Monthly Archives: June 2017

Grout and our Short-lived Shower Pan

I’d like to say last weekend was productive, but it was one of those two steps forward, one step back weekends. Our two steps forward was getting our drain, shower pan, and the last of the tile installed, and grouting all of our floor tile. Our one step back was ripping our shower pan back out on Sunday. Let me explain…

First, we purchased the Oatey 2″ offset drain from Lowe’s which shifted the drain just enough since our pan was a tad off. Early on Saturday Nik got the pipe cut down, and adhered the drain on with plumber’s PVC primer and cement. It fit perfectly! On to the next step.

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Next, the instructions for the shower pan say to lay it over a bed of mortar, to hold it in place and offer additional support. They said the mortar should be ~3/8″ thick towards the drain which is closer to the ground, and up to ~3/4″ thick towards the sloped edges. So pretty much filling the cavity under the pan. Simple enough. Here’s a picture of the pan fresh out of the box:

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And this is what the bottom looks like (set on the ground, one end was slightly lower than the other, so we used some thin strips of black plastic-y material we had to make it just a smidge higher):

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I went to Lowe’s, and instead of purchasing our normal latex-modified mortar that we use for tiling, I asked the associate what he’d recommend for a mortar bed for putting a shower pan over. He quickly referred me to the “thick bed mortar,” as the product we were definitely looking for, which I purchased 100 lbs of. We got it home, and upon closer inspection of the instructions, it seemed this product was more for building an actual shower pan. As in, a concrete do-it-yourself pan that you make into the shape you want using a wooden frame, then screed it to make it smooth, then tile over. Definitely not our application. But, mortar is mortar right? (Wrong).

We tried mixing it up as per the instructions, and it was like crumbly wet sand. At this point, intelligent people would’ve said…this doesn’t seem like the right mortar, let’s stop. But we stubbornly pressed forward and packed it into a mortar bed under where the pan would go and placed the pan over it.

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The pan seemed to be resting high, so we pulled it back up, smoothed and thinned out a few areas of mortar, put the pan back down, repeated this a second time, and gave up after the third adjustment and said let’s just let it sit and see how it looks tomorrow. We then added our last couple rows of missing tile going right up to the pan (in my dress, of course, since we were running short on time getting out to our nice birthday dinner!)

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Sunday morning I reached under the pan from the exposed sides and the mortar there just crumbled under my fingers. We also had some dried mortar left over in the garage and it was super crumbly as well. So Nik grabbed the edge of the shower pan to try to lift it up as the final test, about 20 hrs after setting it, and the pan came right up, with little to no effort. The mortar under the pan was a partially dry crumbly mess, that shoveled right off the subfloor in approximately 5 minutes.

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I saved a bag of it and brought it back to Lowe’s, saying they recommended the completely wrong stuff, and thankfully they gave me my money back for all 100 lbs.

In retrospect, we’re confident that our standard latex-modified mortar will do the job just fine – and if the Lowe’s employee that I mistakenly trusted as a person who knows things about what they sell  hadn’t interfered and recommended the wrong thing, we probably would’ve done it right the first time. Unfortunately, we had just installed the last row of tile leading to the shower pan so we wanted to wait for that mortar to thoroughly dry Sunday before attempting the pan re-install, so it is still not done.

On Sunday we instead devoted ourselves to grouting the floor, since all the tile was down and we didn’t want to deal with the pan again yet. We mixed 75% Delorean gray with 25% bright white (TEC brand grout) to make a medium gray that was a little lighter than the tile color, and then got to work spreading. We mixed up 2 lbs of grout and that covered about 2/3 of the floor, then did a final batch of 1 lb of grout to finish it up. We made just enough (literally down to the last teaspoon) and got it done.

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After the initial spread with the grout float, we followed up 20-30 minutes later with a lightly damp sponge rub-down, followed by another lightly damp sponge rub down, then a 45 minute wait and a final lightly damp towel buffing immediately followed by a dry towel buffing. It’s Friday, and my hand muscles are still sore!

I was a little worried about buffing the tiles clean, since some people had left reviews that the leathery nature of the tiles made buffing tricky because they weren’t shiny smooth tiles, but we had no issues.

Here’s how it looked Sunday night – we’re very pleased with how it turned out.

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Finally, we purchased new floor trim (baseboards and shoe trim) that I painted our trim white paint color, so that can now be installed over the tile floor…although wall paint might come first so we don’t have to be careful painting next to the new trim.

Cost for this floor tiling was mortar (~$42 for 2x  50 lb bags), the tile itself ($130), the cement board ($55), cement screws (can’t remember, I think they were about $15), 1/3 bag of grout ($10), and the new floor trim (~$40). A tad under $300.

