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)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Master Bathroom, Part 1, Destruction

When we bought this house, I knew I would want to update the master bath. It looked fine to a quick eye, like when touring a house for sale. But a little more than a glance and it was obvious it had been hastily updated. The layout was good though, meaning no need to move plumbing, and the size reasonable, not so small that sacrifices would have to be made but small enough that the cost would be in our budget. That said, people can go crazy and spend way too much on a place where you spend maybe one hour total a day? In reading remodel magazines, I've come across $8K as a starting point for a small bath. Wow. No wonder people want to do it themselves. If you are not moving plumbing, and are careful about fixtures and tile selection, it should be less than that! At the house in Houston, I remodeled both bathrooms. The first hall bath costing $2,300. We ripped out a wall, unearthed a beautiful original tub and wood floor, and recycled a trash-picked TV cabinet into a sink vanity. The master bath cost a little more, $3500. It was a small bath so it needed special care in design and everything was replaced. More on those in another post.

So as I'm standing in the ugly master bath, just looking and thinking, I notice the wall for the shower is, OMG, the crap that was on the walls in the basement! Rough wood paneling, painted peachy beige. WTF? So I look closely at one of the corners and, yep, all of the walls were this paneling. In the lousy remodel that was done, they slapped 1/4" drywall over the wood and painted it all the same color. There was an attempt made at design when they glued trim over the horizontal drywall seam, like a chair rail. Pretty! So I realized that not only would the sink, toilet and mirror need to go, we were going to have to strip the walls down to studs. Can you pass me that big can of worms, please? I'd just love to open it now. Hell, if we're tearing out the walls, why not remove the shower wall and open it up? Sure! And rip out all the painted tile in the shower stall (yes, painted tile). Wino loves the tearing out of walls and fixtures so this was a good day for him, well, until he pulled off one wall panel and the funk from a dead critter previously trapped in said wall filled the tiny room. Open window, please. I diligently removed trash from the bathroom, taking pictures of things I was going to give away, like the vanity, mirror, cabinet, light fixture and toilet. Posted on craig's list, it was all gone by the next morning. I love recycling!

We found a few scary/interesting things in the destruction phase of this remodel. When the mirror was removed, we discovered some creative wiring behind it. One side used brown duct tape to make the electrical connections, 'cause that's not a fire hazard. And the old medicine cabinet body and electrical boxes were left in the wall (see picture). Ripping out the shower was a learning experience. The tile was adhered with yellow glue to plain drywall from about 4' and up. From 4' and below, there was 2" think cement, then the drywall, then glued tiles. No plastic sheeting water barrier. The wall opposite the shower head was trashed inside. The bottom 4' of the studs were crumbling away from water damage. We ended up sistering 4 studs with new ones. (sistering them was easier than tearing out the old studs since it's an outside wall and the siding was attached on the back side). The drain was a lost cause too. The shower pan was a mud style one, basically hand shaped cement to shed water towards the drain. If you want a tiled shower pan, this is the traditional method. It's tough though and if the weep holes at the drain get clogged, water problems will result. I think this is what happened with age to this shower. Around the drain, the wood subfloor was also damaged. When Wino scraped the stick-em-down tiles off the rest of the floor, we realized the bathroom had been carpeted (yuck!) over particle subfloor and it had raised swell spots from water penetration in front of the sink and near the toilet. So out came the subfloor. Now there was a sub-subfloor of 1/2" regular plywood so at least we weren't teetering from one joist to another. There was also a drop ceiling in the shower stall that we removed and it left a gaping 4'x4' hole up to the attic. It got a little cold in that part of the house. The shower plumbing looked good, and we were able to check the plumbing for the hall bath too since they share the wall and supply lines. That was a relief after the rotted walls and floor. So after a full day's work deconstructing this 12'x5' space, I looked in the doorway and thought "We have lost our minds! What were we thinking????". Truly, I was glad we were able to discover and remedy the hidden damage, although the added cost and labor were something I know now to expect, even in a house that's not so old.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Basements, Part 2, Walls

