by George Taniwaki

I’ve just finished the first room in our complete home remodel project. OK, it’s not a real room, it’s a 3-foot by 7-foot laundry room. And I haven’t really finished it yet. But it’s more finished than any other room in the house, so I’m satisfied with my progress.

The house already had a laundry room, but we demolished it and the wall between it and a guest bedroom. The combined rooms will become the new master suite bath. (Yes it will be a large bathroom.)

Meanwhile, we demolished the old master bathroom. Most of it will be converted into a walk-in closet. (Yes, that’s a large walk-in closet. And we’re combining the two reach-in closets in the master bedroom and the guest bedroom to make another walk-in closet. So we will have a pair of walk-in closets, a hers and hers set.)

The end of the old master bathroom, where the bathtub was, will be walled off and converted into the laundry room.

The before and after floor plans are shown below.

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Figure 1a. Original floor plan with old laundry room and master bathroom highlighted. Image by original architect

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Figure 1b. Remodel floor plan with new smaller laundry room and larger master bathroom highlighted. Image by Soderstrom Architects

Demolition

The first step in creating the laundry room was removing the old bathtub. It is cast iron and really heavy. It took four guys to move it down the stairs into the new dining room until I make room for it in the basement (where we will be adding a full bathroom).

At this point, we discovered a problem. The gasket between the shower faucet handle and the tub surround wasn’t sealed properly and one or two drops of water would land on the subfloor every day. In Seattle that means the subfloor would stay wet and was rotted. Also, when the plumber originally installed the drain for the tub, he cut through the joist. Now the floor was sagging. So we had to rip out the ceiling on the first floor underneath the tub, sister the existing joist with a new 2×10” and replace a section of the subfloor.

Framing

You will notice that the new laundry room has a bi-fold door where a wall in the old bathroom was. This is a load bearing wall, so it needed to be replaced with a beam and two columns. Normally, when you do this, you install temporary “crib” walls on both sides of the load bearing wall before removing it. But I cheated. Instead, I used the existing hallway wall as one support and built the new wall for the back of the laundry room and used that as the other temporary support. Then I removed the load bearing wall and installed two 4×4’” columns and a 2.75”x9.75”x7’ glulam beam. (Actually, I hired a framing contractor to do this since it’s too heavy to lift alone.)

Rough-in

The next step was to complete the plumbing, mechanical, and electrical work. The new plumbing includes a hot and cold water outlet box with single handle shut-off valve and  a pair of anti-hammer arresters, washer drain line and trap, and a floor drain and trap with drip valve (to prevent the floor trap from drying out and creating a stink). The mechanical work includes a 1/2” gas line, an in-wall dryer exhaust that vents through the roof, and a room exhaust fan that vents through the roof. This last item was not my choice, it’s required by building code. Electrical work includes two GFCI circuits (one each for washer and dryer), two IC recessed lights, the exhaust fan, and a wall switch.

Walls

Once all rough-in inspections were passed, I filled the wall with R-13 glass fiber insulation for sound control and covered it with 5/8” green wall board held with ceramic coated screws. I followed that with tape, mud, three coats of plaster, primer, and paint.

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Figure 2. Laundry room getting a coat of primer

Floor

The laundry room has a tile floor. First, I cut a piece of 4×4” pressure-treated lumber to build a curb. I originally wanted to put the curb entirely inside the laundry room so that it would not be visible from the hall. But that would not leave enough room for the dryer and its duct. So I cut notches in the lumber and fit it around the opening. (Note to self, next time make the laundry room at least 35” deep.)

Because the washer and dryer will vibrate a lot, I wanted to add a water-proof isolation membrane between the underlayment and the tile. I used Schluter Ditra and Kerdi-Band. Since the laundry room will rarely (hopefully, never) have running water on the floor, I decided not to slope the floor toward the drain. This also allows me to use larger tile on the floor.

Here’s where I learned (the hard way) that there are several different kinds of mortar. Mortar used to lay bricks tends to have coarse sand in it. Mortar for tile has fine sand. Mortar for tile also contains a small amount of acrylic latex to make it smoother. This is called thin-set mortar. If you add even more acrylic latex (rather than water) when mixing the mortar, it then is called modified thin-set mortar.

