The Problem Was Elemental

Michael Jai Grant
6 min readAug 23

The bathroom needed work.

We bought the house for about $100K less than it was probably worth, knowing it needed about $100K in renovations—and also knowing we didn’t have the $100K to do the work, but over time we might scrape something together. Maybe.

Some of it was necessary: we had to replace the old roof, old furnace, some appliances, the AC systems, well-pump, water heater, some leaky pipes, a squeaky garage door, fourteen windows and crusty siding. The rest of it was cosmetic: ugly orange kitchen tiles that reminded me of the fabric on Braniff Airlines circa 1972 (Google it), thick wood paneling suited perfectly for 1980s basement porn, mustard walls, aqua bath fixtures, and a pink marble bathroom that even Scarface would find tacky.

With 130% of my income going to house repairs for nearly six years, we finally finished most of the big stuff and decided to replenish the coffers and take some time to plan out the next phase of remodeling.

Then I stepped into the shower.

Somehow that single step set a series of events into motion, like a perverse Rube-Goldberg machine. My 1929 house with it’s 1980 bathroom had a 2023 problem: the shower floor crunched beneath my naked foot and squinched something underneath that caused a decade of trapped, backflowing drain water to pour into the hallway below through the recessed light.

“Okay, we’ll just redo the shower,” we said, until we arrived at the tile store and realized there is nothing on the market that compliments the beat-up penny-tile smothering the rest of the floor. “Okay, we’ll just redo all the tile,” we said, until the need for new faucets and drains and glass revealed themselves during the demo. “Okay, we’re redoing the whole bathroom,” we relented.

The remodel wasn’t complicated and our guy is The Best. Yes, they made that stupid mistake that sent me back to the tile store, the dog got loose and decided to dance on the wet cement of the new shower floor, and someone measured the shower door incorrectly after cutting the side rails, but these things happen. Ultimately, a creative solution that involved cutting a 3" trench above the ceiling into the attic (while we waited for a new rail to arrive) worked to our advantage: the shower doors go above the ceiling height and…