Creating a Barrier-Free Bathroom, Part 2



This post continues the story that I began in my previous post.

We called our plumber friend and described the bathroom renovation we hoped he could help us with. We told him we knew it would involve multiple trades and asked whether he knew a good tiler. “My brother has a tiling business,” he replied.

A few days later the two of them came to look over the project. It would require reinforcing the floor joists to support the added weight of the tiles, but they could handle that with a couple of helpers. They wouldn’t need to change any of the existing electrical wiring. And so they felt they could do the project together, without any need for a general contractor. We asked them to give us an estimate.

One morning a week later they sent us the estimate: approximately $9,000. We couldn’t put a price on safety, so we gave them the go-ahead. We did already have about half that amount, left over from the two generous gifts we’d received right at the beginning and end of the floor renovation.  That project had evidenced the loving kindness and care of Priscilla’s Heavenly Father in so many ways that we felt assured He would help us with this next necessary renovation as well.

That same afternoon, we unexpectedly received two other gifts.  One was for $500 and the other for $1,000. Before the renovation could begin, we were given five further gifts that totaled over $1,000. So we were closing in on having what we needed.  None of these donors had known that we were just about to renovate the bathroom.

Priscilla played a very active role in planning the project. You might say she was an additional tradesperson, the interior designer. She went  online and picked out all the fixtures (mounted and hand-held shower heads, handles, etc.). The plumber ordered samples and brought them by for approval. They looked great.

Next we went to a home supply store to look for tiles. Priscilla found some beautiful 18”-square Italian porcelain tiles, at a discounted price, and we brought back a sample to show the tiler. He brought us some samples of his own to compare, wanting to give us the option of a tradeoff: perhaps something slightly plainer in appearance, in order to save some money. But when he discovered that he couldn’t beat the price of the Italian ones even by ordering wholesale, he said by all means let’s go with those.

Most “barrier-free” bathroom designs still include a low “curb” at the edge of the shower space, to keep the water from running out into the rest of the room. But the whole point of the renovation was to save Priscilla from having to step over anything, no matter how low, and eventually to allow a wheelchair to move in and out freely. So she had the idea of sloping the shower floor gently away from the rest of the room, towards a long drain by the wall, with no curb. The tiler thought this over and said, “We can do that.” They’d make the floor slope down one inch as it passed over a width of three feet, and that would be sufficient.

The night before the work began, Priscilla drew up a layout for the tiles. The tiler made some helpful improvements the next morning (displaying the wisdom of experience), but one thing he didn’t change was her idea to put a seam right in the center of the doorway. This provided an invaluable navigational aid for her, and for me, as we later steered manual and electric wheelchairs and a shower chair through that narrow opening.

The crew finished the work in just over a week, pulling out the old fiberglass shower-tub unit; reinforcing the floor; putting up sheet rock; and cutting and laying the floor and wall tiles. The tiler turned out to be quite an artist, arranging the wall tiles with an eye for the pattern in the porcelain so that the final effect was a design that “flowed” down the wall like water.

Now we had a barrier-free bathroom where Priscilla would be safe. It was also a beautiful and elegant space.  By her design, there was an easily accessed L-shaped bench at one end of the shower that she could use for as long as she was able to sit on her own.  After that, the bench would tilt up against the wall to make room for a shower chair.

A few weeks after the renovations were completed, we got a call from some longtime supporters who had a very specific question for us: “Do you need any more money to finish paying off your bathroom renovation, and if so, how much?” (They’d heard about the project.)  Since we’d “closed the books” by then, I knew the number to the penny: $2,128.06. These friends graciously sent us a gift for that amount.

The one thing Priscilla hadn’t been able to find anywhere was just the right soap tray. Eventually she designed one of her own that would extend out from both sides of the vertical bar that held the mount for the hand-held shower head. This would put the soap within easy reach right in the center of the shower space. She sent the design to the brother who was a woodworker and he fabricated it for her as a Christmas present, from a smoky-gray plastic that coordinated nicely with the silver-toned fixtures.

Oh yes, I need to tell you exactly when we met the plumber who turned out to be the key to this renovation. It was the same week in May 2012 when Priscilla tried to run, and couldn’t, and we knew that “something was definitely wrong,” and the same week when we were first introduced to Amy Carmichael.  God knew what kind of help we would need as Priscilla’s symptoms progressed, and He began putting the pieces in place right from the start.

The remodeled bathroom, with tilt bench, long floor drain, and hand-held shower head. And a little cubby hole for shampoos, a nice touch added by the tilers.
The remodeled bathroom, with tilt bench, long floor drain, and hand-held shower head. And a little cubbyhole for shampoos, a nice touch added by the tilers.

A postscript to the story:  On the day I wrote this post, the same plumber happened to be here again helping with another problem.  The hose that carried water out from our sump pump had sprung a leak, somewhere after it left the house.  This hose was buried underground and the simplest solution, since it was already old and worn, was to not to dig it up looking for the leak, but to send the water out by a different route through more reliable piping.  While the plumber was working on this project, he discovered that the old outflow piping inside the house was about to come apart.  This would have flooded the basement.  He discovered it just in time because of the leak in the hose outside the house.

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