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. 


Saturday, May 13, 2023

The Reality of RV living during Construction

RVs are really made out of cardboard and stickers with a hard shell.

Even in the middle of this building project, we found ourselves talking about the "next" house. You can't help it really, you think of things when you are building that it is too late to add in or take from and before you know it you have said it: "in the next house..." Then we would ask, do we really want to go through with this again?? The main thing that would stop me from repeating this process is having to live in an RV. 

The "living room" slide-out. Slide-outs are notoriously leaky and must be carefully leveled and maintained.  The shelves above were either crammed with clothing or books. The couch becomes a bed but only for someone less than 5 feet tall. It counted as a double bed but I think that was just a joke. 

I found some pictures of the RV when it was clean-- which I think was only three times-- and thought  it was time for another post on "RV living," just in case I can discourage anyone from trying it. Of course, if you can get your house built in 6 months that is a different matter. I suppose if I had some heavenly guarantee that we not only could but would build the next house in 6 months I might be tempted; but I think I would rather live temporarily in a "tiny home" type structure (made of real wood and insulated) instead of an RV, and use it afterwards for a guest house. 

The kitchen was invaded by mice, who were using the wee oven/stove for access, so we blocked it all up and used countertop appliances instead. Covering up the stove allowed us a little more counter space. Eventually the microwave left and we gained more storage space. Anything left in the drawers had to be in covered containers. Eventually everything went to the house to "temporary" kitchen setups of which I have blogged about before. The vacuum cleaner you see there is an absolute necessity if you are on a construction site. If I had to do it again (and could keep the mice out), I would opt for the RV with the biggest kitchen. 

As grateful as we were for shelter,  I felt times of discouragement living in the RV. First of all, it is dim all the time because of tinted windows. After a while that gets you down.  The weather became very cold (how about 10 degrees in October!) and it was especially felt by the feet. Even if the furnace works, RVs are not insulated as well as houses. And in the summer you bake (but to be honest it is much nicer in a dark RV with smelly AC blowing than it is outside when it is 105F). I suppose if we had had a park shelter to put the RV under we would have fared better all around, but that is not an amenity on most building sites. 

This area was the place where some of us could sit down to eat. Schoolwork was done here (the top shelves being crammed with school supplies). Under the benches were the blankets and every night one of the kids patiently turned this into a bed for themselves. Although advertised as a double bed I think that was just a joke. 

One morning our RV electrical system bit the dust. We were glad it died a slow (but smokey-smelling) death and not through a fire or something. But wouldn’t you know it would be a Saturday and no RV place was open.

The only thing really affected was our hot water. We were using an extension cord for our other things. We couldn’t run more than one thing at a time anyway, so no difference there! We were already running a space heater at night because our furnace was on the fritz, so no difference there either. Dishwashing was more of a chore. At least we had running (cold) water and working drains unlike in winter!

The TV was replaced with bookshelves which housed more schoolbooks and, for a while, diapers. 
Even with the help of storage bays, this RV was meant for weekend camping not living. You have to have a faithful minimalist if you want to live in an RV.

The RV repairman that came out fixed everything, but we had a further restriction. Apparently you are not supposed to run an RV off of a 100 foot extension cord, no matter how "heavy duty" it was. We were too far from our electric box but there was no getting the RV any closer on that hill. We had to cut back on things like plug-in appliances.

(When I suggested to the building crew that this would be a good time to hook up the hot water heater at the house, my idea was met with the usual dampening expressions and cold-water-pouring on my hopes. It is impossible, of course, and can only be done in a certain order behind other phases, and then will take many weeks of little but arduous tasks.)

This RV advertised "sleeps 10" but in reality that means 10 short children and the adults have to go elsewhere or amend the RV to fit. I previously blogged how we took out the "queen" bed in this room and were able to make one regular sized twin as a daybed. But it wasn't all bad: in the other end of the RV was a bunk room with 4 beds and plenty of storage, which was the really good thing about this model for a family with children. 

Eventually we started a bit of a shift in the way we were using the RV, and it had to do with one Autumn night when it was going to be 9 degrees outside.  We had a 100 gallon propane tank (don't try to run things on those dinky travel tanks when you are living in an RV!) and I saw that it was time for a propane refill. To refill that propane tank would cost as much as a sink or another big item for the house. So we brought out mats up to the house (where there was heat running anyway) and “camped,” only going down to the RV for showers to minimize the propane usage. And we continued to "camp" back and forth as the winter got colder. 

Monday, May 8, 2023

Now where was I...

This morning's storm was slow moving

I think I am running out of blogging excuses. The time change was so long ago, can't use that one... let's see... it's raining here in the desert. Lack of sunshine makes it hard to wake up in the morning. 
Anyway, where was I?

Dryer of my Heart
After I wrote my rant over the washer with flat-panel push-buttons which were ushering in the downfall of civilization (see the four previous posts), the matching dryer was delivered. OH ME OH MY it is wonderful. I almost recant. The capacity is so much bigger than my previous "extra capacity" dryer (it could swallow that dryer's drum) and it is so fast. I cannot believe how much less time it takes to get loads dry now. I might weep when those flat-panel push-buttons finally poke through the vinyl and the entire unit quits on me. The dryer top is sloped which means I cannot store detergents on it, but that has turned out to be a plus because it's always clean and clear. The lint-trap has never been used by anyone but me or touched with softeners, I'm so happy every time I clean the lint screen. The dryer has a light!! 

Yes, in case you are bursting with the question right now, I did want to use a clothesline outdoors. In this desert atmosphere, the clothing would be dry in minutes. However through this house project there has been so much blowing dirt on this property, I would not have clean clothes by the time they dried! And besides that I have never found a place to put a proper line. That makes me extra happy to have such an efficient dryer. 

The dryer has reconciled me to the washer, and except for the fact that there is no separate "rinse" function (very much needed if you are a seamstress) I am getting along with it quite well.

The Cascades

Nettle Tea
After a bout of seasonal allergies (I guess) and other discomforts, may I recommend to everyone a cup of nettle tea? It was just what I needed this week to go from perfect misery to perfect happiness. Look it up for yourself. I am crediting it with all kinds of good affects intentional or not; it could be the reason I'm actually blogging today and making more post promises! Maybe why I have a sudden urge to catch up and courage to organize. Who knows?

The season is here. I may be doing some up-to-date wildflower posts in the near future, if I cannot help myself. 

Spring Sunset

For our 25th wedding anniversary, we decided to finish the kitchen and get DRAWERS. I am so pleased at this decision, having waited for quite a while now for the luxury of handy (hidden) storage. We debated about going on a special celebratory vacation, but for the same amount of money could put our kitchen cabinetry plans into effect. We knew we would thank ourselves every time we opened a drawer. I will try to catch up with the rest of the construction posts to get to this point in our ongoing house story! In the meantime, I got some updated ideas at Lowes: 

Nice idea for an end cabinet, but I already have one of these elsewhere in the house! 

Double the drawer capacity (the top organizer slides out of the way, more space beneath!)

I believe we solved the corner problem a different way, but this is an interesting idea.

Rubber mat under the sink! Yes please! And handy dandy hidden holders for serving spoons.

I don't have an outer corner like this, but I like this idea!