The bread trick
Pipes pointing into the utility room

This past weekend my parents visited, and we tried to keep them entertained by doing fun things like going to some waterfalls, and visiting a local winery. We were trying hard not to rope them into doing any work, but Saturday afternoon they made the mistake of asking us what projects we would be working on if they weren’t there, so we ran down the laundry list. So we ended up doing a little work, but we mostly stuck to having fun.

newly sweated pipe

Saturday afternoon my dad helped me get the blades off the riding lawn mower. I had already tried it once before by putting it up on cinder blocks and crawling underneath it, but I couldn’t get enough leverage. Our neighbor Vic Greenwell, who was the original owner of the mower, said that he had put the mower up on its back wheels and rested it against a wall. So we tried that. I ended up kind of holding it up instead of leaning it against the wall, and wedged a 2×4 in by the blade while my dad used the wrench to get the blades off. Now I just need to find the right replacement blades. (Walmart in town didn’t have the right ones)

Sunday morning we were thinking of what to do, since the winery didn’t open until 1 p.m. I convinced my dad to help me turn around the pipes to the washing machine. The washing machine pipes used to turn into the bathroom slightly, which is where the washing machine used to be. We moved the washing machine next door, and wanted to turn the pipes around so we can finish the drywall in the bathroom. I said it would only take an hour or so, and I was sort of right. After an hour, we had successfully cut the pipes, and sweated a coupling onto each pipe with the faucets now angled slightly into the utility room. To do so, we had to turn the house water off and drain the pipes. But we couldn’t get all the water out of the pipes, so we used the bread trick. Shove some bread down the pipe a little ways so the water doesn’t come all the way to the top of the pipe. If there is water where you are trying to sweat, the copper won’t get hot enough to melt the solder.

The bread trick worked just fine, except for the final part of turning the water back on and the bread coming out. After a minute or so the bread came out of the hot water pipe, but not the cold water pipe. I decided the best thing to do would be to wait awhile. We waited an hour or so. No luck. We went to the winery tour and tasted some nice wine. When we got back 4 hours later, we tried again. No luck. We started brainstorming different ideas. We tried sticking a coat hanger in it, but couldn’t get it past the first bend in the faucet. We tried backflushing it by hooking up the hot water to the cold water through a laundry hose. All no luck. I decided to wait longer.

the faucets now face the other way

Monday. No luck. I was starting to think it would never come out and I would have to re-cut and sweat the pipe, so I asked Clare to buy some more couplings. I also decided to ask Rich Dibble, Dave’s brother, who taught us the trick in the first place. He gave some similar suggestions. Dave suggested trying to put some acid in the pipe or something. Tonight I decided to fix it once and for all. I tried turning the water on and off a couple times, and tried back-flushing it. I also tried putting some vinegar in the pipe through the hose. None of this seemed to help. On Sunday my dad had mentioned that he thought that the faucet might not be working. I had disregarded this possibility as having an extremely low probability, since it had been working fine right before we started the project. He suspected that the faucet was not opening correctly. It turns out he was on the right track. I did not want to take the faucet apart on Sunday evening, because I feared that we might end up with a leaky faucet or worse yet a faucet that wouldn’t stop at all, and we would have to turn the water off to the whole house, instead of simply not having a washer for a few days. Today however, I decided to try taking off the faucet. I had the water turned on as I started taking it off, and this weird brown goo started coming out. I quickly turned off the water to the house, then continued taking the faucet off of the pipe, and grabbed a bucket. Finally the bread came out. It had been clogged up in the faucet. I got out the coat hanger and cleaned out some of the bread, then hooked it back up and flushed it out with the water back on. I did one more cycle of turning the water off and on, and put some teflon tape on the faucet. Then I hooked the washer back up and re-leveled it, and it seems to be working fine. I am happy that it worked out, but feel a little stupid that I didn’t try taking off the faucet on Sunday. Oh well. What is that saying about things ending well?

Phase 3 is complete
Grout is down. Toilet is back in

New bathroom

New vanity, tub tile, floor tile, and floor mat

We finished putting the floor tile in the bathroom on Sunday, which needed at least 24 hours to cure. So we went to work like normal on Monday. I didn’t think I would have enough time to grout Monday night, so instead I put up the sanitary base on the wall between the tub and the vanity. On Tuesday I worked from home, so I started off doing the grout. I woke up around 7, had a quick breakfast, then mixed up the grout. We chose the same color grout for the floor tile as we used for the tub and vanity countertop — parchment. While I was letting the grout slake I got out the utility knife and razor blade and removed any mortar in the grout joints that I had missed with the pencil while laying the tile. I probably started grouting right around 8:00 a.m., and finished around 10:00 a.m.

New tile and grout

The new tile and grout

One detail that the Home Time tile video mentioned about grouting was that there would be a “grout haze” when done, which I would need to wipe off. I had not noticed any haze when grouting the tub or the countertop, but I definitely noticed a haze on the floor tile. I think I might have been a little more paranoid about wiping off the grout with the sponge for the previous tile projects, or maybe the difference lay in the fact that the floor tile is slightly textured, so it is more difficult to get all the grout out of the small dips in the tile surface, or maybe a combination of both. I had remembered that the video said to wipe off the grout haze with a clean towel, but I couldn’t remember when, so I went and watched part of the video again, and realized that they recommended doing it as soon as possible, and to simply step on the tiles, being careful not to step on the grout joints. So I spent 20 minutes or so doing that, and got off most of the haze, though I will probably have to go over it one more time.

