Monday, July 12, 2010

An Overflowing Closet

Now, I'm not saying I have a lot of stuff in my closet, it's just that it's chock full of my and Wino's clothes, shoes that don't have proper homes, boxes still waiting to be unpacked (sadly) and a sundry of items stuffed onto the upper shelves because I honestly have no idea where else to put them. Add that even though we are in the master bedroom now, our clothes are still in the guest room closet, which is half the size. I really want to start the floor in the guest room but the closet must be cleared first.

So installing the master closet must be done. It's not a terribly big closet, seven+ feet long, and the easiest thing to do would be a shelf and a rod, going from one wall to the other. That's what was there before but as I do enjoy torturing myself from time to time, I designed a closet that will give homes to homeless shoes, separate Wino's clothes from mine, and have space for those untouched boxes and random items. Did I mention that the attic opening happens to be in this closet so access to it must be maintained? And although I appreciate the effort made when the previous owners put a light in the closet, it's to one side and illuminates only half the space.

The access to the attic is being maintained through a combination of removable rods, folding shelves on hinges and step cutouts strategically placed. I've basically created a permanent ladder to access the attic. This is the MacGyver of closets. Of course it will take an hour to remove all the crap on the shelves and rods to get to the opening but it's possible, and that's what counts.

I've added four drawers under the center rod, this acts as a step up and adds much needed drawer space. There are two rods on one side for short items like shirts and pants, a center rod for medium length items and a single rod on the other side for long articles of clothing. The clothing rods are separated by skinny shelves that will house shoes, one side also acts as the step ladder for the attic. The upper part of the closet is a collection of shelves and cubbies for more shoes.

The easiest way I've found to start any project like this is to map the space to scale on graph paper and draw in different configurations. There are also free programs online that help to do this but I'm a bit old school when it comes to planning and find it easier to visualize on paper. Then I also have a tangible plan to work from and adjust while in the process of building the components.

The next step is to break up the design into pieces and build them in the right order to make the closet go together easily. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hmmm, Glazing, Yum

No, not that kind of glazing. I'm talking window glazing putty. That nasty crumbly stuff on the outside of old windows that is supposed to be holding the glass in but really is just catching dirt and rain and making your house look trashy. My first battle with ancient glazing putty was in CA with ten, yes ten, double hung windows in the back bedroom that were painted shut but somehow still rattled in wind -it was the glass moving in the frame since there was very little putty to hold the glass tight. In truth, little metal pieces called glazier's points are what actually hold the glass in, the glazing putty is there to help the window shed water and to make the sash look nice. There's also a term "double glazing" which means there are two panes of glass but that is usually held in the sash (or frame) by trim, being metal, vinyl or wood. The great thing about a single glazed window is that if it breaks, it's easy to fix, just pull out the broken glass and the old putty and install a new sheet of glass with glazing points and reputty the outside. I haven't figured out how to fix a broken double glazed window pane yet. During Hurricane Ike, only one window in our house cracked, the double glazed bathroom window. The 90 year old glass in the rest of the house held up fine. I just left it cracked. So many years ago when I was rehabbing the ten windows, I had to figure out how to reglaze windows. Dap makes a great product that I now use after experimenting with other glazing putty products. This product comes in a caulking tube and is dispensed using a caulking gun. Someone really skilled, in theory, should be able to lay the putty in perfectly right from the tube with no need to model it at all. After reglazing over 30 windows in the last 9 years I still need to work the putty once it's applied. There's another product that comes in a quart paint tin that I found hard to use, you have to work it into a thick rope with your hands then press it into the glazing channel. I didn't like it and have used the Dap glazing caulk ever since.

Our current house has all double glazed windows but I found myself restoring a very old door to use on the chicken coop that had a glass 12 light panel inset. Most of the glazing putty was gone but thankfully the glass panes were not broken. The old style glazing points, which are either diamond or triangle in shape and flat, sharp metal were mostly still holding the glass in but I did put in some new
glazier's points just to be sure. One of the most important things when reglazing a window, which can be done with the window sash still installed on the house, is to remove all of the accumulated dirt in the glazing channel so when primed, it sticks and seals. Here's the simple steps to reglazing a window: 1) remove all of the loose, old glazing putty, being careful not to chip the glass. Do the whole window once, take a break then come back to it and you'll find more loose stuff. Remove it all. Any that seems really secure can be left, usually the top edge of the glass since this rarely sees water damage. 2) clean out the dirt and crumbles of putty. This can be a challenge along the bottom edge that gets the most wear. I'll scrape it then go back with a small wire brush to loosen the dirt. Vacuum up the dirt dust and debris with a shop vac, making sure the whole channel is clean. Do not use water to clean unpainted wood. 3) paint primer in the channel where the putty will go. I usually prime the whole window at this point. Don't worry about getting primer on the glass, it'll scrape off later.
4) apply the glazing putty or caulk. Be patient! I use a tool (in the picture) to smooth the putty to a nice angle that will shed water. Use a wet finger to smooth where the tool overlaps the putty and creates a bump or drag mark. Leave any excess putty on the window as long as it's not touching the glazing putty that was just applied. It'll harden and be scraped off later. 5) after about 3 days, the glazing putty is hardened so it can be trimmed if needed, like if there's a bump or tool mark. Use a sharp razor blade for this. A sharp box cutter held at an angle also works but keep enough material to ensure shedding of water. Once satisfied with how it looks, it can then be painted with the top coat. I've had situations where I forgot to paint the window after the new glazing putty is in and it makes more work since you then have to clean what you applied of the dirt and dust collected on it before painting (it stays a little tacky so it collects dirt fast).

With a little practice and development of technique, the exterior of vintage windows can look new and be more efficient, or new life can be given to an old door headed for the scrap pile.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aren't Ceiling Fans Supposed to be Easy?

I'll admit it, I'm guilty of perpetrating this lie, and I've had it perpetrated on me. Ceiling fans are easy to install. Really, they are, in a perfect world, with the perfect house and the perfect fan. I've made that comment "Oh, you could put a nice fan where that ceiling light is, it'd look great! It's easy, you could do it in less than an hour". Why do I keep saying this to people when I know it to be untrue? Because I want to believe. I've installed numerous ceiling light fixtures and ceiling fans, and very few were zip-zap-done (as Wino says). Here's the basic zip-zap steps: 1) turn off the power at the breaker, not just the switch! 2) remove the existing fixture. 3) install the new base plate. 4) hang the motor and connect the wires. 5) install the housing cover, blades and light kit. 6) turn the power back on! Voila!

But this is how the ceiling fan install went in the master bedroom: 1) turn off power, ok, that was actually easy because I already knew which breaker it was. 2) remove existing fan. pretty easy, just awkward, and I had to be good and save all the bit and pieces since I'm giving it away to be reinstalled elsewhere. 3) install new base plate. Well, this fan has a massive base plate since it's a flush mount and covers the motor housing. That's all fine and good but the electric box installed in the ceiling is crooked and tilts down 1/4" past the drywall on one side. With the base plate installed, that edge hanging down becomes a 1" gap. So I remove base plate then the electric box to investigate. The hanging plate is installed quite securely to a beam spanning the joists. I decide it'll be easier to cut the hard plastic electric box. Down to the garage, attach a block of wood to the end of the box so I've got something to keep my fingers safe. I drew a line and cut about 3/8" off the front with a chop saw. Reinstalled the box then reinstalled the base plate. Phew! 4) hang motor and connect wires. This one is easy, there's plenty of wire coming from the ceiling (not always the case) and it's 14/3 meaning it's a little thinner, easier to manipulate and there's two "hot" wires, red and black, one for the light and one for the fan. With the wiring done, the motor was to be installed next. I pushed it into place but, WTF, the screws for the base plate are too long and prevent the motor from being screwed to the base tightly. Unacceptable. Undid step 4. Found a little hacksaw in the tool box and proceeded to cut 1/8" (yup) off the bottom of the screws. Remember, I'm using the footboard of the bed frame as a ladder and have little resistance while trying to saw off the screws that were quite close to the ceiling already. Grrr! At this point I made an executive decision to take a break and run errands. On my return, steps 4, 5 and 6 went as expected although it did take longer than I thought it would. The instructions on this fan were actually really good but the illustrations of the install steps were dark, indecipherable photos and useless.