Our goals for this week are to finish the last coat of paint on the vanity followed by a coat of polycrylic sealer, get the shower pan in properly, paint at least part of the wall so we can install the floor trim, and maybe move onto installing the hardibacker cement board around the shower so we can move on to tiling the shower wall in the next few weeks!

On an unrelated note, our garden is becoming quite prolific, with jalapenos and roma tomatoes soon to come!

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The Converted Vanity

On Saturday, we picked up our shower pan and shower doors, FINALLY. The biscuit color made the cut and matches pretty perfectly with the tub, so that’s what we went with. The biscuit was about $25 more than the white pan, for some reason, but when the guy did the return of the white one (we bought both colors so we could compare, planning to return the unwanted one), he accidentally returned the biscuit one and refunded me the higher amount. I pointed out his mistake, but clearly he was having that kind of day, so he said don’t worry about it. Not that I’m ever worried about not giving Lowe’s enough of my money.

We got the pan home, and it fits about 95% into the shower spot. The drain is shifted a tad too far over, but we think Lowe’s carries an offset drain that will fix that issue. The rest fits well, and I’m impressed with how sturdy it feels for $200. Despite the sturdiness, the instructions say to “lay the pan in a bed of mortar.” We can’t figure out why this is necessary, but perhaps it is because our pan doesn’t actually get screwed into the studs so the mortar kind of supports it and holds it in place? The amount of mortar to use is vague, so I contacted the company and they recommended going with a ~3/4″ bed towards the edges of the pan, and about 3/8″ bed towards where the drain is. The pan slopes towards the drain, so this makes sense, but that is still a THICK bed of mortar that will be heavy. I pity the next person who tries to renovate this bathroom, because it would take a jackhammer to remove such a thick block of mortar that is hidden under a fiberglass pan, no less. I’ll just say I am eternally thankful the people who installed our previous shower insert didn’t put mortar underneath it.

Laying the mortar will be simple enough, but getting the 40 pound, 36″x48″ pan laid on top of it and kept level, into a space with 3 walls surrounding it will be tricky. We’ll have to tackle this soon, though, hopefully on Saturday. My 30th birthday is also on Saturday (and Nik’s is on Tuesday!) and while installing a shower pan for a milestone birthday activity sounds depressing at best, when I think about the difficult but rewarding renovations I have the privilege of doing beside my mostly-tolerant husband in the house that we are thankful to be building a life in together, there are minimal complaints here!

I’m sure we’ll have pics from the shower pan process, so I’ll save those for once the pan is in. The rest of this post, I’ll show pictures of our converted vanity. I already showed how we removed the bottom of the vanity and mounted it on plywood for a new base:

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Before

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After

The vanity was then measuring about 26 and 3/4″ tall, and our goal height was 34″ (so-called ‘adult’ vanity height). The vanity top is about an inch thick, so we were looking for 6″ legs. We found some we liked a little more than what we went with, but they were only 4.5″, so we would’ve had to find a way to extend them and then cover that extension with trim. Then we found the 6″ ones that we went with. They seemed a little unsubstantial so I had the idea to actually do 4 across the front, one around each set of doors. Here are the feet, and the piece of trim we used to hide the transition:

Nik attached the feet with straight brackets, then installed the trim with wood glue and finishing nails:

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So here’s what the corners looked like finished:

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Next we flipped it and applied a bead of caulk at the trim seam:

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And finally gave it a coat of primer that night, in addition to the drawers and doors:

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I think it looks great, and once there is real paint on it it will look like we bought a new vanity! We puzzled over colors with the new vanity top for some while, and settled on a just-off-white color called Silent White (Clark and Kensington) for the vanity, and a slightly darker, blue-grey tinged color called Paper White (Benjamin Moore) for the walls. We got a sample for the walls before we’ll make the final decision, and we also bought a sample for the vanity paint that should be able to cover the whole thing without buying a larger portion of paint.

For a price breakdown of the vanity upgrade, we used half a sheet of plywood for the base ($11), 7 feet cost $21, the feet brackets were about $16, the trim was $12, and the sample paint was $5. So far the total is $65, but we still need hardware which will probably be about $35. So a “new vanity” base for $100. Not too bad, considering poorly built ones on Wayfair sell for over $900.

This week we’re working on getting the vanity painted and sealed, and like I said, hopefully getting the shower pan in Saturday and finishing up that last bit of tile next to the pan. So maybe we can finally grout the floor on Sunday.

