Vanity Mishap

So remember how we had a custom vanity and storage cabinet made for our main bathroom? And remember how we were going to have furniture like feet? Well apparently the cabinet maker didn’t. I had clearly explained it and drew up multiple drawings that were dimensioned out. Anal? Yes. Useful? I thought so but he only took the drawing of the front and not the side.

So when we finally got around to trying to install the cabinets and we realized the base was built with a standard toe kick that was recessed 4″ behind the face of the cabinet we were frustrated. You couldn’t see the feet all all under the cabinets nor the actual toe kick behind it. We had to delay installing the vanity until the following weekend but unfortunately we weren’t able to get what I originally wanted because the face of the cabinet was built to overhang the box like a standard cabinet. So the best compromise we could come up with is having the feet just behind the overhang of the face. Not exactly what I wanted but it did end up looking intentional and you can see the feet.

 

Installing a toe kick + furniture feet is an idea I came up with to help keep the area under the cabinets clean. I loved the look of furniture feet but I didn’t want to have to do exploratory digging to get dust bunnies out from under the back. A full plate toe kick set 4″ behind the feet took care of the issue and was barely able to be seen in the farthest away point of the bathroom. But to make it even more invisible we painted it black to look more like a shadow.

Installed it doesn’t look half bad. Glad that fix turned out so well!

We did have a slight issue with the side panel being too tight. I guess he didn’t design the back of the cabinet to be attached exactly flush to the wall. Flannel Man later pried the panel back out and trimmed it down so it can expand and contract like it was meant to.

 

Flannel Man and Papa Flannel got a tight fit around the pipes in the base of the cabinet (which is another thing that is nicely hidden by the toe kick). They had to turn the water off and drain the lines so they could turn the handles to be in line with the pipes.

I knew the sconce would be close but it looks closer than I had planned. The pivot mirror I got pushed the sconces out farther than I would have liked. The cabinet fits so I guess that is all that matters.

The organized array of electrical boxes is starting to look good with the switch, timer, in-floor heat thermostat, and GFCI outlet installed.

We’re a little worried about the gap the panel along the cabinet. Hopefully the granite will line up and cover that. These floating side panels ended up causing a lot of issues.

 

Overall we love the cabinets though! (Ignore the sawdust and tools or the fact that the doors and drawers are still downstairs I was too excited taking pictures.)

Look we have a vanity and a storage cabinet!

Mudding, Priming, & Painting

We finally got around to mudding the drywall. It’s only been 3 months since we hung the drywall. We started with smaller taping knives and worked our way up to wider ones with each layer of mud.

The first coat of the long living room wall. A built-in will be going in the opening on the right.

The master bedroom’s first coat.

Second layer.

On the last layer we tried wet sanding with a damp sponge. We had wring out the sponge a lot and be careful to be very gentle so as to not take off too much mud. It worked pretty well though. We did follow up with a light dry sand afterwords.

 

Onto the main bathroom where we’re focusing all of our efforts right now. We just finished the laying down the tile floor and grouting it with epoxy grout.

Toilet nook:

And the ceiling that we weren’t planning to have to drywall until the electrician fell through it…twice.

 

Next up was priming and we added the sand texture into the primer. That worked OK but I think we need to find a way to apply the texture more evenly than with a roller because we had a lot of areas that needed more texture to make it look even.

The future access panel for the shower shut off valves next to the toilet.

 

Then I asked Flannel Man to skip ahead and install the light fixtures temporarily so I could pick the paint color for the upper half of the walls. The construction light we were using up to this point was just too yellow to pick out paint.

We had a minor issue in that the lights couldn’t sit flush with the wall. The center bolt that holds them on was meant to fit into a standard depth electrical box not the shallow pan boxes we had to use because of studs being in the way. Flannel Man was later able to cut down the bolts without messing up the threads.

 

The bottom half of the room was going to be painted white to look like wainscoting but the top half I wanted some type of light blue or green color. I had a whole pile of paint chips from various stores.

I considered the tile neutral so I thought any color would look good but holding the swatches up to the tile I found the tile had a very blue undertone to it. So the greens and green grays seemed off to me.

 

I narrowed it down to a few favorites and taped them on the wall. At this point I realized that the G24 base light that came with the bath exhaust fan was a soft white so it gave off a slightly yellow glow. But the florescent bulbs I picked for the sconces were a bright white. We liked the bright white better so all of the white in the room didn’t look dirty or yellowed. Eventually we’ll replace the bath light with a similar temperature light but for now we looked at both for picking out the paint colors. Soft white light with pure white Azek moulding:

Left to right: SW 2640 Skylark, SW 6218 Tradewind, Behr UL220-12 Urban Mist, Behr 720E-2 Light French Gray, Behr 720E-3 Rocky Mountain Sky, the sliver on the end was just from Tradewind’s long card.

