Thursday, May 31, 2007

Daze 8 and 9

As I write this on the morning of Day 10, I....zzzzzzz......

Day 9 was a doozy, folks: we were at the house until 3:30am. Sheesh! Due mostly to John's seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy and good cheer, we now have a closed plumbing system: toilet and sink hooked up, and all plumbing finished in the basement around the water heater.

It's "long story short" time: We worked on the toilet on Tuesday, but didn't finish because we needed different bolts to secure it to the floor. Got those Wednesday after work, I ate some soup sitting on the tub (eating in the bathroom has become sort of routine; it's the nicest room in the house these days), John got ready to deal with the sink drain in the crawlspace. That turned out to be a hellish job since the drain is on a weird angle and the elbow leading up through the floor would not glue after three attempts. We took a break out on the patio to clear our heads of frustration (and John's head of PVC cement fumes). Worked on the toilet for a while instead: got it in! I assembled the showerhead and the faucet handles too, and would have done the tub spout except we had the wrong size pipe for inside the spout.

Then we went to the basement and finished up the crimping down there: nice new lines leading into and out of the water heater, complete with valves so that our radiant system can get hooked into this in a couple of months. And then--the final push--it must have been 1am already at this point--we took another run at that sink drain. Much better this time due to a different approach and trimming the hole a bit larger through the floor with the Sawzall. Drain finished, supply lines poked up through the floor, trap and vent and sink stopper assembled, holy shit! Here's our bathroom!

Our parents are coming tonight to help us move tomorrow. We may actually all be able to shower at the new place, if about 10 things go right when we turn on the water. There are plenty of little tasks remaining in the bathroom but damn if it isn't getting close.

10 days: it's been challenging.

- Erika

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The challenge rolls on...

What a weekend! Alright, here we go, and if you're looking for the short of it, we are on schedule and then some!


The plan was just to go home and pack. And that we did. Packed and packed and packed, then sat on the back porch late in the night feeling the midnight moisture roll in, enjoying the fresh smells of the farm, and listening to the mockingbird.


Erika went over the mountains to rent the floor sander and hunt down the correct paper for it, then she headed over to the house to do the final touch-up sanding of some drywall spots. I met her there after work and we gave the sander a shot. The idea was to sand down and buff up the soapstone but it was ripping through paper at a rate we just couldn't keep up with. It definitely smoothed out the stone and grout a bit, but I was disappointed that the stone wasn't being enhanced the way we were told it should. After quickly spending 20+ pads, I ended up going at it by hand. Our little corner cat sander seemed to be taking out the saw marks left by the big quarry machines but it was getting late and we still needed to tile the shower border so we decided to leave the sanding by hand until the morning.

In a display of done-this-before, Erika whipped up the remaining amount of thinset while I tried to rig up a makeshift reservoir for the wet saw that we found in the basement. And off we went, right up the wall. A vertical row of tiles, then a second vertical of bullnose tiles. Only three cuts were needed and our saw handled them just fine although I started getting little pinprick shocks so I used tile scraps to push 'em through.


Big day. Up early. Over the mountain to return the sander and buy painting supplies, paint and primer, and the usual odds and ends. We started bringing our houseplants over with us so the first thing we did was unload them onto the porch.

We grouted the newly installed tile border.

We assembled the awesome cart that we got for Christmas (we were going to be needing this for the big debris removal project later that day).

Then we spent some time masking off the tile and laying plastic on the floor, getting ready for a couple of days of painting. We rolled the primer coat of paint onto the bathroom walls and ceiling. Holy cow!

That done, we were off to start cleaning up the outside mess. You might recall that three months ago when we pulled out all the insulation from the crawl space, we had tossed it into the old shed (packed almost to the top). We had also been dumping tile, drywall, linoleum, and a myriad of other debris onto the back concrete patio. A large pile by now. The shed area of the lawn has been littered with an old broken toilet, plumbing parts and pipes, and grass and weeds and vines have all be growing up high around it all. Couldn't wait to dig into this, load stuff up into the cart, and run it down the hill and up the plywood ramp into our rented dumpster.

Just before starting this, my dad had told us to watch out for bees. Indeed. Bumble bees, yellow jackets, black wasps, yellow wasps, bees and wasps of all kinds were buzzing and boring the mountain of old nasty pink insulation. We poked it a bit, bees buzzed our heads for a closer look at us. We stood there, just looking. What to do what to do. Got the hose and soaked it down for a while. The bees thought it was raining I guess, so they took shelter elsewhere. When the hose stopped, the bees returned. I wanted to just set fire to the whole thing.

