Archive Page 2

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.

Drywall’n In The House Tonight

Getting back to where I left off last we had our electrical inspection and……wait for it…..we didn’t pass. Boo! Luckily it was just very minor things that could easily be added/fixed. There were two locations where the holes we drilled to run wiring in the 2×4 walls were 1″ from the edge of the stud instead of the 1 1/4″ required per code. Yes our inspector was nit picking over 1/4 of an inch! (But overall the two inspectors in our area are actually pretty good guys.) I guess next time we need to measure where the center is instead of eyeballing it. We were able to quickly fix this with some $.60 metal cover plates to keep screws or nails from hitting the wire. Just hammer them in over the thinner area and you’re good to go. They do make the drywall bulge out a little in those areas though (kind of a bummer) but our existing walls are so wavy it will fit right in!

The one other request the inspector had before he passed us to continue had to deal with smoke detectors. He was requiring that we add one to the master bedroom but noted that starting in 2012 a new state law was requiring them in every bedroom for existing homes also. So any future inspection we ever have in the home he could ask us to add them in the other two bedrooms and the basement. We ended up installing 6 new detectors when all was said and done. I was bummed our nice clean bedroom ceilings would be ruined by smoke detectors that would be an eye sore when you’re in the bed sleeping. So I searched around and found a slim smoke detector, Kidde’s Silhouette.

I love the way the look! Too bad they don't have a smoke and CO combo unit that looks like that. Flannel Man added old work round electrical boxes for the smoke detectors but I failed to tell him these new smoke detectors I bought were square. Whoops! I ended up being square to the walls in the master bedroom but in the two spare bedrooms they are at an angle. For now they are staying that way because the boxes are foamed in place.

To follow up the inspector had no issue with us not having two outlets in the tiny hallway/entry to our master bedroom and said that because one wall was existing there were exceptions to the 12′ rule. He said we had plenty of convenience outlets around the room and noted that we had more outlets in the new smaller master bedroom than we had originally in the bigger master bedroom so it was no big deal. Apparently he doesn’t whip out the tape measure to keep everyone to the 12′ rule like he does for the 1 1/4″ rule (above) because it is not a safety hazard. Makes sense to me. We’re glad we have practical and relatively easy going inspectors compared to nearby cities. I’m telling you the country is where it’s at!

 

The electrical inspector returned to pass us so we could start adding insulation to the walls. You can find some good tips for insulating around electrical with fiberglass batt here. Like I said before we used some kraft faced insulation we already had plus some new unfaced insulation which is significantly cheaper. Because we were adding visqueen (aka. poly sheeting) to the mix we thoroughly slashed any facing that was going under it.

We picked the 6mil thick visqueen which was unnecessarily thick but it was only a few bucks more than the 4mil so we figured why not. The 6 mil wasn’t that much harder to work with but the one benefit I do see to the 4 mil is that the thinner sheets are see through. Why is that beneficial? Well what we didn’t know having never used visqueen before is that you typically keep the plastic covering the windows until after you’ve drywalled, mudded, and painted saving you time from having to tape them off again and again. So our nice treetop views out the new windows will be covered up for a long time. : ( Not a big deal but it’s kind of depressing not being able to see outside in ¼ of my house.

 

First we moved all of the drywall from our screened in porch and garage which was a task in itself with 8×10′ pieces. The stairs from the garage were too tight of a bend so the person on the stairs had to lift their end over their head onto the stair railing, crawl under the piece while the other person held the free end, pick it back up and position themselves first through the small opening for the built in leading to the master closet.

The first area that got drywalled was the master closet which only need a few pieces.

At the last minute I convinced Flannel Man to switch the attic access to just inside our new closet. Originally it was in a spare bedroom closet but to get to the access all of the shelving and things in the closet needed to be moved. It’s always been a pain and we’re just using it for spare storage right now. This new location will mean nothing needs to be moved to access the attic. Flannel Man built up the sides with spare 2×10 pieces so that the insulation won’t fall out of the hatch when it’s open.