 

SW Skylark is actually an exterior color but it color matches BM’s Glacier Lake which I saw in an inspiration picture I liked so I was considering having it mixed in an interior formula.

Bright white light with American Olean Catarina Coliseum White tile:

My two favorite were the two on the left. In the end I felt Skylark might be too pale and not contrast enough with the white wainscoting but I liked the mix of green, blue, and green that still managed to work with the tile. I went with the gray/blue Tradewind which I hoped would give the room a nice pop of color. Plus it’s one of interior designer Phoebe Howard’s favorite blue colors along with the one shade lighter SW Top Sail…so you can’t go wrong with that!

 

At this point Flannel Man started with the wainscoting paint. I had tried to get it color matched with a piece of the vinyl trim we were using for the wainscoting. But the color reader was acting up that day so the Sherwin Williams guy attempted to come up with the color mixture by eye. Four tries at tinting, shaking, and drying a drop of paint on the sample and he thought he had something. At that point I just wanted to get the heck out of there after waiting around for almost an hour! So I told FM we’d try the color and if it wasn’t right we could have it re-tinted. Well FM must have not been paying attention because I talked to him the next day and he had painted all of the ceiling and the wainscoting before realizing the color was PINK!

Taking a closer look at the trim we had I realized the straight pieces of vinyl we had bought were a different color than the Azek moulding order that came in after we had bought them. Originally, we were going to get the matching straight Azek but it was textured on one side, had a rougher finish, and didn’t have rounded corners. Plus the Azek was 3 times as much as the stuff we found at Menard’s. The straight pieces didn’t match the pink color of the wall or ceiling at all but it was darker than the Azek. So I guess we would be painting the trim after all (we were hoping we could get away with not).

 

I took the pink paint back and both of the samples and the Sherwin Williams lady was very sympathetic. She found that the straight bright white base they use matched the Azek exactly so matching it between types of paint (for the doors) became very easy. Too bad they don’t give you a discount for not needing any tinting! With a two new cans of Duration; one in the bright white base and one in Tradewind the room was looking much better.

Sophie is tired of her humans spending so much time in this room.

Spring is coming?

We’ve had a very mild winter here in southern Wisconsin with only a handful of big snowstorms all season. So it was a little surprising to wake up to a big wet March snowfall the other day. The snow clung to every little branch and made our yard look like a winter wonderland.

The driveway.

The view of the pond from the middle of the driveway.

The backyard.

Do you see what I see?

That is right just after the snow storm passed we saw our first geese on the pond.

They look bewildered like hey where is the open water?! This group was surely just passing through but that means in no time we’ll be seeing our first pair of mating geese and hearing them defend the both ponds as theirs. The first sign of waterfowl on the ponds each spring is always exciting!

 

The conifers we planted out front have provided great winter interest. They look especially nice with a thin layer of snow accentuating their branches.

With the warm temperatures the snow is melting fast. I love sunny days when there is snow on the ground!

 

This winter we’ve had an extra special treat with two male pheasants calling our yard home. This is only the second time this had happened. Two years ago we had a male hang out in our yard over the winter.

We would catch him sunning himself on our front steps every morning but unfortunately he didn’t last long. Our dog found a crime scene of blood and feathers in the snow a few weeks later. : ( But this year we bought some food for the pheasants and have been feeding them where they were scratching the ground for food. They are skittish creatures and nearly every day Flannel Man has scared them out of the brush when he walks the dog on the pond and I will sometimes see them as I’m leaving the driveway in the morning. I managed to get a few pictures of them through the trees as they crossed the lower part of our driveway one weekend.

(Cropped to give you a better view of the details. Not very good photography but they are the only shots I’ve ever gotten of pheasants on our property so I wanted to share.)


They are so funny to watch when they run. Their head bobs back and forth every time they take a step.

 

What signs of spring have you seen lately?

DIY Epoxy Grout: It’s Really Not That Hard

I wanted to title this post “Epoxy Grout: The Best Grout Ever Invented!” but I seeing as we just installed it I don’t have any daily bathroom observations of it yet. I have a feeling though I might have a post tiled that in the future because let me tell you this stuff is kind of amazing.

