Archive for the 'bathrooms' Category

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.

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!

Amateur Plumbers

With the tub in place we could build the wall between the toilet and tub. Originally I had drawn a slightly longer wall to give the toilet more privacy but Flannel Man was concerned about it being too dark over there. So we compromised with a shorter We also adjusted the shower tile layout a this time. Flannel Man wanted the bullnose edge tile to go in front of the tub down to the floor to protect the wall from any water that might splash out of the tub or come off the shower curtain. We also decided to take the tile all the way up to the ceiling. With those considerations in mind we made the wall just the right length to have the bullnose go to and create the corner of the wall.

 

We hung the cement board on two of the three walls and finally it was time to get to some finish plumbing! We are using a hand shower with a tall wall bar that allow you to use it as an overhead shower.

So there is a tub spout, the wall outlet for the hand shower hose, and a rough in valve in the wall. I saved us some space by ordering an all in one thermostatic valve from Hansgrohe, the ThermoBalance II, that would give us all of the features we wanted in one valve (temperature control, volume control, and diverter between hand shower and tub spout). Unfortunately, this model is being discontinued by Hansgrohe so I made sure to order it in advance along with the rough in valve extender just in case we needed it.

 

I had drawn everything up in CAD and it looked fine. What seemed pretty straight forward turned out to be a confusing mess for us amateur plumbers.

What height should the valve be at? What seemed like a natural height while showering was way too high for someone taking a bath to reach.

How many inches above your head should the hand shower be? Originally I wanted is just a few inches over my 6′ tall head but I quickly realized that it needed to be higher but I didn’t want it towering over my 5′-6″ husband.

How many inches above the tub should the tub spout be?

What height should the wall outlet be placed to keep the hose from hooking on the tub spout but yet still lay naturally?

How can we route the piping so that no two pipes have to cross in this small wall?

Which fittings work best for the tub and wall outlet?

What kind of bracing is needed behind those fittings?

How thick will the cement board, tile, and thinset be and how exact do we need to get the depth of the fittings?

When the wall outlet and tub spout are on tightly will they point the right direction? Is there any play there?

Where can the second niche fit into this busy wall?

How tall does the niche need to be and what are the thickness of the shelves?

What is the best way to line the niche up with the tile pattern?

How the heck do we solder these elbows and fittings without charring everything in sight?

 

There were so many things to figure out in such a short amount of time! Flannel Man was taking this project on himself being the best solderer in the house and I was just trying help with the location questions. After a week and a half of trying to figure it all out he was feeling pretty defeated.

 

I don’t know how professional plumbers do it. Do they just assume what you want and use some standard numbers they always use unless you tell them otherwise? With so many different styles of shower fixtures out there I would think it’s hard to make anything standard. Do they take into consideration the height of the clients? Moving plumbing around isn’t too hard but as soon as you cut that cement board that is where everything is staying unless you trash that piece and buy some more. The outlet locations are so permanent it’s scary to finalize these locations so early in the game! What if we hate the shower head/tub spout/wall outlet/niche locations after using the shower?! So much pressure to get it right the first time!

Eventually we guessed decided on all of the locations and Flannel Man got to work putting everything together. There was clamped cement board, samples of tile, foil backed insulation, a pitcher of water, and far too many copper fittings that were bought among other things.

What a mess!

Over the last couple years Flannel Man has become pretty good at soldering if I do say so myself. Installing the new water heater, adding shut off valves around the house, replacing leaking valves, and putting in the new water softener have given him plenty of practice.

 

It was looking pretty nice when it was all done! Didn’t he do a great job? Now let’s hope these locations work well for us! Some shims were added to correct the wavy walls.

Here is the nipple used for the handheld shower wall outlet.

The thermostatic rough in valve.

And the tub spout elbow fitting.

 

With the plumbing in place we finished up the cement board. We use screws that are specifically made for cement board and wet locations but we still had to countersink each screw. There are supposed to be cement board screws with small nubs on the back of the head that act as a built in countersink but those weren’t readily available at our hardware stores. Maybe next time we’ll order those ahead of time.

On the wall with the lower niche we forgot to put shims on the wavy wall before hanging the cement board. But when we sat on the edge of the tub it flexed enough to rub against the back of the cement board creating a high pitched squeaking noise. A combination of dremeling and shimming fixed this. I can’t imagine how much it would have flexed if we hadn’t cemented the tub in place.

 

Next up the drywall for the rest of the space went up.

The wall with the sink backsplash has a strip of cement board.

And the backside of the shower wall we’re going to keep open to create a hidden access panel there in the future.

 

We also worked on the wall with the two master bathroom vanities on it.

Huston We Have A Tub!

When I came home this week I was greeted by a lovely site at the end of the hall:

The Kohler Bancroft 5′ tub that had been occupying our garage for the last 5 months was not only in the bathroom it was mudded in place! Flannel Man got up early and installed it with the help of Papa Flannel and our plumber. Originally we were going to go without calling the plumber but after looking at how complex mudding the tub in place and getting it level while installing the drain line at the same time would be we just decided to hire the pros to help for an hour or two. Having a leak in the drain line would be very difficult to access later compared to the other finish plumbing. The plywood subfloor around the previous tubs was rotten after years of water exposure partially from what was a leak in the tub drain so we wanted to avoid that issue this time and know that it’s done right.