Installing a ceiling fan/light is easy, really it is. The challenge is fixing the work of those who have gone before you. Even a new house has no guarantees about what's under and behind fixtures but the good news is, with patience, a few trips to the hardware store and some problem solving creativity, that ceiling fan will go up and look beautiful.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Beautiful Door

The bathroom door turned out so well, I was inspired to get the master bedroom door finished too. Now that the floor is finished and the baseboard in and painted, Wino was itching to move our bed and furniture into the larger room and have a little breathing space. I wanted the door done prior to moving in but I could not deny the boy his space. He worked very hard on the floor and deserved to not be delayed any longer. So down came the door and I spent 2 full days cutting, sanding, patching, fabricating trim, and painting. There was a lovely surprise when I removed the full length mirror mounted to the back of the door. The previous owners must have had some anger issues because there were two nice holes in the door, cleverly covered by the mirror. That's the problem with hollow core doors. One tantrum and you're mounting mirrors to hide sins. I was glad to repair the door, and actually one of the cut-outs eliminated the top hole.

Starting with the design of the bathroom door, I modified it for privacy, reusing the cutouts as solid recess panels. Since our hall is a bit dark, I decided to make the top panel the glass and plastic that I used on the bath door. You really can't see through it but it lets in a little bit of light to make the hall less dank. The other two bedroom doors will be done the same way, which will brighten the hall even more. I ended up rehanging the door before it was fully painted since we were having company and I wanted to have a door on our bedroom. In the future, I hope to have the luxury of painting the doors fully before they get reinstalled. With the handleset installed, new floor, color on the walls and the ceiling painted white, the room now looks like what I imagine the rest of the house will hopefully be.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Master Bedroom Floor, Fin

After ripping out the crappy underlayment in the master bedroom and assessing the height of the floor, we decided to lay a 3/4" subfloor before continuing with the bamboo (instead of the 1/2" we had planned on). There was a subfloor of 1/2" plywood that was sagging in well travelled areas, like near the door and from the door to the bathroom door. It was really bad which is why we went with the thicker plywood. The trick with laying the new plywood is to make sure none of the seams are within 6"-12" of seams in the old floor being covered. I could tell where they started when they laid the original sub-floor so we started in the opposite corner with a full sheet and that seemed to stagger the seams just right. One thing that made the whole project just that much more annoying was the supplies in the room that had to be moved from side to side, as we finished the subfloor, then the bamboo floor. There wasn't any other place to put the seven flooring cartons and shop vac, and the compressor for the nailer needed to be in the room too.

I thought we could use the framing nailer that we already owned and wasted a good few hours trying to make it work on a scrap in the garage. I finally gave up, the pressure was not enough to get the head of the nail all the way in the tongue, no matter what angle I put the gun at. The bamboo was too dense. I found a flooring nailer at a local rental place and reserved it for Saturday afternoon. Here's the trick with renting on a weekend- rent from a local place that's closed on Sundays, then you get the tool from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning for the cost of one day. If I had rented from HD or Lowes, I would have only gotten it for 24 hours. I brought a piece of the flooring to the rental store to make sure the tool came with the correct "shoe" and asked the tech to set it up for me. He was basically useless. He took it in the back to where they had an air compressor. After 15 minutes, I looked through the glass in the door, there were 6 employees standing around the nailer and my bamboo, some actually scratching their heads. That should have been a clue. We got the nailer home and Wino started by setting it up and practicing on scrap flooring while I face-nailed the first row. The first row is set on a chalk line with 1/2" gap to the wall for expansion. It's then face-nailed about 1/2" in from the edge. We pre-drilled the holes for the nails and discovered that we also needed to pre-drill (with a larger bit) the countersinks for the nail heads. The bamboo was that hard. The tongue side is then nailed down, pre-drilling at a 45 degree angle to hide the nail. Once the first row was in, the subsequent rows were installed using the nailer. There were some issues, for example, the rental guy said to hit the trigger for the gun really hard to get the nail in (this seemed wrong to me since it's air-driven, but I'm just a girl) so Wino was hitting it really hard and the whole tool would bounce back and the nail would end up not where it's supposed to be. The shoe that the rental guy put on the gun was a little worn and wouldn't always sit in the right place, also putting the nail in the wrong place. The bamboo had some hard spots where the nails would curve and come up through the top of the board. We thought we were hitting nails in the subfloor but I had the joists marked and it should have been clear. Then I noticed the tarpaper laid underneath didn't have a hole in it from the nail. There was nothing to do about the curving nails except take the board out and try another one. The other issues got sorted out. Wino decided to try a different shoe on the gun which worked 100 times better. And he stopped hitting it with so much force and started stepping on the back part to stabilize it. This took all of Saturday afternoon and a bit of Sunday morning. On the first few rows we had a little problem getting the flooring to sit snug up against the other rows. I'm not sure if it was a bum board or my first row install but I got a killer upper thigh workout pushing the boards into place while Wino nailed them down. Once we passed that and hit the plateau in the learning curve, things moved along well. I laid and tapped the flooring boards into place and Wino nailed them down, placing boards when I was in the garage cutting the end boards.
We had a nice rhythm going. At about 5 pm, we got to the place where the nailer was too close to the wall to use so the last 3 rows were nailed in by hand by me the next morning, after returning the nail gun. To finish the floor between the bedroom and bathroom, I needed to get creative with some scrap of the flooring and made this threshold piece. It's finish-nailed in and sealed with oil based satin polyurethane. The floor now looks beautiful and feels even better when walked on, and the annoying squaw-squeek in the middle of the floor is gone!

There are two more bedrooms and the hall/foyer to complete but now that we've got the learning curve on the tool, I'm hopeful things will go smoother and quicker. I'll rent the same flooring nailer from the same place, but I won't trust the rental guy to have a clue regarding what he's renting out.

A Fowl Weekend

Sometimes having a deadline doesn't always work, as illustrated by my dilapidated chicken coop in the yard and the 26 chicks and 3 ducklings in the garden shed. Knowing that for at least the first four weeks of their lives with me the chickens would be in a brooder, staying warm and practicing the scratch-and-peck technique mastered by so many before them, I focused on other more pressing projects and the coop has remained untouched. A few days ago Wino and I were given two great vintage doors that will go on the coop. They need to be stripped, patched, trimmed to fit and painted. In my mind I was waiting on the doors because that would give me the design for the rest of the coop. Well, no procrastinating now!

We picked up the chicks at the farm store on Friday. It was crazy when we walked in because they had temporary brooders with heat lamps set up throughout the store- it's not a big place to begin with. There were hundreds of chicks, all chirping.
Usually there's only one or two other people in the store but it was packed that day, not only with people picking up chicks, geese, or ducks, but with mothers who brought their children to watch the chicks and play with them. And a local farmer had set up in front of the attached house to sell veggie and herb seedlings. It was crazy!

The chicks and ducklings are in a brooder made of a recycled compost fence for the walls, cardboard to keep out drafts, quilts laid over the top to keep in the heat, and shredded paper to soak up their droppings. They have a heat pad and a heat lamp. The brooder needs to be kept at about 95 degrees for the first week and 5 degrees less every week until the outside temp matches the inside one. On the first night, we thought they would be fine without anything covering the corral since it was 95 degrees in the shed itself during the day. When I went out to check on them they didn't scatter when I reached in to pick one up. I thought I had gotten some really friendly chickens! Not so, the temp had dropped and they were lethargic. Oops! Some quilts
to keep in the heat and a different bulb in the lamp and they're scootin' around like crazies, jumping on each other. The chicks like to jump on the backs of the ducklings and ride them around. It's quite entertaining. Our town limits the number of farm animals residents can keep based on acreage and zoning. We are allowed 12 fowl so half of the chicks and the all the ducks are going to my Mom. She lives on a lake and the ducks will have a good life but I would keep them in a heartbeat- they are so cute!