Close-up of drain

Close-up of the floor drain. I tried to even out the edge with grout

After dinner on Tuesday I decided to put the toilet back in, figuring that the grout would have had sufficient time to dry. It wasn’t completely dry, so I was careful to not step on the grout joints. I took the rags out of the toilet drain which were preventing the sewer gases from coming up, and removed the rest of the old wax ring with a chisel (I didn’t need a chisel, but the wax is really sticky, and I didn’t want to scoop it up with my hands, so it worked pretty well). Then I spent a good 20 minutes cleaning the toilet, and then finally started to put it in. We weren’t sure exactly what sort of wax ring to get, so we got several — one deluxe wax ring, one deluxe wax ring kit (with new nuts, bolts and washers), and one non-wax ring kit. I decided to dry the simple deluxe wax ring first. Although the tile video showed putting the was ring on the drain hole, and then setting the toilet on it, the instructions on the wax ring said to put it on the toilet first, and then set it on the hole, so I followed the instructions that came with the ring. The tile video mentioned I might need some plastic shims to keep the toilet from rocking, but it didn’t seem like the toilet was rocking at all to me, so I didn’t worry about it (especially since I only had wood shims).

sanitary base

The sanitary base between the tub and the vanity

I did make 2 mistakes. When I got ready to put the nuts on the bolts, I noticed they were pretty rusty, so I decided to open up the package of nuts and bolts in the other wax ring kit, and then promptly realized that the new nuts would not fit on the old bolts. So I just stuck with the old washers and nuts, and wasted a dollar or two. The second mistake was trying a new gasket that sits between the toilet base and the tank. The old gasket seemed ok, but I thought a new one would be good. Clare had bought one at Pell’s that looked a bit different from the old one, but it did say that it was for a Gerber toilet, which is what we have. (Sidenote – Kathleen Harriman said she has toilet envy of our cool pressurized Gerber toilet, which Steve Harriman installed for us). I had quite a time getting the tank to sit right using the new gasket, and several test flushes, I realized that it was leaking just a bit from that seal, so I went back to the old gasket. Unfortunately, I had already put on the new $30 toilet seat at this point, and scratched it up a bit removing the tank. Oh well. Nothing I can do about that. After putting the old gasket back on it seemed to be leak-free. I then went around and caulked around the toilet, between the tub and the tile, and between the floor tile and the sanitary base. I am still not very good at caulking.

toilet back in

The toilet is back in, with a new seat, and some fresh caulk

We still have lots of work to do in the bathroom, but the 3 major projects are complete — (1) the tub surround, (2) the vanity, and (3) the floor tile.

Order of operations
Tile is on the floor

putting in new insulation

Ready to put in some new insulation

So we finished the vanity about a week ago, and had planned to do the floor tile next. Part of our bathroom project involves building some sort of shelves/cabinet where the washer and dryer used to be, since otherwise we have some empty space, and also because we want to hide the plumbing where the laundry tub used to be. I had been thinking for some time that we would want to put the shelves in before tiling the floor, but we still haven’t really figured out exactly what we are going to do for that, and it started to seem like we might never get floor tile down if we waited. Eventually I decided that we could do the floor tile first, so we decided to do it this weekend, hoping that it will be done by the time my parents come to visit next weekend.

All the old tile is out

All the old tile has been ripped out. Now just a bit more cleaning to do.

The plan was to get all the prep work done Friday night, then put in the tile on Saturday, and grout Sunday. We left work a little later that we had expected on friday, and then we also ended up talking with the Harrimans for quite awhile. We stopped there to pick up the tile saw that they agreed to lend us, in exchange for helping them with their website. As to be expected, we got talking about our respective projects. They have more than we do, but hey, we are still novices. So we got home a little after 8, heated up some leftovers, then got working on getting the toilet out. That was actually no problem at all. I shut off the valve, then flushed the toilet, which got most of the water out, but not all. Clare had the brilliant idea of getting most of the remaining water out of the bowl using a cup, which worked quite well. A bit of water spilled when I lifted up the toilet, but not that much. After lifting the toilet off, we stuffed some rags in the hole to prevent sewer gases from getting out. We put the toilet in the foyer temporarily.

new drywall is up

New drywall is up

Then I got to work removing the rest of the old right around the toilet. I worked on this until about 10:30 or so, then decided I would finish up in the morning. In the morning I finished getting off the last bit of tile, and also worked on ripping out more of the drywall around the toilet that had gotten moldy. Clare and Liz were working on cutting the new drywall when I thought I noticed more termite damage on the nailers behind the old drywall. It turns out that it was not termite damage, but that some of the insulation was a bit moldy. So I ripped out about 10 square feet of the insulation and put in some new stuff, and a new vapor barrier there. Though I had poo-pooed the purchase two weeks ago, the staple gun that Clare bought came in very handy. Then we started hanging the drywall. Unfortunately most of the pieces were about 1/4 inch too big, so we spent quite a bit of time whittling them down with the utility knife until they would fit. This time, unlike last, I marked the location of the studs before hanging the drywall, which made life much easier. So most of Saturday was consumed with drywall and sweeping up the bathroom. Clare and I did get some of the tile out and talk about the best layout plan. We decided on doing full tiles by the doorway, which means we will end up with some pretty small tiles right by the vanity, but they should not be too visible. I finished the day with 2 round of mopping, so that the surface should be nice and clean, and the mortar will adhere well.

Clare cuts some tile with the tile saw

Clare cuts some tile with the tile saw

Sunday morning we got out of bed around 7:30. For some reason Clare wanted to shower, but I got straight to work (after a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee). The first thing to do was to finalize the layout, which involved setting some of the tile on the floor (without any mortar), and making sure everything was straight, then marking the position of the tiles using a chalk line. Once this was done, I could start measuring the first few cuts that we need to make. This is one way in which we deviated from the instructions in the HomeTime tile video. They recommended laying all of the field tile first, then waiting a day and laying the edge tile. Since we had so few field tile to lay, this seemed like overkill, and we were anxious to get the project done, so we can put the toilet back in. I mixed up the thinset mortar and began making measurements while Clare got the tile saw and tile cutter ready. Since the tile saw sprays some water around, we decided to do it outside. It turned out to be a nice day — partly sunny and 55 or so — but it was only about 35 when we started at 9 a.m. Clare was a real trooper though.