Kohler’s fiberglass tubs are a nice solid construction. The walls and base are very thick and there were four small blocks under the tub for support but we wanted to support the base in a thick layer of mud (aka. cement) instead. A mud base is needed for drop-in or undermount tubs so that the lip of the tub doesn’t have to support all of the weight of people + water inside. With our style a mud base isn’t necessary but it does help keep the tub from flexing too much. It is, however, a big pain @ss to do so that is why many people opt not to. Never one to back down from a challenge we took it on anyways with the help of our plumber.

First a big batch of mortar was mixed up and poured onto the subfloor. Then they placed the tub into position the best they could and had Flannel Man stand in the tub to settle it into place. Some whole body rocking was needed to move it around. Then they checked for level in both directions. Finding that it needed more mortar in some areas they had to lift the tub back up, add more mortar, and rock it back down into place. This was repeated a couple times before they decided the mortar was mixed too dry. So they scooped it back into the bucket and mixed in more water. Then the whole process was repeated another half dozen times until everything was a level as possible. Next some stainless steel screws were used to fasten the tub to the walls and a brace was added to keep the opposite unfastened corner of the tub down while the mortar dried.

Getting the tub that level is often skipped by plumbers because it’s hard to do with one person and take time but doing so will make shower wall tiling much easier and help keep water from collecting in low areas around the lip of the tub.

They did a great job! The only thing I wish that would have been done differently is to staple down some plastic sheeting onto the plywood floor. The mortar would have taken longer to dry but it would keep the plywood from getting damp. It was part of the original plan but that step was forgotten. I’ve also read some people use a sheet of plastic over the top of the mortar also so the tub can more easily be removed later on if need be. But our plumber informed us that removing a tiled in tub with a mortar base would be hard with or without that plastic and trying to get and keep that plastic under the tub every time it’s being lifted and dropped in would have been very difficult. I can see how it would be more useful for a drop in Roman /garden tub though.

 

Before the tub went in place the niche on the existing wall had to be framed out. It could have been done after the fact but putting it in before was much easier. We decided on having two niches because we like the look of the recessed storage even though it makes our tiling job much harder. Two niches were needed because the back wall is an exterior wall. Putting a 4″ deep niche there would eliminate the insulation in that area (never a good idea!) and make it a cold spot in the shower. The only other option would have been to build out the wall to be twice as thick but then we would loose floor space and have to re-route a significant amount of plumbing and ductwork. Keeping it in that location meant we simply swapped the shower & tub spout from the right side to the left side. So that left us with needing to fit our storage niches on the smaller side walls. (Don’t worry the visqueen was later cut away.)

We could fit a tall skinny niche on the left wall with all of the plumbing fixtures but the bottom of the niche had to fit above the control valve. A perfect height for when you are showering but impossible to reach if you’re taking a bath.

So the second niche we made low for tub access. I wanted it to be nice and wide because you can never have too much storage in the shower. Drawing it out in CAD I didn’t like my original location because visually it broke up the line the wainscoting was making around the room. I know I’m picky. The wainscoting doesn’t actually run through the shower (we considered have a trim piece follow the line around the shower but decided that was unnecessarily complicated and there was no matching trim for our tile) but putting the niche lower looked so much better in the grand scheme of things.

Either way it’s not the best place to keep water spray out of the niche. Because we’re not using a typical showerhead the spray is more straight down like a rain shower so that helps but we’re still going to take some extra measures to make it waterproof. (more on that later…) For now in the construction of the niche we made the bottom plate sloped to allow water to drain back into the tub.

Then we screwed the drywall on the back side of the niche through the framing. The back side is inside a bedroom closet.

Next we insulated the wall between the bedroom and the bathroom. Even with the closet to the bedroom being on the other side there is a lot of noise that travels into the spare bedroom while the bathroom is being used. By moving the plumbing out of that wall and doing a little soundproofing we’re hoping to make the spare bedroom significantly quieter. There is more Green Glue in our future…

 

Meanwhile, we were also working to clear out the mess we had going on in the garage. We ended up giving away everything for free on Craigslist and had lots of interest. But when it came down to it no one came to pick up the doors or the toilets. Bummer. I was hoping to find the avocado and harvest gold toilets a nice home in a cabin up north or something. Those things were impossible to clog. You could dump a bag of dog food down there and it would swept away with no effort! I guess no one wants toilets that use 7 gallons a flush anymore. So we had to break them up to trash them. The hollow doors got cut up and used for firewood.

 

Since the electrical work was officially done I rounded up everything to return, spread it all out on the kitchen floor, and went through every Menard’s receipt I had for the last 3 months. Their new policy is that you don’t get full return price unless you have the receipt. They do provide a receipt printer next to the return counter to look up your receipt by credit card or check number but we go there so often it would have taken me forever to find everything. Luckily, I’ve been keeping every remodeling receipt since we bought the house and organize it by month in our filing cabinet.

Sidenote: At least Menard’s has a longer description of the item on their receipts so I could figure out what everything was. Home Depot uses mostly numbers which don’t seem to match the bar code on the item which only leaves space for a few letters. I always have to walk in there with a dozen different receipts when I need to return something because I can’t figure out what is what…oh and Menard’s has a minimum of 2 people working the return counter at all time unlike Home Depot’s dinky one person computer station that barely has a counter to set your stuff on. I still ❤ you Menard's!

Each receipt and the corresponding items on that receipt got their own bag. Receipts with more than one bag full of returns were tied together. I had 21 different transactions to return from! The return lady just about kissed me for being so organized and coming in late in the evening when there was no line. In the end I got nearly $200 in electrical returns! That is pretty hard to do with $.59 electrical boxes! Well there was one $60 roll of wire and a couple $15 GFCIs in there but the majority of my returns were $2 or less.


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