I know many of you are wondering what epoxy grout even is. It’s a two part resign based product just like regular epoxy but it has sand and coloring mixed in. It is often used in high traffic areas of commercial buildings or areas where chemicals are used. Unlike standard cementitious based grout it is waterproof, stainproof, and never needs to be sealed. Yes you heard that right never needs to be sealed! Everyone I know seals their grout when it’s first installed and remember to reseal it for about a year after that. Then “re-sealing the grout” falls off the radar and their grout slowly gets more and more stained. There are thousands of products out there that claim to make your grout look like new but if you could avoid the whole issue would you? This is especially easy to see in light colored grout.

We wanted to use a light gray grout color to match the gray veining in the tile but I didn’t want to be constantly cleaning and re-sealing the grout. The main bathroom is the most used bathroom in the house so it needed to take a beating and still look good.

The downsides of epoxy grout is that it costs a lot more than traditional grout and that it’s harder to install. It’s also not the best to use natural stone like marble, travertine, or slate because they are porous and cleaning the grout out before it dries could be a challenge. It can be done though if you seal the tiles before grouting and are very meticulous to clean off each tile. With a natural stone you should be sealing the tile every 6 months to a year anyway so you might as well save yourself some money and use a cemetitious grout. For these reasons many pro tilers don’t like to use epoxy grout others think it’s great and consider it “bulletproof.” Some think it’s a little extreme for residential applications and they are probably right but you can’t deny the positive aspects of using it. Our pro tiler friend immediately tried to talk us out of using it. It was too late to change our minds though we had already bought it and I had extensively researched it before deciding to use it. He wasn’t going to be the one to have to seal it for the next 50 years or live with stained grout or even be the one installing it. We felt confident in our decision and stuck to our guns. Knowing this is our “forever” home made that decision a lot easier. A little extra upfront cost would save us a lot of maintenance and hassle in the long run. If you know me I over engineer everything and we don’t ever plan to redo this bathroom again so the tile and grout are here to stay.

After extensively researching how to install it and preparing for the worst we were pleasantly surprised to find it really wasn’t that hard after all! I swear. This is our first tiling job ever so you don’t get any more green than us and we didn’t have any issues with it. We did however mix it up in small batches and carve out a large chunk of time to install and clean it off the tiles before the grout dried. I can see why pros don’t like to use it because it takes more time to install and they can’t just put it in and clean it off right away. Leaving the job site to come back the next day to clean off the last bits of grout off the tile isn’t an option either. There are ways to clean dried epoxy grout off the tiles but you really want to avoid them if possible by meticulously cleaning off the tile before the grout dries. If anything epoxy grout is better suited to DIY because you’ll be home and able to spend as much time as needed to clean it all off.

We went with Laticrete’s SpectraLOCK Pro Premium epoxy grout in Silver Shadow. From what I’ve read the CEG Lite epoxy grout found at Home Depot doesn’t preform near as well. Laticrete’s product has been around for longer, better customer service, have a lifetime warranty, and are highly recommended by the professionals. So we drove over 2 hours away to pick up the grout in mini units from Lowe’s (they only sell mini units). At the time I couldn’t find anyone else who would sell to a non-contractor in our area but since buying this a new tile store has opened up and they are willing to work with us. Note Laticrete’s “Where to Buy” function on their website only gives you a list of distributors which is less than helpful. Maybe someday they will expand that.

For added assurance that all of these little batches would match in color we tried to get all of the Part C cartons from the same batch (pink underline). But they didn’t have enough from any one batch so we had to get one from a different batch and from what I’ve read their color matching between batches is near perfect.

Flannel Man had done all of the tile cutting so I said I would do the epoxy grout but he ended up helping anyway.

 

 

Step-by-Step Epoxy Grout Installation

1) Have everything ready. Clean thinset out between the tile joints. Find all of your grout floats (you’ll want to use the hard rubber ones that say they are for epoxy grout). At minimum you’ll want one large float and one margin float (aka. the smaller ones). Have sponges and buckets of water handy along with paper towel for any spills.

 

2) Mix parts A & B like the instructions say making sure to get out every last drip out of the bags.

Then mix in the sand/coloring mixture. Mix this in slowly and save 10% of it until you see what the texture is going to be like. Add more as desired.

With cementitious grout you use sanded grout for wider grout joints and unsanded for thinner grout joints. The sand used in Laticrete’s epoxy grout is very fine and can be used in any grout line but for thin grout lines they say you can leave up to 10% of the sand/color mixture out. We found that we preferred the slightly smoother finish it had when we left 10% out and used that even with our 1/8″ grout joints.

 

3) Now spread the grout out right away. You have a total of 80 minutes before the grout dries starting from when you mix it. Half way through it will be very stiff to work with though. With bigger full or commercial units you can either separate the parts individually before mixing or mix the full unit and put half of it in the freezer for an extended working time. For a first time user buying individually divided Mini units sounded like the safest option.