Finished Console

Two posts in one week! Well, I did promise I’d have some pictures up soon of the project we just completed for our good friends Lindsey and Dave, so here it is.

They were looking for a console to hold their TV boxes with some extra storage, and we were looking for a way to thank them for all the help they gave us at our wedding. So we started looking for a piece of furniture that would fit their living room space. We finally found this buffet on Craigslist and I haggled the price down a bit with the seller:

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This piece was big, 48″ wide and about 17″ deep. And it was heavy and solid – after working with it, most likely mahogany. It had a solid piece of wood on the top and the door/drawer fronts and veneer with some damage near the feet on the sides. So we decided we’d keep the solid wood sections stained, and paint the rest of the body. Stripping the old varnish off the wood was first on the list:

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Then came sanding the sections to be painted, and patching the veneer with wood filler.  A lot of filler goes on, then is sanded smooth.

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The drawers and doors also got stripped and sanded, then the stained along with the top. The wood grain was really beautiful:

Then the body got dragged inside (I hope the phrases I use here aren’t searchable or the authorities will certainly be after me) for primer. We needed 2 coats since the redness of this wood soaked right through the first coat of primer – one of the reasons we think it was mahogany. Then finally paint, which i forgot to take a picture of:

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The challenge with this piece ended up being the doors. Lindsey wanted non-solid doors so they could use the remote through them, so we suggested glass or radiator grate as an option. She bought some small pieces of crafting-grade radiator grate though JoAnn Fabrics and tested the remote through it and it worked! So we went with that.

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A router has been passed down to Nik from his father/grandfather, so he learned how to use it and purchased a bit that could make cut outs for the door. He also bought a router jig that helps you to cut straight edges with the router. I still don’t entirely understand how routers function…but from my limited understanding, it’s essentially a fast rotating bit that cuts smoother than a jigsaw, and also allows you to turn corners (because it’s rounded) and, if you buy a bit with a cool profile, can add ornate edges to your cut.

Nik did quite a few practice cuts on scrap wood, then felt confident enough to tackle the doors. They came out great, and he left a small edge for us to butt the grate up against to secure it in place, kind of like when you have a picture frame and the glass butts up against the frame and that holds the glass in place. The radiator grate was thin aluminum that was just trimmed to size with heavy duty scissors.

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After that, we finished staining the newly cut door edges, then sealed up all the stained parts with water based poly, and put all the parts back together. This piece came with cool old handles, but they were very tarnished, so Lindsey and I had fun spray painting the handles a soft silver color, and then the door handles were replaced with some new crystal knobs to add a little glitz.

The inside is basically an open cavern, so we’re working on a little shelf to put in there, but other than that, this project is finally done! The paint color we used was the same color as the little shelves we added to our master bath:

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To be honest, I was not really sure about this color when we finished it and it was sitting in our living room. I thought it should be changed to a cream color. But we decided we’d give it a try in Lindsey and Dave’s living room and see if the lighting there changed our mind, and it definitely did! We all think it looks great in their space. One more funny note, is the door and the drawer stains match 100% – but once they were installed, the vertical grain on the doors reflects light much darker than the horizontal grain on the drawers. Wood is always interesting! So here’s the official before and after:

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A well deserved thank you to Lindsey and Dave for being amazing friends and offering so much help at our wedding to make it a flawless day!

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Floor tile!

Somehow, Nik and I still manage to surprise ourselves when we actually get things done in a weekend…and this weekend was a particularly productive one. At some point on Saturday, I actually said to Nik, “But are you sure we want to do this all today? This is a problem because then we’ll have nothing to do Sunday.” And then he glared at me and reminded me that it’s ok to do nothing once and a while. But then we found things to do all day Sunday anyway!

Thursday night after work we got the last batch of mortar mixed up to get the rest of the cement board adhered to the subfloor.

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Saturday morning I sent Nik to Lowe’s to buy the floor tile while I bumbled around the house doing something I can’t remember that seemed important at the time. We were planning to cut a couple rows of tile at a time then lay them in mortar, then continue with the next few rows, but this quickly turned into us deciding to precut all the tiles to size and laying them out with spacers. With all this work happening up on the second floor…and the tile saw outside on the other side of the garage, running up and down stairs to cut a tile while mortar is drying in the bucket didn’t seem like a good idea. So after all the measuring and cutting we progressed to this:

As planned, we left that cut out around where the shower base is, and this will have to be finished once that is in (hopefully this week!).

