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Shower door

Started: 2020-08-01 17:10:34

Submitted: 2020-08-01 19:04:14

Visibility: World-readable

With the tile installed in my shower, my next step was to install the shower door — and then I'd be able to use my shower again, after a month of demolition and construction.

This proved easier said than done. When I decided to build a partition wall to make it easier to install an alcove shower door, I ordered a shower door and had it shipped to Lowe's in North Seattle (on the theory that it was big and heavy and I didn't want to risk it getting dropped on its way to being delivered to my house). The 36" door advertised being adjustable to fit an opening between 34" and 36". The door arrived at Lowe's the following week, and I drove up to pick it up, and then managed to wedge the shower door into my Rav4, somewhat awkwardly shoved into the front seat at a diagonal. (I was kind of worried that this abuse would break the large glass shower door, but it survived the experience.) I didn't have anywhere else to put it so it stayed on the floor of my master bedroom for a week while I worked on the tile.

I picked up a couple of tile drill bits at Stoneway Hardware, marked off the spots where I needed to drill holes through the tile, and started drilling. This proved easier said than done because, I discovered, I had purchased tile drill bits rated for ceramic tile but the tile I actually used was tougher porcelain tile. (This probably explained why I had trouble cutting the tile to size as I was installing it.) I went back to Stoneway Hardware the next day and bought diamond hole saws, which were apparently the right tool for drilling into porcelain tile. (I bought two because I expected that I would need two different sizes for each side of the shower — on the hinge side I could anchor the door into the stud, so I needed a smaller size; on the opposite side, I needed to use a tile anchor so I needed a larger size.)

(Along the way it occurred to me that "diamond hole saw" sounded like it ought to be a professional wrestler's stage name.)

The hole saw worked as advertised: I sprayed the tile with water as I was cutting (as instructed by the package) and cut the holes I needed in the wall. I put the hinge side onto the wall — and then I discovered that the screws wouldn't actually reach the stud as I had intended (I think they got lost in the space between the stud holding up the wall, and the stud installed next to it for this purpose), so I removed the hinge and redid the holes with the larger size hole saw, installed anchors, and mounted the hinge onto the wall.

At the appropriate moment I got Kiesa's help to carry the heavy glass shower door into the shower and mount it, using the screws at the top and bottom to secure the clamps that mounted to the hinge.

Shower door half-installed
Shower door half-installed

Then I went to install the return panel on the opposite side of the shower and realized I had made a catastrophic mistake.

The shower pan was mounted between the studs and was exactly 36" wide at the base. Then I installed cement backer board (a half-inch on each side of the shower), finishing mortar, waterproofing membrane, more mortar for the tile, and tile. All of that shrunk the shower opening to exactly 34" — at the base of the shower. But the partition wall wasn't plumb; it slanted in, gently, overhanging a half-inch at the top of the shower door. This meant the opening at the top of the door was 33.5" — too small for the shower I'd ordered and waited for and had partially installed.

By this point it was 22:30 on a Tuesday night, so I'd reached a credible stopping point for my project anyway. But the magnitude of my colossal fuck-up stressed me out to the point where I couldn't actually sleep. I stayed awake most of the night worrying about the shower door and what I was going to do about it and would I have to buy a new shower door and I didn't like any of the shower doors available off-the-shelf at my local big-box home stores and I guess I could order a new one (the same style, only the next smaller size) and the good news was that it was actually intended to handle out-of-plumb walls but could I really find one that was the right size and then I'd have to wait another two weeks (and I guess I did have two weeks but that would eat up all of my remaining time at my job at Google in Seattle before leaving to start at Apple in Cupertino and what if something else went wrong) and what would I do with the one I had.

Somehow I avoided triggering a panic attack, which was a small benefit; that would have made the whole thing that much worse.

I ignored the shower door for several days and focused instead on finishing the salvage tile, then texturing and painting the walls. I spent a couple of hours on Thursday (which Google gave me as a holiday, ahead of the Fourth of July, for no obvious reason) replacing the rusted tank bolts in the toilet on the ground floor (they had rusted through, and were leaking onto the floor below), which required me to take the entire toilet bowl off the base and also to replace the shut-off valve because I expected that the integrated feed tube would snap because of metal fatigue (which happened to the second-floor toilet when I performed the same operation shortly after moving into the house, and had also happened to most of the other feed tubes under the various sinks in the house — including under the kitchen sink, which failed spontaneously earlier in the pandemic).

By Friday (which I also had as a holiday, even though the Fourth of July wasn't until Saturday) I was ready to attack the shower again. In the several days I took off from this part of the project I had come up with an idea that was so crazy it just might work: trim the aluminum return panel to cut off three-quarters of an inch, just enough that the panel would fit between the shower door and the wall. (The panel was composed of two independent pieces: one which mounted flush to the wall, and the other which was aligned with the door; these could be adjusted to make them fit, so i wasn't worried about cutting more than I needed as long as the pieces would still fit together. They would stretch to span the gap.) This would require making a precise cut in the aluminum along the length of the panel, then making sure the pieces of the panel would still fit together (and remain water-tight). I already had a circular saw; I drove to Home Depot to get a couple of saw blades to use to cut metal, plus a sawhorse to elevate the panel above the ground while I worked and a couple of clamps to keep the panel in place.

Trimming the shower panel
Trimming the shower panel

The new saw blade cut through the aluminum like butter and I ended up with one long slice taken out of the panel (plus metal filings all over my garage). I used a file to smooth down the edges of the panel, then cut the other piece of the panel, and took everything upstairs to see if it would fit. To my partial amazement it worked perfectly: the strip that was supposed to mount to the wall fit on the wall and the strip that was supposed to align with the door did. I drilled the holes I needed in the tile and mounted the panel to the wall and sealed it with high-grade silicone caulk.

Shower door installed
Shower door installed

(As one of my colleagues noted on Twitter, my shower was done but I hadn't yet integration-tested everything together. I was, at least, willing to claim that it was code-complete and unit-tested.)

Shower head installed
Shower head installed

I had to wait another twenty-four hours for the caulk to cure before I could reliably get it wet. On the morning of the Fourth of July I installed the shower head and valve — and then, that afternoon, on a summer holiday when I couldn't go anywhere or do anything because we were in the middle of a global pandemic, I turned on my shower and it worked. It had been five weeks since I'd started fallen down the rabbit hole and started remodeling my shower, and we finally had a shower again.

Shower running
Shower running

Getting the shower finished felt great, but I still had to redo the floor before I could declare victory on the whole project.

I actually did marry you for more than just life time tech support!
- Gem Stone-Logan, via e-mail requesting tech support