The old closet door.

 

With all of the drywall to hang Flannel Man and Papa Flannel went into overdrive. Papa Flannel would stop by the house and wake up Flannel Man early everyday and they would work on it for 1-2 hours before Flannel Man had to go to work. He also came over on weekends he was available and the three of us had a hanging party. OK well not a party but I can pretend if I want right?

We also tried a new to us product called Green Glue to help soundproof some key walls. This is not the right way to apply the glue (DON’T DO THIS!). We tried it on our first wall and it was a complete fail. I’m doing a separate post on soundproofing and the right ways to use Green Glue so stay tuned.

Two layers of drywall were also used on those key walls for better soundproofing. This is the wall between our master bathroom and the bedroom.

The backside of that wall.

 

The view of our living room was slowly changing. For the first time in months we couldn’t see from one end of our house to the other.

Next up our master bedroom exterior wall.

And finally the long wall between the master bedroom and the living room. This wall is another wall we soundproofed.

Outlets in the wall had to be kept out extra deep. The electrician oringally thought that was an error on our part until we explained one side had two sheets of 1/2″ drywall and the other only had one. Another good reason we hung our own boxes!

The second layer of drywall going up. Notice the seams of the first piece were caulked up with acoustical sealant.

The view of the master closet from the bedroom now that there is drywall.

This has been our makeshift door to and from the construction zone for months. Every piece of drywall was brought through here. It’s going to be a built in bookcase for the entry but for now it’s our super skinny doorway.

My corner of the master bedroom. Sorry Flannel Man I called it!

The same corner from the entry door. Notice the awesomely slim smoke detector.

This stuff is so expensive! I hope it works well.

The right way to apply Green Glue.

 

Yipee we finally got the living room side of the long wall done. The 10′ pieces were harder to handle but they make quick work of this +20′ wall. Less seams are always good.

The green drywall is started in the master bathroom.

master entry smk det

Gardening 2011

This year I want to add a second set of pictures for the year. I dove deep into the hobby of gardening this year and though it isn’t the main focus of this blog I think homes and gardens go together hand and hand. It’s hard to break apart which pictures are home improvements and which are strictly gardening so if you want to see glimpses of the new fence flowerbed, the moss filled flagstone path, or my new gardening bench check out this post.

 

Ever since I started gardening I’ve been taking pictures of what I buy in the garage before I plant it along with recording the scientific name and other info in an Excel spreadsheet. I know all too many gardeners who can’t remember what plant they have because they didn’t record it so I’m going to do my best to keep a record of this stuff. Plus looking back at what size a plant started out could be fun especially with the conifers that can last for decades. So here is what I added to my garden this year…

 

March
To celebrate my birthday Flannel Man took me to Chicago to see the flower and garden show. We stayed overnight at a nice hotel within walking distance of Navy Pier where the show was at and had a delicious sushi dinner.

 

May
Mother’s Day weekend is the start of many plant sales in our area. I stopped by a nearby garden club sale and went to the yearly Olbrich Garden sale. Highlights include Hydrangea ‘Invincibelle Spirit’, ‘Chicagoland Green’ Boxwood, Picea glauca ‘Pixie Dust’, and Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern.

 

This year we took a strong stance on the nasty invasive garlic mustard and pulled thousands of plants by hand. We bagged them up and labeled them as invasive plants and put them with our weekly trash pick-up.

 

I got a lot of great plants at low cost from two more local garden club sales. Some of my favorites from those sales were a white with pink spotted hellebore, white bleeding heart, white pulmonaria, and a yellow toad lily. I decided I really liked the look of the white flowers against the dark brown fence so most of them went into the new fence flowerbed.

 

My reconnaissance mission to a local nursery that specializes in rare conifers. I tried to not buy everything I could get my hands on. This is just a small sample of what he has.