We kept poking at it, cautiously, using a rake to pull old insulation bats out onto the lawn. These bats often were buzzing inside with small clusters of bumble bees. Since getting attacked by yellow jackets last summer, I scare easily when a couple start circling low over my head. Erika, the bee whisperer, picked up the slack here, just moving calmly and slowly, pulling the stuff out. She's got a score to settle with this stuff (see the Crawling post from back in March for the reference). We would load up the cart, run it down the hill and into the dumpster, and come back for more. Lots more. Erika poke a bee, demonstrating that they're really quite docile, and it bit her on the head.

I think it took about an hour (everything takes "an hour"), but we emptied the shed and removed lots of the larger debris from around the outside of it: heating ducts, broken pipes, cracked toilet, plastic bags of linoleum shards. We even started shoveling away the pile of debris on the back patio. Eventually, we were just totally worn down and it was late, so we stopped and had a beer. Not a bad day's work!


We could hardly wait to get that first coat of green on the bathroom walls! But first, we had to get a coat of white on the ceiling. Pretty exciting! Lookin' good.

Transported the stone sink top down to the work table in the basement, mostly because it was nice and cool down there, but as it turned out, sanding this stuff standing up is much more comfortable than on your knees. First I went at it with some sanding screen wrapped around a block of wood to get out the grooves that the quarry saws had left in its surface. After I burned through a couple of those, I loaded up the little corner cat sander with some 120 grit pads and kept going. With this nice flat piece of stone laid out on this table, it was pretty easy to just sweep the sander back and forth, arcing up around the basin hole. I burned through three of those (saved one for rounding off the corners later), then loaded in some fine 220 grit and kept polishing. I couldn't stop. Veins and clouds were revealing themselves in the stone, like we were told they would. It felt smooth and looked beautiful. Could not stop running our palms over its surface. Last, Erika marked off how the corners should curve, and I sanded 'em to shape and rounded the long edges as well. Sink top ready to be epoxied into place!

Then we continued carting debris down to the dumpster. We even carted the old washer and drier out. We organized our mountainous burn pile by the fire pit, so now we've got a pile of small scraps in the pit, ready to go; a pile of slightly larger pieces, ready to be tossed into a burning fire; and a big pile of large floor boards, old joists, and old oak studs. All of which are completely loaded with old nails and screws. We almost tossed the ancient and funny-looking electric lawn mower that came with the house, but Erika convinced me to plug it in and give it a try. I did, and it works great, so we're keeping it.

Oh, I forgot to mention that before we left for the house in the morning, we went through our shed at home and packed whatever wasn't getting tossed, donated, or recycled, into the van.

Erika backed the van up to the back porch and we started unpacking our stuff into the now empty porch and the basement. Looking real nice.

We epoxied the stone top for the vanity in place. Hooray!


Happy Memorial Day! We brought over a load of plywood (the very same plywood that made up the dance floor for the wedding) and our lawn mower, and some plants. First, everyone in the bathroom gets second coats of paint. The masking tape pulled off a bunch of primer with it on the walls up near the ceiling. So we had to sand it down and re-prime that strip. But yeah, painted.

Then we removed the plastic sheeting from the floor and mopped up the dust so we could get the grout ready for sealing. While waiting for the floor to dry, we cut the first sheet of plywood for the subfloor between the bathroom and kitchen. Then we sponged grout sealer all over the bathroom floor. Then we cut a second piece of plywood while that dried. It dried nicely, so we left by 5 to go home and pack.

And pack and pack and pack and pack...

- John

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Day 2!

I love this 10-day Challenge thing. I can't stop talking about it. Somehow it makes everything so much better to think of our work as a game show.

Anyway, Day 2 was another success. We grouted our floor! That's all we did. Well, we also talked more about paint colors. Herb garden? Or New bud? Or Hearty hosta? Stay tuned.

The grout was an adventure, mostly in the researching of it. John did a huge amount of reading, asking, calling around to figure out what we needed. We were getting way different advice from online forums, the tile shop, the whoosie whatsis. Use this, but then we call Lowe's and they've never heard of it. Use that, but it's $22 for a tiny bottle and it has to be smuggled in from Sweden and it'll be like three weeks until we have more. (Really, we were actually told that.) Mix your own grout with concrete and sand and water. We were mighty confused.

In the end (of course!) the do-it-yourself grout appealed to us most. John went to the see-ment company by the railroad tracks and spent $14 on a big cardboard box of sand and a 94-pound bag of cement. This was a lot better than the $300 we would have spent at the tile shop, plus it gave him the opportunity to get in line, inside his little Rabbit, with cement trucks in front of and behind him. These trucks were getting stuff loaded in by crane, but for John the guy had to shovel sand into a box by hand. I wish I could have been there.