Here’s Nik trimming out around the toilet pipe – he used the same technique he used in our downstairs bathroom, making thin cuts he could then tap out and use the tile nippers to get the nubs:

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So once everything was laid out, we got ~18 lbs of mortar mixed up – we used TEC latex modified thin set porcelain mortar, about $20/50 lbs, for those who are curious. We thought 2 of the 18 lb batches should do the whole room. And then we started spreading – we used a 1/4″ trowel, spread it, placed a tile, then added a 1/8″ spacer. Then we used a piece of wood and a mallet to help settle the tile.

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For those who thought I wasn’t “contractor” material – I promise I’m getting close. Next time I just have to wear lower underwear and I’ll be the real deal!

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After our first 18 lb batch, we went to mix the second batch, so I dumped all the water required for 18 lbs in with the first 6 lbs, then realized I only had another 9 lbs of dry powder to mix in. A mere 3 lbs short. Nik agreed to make a quick run to Lowe’s for another 50 lb bag (thankfully only 5 min away), and as he was backing out of the driveway, I was messing with the power drill and the mixing attachment that stirs the mortar, and I somehow dropped the drill INTO the mortar bucket with the 6 lbs of very runny mortar in it. The drilled was immersed – mortar in every vent and crevice. Nik basically just glared at me (not the first time that day…), muttered something incoherent and angry under his breath, and drove away. I dragged the dripping drill to the backyard and hosed it off as best I could, praying I wasn’t totally ruining the motor with the water. Amazingly, it started right back up when I plugged it in. Whew!

So we got the new 50 lb bag opened up so I could get my last 3 lbs out of it, then finished the second half of the tile-setting. Here’s the last tile going in! This seems like a stupid spot for the last tile but we had to do the doorway first since the door had to be closed to do those…but you can’t step on the tile for 24 hours after laying it. So I closed myself in the bathroom and stood where this last tile would be, then hopped over into the bedroom and reached across to do this last tile. Luckily, the spacing worked out pretty well. The grout line around this last tile ended up a smidge large, but I’ll take it.

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So, here is the finished project as of 6:30pm on Saturday:

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Most of the wonky spots where a tile laid low or high seem to be ok – we knew where to expect these spots from laying out the tiles first without mortar, so we were able to lay a little extra mortar or tap the tile a bit more to even out the corners in these spots.

So onto our supposedly lazy Sunday. We went out for a relaxing breakfast, came back and watched Fixer Upper reruns for an hour, then felt motivated enough to start working on the vanity. Our plan for this was to lop off the bottom portion (where the kickplate is), mount it on a flat sheet of plywood for support, then add feet to lift it higher. We’ll have to put some sort of trim and/or apron piece to cover the plywood and where the feet meet the piece, but we still have to figure that out once we pick out feet.

Here’s how the vanity started:

We dragged it out to a shady corner of our driveway, and Nik used the multitool jigsaw to cut a neat line along the sides and back:

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That worked out nicely on the sides, but the back had a really flimsy piece of MDF at the bottom so we actually took that side an inch further and added a new more-solid piece of wood to support the back. Then we cut a piece of 3/4″ OSB board (the remnants of what we used to repatch the bathroom floor) to the side of the bottom.

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We attached this piece with wood glue and some finishing nails. We’re aiming for a 34″ tall vanity, which will require legs somewhere in the 6″ range to get it to that height. Then we gave the whole body a sanding with the orbital sander, and I did the drawers and doors by hand. Now we’re ready for primer!

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Here’s a closeup of how the base meets the plywood now:

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We have a few colors in mind for the vanity – we’ll probably use something off white, to brighten up the room since the floor is on the darker side. But we want to actually get the vanity top out of the box and compare colors with that, and wait to see what color shower pan we end up with before we make the final decision.

This coming week will hopefully include getting our shower pan installed so we can finish that last small area of tile. Once that is done, we’ll grout the whole floor – likely with a darker gray grout. I’d also like to figure out vanity legs and trim, because as soon as we get that built, we can move the vanity back into the room and things will really start coming together.

In the Other Direction

The past few weeks has been all demo – ripping things out. For the first time in this renovation, we’ve started going in the other direction – putting new things in. Even though it’s so early in the renovation, it’s always exciting when we hit that point. It feels like real progress.

After the frustrations of last week, we’re past all of that and moving forward. But before we do, I promised some more demolition photos. Last weekend, our goal was to rip out the shower and remove the floor patch, both to check that whatever pipe fixes were under there looked ok, and also to redo the patch job so the new piece of wood actually lined up with the other existing pieces of subfloor in a sensible manner.

