Category Archives: Home Improvement

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!

Back to the Bathroom!

When we started our master bathroom renovation, the big goal was to have it completed by the time we went on our trip, since Nik would be going to back to teaching soon after returning. Well, we didn’t quite make the deadline but we’re back at it in earnest, so I’m hoping within the next few weekends this project really starts to wrap itself up.

When we left for vacation, we were in the middle of the frustrating cement board installation on the shower walls:

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It was going very slowly, and we were really struggling to get the cement board to break in the right places – it can’t really be “cut”, so you’re supposed to “easily score and snap it”, according to the website. But, it’s 1/2″ thick cement fiber board, and unfortunately, neither of us is the Hulk.

But this past Saturday, refreshed and renewed, we got back at it, and began using a revised method of breaking the 1/2″ thick concrete boards by raising the desired part up off the ground on some 2×4’s, with the part we were planning to break off in the air, and then stomping on the break point that we scored with a blade. This worked about 90% of the time, and we were even able to use a modification of this method to bust out a circle using some scoring and a hammer to  go around the shower faucet.

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I think the big difference was moving the boards outside…where I wasn’t worried about what was under them. Previously, we’d been attempting to do this in the bathroom, over the newly tiled floor, so I think we were being overly delicate. Anyways…

We got the boards mounted and screwed reasonably well into the studs with the alkali resistant Hardi screws. A few of the screws crumbled edges of the board, but nothing bad enough to not move forward. Seeing all the pieces in place after finishing (and no more studs to be seen!) was such a refreshing sight! It made me feel like a legitimate contractor (if I ignored the fact that this single part of the project took us about a month and a half to do). So that was Saturday.

On Sunday, we ran some errands in the morning and ended up at Home Goods looking at mirrors. Nik has been worried about reinstalling our old huge mirror because he felt it would be hard to mount safely, plus building a nice frame around it would take time and I think we’re both about ready to be through with this project. We found some nice sized simple mirrors for $80 each, so we bought two to mount side by side. When I saw how excited Nik was at this purchase, I felt bad that I haven’t been giving him more breaks like this! We also got the sink backsplash affixed to the wall, and I sealed the doors with polycrylic. To fully wrap up the sink area, we need to mount the mirrors, caulk around the backsplash, install the doors and attach the pulls, and line the cabinets with new liners, most of which are easy jobs that we can get done this weekend:

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Later on Sunday, Nik got to work on some of his lesson planning for teaching, and I got to work mixing up a small batch of mortar to patch the shower seams. This involved smearing mortar on the seam, embedding a a 2″ strip of alkali resistant tape, and smoothing it over. I can’t remember if I mentioned our shower niche, but it’s that black thing:

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Close-up of the tape:

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Now that this is done and dry, the next step will be waterproofing everything by rolling on 1-2 coats of red guard membrane, which we may begin to tackle tonight. The next step is mortar and tile, which I can’t wait for!

Coming Together

This past weekend was productive again, thanks to a 4 day weekend with July 4th. We hadn’t planned to go anywhere, and I was anticipating working Monday, but the company unexpectedly gave us the day off. Every time we have 4 days off in a row, we tend to travel to visit family, so 4 days off and staying at home was an unusual situation. It resulted in a lot of progress with the bathroom with things finally starting to feel like they were coming together. And after 4 days, I was definitely feeling antsy to get back to work on Wednesday. Win-win.

Saturday morning we got started with the shower pan, and everything went very smoothly with the proper mortar. We mixed it to a pudding-like consistency, then got the pan placed neatly in the middle. We checked the levelness of each side, and as we hoped, everything was level and sloping towards the drain. I was afraid to step on the pan for 3 days afterwards (even though the mortar should’ve been set within 24 hours), but I finally stepped on it last night and it feels super solid. Done!