I've been asked a few times why I want chickens and it's not just for the eggs. Now, the eggs are the main reason since "pasture fed" eggs have been tested to be high in the good stuff (omega 3 etc) and low in the bad stuff (cholesterol, fats) and it's really hard to find eggs labeled "pasture fed", outside of a true farmers market. This doesn't mean free range or cage free, both of those are arbitrary to the farmer- to label eggs "free range", the farmer only has to provide access to the outside, whether the birds actually go outside doesn't matter. And cage free just means they are all packed into huge coops, often with their beaks trimmed off so they don't fight and injure each other. "Pasture fed" means a portion of their daily food comes from foraging for bugs and seeds in the outdoors. This is where my other reason for having chickens comes in. They eat bugs. They dig up grubs that eat the roots of plants.
They eat ticks and fleas and beetles. They love ant eggs which cuts down on the population of ants. They eat slugs and snails. They eat flying insect eggs that are in grass, reducing the insects around the house. When moved around the yard, they leave behind healthier grass with less weeds since they eat seeds too. They eat a lot of the food garbage that we put in the compost since we can't put it down the sink, like the stalks of broccoli (shredded) and apple and veggie peels. Since they scratch and dig for their food, they turn the top layer of soil, aerating and making it healthier. This is also the reason they shouldn't be confined to one area, they'll overwork it and it becomes a muddy mess. They stay close, usually the boundaries of a yard and can be trained to come when called (with the sound of a treat shaken in a jar), they put themselves to bed in the evening, relying on their humans to close the coop door and make them safe. As I've said before, this is an experiment, hopefully all of the things I've read and been told by other backyard chicken farmers will be true in my yard and I'll not only have delicious eggs every day, but a healthier yard without spraying chemicals.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Master Bedroom Floor is Started!!

Yes, we are finally moving into the latter stages of the master redo. The bath is 90% there and Wino is itching to get into the (slightly) bigger bedroom. A few weeks ago, I had decided on a carbonized strand woven bamboo for the floors on the bedroom level. Here's my logic- I needed a wood floor that could withstand 48 dog nails tearing around, I wanted something renewable and prefinished. Solid as opposed to engineered, but stable through humidity changes. This bamboo had everything. The strand woven bamboo is twice as hard as oak and three times more stable. If it's carbonized, the color is a warm brown that goes all the way through (they heat the bamboo and caramelize the sugars in the wood). The strand has a nice color variation that makes it look a little more like tradition hardwood too. I had decided on this product but hadn't found the price I wanted. Looking online means factoring in shipping which can get very expensive. It's a better price per sqft but with shipping, well, it's a challenge. Wino said 'let's get it!' so I got online and it happened to be Earth Week and many home improvement suppliers were having eco-friendly sales. I find the bamboo I want at 60% off (I had looked at this online store before and it really was 60% off the price they usually sold it at) plus free shipping! That's huge because the shipping cost should have been $420. So I bit the bullet and ordered the floor, not just for the bedroom but for that whole level it was such a great price, hoping the boxes would be light enough to put into my car to drive up the driveway since freight carriers only do curbside delivery.

No such luck on the weight of the boxes. They weight about 80 lbs, are over 6' long and awkward as hell. The freight truck shows up as they are replacing the guardrail on our street right in front of the driveway and have one lane blocked off. He's now blocking half of the remaining lane. The driver has the wrong phone # on his form and can't get a hold of me so he finds my neighbor at the bottom of the hill. Jim drives up to get me, chuckling about the situation. He graciously offers to get his dump truck (he's a landscaper) from a worksite close by to load the flooring cartons (22!). So we're blocking the street for about 45 minutes, the township workers are shooting daggers at me with their eyes, and the driver's forklift won't work to move the pallet of flooring to the end of the truck. It was a bit of a mess but with much help from my neighbor, we were able to get all of my new flooring into the garage.

Wino had the pleasure of moving seven cartons into the master bedroom to "stabilize to the humidity of the room prior to installation". He moved the rest over the next few days into the office (because there isn't enough stuff in there already) just to get it out of the garage. Having it in the way in the house is also a form of psychological warfare- we're more likely to be motivated about installing it if it's constantly in the way. At least that's what I tell myself. Next step- subfloor.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Recycling Old Hinges and Hardware

In recycling our old ugly doors into much better looking ones, one of the mini-projects was to paint the hinges. I have developed a method for rehabbing metal fixtures and hardware that works pretty well, looks good and saves money. The reason for reusing the hinges was that installing new hinges would be a pain in the ass, but it always looks nice if the hinges match the other door hardware. In the house in TX, the original door and hinge hardware was a vintage oil rubbed bronze. Right now, this finish is very popular and it's one I like and use often. In adding new vintage doors and restoring the others that had been "updated" I refinished glass or porcelain knobs I purchased at a salvage yard.

The best way to match another color is to layer similar colors. I learned this technique at the Los Angeles Opera, dying character shoes to match fabric swatches. I'd spend the day taping off the soles and buckles, then sit outside on the loading dock with 20 cans of different colored spray shoe dye, layering the colors until it matched the swatch. If it got too heavy looking or thick (it might crack with wear), I'd start over by removing the dye with acetone and trying different colors. This same method works with any metal fixture or hardware. Here's the general steps:

Clean the piece you want to paint. I use soapy water if it can but light fixtures or anything electrical should only be wiped down. Sometimes really old stuff that's been sitting in a garage or shed takes a little elbow grease to clean but it's imperative that any oil, dirt, or flaky paint is removed.

Many newer fixtures and hinges will have a clear coat on them that needs to be removed. Even if it doesn't, this step is important. Using no less than 220 grit sand paper (400 for metal is best but i'll use what's on hand) gently sand all of the surfaces that will be painted. A lot of times, brass will turn silver colored, that's fine, it means the finish is roughed up enough. Getting every surface can be a challenge on fixtures with decorative stamping but wrapping the tip of a pencil in the sand paper can help get at those tough spots.

I'll usually wipe the piece down with mineral spirits to get rid off all the dust, then tape off anything that doesn't want to be painted. This part is very important to how the finished product will look so the tape needs to be perfect. I use blue painter's tape, mostly because it's what I have but masking tape also works. Clear packing tape does not work. Tried it in a pinch, huge mess.

Use a primer made for metal for the first coat. If the finish color will be dark, using grey or red primer is fine but use white for anything in the silver/chrome family. I use whatever can still has paint in it. Painting technique is important here so don't rush it and if it looks bad, use mineral spirits to remove the paint that's been applied and start over. In a well ventilated area, spray in light coats, pressing and releasing the spray tip when not pointed at what's being painted. This means pointing just above or next to the piece, start to paint, sweep across the piece and release the tip once past the piece. It sounds hard but it's really easy with a little practice.

Follow the directions on the can about dry times. I always try to read this in the store before buying because each product is so different. I once bought a primer that took 48 hours to recoat. What a pain! An afternoon project took a week. Anyway, after the primer coat, apply a light coat of the next color. To do the hinges, I used a semi-gloss brown I had from another project. Two light coats and the primer was covered. The next paint I used was a "hammered metal" paint. If this is applied lightly, it gives just enough texture. I didn't want to cover the brown, just dust it since the hammered metal paint was a little too grey/brown. If it looks too light after that, a dusting of the first color or even black can give nice texture. The additional coats don't want to be completely uniform because you want the underneath colors to show through, mimicking tarnish and wear of an antique finish.

If you're painting something
that will be installed with screws that will show, the heads of the screws can be painted too. Care should be taken when installing the screws so as to not strip the paint. I drill holes in a scrap of wood and set the screws upright in it and paint them as I paint the other objects.

Once happy with the look of the piece, a durable clear coat is important. Even with a clear coat, if the piece is in a high traffic area, it might get scratched, so this method is better for things that don't get handled. I once painted a brass metal door knob to match other vintage ones and it looked great until I turned it with my keys in my hand and left a beautiful brassy scratch along the top. Clear coat can only do so much.

