Saturday Diary / Mission creep has taken over my home

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In home renovation, as in U.S. foreign policy, there is the inevitable sense of mission creep.

At my house, the creeping mission was the renovation of my second-floor bathroom, which has invaded much of my house, except, unfortunately, the second-floor bathroom.

In order to renovate the bathroom, the plan for which was to take out a closet wall to add space, we had to do a quick spruce-up of the bathroom in the attic, which was disgusting. That would give us a bathroom to use while renovating the bathroom on the second floor, which is a disaster.

The work on the attic bathroom started in late November.

My friend Andy, who is a handyman/contractor, began patching the walls. We decided the tub should be moved. It was an old claw foot and in great condition, so why should it be hidden in the attic when it could be the centerpiece of the newly renovated bathroom on the second floor?

The tub was disconnected and set aside for the second-floor bathroom renovation.

The third-floor bathroom renovation was much more complex than either Andy or I expected. It turns out you cannot just drop a shower stall onto the drain where the bathtub had been.

You can't even carry a shower stall up my stairs. None of them will fit through the turn as the stairs go from the first to the second floor. This meant the shower had to be built in place, the drain moved and the shower pan specially constructed because the space was an odd size and in a 99-year-old home no corner is ever square.

In mid-life, nothing is ever square, either.

When this renovation started, the house was accommodating me and my two children, who go back and forth between their other mother and me.

Three months into the renovation the census of the house increased from three to five when my partner, Jan, who had been living in Kansas City, found a job in Pittsburgh and moved in with her 13-year-old son, who needed a place to sleep.

And so the mission crept.

The walls of the attic were a crumbling mess of press board. The floor was peeling linoleum, there was no heat except for a radiator in the bathroom and the plaster that was still there in the ceilings was collapsing.

A side room was pressed into service to store what was not thrown out from the junk pile that was the rest of the attic.

Andy took the rest of the place down to the studs and insulated. But, since we were already down to the studs and the walls were open, and since the house didn't have air conditioning, it just made sense to put it in.

The mission crept farther.

A huge chiller was put into the room in the attic where all of the rest of my stuff had been moved and duct work was run through the rafters and down through the floor of the attic into closets on the second floor and down into the first floor.

That, of course, meant building bump-outs to protect the ducts that were running from the rafters and into the floor and rebuilding a closet in my daughter's room on the second floor that had become a conduit for air conditioning.

And we needed walls to break the attic into two bedrooms, one for each of our boys: more creeping.

Air conditioning, and new walls, provided a chance to add outlets. New rooms meant new light fixtures and, to comply with building codes, new smoke detectors.

The electrician didn't like the way the wiring was done in the basement for the washer and dryer or the light fixtures that were hooked up with extension cords. We needed outlets in the kitchen and dining room. And an outlet outside. It was the electrician's turn to add to the creep.

Then it all had to be covered with blue board and plastered. And the bathroom, which had already been fixed up and painted early in the process, had its walls replastered in the same style to match those in the new bedrooms and hall.

It all had to be painted.

I took out a home-equity loan: Mission creep costs money.

The attic had heat only in the bathroom, so pipes had to be run from that one existing radiator for radiators in the bedrooms. The boiler needs some work, so the plumber is going to fix that, too, when he installs the radiators.

The attic space needed a new floor, both in the bathroom and in the bedrooms and hall.

The walls in each of those rooms have severe slopes from the angle of the roof so standard furniture doesn't fit, plus we can't get it up the stairs. We called on a cabinet maker for built-in bookshelves, cabinets and drawers to serve as storage under the eaves.

In early August, more than six months after my 13-year-old stepson arrived, we moved a bed into the attic and got him off the living room couch.

This past week the bathroom sink was hooked up so the bathroom works.

The space is finally usable, and we just have two more weeks to go until it is finished. Of course, we have had two more weeks to go for the last three months.

The second-floor bathroom, however, remains untouched.


Ann Belser is a staff writer for the Post-Gazette (, 412-263-1699).


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