 

Adding some more flowering shrubs to the edges of our yard. Quick Fire Hydrangea, Rhododendron ‘PJM Elite’ and ‘Golden Lights’, and an ice plant.

 

The big conifer buy of 2011! 7 nurseries and 18 plants later I was in heaven. I got a Tsuga canadensis ‘Cole’s Prostrate’ that was left over from last season and priced to sell, a gorgeous ‘Golden Shadows’ dogwood, and two Tsuga canadensis (‘Geneva’ and ‘Brandleyi’) from the clearance section of a nursery.

The two clearance Tsuga weren’t looking too good as they were forgotten and barely maintained in the back corner of the parking lot they were kept. With only a small amount of new growth I convinced the nursery staff to give me even more of a discount if I took both of them off their hands as they had multiples of each type. Once home I carefully bare rooted them (which was my first time trying that technique) and they are looking great now. A couple of these questionable zone 4 Chamaecyparis did not survive but that is the beauty of having a one year warranty. I was able to take them back and get credit towards my next purchase.

 

June
New groundcover plants for the dog yard and some perennials for the fence flowerbed. I went to Home Depot for some tools but ended up walking out with some sale astilbie, hostas, and a fern. Then I picked up a silver sage and bush clematis from a nursery.

 

I went on a garden tour of three local gardens followed by a pot luck dinner made with ingredients from everyone’s gardens.

 

July
I went on my second garden tour of the year. This tour featured an amazing sustainable garden, the garden of a daylily connoisseur, and a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

 

August
Some late season plant buying thanks to a Groupon and some nursery reward points. More hostas, colorful sedium, a red Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass), a white Hakonechloa, and a snowberry bush.

 

October
I used the last of my nursery reward points in a very late season sale. Some ferns, late blooming anemone, and spring bulbs will make a nice addition to my shady beds.

2011: A Year in Pictures

It’s been a busy year! We started our biggest remodel to date which we are still in the middle of. Here’s a recap of the house projects we took on this year.

January
After making over the garage Flannel Man made me a steel potting bench and an island to finish of his reloading room.

February
The new ATV and snow plow proved to be able to make some nice tall snow piles in its first winter.

The last walls of the garage got painted.

March
We finished painting and assembling the potting bench and reloading room island.

May
Laying out some options for the new flower bed along the fence.

June
We dig the border of the new flowerbed, line it with landscaping fabric, and compacted fill. Then we topped it off with pavers similar to our front flower beds.

Flannel Man pulled down a dead tree in the backyard.

We put our deposit down on the remnant piece of Super White granite for the main bathroom.

I collect buckets full of moss from my parent’s woods and plant it around the flagstone path we built last year. (Don’t worry I didn’t take so much in one spot that it won’t be back by next year.)

We smoother the vegetation in the fence flowerbed with layers of newspaper and top with compost.

July

We started the bedroom and bathroom remodel buy tearing down two fireplaces and a chimney which created over 15 tons of debris.

The walls are demoed and new window openings framed up.

The new windows are installed and both sides of the house resided.

August
We went on a road trip to return the master bathroom tub we bought but didn’t like in person.

We took the floor up so we could install ductwork and piping.

A plumber did the rough-in piping and we completed the ductwork.

The fence flowerbed is mulched and looking good. We extended it around the oak tree and the big black walnut stump from the tree we cut down two years ago. I plan to put a big pot on the stump next year.

We install new recessed lights in the basement.

I took two stained glass classes so I can make my own panels for the tall bathroom cabinets.

September
We put the plywood subfloor back down.

Walls go up quickly after that.

October
Task lighting over the basement sink finally is delivered and installed.

Our new vanity and storage cabinet are delivered.

We run new electrical throughout the remodeled areas.

November
We started hanging drywall and taking measures to soundproof key walls.

The tub was set with a mud base and painstakingly made as level as possible.

December
Flannel Man routed the plumbing for the valve, tub spout, and handheld shower head.

Cement board was installed around the tub and the niches are built.

The electric floor mat was laid down and skim coated over with thinset.

