Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Shower Wall Saga

 This is one story I dislike recalling. It certainly was not a pleasant time for all, especially since it will be forever linked in my memory with botched dental work. 

Early on in the construction, I had visited another town and picked up a few boxes of tile, trim pieces, etc. for this bathroom. We decided to do a subway tile half-wall and I think we were going to take it in tor the shower area (since my husband did not want a cheapo plastic shower surround). I was too eager to buy materials back then and had a lack of experience shopping for tile. The box of subway tiles was in the way here, in the way there, and by the time we were ready for them to be installed, we made a frustrating discovery: they were off-white and the bathtub was arctic-white. The subway tiles and the rest of the room were not playing well together! The subway tiles made the gray tile floor look green, the white tub made the subway tiles look yellow... and there weren't enough tiles anyway as we had made some adjustments to the plans. Hours spent shopping to match them, but no luck. Too late to return those tiles. They were banished to the attic after a failed Craigslist attempt to get rid of them. (Anyone need a few off-white subway tiles?)

After some time talking it through, I was allowed to go to Lowe's and pick out a slap-it-in plastic tub surround (yay!). I wasn't fond of the idea of tiles in the shower anyway because of the maintenance. So I went happily on my way, only to be told by one of the better employees in the plumbing department that I couldn't have a plastic shower surround. What?! He said that no surround would work with the tub we bought! And upon measuring the space, the boys found that it would not fit, and furthermore the walls were not true. They were out in ALL directions.

We spent hours researching and contemplating our options. Epoxy walls? Cedar slats?  We decided that on a tile surround after all. I knew one thing: I wanted the largest-format tile I could get to minimize grout lines on the shower walls. I was on the hunt for HUMONGOUS tile. If we could do this with THREE tiles that would be great (did you know tile comes 2 feet by 5 feet? and larger?). The least scrubbing we had to do, the better. Somehow during all this decision making, the tile plan crept out of the shower area and a new design was considered: a complete floor-to-ceiling tile wall!  

Although the tiles in the photo were pretty, we decided gray was too dark and would make the room look like a concrete prison. It would have to be white. Have you ever tried to match up whites? From different companies? From tile to clothing to paper, it is a frustrating experience!

By now you long time readers know that tile shopping became a regular part of my life.  I was wearing out the lovely salesladies at the local tile shop. Selection was stale at Lowe's and other places were too expensive. ReStore only had so many that matched. Would the quest for tile ever end???

Now it was up to the Tile Guy to figure out how to level the walls in all directions. It was concluded that the only way to do this was an old-fashioned method of mudding the wall. This involved me running to hardware stores for obscure supplies that no modern builder used anymore. 

The "true-ing" of this wall involved some kind of mud-like substance over hardware cloth (like chicken wire but more rigid and close together). 

During this time I went to the dentist for a first-time-ever tooth drilling. I did not know what to expect, and it was very stressful for me; especially so when the dentist accidently hit a nerve with his drill. That nerve will never forgive him and never forget the offence (nor will it let me forget!). When I got home, there was a smell in the house that was exactly like tooth-drilling: they were putting bitumen on the shower walls to waterproof them. Every time I went past that room the newly-drilled tooth would kick me!

In the middle of this project, something good happened! I found THE tile at our local tile shop. It came in large sizes. It was perfect. We brought the sample board home and it matched the tub white! Not only that, but it was interesting! The smooth wave-like tile for the shower, the rest done patch-work style on the big wall. Can you see a whole wall like a white-on-white textured whole-cloth quilt only in tile? 

We were very excited. It was priced really well for us-- which turned out to be a mistake by the company. However, the saleslady called the company for clarification they said they would honor the price sticker on the sample! 
The salesladies were so pleased that I was FINALLY making a decision!  They cheerfully called the order in, and.... it was magically "out of stock." No hope of back order. As a matter of fact that company "didn't make it anymore." We were all so disappointed.

Back to Lowe's we go. We found a largish-tile in plain white, no texture at all. It was cheap and thin with sharp (not "pillow") edges. But this whole project had gone on long enough (months). We bought it and the Tile Guy set to work to put it up.

He got about this far and found a problem. Despite all the work that went into this, despite the time, materials, leveling and checking, the wall was still "kicking out" in places, which made it hard to set this thin tile. It was still too un-even for tile, and the "lippage" (parts that stick out where you don't want them to) would be too sharp. We gave up on tile. 

He tore it down. Days of work. It's enough to make me cry. I went back to Lowe's to buy a plastic shower surround in defiance of the Plumbing salesman, and the Builders were going to MAKE it work. Some sawing on the non-bearing studs made the wall level enough for plastic.

We had our own adventures bringing this thing home. Although it was in three pieces (which allowed us to manipulate it enough for installation on our wonky walls), it did not fit in our van-of-all-trades. We had a very awkward drive home on a windy, snowy evening with it tied rather dubiously to the roof rack.

