A Shaker Heights Renovation Part 1 – The Motive | Cleveland East Side Moms

A Shaker Heights Renovation Part 1 – The Motive

by | Feb 4, 2019 | Around Town, Home Improvement

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Life in a 1920s Shaker House

We live in a house that was built in the 1920s. It’s an all-brick Georgian and probably one of the most boring houses in Shaker Heights from the outside, but it’s ours and we love it. My husband and I are both tall people (he’s 6’5″, I’m 6ft), and this was one of the only houses we could find that we could stand up comfortably in every useful space.


Why Renovate?

Living in an almost century home with almost entirely original fixtures is one of the greatest things about this area – except where it’s not.  For us, our #1 complaint (aside from the original wiring and plumbing) is the jack & jill bathrooms. In the 1920s, architects in these parts consistently designed houses where all bathrooms are either off a bedroom or a shared space between two bedrooms. Hallway access for a bathroom was apparently a no-no. We looked at no fewer than 5 houses in this area and this was the case with all of the original construction. The exception to this rule seemed to be only when one bathroom was shared by more than 2 bedrooms. Then and only then it was permissible to have hallway bathroom access. Since we are no longer living in the 1920s, we bought this house with a plan to change the bathroom layout eventually. We talked about having an architect come over and give us options, we talked about how cool it would be to knock down walls and rearrange everything to a sensible layout … but that was all talk. Renovations are expensive & we have two little kids & plans to take on another at any moment (whenever our license comes through). The thought of trying to accomplish our dream renovation while still living here & keeping up their routines was just exhausting. So we kept talking, but made no real plans to fix the issue. Then we had our bathroom sink drain snaked.


The Damage

Snaking drains is an age-old practice for all women with long hair and old plumbing. I’ve had it done in every house I’ve ever owned or lived in that was built before 1950. You sign a great little release when a credible plumber comes to do this job for you, absolving the plumber/plumbing company of any liability for the state of the plumbing he or she is essentially jack-hammering. We’ve had each of our upstairs bathroom sinks snaked multiple times in our 4 years here, and for our ‘master’ bath (I use this term loosely since our 4-year-old’s room also has a door to this bathroom), the 3rd time was the charm. I guess I should have heeded the last plumber’s warning, which in retrospect, was pretty dire. “Ma’am, I think we should cut into this wall to see what the pipes look like,” he said. “This pipe has too many right angles to snake properly – I’m not confident I won’t damage something” he said. Ugh.

I had the drain snaked on a Tuesday afternoon with some anxiety about a pipe rupture. I even joked with the plumber about it, sealing my fate. The plumber, however, emerged victorious. He said he didn’t get much out but the snake went in easily and everything drained fine afterwards. We used the sink that night for our nightly teeth-brushing (all 4 of us) and again that next morning for whatever morning rituals we performed. Then we promptly left town for DC for 5 days. My husband got home before I did & called me immediately. “Em, the living room ceiling has all kinds of water damage,” he said. He sent me pictures & turned off all the water to our bathroom. I called the plumber back.

shaker heights renovation

Damage on our living room ceiling


We now have a 4′ X 6′ hole in our living room ceiling where the plaster (yes, plaster) was removed in an effort to find the leak. This proved futile, because as luck would have it, the leak was in the pipe behind the bathroom wall about 3″ from the sink trap.

shaker heights renovation

living room ceiling after ‘repair’


So yes, we ALSO also have a 1′ square hole in our (tiled) bathroom wall where the galvanized steel pipe has been replaced with PVC.

shaker heights renovation

our bathroom wall after ‘repair’


The plumbing bill for this work was $2500, and we haven’t even started dealing with the cosmetic fixes or the 100-year old irreplaceable tile.  We also know at this point that we have to replace our galvanized pipes or this will continue to happen.

I filed a homeowners claim & called an architect.

We’re renovating, baby.  Stay tuned for additional posts in this series as we finalize the architectural design (we hired our friend Richard Cissell of Cissell Architecture and Design) and choose all the tile/colors/finishings (we’re using Lindsey Putzier of Meet-a-Mom fame but also of Eclectic Interiors).  More to come soon!

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