Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tying Up Loose Ends

Between bouts of eating turkey over the holiday we got some work done on the house. Luckily, this weekend was more productive than the last one. The main things accomplished were finishing up shelves for the new linen closet in the bathroom and staining the stair edging.

The teak floors have been sitting in the dining room since July. With all the other dirty work they haven't been a priority, but with the dirtier work is nearing an end we're focusing on the floors again. We didn't purchase stair nosing when we bought the wood, and par for the course, the wood in the stain we purchased has been discontinued. Similar pre-finished woods were running $9-13 a linear foot, we have 60 linear feet, and the finishes didn't match our wood anyways. I don't like paying astronimical prices for items that don't even match, so we decided to buy some $4 a linear foot unfinished maple and stain it ourselves. This weekend has been an interesting experiment of trying various wood stains on the nosing we bought. So far we are pleased with the match, but there are still 3 coats of polyurethane to put on the wood.

The wood shelves went into the linen closet ok. I had some leftover plywood laying around, so I used that for the shelves. On the front edge I used the finish nailer to add a piece of trim to give a cleaner and more durable edge. The shelves were then primed and painted, and are looking ab fab in the closet.

Other things accomplished this weekend were getting the foundation issue fixed, eating turkey, building some shelves for the basement, repairing the upstairs sink, sitting in front of a fire drinking irish whiskey, and going to the dump to rid ourselves of building supplies. Not too shabby.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What Does it Mean to Me?

With the economy falling flat on it's face due to the mortgage meltdown, what does this mean to you and your renovation projects? I'm curious to hear how the wall street issue hits home for you, if at all, and how you are dealing with it.

I'll post a response later about how it has affected yours truly.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cool Rowhouse Info

I was cruising around for rowhouse info and found a great resource on rowhomes, the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual, which was just published this year.

The manual has a lot of great information and renovation guidance for rowhomes. With such a small space there are a lot of constraints on your design, with this manual offering a lot of solutions for the common rowhouse issues (like being so long and skinny). If you are looking to renovate a rowhouse this is definitely worth the time to read. It has info ranging from general roof pitch numbers, rooftop deck info, window anatomy definitions, general kitchen appliance dimensions, stair dimensions, to recommendations for adding a small bathroom.

It would be better if it was from Baltimore, as it has some information on building codes, but beggars can't be choosers. :-)


On an unrelated note, I was looking at an old entry of pictures I've taken of Baltimore. It makes me sad that I'll be selling some camera lenses due to renovations, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Non-Productive Weekend

After spending all Sunday toiling on projects, I feel like I got nothing accomplished.

I worked on insulating the front door. You see, when I replaced the front door this summer it took many passes with the power planer to make it fit. Seeing as nothing is level in the house, and I didn't want to cut up the beautiful trim around the door, we chose to use a wood door and trim it to fit. Apparently I went a little crazy with the planer on the bottom, and opened up a sizeable gap under the door. I also used a very thin threshold, which resulted in water running off the door and into the house. Not good. Fixing this was a monumental task that involved a new threshold, more power planing, a hacksaw, and a multitude of other tools and the better part of a day.

The door no longer has a screaming gale coming through it 24/7, but I must admit the door takes a bit of an effort to shut with all the sealer around it. There are a few more small gaps to fill in better, but it got cold so I headed inside for the day.

I then worked on installing shelves in the linen closet in the bathroom. The shelves are trapeziodal in space, and again the walls are not plumb or square. Also, I have no idea what some of the drywall is attached to, because in my flurry of drilling I couldn't find a stud in some areas. Each shelf and support is custom cut, anchored and attached, creating way too much work for such a minor project.

Also, the new tub's plumbing was leaking and the coldwater line to one of the vanity sinks is busted. Of course fixing these isn't straight forward either. Overall this weekend was a frustrating experience, and unfortunately each of the tasks I started weren't completed.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Taking a Jackhammer to the Basement Floor

Last week we had an issue in the basement. The water is gone, but we decided to get this issue fixed ASAP. Now that the bathroom is done, we can focus on the second bedroom. The issue with working on this bedroom is that it is filled with stuff. The logical place to put this stuff is in the basement, so this means making sure the basement is safe for storage. This is where B-Dry comes in.

They came and gave us a quote on Saturday, and while the costs were lower than what we were expecting, some things they were offering just didn't make sense. I wanted a Honda of a foundation job. Something not too expensive and reliable. Their original offer was for a Cadillac. For instance, they originally said they'd have to replace my 3 month old sump pump in order to guarantee their work. They kept calling back with better and better offers, and finally we settled on a price about 40% lower than their original quote. They'll be here next Wednesday. I'll be glad to have this issue over with, and to be honest I'll sleep better because of it.