You use modified thin-set mortar to apply the membrane to the floor. You use unmodified thin-set mortar to apply the tile to the membrane. (Don’t confuse brick mortar with unmodified thin-set mortar.) You need to use unmodified thin-set mortar because latex-modified mortar requires air to cure and since the membrane and tile are both nonporous, there won’t be enough air contact for the mortar to cure properly.

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Figure 3. Laundry room with waterproof membrane

After waiting an hour for the membrane mortar to set, it’s time to lay the tiles. In the picture below, notice the arrangement of tiles around the floor drain. Normally, you want to the tiles to intersect over the hole so that you can use a tile saw to cut a series of notches and nibble away to the edge of the hole. However, that wasn’t possible in the small laundry room. The hole had to be in the center of the tile.

Cutting a large hole in a floor tile is difficult. It requires enormous patience and arm strength if you cut it by hand using a rod saw. I gave up and took the tile to Tile For Less and they cut it for me for $35 using a heavy-duty handheld angle saw. This is another reason (besides fitting the slope) for using small tiles in a shower stall. All of the other tiles in the laundry room have straight cuts or bevel cuts and I was able to make them using my inexpensive ($39 on sale from Harbor Freight Tools) 4”wet tile saw.

When installing tile, always use the little cross-shaped rubber tile spacers. You’ll never get the tiles aligned nicely by eye. Also use the right sized notched trowel when applying the mortar, bigger notches for bigger tiles. And back butter large tiles (like the 12×12 tiles in this project) to ensure good adhesion. Finally, use a dead blow hammer to tap the edges of the tiles to get them all to the same height.

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Figure 4. Laundry room with tile. Notice the tile spacers, notched trowel, and dead blow hammer

After waiting 20 minutes, I washed the tiles with a sponge to get the stray mortar off. Then I waited a day and applied grout. The local Home Depot carries two kinds of grout, sanded (for use with tiles spaced 1/4” or wider) and unsanded (softer but can fill smaller gaps, used for tiles set under 1/4” apart). All of the grout is pigmented. There are 30 different colors, all with cryptic names like sandstone, fawn, and bone. I didn’t have a tile with me, so I called my wife and asked her to pick up a spare tile from the laundry room and open a web browser compare it to the color swatches on the Home Depot website.

Being an expert on color theory, Windows GDI, LCD display technology, and color management didn’t give me any confidence that this would work. But the alternative would be to compare a tile to the colors printed on the bags of grout. Neither seemed ideal. She picked haystack, a grout color that seemed darker than the darkest color in the tile and I bought a bag of the sanded grout. I mixed it up and used a plastic mud knife and a hard foam pad to apply it.

If you are doing this, wait twenty minutes, then wash off the excess using a scrubbing sponge. Afterwards, a thin haze will appear. Don’t worry. Wait two hours until it hardens, then use a polishing sponge to wipe it off. Wait three days, then seal the tile and grout with a liquid sealant. Touch up the wall paint and you are done.

It turns out the grout color is lighter than we expected. However, it is exactly the same color as the body of the tiles. This made it blend in around the walls and the curb which is actually even better than planned.

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Figure 5a, 5b, 5c. Laundry room with wet grout (top), with a coat of haze after washing excess grout (middle), and the finished floor after polishing, sealing, and touch-up painting of walls (bottom)

Finish

The final step is installing shelving, a clothes rod, and connecting the appliances. The shelf brackets are designed for wire shelves. I snipped off the little hooks that hold the wire shelves so that I could use solid shelves. The shelves are made from 3/4” MDF with white melamine laminate. I cut notches in each shelf to fit around the vertical posts. The clothes rod is hollow and sounded cheap when a hanger would click against it. So I filled the rod with polyurethane spray foam insulation to deaden the sound.

When connecting the dryer vent to the exhaust, use plenty of metal foil tape (not duct tape) to seal the connections. This will keep lint out of the laundry room and reduce the amount of carbon monoxide (assuming you have a gas dryer) released into the house.

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Figure 6. Mostly finished laundry room

In total, this project took me over 100 hours to complete (everything described above except heavy framing and plumbing) and probably cost over $3,000 in labor (split between the framing team and plumber) and $1,000 in materials. And it still isn’t done. I still need to add tile and grout to the exterior of the curb and I need to build and install custom bi-fold doors. Neither project can be done until I install the floor in the hall. And that project is in the distant future.

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All photos by George Taniwaki unless otherwise noted

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