Combing out mortar

Combing out mortar

I probably laid down the first few tiles around 9:30. It is best to work in relatively small sections, so we made 2×2 or 2×3 boxes with the chalk line. I began by scooping some mortar out of my bucket with a margin trowel, then I used the smooth side of my notched trowel to comb it out. I chose a trowel with 1/4″ wide notches with 1/4″ spaces and 3/8″ deep. The tile video recommended 3/8″ deep for tiles 12″ or larger. Our tile are 13″ (actually 12 13/16″ — to make it easy to do measurements using a 3/16″ grout joint. We decided to use a 1/4″ grout joint). After spreading out the mortar with the smooth side, I then combed it out using the notched side. This gets the proper amount of mortar down. I filled one 2×2 box with field tile, then set a few cut pieces which Clare had cut very nicely. After I had set the cut pieces, I removed one of the field tiles, to check to see how well my mortar was adhering (also recommended by the Home Time tile video). According to the video, the mortar should cover about 90% of the tile. If it is less than this, then the mortar is probably too dry, or if greater than 90% the mortar might be too wet. I thought my test tile was more like 70%, so I added a bit of water to the mortar, and also concentrated on getting a consistent 45° angle with the notched trowel. I then replaced re-combed the mortar where I taken the test tile out, and put down a fresh tile.

test tile

Test tile. Is there enough mortar?

I continued laying tile for several hours, and Clare continued cutting tile. For all the straight cuts we used a simple tile cutter which scores the tile and then snaps it. But for the trickier cuts, we used the tile saw. The tile saw has a circular blade with a diamond edge. It is not jagged like a circular saw though. The saw sprays water on the blade as it is cutting to keep down the heat and the dust. Clare used one neat technique with the saw to get some rounded cuts, which we learned from the video of course. She made several very skinny cuts into the area that we wanted to remove, then nipped them off using the tile nippers.

fancy cuts with the saw

Clare makes a fancy cut with the tile saw using the many teeth method.

I continued laying tile until about 1 p.m. or so, at which point I decided I need a break, so Clare and I had some lunch. By this point we were mostly done, and had mostly field tile to lay down. As I started to lay tile after lunch I started realizing that the tile was deviating from the chalk lines. I began to get worried that the tile was not going to fit how we had envisioned. So I put down a few tiles and sure enough, it looked like we might end up cutting tiles by the doorway, which is exactly what we were trying to avoid. So I consulted with Clare, and we decided to just squish some of the grout lines instead of cutting the tile.

all the tile is laid

All the tile is laid

I finished laying tile around 3:30 or so, and then spent about a half hour cleaning up. Now we have to let the mortar set-up for at least a day. Hopefully we can grout tomorrow, then put the toilet back in soon.

Spring break
Daffodils sprouting

sprouting daffodils from afar

Sprouting daffodils seen from afar

Last weekend marked the beginning of Indiana University’s spring break. This doesn’t mean we get a week off, but it does mean less traffic congestion. And more importantly, it means that spring is on our doorstep. It has been very nice this week; sunny and in the 40s or 50s. This is a welcome change from all the freezing rain and gray of February. I was feeling grumpy Saturday, one of the first days of nice weather, so Rob and I decided to go on a walk around the property. It was very wet. We crossed the stream and went back to the field, pond, and up the hill to where Rob usually gets the wood he so enjoys chopping. When we reached the pond, we found that it was full enough to cover the drain pipe, which leads down to the field. That explains a lot. The ice on the pond was cracking and sinking, a sign of spring emerging.

Daffodils up closer

Daffodils a bit closer

When we came back down from the pond and the woods, we walked around the planned garden sites and talked about what to plant where. We also discussed whether or not to get chickens some more and if we did where to put the chicken coop. Then, almost done, we went to throw away some garbage we found on our walk. That’s when we saw the most definitive sign of spring: daffodils.

daffodils up very close

Daffodils up very close

Poking up through the dusting of snow and last fall’s leaves, little green blades and buds stuck their heads out to let us know that the annual cycle is complete and spring is on it’s way. The spirit of renewal and rebirth reminds us that we will try it all again this year and see where life leads us.

We spent the next half an hour or so clearing brush and leaves to give our newest arrivals a hospitable welcome.

Phase 2 complete
Vanity installation finished

This past weekend we finally finished the vanity installation. We worked on it a bit almost every night of the week.

tile is laid

the countertop tile is down

Monday night we got home around 6:15, and brought pizza with us, so we could get working on the tile pretty quickly. I started mixing up the mortar, and ended up getting really lucky and mixed the last part of one 25lb bag, which ended up being just about enough for the countertop. While the mortar was slaking, we started laying out the tile on the countertop to determine where we wanted to make our cuts. We decided to make cuts on the side next to the half-wall, since it would be less visible when you walk in the room. Then I marked the cuts for the sink-hole, and Clare set off making those cuts with the tile nippers while I started laying tile. Liz also helped cut some of the tile for the edge pieces using the tile cutter. The tile went on quite easily, though after it cured, I realized that they weren’t completely level. Hopefully I will be able to get them a bit more level when we do the floor tile. The actual laying of the tile only took a couple hours.