After this is done all we have to worry about is finishing the second bedroom, laying the teak floors through the whole house, eventually finishing the basement, replacing the HVAC system, insulating the attic, and 10,000 other miscellaneous things. Good thing my parents are coming over Christmas to help out. If only they knew what they're getting themselves into. :-)

Gratuitous Wally shot!


We are quite proud of our furbaby. He's in advanced obedience class, where we get to gush at how incredibly smart and well behaved he is. He'd be even better if he didn't eat remote controls, but I guess he can't be perfect.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Upstairs Bathroom Lessons Learned

After each major project I want to write a Lessons Learned post about the mistakes (and a few successes) made along the way, and how we dealt with them. You can take a look at my past half-assed attempts by clicking on the posts tagged lessons leared.

  • Make sure you have enough tile, especially trim pieces - We purchased the wall tile back in February. There was 2-3 times as much tile as we needed, and there is a ton of cove molding and base molding. But there wasn't enough bullnose molding. We found this out while the contractor was tiling. I called Daltile asking where I could find some bullnose and they told me the tile in the exact color I was looking for, Ice Grey #1276, was discontinued. Not good. Instead of finding near matching tiles, we decided to just not use bullnose in a few areas, like in the niches and on one small edge above the linen closet door.

    Also, deciding to tile the front of the tub and the niches with slate meant we were two floor tiles short. Luckly Home Depot was able to get the tile for us quickly. Moral of the story, make sure you have enough trim and buy plenty of extra tile (or plan better) and be wary of buying a specialty color/type of tile, as purchasing additional tile may be tricky. In the end, all is well as we spent about $600 on all the tile in the room, which is pretty cheap considering how it all came out.

  • Make sure you account for all door swings when laying out new closets/walls - The decision to add a linen closet was a late addition. We talked it over with the contractor, and I made it clear that we didn't need a large closet, just something that would take an 18" pre-hung door and would fit in the space without being obtrusive. I had thought he had taken into account the fact that the door swinging into the room would be able to swing a full 90 degrees and fit in the blank space to the right of the linen closet. He didn't take this into account, so the door is 2-1/4" too long and hits the linen closet when opening, creating a small dead space in the room. Eventually I'd like to switch this to a 26" door, but with tile laid and the door already in it was a bit late to ask for this change.

  • Make sure you get the matching diverter for your shower - I thought maybe we could use the old diverter for the tub. Wrong!

  • If using a floating vanity, make sure the plumbing rough-in is at the correct dimensions - While the floating vanity looks great, it has a lot of structure to make sure it is well connected to the wall, thus leaving a small area for pipes to enter/exit the vanity. Originally the plumbing was roughed in haphazardly, which had the supply and drain lines below the vanity. A floating vanity with plumbing hangining below is not hot. This is a change we had to pay extra to get fixed.

  • Find a contractor you trust - When it comes to contractors (and people in general), I trust my gut. We had about 6 folks come through the bathroom for estimates. We ended up going with the person who said they were willing to work with me, and really seemed to understand that the design may evolve as time progressed. He also wrote into the quote that additional work that was out of scope would cost extra at a flat hourly rate, and that if I did some of the work that he would take money off the quote. I worked along side him for a considerable amount, so many potential increases in scope were offset by work I did to help him out. This style of work probably isn't for most folks, but it was perfect for us as it helped get us the design we wanted at a cost we could afford.

    We also did the quote as labor only, as we had already purchased the materials. If you are using high end materials, realize it might be better to pick out yourself and price separately as it is just too hard for a contractor to bid the job.

  • If you are purchasing a fan/light, do NOT get the flourescent version - The flourscent version uses a 42 watt, 4 pin bulb (GX24q-4 base), which is hard to find. You can't just plug a normal bulb in the light as the ballast is integrated into the light. We want to replace the light for two reasons (a) the color temperature is too cold and (b) the bulb is very dim when turned on and takes a long time to come to full brightness

    The color temperature is easy to fix. I did some research and found our bulb is a 3500K bulb, which is a cool-bluish white. Not appealing in the bathroom, as it casts a ghostly bluish pallor to the sking. We want a 2700K bulb, which is a tungsten balanced bulb that puts off the warm and cozy orangish glow we are used to.

