Adventures in Homeownership : Rewiring the Bathroom

Guess what? My husband and I own our condo now! Our landlady wanted to sell, and we wanted to buy, and she waited patiently and we rented dutifully until we were finally in a position to buy. Not bad for being 25. First a job, then a masters degree, then a home. But don’t get your hopes up about a growing family–we’re not planning on that anytime soon.

Now that we own the place, we’ve been so excited to start working on our home improvement plans! OMG, we can actually paint the walls now? Replace light fixtures? Renovate the kitchen? Put in hardwood floors? Tile the bathroom? I just need to enter in that Home Depot survey for my chance to win $5000 in gift cards, just so I can actually afford to start fixing up ALL THE THINGS.

renovate all the things

After replacing the closet light, we were a bit heady with success and our electrical prowess, so when we went to replace the light in the bathroom, we ended up rewiring the whole thing.

We didn’t really plan on doing that.


Let me explain.

We used to have a light, a fan, and a heater. The light and fan were on one switch, and the heater was on the other.

Then when we took down the old light, we saw that all the connectors/screwcaps were in that electrical box, including for the vanity light which was in the adjoining room. We looked at each other. We could actually disconnect that damn heater!

The heater was original to the building. It made strange clicking noises when turned on, like a bomb that’s about to explode, or like a lighter that’s using its last reserve of fuel. And it makes the floor of our upstairs neighbor’s bathroom extremely hot. How do we know? It makes our bathroom floor extremely hot, too when the lady downstairs forgets to turn hers off when she’s on vacation. No wonder the previous tenant taped a plastic box over that switch.

Jeff wanted to leave it up and work on it later. I wanted it GONE, 50 years of dust and all. Just get rid of that damn thing! It took a box cutter, a drill, some cursing, locking the cat in the bedroom (why the hell was Joe so needy precisely when we were busy?), and crumbling concrete to get it out. But it is now sitting in the stairwell, waiting to be tossed by the janitors. ALLELUIA.

Flush with success we thought, “Why not rewire it so that the heater switch can power the exhaust fan, thus separating the fan from the light?”

Thank goodness my husband is mechanically minded. According to his parents, he takes after one of his grandparents who was a mechanical geek. The old fashioned version of Jeff’s modern geekery. He bundled all the white wires together–they’re the “return” wires, he said.

That left a purple one, a purply-pink one, a pink one, and a couple of red ones (and this weird yellow one that we’re not sure what it’s for). The yellow one had no end–we can ignore that one. The fan was pretty easy to figure out. We wired that up and turned the breakers back on to test it. Success!

Now, for the light. Our light has a white wire and a black wire. We wired the white one with the other white ones. But where do we put the black one? He separated the bundles out, and made an educated guess. Bathroom light dependent on vanity light. ERROR. Yeah, that’s what I want–a cat to flip the switch leaving me to crap in the dark. Yeah.

Sadly, Jeff headed off to work, saying we’d figure it out later.

NO, I’M TOO IMPATIENT. I tried again.

The fan wouldn’t turn on, and the bathroom light was still dependent on the vanity switch.

Then the fan WOULD turn on–with the bathroom light. Shit.

I separated the colored wires a little more. Instead of two screw caps, I had three. Now the vanity switch turns on the bathroom light, and the bathroom switch turns on the vanity light. At least the fan was separate.

I tried again. Success!

4 hours of labor is totally worth it not to have to shell out $$ for an electrician to do it in 30 minutes. I feel much more capable of regrouting the bathroom floors, which is what I wanna do next. Some idiot used actual caulk to seal the grout. CAULK. And he didn’t even bother smoothing it out. Asshole.

And after that? I wanna tile the bathroom walls. Anyone want to give me about $300 for that?

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