So Close, Then So Far

Well, we had good intentions when we were hoping to have our entire bathroom (shower included) functional by Thanksgiving. I mean, all we really had left to do was some trim installation and popping the new shower faucet hardware on this weekend. We should’ve known better that many things don’t just “pop” on, and this turns out to be the case for our shower faucet dial.

You know what I’m talking about – changing something that looked like this:

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Into a more updated one like this:Image result for pfister ladera

You would think that the old one comes off with some hidden screws (this was true), and then the new one fits into the standard plumbing that is under the old one and voila, updated hardware. WRONG.

Apparently almost every shower valve is unique to each brand of shower dial, and even if you use the same brand but the first one was 20 years old, they likely won’t be compatible. How do you fix this? You need to access the pipes, cut the old valve and surrounding piping out, reattach new copper piping to the new valve, install the new valve mounted to the studs under the wall, then weld those new pipes to the old ones (called ‘sweating the pipes’ as I found out, or you can buy fancy connectors that allow you to snap the pipes together). Home Depot has a very thorough video detailing this process, which was useful, but caused my anxiety to rise with each passing second as I realized what a big job this can be:

https://www.google.com/search?q=install+bathroom+shower+faucet&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8#kpvalbx=1

Fortunately, Nik seems somewhat confident that he can do these things (one of the reasons I love him!), but the one complication is that WE JUST TILED OVER THE PIPES. So now we’re faced with cutting a hole in the drywall directly behind the shower wall (over the tub) to perform this surgery.

We did get a plumber to come over just to advise us and we’re waiting on the quote, but I think we’re going to end up trying to do this ourselves since I’m assuming it’ll be at least a couple hundred dollars to hire someone. We did look back at old pictures from when the wall was open, and realized that the two water lines leading into the old valve are plastic, so there will be only one copper line to cut and reattach which is the one that leads up to the shower head (the shower plumbing is off to the right in these pics – the plumbing that is straight ahead is actually for the bathtub in our guest bathroom):

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We actually have two options at this point, both of which will probably involve cutting into the wall. If we use the faucet set that matches our sink faucets (Pfister Ladera Trim Kit), this will require a totally new valve to be installed (so all the steps I listed above). But, we also ordered a “universal” faucet kit that is coming in the mail today, and that one supposedly is compatible with many types of valves and I believe our old valve pictured here will work with it:

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It still looks nice, but wouldn’t totally match the sink faucets. But, even for that kit I’m about 95% certain we’ll still need to open the wall to recess the old valve back into the wall about 1/2″ since our new tile is not as deep as the fiberglass insert that was there previously – you can kind of see the line where the wall used to hit the valve in this side picture:

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Might be an easier job that replacing the whole valve system, but if we’re going into the wall anyways, we might as well put in the hardware set we like better! We’ll make our final assessment tonight once we have both faucet sets to compare. The two kits were comparably priced, around $105-125, and include the shower head, temperature dial, and a tub spout, which we won’t use, so we’ll just cap off that connection on the valve.

Another annoying thing about this is that we now know we’ll have to do the same thing to replace the tub hardware in the master bathroom, meaning we’ll have to make an even larger hole in the wall to reach that plumbing (it’s in the same wall as the shower plumbing, just lower down). Still blows my mind that switching these fixtures out is so complicated…

Anyway, we did make progress elsewhere this weekend while waiting for that other faucet set to arrive today. I got the shower area all cut in with paint, but we’ll probably wait to fill in the larger areas with a paint roller once we’re all done with repatching the drywall hole to access the plumbing. Nik and I installed the baseboard trim and quarter round for the rest of the room. I got it all caulked last night and filled the nail holes – now all that’s left is the touch up paint! Trim is amazing – these are before and after pictures and the trim is about the only difference, but it makes the room look so much more finished:

I also finished the last few remaining sections on the sink that needed caulking:

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Last night we moved back in to start using this sink so all we’ll have to share with my family in the other bathroom is the shower. Not too bad, and I might even convince Nik and my dad to busy themselves working on this shower plumbing adventure to remove them from the Thanksgiving kitchen madness!