This is a great way to recycle what's already in the house, especially if the design is beautiful, just not the finish, or it's something that's a bit tired looking. And for the hardcore- dents, gouges or rust damage in the metal can be patched with Bondo and sanded. Bondo can be found in small tubes (or gallon size tins) at any automotive supply. Sanded with 400 grit, you'll never know the damage was there. This is great to use when repairing instead of replacing.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Replacing an Ugly Door with a Fire Door

This is the first house I've owned that has an attached garage. In having the garage attached, the door between the house and the garage needs to be a steel 20 minute-rated fire door for it to be code. Ours is a lovely, brown, hollow-core door with a peephole. The peephole is just weird but did make it obvious if the lights were left on in the garage. The door fit fine but had air gaps all the way around when closed. I was once doing laundry and heard this long whoosh sound and realized it was the door, exhaling our precious heated air into the cold garage. Even in the dead of winter, the garage never seemed to get much colder than 55 degrees, now I knew why. Wino solved that problem with more weather stripping than door. After that, the door needed to be slammed, not once but twice to get it to latch. Sometimes, when it's nice out, I wouldn't even bother latching it. Too much trouble, and it threatens to knock over lamps and such in the living room above it. This situation needed to be fixed and I knew we really needed to just put in a fire door but, even though I have replaced many doors, I had only installed one pre-hung door; double french doors into a new opening at the CA house. It had been a while and we didn't have to sort out someone else's messy rough-in. I wanted to make sure that having the door missing for an entire day wouldn't be a problem, like say, doing it during the winter would suck all the heat out of the house. I mentioned this to the HD door guy who said "well, installing a pre-hung door shouldn't take more than 30 minutes!". I just looked at him, smiled and nodded. He's never worked on OUR house. We bought the door a few weeks ago at Lowes, their price on the same door was about $40 cheaper than HD but they only had a few (new item for them) and only one in the right size and handing (which way the door opens) so we bought it that day. Go in for drawer glide, come out with fire door. Sounds about right. Each following weekend, there were things to do, people coming out to visit, other more pressing projects. This was not something I was willing to try by myself, if only because of the thought of trying to hold a door plumb and square, keep it from falling out the hole, then putting screws in it. Well, waiting until Wino had a few free hours seemed like a better idea.

Putting in a pre-hung door, in theory, is much easier than replacing just the door and having to fit the hinges and door to an existing finished opening. Tearing out the old door and the jambs wasn't bad, we used a recip saw and cut the nails holding the jambs in place. It was a little awkward because of how close one side is to some cabinets but it got done in short order. A little cleanup, check the plumb of the rough opening and we're ready to go. We dry fit the door first and realized the brick molding on one side had to be removed and the top corner of molding cut down because of those pesky cabinets.
The molding on the outside basically lets you just push the door all the way in, then you can open the door, plumb and level the sides, shim and put in the screws. If the molding is missing on the hinge side, like in our luck, when you open the door to get the jambs to level and plumb, the weight of the open door slowly tweaks out the bottom, the top tweaks in and twists the whole thing. Especially if you aren't paying attention to it because you're trying to make the other jamb perfect. Aaargh! Ok, lets install the hinge side first. Smart. That side's in and I get the little level to check the threshold because the other side wasn't behaving and -what? Is there supposed to be cardboard under it? Crap! Out comes the door, we apparently missed the stealthily placed cardboard that protects the underside of the threshold. Ugh. I had put silicone all along the threshold so it was a gooey mess. No wonder it was off, there were staples sticking out on one side. So we clean up that mess but before we can put the door back in, Wino decides we need proper shims. We were using scraps of wood which admittedly were not the easiest thing to use but he says shims would make everything easier. Oh, is that what would make the install easier? Goodie! So off he goes to Ace for shims and I decide it's time for lunch. Being that it was 10 minutes to 5 on a Sunday evening- crap! late lunch- the Ace was closed and so were the other stores he tried, not willing to drive to Lowes or HD just for shims. So after wasting about an hour looking for shims, Wino came home and made shims himself with wood scraps and the chop saw. There comes a time in all projects where I've learned to just nod my head and move forward. Following the directions that came with the door, we trued up the hinge side and put "temporary" screws in to hold the whole thing together and I left to walk the dogs. Wino finished the screws on the other side, and when I returned, I stuffed some insulation into the gap overhead, hastily installed the deadbolt and latch and called it a night.

The next day was spent re-installing the trim around the door, which oddly did not just go back up. Two tubes of caulk later and I felt the door was relatively weatherproof. Well, until I shut the door standing on the outside with the light on inside. Major gaps from the latch up to half way overhead. It took some adjusting of the strike plate for the latch but it now closes tightly with no gaps, but you still have to pull it shut a bit. It still needs the nail and screw holes patched and the trim and door painted- the door comes primed in grey. All that is a project for another day when I'm avoiding a different project and I can leave the door open for at least several hours.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Spa-worthy Bathroom is Finished!

The best motivator for projects is a visit from family or friends. Last weekend my mother came out to visit to help sort out the garden -I despise gardening but like the romantic notion of going out into the garden to gather fresh veggies and herbs for dinner- so the week prior, I made a real effort to finish up what was left to do in the master bath.

Wino did a really nice job grouting the entire bathroom floor, which I really appreciated but since Wino was at work during the week, I had to man-handle the shower door myself. The glass door is huge, awkward, and heavy so I moved it by propping it on the toes of my boots and scooting it across the room into the bathroom. Fun. I thought I had purchased the 6mm glass but apparently, I bought the 10mm glass which basically means it's heavy as hell but looks even better. The directions were less than stellar with misprint numbers and strange sentence formation making it a challenge. I had expected it though since I bought a different shower door from the same company for the master bath in TX, and had the same issues. We cheated a little on the shower head and purchased the same shower column that we had in TX.
Wino really liked it and I was unable to find anything comparable for less money. It has a separate dial for water temperature that allows you to turn the shower head on and off without having to readjust the hot/cold mix. This is good in summer when washing hair or shaving legs. It also helps to conserve water. The body jets on it are a bit of a joke, but having the separate handheld shower head is nice. The install was easy, mostly because we were familiar with how it gets installed and were able to prepare the water lines coming out of the wall. Installing it in TX was a real trial but at least we had the learning curve for here.

We went with a basic but stylized 1.6 gallon flush toilet. Because of the size of the sink, the tank needed to be more narrow than traditional toilet tanks and this fit nicely. Wino installed it in one evening but I had forgotten the flexible water line for so it sat useless for a few more days. One thing I learned when looking for a toilet was to check the MAP rating, this is flush power and tops out at 1000. Most new toilets today are rated very high but the cheapie toilets are not. I also would have preferred the round front toilet instead of the elongated but ordering it was just not an option this time. We went to buy a toilet and were determined to come home with a toilet.

The sink was the last thing to go in since I was building the cabinet for it to sit on and had been slacking off on that project.
I still haven't built the drawers but at least I got the sink in and working. Figuring the water lines should have been easy but the "plumbing expert" at HD had me buy the wrong splitter valve but a different associate sorted it out for me. The faucets we bought also were a little different from what I've installed in the past but we really liked them and they were an awesome price. The sink went in relatively easy, but again, Wino was at work so I had to lift, carry and place this monstrosity alone. My biggest fear wasn't that I'd throw out my back but that I'd trip and drop the sink or whack it on the doorway or something and chip it. My luck held and the sink went in ok. It's actually bolted to the wall so the cabinet is mostly decorative, but it does take a little weight.

As much as I'd like to say the bath is totally finished, it's not and won't be for a while. All the little things at the end of a big project are the hardest to finish. Also please note that the links for products are just to give the product info, I don't think it's where I actually bought them from. I got much better deals and paid way less than what the list prices are now. I purchased most of the big stuff for the bath right before xmas and was able to really save with free shipping and holiday discounts.

With company coming this weekend for dinner, maybe I'll get the motivation to finish up the drawers for the vanity and the cabinet doors. Fingers crossed!