Because we were using large format tile we tried using a grout bag to keep clean up only to the edges of the tile. There was no need to drag the grout across an 18×18″ tile. It worked OK but it was an extra step and the epoxy grout is hard to squeeze out of the end. Plus we went though a lot of bags with all of the separate batches.

Spread the grout diagonally across the grout joints like you would do with any grout only make sure to use the hard rubber grout floats made for epoxy grout.

The grout is thick and takes a bit of power to force into all of the small cracks. You want to make sure everything is sufficiently packed full and don’t worry about a little of it being on the tile. You want all of the grout joints to be nice and full if not overflowing so as you clean the sponges don’t take too much off of the joint. Stop grouting before you use the whole batch. Use the last extra bit to go around and check that there are no low spots before or after cleaning. We were too careful about making everything look perfect in our first batch and had to go through and to some of the grout joints after our first cleaning.

 

4) The first cleaning should be done within 1 hour of mixing the grout. Use a vinegar/water mixture of 1/2 cup of vinegar in 2 gallons of water. Fill low spots as needed.

 

5) One hour after the first cleaning do your final inspection and wash. Mix up another vinegar/water mixture and a new sponge. We used a sponge with a terry cloth on one side. It gave everything a nice clean finish.

 

6) Repeat steps 2-5 as needed. After the final inspection we felt confident with the process and mixed up two mini batches at once to finish off the room. I carefully applied it before the first batch was completely dry. The thought was that they would blend more seamlessly that way. It worked OK but I’m not sure you would ever be able to make out a small seam if there was one since the end of the batch wouldn’t be perfectly straight or flat.

For this batch I kept everything a little messier and it worked out better.

 

The next day everything was dry and ready to go.

Overall I loved the look but the slightly warm undertone of the Silver Shadow do bug me a little next to the very cool toned tile. I am very picky about my colors though. I was trying to match the gray veining of the tile and this was the closest color Lowe’s had. I had read that all white epoxy grouts tend to dry with a yellow tone because of the amber matrix.


You can see a few flecks of sand to give you an idea of the fine texture.

 

This bathroom has come so far from the 70’s harvest gold disaster it once was!

The room looks huge with the wide angle and without the cabinets in it yet. It was a lot of extra work, time, and materials to tile under the vanity but someday if we ever want to change it out we’ll be happy we did it.

Pretty white tile!

We grouted all the way around the sink supply and drain lines.

Same with the toilet ring and supply line.

 

But wait! It was at this point we realized something didn’t look quite right. Can you see it?

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Yes we messed up our quarter turn tile pattern on one tile. Of course it has to be right out in the open area that won’t be covered up by cabinets or hidden in the linen closet. Dang it! *smacks head into wall* Too late to change it now so let’s hope people won’t notice it.

 

All Sophie wants to know is “Are you done in here yet?!”

No, sorry we’re not done yet but we’ve picked up the pace and are making good progress. Stay tuned for some big changes happening soon!

And….We Have Tile!

Once the electric floor mats and Ditra was put down and sufficiently dried we went back and filled the Ditra squares. Pros and experienced tilers will do this step at the same time as laying down the tile but we decided to take everything nice and slow especially after messing up the previous layer of thinset. To fill in the waffle like texture we just used the flat side of a trowel. Since the squares are undercut it’s very important to pack them from every direction with thinset.

Making this a separate step also gives you a better surface to mark out and lay the tile so we plan to do this again in the future.

 

Next up we had to figure out our tile pattern. The American Olean Catarina Coliseum White tile I fell in love with only comes in two square sizes for the floor, 12×12 and 18×18, so that limited our options. For the walls I liked the 10×13 size because it was like an oversized subway tile but it only comes in glossy which I didn’t like the look of in person. The matte tile looked much more real and would help hide water spots. So I had to use one of the two square size tile options in the shower too. I wanted to break things up a bit and not use the 12×12 tiles on both the walls and the floor so I went with 12×12 on the shower walls and 18×18 on the floor.

I knew for at least one of the areas I wanted to use a classic running bond pattern. But because 18×18″ tiles are considered large format they will have some cupping in the center. Non-large format tile (12″x12″ and smaller) has cupping as well but it’s much less obvious. Running bond pattern doesn’t work as well with large format tiles because the low center will be right next to the higher ends of the tile right next to it. Tilers recommend offsetting the tile by 1/3 instead of 1/2 of the length of the tile to counteract this.