At last! Surround installed, drywall placed, and fixtures installed! 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Life During Construction (Or, Build A Shop FIRST)


A giant white board taped to the fridge was helpful to keep our tasks and progress in front of us

If we were asked the top ten pieces of advice we would give to anyone attempting a house-building DIY, "Build a shop first" would be one on the list. Construction would be so much easier if a shop is on the premises, and if a family is involved (and perhaps living in an RV on site)  make it a big shop so that there is extra storage space! We have yet to build a shop but the lack of one has certainly been part of what slows us down.

Taping to-do lists in each room was supposed to be helpful, but I'm not sure we remembered to look at them on our way through. 

There is a certain point where you can see the end of the project, but then there are times you are slowed down because of lack of organization of tools. Time has to be taken to move tools and materials out of the way so something can be done in the space. Sometimes whole portions of what would have been building time have to be devoted to sorting out tools. Oh for a shop that had a hook for every hammer, a shelf for every box of screws, and the table saw could be set up permanently!

And so if you don't have a shop, the living room becomes the shop. If you recall, this wasn't the first time! Except this time we had a toddler underfoot so we had to have a barrier. Can you imagine any construction guy you know tolerating doing construction in a child-proof site? How many times a day would he want to step over that barrier? But we did it!

The question no one wanted to answer was, "where is all this stuff going when we move in?"

No more commute meant more time building after work! 
In the middle of the construction, my husband started to work from home (that was before everyone was doing it-- guess we are trend-setters). Not anticipating this, we had no office in the house plans. We had a small closet to house a computer for the rest of us, but it wasn't an office either. How could we have overlooked such an essential space??? 

So that beautifully pristine new flooring in that wide-open space now housed a shop, an office, and anything else needed to give the family a happy life. I didn't say normal, just happy.

Children are very adaptable. 

Projects could be done up at the house that were harder to do in the hot and crowded RV. 

My 6-inch windowsills have been appreciated by everyone in the house. Each one became a mini-shop at one point. 

And when your castle is in the way on the floor, it can also live on a windowsill for a while. 

I was even able to "decorate" a bit in my laundry room "kitchen."

No pantry, no problem. Just find an out-of-the-way corner that isn't housing tools or paint. No way were we storing 40 pounds of apples in a mouse-prone RV!

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Tile for Durability and to Beat the Heat

I hope I am not repeating a post, but I don't think I have blogged about the tile job. 

We put full confidence in this fellow, our in-house Tile Guy. He educated himself on all the intricacies of this task, and went to it with fervor.  After our Tile Guy practiced on some small spaces with large tile, he took on a large space with small tile. Each kind has its own challenges, and each one a challenge to keep level. 

Once the downstairs bathroom had the floor heat installed our Tile Guy started on the tile floor, which was the same "concrete" look large format tile that he had successfully installed in the laundry room. It saved time and money to use the tile we already had on hand. Also I could say "the search for tile is over" for at least one more room! Many more weeks of my life could have been spent trying to find the "right" tile for this floor, a task that takes up more time and brainpower than you would think. 

Once the tiles were set, it was the perfect place for a late summer afternoon nap to beat the heat. Our tile guy must have been glad for one cool spot in the house, it was much better than the porch for napping when it is 100F out. (The laundry room floor had been another napping option that summer, but there was a risk you would get stepped on in there.)

Here it is grouted. It wasn't quite "the look" we would have planned, but saving money becomes a big priority after a while so using what we had was the best way to go at the time. At least it coordinated with the laundry room next door. And, this particular tile has proven to be really durable. To tell the truth, after all the construction that has gone on in this house it was the best choice to have really tough floors, not fancy pretty ones. Once the fixtures were in and we started using the room, I doubt anyone noticed the "concrete" floors!

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

That Handy Foam Board becomes a "Kitchen"

I've said this before, but one of the essential items for construction has to be foam insulation boards.
They are useful not only to insulate, but bits of it can be a kneeling pad, padding for heavy tools (saves your new flooring not to have a hammer dropped on it), padding for hauling things in vehicles, and their rigidity is perfect for mock-ups. 

I was asked one day how high & deep I wanted the upper kitchen cabinets, how deep I wanted the counter, how high to hang them for the "sightline" and other details. First can I say it was very exciting to be talking about the KITCHEN!  I knew the answers to some of these questions before they were asked, but not all of them. This is where that handy foam board came in. Our in-house carpenter set up a kitchen "model" on the porch for me so that I could "test" it out!

We measured the instant pot and other appliances that we frequently used, and how they would work with the depth of the counter and the height of the space. We talked about the line of sight and how high was too high for uppers. It really made a difference having something to walk up to rather than trying to envision this structure with a measuring tape on a blank wall.