The new vanity

The new vanity with the sink installed

Tuesday Clare and I worked from home, so in the morning I started off by putting on the backsplash. We used 4×4 bullnose tile for the backsplash, and put it on with pre-mixed mastic, just like we used for the tub tile. That only took a half-hour or so. Then I worked until dinner-time, and after dinner I put on the grout. While I was putting on the grout, Clare and Liz worked on getting the old faucet off the sink. This proved to be trickier that one would think. The faucet part came off pretty easily, but the drain simply would not come off. The ring that fits in the sink would not come unscrewed from the rest of the drain. After I was done with the grout I took a look at it, and tried using some WD-40, but it didn’t help much. So I decided to let it soak in for a day.

countertop with tile and sink

Countertop with new tile and sink installed

Wednesday evening I set about trying to get the drain off again, hoping that the WD-40 would have helped overnight. It didn’t. So finally I got out the hacksaw and simply cut off the drain. Then I spent close to an hour removing the old caulk from the sink with a razorblade, and getting as much rust off the bottom of the sink where the old bolts had been as I could. Once again, I decided to call it a night.

Decorative tiles

Decorative tiles (they match the tub)

Thursday evening I finally installed the new faucet and put the sink in the hole. I attached the flexible hoses that were connecting the old faucet to the new faucet, and connected the first half of the drain assembly, putting a little silicone sealant under the metal rim that sits in the sink bowl, per the instructions. Then I put some more silicone under the rim of the sink, and set the sink in place. Finally, I put a little silicone between the edge of the sink and the tile. I finished connecting the supply pipes and the drain assembly, but did not turn the water on, because I wanted the silicone to cure.

Sink back in

New faucet, old sink

Friday evening I tried out the sink. I followed the instructions and took out the aerator to flush out any debris that might have gotten into the pipes while ripping out the old vanity. I had to tighten the supply pipes a bit more, but then it seemed to stop leaking. I was initially disappointed when I tried to put the aerator back in though. A small stream of water was obviously not flowing through the aerator, but spraying around. I tried tightening it down with a plier (and a rag to prevent gouging the aerator ring), but it didn’t help. Then I took it off, thinking it might be misthreaded, and tried again. Still no luck. Then I happened to notice some black thing peaking out of the sink drain hole, from under the stopper. It was a washer! It must have fallen out when I took the aerator out, or when I turned the water on. Once I put the washer on, the aerator worked fine. Then I spent a good 20 minutes or more working on adjusting the stopper. It seemed to be the appropriate height, but when I pulled it up, it fell right back down. I decided to call it a night and work on it over the weekend. I did caulk between the countertop and the backsplash though, using the Polyseam Seal caulk my dad recommends. This time I tried using masking tape to avoid getting the caulk where I didn’t want it. I was not that impressed with this method, as it seemed like I had to smooth out the caulk a second time after removing the tape.

Vanity up close

The new vanity up close. It has a burgundy finish

Saturday was a nice day, and I ended up spending most of the day doing other stuff besides the bathroom. On Sunday I went back to working on the stopper and checking for leaks. It turns out that the drain was leaking just a bit. I ended up just undoing some of the PVC connections and then re-tightening them, which seems to have done the trick. I also discovered that the reason that the stopper was falling down was because I had not tightened the nut that holds the ball in the drain pipe enough. Once I did that it worked fine.

So, phase 2 is complete. This next weekend we hope to work on Phase 3 – the floor tile.

Surprise! termites
Installing the new vanity

removing old vanity

Halfway done removing the old vanity

This past weekend we set out to install the new vanity in the bathroom. I was figuring it would take a total of 3 or 4 days, including some waiting time, since we were planning on tiling the new countertop. Friday night after getting home from work I eagerly started working on removing the old vanity. I went to take out the sink, but soon realized that the shelf under the sink was in the way of undoing the plumbing, so I started by removing the doors and the trim, which allowed me to get out the shelves. Then I went to turn off the water. After some WD-40 and a little elbow grease, I was able to shut off the water and disconnect the plumbing. Then I ran a utility knife under the sink rim to break the caulk, and then was able to push up on the sink from underneath and wriggle it free. I then worked on removing the countertop and disassembling the rest of the vanity using a hammer and prybar. We might try to reuse parts of it, so I was pretty careful to try to save as much as possible.

looking down at the pipes

Looking down at the pipes through the sink hole in the old vanity

Once I had all of the vanity out, I started ripping out rest of the drywall. Here comes the surprise. At first it seemed like some of the 2×6’s behind the drywall were rotten, but after further inspection, it became clear that it was termite damage. This was definitely going to set back a little bit. I continued ripping out drywall for awhile longer, then decided to call it a night.

termite damaged wood

Some of the termite-damaged wood

Saturday morning we slept in until 8, then got working on the bathroom around 8:30. Now I got a better idea of the extent of the termite damage, and we ended up calling Dave and Ellen to get their opinion on how best to proceed. I was thinking about replacing the termite-eaten 2×6’s, but they recommended just putting in a couple additional 2×4’s to have something to nail the drywall into,since some of the exterior siding may be nailed into the termite-eaten 2×6’s. I did replace the insulation though, and Clare and Liz put up a new moisture barrier. At this point I went outside to enjoy the day and cut up some firewood, and left Clare and Liz to hang the drywall. After they got done with that, I helped Clare tape and mud the drywall, and that was pretty much a day.

Rob removing nails

Rob removes old drywall nails

Sunday morning we got up around 7 and got to work. Clare sanded the drywall mud while I worked on making some fresh bread. Then I washed the walls and put a coat of Killz mold-resistant primer on the new drywall. We let that dry for about 4 hours, and worked on some other projects in the meantime, like splitting wood.