Keeping that in mind a 1/2 offset with the 12×12 tiles in the shower would work the best with the length and side of the tub being divisible by 6″. But having a 1/2 offset in the shower and 1/3 offset with the large format floor tile would look strange. Like someone wasn’t thinking the design through before laying it out. So the only other options were a square or diagonal pattern. Of course I wanted the diagonal pattern because it’s much more visually interesting! Putting large tiles on a diagonal meant a lot of cutting. I know I like to make things difficult.

With the tile pattern figured out we had to pick what direction we wanted the “grain” of the tile. One of the downsides of this fake marble tile is the limited number of grain patterns. There were only about 4 different printed grains so you have to be careful with what tile you put where. Flipping the tiles 90 or 180 degrees also helps diversify the look. Originally I thought I would want the grain to all go in one direction like this:

The other option is what our tile pro family friend recommended. It’s called a quarter turn grain pattern where every tile you lay is turned 90 degrees from the previous tile.


This essentially makes a checkerboard pattern of tile directions. We really liked how it helped hide the fact that there was a limited number of grain options. It also doesn’t lead your eye to any one direction like the lined up grain lead your eye to either the toilet or the tub. Quarter turn it was.

 

Now it was finally time to laying out the tile! Our tile guy recommended we dry cut the tile first because it was a large format tile in a small space. We started the design by snapping a caulk line to base all of our tile off of and measuring off additional lines from that line. Walls and tubs aren’t necessarily straight so don’t measure off of them or your whole floor may be crooked.

We started near the front of the tub since that was the most crucial edge being the only tile edge that wouldn’t be covered by baseboard.

Knowing we’d be cutting a lot of tile between the two bathrooms I bought a heavy duty wet saw off Craigslist months earlier. This was our first time using it and it…um…left something to be desired. More on than later. It worked for what we needed to cut but luckily we had a lot extra.

For the small cuts we bought an angle grinder and a diamond tipped blade. Worked like a charm on the intricate toilet ring cut and the small square cuts around the piping. First Flannel Man cut lines in the area he wanted to remove.

Ooh look sparks!

Then he carefully followed the curve of the line.


Making sure to wet the area with a sponge every once and while.

I think that is one of the nicest looking toilet ring cuts I’ve ever seen! He’s such a perfectionist.

Since we’re tiling under the vanity as well we had to cut squares out for the piping. This was done by drawing the square on the backside and slowly plunging the diamond blade on the angle grinder into the back of the tile. Stopping to wet the area has he went. He cut each side until the most of the front had been cut but stopped short of cutting the full line at any one time. That way when he moved on to the next side the tile was still sturdy enough in the corner to not flex the tile and crack. Once all of the sides were mostly cut he carefully finished off each side to complete the corners. All of the cutting was done from the backside so the backside corners had overlapping cuts due to the radius of the blade. Because of that you have to be careful when handling or laying down that area of the tile. This tile took two tries to get right. The first one cracked between the drain line and the nearest copper pipe.

Same thing was repeated for the toilet water supply. Unfortunately this had to go in the floor as the toilet is on an exterior wall.

The linen closet also had some fun cuts.

This piece miraculously only had to be cut once.

Busting out the wide angle lens to show you the dry fit run.


Note we just eyed the grout joints as closely as possible and checked them occasionally with tile spacers. Our tile pro says one of the biggest mistakes DIY tilers make are to make the grout joints too thin and to rely more on measuring than your eye. Being an engineer I kind of side eyed that last comment but I trusted Flannel Man and gave him the benefit of the doubt that he could get it as close to exact as possible. He is a machinist who works in the 1000ths of an inch. His eye is trained to be able to pick up small variations.

 

Once all of the tiles were cut our family friend tile pro stopped by to help us lay the first couple rows and show us how it’s done.

We quickly learned large format tile = lots and lots of pulling up the tile to reduce lippage.

The margin trowel (on the floor) became our new best friend.

Here you get a good idea of how big these tiles really are.

 

 

Steps to Laying Large Format Tile (bigger than 12×12″)

First you mix up the thinset (we used modified thinset) to a consistency that is thick enough to hold the notch of the trowel but wet enough that it still sticks to the tile. Then keep a sponge and bucket of water handy.

Next smooth over the Ditra one more time to make sure all dimples are filled in.

Then run more thinset over the area with the notched side of the trowel. We used a 1/4″ x 3/8″ trowel.

Now back butter the tile with a thin layer of thinset. Just enough to cover the square pattern on the back of the tile.

In the corners we added a small extra dollop of thinset. This accounts for the higher corners of the cupped large format tile. Most of it gets squeezed out but it ensures the corners are solid and won’t crack from a lack of support.