    The issue of being dim when it starts up is more complicated. Looking up the light I found it's spec sheet. After skimming through a lot of gobbly'd'gook I finally found evidence of what I was looking for on page 6. This page shows a graph of lumen output as a function of time. At start up, this bulb only puts out 20% power, and take 2-3 minutes to come up to full power! If you are just going in to use the bathroom quickly, this is far too long to wait. Since the bulb is 4 pin, it requires an electric ballast be installed in the light for it to work. Now I don't know if the poor light output at start-up us due to the light, or to the ballast. With lights running at around $10 a pop plus shipping I am not excited about ordering new bulbs only to find out they take just as long to get bright. I wish I would have just gone with a normal incandescent fixture and fit it with a CFL. :-(

  • If installing tile, make sure your floor is stable enough to support it - Tile is very stiff and does not bend. While the tile is stiff, the grout in between it is not nearly as stiff. If you do not support your subfloor enough, then your grout lines will crack creating ways for water to seep into your floor. If your floor is really bad, you can even have the tiles crack. Not good.

    I read up on prepping subfloors in Tile Your World, and even looked at John Bridge's Tile Forum. I suggest checking both resources before tiling a floor. He recommends a floor that has deflections less than 1/320 for ceramic tile and 1/720 for natural stone. My floor is slate, so I knew it had to be stiff.

    After demo'ing the room I stepped in spots and could feel the floor deflecting below my feet. While the Deflect-O-Later said I was ok for tile, the deflections I felt told me otherwise. I had just planned to add a layer of subfloor over top of my floor, but after feeling this we decided to rip out the old subfloor and sister the joists and add cross bracing to stiffen up the area. Also, we laid new subfloor and 1/2" hardiebacker cement board on top. I am very glad we took this step, because if not it could have been a very expensive thing to fix down the road, as the entire room would have to be ripped up.

  • If I think of more things in the future, I'll just add to this post.

    Sunday, November 16, 2008

    Master Bath Reveal

    I've been pretty mum lately about the bathroom renovation. This doesn't mean work hasn't been accomplished, rather I figured I'd hold off on showing pictures until it was done. As of 10:30 tonight, it's pretty well done.

    Not too long ago, the bathroom looked like this.




    The bathroom stayed like this for months and months while other things got worked on. A lot has been accomplished. Just not in the bathroom. :-) Around Mid-October we decided we could use a bit of help on the bathroom, seeing as it is the only full bath in the house, and brought in a contractor to help things along. After all these months we kept things in the spirit of our design board, though there have been a few changes along the way.

    Design Board

    upstairs bathroom

    Now it looks a wee bit better. Walking in from the hallway.


    Peeking at the double vanity to the left.


    Here is a look at the double vanity with the subway tile, restoration hardware lights, floating vanity and vessel sinks.


    Turning around 180 degrees, is the separate room with the toilet and tub. We ran slate tile up the front of the tub, and used slate inside the niches. We used a different shower curtain from the one in the design board as the pattern just didn't work in the space.


    Even the toilet looks good, and so far I'm pretty impressed with it's performance. :-)


    This weekend was full of 12 hour days caulking (thanks Momnipotent!), painting (the color is Behr Breaker), installing vanity lights, sealing grout, mounting fixtures and tons of other miscellaneous stuff. But it's all worth it. We stand in the bathroom now and are still surprised that this is our house. But it is, even if we have to pinch ourselves every so often to remind us we aren't dreaming.


    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Questionable Foundations

    You know it's not good when the contractor calls from your house to tell you that you have a 1/2" of water in the basement. The call didn't improve after he found a spot in the foundation where the water was entering. With the final bill coming due soon on the bathroom renovation, this is not a good time for this.

    Does anybody local know of a good basement/foundation person? Any help would be appreciated, the sooner the better.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2008

    Dog Shower?

    Wally is ready for the tub to be done too.


    And the Queen is entirely too excited in this picture.


    Upstairs Bathroom Layout

    Looking back, I don't think I ever fully walked through the design process involved with the upstairs bathroom. It is a large space, roughly 6' by 14', but was awkwardly laid out. In the update I've tried to use the space better, seeing as this is the only full bathroom in the house. I'll walk through this process a bit to help lay out the changes.


    Creating Two Rooms. In today's mode of thinking people are opening spaces up to create the illusion of space. In this bathroom, I felt it was too big and awkwardly put together and making two smaller spaces would suit the room better. Also, since the home has only one full bathroom I thought it would be better to separate the shower/toilet area from the vanity area for privacy, and allow one person get ready in the room without steaming up the mirrors.

    Another reason for creating the two rooms, and moving the door, was to create better flow through the area. Personally, I just think the space flows better now.

