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August 26, 2007
For want of a bathtub…

We prepare to move our brand-new 60” bathtub up to the second floor

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a nail.

This Mother Goose nursery rhyme speaks to a chain of dependencies that can arise from the strangest of things. We had a similar chain of dependencies that dictated our work schedule for the weekend of August 24. We left an entire hour earlier than our last trip up – 1:30 pm on Friday afternoon – and still got stuck in the East Bay traffic.

Our chain of dependencies went something like this. We couldn’t install the joists over the upstairs bathroom until we had the new rim joist in place. We couldn’t install the new rim joist until we had the bathroom door frame in place. And we couldn’t install the bathroom door frame until we actually moved the bathtub into the bathroom.

The reason is that the bathroom is exactly 60” wide. During a previous visit to the local Lowe’s Home Improvement store, we discovered that the bathtub we needed was also exactly 60” wide. During one of his “thought experiments,” Russell realized that the only way to get the bathtub into the room would be to move it there before the room was completely constructed.

(Gail thought there should be a way to move the bathtub into the finished room by turning it or placing it on end to get it through the doorway. Using a tissue box, a cereal box and a book, Russell demonstrated that this is physically impossible.)

A tissue box, cereal box and box help explain why you can't turn a 60” bathtub in a 60” bathroom

So, during our previous week’s visit, we had purposely driven the van up so that we could stop at Lowe’s and buy a bathtub. It would be months before we would actually hook the bathtub up, but we needed to park it in the bathroom before we installed the final wall.

The dependencies continued. Before we could put the bathtub in the bathroom (from which we could never remove it), we had to install a second sub-floor of OSB underneath. In addition, Russell decided that we should finish all construction above the bathroom ceiling, so that we would not accidentally drop something and break the bathtub.

This would mean installing the “A-frame” section of upper wall that would reach all the way from the drop ceiling up to the vaulted ceiling. Unfortunately, we had not yet quite figured out exactly how we were going to construct these upper walls. We decided to make it up as we went along.

There were several logistical challenges. The upper half of the wall would have to be exactly in line with the lower half, so that when we installed drywall the whole thing would look like a single wall. The vaulted ceiling was interrupted by the ceiling beams and knee braces. Our longest level was only 4’ long, while the distance to the ceiling at the center of the house was easily 7’ above the drop ceilings.

As a last dependency, we would have to repair the insulation in the vaulted ceiling before we could nail anything to it. During the past two years of being exposed to the elements, the ceiling had lost several insulation panels and the plastic sheeting due to wind and rain.

Gail took the thankless job of trying to find the missing pieces of insulation (buried in a pile somewhere downstairs) and stapling new plastic sheeting over them.

Gail once again challenges her fear of heights and edges by installing insulation and plastic sheeting. She spent most of Saturday morning working on her back, which reminded her of Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Meanwhile, Russell spent Saturday morning making various measurements using a plumb line. With a piece of paper and a level, he determined that the angle of the vaulted ceiling was about 20º. (Of course, if he’d been really smart, he would have remembered to bring a protractor). With his handy pad of paper, he created an elaborate and methodical schematic with a bottom plate, two top plates, and exactly-measured studs every 16”. His plan was to pre-construct the whole thing and then move it into place like a puzzle piece.

Russell once again demonstrates his meticulousness with an elaborate mechanism for constructing the A-frame-shaped upper wall

It was when we began to construct the A-frame that Gail came up with the simpler solution. Why not just nail the bottom and top plates into place where they should go? (In fact, we should only need one top plate, not two.) Then, we simply slide the studs along the length until they can’t slide anymore, then toe nail them into place.

Russell figures that Gail’s solution cut the installation time by a good 50 percent.

Installing the upper half of the wall up to the vaulted ceiling

With the A-frame in place, we could now move the bathtub into the bathroom. We thus followed the chain of dependencies that enabled us to install the bathroom door frame, bathroom rim joist, and the rest of the joists above the bathroom. By Saturday evening, we were done.

The doorless bathroom with a plank of OSB sub-flooring
The bathtub fitted tightly in place
The bathroom doorframe finally installed

Having the bathtub in place – useless though it currently is – gives us a tempting taste of a future luxury we will have “some day.” Gail noticed that it’s deeper than our bathtub back at home in the Bay Area, and she is already getting ideas about replacing that one…

Gail practices for “some day”


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