Clare sanding drywall mud

Clare sands the drywall mud

While the primer was drying, I also took the vanity out of the box, and started reading the installation instructions. I was a bit surprised to find that most of the back of the vanity was completely open. It also seemed like there wasn’t very much holding the drawers up. Although the old vanity was not quite as finished-looking, I think that it was probably sturdier. That is one thing that I have been learning as we do home improvement projects. A lot of building materials are actually fairly fragile, especially all the finishing touches.

Vanity is in place

Vanity is in place

After taking the vanity out of its box and marveling at how finished it looked, I immediately set out to cut a big hole in the bottom of it for the pipes. I suppose that part of the reason that the back is open is that the assumption is that the pipes are coming out of the wall, not the floor, but ours come out of the floor. My friend Sean leant me his jigsaw, and also gave me the advice of putting some packing tape over the part where you are going to make a cut, to help prevent splintering. I measured the distance from the walls to the pipes, then used those measurements to mark my hole in the vanity. By the time I was done making the hole, it was about time to put the vanity in. Clare helped me carry the vanity into the bathroom and get it shimmed. I only ended up screwing the vanity into the wall in 2 places, since I hadn’t put in that many 2×4’s behind the drywall,but since the vanity is resting on the floor (well, on the shims which are on the floor), I didn’t worry about it too much.

Testing the hole for the sink

The sink fits in the hole!

Once I had the vanity shimmed and screwed in, I set about making the countertop. After much searching, we decided on tiling the countertop. We weren’t very pleased with any laminate countertop options, and marble or granite just seemed out of our price range. We also had a pretty good experience tiling the bathtub, and the countertop seemed like it would be easier in many ways. Once again, we watched the Hometime tile video to see how to proceed. They recommended using 3/4″ exterior grade plywood, with 1/2″ cement board on top of that. One thing I had noticed when Clare was putting up the new drywall was that the space for the vanity was not exactly square. The space in front was 54″, but by the wall it was only about 53 1/2″. I took this into consideration when cutting the plywood and cementboard. Since we had a 54″ space, we ended up getting a 48″ vanity, since they only come in full foot increments. Originally we thought we would center the vanity and put some 3″ wood spacers to fill the gaps, but it turns out that Lowe’s (where we bought the vanity) did not have any spacers in the right color. So, instead we decided to leave a 6″ gap on one side, but to have the countertop fill the whole 54″. This left the option of centering the sink on the counterop or on the vanity. We decided on the vanity, so I put that into my calculations for where to cut the hole in the plywood and cementboard for the sink.

The tile underlayment

The tile underlayment. Notice the parts where the cement board is broken.

Unfortunately I had some problems cutting the hole in the cementboard. I followed the Hometime suggestion of putt the cement board on top of the plywood and then tracing the hole from the bottom. The problem was that I was supposed to flip the cementboard over and trace the other side as well, but because the area wasn’t exactly square it wouldn’t fit the other way. So I tried copying it just by guessing, which didn’t work out very well, so then I decided to try to use the Saws-all to cut the hole, which was working pretty well until the cementboard broke in half. I managed to put the pieces back together, and I think it shouldn’t be a problem.

Our next post will detail the actual tile laying.

Break the inner seal
Grouting and caulking.

Rob grouting

Rob grouting

The remaining steps after putting the tile on the wall are grouting and caulking. Tuesday night I spent about 4 hours grouting. It turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the project in my opinion. As we have learned, grout is specially colored mortar, which you put between the tiles to help keep them in place and keep out water.

Grout that fell off the float

Grout that fell off the float

The first step in grouting is to mix it up, which I did using a margin trowel. The Hometime Tile video which we learned much from said it is better to mix it a bit dry, so I erred on the dry side. Then I let the grout “slake” for 10 minutes, which is just to let it sit and let the powder and water mix on their own a bit. Then I stirred one more time, and used the margin trowel to put some grout onto my grout float and smear it onto the tile and into the cracks. This was much more difficult than it looked in the video. Probably 80% of the grout was just falling off into the tub instead of getting into the cracks. I decided that maybe it was still too wet, so I added a bit more powder. That was even worse. I resorted to shoving it in with my fingers (with gloves) instead of with the grout float. After tiring of that, I decided to try adding more water, and it got a bit better. Then I decided to look at the bag of grout again, and it said to mix with water or a latex additive for “enhanced performance”. I was beginning to suspect that I really needed the additive. Clare was in town at the YMCA, so I called her and asked her to look for latex additive at Walmart. No luck. So, I kept chugging along, slowly getting better at it such that I was only slopping about 40-50% of the grout into the tub. I let Clare try for awhile, and she started off about the same as me, so I promptly took over simply in the name of time-saving.

Side wall after grouting and caulking

Side wall after grouting and caulking

Thursday night I did the final step — caulking. I bought the caulk that my dad swears by — Polyseam Seal — which is an acrylic caulk with a silicone additive. I ended up buying a tube for a caulking gun as well as a small tube, because I wasn’t sure that we had a working caulking gun or not. My dad said that the small tube would probably be enough, but we ended up having some pretty big gaps in some places, so I ended up using both tubes. However, I did make one big mistake which made the job much more difficult. I started off with the big tube of caulk. I read the instructions and cut off the tip like it said, then started to squeeze the gun to start getting the caulk out. But it wasn’t coming. I kept sqeezing harder and harder but no luck. I began to think that the caulking gun was broken. So I took the tube out and realized that the caulk had started oozing out the back of the tube. So, I took a small putty knife, and started inserting the caulk with the putty knife and using my finger to smooth it out. This was not very accurate, so I ended up wiping a lot of caulk off of the tub and tile where I did not want it. I used the small tube to caulk around some of the smaller crevices like around the escutcheon and the soap dish. Nearing completion of the project, I looked at the instructions on the big tube caulk again and notice under number 2. Cut off tip to desired width. Puncture inner seal. !!!!! Man, now I get it. I had told Clare to start eating without me because I wanted to finish (having learned my lesson from the mudding and taping), and when I told her my story, she of course knew about puncturing the inner seal. Well, now I know, and you know what they say — “Knowing is half the battle.”

