Project overview: Design, materials and prep work
Here’s a surefire way to give your half bath a dramatic new look. Combine your choice of furniture with one of these basin-type sinks for a unique, custom-styled bath redo. This modern version of your great-grandma’s wash basin creates an eclectic style that looks great in contemporary or traditional settings.
The payoff: Transform the look of your half bath in three weekends.
- Add a spacious feel by replacing your vanity cabinet with a table.
- Combine the classic look of an old-fashioned vessel sink with the sleek style of a modern wall-mount faucet.
- Save wall patching work by using these easy-to-clean granite wall tiles.
The vessel sink and wall-mount faucet cost more than standard off-the-shelf plumbing fixtures. But the combined cost of the table and plumbing fixtures we show is about the same as if you purchased a top-quality vanity cabinet, solid-surface vanity top and high-end faucet. And you’ll save at least half the cost of a professional bath remodel by doing the work yourself.
We’ll show you how to mount and connect the vessel sink and how to install the wall-mount faucet. And just in case your drain doesn’t line up or the plumbing vent gets in the way of the recessed faucet valve—don’t worry, we’ll show you how to relocate them too.
There are a few things you’ll want to check out before you start. If you live in a cold climate and your plumbing is on an outside wall, don’t use a wall-mount faucet because the valve and pipes could freeze. Use a standard-mount faucet instead. And second, look inside your vanity cabinet. If your water supply pipes come up from the bottom of the cabinet, you’ll have to reroute them into the wall. This could be a big job depending on how your house is constructed.
To complete our bathroom redo, we installed a new prefinished wood floor over the old vinyl and covered the wall behind the vanity with 12-in. square granite tiles. The granite cost us about $12 per sq. ft., but similar tile is available for about $4 per sq. ft. Plan on spending about $6 per sq. ft. for the wood floor. We spent $600 more on light fixtures and a new toilet.
Before you start this project, check with your building department. Most locales require a plumbing and electrical permit for this type of work. Then arrange for inspections before covering plumbing or electrical work with drywall.
Step 1: Remove old fixtures and open the wall
Remove the old vanity cabinet (Photo 1). Then cut open your wall to install the faucet valve. There's a good chance you'll also have to relocate the drain, vent and light fixtures, so go ahead and cut a big hole (Photo 2). We removed a 4-ft. wide section of drywall. Turn off the power at the main circuit box before cutting and keep your cut shallow to avoid nicking electrical cables. If you tile the wall like we did, you won't have any patching to do. Just screw a new piece of drywall to the new 2x2 cleats (Photo 14) and tile over it (Photo 15).
Turn off the power at the main circuit box before cutting into the wall.
Step 2: Fit the sink and mark drain heights
Photo 4: Set the drain
Roll a ball of plumber's putty between your hands to form a putty "snake." Press the putty around the drain opening. Slide the top of the drain assembly through the drain hole and press it into the putty. Install the rubber washer, plastic washer and nut and tighten carefully until the drain is secure and flush with the bowl.
Marking in place is better than math and measuring. Rather than trying to calculate the height of the drain and faucet, it’s easier and safer to assemble your table and sink (Photos 3–5) and mark the center of the drain and faucet heights directly (Photos 6 and 7). Before you cut the hole in your table, make sure the back edge of the bowl will be a few inches from the wall. Also measure from the front of the table to make sure the front of the hole will clear the table apron below. Next mark the center of the table on the floor. Plumb up from this mark with a level to locate the center of the drain and faucet spout (Photo 5, 7 and 8).
Step 3: Shift plastic drain lines
The faucet valve mounts in the space between the wall studs. With the faucet and drain centers marked, it will be obvious whether you’ll have to move the drain and water supply lines to make everything fit. You may also have to remove a portion of one wall stud. Photo 9 shows how to reframe the opening. Photo 10 shows one method of relocating a drain and vent using 1-1/2 in. plastic PVC pipe and fittings. Your plumbing may not look like this. If you have steel rather than plastic pipe, use a reciprocating saw with a metal-cutting blade to cut the pipes. Run the new pipes in PVC and connect to the steel pipe with transition couplings. Here are a few other rules for reworking your drain and vent plumbing:
- Use clamping neoprene transition couplings to connect steel pipe to plastic pipe or to connect black (ABS) pipe to white (PVC) pipe.
- Continue the vent pipe vertically or at a 45-degree angle to at least 6 in. above the top rim of the vessel sink before running it horizontally.
- Use a long sweep 90-degree elbow where the drain turns from vertical to horizontal (Photo 10).
Step 4: Mount the new faucet valve
The instructions included with our valve specified fastening the valve to two 2x4 blocks spaced 5-5/8 in. apart. It’s critical that you mount the valve the correct distance back from the finished wall surface. Otherwise your faucet trim and spout may not fit properly. Check the instructions, since this distance will vary by faucet brand. To make sure of this dimension, we completely assembled the valve and trim and measured the distance from the mounting bracket to the back of the handle and spout trim. If you’re tiling the wall, add the tile thickness to your calculation.