Shower Progress

I was looking back through my summer calendar, and almost laughed out loud when I saw that this renovation was scheduled to be completed in July. HAHA. Makes me laugh again. Sadly, we are still working on this bathroom. Which is partly our fault, since we’ve had plenty of weekend days we just didn’t FEEL like doing work on it, so we didn’t. Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel became a lot brighter last weekend with the installation of the shower door, and now most of what’s left is purely cosmetic.

The most difficult part of finishing up the shower has been patching the space between the tile and the drywall, since the cement board under the drywall (the red and darker grey area) was about 1/8-1/4″ thinner than the surrounding drywall:

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This has meant applying a thin coat of joint compound, sanding till smooth, then repeating approximately 932 times:

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I think it is ALMOST there – maybe 1 more coat this weekend, and we’ll be ready for wall paint. We got all the door framing up last weekend, including about 2 hours that it took for Nik to drill 4 holes through hard porcelain tile (and the mortar and cement board underneath it!). After all that drilling, we forgot to take a picture of Nik’s perfect drill holes, but we did take one of the final frame installation:

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We haven’t actually put the doors on yet, just to make the sanding/painting part easier, but at this point it’s just lifting the door panels into place when we’re ready for them:

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Nik also finished caulking and installing the shower drain the other weekend, so that is all done:

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Another problem we had to tackle was figuring out how to caulk between the shower pan and the first row of tiles. This was fine on the right side of the shower, where this gap was a perfectly caulkable size of about 1/8″ thick. However, this gap was significantly larger on the left side of the shower, closer to 1/2″. We couldn’t come up with a better strategy for filling it, so I just squirted in several thick layers of clear silicone caulk. It seems successfully filled at this point, but when clear caulk is that thick, it’s not really very clear.

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Once the door is in place, I’m sure it won’t be noticeable. We’ll just have to clean it regularly and maybe replace it every year if icky stuff grows on it.

Next up is attaching the faucet hardware, which we need to pick up from the store. We’ll probably match the sink hardware, unless we find a set that has a hose attached to the shower head that looks decent. Our new greyhound, Gunnar, appears to lack all sense of agility and grace, so we’re thinking that future baths will probably be way easier in a walk-in shower vs having to help him navigate his bony, long, awkward legs over a tub wall. So it could make more sense to put a hose shower head in there, and they do make some pretty nice looking ones now. Here’s those long, bony legs I’m talking about!

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After those tasks are done, the last few things will be installing the remaining floor trim around the shower and the adjoining walls, which is already painted and ready to go. Although Gunnar doesn’t like people in driveways a hundred yards away, he seems to have no fear of loud noises or power tools, so he’s been extremely tolerant of, if not interested to the point of being annoying, in our bathroom renovation. He’ll probably love the air compressor and nail gun for installing the trim!  We also need to fashion some type of threshold for the room. Once we’re done with those things, we can move back into the bathroom, and at that point we’ll also assess if we want to do any sort of cosmetic tiling around the tub to tie it into the room, and the accent wall I had envisioned behind the tub. This tiling will be a lot easier than the shower tiling since the cosmetic tiles can go right over the existing drywall.

Well, the count down to the end has begun. We’re hosting my family for Thanksgiving this year, so with extra people in the house, this puts a hard deadline on us to get this renovation wrapped up!

A Cool Stool

In the midst of our bathroom renovation, we knew we’d be taking a trip up to PA for one of my friend’s weddings, and luckily it worked out that we’d also be able to visit Nik’s best man, Jed, and his wife Laura who just had a baby boy in June. This baby has a special (and kinda funny) story: Jed and Laura Skyped us last December to tell us the very happy news, and the due date. They could quickly see the gears turning as we thought about the due date, and realized it was just about 9 months after our wedding! So we call him our wedding baby (which will surely embarrass him some day!), and he is the sweetest little thing! Nik is a little more enthusiastic about children than I am, so I’m pretty sure this trip was one of his ploys to get me more interested….and he was so cute,  it was pretty effective!