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On to the wall paint. We were debating between two colors, both light gray and one that was more blue/cool toned and one that was more brown toned. We ended up going with the brown-toned gray and I love the color. Of all the expensive renovations we’ve done, getting paint on the walls so they’re not the awful yellow-white “landlord” paint is usually one of the pinnacle moments that transforms a room.

After paint, we started measuring for the floor trim. We added fresh baseboard and fresh shoe trim over that (~$40 for new trim). Getting the shoe trim attached was tricky, because unlike all our floor installation downstairs we actually removed all the baseboard to do this renovation, and remounted the baseboard higher. This meant when we shot a nail through the shoe trim, there was only a fraction of an inch of baseboard behind it, so in some places we couldn’t get good attachment with a nail. Liquid nails solved the problem in those spots. Then we filled and painted nail holes and caulked the gaps.

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Before trim

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After trim

Then we finished sealing the vanity with polycrylic – this is supposed to dry clear, but after earlier uses sealing stained furniture, we do tend to notice a bit of yellowing, which showed up more in some places on our white vanity. If it continues to yellow over time, we can always sand down and repaint…but for right now, it’s good to go.

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We then got the vanity top all unpacked and opened up our new Pfister Ladera faucets which we purchased at Home Depot for $99 each. When I picked out this sink top, I noticed it had what they called 8″ wide spread faucet holes, and I asked if the wide spread faucets are more expensive than standard faucets. “Oh, about $5-10 more” says the salesman. WRONG. It was hard to find a nice looking widespread set for under $120 at Lowe’s, while the standard 4″ center set faucets were all in the $50’s-$70’s, so we moved on to Home Depot which had a slightly less expensive selection. There is also a matching shower faucet set, which we haven’t bought yet, but when the time comes I liked the looks of it.

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Usually Nik does all the fancy plumbing work, but with two faucets to install, I sat next to him and watched each step and repeated. I noticed he assigned me to do the faucet on the side that I would use…reasonably assuming my disinterest in absolute perfection would result in a faucet head installation that wasn’t up to his standards. But, they both came out looking great in the end.

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We popped the vanity top onto the sink just to see how we liked it, and to decide if we wanted everything against the wall, or slightly shifted. We picked our location, then went through a grueling process of lifting one end of the vanity while I added a bead of silicone caulk around the cabinet tops, then slowly lowering the vanity top back down precisely to create somewhat of a seal. We got it done, but ended up doing another bead of caulk around the edges once it was in place to make it look prettier.

Nik finished up the actual plumbing installation and hooking things into the pipes, so the sink is functional! I still need to seal the countertops, since they are actual marble (a veneer, but still real stone) and Nik got a splash of water on them and confirmed they definitely get water stains. We bought Rock Doctor countertop sealer, so that just needs to be applied in a few coats which should do the trick. There’s also a backsplash piece which just needs to be adhered in place and sealed, and then the sinks are ready for use.

Next, Nik cleaned off the toilet plumbing area (I know it’s just old wax, but it looks like poop so I refused to deal with that mess). He purchased a new foam ring ($13) and got it situated around the hole. We lowered the old toilet in place and attached the plumbing, and Nik has since confirmed it is functional. It does still need a bead of caulk around the base, but that isn’t urgent.

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While purchasing faucets, we also browsed the lighting aisle for a new vanity light. Nothing really caught our eye, but we decided to go ahead and buy one since the old one had already been removed and we were down a light in the room. Nik got it mounted and installed in no time, and I think it fits the bill well enough, for $100.

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We’d like to get started on our shower soon, which will include installing thick cement board around the space, waterproofing it with 1-2 layers of roll-on red guard, applying mortar, tiling, grouting, installing the faucet hardware, and finally installing the shower doors. We might have to hold off a bit with the cement board this weekend, since we ordered a shower niche insert that unfortunately won’t arrive till Monday. We know the approximate dimensions we’d have to cut out of the cement board for this niche to fit…so we might go ahead and get that started this weekend.

I’ll leave you with a picture of our freshly opened sunflower from this morning…the bees have already found it!

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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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