Before: This unsafe, ugly and unfunctional bathroom had to go. After: A full bathroom remodel seemed to make the most sense practically, financially and functionally.

Before: This unsafe, ugly and unfunctional bathroom had to go. After: A full bathroom remodel seemed to make the most sense practically, financially and functionally.

To remodel or not to remodel, that was the question; whether it is wiser to risk injury to life and limb, or spend outrageous fortune in the quest for safety and convenience. When my bride and I moved in to our home 18 years ago, I was a highly functional and independent quad, capable of any transfer necessary to get to where I wished to go. Looking to keep disability as much in the background as possible, I chose to use the smallest bathroom in the house as “mine,” a 6.5 by 4 foot galley with a 30-by-30 inch shower tucked onto one end.

The room was accessed via a narrow hall so tight that the bathroom door needed to be rehung so it opened out into the hallway in order for me to wheel in. The toilet faces the shower, so I would simply do a standing pivot to negotiate my way from the throne to a bath bench in the shower, then drag my chariot over to the shower to transfer and dress. Then I would muscle the commode chair into the shower stall so the toilet would be accessible to all.

Eight surgeries and a minor stroke later, the transfers were not only becoming progressively more challenging, but also downright dangerous. Throughout my 60s, I found myself losing more and more strength and function. Some days the transfers required a slide board; other days I needed the slide board and help — help that wasn’t always around. Finally I broke down, got over myself and hired an attendant. However, the size of the room was simply too small for two people.

I considered various options: slings to get me from the throne to the shower and back; a commode chair on a track to do the same; a full remodel with a roll-in shower. In the end, a full bathroom remodel seemed to make the most sense practically, financially and functionally.

The Project

The bathroom abuts a small bedroom with a small closet on the bathroom wall, which would provide the space needed for a roll-in shower. I did my research, checked out numerous local contractors and sought bids from several. Bids came in between about $12,000 and $20,000, considerably more than what I had anticipated or wished to spend. Fortunately I had the funds, though I could think of countless other things I would rather blow money on. I decided to proceed with the $12,000 bid, only to find out a building permit required an asbestos check, which came back positive, requiring abatement, which would total another $6,000.

I decided to check out a handyman solution and forgo a permit. I found someone willing to do the work who gave me an estimate of $7,000.  Despite my trepidations, I hired him. My misgivings stemmed primarily from the experience of flooded hotel bathrooms due to poorly installed roll-in showers and the fear of the project dragging on for weeks on end. A quick Google search on roll-in showers found a trove of useful information. As luck would have it, the tile store I used also sold a roll-in shower pan favored by the accessibility pros who had given me bids. I passed on all this info to my handyman, Bob, who assured me he could have it done in two weeks, three at the most.

Bob began with gusto the following Monday morning, filling the house with loud banging and the sound of doors constantly opening and closing as he lugged debris out to the rented trash bin. Within days he had removed old walls and tile, reinstalled plumbing to a different wall, removed and replaced old, rotted-out flooring and installed cement board in preparation for tile. To my surprise and relief, Sydney, a large musclebound man, arrived to install the shower pan. Sydney told me he had worked for his father for years and had installed countless roll-in showers. I purchased a 3-by-4 foot pan for $750, the narrowest recommended width, to fit my compact space that installs directly over the floor joists, making it flush with the floor.

The work progressed from there, though markedly slower than the demo job. We made several practical and aesthetic changes along the way, including my decision to re-tile a narrow laundry room that abuts the shower area, adding both cost and time.

Meanwhile I’d been doing bowel programs in my bedroom, sponge baths in a small sink, and washing my hair in the kitchen sink, all of which got old quickly. Two weeks dragged on through a third, but eventually the bathroom became usable once again. It was time for a wet run.

bathroom remodelThe first thing I learned is that a 28-year-old chrome E&J shower/commode chair is really heavy and hard on my 70-year-old shoulders. When wheeled on the shower pan, the tires don’t always grip the slanting surface well. I quickly had Bob install a couple of grab bars so I could pull myself along as well as push. The second thing was that the shower pan drains very well, especially with the shower curtains fully drawn. The third thing was that after three weeks, a long hot shower on a crisp November morn felt really good!

Re-tiling the hallway, small closet and narrow laundry easily added $1,500 in labor and materials. I’ve also come to learn that shower kits, with watertight, white acrylic walls can also be purchased for as little as $450. The kits can easily be installed in a couple of hours, way less than tiling, resulting in substantial savings. In hindsight I probably could have done the bathroom alone for about $8,000 or $9,000, possibly less. However, maintaining domestic tranquility dictated using tile anyway. But learn from my oversights, check out acrylic kits and maybe save yourself both time and money.

Despite costing a bit more than I wished to spend, the remodel was worth the price, which left me wondering why I didn’t opt to do it sooner.  The room is now far easier to use, especially with a wider door and a power chair. It’s also far more attractive and way easier on the eyes.