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Before our visit, we hadn’t gotten the little guy a gift yet, so we decided to build him something. I had seen a post on another blog I read about a step stool that she made for her kids, with free design plans from another DIY blog. We headed to Lowe’s because somehow in our garage filled with lumber, we didn’t have quite the right piece of wood to start building it. We got a plank of poplar and traced out the design, then cut it with the jigsaw:

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Nik used his Kreg Jig to make some fancy pocket holes for the joinery:

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Then it was time for assembly. We decided to stain the top and prime and paint the sides light gray:

After 2 coats of paint, we then screwed the steps onto the body, and I got to work free-hand painting his name onto the stool, which was stressful but came out pretty well in the end:

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He’s not old enough for it yet, but I’m excited to watch him grow into it over the next year or two! Jed also just finished a very impressive remodel of their basement, and I told him we’d love to have a guest post about it on the blog, so perhaps that will be coming in the future.

I also mentioned in our last post that we were doing something exciting for our anniversary. Nik and I (well, mostly me!) have been thinking about adding something fluffy to our family for a while, and we finally decided on adopting a retired racing greyhound. We’ve done tons of research on this breed, and visited a wonderful adoption kennel about an hour west of us called Project Racing Home. On our anniversary weekend, we picked out this handsome, goofy boy, and he’ll be coming home with us tomorrow! One good thing about a dog is, in anticipation of his arrival, we’ve been forced to clean up after ourselves for our in-progress DIY projects. It’s nice to have our living room back (well, mostly…the dog’s crate is rather large!) which is normally our staging area, and all the tools and debris from our bathroom renovation mostly cleared out of our master bedroom!  Here he is!

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The Tile is Up!

We didn’t get to grouting last weekend, but we DID get all of the tile on the wall! Tiling around the nook was not fun, and didn’t come out perfect, but I’m hopeful that the grout will patch in all the cracks and it will look great when it’s done!

Last weekend we got the tiles on the back of the nook done irst, so we could get a decent measurement on the depth of the side tiles. This weekend we first did the tiles lining the walls of the nook, which went alright. We laid them out first to make sure our measurements worked:

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It was tricky, because I didn’t account for the fact that all the walls of the nook are slanted to allow water to flow out instead of collect inside, so the corners all have a pretty tight fit towards the back of the nook, but quite a wide gap at the front of the nook. But I think with the grout in, this will look normal.

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On Sunday, we then cut the tiles for the wall around the nook, got our last row of mosaic tiles down, and finished with the bullnose on the edges of the tile. The 45 degree mitered corners of the bullnose tiles for each corner of the side walls just about had me in tears. Something just wasn’t measuring right, and we ended up wasting a few of these expensive tiles, and I had to drive back to Lowe’s to buy 3 more. But it’s done, and we’re so relieved. I even vacuumed up and neatened around the pan, so you can actually see our floor!

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Next weekend will be grout grout grout, and hopefully tackling smoothing over the seam between tile, cement board, and drywall so we can paint around the shower. AND Sunday is our one year anniversary! Hard to believe it’s been a year already, but I guess that’s a good thing. We have an exciting event planned for Saturday, so we’ll update with some pictures next week if it goes well =)

I’ll leave you with a picture of our huge resident praying mantis. We see it every few days, and this thing is a beast. Shortly after I took this picture, it caught a large bumble bee and munched (crunched? There was lots of crunching…) it ALIVE right in front of us. At one point he dropped the injured bee onto the ground, and eerily walked all the way off the plant to the ground to retrieve the poor bee so he could finish his feast. Usually Nik is politely tolerant of  my often excessive interest in nature and bugs, and will briefly come look at the weird things I find. But for this show he was even engrossed!

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Progress Here and There

This weekend Nik got 3 applications sent away, so we had some time to get more work done on the shower. The tile is almost done (being placed, that is. Grouting hasn’t begun yet)! The last step of tile-laying is around the niche, and it will be complicated – having these tiles meet at right angles is tricky, because it’s not just tile measurements as it’s been everywhere else. Around the niche, we also have to account for the thickness of mortar and tile on the tiles in the niche and around the niche to ensure they meet at the right place. Cutting as we go might be necessary for this section.