Complete the plumbing work by connecting the hot and cold water lines to the valve (Photos 12 and 13). We used copper pipe, but in areas with corrosive water, consider CPVC. Rather than using rigid copper, buy a length of 5/8-in. outside diameter (O.D.) soft copper (Type L) and bend it to fit. You’ll save time and potential leaks by drastically reducing the number of fittings needed. Buy a bending spring and slip it over the copper before you bend it to avoid kinking the copper (Photo 12). When soldering, protect walls and pipes with a heat shield (Photo 13). When finished, turn on the water and test the valve according to the instructions included.
Finally, add nail-plates wherever supply pipes or drains pass within 1-1/2 in. of the face of the framing. This prevents accidental punctures from nails and screws.
Step 5: Relocate lights while the wall is open
Photo 14: Relocate light fixtures
Relocate the light fixture boxes if necessary. Turn off the power at the main circuit box and test the wires to be sure it's off. Carefully pry the boxes loose and remove the staples that hold the cables in place. Add blocking or slide the box on its strap to relocate it. Reattach the boxes and staple the cables within 8 in. of the box.
If you add tile to the wall, make sure the face of the electrical box is no more than 1/4 in. behind the surface of the tile. At the same time, adjust the location of the boxes if necessary. Make sure they’re level with each other and are located an equal distance from the centerline of the table. Purchase the mirror and light fixtures ahead of time and hang them temporarily to create a full-scale mock-up. From this, measure the height and the distance between the light fixtures and relocate the existing boxes to these positions.
Now’s a good time to upgrade your bath wiring, especially if your house is more than eight years old. Ask your local electrical inspector what’s required. If your bathroom has aluminum wire, or you’re unsure whether there is a proper ground for your light fixtures, call an electrician.
Caution: Before you do any electrical work, turn off the power at the main circuit panel. Test the wires with a voltage tester to make sure they’re off. Also, aluminum wiring requires special handling. If you have aluminum wiring, call in a licensed pro who’s certified to work with it. This wiring is dull gray, not the dull orange that’s characteristic of copper.
Step 6: Tile the wall
Photo 15: Level the first tile row
Level the first course of tile with small plastic shims, available at tile retailers. Mark a line with a 4-ft. level to indicate the top of the first row of tile. Draw vertical plumb lines at the outside edges. We extended the tile 1 in. beyond the table on each side.
Screw cleats alongside the two outsidestuds as nailers for the drywall.Cut drywall to fit the opening andscrew it to the studs and cleats. Nowyou’re ready to set the wall tile.Start by planning the layout. Centerthe tiles side to side to maximize thesize of the cut tiles along the edges(you may not have to cut any tile atall). We started with a full 12-in. tileat the floor and cut the border tilesto 8 in. wide. Draw layout lines and set the tiles in premixed latex tileadhesive (Photo 15). Use spacersbetween tiles to create a space forgrout, or set the tiles tight togetheras we’ve done. Practice by dry-layingthe tiles on the floor first to seehow well they fit together.
The flamed granite tile we used isvery hard. You’ll need to rent a wet-cuttingtile saw for the straight cuts. Holes for the faucetshave to be cut precisely. We used a2-in. diameter abrasive-coated tile-cuttinghole saw (available at home centersor tile retailers). It took aboutfive minutes to drill each hole! Mosttile shops will cut these holes foryou for a minimal charge. Make acardboard template to ensure exact
hole location before cutting the tile.
Step 7: Make the final plumbing connections
Photo 16: Connect the drain
Cut the tailpiece to extend about 1-1/2 in. into the trap and thread it into the drain assembly. Use a hacksaw with a fine-tooth blade to cut the tubing. Cut the trap arm if necessary to extend about 2 in. into the wall when it's aligned with the trap. Slide the trap up onto the tailpiece and connect it to the trap arm with the rubber slip joint washers and large slip joint nuts provided. Hand-tighten them. Then tighten them an additional quarter turn with a large slip joint pliers.
Screw the table to the wall and connect the trap to the sink drain (Photo 16). Then install the faucet trim (Photo 17) to finish the plumbing part of your job. We also installed a new toilet and light fixtures. Paint the walls and hang shelves, a towel bar and a paper dispenser, and your bath redo is complete.
What Should I Buy?
Almost any piece of furniture can be modified to accommodate a vessel sink, as long as it’s about 30 in. high and at least 18 in. deep. (Once in place, the edge of this piece must be at least 15 in. away from the center of the toilet.) If you choose a dresser, drawers may have to be rebuilt to provide clearance for the drain and trap. Console tables, sofa tables and dressers all seem to be about the right size.
The finish on some wood-topped tables may not stand up to puddled water. For extra protection, we recommend adding two or three coats of polyurethane or other water resistant finish over the existing finish. Don’t expect to find vessel sinks or wall-mount faucets on the shelf at your local retailer. Look through catalogs to find fixtures you like and make note of the model numbers.
Remember to include a special drain that’s compatible with your vessel sink. Since the P-trap assembly is highly visible, splurge and special order one with a finish to match your faucet (Photo 16).