Next you lay down the tile by getting it in the right spot and dropping it ever so slightly into place. Followed by a firm press you should have even coverage of the thinset under the tile. Pull up your first couple tiles to double check this.

With the tile down slide it up to the neighboring tile on one side and check that the whole length of the tile is flush. Our tile pro and this tile pro recommend this procedure. If it isn’t flush pull up the lower tile and add more thinset on the back of the tile in that area.

Wipe off the excessive thinset and pull the tile back into place.

Repeat on the other sides of the tile. This should give you a level floor and fairly clean grout joints.

 

 

Overall Flannel Man’s tile cutting job was pretty flawless but when it came to the tile around the sink piping some minor adjustments with a Dremel was needed.

As we tiled the available floor space got smaller and smaller. Soon I was kicked out and let Flannel Man to pull up and put back down tile after tile. I’m not kidding when I heard “Sigh…that is at least 4/1000ths of an inch of lippage!” come from the room.

Heating, Decoupling, & Waterproofing Tile Floors

The main bathroom is moving along. We have the tub in, the last wall built, and the drywall up so it is time to work on the floors. The first thing we needed to do was install the electric in-floor heating mats. Yup that’s right we decided to add these two both bathrooms not just the master bathroom like we originally planned. From what we’ve heard they are the best thing for bathrooms since sliced bread. It seems like everyone says they are the best bathroom decision they have made and love the way they feel. When my co-workers heard I was remodeling our bathrooms this was the first thing that came up from multiple people…”I was at a friend’s house and he had these heating tile floors so I tried them out and they were fabulous!” …”We’re just finishing our basement bathroom and we’re using this new state of the art thing that heats the floors. Have you heard of it?”…”My dream bathroom, you know in my dream house, has heated floors.” In fact we had a hard time finding anyone who had heated floors and didn’t like them.

We knew we wanted some extra heat in the bathrooms because although we love our geothermal system the lower temperature heat isn’t the most comfortable when you’re getting out of the shower and the vent is right next to you. My parent’s bathrooms have those ugly red warming lamps which were effective but they always made me feel like a burger at a fast food restaurant so those were out. Electric baseboards could work but they are the prettiest thing. A towel warmer is another option but those things are pricey and don’t fit the more traditional look we’re going for. Electric in-floor heat seemed to be our best option. We went with the mat style vs. the wire you run yourself because it is thinner and easier to install. We opted for SunTouch’s TapeMat system and Nuheat’s Solo Thermostat.

The mat was a little long for our room so we cut the end and flipped it to cover a little of the nook the toilet is in. Don’t worry we were far from the clearance that is needed around the wax ring of the toilet. (This is the big reason we went with SunTouch’s floor mats because you can cut them to work. Though we’ve heard nothing but good things about Nuheat they don’t let you cut their mats and they cost more.) It would have fit fine that way but we realized the wires running to the thermostat were facing the wrong way. We considered flipping the mat but then we would have to cut another section away for the toilet area so that that would be on the right side. Instead we decided to keep as much mat on the main part of the floor and just cut the end with the wire so that it faced the right direction. That way the channel we had to cut for the electrical connection would be as short as possible. The temperature probe was run right next to it and a small square chiseled out of the floor for the end of the probe. We attached the mat to the floor with staples over the non-wire sections of the mat. We found it difficult to get it absolutely flat without a lot of staples. Looking back we should have tried unrolling instead of leaving it in the box.

I had read of people installing more than one probe in case one breaks (it’s buried under the tile so you’ll never be able to get down there to add a new one). Other people including the electric mat company said it wasn’t necessary. But the way I see it it’s a $35 insurance policy. We ran both temperature probes right next to each other and used the same chiseled out area. One will be connected to the thermostat on the wall and the other will just sit in the back of the box in case we ever need to use it. The single gang box on the left is where the thermostat is going.

A metal plate covers the notches we made in the sill and keeps us from running a drywall screw through the wires. The poof of white behind it is the spray foam we used to seal the old holes in the sill plate from the ceiling below.

Once that was all hooked up we could put up the last piece of drywall.

 

Then it was time to cover the wires with thinset. There are a couple ways you can do this. (1) tile or apply your Ditra right over the mat, (2) pour on self leveling concrete, or (3) skim coat the mat with thinset. (1) is what most of the pros do. They have plastic tile trowels or are skilled enough with metal trowels to nick the wire. But being first time tilers we chose to do everything in smaller easier to handle steps. After reading all of the prep work and disasters people have had with (2) we opted against that. Caulking every seam and crack in the floor and priming the wood didn’t sound like fun. So we thought we’d try option (3). So we mixed up some latex-modified thinset to spread on top.