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cosmetic Surgery for a Poor, Ugly Door

I have ugly doors. It's true. All of them. Ugly. Brown. Hollow core. Shameful. It's something I didn't really take too much notice of when looking at the house initially but as it turns out, it bothers me. The last two vintage houses we lived in had really pretty doors, original to the
house, mostly. So I knew I would have to change out the doors. Easy, right? Well, if you've ever hung a new door in an existing opening, it's a bit of an art and a lot of a pain in the ass. One thing positive about our ugly doors is that they all work, open, close and latch without too much trouble. Oh, one would think 'isn't that just basic?'. Vintage houses rarely have doors that fit well unless someone else has gone through the trouble of making them fit and latch again. My point is, the doors are fine, functional, just ugly as sin.

In CA, we added a closet to the sunroom by building a new wall parallel to an inside wall. Just for fun (?!), I wanted to put a pocket door in instead of a regular door that would swing into the room. It was a huge pain, mostly due to the bizarre stocking practices of HD, but it got done (git 'er dun!) and we needed a door. I had my sources for vintage doors but I wanted something that would match the rest of the house (one lite or three lites) and not cost an arm and a leg with lots of rehab work to do. That's when I came up with altering a cheap prefab door to look like the rest of the doors.

This was my plan with the bathroom door. It leads from the master bedroom to the bath so I decided on glass panes with texture for privacy. Eventually all of the doors in the house will get done the same way but with solid panes instead. This cosmetic surgery works best on hollow core doors that are hung with removable pin hinges. Most older doors are like this. By popping out the hinge pins, you can remove the door without any tools (well, a screwdriver to help pop the pin) and rehang it quickly by yourself.
Using a sharpie and yard stick, I drew out three lites or panels on the door. Didn't like it so I tried four panels. Good! I cut out the panels with a circular saw and jig saw for the corners and was left with four big holes in the door. At this point you can see the guts.
If the door is solid wood, the next step is to put in the trim for the panels. My doors are hollow (see pic) so I cut strips from a 2x4 that would fit into the space between the door surfaces and secured them using a nail gun. Now the trim to hold the panels goes in. I chose to make my own on the table saw with scrap oak in a step pattern but I've bought quarter round profile trim at the home depot before and it works fine and is quicker. Figure how thick the inset panel will be and nail the trim accordingly. Only do one side then paint all the trim, including inside where the glass will sit.
I set the glass using painters caulk to stabilize it because glazing points would stick out too much. On this door, I used clear glass with a panel of textured plastic set on top to give a little privacy. It was a lot cheaper than buying textured glass and it gives a little protection to one side of the glass. Set in the panels and nail in the trim to hold it in place. I use short finish nails on one side incase I need to remove the trim to replace the glass panel. A few coats of semi-gloss paint and voila! a new, pretty door.

Using glass panels and adding wood structure makes the door heavier so it's a good idea to make sure the hinges are solid. I took off the hinges on the wall side to paint them and found they were installed with 1/2" screws. After painting, they were reinstalled with 2" screws. I chose to paint the hinges, which were spotty, tarnished brass, to match the new locksets, 'venetian bronze'. I will do another post on recycling hinges and fixtures by painting them, a favorite trick of mine to save time and money.

This is a great way to get custom-looking doors without the cost, or match a new door to vintage ones already in the house. This process can also be done to sliding closet doors to make them more useful, installing mirror in the panels. There are so many variations on this idea, one is only limited by creativity.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Building a Deck from an Eyesore

A very close friend of mine bought a house a few years ago in a mostly rural part of the country. It had been purchased previously as a flip but the other owners defaulted and my friend, I'll call her Bunny, bought it, mostly finished, from the bank. Bunny and her husband are handy enough that they were able to finish the little things that were still left, like trimming the closets. Both the front and the back of the house have decks, the back one is nice, with a railing, and large enough to entertain. The front one? Well, I love Bunny but it was an eyesore. At some stage (pre-purchase) the railings were taken down and the steps removed. The planking had a chevron pattern, a fav of mine, but there were weird cut-out sections where the planks ran parallel to the house. It was large. Very large for a front deck and had trellis slapped on the front, at some better time, painted white. They have a substantial setback from the street, so the deck only looked weird up close. It overwhelmed the front of the house. Bunny loves to garden and is very creative and good at it, but landscaping around the deck seemed futile. They had stopped using the front door since the back door was as convenient and safer. Bunny's husband, father and father-in-law had all taken tools of destruction to this deck, pulling planks and seeing what might be done with it. They discovered a woodchuck living underneath and maybe wild rabbits. When asking me for advice on what to replace the front deck with, I suggested that if the structure was sound, it could be cut down and reused into a much smaller front door landing. This was the route they took. Since it would be easier to see for myself and lend a hand, off I went for a weekend. I will admit, Bunny recently had a baby boy and I really wanted to meet and play with him, ulterior motives.

The interesting thing about this deck is that it was a bit overbuilt but then they cheaped on other things. The joists are 2X10, very large for a structure only 24" off the ground (meaning using more posts wouldn't be unusual, then use 2x6). The beam supporting the joists was about 10' from the house, with about 6' of cantilever, which was why they used such large stock. The chevron design was probably an afterthought since the joists were 16" OC, standard for a chevron is 12" (I designed the CA deck with a chevron pattern and the joists were properly spaced, I looked it up). The planking was the standard 5/4 x 6" treated but it had never been sealed or painted and had warped, cracked, and discolored. Those planks are going to be recycled into raised garden beds so they're being removed with care. The ledger (beam attached to the house that the whole deck hangs off of) was only bolted once every two feet and had no flashing. I've always used two lag screws set vertically between every other joist, but it seemed secure. Since it's attached to brick, maybe there's no need for traditional flashing but a good bead of silicone would keep the water from getting behind the board and causing problems. There was a funky space between the ledger and front door threshold that we decided would be sealed with insulating foam and proper flashing. Thankfully, there were no crazy surprises, like the rotted walls in my master bath, so after one day of work, we had the deck to a place where bunny's husband could continue on his own. We chose the joists to keep and cut them to 5' long. Removed the end joist, which was improperly installed and about to fall off anyway, recut and rehung it with a corner brace for good measure. Using a circular saw, the other end of the ledger was cut in two places and we removed a chunk so the other end joist could be installed. Once the depth of the deck was established, we realized it was only 15" or so from the deck surface to the ground. It was decided that a separate step would be built after the ground was leveled a bit, being installed on precast cement footers sunk into the ground. The deck itself would be supported by posts though and I let bunny's hubby have the joy of digging the holes. He did three, one on each corner and a center one. The deck ended up 8' wide so having three posts was probably overkill (that word again!) but, hey, that seems to be my MO. The only real glitch was when the first hole was being dug, a cement block was in the way. No problem, dig it out and continue, right? After way too much digging, Bunny's hubby discovered it was multiple blocks, cemented together, at least 24" deep. The solution was to remove the end joist and move it over 5" making the deck less wide but clearing the cement blocks. Everything was leveled, plumbed and perfect and we stopped for the day. The intention was to get the end board installed and the deck bolted to the posts and ready for planks the next day but we were foiled by rain. I left that day after assurances the rest could be done without me.

There's a ton of work to still be done before this deck will be ready for flower pots and stain, like removing the old deck and picking out all the rubbish that was tossed under the old deck.
We found a fork, a submarine and other toys, cement blocks, rocks, and general trash. Bunny and I went to Art school together and we both have the imagination to look at the scary state the front it currently is in and see a cute deck with planters on both sides, specimen trees and beautiful plants along a welcoming rounded path to the front door. The reality is it might take a couple of years (for the landscaping) but imagination is a serious motivator.

There are many good books on deck building, giving spacing for joists and posts and beams depending on the wood available locally -yellow pine, doug fir, etc- I highly suggest using one as a reference if building a deck. The first deck Wino and I built was at ground level but I still used 4 different books as reference.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fowl Days are Ahead

Here's how to convince your spouse to let you get chickens (without threatening your relationship). Start by saying "I would love to get some goats. Just a few, maybe the angora ones. We could milk them, make cheese, shave them and sell the wool. The dogs would love having goats to play with. No? No goats? Peacocks would be fun then! They're big, very loud, and a bit cranky but I could collect their feathers and wouldn't that be cool? Free-range peacocks? No? No peacocks. Hmm. I guess chickens would be useful. They're sort of low maintenance and we'd have fresh eggs. Yeah? You're good with chickens? Cool!" Feel free to use the above manipulation on your own spouse.