    Creating two rooms does have me concerned about a couple of things; lighting, and making sure the spaces don't feel cramped. The shower area has a skylights as does the outside hall, but getting adequate light (especially natural) into the vanity area will be difficult. The bathroom is in the middle of the home, so choking off the natural light to the vanity area isn't ideal, but in the future I'd like to replace the door between the vanity/shower area with a frosted glass door to allow more light in the vanity area. Also, I am thinking of adding two small recessed lights in the vanity area to supplement the lights mounted over the vanity. To alleviate the issue of being cramped I am using floating furniture. The vanity and the make-up station will both be floating. Hopefully this will work to help the space feel more open and airy.

    Adding a pocket door. While it wasn't my first choice to use a pocket door for the bathroom, there wasn't a good place for the door to swing. The pocket door addresses this issue, and there is still a full door into the bathroom to allow a more secure entrance to this area.

    Adding a double vanity. With the Queen moving in we knew we wanted more space for us to both get ready, and there is plenty of space for the double vanity. It was pretty much a no-brainer decision to add it. Also, by sticking to the original plumbing locations (tub/toilet/vanity) the only new plumbing modifications needed in the room were for the new tub and for the second sink. No major changes in shifting drain lines around, which was a relief.

    Adding a make-up station. Not sure if this is the correct name for it, but it's what I call the area. I thought it would be good to have an area for the Queen to get ready, and by using the second sink and this make-up area she has her own area of the bathroom, while also staying out of the traffic lane into the shower area. This make-up area will be a floating drawer with a thin glass top, and an outlet has been added at an appropriate height for a hair dryer or make up light.

    Adding a linen closet. The odd shape in the corner where the linen closet is was previously unusable space, so we figured we may as well make use of it. An 18" helped us not to intrude on the other door's swing, and also kept the closet from being to obtrusive in the spaece. The closet will be a great place to store towels and bathroom clutter, while not taking up usable space.

    Adding shower niches. The two shower niches will be a nice place to store all the products in the shower. The Queen has a plethora of stuff in the tub area, so the niches will be a great way to avoid clutter on the edge of the tub.

    Overall I'm pleased with the design. I think splitting the space into two rooms will functionally maximize the space, making it the best use of space for our single full bath house. I'll be glad to have the bathroom done in a couple of weeks.

    P.S. Based upon comments from the last post I decided to go with the dual flush Toto Aquia. Hopefully it lives up to expecations. :-)

    Monday, November 3, 2008

    Oh Crap

    Why does every home improvement project result in bouts of excessive research? Must be a side effect of being an engineer. Today's dilemma is the toilet, and after reading many reviews all over the internet I am a bit overwhelmed.

    Some background... For the downstairs toilet I wanted a toilet that was a bright white, had an elongated bowl, and had a minimum of depth from the wall since the space was small. Simple enough. Now that it's in, I'm not all too thrilled with it's performance. You see, it has a tendency to clog. Not pleasant. I guess the Queen just puts too much down it's lil ol' gullet. :-)

    For the upstairs bathroom I am being a bit more picky. I want bright white, modern looking, elongated, preferably a taller height, would be nice to have a dual flush, hopefully stays clean long, and I want performance, performance and more performance. This thing should be rush excrement down the drain at the speed of a bullet train. And I want it cheap. I must be asking too much, because the ones with the specs I'm looking for are running $400-500 including shipping. For a toilet. After skimming through reviews there is universal praise for Toto toilets, so I'm leaning toward this brand.

    Meet the Toto Ultramax (MS854114SG).


  • Looks good and modern

  • Stays clean longer due to the sanagloss glazing

  • Excellent performance for flushing

  • Comes with a soft-close seat ($40 value)

  • One piece. Not sure why this matters, but it seems as if people like this?

  • Cons:
  • Isn't dual flush

  • Over $500 after shipping. Yowza!

  • Meet the Toto Drake (CST744SG).

  • Looks good

  • Stays clean longer due to the sanagloss glazing

  • Industry leading flush performance!

  • About $300 after shipping.

  • Cons:
  • Isn't dual flush

  • Not as modern looking as ultramax

  • Needs a soft-close seat ($40 value)

  • Meet the Toto Aquia (CST414M).

  • Looks great - nice and modern, without a skirt

  • Is dual flush. I also like the dual flush buttons on top of the tank - they just look swanky.

  • About $320 after shipping.

  • Cons:
  • Ok performance, but smaller trap and doesn't have G-max system

  • No sanagloss glazing, so more cleaning. :-(

  • Needs a soft-close seat ($40 value)

  • Now how was this post for exciting? On a scale from 1-10 I'd say it's an 11. Anybody have any recommendations or thoughts? What are the most important issues on a toilet for you? Maybe I'll look at other brands other than Toto, seeing as this seems like a lot of cash for a crapper.