Everything was going good until the drill we had started smoking. I guess thinset was just too much for it to handle. Luckily, Flannel Man had just bought a heavier duty drill but it was still sitting in the box because I didn’t think we needed it. Guess I was wrong.

At this point we double checked our resistance from the mat compared to what it was before and checked on our LoudMouth monitor to make sure nothing had been damaged.

We carefully spread the thinset out with a flat edged trowel making sure not to hit the wires.

When we got toward the end we ran out of thinset and had to break into our second bag of thinset which was white for the glass accent tile we’re using. We completely underestimated how much thinset we would need even though we had tried to calculate it out. The gray section was a full 50 lb bag.

It wasn’t looking perfectly smooth but it was our first time ever using thinset. We had mixed it a little runny hoping that would help it level out.

The next day this is what we had:

A crappy totally uneven surface! The thinset had shrunk as it dried or soaked into the plywood subfloor or something. You could clearly see the plastic mesh and wires of the mat in some places. Other places had trowel marks and low spots. It was a mess. At this point we wish we had tried the self leveling concrete. More prep work and a rushed process but we could have predicted what we were going to get. At this point we wish we had tried the self leveling concrete. More prep work and a rushed process but we could have predicted what we were going to get. We didn’t really have many options left and after discussing what to do with a family friend who was a pro tiler we decided to put a second skim coat over the top. This time getting it as smooth as we possibly could. We used up the rest of the white bag we had on hand for the second coat.

 

It wasn’t perfect but it was much better than the first coat. So we went ahead and cut the Ditra for the room. Schluter’s Ditra system is a decoupling membrane for tile that allows for some movement in the structure below without cracking the tile or grout above. No matter what we do there will always be some movement from the structure below because it’s wood. Wood expands, contracts, and flexes. Back in the roman era tile was set on a thick layer of mortar, a fine layer of compacted sand, and another thick layer of mortar. This allowed for the two layers to move independent of one another. Ditra does the same thing but with a lot less thickness added to your floor.

The majority of the floor we were able to cover with two long pieces of Ditra and the toilet nook had it’s own piece. Because we’re tiling under the vanities and into the linen closet there were some trickier cuts.

To adhere the Ditra to the floor we mixed up unmodified thinset because we were sandwiching it between a thinset layer and the Ditra neither of which are breathable. Unmodified thinset doesn’t need air to cure like modified thinset does. And bonus unmodified cost a fraction of the price modified does! I’ll go through the types of thinset needed for each layer in a follow up post.

We spread the thinset down with a 5/16″ x 5/16″ V-notched trowel.

Then we laid down the Ditra and smoothed it out with a 2×4. Pulling up corners as we went to double check that all of the pockets were being filled. We started from the front because getting the Ditra over the piping in the floor was the hardest to line up.

 

Once all of the Ditra was down we used some Kerdi strips to waterproof the floor. Ditra itself is waterproof so by paying a few bucks more we had a waterproof floor. Being on the second floor over a drywalled ceiling and wood structure this was appealing incase water spills over the lip of the tub, a toilet overflows, or a pipe leaks. My parents had this happen in their powder room and it was raining in the basement below. The worst area was under the trim where there was an air gap between the tile and the wall. At the same point we do have a floor register so it’s not like the room would hold 3″ of water. It is just an extra protection to keep small spills from leaking to the drywalled ceiling below.

We used thinset to adhere the Kerdi strips to the Ditra seams and around the perimeter of the room. I had read you needed different widths of Kerdi strips for each area but after calling Schluter they said the standard 5″ strips available at Home Depot were fine.

The next day the unmodified thinset had started to dry but wasn’t completely dry yet.

 

The next day the unmodified thinset had started to dry but wasn’t completely dry yet.

Next up tiling the floor!

My New Favorite Magazine & Our New Planting Zone

You guys it’s like Christmas over here! Why? Because Erin just informed me the USDA has just come out with some new planting zone classifications and we have been bumped up from a Zone 4 to a Zone 5!! What no one else sees that as a big deal? Well it is because that opens up a whole new world of plants I can pick from. Between Zone 5 and Zone 4 there is a huge drop off in plant selection. Until I got into gardening I had no idea the limited options that are available to gardeners up here in the frigid north…OK it’s not that bad but seriously it’s hard being in Zone 4. It’s so frustrating looking through plant catalogs and gardening magazines when everything I like is Zone 5 or higher. This is how it often goes when I open my Fine Gardening Magazines:

    I open the magazine and some across a gorgeous garden picture. The title reads “Hardy Shade Garden.”