We installed the Ditra decoupling and waterproof membrane.

And just a few days ago we filled the Ditra squares with thinset so we could chaulk out the tile lines.

Our Remodel: Now with More Electrical and Bonus Insulation!

I’m still playing catch up with blog posts vs. real life progress so bare with me. I have a bunch of posts half written so I’m not going to take the time to re-write them in the past tense. It’s my blog so I can do things like that. This all means there are many more posts to come and soon!

We’re now onto running the electrical for the main floor. Wiring the basement lights seemed to take forever but with our electrician being more available things are really moving along. Just like before we’re helping out the electrician in every way we can by drilling, stapling, and pulling the wiring ourselves. The electrician left us this handy tool to help drill in tight spaces.

Trust me this thing has a lot of power. Throw on a long drill bit and this guy will cut through anything it can reach! We’re also working on wiring up all of the outlets with pigtails (except for the last outlet of the chain which only has one wire and doesn’t need pigtails).

 

In a previous post I showed the tape outlines of the furniture we’re going to have in the space and they have really come in handy for deciding where to put electrical outlets. I had drawn up the general placement of all of the switches and outlets in the rooms to meet code but with the walls built I’m not reworking everything to make for an easier installation. Like moving outlets a little so they can be attached directly to wall studs without having to add extra bracing or sliding an outlet to be hidden by a piece of furniture. I’m irrational and would rather not look at a bunch of random outlets I needed to add per code if I don’t have to.

We’re hoping to get away with not needing an outlet on both sides of the short hallway/entrance to the bedroom. If the inspector considers it a hallway we only need one but if he considers it part of the bedroom we’re right at 12’ between the one side outlet and the other corner of the hallway (there is a much more convenient existing outlet right around the corner but technically it’s too far away to count). Putting an outlet right at a corner would look strange so we’d put it in roughly the middle of the short wall but that has existing drywall and electrical so it’s not easy to add. Plus having two outlets in a short hall that is so skinny I’ll never plug anything in there seems silly. We’ll see what the inspector says. I did add an extra outlet next to the chair in case I ever want to have a floor lamp there for reading and at the last minute I added a second switch there for the overhead light which I think will be more convenient to turn off at night than the one near the entry door.

The one exposed junction box we needed due to existing conditions and the outlet will be hidden by a nightstand.

The master closet will have two lights and a high outlet (for some fun task lighting…more on this to come) controlled by the switch. This ceiling is a hot mess because of the chimney removal.

Here is half of the area we refer to as mission control. At the end of the hallway has a bank of three switches on both sides of the hall. They control (1) the entry chandelier, (2) the hallway ceiling lights, (3) the hallway movie theater lights (downward facing night lights at the base of one wall), (4) the living room switched outlets, (5) the spot light that used to be on the fireplace, and (6) the flood lights at both the front and back of the house…this is the most random switch placement ever. Both flood lights can also be controlled by a switch in the basement next to the patio door.

We’re keeping the mission control area because there is no other good place to put all of these switches but we’re going to organize them a little better. The outdoor flood lights have been separated. The back flood light (pointing toward the fenced in dog yard) will be only controlled from the basement patio door switch. The front flood light will be controlled from a switch next to our front door for when guests are coming or going. No more accidentally hitting a hallway switch and having both the front and back flood lights on all day!
The two newly freed up switch spots will be kept for future living room lighting. For now though we just ran un-connected wiring up to the attic and left it coiled in a roll up there. The switch plate will be filled with some blank off pieces so the three gang is now only a one gang. It’ll look strange but it’s much easier to make these changes now when we have the wall open.

 

The bathrooms are where the electrical boxes need to be a lot more exact. Wanting to have sconces on either side of the mirrors, all of the switches in a neat organized group that doesn’t interfere with the vanity backsplash tile or wainscoting, and hidden outlets in some of the cabinets makes things more difficult.