The wet wall after grouting and caulking

The wet wall after grouting and caulking

Don’t take shortcuts
The tile is on the wall

cement board taped

cement board taped and mudded

We haven’t posted anything in a couple weeks not for lack of home improvement projects, but rather because we have been spending most of our free time doing them. In the last couple weeks we really started getting serious about finishing the tile around the bathtub.

cement board on wet wall

cement board on wet wall

In the last entry, I estimated that it would only take a few more hours to finish hanging the cementboard. Well, that was an underestimate. It took most of a day, largely because of some minor setbacks, such as having to redo the cut-outs for the pipes in the supporting 2x4s. I had them all done, then when trying to toeshoe one of them in, I simply could not get the nail in, and finally decided to pull it out and screw in the board. However, the board broke while I was trying to get the nail out. Argh! But, I eventually got all the cementboard hung. The next step was to mud and tape the cementboard, which involves putting thinset mortar on the joints, then embedding fiberglass tape made especially for cementboard. This was quite tricky, as the mortar kept falling off my putty knife. I also made the mistake of not doing it all in one step (dinner intervened). I ended up letting half of it dry, then doing the rest another night. Using this method I ended up going over some joints twice (because of the inside corners), which caused some humps. I also put a bit too much mortar on I think, but hopefully the tile won’t fall off the wall.

working out the tile patterns

working out the tile patterns

This past weekend, we finally got to put the tile on the wall. Clare and I spent most of the day Saturday chalking lines on the cementboard, measuring, and cutting tile. Our neighbors, the Greenwell’s, lent us their tile cutter, which was very nice of them. It basically is just a cutting wheel on some rods. You score the tile with the cutting wheel, then snap the tile. Clare started off cutting triagular pieces from the 4″x4″ tile for the fancy pattern we did. Then I started making some of the cuts with the 6″x5″ tile we had measured. I was initially very worried, because the first 2 tiles I attempted broke in the wrong place. Then Clare passed on the advice from her mother to snap the big tiles near the edge of the tile, which worked very well. Besides the tile cutter, we also had tile nippers and a rod saw in our arsenal. The tile nippers are a bit like pliers with a sharp edge, and are good for cutting off rounded pieces. But, after learning the hard way, they do not work very well for inside cuts. That is, if you want to leave all the corners intact, but cut out part of the middle of the tile, the only options are the rod saw or a router (and we did not buy a router just for this project). They make rod saws that fit into hacksaw frames, but we could only find a small one that came in its own frame. It is a small rod which is very rough, almost like sandpaper, but metal and rougher. It works pretty well, but requires a lot of effort. More on that later.

Clare setting tile

Clare setting tile

On Sunday, we finally got to putting up the tile. I would say that this was probably the easiest part of the job so far. We bought pre-mixed mastic to stick the tiles to the wall. You spread the mastic on with a triangular notched trowel, then simply stick the tiles in. The mastic is very sticky, so the tiles stick almost immediately. The tiles we bought had lugs on them, which are basically little pieces on the side that space the tiles automatically. There were some pieces that we had cut where we needed to use 1/16″ plastic spacers instead. We started with the longest wall of the tub, ensuring that the inside corners would not be as visible as if we had done it the other way around. I got several feet up the wall done while Clare had her weekly chat with her parents. Then she finished off the rest of the wall, and I worked on making a few more cuts we hadn’t gotten to the day before. The trickiest cut by far was the cut for the spout, because it consisted of a circle in the middle of a tile. For this I had to use the special drill bit that came with the rod saw. It probably took me about 10 minutes to drill through the tile, and then another 15 minutes to saw out the hole.

the tricky cut for the tub spout

the tricky cut for the tub spout

We continued working on the tile after a little lunch break. After finishing the back wall, I started getting worried about running out of tile. Sure enough, after counting out how many tiles we needed, we realized that we were about 5 tiles short of being able to finish. This was due to 3 factors:

  1. We ended up tiling all the way up the wall, which was not our original plan
  2. We decided to only do the fancy pattern on the long wall, which was not our original plan
  3. We probably ended up breaking more tiles than we had originally thought

So, Clare being the trooper that she is, drove all the way to Bloomington to get about 10 more tiles so we could finish that day. I stayed home and did a few more cuts, cleaned up some, and started laying more tile.

interesting cuts by the ceiling

interesting cuts by the ceiling

Another tricky cut was around the shower handle, which was a 4″x4″ hole spanning the middle of two tiles. I thought I had both done, but when I went to put them on the wall, I realized that I had accidentally cut the two tiles upside down, so I had to do them over again. I wanted to continue tiling before the mastic dried out, so I asked Clare to do the last one. Clare, being the ingenius one, decided to use a combination of the rod saw and tile clippers (which I advised against). Sure enough, the tile broke. I was of course a bit upset, and decided to do it myself. I got about 90% done with the cut using the rod saw, and then for some crazy reason, I decided to try to use the clippers for the last bit, and it broke again. So, I gave it one more try using just the rod saw, and it worked, but we wasted another 2 tiles and a good 30 minutes. So, the lesson of the day is: don’t take shortcuts.

cut around the faucet handle

cut around the faucet handle

The last few pieces included the edge pieces to go on the outside corner of the wet wall. We ended up using countertop edge pieces here, which fit very well. I had to cut 2 of them to fit up against the tub, and I ended up cutting the top one a little bit as well, which was another tricky cut with the rod saw. Clare helped me cut the last set of tiles for the top to fit against the sloped ceiling. Then we cleaned up a bit and called it a day.