We got lucky with this basement in that a lot of the structure work was done, and actually done properly. After we pulled out the nasty carpet, I took a good look at the walls. They had been painted beige, and one wall had dark stripes. The stripes were the unpainted rough wood paneling. Ugh! As I appreciated that the previous owner had taken the time to paint the walls a lighter color, I shuddered at the thought of all dark brown walls in a basement with only a few tiny windows. But it was still panelling. You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. Since there was mold on the carpet, I did myself no favors by researching "moldy basement" on the internet. I ended up getting so wound up about toxic mold behind the walls etc, we pulled off some of the panelling to look behind it. Thankfully, it was all good behind the panels but with one wall in the "office" pulled out, I made the gallant remark "we may as well rip the rest of the walls out, honey". Given the chance for destruction, Wino obliged and out came the walls. We did end up finding some mold on a few panels so the choice was a good one. The walls had been properly studded out and insulated so that was fortunate. I chose to use the "greenboard" drywall. It's supposed to be mildew and mold resistant and is only a dollar or two more. I treated inside the walls with a mold preventative, same one used on the floor. I replaced the bottom foot of insulation due to past water and critter damage. Wino found dried red beans in one wall. That was weird. The drywall was installed after the flooring was finished, mostly so we'd have something to walk on. I did leave the panelling inside the window wells and smoothed it over with joint compound. Removing it seemed like a can of worms best left alone. A few sections of the inside walls were also left up and smoothed with JC, there was too much going on with switches and doorways. It took 26 panels of drywall, purchased at 84 Lumber for a few pennies more than Lowes or HD. 84 is so much closer to the house and it was brought home in bundles of 5 or 6 tied to the top of my Matrix. Good times.

After taping the seams with mold resistant seam tape (yup, they make that, but I wouldn't bother with it again) and finishing them off, we added new baseboard in the main room and recycled the old baseboard as much as we could in the "office". It was stained dark green so a little work went into making that paintable. I added a quickie crown moulding, basically using a smaller base moulding turned upside down. Much easier to install than proper crown and gives the room a finished look.

Where did I go wrong? Well, I would have replaced the insulation with R-19 if it had been really cold out when we started this, but I really didn't think too much about it and there's R-11 in the walls now. I would have been more diligent about keeping the new floor protected because it now has a haze from the drywall sanding and requires some elbow grease to clean. Other than that, it was pretty straight forward. Oh, the studs were not evenly spaced so a full 4' drywall board didn't always line up on studs so there was much measuring and moving seams etc to reduce cutting. I don't think I've ever worked on a house with evenly spaced studs. Maybe they eyeballed a lot more in the past. Maybe.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Basements, Part 1, Subflooring

This is the first house I've lived in with a basement in 20 years. Having both grown up in the North East, my honey Wino and I both know the benefit of having that living space available for things you might not want in a spare bedroom, like a "rec room" (that's what we had growing up) or a wine/beer lab, or a music studio. So Wino was thrilled that there was a basement and that it seemed already finished. Ha! Not so! Due to some serious carpet abuse by the previous tenants' pets, it just had to come out. That's when we realized it was merrily glued to the concrete floor, with no subfloor or anything. The carpet had damp spots and I wondered if those were to be blamed on untrained pups or moisture wicking up from the concrete. So the search for suitable subfloor commenced. Normally, one would lay a plywood subfloor but it would need to be raised, commonly with 2x4 joists. The ceiling is a bit low (7') so I didn't want to lose even more headroom. The Home Depot sells a basement subflooring system that is 2'x2' tiles of OSB plywood with plastic spacers on the back to raise the floor slightly and give it "vapor room". The theory of "vapor room", which is a term I made up to try to explain it to Wino, is that the concrete gives off and absorbs moisture but if you can create a space where the vapor equalizes above the concrete, it won't continue into the room in the form of humidity and condensation, thereby making the concrete happy (less cracking?) and the basement happy (less damp, more stable temps). I wanted to use a laminate for the finished floor so whatever I used needed to be compatible with installing that flooring type. The Home Depot product seemed like a winner but the cost per sqft was a bit much, upwards of $1.70. And I envisioned a good deal of waste due to the size. So I continued the search and found a subflooring system that we ended up using called Cosella Dorken (oh, the Germans, we love them). For about $.65 sqft, it seemed like a good choice but I was skeptical. It rolls out in a sheet so install is relatively quick, you can walk on it right away and we put a 1/8" foam underlayment then installed the laminate right on top. This reduced our headroom by only 5/8". I was happy with the product but you need two people to install it unless you have weights handy, it wants to roll back on you, making it hard to measure and place. Now here's where I went wrong. The seams need to be taped with their special vapor-sealing tape. I bought one roll, doing the math and figuring it was more than I needed. As so many thing turn out, I ran out of tape and ended up using heavy duty packing tape to finish some smaller seams. I also failed in making the flooring snug to all walls like it says in the install guide. I'm not sure how much this will affect the "vapor room" but I guess time will tell. If you want to install carpet with this product, you must lay a wood subfloor over it first, but using OSB is fine and a little cheaper. Then you can lay ceramic tile or carpet, I bet you could even put electric radiant floor heat if you were really motivated. Having the subfloor under the laminate definitely keeps the flooring from getting super cold and the basement stays about 56 degrees without any heat on. Not bad when it's 15 degrees outside.

