some disposable gloves and you may or may not want a mask.
Flush the toilet and drain the water from the tank. To drain the water from the tank, place a bucket underneath the tank and remove the screws at the bottom of the tank. There is one on each side.
Use a cup and paper towels to get as much of the water out as you can from the upper tank and inside the toilet bowl.
Once all the water is gone you can disengage the hose to the shut-off valve. Remove the tank and place it outside the home. Remove the bolts at the base of the toilet and carry the base outside also.
If you notice any gasses coming from the septic hole, that's normal but you can cover it with a rag while you work for safety purposes.
Clean away the wax ring from the flange and toss it in the trash. My new toilet included one, if it hadn't, I would have bought a new wax ring anyway. I wouldn't think it wise to re-use one, even if it was only a few days old.
Once the old toilet was gone and we cleaned the flange; at this point, we installed the flooring. This mostly consisted of measuring and cutting. After we had the flooring sized and cut, we set it into place. Then we measured and cut out the hole where the toilet will go.
Unbox your new toilet and find your bolt screws. I went ahead and used the new ones that came with my new toilet.
Place the bolt screws into the flange. The flange is the part that goes over the septic pipe that the wax ring sits on. It has curved slots on both sides where the bolts can be slid into the proper position. They have a washer that allows you to make sure they are straight and tight. Lift the toilet over the hole and do a 'dry run in' on where the bolts should be placed exactly. *Don't drop the screws inside the hole whatever you do. That will add an extra level of excitement you don't want.
Follow the included instructions on how to place the wax ring on the bottom of the toilet. Then lift the toilet over the hole while lining it up with the screws. You have one shot, make it count. Go slowly and carefully while lowering the toilet over the hole. If you did this right, the screws should be through the holes at the base of the toilet. Press firmly and evenly to set the seal.
Check your instructions and locate the plastic nuts that go over the screws. Now you can screw the plastic nuts onto the base. They should be hand-tightened. Don't use excessive force, you don't want to damage the porcelain. Once that's complete, you can place the caps that go over the plastic nuts.
Next, we attached the seat to the toilet (per included instructions) so that we could sit on it to apply some needed weight to further set the wax ring.
Attach the gasket to the bottom of the tank and place it over the base of the toilet. Thread and secure the bolts that are on the bottom of each side of the tank. These should also be hand-tightened. My toilet included a plastic tool for use in tightening the parts.
Re-attach the hose that goes to the shut-off valve to the tank.
Say a prayer, cross your fingers, and hold your breath as you can now turn the water back on to fill the tank.
Inspect for any leakage using your fingers, and feel the bolts under the tank for any dampness. Flush the toilet and feel and look around the base for any leakage. Hopefully, all is good.
That first flush was a little weird, it sounded a little dry. We weren't exactly sure why but thought maybe a second flush might do better, it did. Yay! High fives all around! I can only guess it was because, before the first flush, there wasn't any water in the toilet bowl, only the tank. So, don't fret if it doesn't sound quite right the first go. The main thing is making sure nothing is leaking.
In regards to the floor; is it the best job in the world? No. Is there still work to be done? Yes. But...it's definitely an improvement. That's for dang sure. As for the rest, I'll get there. Like the Reebok shoe commercial philosophy goes; Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Once the mold was cleaned up, I began to feel better almost immediately. I had some congestion in my lungs that started breaking up. My wheezing improved to a bare minimum. No more confusion, anxiety, and no more general bad feeling. I don't feel fatigued or lethargic. My headaches are gone, and I can feel my energy level returning. Most of all, I can take a deep breath. It's been years since I could take a deep breath. That's something taken for granted until you can't do it.
I'm forever grateful to have my cousin's help with this adventure. I don't have words for it but I know she lengthened my days and that is no exaggeration. I made good on that meatloaf dinner and I'll help with the painting when she's ready. On top of that; both of us learned a lot from this experience. Neither of us has installed a toilet before and we are proud of ourselves for accomplishing it. It was something we weren't overly confident we could handle and now we know it's in our wheelhouse.
Oh, and as for the basement smell, my cousin sprayed some vinegar all around, just in case. I also set off an odor bomb. This is not something I would do when the furnace is in use for sure. We don't want any explosions. It should be cleared out nicely by fall time. So far, the basement smells better than it ever has.
This has been a lengthy post. So, if you are still with me, thank you. It's my hope that in sharing my experiences, others can learn something you didn't know and accomplish things you didn't know you could. I appreciate my new members on this website too! Thank you all! This website was created as a way to encourage me to stay motivated, to see how far I've come from yesterday, and to realize that I can do things. If my experience can be useful to others, well, that just makes me happy.
Take care, God bless, and thanks for reading!