Monday, June 09, 2008

From Outhouse to Bedroom

All the pictures of its development and progression were lost, but the bedroom I now use as the master bedroom started out as an outhouse.

The house I found late last year as my new residence is an anomaly in a couple of respects. In a place where many homes were built over large and expansive during the time when the US military was still here, this place is tiny, with just two not-so-big bedrooms, two equally small baths, along with a modest L shaped space that makes up the living room, dining room and kitchen. Also, part of what makes it anomalous is the fairly large yard. And in the back, attached to the house by a covered breezeway was the large outhouse I mentioned above.

By outhouse, I’m not talking about an old fashioned wooden potty hut. In this case it was a place where food preparation, pantry storage, and hand washing of laundry could happen. A long tiled sink 8 feet long took up almost half of its length on the north wall and next to that a small room, not much larger than a closet, took up the rest. For me, this outbuilding was next to useless, since trying to use it after dark made it unwise and unsafe. As such, it wasn’t long before my creative gears began to creak and turn with possibilities. I now had a problem that required a solution, and that is my forte.

My first few weeks in this place convinced me that the master bedroom’s prime drawback is its location at the front, directly facing the street. Every passing motorcycle and trike announces their passing, depending on the state of the muffler, some worse than others. Even the chatting sounds people made walking by in anything louder than a whisper I found to be an intrusion. It soon became obvious to me that the outbuilding was destined to be my new bedroom; it was only a matter of time, and money. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, "give me peace and quiet, or give me ear plugs."

Two big problems had to be solved before that could happen. The first was security. There was no way that I could live in it before I made it safe from thieving murdering trespassing rogues. That sort exists everywhere in the world, especially here. The second problem was remodeling. I needed to turn the large closet-like room into a bathroom, while also removing the sink and cabinet in the main area and turning that ample space into a floor-to-cieling clothes closet/cabinet. So, how to do all that?

After saving up a few hundred bucks (or so), I learned that my brother-in-law is a darn good contractor, capable of almost anything having to do with construction. Luckily for me, he and his sons, and several of his other steady worker bees, do everything but electrical work, and that was no problem since I have my own electrician.

Our first step was to surround my prospective new bedroom with a strong metal cage with sturdy lockable gates. We did that first, to include securing my side yard; something I posted about in detail in my last piece a few days ago. We also enclosed and caged a porch area just off my soon-to-be new boudoir. I’ll cover that little project (my porch/livingroom) in my next post.

I really wish I hadn’t lost the pics of the progression of what we did to what is now my bedroom. Aside from ripping out the sink and cupboard area, and turning the closet into a cute little bathroom, there was a whole host of other things to be done.

All the windows, six double casements in all, had to be redone. As an outbuilding, they had no glass in them, just rotten wooden frames and ancient nasty old screen. The sides facing the porch and breezeway required the outer thief bars be removed. The big double window over the sink had to be filled in with cement blocks and mortar, finished off, and painted on the inside and out.

It was fascinating to see the workers turn the tiny closet into a bathroom. The old cement floor was busted up first in preparation for the new tile floor and plumbing. Some of my most fascinating, now lost, shots are of the sequence of deconstruction and construction events in that tiny room. I was worried that it would be too miniature a space to make into a usable bathroom, but the contractor reassured me it could be done; even for American tastes. And after a few days, it was. It is indeed quite small, but it is totally functional.

It helped to buy everything on the miniature side. My sink and toilet are small, and that being so, everything fits just fine; including me when I use it, fits that is.

The diminutive toilet is also great on water usage. It has the dual flusher feature where you can press the button just long enough to flush down the yellow stuff, or as long as required otherwise. I don’t know why anyone would buy any other kind.

My electrician came in and did his thing. We knocked a rectangular hole in the concrete over the bed for an aircon, to include running the required power to it as well as installing the requisite heavy duty grounded outlet. He also put in some track lights over the space I'm sitting now, so that one light shines down on my keyboard and two others flood into both sides of my new ample closets. Aside from that, he ran power and outlets galore all over all my walls; because you can never have too many outlets. All together, he installed six double outlets for me. He did a great job of putting in reading lights over both sides of my headboard, so now, me and my partner can read at night too! And finally, he put in a nice fan and light assembly directly over the center of the bed. Nice touch that; a necessity here in the tropics.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. My handy-dandy electrician installed my TV on a wall-mounted swivel. It sits high over my computer table so that I can easily watch the screen without propping my head up while lying in bed.