So the shower started out as this:

I feebly attempted to smash the back wall with a hammer, and that was unsuccessful. So Nik punctured it with something small, enough to get the blade of the Sawzall into it. Then he cut up and down. We then used the multitool to cut into the drywall a few inches above the insert – to clear the piece of the insert that is install under the drywall. We cut the shower into two wall wall pieces and a floor piece, and dragged them out to the backyard:

Looks simple, but it took us the better part of the day. Then on to the patch with the stupid edges:

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This took a lot of prying for Nik to get it out, but finally it came loose. They had built “fake joists” to anchor this beauty, which were entirely unsound, but did hold the patch down pretty good, making removal difficult. One of the fake support joists actually ripped out with the piece of plywood, and here are the remainders left behind:

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Anyways, we decided not to rip out those joists for fear of damaging something else down there, but we would not use them for support for the new piece. Subfloor is actually tongue and groove at each edge, so even the sides that are not supported with the joists under the subfloor have support from the tongue and groove. The issue with our patch is you can’t get a tongue and groove piece into place when there are already pieces on both sides – you have to build from one side to the next so you can insert the tongue into the slot, then the next piece inserts into the groove. The stupid person who did the original patch job didn’t want to deal with this, so they took the easy (incorrect) route and just threw a piece down that was flush on each edge. It did make a patch, but the edges were bouncy due to the lack of the tongue and groove support. So we did buy tongue and groove plywood, but to deal with the placement issue, Nik trimmed off just the bottom side of the grooved edge so that we could get decent support from the top groove edge while still being able to slide the piece into place. We bought 3/4″ OSB plywood for the patch, at $21 for a 4’x8′ sheet. We may be able to use the rest of that board for our vanity, when we mount it higher.

Here’s the final patch job, looking (and feeling) much better!

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There was one edge that was a smidge elevated, but 30 seconds with the belt sander took care of that.

So on to the tile foundation. Since learning that the Ditra stuff was going to be a pain with our 24″ non-standard joist spacing, we headed back to Lowe’s Friday night to purchase more mortar and cement board. We choose 0.25″ HardieBacker cement board, which came to only about $55 for 5 pieces. And we needed a bag of mortar ($21) and cement screws ($29), totaling about $105.  When I returned the two rolls of Ditra I had purchased, I got $176 back, and that wasn’t even including the thin set mortar that this item would’ve required to lay it. So at least we’re in the green on this (initially frustrating) error!

We got the 3×5′ cement board pieces upstairs and played floor tetris for a bit to figure out the best orientation to make sure our subfloor seams and patch job would be best supported with the cement boards. We made a few cuts to the board (you score it repeatedly with a razor blade, then sort of bend it to break it to size) and laid it all out, leaving space in front of where our shower pan will eventually be. We’ll have to revisit this spot once the pan is in:

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Once we had the pieces ready to be put in place, I told Nik to make his best “it’s time for mortar!” face, and this was the result (slightly skeptical and concerned):

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We went outside to mix up our mortar and this was stressful because we did way too large a batch at once, which put a lot of strain on our drill that was used to mix it – but luckily it survived. And then we got to work spreading – using a 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″ trowel size, then placing the board, then Nik following up with cement screws. We started on the far wall first, and did the three pieces along that wall:

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There’s 3 more pieces still to go on the other side of the room that we didn’t have time to get to – Nik had to go out of town to a conference on Sunday but he’ll be back later this week. It’s really a two man job, with the spreading, placing, and screwing the boards down in a timely manner (since the mortar only has about 30 minutes of pliable life). But it’s looking good – and most importantly, feels super solid. Next up will be another layer of mortar and then tile!

Speaking of tile, we brought home pieces of our top choices to see how they look in the room – we’ve selected “Mitte gray” 12×24″ tiles for the floor (the darker one) and “Leonia silver” 12″x24″ tiles for the shower. They’re between $1.79 and $1.99/square foot. These tiles are HEAVY and I’m worried about mounting them vertically on a wall (what if they come crashing off and damage my shower pan, and then I have to wait another month to get a new one!??). But apparently they make mortar that is for large tile or heavier natural stone applications that we might have to use – the porcelain grade mortar we’ve been using says it’s only good for up to 13″x13″ tile. And back  buttering the tiles helps as well. So here’s the tile – the Leonia has some warmer tones in it that I’m liking a lot, and the floor tile is a nice shade of gray that will hopefully hide dust/my hair very well. I’m liking how they look!

IMG_1870The leonia silver also has cute little mosaic tiles in the same color that are part of the collection, so we might use those to make an accent row in the shower. Or pick out some other fancier tile for a small accent row. But the accent tiles are expensive, and require more grouting work so we’ll see how ambitious/poor we’re feeling by that point!