My wife and I bought our house nearly twenty years ago. It’s a small two-story built by an outfit that kept prices affordable by using the cheapest materials allowed by housing codes. We’ve made some significant quality upgrades over the last two decades, installing a durable roof, buying a better furnace, replacing every window and door, and encasing our home in vinyl siding. Incredibly, however, we are still using the original, economy-grade water heater. Aware that our basement houses an aquatic time bomb that could blow at any time, perhaps leaving us without hot water on an arctic January morning, we decided to be proactive and solicit some replacement estimates.
“Now, I’m guessin’ here,” boomed a garrulous contractor as he surveyed our basement, “that you guys have two and a half bathrooms?”
Guess again. My wife and I traded smiles provoked by the perverse joy that comes with puncturing false assumptions. “One,” I corrected him. He was clearly taken aback by this information, as though we had revealed that we do all of our cooking over a boiling cauldron in the fireplace. Yet we spoke the truth. It is the secret shame of modern suburbia. You can’t tell just by driving through the neighborhood, but there exists here and there the odd house that has…[insert dramatic sting here]…only one toilet.
Now let us hop in our time machine and emerge in the early 1960s, where we observe a home that has not yet welcomed the birth of the author of this post. It is a modest build. Three adults and five children living in a two-bedroom house with a tiny kitchen. The small attic is finished, but the basement is not. The dining area is as cramped as the kitchen. In fact, it is the kitchen. And there is one – and only one – bathroom. That was the uncomfortable reality for my family before I came along. Somehow they managed to make it work. But eventually, they applied some hard-earned savings to make a sorely needed expansion.
As a result, I grew up in comparative luxury. Our house had doubled in size thanks to an addition that provided a relatively spacious family room, a third bedroom, and most importantly, a second bathroom. I rarely knew the inconvenience of waiting for a bathroom, especially since most of my sisters and brothers had moved out of the house before I was even a teenager. Immediate access to a shower, sink and toilet was a perk that I simply took for granted. When one bathroom was occupied, you just headed for the other one.
The transition to college dorm life was not without its challenges, among which was coping with the loss of privacy that is a consequence of sharing a communal restroom with 15 other guys. Still, we had four shower stalls, four sinks, and an array of toilets and urinals at our disposal, and unless you happened to stumble into the facilities during peak usage (say, fifteen minutes before a ten o’clock class), there was very rarely a wait.
Even the small apartment that my wife and I shared was generously appointed for just the two of us. Just outside the standard full bathroom, there was an additional sink and mirror, sparing us any arguments over what to do should we happen to simultaneously desire tooth brushing.
We anticipated having children when we started looking for a house. Actually, it was one of the motivating factors in our decision to move on from apartment life. So we knew there would come a time when there might be anywhere from four to six people using the facilities on a given morning (Hey, we were young and idealistic!). Our realtor assuaged our concerns about the single bathroom in our prospective new home by noting that the plumbing for a second bathroom was already roughed in down in the unfinished basement. It sounded reasonable enough. In a few years, after we got on our feet and the money starting rolling in, we’d finish the basement and have our second bathroom.
Well, somehow that second bathroom got lost in all the kerfuffle over windows and doors and furnaces and roofs and siding. Along with doing something about that aging water heater. Meanwhile, we had two girls, who have now grown up to be teenage occupants of our sole existing bathroom. Somehow, we manage to make it work. Yet we would truly benefit from a sorely needed expansion. If anything should go wrong with the bathroom plumbing, we’ll be in a crisis until it is fixed. And now that we have waited this long to do anything about our lavatorial shortage, other big-ticket disasters are looming like expensive monsters ready to emerge from hiding. Before we invest in a finished basement, we must also consider the current health of our water heater’s elderly companions, the 1992 vintage washer, dryer, oven and refrigerator.
But there is hope. When a solution does not present itself, one must do the proverbial thinking outside of the box. Or in our case, the toilet outside of the bathroom. For what is the bare minimum that would alleviate our competition for scarce bathroom resources? A toilet and a pedestal sink. You can find basic models of both items for a total of less than $100. Hire a plumber to run a water supply and attach the new porcelain to the roughed-in plumbing (because Lord knows, I can’t do it), and you have the very simplest half-bath there is. Unconventional, perhaps, but will it not get the job done?
In fact, the more I think about it, the more advantages I see to having an open half bath in an unfinished basement. The ladies of the house will consider it to be, at best, an unattractive option. Whereas I, having no such hesitation, will once again find myself basking in the glory of 24/7 access to, if not a shower, at least a toilet and a sink. I envision a little privacy partition fashioned by arranging the basement bookshelves into adjoining walls. And really, there’s no reason why a little flat-screen TV couldn’t sit on one of those shelves, maybe with an old DVD player or video game console hooked up to it. Perhaps a little dorm fridge in the corner and a place for my laptop…
But I get carried away. When you grow up in luxury like I did, it’s hard to stay humble.