Once we were at the house and mixed this stuff up, it looked awfully brown. We'd wanted more of a grey color. Must be the orange-yellow sand. We debated for a while (should we shoot up to Home Depot, 25 minutes away, and get a different color sand?) and decided nah, just to go with it. As it turned out later, the homemade grout a) looks fine in brown when you actually get it between the stones and b) turns grey when it dries anyway.

Grouted it up. Here it is!

- Erika

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Day 1 of 10

Day 1 of the 10 Day Challenge hit its first snag when at 5:10 PM we realized that neither one of us had taken dinner out of the van to put it in a workplace refrigerator. So we phoned in an order for pizza and picked that up on the way through town.

When we got to the house, we remembered that the dumpster was delivered that day, so now at the foot of the front steps is a giant orange beast of a container.

We ate pizza on the porch and looked at several paint chips, trying to narrow down our bathroom color options. We narrowed it down to a few different greens and a few different reds. As scheduled, we'll sleep on it and come back to them Wednesday.

We marked the sink cutout in the stone top for the vanity and carried it outside and set it up for cutting. I got started on it while Erika got started on the bedroom clean up.

The stone cut nicely, only a few spots of hard mineral deposits that would slow the cutting down to a halt for a few minutes before it resumed its butter-like passage around the oval. Using regular wood blades, 2 in total, the cutout was complete. We put the sink top on a piece of plywood and ushered it in and put it in place on the vanity. A perfect cut. We wiped it with a damp sponge to approximate the dark color that it will turn after we oil the stone, then dropped the sink basin in and placed the original backsplash and wow, it looks beautiful!

Erika got back to washing the bedroom walls and windows and I had a look at the splintered planks jutting out irregularly from under the kitchen floor into the space we created between the kitchen and bathroom (this will be the extended part of the kitchen eventually, where people can hang out while we cook for them!). These planks needed to be cut clean and somewhat square so that we can soon put down a "temporary" plywood subfloor. Pulled up the sole plate from the old wall that used to divide the area, adjusted the circular saw depth and cut away the plank ends. Easy. Swept and checked on Erika. Bedroom was looking good, and she wasn't far from being ready to put up the plastic ceiling in there.

I got side tracked and decided that I needed to fix up one of the kitchen circuits. This circuit has the back porch light and back yard spot light on it as well as a few kitchen outlets but we always leave it off because when we removed that partition wall we left a wire unconnected and hanging (it used to feed a switch that controlled a now obsolete hanging light). When we would turn that circuit on, you just had to be careful not to brush past the hanging live wire. I pulled the nearest receptacle, rewired and confirmed that I had deactivated it, and wired the receptacle back up and cut the old wire out of the wall. There's an open ground somewhere back up the circuit, but I'll find it another day. For now, at least we can keep that circuit on for outside light.

Plastic sheeting time. It was getting later into the night, not too late, but late enough that we started working quickly to get this up. Staple staple staple, slice with blade, staple staple staple, and it's up. Erika helped me get over some of the folds in the plastic, "it's a plastic ceiling," she reminded me. Ah yes, so it is.

We straightened up and were out by 10:30, goals for the first night of the challenge were accomplished!

- John

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Crazy Talk

Last night we moved all our construction materials from the bedroom, living room, and dining room into the tool room and basement. We also cut the bathroom sink top from the 260 pound slab of soapstone. After we sand, buff, and seal the stone, it will be almost black, with the mineral veins showing through as whites, grays, and tans. (Same goes for the floor!)


We thought we'd try something new here. Last night we realized that there's a chance we might not have this done in time for the move. There's a shower at Erika's office (we think), and there are several toilets in town so...

But we're not giving up hope! Over an 11:30pm dinner last night we did what has always worked in the past, we made a list of everything that needs to be done and scheduled it. Things might pull together, and we might pull some all-nighters, but this is it, it's for real.

So read up and hang on for the ride. And now, here is operation Crazy Talk:


Cut oval hole in vanity stone top for sink
Sand stone vanity top edges and round the corners
Vaccuum and put plastic up on ceiling up in bedroom
Wash bedroom walls and windows
Chisel and saw and clean up floor edges for temporary floor between kitchen and bathroom
Choose bathroom paint color then sleep on it


Pick up tile, floor grout, more wall grout
Tile shower wall border
Grout bathroom floor
Decide bathroom paint color


Rent floor sander for bathroom
Buy paint and primer and accessories
Go home and pack


Finish small sanding spots on bathroom drywall
Sand bathroom floor


Grout shower border
Caulk bathroom (all around shower, tub, floor)
Prime bathroom walls and ceiling
Assemble cart
Load dumpster


Paint Bathroom
Sand sink top
Glue sink
Go home and pack


Second coat of paint in bathroom


Install and connect toilet
Connect sink
Finish basement plumbing


A continuation of Tuesday, no doubt


Families get to town
Load up moving truck? Finish plumbing? Where will we be?!

