A Brewing Fiasco

No, not the Wall Street bailout. Not the Big Three bailout. Not the anemic groups of holiday shoppers I saw in downtown SF today, spelling doom for stores that depend on Christmas to bail them out of their financial woes.

This is personal. But first, some background.

When I wrote about our kitchen remodel, I had envisioned a witty daily log of the hapless journey from gutting the kitchen to finished product–the incompetent contractors who disappeared for days, the wrong materials arriving, the dented appliances, the failed inspections. Alas, it was not to be. Our contractors were efficient, on time and detail-oriented–and nice guys, to boot. The cabinets, appliances, lights and everything else arrived on time and without any major hitches. Aside from one minor bureaucratic snafu toward the end (you can always depend on those!), the 12-week project went as smoothly as can be. Great for us, but terrible for a writer.

But wait! You might not be disappointed, after all. Pan camera to the master bathroom (dramatic music up).

For a while now (I’m embarrassed to say how long) we had noticed that the wainscotting behind the toilet next to our tub was getting soft. That is, it was starting to rot. We knew we had to get someone in here to take a look. But time got away from us. It’s amazing how easy it is to ignore something broken or ‘not right’ in your house. You let one thing go, then another. Before you know it, you have a disastrous house. I’m typically someone who wants to take care of problems immediately so they don’t fester. This is one that got away.

I didn’t worry too, too much about because I assumed I knew the cause of the rot. When we first moved in, the bathroom had a funky shower door–a Rube Goldberg-type contraption, called a Sterling Freestyle, made by Kohler. It was hinged at both ends of the tub and had four glass panels that could swing in or out or side to side. It was nice because it worked on our original old tub, which has a curved top rather than a flat edge common to modern tubs and that allow a track to be placed on them.

We learned a few years after we moved in that these shower doors were recalled. Apparently they had a habit of falling off their hinges, sometimes on unsuspecting bathers. I also noticed that it leaked like crazy, no matter how much caulking we put at the base. After the recall, we removed the door and went with a simpler and cheaper shower curtain. Kohler did send a shower door to replace it, which I gave to our friend who needed one.

So I figured the rot had come from years previous of water damage.

Since I was having our kitchen contractors return to replace the windows, I asked them to take a look at it. I figured we would need to replace some of the beadboard.

When our contractor went to investigate, he pressed on the wood and gouched a four-inch hole. OK…a little softer than I’d thought. But the alarming part was that the wood was wet. Four years after we replaced the door. Meaning, water is STILL getting back there.

tip of the iceberg?
tip of the iceberg?

Our contractors are Irish, which means they’re similar to being Portuguese—that is, doomsdayers. In many ways I appreciate this because it plays into my “worst case scenario” tendencies, and because it creates opportunity for pleasant surprises when things don’t turn out as badly as I’d expected.

So he tells me that I should be warned that once they start cutting the beadboard they don’t know how far they’ll need to go. The entire back wall could be rotten. The floor boards under the ceramic tile floor could be rotten. They may have to remove the toilet, the floor, the tub, the tile. In other words, we may be looking at a complete gutting of the bathroom.

Oh joy.

This after installing new windows throughout the upstairs, re-plastering the dining room and installing custom-made lights.

Oh joy.

I’m not sure if this is good news or bad news–but they can’t really take a look at it until January. So until then we’ll have this hole in the bathroom wall. A hole to remind me that water is the homeowner’s enemy. A hole that grinds at my guilt for not addressing this sooner. A hole with a big dollar sign on it.

In the spirit of making lemonade, however, I did mention to my kitchen designer (with whom I continue a regular correspondence) that we may have an opportunity to upgrade the bathroom in early 2009. Hurray.

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