Bathroom Closet Conversion

Bathroom, Blog, Home, Woodworking / Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

The house we bought nearly a year ago had three bedrooms and two baths. In one of those two baths, there were two showers. A third shower was in the second bathroom in the basement. Ellie and I thought we don't need that many showers so we hatched a plan to get rid of one.

Bathroom shower before

In the bathroom on the main floor, there is a tub shower and there is a standing stall shower. The tub shower looks to be fairly new and clean and we use it every day. The stall shower is, well, disgusting. We are pretty sure it was original to the house. One time, we went to an estate sale around the corner from us and we looked in their bathroom. They had the same setup as we do, only they didn't have the tub/shower combo. It was only a tub, and if memory serves it was a pinkish color. Anyway, it makes sense in that set up to have the two separate from each other. It also makes sense that when there are two shower options in a bathroom, you use the nicer one.

The fiberglass walls in our shower stall were cracked and there was a hole in them. The ceiling was low and the floor was dirty and grimy. I can only imagine the kind of work it would take to get everything in working order. The showerhead was missing, well, not missing because we found it in the bathroom drawer so it was just not attached. In the summer, we had to deal with drain flies coming up from the unused drain in the shower.

It needed to go.

But what would take its place? Clearly, we thought, a closet. So that's what I set out to do. I planned to tear out the old shower, cap off the pipes, and then build up the walls, ceiling, and floor of the space to accept shelves. Everything would then be tucked nicely away behind a door. The process wasn't that easy in the end, but we're still happy with how it came out.

Car loaded wood
I think I didn't measure the space in my car too well.

I took a week off work recently and spent the time working on the bathroom shower renovation. Day one was shopping and demo day. Usually, I'm scared to put any hole in the house and to tear things away because I'm the one that has to fix any mistakes. This time, I was excited. I dove right into it and in an afternoon I had the old fiberglass shower surround and the ceiling removed. But underneath the fiberglass, I didn't expect to find metal.

I guess the builders put a sheet metal surround outside of the fiberglass surround. I would guess most of the houses in our neighborhood have this because they all were built in the fifties and sixties and have one of three layouts. I didn't ask around, I looked at it and decided it was going to stay where it was. I didn't have the tools or the know how to remove a big sheet of metal. My drill wouldn't even put a dent in the metal surround.

The same goes for whatever was used to create the floor in the shower stall. It's a solid material. It might be concrete or ceramic or some solid plastic. Whatever it was, I couldn't get my drill to do much damage and decided I would just build on top of it. Two roadblocks, but nothing I couldn't deal with.

The ceiling of the shower came out easier than I expected. It was tiled, with a light built into it. I thought it would be rather messy to remove all of the tile, which I needed to do so I could screw a new piece of OSB to the ceiling. But I chipped one tile off and realized it was cheap plastic and then I looked closer at the ceiling and found it was all one pre-fab piece. I discovered I could push the ceiling away and pull it out. So that's what I did. Once that was done, I disconnected the light fixture and tied off the wires with wire nuts and electrical tape. And that was it, everything that needed to be out of the shower was out of the shower.

I think I spent a day running around town trying to find a good way to tie off the water line for the shower. I didn't want to accidentally have the water turn on or leak behind the walls. Ultimately, I want to tie off the pipes in the basement and remove them, but I'll need my dad's help for that. The plumbing store in town advised against trying to plug the knobs and the faucet for the shower. He said it would be best to leave everything as it was because there's a good chance I'd start mixing the hot and cold water in our house if I removed the knobs and plugged them up. I wasn't comfortable leaving the water with an easy route to flood the closet, so I got a marine plug to at the very least plug up the shower head.

The next goal was to build up some walls, so I could paint and attach shelves to them. Before I could do that, I needed some solid footing for the walls, floor, and ceiling. For the ceiling, I firmly attached a couple 2x4s that were loosely holding the old light fixture in place. Before sealing it off, I decided to put a time capusule in the space above the shower. I screwed a jar lid to one of the 2x4s, wrote a nice letter to the future, and sealed it in a jar. After that, I screwed in a piece of OSB, cut to size.

Bathroom shower drain plug
Drain hole, plugged

On the floor of the shower, I removed the drain cover and plugged the hole with a marine drain plug. I didn't want any more drain flies coming up, nor did I want to deal with any sewer gases being released into the closet. I'll try to properly disconnect the drain pipe later when I can have my dad show me how to cut it and cap it. Also on the floor, I used construction adhesive to attach some 2x4s. To this, I planned to screw on a sheet of OSB.

The walls were a bit more difficult than I originally imagined they would be because I ended up leaving that metal surround in the walls. I wanted to try to screw some furring strips to the metal surround but my drill couldn't put any holes in it so instead I tried to glue them in place with construction adhesive. The idea is that I could secure the plywood walls to the furring strips. However, I couldn't get them to hang in the right place with the adhesive and I didn't have a good way to press them to the walls of the metal surround to support them. They kept sliding down and falling at angles. It wasn't going to work. A trip to the hardware store helped me find what I needed, corner braces. I got enough to secure to the furring strips to the ceiling and to the 2x4s on the floor. They worked much better but resulted in the furring strips having a bit of play.

After the furring strips were in place, I started to cut the walls to size. I had bought 3/8" plywood for the project. Due to the size of the walls, I needed to get 4'x8' sheets of it and cut one wall out of each sheet. I didn't have a great system for cutting this either so what I ended up doing was marking my cuts, propping the sheets on two patio chairs, and making the cuts while the board was suspended in air. While it was below 0° outside. I've since learned it would have been better to throw some 2x4s beneath the sheet to hold it up for the length of the cut.

When I screwed the sheets of plywood to the furring strips, I quickly found that the walls of my makeshift bathroom closet were not as square as I assumed they would be, but since the gaps I found would be in the back, I didn't worry about them too much. I installed a sheet of OSB on the floor once all the walls were in place. This hid the corner braces on the floor.

The gaps did end up bothering me once I was done. I decided some quarter-round would be a nice way to hide the spaces. It did help, a bit, but I still know and can see where those spaces are.

Once all the walls, the floor, the ceiling, and quarter-round was in place I cut lengths of 2x3s to be used as supports for the shelves. I hung one length, about a foot long, on each of the three walls. Each shelf was spaced 13" from the one above it. On the bottom, we left space for taller items. These supports were screwed to the walls.

Then it was time for a coat of primer followed by a coat of paint. 

The shelves were cut from 1/2" plywood because it seemed thick enough to support the usual bathroom closet items. These were cut to size, slightly smaller than they needed to be so they could easily be installed and removed. After being cut, a coat of primer and paint was applied before they were installed.

And then poof, we suddenly had more storage in our bathroom.

I also made doors to cover the closet, but those were such a long process and learning experience, I've decided to dedicate a whole blog post to how I made them.