Here is our progress after this weekend:

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It was hard to get the whole shower in one picture…sorry for the bad angle. I also did just the inside of the niche, with the accent tiles, so we at least would know the thickness to build off of for the sides, top and bottom:

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We got a couple other projects underway or completed this weekend which felt good. We bought an old window frame upwards of 2.5 years ago from an old warehouse in Durham, with plans to make a collage picture frame. We first reglazed the panes (this actually happened so long ago, it was before we bought out house!). Then, trying to figure out how to attach the prints to the inside of the glass derailed this project for about 2 years – we thought of using little black picture corner attachers, but the adhesive side that would show against the glass wasn’t pretty. Then we tried directly gluing pictures, but the glue made marks on the photos.

We had about given up, so we looked up videos of how other people successfully mounted pictures into these DIY window frames. This lady with a thick southern drawl came on, and said ‘it’s so quick and easy you wouldn’t believe it’ (hah, we thought, there’s NO way, we’ve been thinking about this for years and everything we try looks ugly and noticeable). She instructed us to use invisible tape – yup, plain tape, and just tape the corners. We were unimpressed, and knew we would see the tape and it would look so amateur. But in our desperation to get this project done, I tried it.

And guess what? YOU COULDN’T SEE THE TAPE! So, 2.5 years later, and we finally finished this project, using pictures from before our wedding, our honeymoon, and our trip to Utah. Now we just need to find a place to hang it!

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I know this picture is blurry…but you can’t see the tape!!

There was one more project we did this weekend building a piece of furniture from scratch as a surprise for Nik’s best man’s new baby. I’ll wait a couple weeks until after we’ve given it to him to post that, in case they stumble on the blog in the meantime. I just wanted to mention it, you know, in case you thought we weren’t very productive this weekend!

I’m really hoping to get the rest of the tile in Saturday, so we can at least think about grouting on Sunday. After that, we need to patch all the drywall around the tile and finish painting the walls, caulk around the shower pan and finish installing the drain, and then finally install the doors and faucet hardware. I swear, this list seems to never get shorter…

Shower Tile, Phase I

Well, tiling didn’t go as fast as planned (it never does!), and Nik really had a ton of work work to do this weekend, between submitting edits for a publication he’s in the middle of, applying for jobs (which apparently require 16,453 different documents that I’m sure no one on these hiring committees actually wants to read ), and making lesson plans for the new upper level microbial ecology course he’s teaching. I’m trying to help where I can so he doesn’t have a nervous breakdown – but almost 10 years out from college, I just don’t have the motivation and work ethic that Nik still does to do that much work work outside of 8-5 M-F! He’s really committed to getting these things done and done well, which is awesome for him and it makes me proud to have such a driven and hard working husband. But unfortunately, the timing of all this work is bad news for our shower progress!

This is not to say that we didn’t get anything done on the long holiday weekend, but my lofty goals of finishing all the tiling and even getting the grout done certainly were not reached. While Nik was getting some writing done on Saturday morning, I started visualizing how the tile layout should be. We had a few obstacles to work around such as the niche, the faucet hole, and considerations such as the width and height of each wall. From past tiling projects, we’ve learned that it rarely works out to start blindly and hope for the best. When this is done, you’ll undoubtedly end up with a space that needs a 1/4″ more tile to cover it, or a tile that needs a circle cut right out of the middle of it for a spigot. Basically, Murphy’s Law applies if you choose to wing it.

So I decided I’d made some to-scale drawings of the shower walls, with all the trouble spots drawn exactly in place:

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Then I cut out little practice tiles (also to scale) and essentially tiled the drawings:

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One issue was the height was 76″, and our tiles are 12″ tall, plus the 2.75″ bullnose at the top, and 4″ of decorative tile somewhere in the middle. Not an even 76″. To make it add up, we ended up deciding that the very bottom row of tile would be cut 3″ lengthwise to make it only 9″ tall. Using my practice tiles was actually very useful, and guided a number of decisions about which rows would have the staggered start, where cuts would be around the faucet, and how we could do the niche with as little headache as possible. Once decisions were made, I started drawing cut lines on all the tiles for the back wall. Nik took a break to cut all these tiles, and that was Saturday.

