Archive for the 'plumbing' Category

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.

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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.

Ductwork & Plumbing Win

As soon as we had the floor up we started working on re-routing the ductwork. Though we are hiring out the plumbing and electrical I have experience working for mechanical contractors and can easily run ductwork myself. Just give me some sheet metal self-tapping hex screws and let me at it!

We needed to both add and re-route duct runs. Originally, there were only two runs for the master bedroom area; one under each window. With our new plan everything had to get moved. Unlike electrical or plumbing you can’t drill through floor joists with a 6” round duct you need to remove it back to the main and put it in a new floor cavity. That is why we went through all of the trouble to take up so much of the floor. Don’t get me started on those high velocity systems that can be drilled through floor joists. Just avoid those at all costs OK? Moving on.

Flannel Man had never worked with ductwork so our first duct run was kind of like Ductwork 101. We started with the easiest runs in the master bedroom where the floor cavities were relatively empty compared to the bathroom. The duct run under the south window was pretty straight forward.

 

Where we tapped into the main Flannel Man first tried a hole cutter that was in the ductwork aisle but all it did was dull and throw sparks. On the back of the package it clearly said for drywall only. So why was it being sold in the ductwork section? Who knows. For future reference the only ductwork hole cutter I’ve ever had good luck with uses a drill bit. With a dented circle in the main we turned to a spade bit and jigsaw for this connection. Then we added in a collar to connect the round to the main. It has bendable teeth on one side and a crimped round on the other.

 

When we got to where the fireplaces used to be and had angled floor joists. So we had to pop down below the ceiling which fortunately was a perfect height to tap into the supply main. We’ll eventually build a soffit around the duct to hide it but this whole nook of the basement will eventually be storage so it’s not a big deal. Of course in our rush to get it done we forgot to put in the damper at the end of run. Duh. So we had to rip apart the last straight section and reinstall it.

 

The second master bedroom was not too far from the old run so we were able to salvage a lot of straight pieces of ductwork. The boots and fittings get pretty tore up when we removed them. Everything was pop riveted together so it was a combination of drilling through those and just brute strength. The old ductwork was a nice heavy gauge (much thicker than today’s standard gauge) so I was glad we could reuse a lot of it. We removed the old run and patched the hole in the main then cut a new hole.

 

Because the main was run tight to the bottom of the floor joists we couldn’t just tap a 6” collar straight in the side like we did with the previous run. Instead we went with a top tap off boot which has a square end. Why square? Because cutting a square in a tight spot is a lot easier than a circle.

 

As we constructed the new and salvaged ductwork we sealed all of the seams with duct sealant. It’s a cheap and easy way to save energy and make your system more efficient. No need to dump air we’re paying to heat/cool in the floor cavity. I also sealed any seam in the existing ductwork I could get my hands on.

 

Before we could get the bathroom ductwork figured out the plumber came to do the rough-in. It was a nice change to pace to just hire a professional and let him do his job!

 

Progress after the first day.

 

Working on a new stack location (see the rags stuffed in the old stack and the new location in the upper left). On the right the main bathroom toilet.

 

Master bathroom. On the left a sink drain. On the right the toilet.

 

Almost complete after the second day. Initially, we really wanted all copper piping because we know how to work with it in case we ever need to change or fix anything. But the cost was significantly more for both materials and labor. So we ended up with a compromise of having extra copper used on the ends of the rough-in. From there we can use solid copper and easily solder on valves but the majority of the run is easier to install PEX.

 

Master shower drain.

 

New stack location in the 6″ wall.

 

On the third and last day the inspector came by an approved everything.

 

In the main bathroom we didn’t have to move the duct because one wall was staying. Yay! We also were able to fix the reason the basement bath (which is directly below this bathroom) has an extra low ceiling in the shower. Originally, the tub drain crossed over a duct which required the duct to jog down. Thus the claustrophobic shower I get to use everyday. With a little maneuvering we were able to straighten the elbows without even removing any of the duct.

That means that someday when we get around to remodeling the basement bathroom we can raise the shower ceiling. Someday previous owners we will have corrected all of your mistakes!

 

With the plumber gone and everything approved we were back on ductwork duty. Only this time we were in a real pickle. My plan got thrown out the window when we pulled up the floor and saw how many floor joists were already full of ductwork and later piping. With the size of the new master bathroom and the fact that it now had two exterior walls and two windows I needed to get two floor registers in the room which is difficult when bathrooms have limited floor area for a register. The old master bathroom duct would work it just needed to be extended a few feet. But on the opposite exterior wall there wasn’t anything and there wasn’t any way to add another run since every floor cavity was full with either ductwork, piping, or both. There was an existing floor register under the big 6’ slider that used to serve the bedroom but that is where our tub is going so that wouldn’t work. After a lot of hemming and hawing it finally occurred to me just change the basement registers around. So without having to change the majority of the runs we swapped the upstairs and downstairs registers.

 

The only problem was that the tub drain P trap came into that space and we had to cross the toilet waste pipe to get to the exterior wall. Hmm this calls for some creative ductwork…

 

Our nosy dog needs to be right in the action even if that action is on a plywood island in the middle of a construction site. See that guilty face? That is because 3 seconds after this picture she decided it was boring and wanted to get back off the island.

 

To get over the toilet drain we only had 3″ of height to work with. Two straight boots with a rectangular band bent to cover the joint. Lots of duct sealant and self tapping screws later:

 

Check out this sh*t! Ductwork WIN! Round to vertical flat oval. To round. To an offset elbow. To a round straight piece. To a boot. To an extreme short straight rectangular. To a boot. To a round straight. To an up boot. All done with the standard ductwork pieces Menard’s carries.


Yes this register will get less air because of the increased static pressure but I’m going to balance the dampers as best I can to overcome that and a low flow register is better than none at all.

 

Meanwhile the house is getting messier. Now I can answer all of Flannel Man’s “Hey Honey where is the _insert random tool here_?” questions with “It’s behind the couch.”


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