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An Engineer in the Woods, Installment 9: The Water Runs Through It

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Kristen and I knew how we wanted to remodel and we knew who the people were that we wanted to do the carpentry, plumbing, electrical and painting.  But we had one requirement that controlled everything.  We wanted the entire Hamilton family to come together for Christmas 2015, all 29 of the immediate family, as we always had.  Consequently, we needed to move and cram everything from our slightly larger home into a newly remodeled house before Thanksgiving, and close on our old house in early December. That meant we had to move quickly.  I drafted dimensioned concept plans for all three bathroom remodels, Kristen put together kitchen designs, and in the middle of April, Kristen and I spent a weekend in Kohler, Wisconsin.

As an early anniversary present to ourselves we splurged on a suite at the American Club in Kohler.  We even indulged in manicures. My manicurist looked at my dingy fingernails and asked what kind of work I do, “Engineer” was my reply.

“I thought engineers worked at desks?”

“I do most of the time, but I’m also a sewage treatment plant operator.”

“Then what’s under your fingernails?”

“Probably sludge.”

She excused herself to vomit, and we didn’t speak again during the rest of the procedure.  My sense of humor is not always appreciated…

The bathroom in the Eleanor Roosevelt Suite was INCREDIBLE, and led Kristen and me to the following observations:

  • The bowl-shaped, top-mounted sinks were beautiful, but splashed easily.
  • The whirlpool tub, with multi-speaker music and underwater sound massage was great, and relaxing – but not really so great that we would use one regularly enough to justify the expense or the floor space.  Same thing with the television--does anyone spend so much time in the bathroom that they need a TV??  Just one more place to lose the remote…
  • The shower with directional wall and ceiling jets resulted in the best shower either of us had ever experienced.  Although we couldn’t have ceiling jets with our exposed beams and sloped ceiling, we could certainly make wall jets work (if we could afford them).

We spent the entirety of Saturday morning with a Kohler design consultant, Ericka, who had reviewed our plans before our meeting.  We discussed EACH item of plumbing in great detail, and experimented with working examples.  Things we learned:

  • People don’t use bathtubs any more.  However, in case we have grandkids someday, or if we need a long warm soak after a crappy day at the office, we would put a LARGE bathtub into the upstairs hallway bath.  No jets, speakers, televisions, or underwater sound massage – but a big tub.  The other bathrooms would be shower only.
  • When you have hard and/or corrosive water (we do), chrome is the most durable plumbing finish.
  • If you’re planning for a handicap accessible bathroom (we were, I really need to write the whole story why) put a hand sprayer in your shower.
  • We wanted a GIANT open shower with no door for accessibility.  A shower without a door is drafty.  We would include a 3-foot door that would be wide enough for a walker or wheelchair.
  • Stay away from “trendy.”  Trendy today is passé tomorrow.  Unless you’re going to move in a few years, avoid trends (stay with white sinks and toilets, no farmhouse sink).

A few days after we returned home we received an email from Ericka with detailed plumbing plans and a shopping list that included item numbers and MSRPs– total cost for her work = $0.  I took the list to Carl Ziesmer our friend and plumber, and he got some heart-stopping quotes from suppliers that he works with that exceeded MSRP.  Although, as always, the labor estimate for his extensive work was quite reasonable.  I then started Googling and found an online store with free delivery, no sales tax and costs of two-thirds to one-half of Ericka’s estimate.  Although it rankled me to go online for a large purchase, this was a several thousand-dollar cost savings.  We could afford the giant shower with wall jets – and a door!  Here are some pics from the completed Master Bath.




We only made one mistake.  Whenever Kristen or I visit someone else’s bathroom there is often a loud crash right before we exit.  We have become accustomed to our “soft-close” toilet seats, which are very fancy – so fancy, in-fact, that we’ve never seen another one.  A Kohler “soft-close” seat slowly closes itself after a slight nudge.  The same “nudge” applied to every other toilet seat known to man causes it to come crashing down onto the porcelain thus producing a deafening rim-shot followed by a series of echoes as the seat bounces.  More than once we have exited a bathroom to find a room-full of concerned onlookers pressed against the door.  The first time it happened to me was at a nephew’s very well-attended high school graduation party.  As I pushed the bathroom door open against the awaiting crowd of worried relatives, friends, and strangers of all ages, I was confronted with, “What was that noise?!”  Confused and embarrassed, I simply mumbled, “too much bean salad I guess,” and scurried away to hide...

Keep Calm and Carry On!