- John

Monday, May 21, 2007

We put the Stone in Stoney Creek

The big day was upon us. Cementing the soapstone in the bathroom. In a way, so much of what we have done in that room was based around the idea of using this local, beautiful, passive-solar approved, and heavy material. The special floor frame construction, the subfloor and underlayment configuration...

Of course, before we left our current home we had to do a little mowing of the lawn, but by 9:30 we were heading up over the mountains for a quick trip to purchase the special mortar.

First, we cut semi circles in two adjacent slabs for the soil stack to pass through. Next, we scoped out our entire arrangement, visualized the process, mixed up 25 pounds of cement, and zipped back down the hill for some good coffee while the batch slaked.

We probably got started at around 11:30. Gooped and troweled the stuff on pretty well and set the first stone in the corner by the tub and toilet. Things went pretty well at first, but as we approached sections of the mosaic where the pieces were smaller and more numerous, things slowed down to points of frustration. It's harder than it looks, carrying a few pieces from the dining room to the bathroom, trying to maintain their original orientation.

After a several hours, we finished out the mortar and were just past the halfway mark. Back down the hill for some take out, this time some pretty decent Mexican fare, light on the authenticity. Enjoyed a cold Sierra pale ale at the bar, covered in mortar, while we waited for our order. Dinner on the hillside in the yard, getting lazy, better get back to work.

We dove back in and kept at it until we finally arrived at the entrance path, which we were going to lay by kneeling outside the bathroom and leaning in. We had just enough mortar left to finish the job. Almost. I would've liked to have another trowel full at least...sat there scraping the bucket, eventually with our hands, happy even to get another finger full.

Stood back up, hair worn off my (John's) knees (seriously!), hands crusted in cement, and were like "holy cow." We did it!

Scurried around straightening up, cleaning the tools, and hit the road, all the while planning the next few nights' worth of work to do while the mortar sets.

Move in less than two weeks now.

- John

Entryway here...

Entryway there!

Friday and Saturday

John was away at a conference for two nights during the week and I took the opportunity to start packing up our house--that is, the one we still live in. We're moving in two weeks! Jeez.

So we converged at the house on Friday afternoon. Did some sanding and mudding. Also cut the hole in the top of the sink cabinet. That involved many minutes of trying to line up the cardboard template, which comes with the sink, on the top of the antique--it's not very precise, since it's thick corrugated cardboard, and we drew way too many lines and guides on it for our own good. Dude, all we want is a sink that seems straight when you walk up to it. We're not talking about solid gold faucet handles or something.

Anyway, we finally got a line drawn where the cut would go, and John started in with the jigsaw. A little sad to bite into this nice old piece of furniture, but it should have known better than to get mixed up with the likes of us. Before long the oval dropped out. Good thing we're planning to put a piece of soapstone on top of this thing, because the jigsaw really scratched up the surface of the wood.

We put the basin in, put it in place in the bathroom, added the toilet, and voila! This is what it will look like. "We're getting there!"

Saturday: one of our last four weekend days before moving. We did a lot that day...

1. Put the grout in the shower tile. What to say? You mix it up, smear it in, squeegee it off, then wipe it with a sponge about 40,000 times. It took quite a while, partly because I mixed up the second batch of grout much too runny, and since we had no more powder we could add, we had to just wait for it to dry out a bit before we could use it. But the grout looks good--nice and white, as clean as it will ever be, and it makes the occasional flaw in our tiling job (what? flaw?) much less obvious.

2. John figured out how the drain and trap will sit under the sink, then cut another hole for them in the bottom of the cabinet.

3. We cut holes in the subfloor for the toilet drain and supply and the sink drain and supply.

4. Laid the Ditra! This is the orange plastic waffle stuff that goes under the stone and supposedly keeps it from cracking. You thinset it to the plywood, so that was another bucket of stuff to mix up. Cutting up the Ditra itself is nice and quick, and the waffle pattern makes it easy to get a straight line. So when we laid our pieces in, they actually fit quite well. Now there's a pleasant change from drywalling! Then we put kerdi-band over the seams (yet another bucket of mortar) for waterproofing. This is gonna be one tight floor.

5. Made it home and got showered in time for Weekend Update, red wine and chocolate.

For me it was a day of feeling quite overwhelmed by our whole situation, but I'm better now. This is a crazy push right now, leading up to the move. To think, at one point, we planned to finish the bathroom, put ceilings up in a couple of rooms downstairs, put in the big window and door in the attic, and install heating for the second floor--all before May 1! Ha. We'll be glad to have the bathroom functioning and snake-free by June. Anyway, after we move we'll still be working really hard, but at least we won't have to drive so much.

- Erika