The tile is on the wall

The tile is on the wall

The Horse before the carriage
Bathtub cement board going up

moldy drywall

Old moldy drywall

It seems that every time we decide to focus on a particular part of the bathroom model at a time, it turns out that other parts must be done first. We are trying to keep as much of the bathroom functional possible for when we have guests, which has been relatively frequent. So, we are trying to do the tile around the bathtub while keeping the sink and the toilet functional. It seems that this will be possible, but not easy. A month or two ago, we thought we were about ready to put up the cement board to do the tile. Then we realized we should install new fixtures in the tub before putting up the cement board (see previous post). Once that was done we seemed ready to put up the cement board. As I began thinking about it though, I realized that we would have to put up new drywall where it butts up against the cement board before putting the tile up, since we have been told that the tile should overlap onto the drywall a bit. Fine. Then I started thinking about it a bit more, and realized that if I put up a small piece of drywall between the tub and the existing vanity, then we would have to put a seal there. That is no good. So maybe we do have to take the vanity out! Wait. I have an idea. Why not just cut off a few inches of the vanity? That is what I decided to do.

old drywall removed

After removing the old drywall and part of the vanity

While visiting my friend Sean last week in St. Louis, we were talking about home improvement, and I inquired if he had a reciprocating saw, otherwise known as a Saws-all. It turns out he does, and he let me borrow it. I put it to good work. I got to work about 8:00 in the morning, after having started fires in both the woodstove and the cookstove (high of about 15 yesterday and today). I started off removing remaining bits of nails from the old drywall from the studs, cleaned the plastic moisture barrier with some 409, and got ready to hang the first piece of cement board. The cement board we bought comes in 3′ x 5′ sheets, very convenient, since standard bathtubs are 5′ long. However, as I keep learning over and over again, sometimes things don’t quite fit. The cement board was too long. I had to cut about an inch off. And that of course is a real pain, but I cut it off, and then I hung it with the fancy cement board screws that we had bought. Fairly easy. At this point I decided to re-measure how high up the cement board would go. 3′ times 2 is 6 feet or 72 inches. I had cut the old drywall about 71 inches high. So, instead of taking 1 inch off the cement board, I took another inch off the drywall. I decided to try out the saws-all for this task, and it performed very nicely.

close-up of vanity

Close-up of the vanity after cutting off several inches

Once I had gotten going with the saws-all, I decided to try to take off some of the vanity. I started cutting through the countertop along one of the grout lines in the tile. This worked somewhat, but not very well, and I quickly dulled the heck out of the blade. I discovered it was much easier to chip off the mosaic tile with a chisel and hammer. Then I used the circular saw to cut through the plywood counter top. After a bunch of fiddling around, I finally figured out how to remove the drawers from the cabinet, and was able to salvage them and the metal tracks as well. Maybe we will use those elsewhere in the bathroom. I then continued for several hours sawing and hammering and chiseling, until I slowly started to get to the bottom of the cabinet. At that point I was getting hungry, so I had a little lunch, and talked with Dave and Ellen a while, who gave me some more tips on the bathroom project, including the fact that the PVC pipe in the cabinet that seemed to go to nothing did in fact go to nothing, so I cut it off (with the Saws-all). Shortly after lunch I was trying to cut through the bottom of the cabinet, and the second saw blade broke. I headed out to Pell’s, where they once again had everything I needed. I got five blades in total, including a pair of “demolition” blades. The demolition blade had no problem going through the metal of the floor heater under the old vanity which no longer works. I finally got through all the cabinet and removed all the nails from the studs, so I was about ready to hang the drywall.


The tool of the day — The saws-all. Thanks Sean!

Before hanging the drywall though, I had to put in a few more 2″x4″s as backing pieces for the drywall and cement board. The cement board was going to come out 30″ from the back of the tub, but the nearest stud was about 33″, so I cut a stud to about 84″ (since the ceiling is sloped), stuck it in, then attached it to the other stud with a few short pieces of 2″x4″. I also put in some cross pieces around the tub for the top of the backerboard / bottom of the drywall.


Extra stud attached with several small blocks.

By the time I had gotten all the 2″x4″s cut to the desired length, I was hungry again, so I had a little dinner. After dinner I decided to keep working for a couple hours more. I cut the drywall to the desired length, and then discovered 2 more slight differences when going to hang it — (1) I needed to cut out about 1/2″ more of the old drywall, and (2) I was going to have to remove a couple rows of the mosaic tile on the floor to get the drywall to fit right. After doing these 2 tasks, I was able to successfully hang the drywall (though I will have to save a couple screws for while the old vanity is out). And, around 8:30 p.m. I decided to see if all of my work with the vanity and drywall in order to correctly put up the cement board actually worked. Much to my delight, it did. I still have a good 2-3 hours left to finish hanging the cementboard. Then I’ll need a couple hours to tape and mud it, and then we can finally start tiling!

hung cement board

Several pieces of cement board finally hung
drywall by the vanity

Close-up of the cut-off vanity with drywall slipped in behind it

Blood, sweat, and tears
Bathroom progress

end of day one

Project at the end of day one. Not finished, but no leaks.