Sorry to say but electrical is normally a bit of a hack job (ducks from tomatoes being thrown) with electricians having a lot of say on where things get placed. Most homeowners don’t think about every outlet or switch. When I was getting quotes from electricians they were shocked to see I had electrical drawings showing where I wanted things. Yes I know I should have “building design nerd” tattooed on my forehead. But like I mentioned before going with a part-time electrician where we acted as his assistants allowed us to make those placement decisions and it was our time that was spent working out all of those details and putting in all the boxes ourselves. There was a lot of dimension checking on my part between the CAD files I had drawn up and what the actual space ended up being (which was luckily not too far off). Then a lot of things we considered when we were placing bathroom electrical boxes:

 

– What size the mirrors will be and where they will be hung. You want the sconces to be in the top third of the mirror height but not all the way at the top and you need the light from them to be at a pleasing eye level for flattering/useful task lighting. In the main bathroom I picked out sconces with a glass shade that point downward so the electrical box is hung higher so the center of the bulb is at the right height. In the master bathroom I have scones that point upward and have a shade that diffuses the light. You want that around eye level as well because if they are too high or too low you’ll be able to see the bulb. Another thing we considered was that Flannel Man and I are about 6” different in height so we came up with a happy middle number to use as our average eye height.

 

– Where will the vertical storage cabinets be in both bathrooms and how far away should the sconces be from them? There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in placing these sconces (hmm should have thought of that before) so when there were wall studs in the way we had to go to shallow pan boxes that are only ½” thick. The wiring has to be run in a way so that you only have one wire into these shallow boxes (so they have to be the end of a daisy chain or each have their own separate line back to the switch).


Here we had to the left sconce before ending the daisy chain at the right sconce because it is only a shallow pan box.

 

– How high will the vanity backsplash tile be and how will the edges be trimmed out? In the master bath we’re going to use some type of pencil tile trim to finish off the edges nicely. We don’t have that picked out yet so we’re guessing on an average size for that. The three gang box of switches will be very close to where the tile ends so that will be interesting. In the main bathroom we’re using exterior trim for the wainscoting which will top off the vanity backsplash so…

 

– What height is the wainscoting running at and where do I want the light switches in relation to that? Turns out the wainscoting will be right around the average height you’re supposed to put light switches but I thought it would look stupid to stop the trim and put switches so I put half of the switches above and half below.

 

– I didn’t want the GFCI outlets for the vanities breaking up the pretty backsplash tile and Flannel Man didn’t want to cut them in the side of the tall vertical storage cabinets so we wanted to place them on the open wall space next to the vanities just below the lip of the vanity top. They will be easy to use right there but visually not right in your face.

 

– That meant we had all of the light and exhaust fan switches plus the electric floor mat thermostat (per the manufacturer this needed to be in its own single gang box) plus the GFCI outlet all in the few inches between the door and the vanity in both bathrooms. The means a double gang box + two single gang boxes for the main bathroom and a triple gang box + two single gang boxes in the master bathroom. I wanted this group of boxes to look neat and organized not just hap hazardly placed on the wall so that entailed lining up the boxes in as much of a grid as possible. Drawing them that way on a CAD drawing was one thing but installing them and running all of the wires to these congested wall cavities was another. Through some creative thinking we came up with the idea to construct some of supports and attach the boxes separate from the wall to make everything fit. We’ll see how it all looks with the switch plates on…I hope it looks OK!

 

– The grille and light/grille combos for the exhaust fans needed to be centered over the showers and in the case of our big master bath the toilet so final sizes needed to be known.

 

– The flushmount ceiling light over the roman tub in the master bath had to be centered…well that is what I thought until I realized it the tub needs to be a few inches off to account for the tub faucet being on one end. I know we could have avoided that little problem by putting the faucet on the front or the back but I didn’t want to half to crawl over the faucet to get in the tub and I didn’t want the faucet along an exterior wall where I couldn’t reach it. Having it on the side allows us to build a hidden access panel in the half wall between the tub and toilet. So after confirming where all of that would be we just centered the light over the window which is what it is closest to anyway. That exact spot was over a truss so we needed another pan box for the tight space.