Here's some tips on installing this subfloor: make sure the floor is clean and as free of dust and schmutz as possible. We washed the floor with a mold preventative before putting down the subfloor since we found mold on the carpet. This was just a precaution but it made me feel better. I also sealed the cracks in the concrete with concrete caulk, forcing it into the crack with a paint tool. There was a good deal of glue residue and foam crap adhered to the concrete and I scraped up as much as possible without losing my mind. The flooring is relatively forgiving so just get the big bumps (anything over say, 1/16"). Lay it out along the longest wall, weight the ends and cut it a row or two longer than what you think. let this curl up the wall, you'll trim it later when the laminate starts to go in. Our first row was 32' long and when the flooring went on top flattening it, there was a little space at the cut end where it didn't snug up to the wall.

I would recommend this subfloor since it was a good price and installed quickly, about 4 hours for 625 sqft. It was thin and the height difference is unnoticeable. It's definitely a good solution to subflooring a basement.

Monday, March 1, 2010

-Some Background-

First, I should say that my tool belt was a gift from a very dear friend who was my housemate in my first fixer-upper. Brave girl.

Our current house is a split level built in 1975. It's the youngest house I've owned and the house is in good shape but things need to be updated. Our last house was built in 1920 and needed some real updating, we did many, many projects there. My first house in California won the prize for fixer-upper, in all categories. It was a good price, I was single and it was LA, not a cheap market but two good friends lived two doors down and I knew it would be a challenge worth undertaking. The kitchen was scary, the base cabinets weren't even attached to the wall or floor and the counter top was held down only by the sink plumbing. I hired a contractor to put in new cabinets and a tile counter top. I wanted a mosaic red tile in a swirl pattern. I was told that would take too much time and my budget didn't allow for it so I decided to try it myself. That was the first really big project. I rented a tile cutter wet saw from the Home Depot and had it for a short 24 hours. The neighbors were less than thrilled that I was cutting tile on the back stoop at 2am. That counter top came out beautiful and it's been "I'll try it myself first" ever since. My theory of Home Remodeling is if you are fearless and a little handy, and have a clear-ish picture of what you want to accomplish- there are so many resources out there- you may as well try to do it yourself first and if you get overwhelmed, then call in the big guns. There are limits to this, specifically, anything that can kill you if mishandled (certain electrical projects) and anything that affects the safety of your home, and of course, anything that crosses the line to uncomfortable or scared shitless. I will admit, that line has steadily drifted as I tackle new projects, but one should always be safe, especially when playing with power tools while home alone. The dogs just can't dial 911 yet.

So I'm willing to throw my brain at almost anything I want to fix or change in the house, figure out how to do it, the best and most frugal way to do it and then, DO IT!