Yup. I definitely got this place the way I want it. Well, almost. I still need my electrician buddy to put in some speakers close to my head so I don’t have to turn the volume up to hear it over the low drone of the air conditioner. I’ll probably do that next month.

I'm a stickler for detail. I noticed the closet door, which was now the new bathroom door, opened out instead of in. That was going to interfere with the walking area next to the bed. Also, the bedroom door opened in, and that was going to interfere with how much space was available inside the room. No problem. I mentioned my preference that they do the opposite and within a couple hours "my boys" had the jams reversed. Problem solved. I LOVE these guys!

One of the most intriguing things that needed doing was to put in a septic tank for my new bathroom. The area directly behind the outbuilding (I mean my new bedroom), between it and the neighbor’s wall, was the only place to dig it. So dig it we did. In a few hours we had a really large and deep rectangular hole all ready to go. We ran a big black PVC pipe from the toilet, sink and shower directly into the pit. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Of course, first thing was to line the big square pit with cement blocks. Down the middle of it was a partition, also of blocks, with a hole left high up on it. It was explained to me that the pipe drains all of the water and solids into one side, where the fecal matter collects, allowing all the other “dirty water” to flow up and through the center hole into the other collection cavity.

The bottom of the “tank” is left un-mortared to allow the septic water to seep down into the ground, hopefully to be purified as it passes through the earth layers on its way back down into the water table. That’s the theory anyway. Asking how long such a design was meant to last before it would require drainage, I was told ten years.

The topper is a cement slab. I was wondering how they were going to make that. They did it by first constructing an extensive wooden framework before pouring bucket after bucket of cement into, over and on it. They left a removable cement plug on one end for some future time when it will have to be drained; hopefully long after I’m no longer living here.

Other than a coat or two of paint and some linoleum to cover the original cement floor, that pretty much covers how I turned this place from outhouse to master bedroom.

I love it back here. Its quiet, relatively roomy, and now that my porch is very nearly complete as well, its like I have my very own apartment away from all the hubbub of the house where the kids (and others) now all reside in the original structure. They got their area and I got mine. Its peaceful like that, and that’s what me and my buddy Patrick Henry are ALL about.


KA said...

I remember my old house in the Philippines, and it was rather spacious, however... at one time, we stuffed a family with 12 children in there, and later when many moved to the US, it became me, my two sisters, and parents, an aunt and uncle and their three children...

So, that house just strikes me as rather...huuuuuge. It's not just you in there, right?

Ed said...

Thanks for answering the septic question. That has been one I never wanted to ask. I figured the answer was just to the ditch out back and perhaps in Baguio City where I frequent, that still might be the answer.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Huge? That's funny. Now huge is my buddy's place. He pays P20K a month, advanced one year in advance for a 7 bedroom monster house. He sublets to several boarders to help pay for it. P20K right now is about $450 a month at the moment... I pay exactly half that for my "little" abode.

Septic tanks all pretty much work alike in this country, or so I'm told.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a patio next to the bedroom...

PhilippinesPhil said...

Well, its not really a patio. Its a completely screened in and roofed over porch. I don't like flies, thus the screen...

Amadeo said...

Another nice creative job, Phil. Making functional a space which would otherwise be either useless or has very little functionality. I do pretty much the same things. Now I'm into turning part of a laundry room into a tiny shower room.

I suppose rental rates in the old homeland are pretty different not only in different places, but also based on such criteria as neighborhood, size and age of houses, etc.

Based only on my local perception of and experiences with rental rates, you had a very good deal with your home. And I would include your buddy in this good fortune, if he is renting a relatively new house.

And yes, the use of septic tanks since there is no community sewage disposal system. They typically work as you had initially described it. Though I have heard that the government authorities now takes more than just a passing interest and concern for houses being built near underground water sources. But house builders pretty much can do anything they desire with septic tanks.

And our 35 year old house still has the original septic tanks and they have never been drained or touched yet.

I also heard of septic tanks with 3 chambers, the third one eventually flushing out into the public gutter. I wonder about this one’s sanitation impact on the community.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I just transferred all my important files to my new laptop, and in doing so, I found the long lost pics of the bedroom in development. I think I'll do a revist post. Might be interesting to some...