An overall view of the master bath electrical:

 

We also started adding insulation to the exterior walls now that the weather is getting colder. For now we can only put insulation in the wall cavities with no electrical wiring until the inspector comes by to approve everything. Only after we stapled everything up did Papa Flannel point out that we had used the wrong type of insulation. We bought paper faced batt which is what we bought for the exterior wall in the garage. But because we’re trying to save energy by cutting down on infiltration as much as possible we’re using visqueen on these walls and any other future walls we open up. Visqueen is just a big plastic sheet that covers the wall from top to bottom with no seams. It is a vapor barrier and so is the kraft paper on the batt so we’re cutting lots of holes into the batt paper we’ve already hung up and bought.

(The floor in the main bathroom has to stay open until the inspector can approve the electrical for the basement sink lights.)

 

In a mad rush to get everything done before the inspector came over we quickly installed the bathroom exhaust fans and the grille/light combo boxes. We picked out some inline fans that will sit in the attic so that we can use the existing roof penetrations. We also loved the minimal appearance the grilles and grille/light combos have in the space and how much more quiet the system is since the fan is not in the space. So we went with a FanTech single grille with light in the main bathroom and a dual grille with one light in the master bathroom.

Cutting in the new small 4″ hole with the old 8″ exhaust fan hole nearby.

Up in the attic we installed the larger master bath fan (note the Y connection is simply resting on top of the fan in this picture so we don’t lose it):

And the smaller main bathroom fan:

Light/grille combo box shown nearby:

 

But really what would this post be without some more people falling through the ceiling?

Yup our electrician managed to stick his leg through the ceiling not once but twice in the same spot on the same day. The first time I was concerned he was OK. The second time I was just annoyed. His excuse was “the drywall is old and brittle.” Um I think the real lesson is you don’t weigh what you used to. And since when is walking on drywall OK? Seriously. We got no apology either for all of the mess he made. Now we have to replace most of the ceiling in the main bathroom. Luck for him that was the last day we needed him before the inspector came.

We Are Now The Proud Owners of a Custom Walnut Vanity

Back when I came up with these new bathroom layouts 4 years ago I knew we would have an odd amount of extra space. In the main bathroom the shower/tub combo wasn’t changing size and toilets are all roughly the same size. So we could make an extra long vanity (though it wasn’t quite long enough for a double sink) or add some vertical storage next to the vanity or the shower. I opted to keep the toilet in the nook next to the shower and have some tall storage next to the vanity because I was over having the toilet two feet away from where I brush my teeth. Having some tall vertical storage next to the vanity just made sense because that is where you would use it most.

We already had an existing linen closet which is nice but in an odd spot right behind the door to the bathroom. You can only open it when that door is closed or you’re playing bumper doors. So consequently it doesn’t get used that often and we store everyday items elsewhere. It is our only linen closet in the whole house though so I didn’t want to remove it. Adding the vertical storage cabinet solved the dilemma of where to put everyday bathroom items and we can use the linen closet for less used items. You can never have too much storage in a bathroom right?

In my design I kept the tall storage cabinet to a width that would allow us to use a standard sized 36” wide vanity. But after seeing that was the current size of the vanity we decided having a little extra width would be nice especially since two people will be using this sink. So we upped the width to 3.5’ bringing the vertical storage down to 18” wide which seemed like a nice size. Not too small but not so big you lose stuff in it. Having decided on the sizes we didn’t look at the plans again for a year or two.

To contrast the very white space I wanted dark cabinetry. You can see my design board here. I really like the look of the Restoration Hardware vanity but we needed more drawers, a different size, and a lower price tag.