Sunday we got some of our new fancy mortar mixed up (it has a higher latex content, so is more flexible and supposedly has the best grip for heavier tiles) and started laying tile.

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We got about 80% of the back wall laid, up to the decorative strip, then we ran out of mortar and decided to stop there. On Monday, I got all the tile cuts for the right wall traced out and Nik cut them and then we started laying this wall. The mortar didn’t behave quite as well this day, and we had to add more water a few times to keep it pliable.

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I think we were also moving slower because not only were we having to think about the levelness of the tiles on this wall, but we also now had to ensure they were lining up with the already-laid back wall. This wall also had some major concave curvature going on with the cement boards for some reason (I’m thinking it has something to do with the questionable stud work in our house’s framing), which made some of the tiles appear to be dramatically different thicknesses. We did our best to minimize the problem areas, but there’s certainly going to be some weird grout lines on this wall. It is what it is!

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We’re going to keep slowly working on the tile over the next few weeks. I decided rushing isn’t worth it, and the other things Nik is working on are much more important than getting our bathroom back a few weeks earlier. It’ll happen when it happens.

I also got around to lining the drawers of our vanity the other night, so we’re about ready to start using it again. It’s going to be weird walking in the other direction to use the  bathroom again after walking down the hall to the guest bathroom for so many months!

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Paint it Red

Well, we didn’t get to tiling last weekend but we did manage to spend about $350 on tile, special mortar, mirror mounting brackets, a few other things we needed at Lowe’s. The tile that got us was the stupid bullnose tiles for the edge. You think, oh the edge, that’s not that much, it’ll be cheap. But when we actually added it up, we needed 22 linear feet of edging, and at $3.58 per foot that definitely added up. We also bought 6 boxes of 7 tiles, 2 square feet each at $1.99/sq foot, knowing we’ll have some extra that we can return. And we finally picked our accent tile, which will go around the shower in a thin band, and also fill the back of our niche. I think strongly contrasting accent tile is trending out, so I wanted something neutral but still noticeable. Our tile choice had an option for small mosaic tiles in a 12″ square pack, so we decided our accent line would be 2 rows of this. Something slightly different, but not too eye catching:

Product Image 1So most of the shower will be horizontal 12×24″ tiles of that color, with the small accent. I even found a picture on the Lowe’s website of the two next to each other:

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To finish prepping the shower, I showed last time how we mortared all the seams with alkali tape. Then last Saturday we busted out the Red Guard waterproofing membrane. This stuff was like painting with hot pink pudding. We stirred it then started with a cheap brush doing all the corners and edges, then went at it with a very bushy 3/4″ nap roller to coat the rest. IMG_3935

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It dries red, so you know when it’s ready for another coat. We had plenty for a second coat, which is when they officially declare it “waterproof” vs just water resistant. I’ve never used the ‘As seen on TV’ Flex Seal product, but I imagine this is very similar. It was flexible, and seemed like a thin layer of textured plastic when dry. The gallon cost $50, and we had about 1/4th of the pail left over.

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After red guard, we went around with a silicone caulk gun to fill the gap between the shower pan and the bottom of the cement board. One of these gaps was at least a good 1/4″, which took several caulk applications to make me feel good about it. Tile will cover over this, and then we’ll put one more caulk line between the tile and the shower pan. Extra caulk sealing certainly never hurt anyone.

I also took some pictures of our newly-mounted mirrors, and the vanity with all the hardware and doors freshly attached. We had these handles left over from a previous project, and they don’t 100% match the faucets despite their color also being called ‘brushed nickel’, but for free I’ll take them! We still need to do some painting on this wall, since we thought we were rehanging the giant mirror, so that will have to wait until we finish painting the area around the shower:

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We decided to stay home for the long weekend, and buckle down on the shower. In theory, we should be able to get the tile mounted and grouted, with some time left over for Labor day drinks!