Well, we have been working on the downstairs bathroom nearly since we moved in, but it has been going very slowly. Since we have a bathroom off our bedroom, we haven’t had much pressure to work on it. But now that there is no grass to mow, we have gotten more serious about finishing the bathroom. We ripped out the drywall and tub surround quite some time ago, making the bathtub dysfunctional, but we have left the sink and toilet in a functional state, which has been handy when we have had guests. Now we are concentrating on finishing the tub, then tackling the sink and finally the toilet.

plumbing finished overview

Overview of the finished plumbing project

We bought most of the materials to tile around the tub several months ago, as well as a new vanity. We took Ellen’s advice and rented the “Hometime Tile” video from Netflix, which wa very handy. We learned that we should get cement backerboard instead of drywall to put around the tub, because it is more moisture-resistant. As we got closer to installing the backerboard, we started to realize that we should really install the new plumbing fixtures before the backerboard. So a couple weeks before Christmas I started taking off the old fixtures. I could not take them off all the way though, because that would create a leak, and the only way to stop the water to the bathtub is to shut off the water to the whole house. So, with that in mind, I wanted to make sure to start the project early in the day so I could make several trips to the hardware store.

So, with the holidays behind us, this weekend seemed like a good time to do the project. Saturday morning we got up around 7:30, had some breakfast, went to the bathroom, then turned off the water. As I started getting ready to take out the old fixtures, I realized more parameters I had not previously considered. For one thing I noticed that we would have to put it in a 2×4 as a backer for the fixture, and that we would want to make sure that we got it centered, at a good height, and at the correct depth from the wall. So I ended up cutting the backerboard and testing it in place to see how deep the 2×4 should be. Clare was of course very helpful in this as well. Once we had done all this, it was time to finally cut off the pipe to the old fixture. Unfortunately, we could not find the pipe cutter. On top of this, I had to go to the bathroom, and it was almost noon. So I went into town, got some lunch at Taco Bell and used their bathroom, then headed off to Pell’s hardware. I had a list of all the fittings and pipe I needed, and one of the guys helped me find everything. I also ended up buying a pipe cutter. I’m sure the old one will turn up someday.

sweated joint close up

Close up of the sweat by the where the tub faucet comes out.

Once I got home, I cut off the old pipe, and Clare helped me start measuring and cutting the new pipe, and cleaning the fittings. We were very fortunate to get a lesson in sweating pipe from Clare’s uncle Rich over the holidays. It really was a great exchange of information. We gave Rich and his family some advice on computers and digital cameras, and they gave us some advice (and tools) for gardening and home improvement. The main thing we learned from Rich is that the key to sweating pipe is that the pipe must be very clean. Cleaning it involves a special wire brush for the fittings, and some special sand paper for the pipe. After cleaning it well, apply some flux (soldering paste), and then start the soldering. We also learned that the area to be soldered must be completely dry, and that is where the bread trick comes in. There is bound to be some water in the pipes, and heating part of the pipe will cause that water to create steam, which lowers the temperature of the metal, meaning that it will never get hot enough to melt the solder. So, the trick is to shove some bread into the pipe where the water or steam would be coming in. The bread will act as a barrier for the water, but once the water is back on, the pressure of the water will easily flush out the bread.

So before doing any actual soldering, we cut all the pipe and stuck it together, to make sure it would all fit nicely. Once we had had shortened a few pieces, and made some slightly longer short pieces to go right by the fixture, we took the pipe into the kitchen to start soldering. It is kind of hard to sweat pipe in place and not burn the 2x4s, so we wanted to do as many of the connections as possible in the free and open. We successfully got 2 sweats done fairly easily, but then we started having problems for some reason. We were having difficulty getting the pipe hot enough for the solder to melt, even though the pipe itself felt very hot. One difference in our sweating from the test session with uncle Rich was that we were using propane gas instead of MAPP gas. Around this point, we also realized that there were a few more fittings that we needed, and that we might need to redo some of the connections that we tried but could not get right.

beautiful sweat

Perhaps the best looking joint we sweated

So, we took another trip in town. This time we bought some gas and used their restrooms, then we went back to Pell’s. We bought some MAPP gas (it was about $8 instead of $4 for propane), and the other fittings we needed, then got back to work. The MAPP gas definitely made a big difference. Now things were really rolling. We got all the sweats done we could in the kitchen, then moved into the bathroom. The first two sweats there were also easy. Clare used the torch to heat up the coupling joints near the top of the tub, and I came in from behind and below the tub with the solder.

Then I made a mistake. Clare went into the kitchen for something, and I was eager to see how good our sweats were, so I turned on the water. The sweats were good, but now I had just filled up the pipes with water, and we still had several more sweats to go. Rob!!!!

So, we decided to take a coffee break, and mull it over. Clare suggested trying to drain the water out somehow. There is a drain to the house which goes out near where the pipes go in. We tried that, but it didn’t work. Then Clare remembered her dad saying that if we turned the water on upstairs with the drain open, then any water on the first floor would drain out because of the pressure differential. Sure enough, it worked. We had a little dinner while the pipes were (hopefully) drying out. When we got back to work though, the pipe still would not get hot enough. Then we tried the bread trick. This seemed to help, but there was still water in the pipe. We could hear it sizzling. Eventually, we decided just to keep heating it until the water was all gone, which only took a few minutes. Then finally the solder melted.

After all this, I decided that I wanted to work a little bit more, but that Clare could do some other things if she wanted. I was almost about ready to finish off the project when Clare informed me that it was almost 10:00. So, instead I capped off the parts that go to the faucet and shower, and we called it a night.

shower outlet

Outlet where the shower head will go in. Notice I ended up using screws instead of nails.

On Sunday, Sam and Charlie came over for brunch. Naturally we spent the morning cleaning. We had some tasty vegan biscuits and gravy, played with Benjamin, and took a stroll through the woods on the unseasonably warm day (about 65ºF). Almost as soon as they left, I got back to the plumbing. It took a bit more fenagling to get the blocks to hold the shower and faucet in the right place, (and I ended up breaking one trying to hammer the shower pipe in place – nails stink). After another couple hours work though, all the pipe was in place, and there were no leaks!

Now we can finally start putting up the rest of the backerboard and start tiling. More adventures await.