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Ask the Architect

Who should redo our bathroom?

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Q. We have to do something about our main bathroom. The toilet runs, the faucets are worn and have a kind of crusty finish, and the shower has mold we can’t get off the tiles in the corners — it’s disgusting. We’re trying to decide, do we hire an interior designer, get a plumber, be our own contractor or get a company that does it all? There are big differences in the cost, and we want something nice and relatively maintenance-free, and we want it to last. What do you think is best?

A. You have to be vigilant when duty calls. It can be quite a workout to catch up with a running toilet. Anything carefully studied and planned out can end well. Before you decide what you want to do, look at the conditions and try to figure out why there was the kind of failure you described. Crusty faucets may be the result of mineral deposits in the water, not flushing the hot water tank often enough, cheap finishes or the wrong kind of cleaning solutions.

    Once, a client assured me that the maintenance would be by her cleaning people, so she wasn’t worried. I went back to look at the scratched surfaces from the wrong cleansers and brushes while she vented about them. Learn from this that satisfaction is a long-term result from making the best choices. I often see failure of finishes where abrasives or strong detergents should never be applied.

    Moldy corners or hard-to-reach places are only part of the problem. Tile grout that absorbs will hold moisture like a dirty sponge, and should not have been used. Removing the grout completely and replacing with a silicon (waterproof) grout can solve the problem. I have seen total bathroom renovation using presized wall panels, shower surrounds and molded tub refitting that came out beautifully and had very few joints in materials, meaning there was very little to no chance of mold forming.

    The number of choices of wall and shower finishes has expanded so much that you can now choose very realistic tile and stone look-alikes that last for years and are photo-realistic without grout joints that need cleaning. Gutting of space, custom selection of fixtures and installed tiles are more costly to plan, and you need to have an eye for not just how amazing the finishes will look, but how the materials will last and be maintained. This may require a design professional to draw and itemize the selection of materials.

    Either way, you should always have a licensed plumber identify corroded, damaged or improperly installed rough piping. A contractor is advised for full gutting, especially if you have doubts about demolition and wall reconstruction. It’s a bigger job than you might think. If it is to be done correctly and legally, most municipalities require plans and permits for construction and plumbing, leading to inspections meant to protect your investment, something people often try to avoid for cost reasons, but it is advised. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question”  in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper,  architect.