The order is in at the farm store. Six Aracaunas, three Barred Rock and five Sal Link. The Aracaunas are the ones I really wanted and was thrilled that the local farm store was offering them. They are nicknamed 'the Easter Egg Chicken' because they lay colored eggs, anywhere from turquoise to dark olive. The birds are delivered as one to three day old chicks. In addition to the chicks I'm getting, I ordered some for my mom, plus three ducklings for her. I think there'll be 25 total chicks/ducklings on delivery.

This is the Great Chicken Experiment. For some reason, birds in general hate me. They like to bite me if I try to pet them, like in a pet store, and they will scream and cause a scene when I walk in. I had a roommate whose birds would hiss and spit at me if I sat on the couch (they ended up covered with a blanket). I don't know what it is since I am really good with other animals, especially reptiles. My mother's chickens chase me and push me around, pecking at my legs for their sunflower seeds. But I'm going to train mine early. No pecking!! I'm determined to get eggs from these chickens but they may make me pay for them in blood.

What does this all mean? It means we've got a ton of work to do getting the existing chicken coop in order. It's a bit run down, much of the trim paint gone and the doors don't exactly work. I'll be putting access doors on the outside so I can harvest
the eggs without having to go inside, which will probably smell just a bit. There's electricity inside but the GFI is tripped and won't reset, that warrants investigation. Mom thinks the nesting boxes are too high so they'll get a little access ramp. The roof just looks sad and I'm adding gutters to collect the rain water. I'm changing the exterior color, which currently matches the icky brown of the house. Wino will need to re-fence the yard with chicken wire since they can get out of the cattle wire that's there now. Phew! Deadline: late June, maybe early July. I'll pick up the chickens on May 21 and then they'll be in the dog kennel staying warm and growing for several weeks. They should be laying by fall and with 12 chickens, at one egg per day, I'll be inundated by free-range, corn fed fresh eggs. That's the plan. Want some?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stairs, the Over-Kill Way

Yesterday the A/C service guy came out for a spring tune up of the A/C. He's familiar with the house, he came out a few months ago when the heat pump decided to give up the ghost during a snow storm. It ended up being not the heat pump but the circuit breaker. (just an aside, if something keeps tripping a breaker, don't just keep resetting it, eventually it will melt and the whole panel will need to be replaced). The breaker panels (yes, plural) are in the basement and unfortunately, I was in the process of finishing the basement when all this happened. The half flight of stairs to the basement were scary. The only saving grace was with only 6 steps, you could jump to the bottom easily were a step to give way. I knew this was a problem when, just weeks after buying the house we had the chimney sweep come out. The helper was a big boy and I saw one of the steps flex about two inches as he came down to prep the stove insert in the basement. That's just not right. He kept going up and down the stairs and I was sure I was going to be pulling him out of the staircase with a broken leg (really, I would have just been tugging at him, he was so big there was no way his boss and I could have lifted him, even in a Lou Ferrigno moment) Suffice to say, I knew the stairs were a problem. After finishing the walls and floors of the basement, I procrastinated as usual about the steps. I had only built steps for decks, specifically the house in CA and the steps were such a pain, I was not looking forward to fixing these. Finally, while trying to avoid a different project, I demo'd the steps. I'm not sure what the codes are for steps but I'm pretty sure having two finish nails holding each end of the board horizontally with no under-structure might not make the grade. The half wall of the steps was also pulling away so there were gaps between the tread and the walls of about 1/2" on each side. You could see the nails but I didn't think that was the only thing holding the stair tread up! The weight of the board, person stepping and the force of that step were held up by just those two nails. I still can't believe it when I write it again. It took about 20 minutes with the sawsall and the steps were out. I left the risers, they seemed fine and I faced them with the laminate matching the floor.

I wasn't sure how to proceed with the structure to hold the tread so I just built it like decking. I made boxes out of 2 x 4 and secured them level with the top of the risers using 3" screws.
It was a bit of a pain to position the boxes (which were heavy) and try to screw them in and keep it level side to side and front to back. Clamping them to the risers and drawing guide lines helped. Once that was done, I could at least climb the stairs, being careful. The cats thought it was great, they could get underneath the stairs, which at some point harbored critters (like any basement in a cold climate), and that was worthy entertainment.

Since the basement floor is 'oak' laminate, I used oak stair treads. HD and Lowes both have them for about the same price. I took a sample of the laminate and matched the stain color so I could stain the boards to match. Before installing anything though, I painted the side trim on the steps so I wouldn't have to do it after the steps were installed. This saved time in the end. I also stained and sealed the treads before installing them, letting them dry for a good four days. Using a nail gun with 2" finish nails, the treads went in fast (I numbered them on the back when I cut them since they had to be fitted), filled the nail holes with putty and eventually put a final thin coat of urethane over the existing 3 coats. They are solid. The dogs will even use the steps now, before they were too freaked out by the shakiness of them.

The A/C guy, making small talk, says "I see you finished the basement,
it looks nice. The steps are much better". I laughed since ANYTHING would be better than what was there. He said he had just rebuilt the basement steps in his house too so we compared notes on what we each did. After explaining how I did ours, he said "wow, that's kinda over-kill, don't cha think?" Hmm. Maybe.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bathroom, Floor (with heat!)

As much as one may procrastinate, eventually the piper must be paid and unsavory tasks accomplished. This is how I feel about the floor. It's not that I really don't like tiling, I think what was stumping me was the radiant floor heat. I had never installed it before and needed to wrap my head around it before diving in. There came a point, two fridays ago I think, when it became apparent I really could put off the bath floor indefinitely so that prompted me to suck it up. First thing I did was the shower floor, no mat there so it was relatively easy, aside from the drain. Now I could feel like I've started the floor without tackling the part intimidating me. After a few days of basking in the shower floor glow of accomplishment, I was ready for the radiant floor heat. In the mat installation instructions, first thing to do is test the "resistance" of the mat (and then two more times during installation). Um, ok. So off to HD to get an ohmmeter or multimeter. I found a multimeter. Followed the directions and took the reading. The display was kind of all over and I hope this is normal but it did pause on 53.6, so I'm hoping that means that's the reading. There's also a "loud mouth" tool that you clamp the wires for the mat to and if there's a break in the line during installation, it buzzes. Good thing since the mat is embedded in mortar and a bit hard to get to once installed. Next it says to lay out the mat, being careful of the purple wire (that's what heats the floor) and staple or tape it down. Taping sounded like a bad idea so I tried to staple it. Apparently stapling into cement board is not possible, no matter how much you swear. Ok, tape it is! The mat came with some hard-core-we-hold-the-space-shuttle-together-with-this double sided tape. (during installation, my sock stuck to it and I almost fell over trying to leave the room, fun) Once I laid the mat out and cut the mesh where needed, I realized it was going to be one row short, which sucks because that means a cold spot. So I was creative with the purple wire and hot glue, the result can be seen in the photo. I also ended up putting down one layer of the pepto on the floor as an anti-fracture membrane underneath the mat. I know that cracking is probably not an issue with the small tiles that we used but I had it and it only took 20 minutes (and allowed me to put off laying the mat for another day) and who knows with the heating and cooling of the floor? The vanity is along the same wall as the toilet and you don't want the mats under those so that's the unheated space along the inside wall.

The tile we chose was an HD stock item. I can be a little impatient when it comes to buying supplies, and prefer things carried in stock (this also makes dealing with miscalculations easier). We narrowed it down to two choices, all white octagonal with squares or white octagonal with black squares. I wasn't thrilled with either but compromised with a "peppered" floor. I cannibalized the black square tiles and artistically scattered them into the all white tiles. I prepped out the 1'x1' sheets beforehand by cutting out the tiles I wanted to replace so once it was down it would be easy to place the black tiles. I reused the loose octagonal tiles for the edges and odd spots and ended up with only 10 superfluous octo tiles, but a good number of white square tiles left over. The full sheets were to returned to HD.