Cut to the middle of demo when it was order time and I was ordering fixtures and materials like a mad woman. Looking again at the vanity and cabinet sizes we had set our minds to I found it wasn’t easy to find a matching vanity and tower to fit the space. What would work the best was semi-custom cabinets from kitchen suppliers. But the prices really added up and the quality of the cabinets was just OK. So we went to plan B (which was secretly Flannel Man’s plan A all along) and had the cabinets custom made by Flannel Man’s co-worker.

His co-worker has a cabinetry business on the side out of his house. Someday he hopes to build a big shop and possibly even make cabinets full time. So far he has the land bought from his father in-law and some plans worked up. He was able to build the vanity and tall storage cabinet for much less than the semi-custom kitchen cabinets and they would be a better construction made with solid walnut not veneer. I was sold!

 

I’m going to start posting pictures of the finished product here now because I have a lot of pictures and it breaks up the story better. Drumroll please…

He was able to give us a great deal on the black walnut lumber because it was cut from his and his father in-law’s land (they own 30 acres and 60 acres respectively just outside of town) and dried in a barn on the property for the last 10 years. Talk about being local! Because it was custom I got to design every inch of the vanity and cabinet. Flannel Man thought I was just being difficult with the details I wanted but if we’re buying custom cabinets I want to make them…well custom. For example one of the things I really wanted was a flush inset style door or basically no overlay (the front of the door is flush with the face frame). To me that style makes a piece feel instantly older and it fits with the craftsman feel we want. As one cabinet maker put it that style is “right at home with the shaker and mission style cabinets.” It takes more time and costs a little more but it takes a lot of skill to do well which is what that style highlights.

Of course I also wanted shaker style doors, drawers, and side panels. And for the furniture feel that I’m liking right now the base of the cabinet has feet that are flush with the face frame instead of a recessed toe kick. We will have him put a recessed toe kick behind the feet though (currently not there) so that I don’t have to try to clean up under there but we haven’t decided if we are going to use matching stained walnut or go with a white painted piece that blends in with the floor tile better.

Either way we’re tiling completely under both cabinets so they could be changed out in the future if need be without redoing the floor. The way we see it the tile is more permanent than the cabinets so we want to make it work in other possible configurations in the future.

The cabinets were made with stain grade birch plywood and then every part of the cabinet you see (the doors, drawer fronts, and side panels) were made with solid walnut. A simple clear coat on top was the perfect finish to show off the beautiful grain of the wood.

Just for fun the cabinet maker kept a piece of slug he found in the lumber where we could see it inside a drawer. Knowing our hobbies he thought we would enjoy it.

We didn’t need the cabinets yet (heck we just put in the subfloor) but he was done making them and he didn’t want his kids to ding them in the basement. So for now they are sitting in the out of the way space where the fireplace used to be in our basement.

I had the vanity made an inch deeper than a standard vanity so there is a little more room behind the sink to clean.

To make the transition between the granite top on the vanity and the tall storage cabinet easier I had the carpenter make the tall cabinet an inch and a half deeper. That way the overhang butts up to storage cabinet without having an exposed corner that would need to be shaped and cut.

The drawers in the cabinet I wanted to be extra tall for all of those tall items that normally fit anywhere else. That keeps them from being stuffed horizontally in a drawer or crammed under the sink never to be seen again. For the first drawer I wanted a big cut away so that it can act like an extension of the countertop (it’s just a few inches shorter than the counter will be). This is where I want to store items used everyday like contact solution and makeup so they don’t clutter up the counter as much. Easily accessible and easily hidden!

The top of the tall cabinet has fully adjustable and removable shelves. Someday I want to replace the panel on this door for a stained glass panel to give it even more vintage flair.

Tucked away back there are the side panels for both the vanity and tall cabinet the later of which has a small exposed edge the whole way of the cabinet.

And what everyone is probably wondering we paid $1500 for both of these cabinets. That is the same price the big box stores wanted for their veneered particle board cabinets full of formaldehyde! The higher quality plywood cabinets from the kitchen cabinet stores were far more. We’re very happy with the results and can’t wait to be able to use the vanity and storage cabinet!

So what do you think?


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