    “OMG that is perfect!” I think. “I have lots of shade and I need hardy plants for our colder climate.”

    I get excited and start to think of where I could incorporate those plants into my garden.

    Then I read through the fine print of what kind of plants they are.

    Hmm…a bunch of names I don’t recognize but I’m still learning so that could be the reason.

    So I skip the scientific names and go right to the zone range listed for each plant.

    Every single thing is listed for zone 5 or higher!

    I get annoyed that I can’t own a single plant pictured and have to stop reading the magazine.

    Repeat every month as gorgeous garden magazines fill my mail box.

 

Why tempt myself by reading about awesome plants that won’t grow in my area? I know, I know I could have tried zone 5 plants out before and see if I had any luck with them but I’m a new gardener and I’m not confident enough that I could keep them alive. That’s not to say I haven’t accidentally bought a couple zone 5 perennials before. For the most part they have all survived (what can I say it’s survival of the fittest over here in my garden) but I tried to stick to perennials I knew could survive many winters in my zone. Garden centers like to buy outside of the zone they are in and often the tags are pretty liberal in what zones they say the plant can grow in. You have to be smarter than the tag or find someone at the garden center to tell you how likely that plant is to survive/thrive in your zone (that is at the real nurseries you can find knowledgeable people not at Home Depot all of you fellow renovators).

Note: If you don’t know your planting zone check out the USDA’s website and enter in your zipcode.

 

The icing on the cake is for Christmas I asked for a subscription to a gardening magazine that I’ve fallen in love with after only one magazine! It’s a new state specific magazine that just started this month called Wisconsin Gardening. They write about local garden topics, photograph beautiful gardens around the state, suggest the best performing vegetables for your area, show how to design flower beds with plants you can actually grow , and give out seasonal advice that is timely to your area (national magazines try to do this but because they cover so many areas it’s often past the ideal time to do these things by the time I get the magazine).

This new magazine has breathed a whole new life in my itch to garden. In each issue they have separate columns for each area of the state the north, the southwest and central, and the southeast which more or less is how the state is divided by zone. They have recruited some prominent figures in the gardening community including Edward Lyon, director of Allen Centennial Gardens on the UW-Madison campus; Lisa Johnson, Dane County UW-Extension employee who trains master gardeners and is a frequent guest on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Garden Talk;” Sharon Morrisey, who appears weekly on FOX6-TV’s “Wake-Up News,” writes the garden calendar for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and trains master gardeners in the Milwaukee area. In this first issue they discuss how to create a four season garden, hot new plant varieties, how to build and use raised beds, unusual tomatoes to start from seed, organic lawn care, landscape design with hostas, pruning, invasive plants, and protecting ancient trees. It has something for every gardeners’ interest. I can’t wait for the next issue to come!

If you’re a gardener in Wisconsin I highly suggest you go check this magazine out. If you’re in a different state you should check out the State-by-State Gardening website to see if they have a magazine for your state.

 

In other non-garden related news I’ve added another thing to juggle in my busy schedule. Studying! I’m studying for a big professional test I’m hoping to take in April. A co-worker and good friend of mine is studying with me. We started right after the first of the year and have been studying 6 days a week! We have to learn/know/be fast at so much material in a short amount of time it’s mind boggling. It’s essentially 9 years of my life crammed into an 8 hour test. With the bonus of stuff I’ve never learned but I guess am supposed to have to be a well rounded engineer. The 3″ thick study book we’re using suggests we study for 300 hours before the test. 300 hours in 3.5 months! We’re doing about 16 hours a week right now so we’ll be more at 250 hours by the time the test comes around. I think that’s all I can do so hopefully it’s enough.

For the past 4 weeks my schedule has been three nights a week stay after work studying until 9pm. Two nights a week stay after work studying until 8pm, run home, let the dog out, change, and go work out with my mother in-law until 10:30pm. Saturdays and Sunday mornings I try to squeeze in all of my cleaning around the house, running errands, blog writing, and working on the remodel. Sunday afternoon we meet at a library and study for another 4-5 hours. This schedule doesn’t leave much room for anything else like say…relaxing. I’m eating every lunch and dinner at work, seeing Flannel Man even more rarely than I did before, the dog is left alone way too much, and I can barely keep up with the mess that is living in a construction zone. Of course I’m putting way too much pressure on myself to pass because I don’t want to do this twice and once this is out of the way it opens up a whole new set of opportunities both professional and personal. If I don’t have a melt down before my test in mid-April it will be a small miracle.


This is the story of two twenty something newlyweds who are learning to adjust to life in their first house, a 1973 fixer-upper.
DIY Savings

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