I'm ready. Tiles are prepped, warming mat is taped down, floor is vacuumed, I'm ready. I mixed an obscene amount of mortar, determined to slap down half the floor in one sitting. Come to discover, filling in the areas between the wires on the mat takes a lot of material and I only got one and a half rows done. 4 1/2 full sheets. Only 29 sheets to go. Depressing. After 3 days and yet another trip to HD for yet another bag of mortar, it's down. The floor is tiled. I'm going to let the mortar set for about 6 days before grouting due to the thickness of it, plus, that puts it on a weekend and Wino is really good at grouting. It looks a little odd right now with the red and grey peeking between the tiles, but I think I'll like it once the white grout is in. I hope.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Never Attempt Crown Moulding on an Empty Stomach

As the title states, I made this dire mistake about 2 weeks ago when starting the crown moulding in the bathroom. I figured I'd finish everything I could before laying the floor tile (still procrastinating) since that's the last big thing and I'd have to avoid walking on it for at least a few days to let the mortar set. It was a Sunday. Wino and I ran errands in the morning, which really is early afternoon for us. I had bought the moulding a few days before and painted the pieces so it would only need touch up once it's in. We started work on the bathroom around 4pm. Wino was continuing with the grout and I started the CM. I have installed CM before but it's been a really long time. I'm more prone to install quickie crown moulding which is just window or shallow base moulding turned upside down (see basement CM). So wanting to get it done, I jumped right in. I made a simple jig to help place the CM to cut it with the compound miter saw. I cut one long piece for the longest wall (it was not the full length though) and a scrap piece for the marrying corner, just to see how it would look. Without going into details, that session ended with me throwing down the little piece, dropping the long piece, and falling backwards off the 3-step ladder while emitting a guttural yell that embodied frustration to it's core. Then I realized my patience was worn thin by my lack of feeding it, I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Wino is sadly used to these outbursts, his usual comment being "have you eaten lately?". He's almost always on the money and off I go to the kitchen to forage. So while feeding my patience, I took the opportunity to research installing CM on the internet. I should have led with this move but, I was in a bit of a hurry to see it done. There are some really good videos out there and a few different methods for cutting the compound angles. I chose the easiest, I think. This video was good save for the cardboard host, and he gets a little crazy with the left-flip-right-flip-left. I just visualize where its going and draw a light pencil mark showing the angle to cut. One useful tip when installing crown moulding, don't expect it to be perfect or you will make yourself crazy. That's what caulking is for. So I used some scrap wood to make another, more useful jig (see pic) and it really worked better. I also held a smaller piece of moulding in place on the wall and traced the bottom edge, matching the corners so I'd have something to follow once ready to nail them in. Since walls are never straight or perfectly square, I had to re-cut some of the ends when installing, adjusting the angle on the saw. I always cut the first time a little big, exactly for this reason. If the angle is right, the overlap or gap will be uniform. If not, it's an easy indication of where to cut. Being winter and very dry in the house (25% rel. humidity), I let the moulding acclimate for a few days before the install, and I didn't worry about little gaps at the corners. I caulked the corners because come summer, the wood will swell and the caulk will adjust, whereas, with wood fill, it'd end up pushing the fill and then when the humidity comes back down, you'll see cracks in the corners again.

It took less than two hours once the jig was made and the lines drawn to have all of the moulding up. Then came patching the nail holes, caulking the top and bottom edge and corners. Taking a break to eat then painting the CM, but I still need to touch up the wall paint.
I used a pneumatic nail gun which really makes things move quick, no matter what the project. And using that, I could install all of the pieces without assistance, since Wino was at work. It would have taken forever if nailing up the boards the old fashioned way!

One last thing, as prep for the CM, I used expanding foam to seal the wall to ceiling corners, then cut off any that was in the way. I did this because I could feel a cold draft coming from the gap at the ceiling to wall. I don't know why or where it was coming from (attic, wall?) but sealing it took care of it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bathroom, Peptoing the Shower & Tiling the Walls

Is that a word? Peptoing? I've just finished the third coat of pepto on the shower floor and as I wait for it to dry (1 1/2 to 12 hours, ugh) I figure I'll make use of my time. After the shower base went in and the walls went up, the shower walls were ready to go in. Here's something very important when creating a waterproof shower stall- behind the durarock cement board, 6 mil poly should be hung, overlapping the flange at the bottom where the wall and shower pan meet. I did not know that water will migrate through grout lines, then cement board, to then soak the studs and insulation behind it. I think this is an extreme example but a little cheap poly sheeting is a good insurance policy. We had some left over from using it as a vapor barrier behind the drywall in the basement so up it went. I had read online that hardibacker shouldn't be used for shower walls so we used the 1/2" durarock. Since it's only available in 3' x 5' sheets now, we had a few seams, which I sealed with the same high quality 100% silicone caulk. Same for the corners and where the wall meets the base. Because of my water paranoia, probably caused by the sight of the disintegrating studs in the shower, I decided to see if I could waterproof the shower base more. The website that sells the base had a paintable product called "ShowerSeal" which seemed perfect but really expensive so I searched for an alternate product. I came upon a product called "Pro-Red", which is a water-based (easy cleanup) paint on membrane that at one layer, provides a surface for mortar to grip to and prevents tile cracking and at thicker applications, creates an elastomeric waterproof membrane. The importance of being "elastomeric" is so any shifting or settling that always happens in houses causing small cracks in corners will not crack this membrane (within reason). Sold in 2 or 5 gallons, it was expensive, then shipping added $40!! I found a product called "Red Guard" sold at the HD in the flooring department that I think is the same stuff, just packaged for non-professionals. All of the instructions and descriptions are exactly the same as the Pro-Red, but it's packaged in 1 and 3 gallon sizes. Plus, no shipping! When you open the bucket, it's a lovely pepto-pink with a strange pasty consistency. I applied one layer to the drywall outside the shower that was going to be tiled for the wainscoting. I applied it thicker (three layers) on the shower walls. This took a few days because of the dry time between coats. The instructions say for waterproofing the wet layers should not be more than 125 mils thick. Huh? More searching on the internet and I figured 125 mils = 1/8" thick. Ok, now I have an idea of how this goes on. As it dries, it turns a lovely, dark red color, hence the name. Juxtaposed with the green drywall, and the bathroom was holiday festive!

The Red Guard label said it it could also be used to waterproof around the closet ring on a toilet and I took that to heart. The original toilet closet ring ended up almost level with the completed sub floor, so tiling the floor would put it 1/4" or more below the surface. Hmm. Wino found an adapter closet ring just for this problem (at HD, of course), that has a gasket and slips into the old closet ring, with the new closet ring resting on the subfloor.
In the picture, Wino used mortar to fill in around the old ring, making it level with the subfloor and I've waterproofed it so the new ring can go in and get screwed down. The Red Guard states it will stick to drywall, metal, PVC, and cement/mortar. The point of this, in theory, is to give any water that might be leaking (which happens when wax rings get old) no place to go except out from under the toilet, alerting any observant person to the problem. Usually, the leak just soaks the sub floor around the ring, slowly rotting it away until it starts to drip from below. This can go unnoticed for a long time, meaning much more major repairs. (Also note the "baseboard" tile along the wall in this photo)

As to tiling the walls, I used greenboard drywall (the stuff made now has mold treatment in the plaster, not just wax on the paper surface, I asked) and with the Red Guard, was able to tile directly on it using modified thin-set (not the pre-mix stuff!). This saved us serious time and some money in not having to use hardibacker for the wainscoting and drywall above it. It's not in a wet area so there shouldn't be any problems, but behind where the sink will be, I did used scraps of hardibacker we had from the floor. This also got three layers of the Red Guard, since it will be seeing some water in the future. I did not tile behind the sink vanity, since it'll be hidden. I stole an idea from TOH magazine in which this couple used subway tile turned on end to mimic a base board. Clever! I then ran a strip of glass tile, then the subway tile in a brick pattern, then the glass, then bull nose. I'm quite happy with the result.

I think when I do this again, since there will always be other bathrooms, when laying the tile, instead of starting from one corner with full and half tiles, I'll start in the center so the ends of the walls have even partial tiles. That would look better. Oh, and I'd tile the floor first, then work on the walls. I'm sure there's a reason we did the walls first but I'm not clear on why. The shower base has gotten a little beat up with all the work done in that area. It's fine, but if it had been tiled, it would've been better. And when tiling, I always back-butter every tile. This means applying a thin layer of mortar to the back of the tile in addition to the mortar on the wall or floor. It makes the job longer and takes more attention but I've never had a tile pop off or crack.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bathroom, Shower Drama

Once everything was stripped out of the bathroom and I had decided to expand the footprint of the shower stall, I was left with the challenge of figuring out the best, most cost effective way of getting the perfect shower (for that space). There were a few problems with finding a shower pan. First, because we removed one wall, and the 2" thick cement on the other walls, the drain was no longer centered to anything. Previously, the inside of the shower measured 36"x 44". The new measurement (maxing out the space) is 45" x 46". My choices for a shower pan were as follows: prefab fiberglass/resin, custom crafted mud shower pan, or custom fabricated marble or corian. Wino thought we should just do a custom mud/cement pan and tile it. I know my limitations, mostly, my lack of patience, and was wary of this project. I found a really good video online explaining how to build one of these shower pans. After watching the video, Wino suggested we find an alternative. Smart boy. I found a few websites offering preformed shower bases in a material that could be tiled, to give it a custom look, but the size was not exact and the drains were centered and that meant we would have to move the drain and make the shower smaller by building in the walls, ruining the line of the bath and adding a lot more work. Apparently, standard sizes run 42"x 42", then jump to 48" x 48". I stumbled across a website that offered custom sized bases in a material that would take tile. Actually I found two different products, made two different ways. I chose the one with the simple installation, since the material was basically the same. I was surprised at the quote because it wasn't much more than a prefab tile-ready base, but it was twice the cost of a prefab fiberglass base (once you slap "custom" on anything, it seems to skyrocket the price). If we wanted to keep the size and drain location, this was the best choice. Basically, the base is made of extruded industrial hard foam, formed to specifications, then skinned with a thick waterproof fiberglass mesh/plastic/resin surface that mortar will stick to. The base comes with a 4" threshold, but can also be made ADA compliant. There's also a 5" flange that goes up the wall to help with waterproofing. Check out the details here. So we order it, I'm excited because the shower is going to be big and this seems like a relatively simple solution. It comes in a huge box, but is very light weight. On the order form, it suggests you minus 1/2" from the dimensions for wiggle room. Well, our space is not quite square, with one end being 1/4" smaller than the other, so I only minus 1/4" off the smallest dimension. When we dry fitted it, it didn't fit in the back corner and I had to remove some furring strips to make room. No big deal, I reinstalled them after the shower base was in. So take the 1/2" wiggle room to heart. The base basically gets glued down using the same modified thin-set used to adhere the tiles. The drain was replaced first, we ordered a new one with the pan. It's three pieces, quite clever. Lots of thin-set, gobs of 100% silicone around the rim of the drain flange, and try to place the pan level without dropping it. Ugh. Once it was in, I stepped into the base to force it down, squishing out any excess mortar. It was pretty level when I checked it so we didn't have to do anything there. My paranoia about the drain led to a 20# weight being positioned over it for 3 days, until I was sure it was set. The modified thin-set is designed to stick to plywood but we chose the extra protection of using cement backerboard over the plywood on the entire floor. We put in some screws about 1/2" from the top of the flange to secure the base to the wall studs.

So the base was in and we continued to install the walls. Heres where the drama happened.
My feeling on this shower base is that it's a little delicate until the tile is installed. I was concerned with something puncturing the surface, negating it's waterproofing. I'm always dropping tools, screws, tape measures, and I thought something might happen. Well, when we were putting the walls in the shower stall up, we needed a step ladder for the top piece. I told Wino, "get the rug pads and some wood to spread out the weight of the ladder feet so they don't puncture the base" (see picture).
Guess what happened. He didn't want to go look in the garage for scrap wood and thought I was over-reacting so he just used the bunched up rug pads and ended up puncturing the base, not once but twice! Now I'm picturing water
penetrating the grout, running down the base towards the weep holes in the drain but being diverted into these potholes, seeping into the foam and collapsing the whole base. I have an active imagination. Wino was banished from the bathroom and I finished the walls myself (we were mostly done). To fix the pothole problem, I filled them with high grade silicone caulk, and decided to look for a waterproofing product to apply to the whole base as a precaution. More on that in the "shower wall and waterproofing" post.

To sum up, I would use this base again, at this point. I'm procrastinating tiling it but so far, it's performed as advertised. Installation was straight forward, and if you can mix mortar (but no lumps!) it's really easy. In the future, if I used this product again, I would be more cautious about the surface until the tile is in. Stepping on it with shoes or bare feet is fine, but ladder feet, not so much.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bathroom, Post-destruction

After a few days of destruction, and cleaning up, of course, the walls were out and it was just a raw space. Now I could really think about what I wanted it to be. One thing was for sure- heated floors!!!! I've always wanted them and now that we're living in the arctic circle (ok, but it feels like it sometimes) warm floors on my bare feet is a no-brainer. I asked Wino what would be on his wish list and he really wanted two sinks. Boy wants to brush his teeth without having to move for me to spit. There's love. Two sinks would be a challenge for this space but I was willing to negotiate. I wanted a larger shower than the solitary prison cell that passed for a shower stall before. Basically, I needed the bathroom to be twice as big. My inability to bump out the exterior wall (the electric meter is on the other side, can of worms) forced me to think creatively.

Here's the plan we came up with. Instead of two sinks, we compromised and I found a trough sink with two faucets that would just fit in the space between the wall and the toilet. This then lead to needing two medicine cabinets to balance the sink, and two light fixtures to balance the medicine cabinets. The picture shows the framing for the medicine cabinets, the boxes for the lights and a recessed cabinet over the toilet. What's a little more framing?

I bumped out the shower stall by 8 inches by using the space previously occupied by the shower wall, now replaced by glass. (This created it's own challenges, more on that later). I reclaimed some storage space inside the walls by recessing cabinets where I could. The interior wall has a bump-in next to the toilet which looked weird so we added more recessed cabinets to make the bump-in look less awkward. This photo shows the framing for those cabinets. These will have to be custom made, of course. The plumbing for the shower was left as-is until a decision was made on what exactly was going to happen there. It did look funny having the shower head sticking out of the open wall. On the exterior wall, the only change I made was replacing the insulation with R-19 (it was R-11). I had to add some studs so the shower door would have good purchase when it finally gets installed. I researched radiant floor heat (electric) and found a very good deal at Costco online, including a programmable thermostat. In the photos, the sub floor has been installed- 3/4" plywood over the 1/2" original sub floor, then 1/4" cement backer board over that to take the tile. I've always wanted a bathroom with tile wainscoting too so I intend to do it here. Did I mention our budget for the entire bath is a mere $5k?

Basement Floor


Just a quick post about our basement floor. (I'm avoiding the bathroom floor, have been for days). After mulling the choices, we ended up using laminate floor for the basement. Wall to wall carpet just sounded like a bad idea with 3 dogs and 2 cats. I wanted something that could be cleaned and area rugs are perfect for that. So hard surface floor it was. Now at some point in the basement's shady past there was a mini flood. There were water stains on the studs inside the walls, but only on the east side of the house. This is the side that sits into the slope so it made sense, water migrating through the ground down the hill would eventually run into that wall. Always hoping for the best but planning for the worst, I wanted to make sure the floor would not be completely ruined by a little dampness or water. Here's what I did. I collected samples of the different flooring I liked, different brands, colors, materials, prices. I marked them with a sharpie "wet" on one end and "dry" on the other. Then I put them in bowls of water with the dry end sticking out and left it for a few days. It's amazing to see what happens to some of the flooring. The winner was an Ikea laminate (can't remember the name but I tested a few Ikea samples), as luck would have it, the cheapest of the whole bunch ($1.15/sqft). I was glad I labeled the ends because you could not see a difference between the wet and dry ends on this sample. So I'm pretty confident if we have biblical flooding come spring, my floor will eventually dry out and look good (though, admittedly, it might not smell so good)