Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.

Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.

This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.

It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Master Bathroom — Part 8

The last post on the master bathroom ended with the toilet installed and the wall behind tiled, but only halfway up, with some plumbing work inside the wall remaining.  That work, of course, as I mentioned awhile back, was the installation of the (uncommon) urinal.

Ubiquitous in all public and commercial men's restrooms, but uncommon in residential bathrooms.  I suspect the primary reason for this (aside from any Victorian reservations) is manufacturers don't make it easy for home installations.  That, an understatement.  There was an instruction sheet, but it was so simplistically vague as to be laughable.

I bought a Kohler urinal and a Kohler flush valve, thinking they would work well with each other.  Not.  I discovered I needed to modify the interface to make them go together (filing and grinding). 

I talked to the Kohler technical people, and discovered there were minimum pipe diameter requirements (at least 3/4"), as well as water pressure mandates (at least I had plenty of that).  I later discovered in an obscure note in one of the technical sheets that there were also minimum flow rate requirements (a lot more than my water softener would allow).  So I ran a separate 1" PEX line to the urinal, upstream from the water softener (which dramatically reduces flow rate).

The technical spec sheets gave comprehensive dimensions for mounting everything, although the critical dimensions were ranges (huh?).  It was clear that one specific measurement was required; perhaps the range was to accommodate components from other manufacturers, or different models.  Who knows?

Early on I decided on the proper height for the outflow pipe, and that dictated everything that followed.  In the photo below, you can see the brass fitting that screwed onto the 2" outflow pipe.  The weight of the urinal is supported by two steel hangers, each affixed to the wall with two large screws.  But how high should these brackets go, and where exactly did holes for the screws need to be drilled?  I checked the dimensions in the instruction sheet, and measured the urinal—they did not jive.  So I mounted the urinal on a piece of plywood using my measurements, and then made slight changes.  I discovered while the ceramic urinal body was precisely cast, the tabs that hang over the brackets were placed on by hand (before the piece was fired); the left side and right sides ended up at slightly different heights.  I made adjustments.

I then transferred the final measurements to a piece of tape, and used a diamond cutter to start the holes through the hard tile surface, then drilled through the tile and cement backboard into the wood support piece. 

 Then screwed the brackets to the wall. 

Hanging the urinal on the brackets, I discovered the brass outflow bracket was a little too high (bolt holes did not line up), so I added a couple of plastic shims to the brackets and everything lined up perfectly!  The bottom of the urinal bolts to the brass bracket, compressing a soft gasket around the outflow passage to make a waterproof seal. 

I left the white 1" PEX water supply line long and unattached until the urinal was hung.  Then I assembled the pieces of the valve and cut the PEX to suit, and connected the PEX line to the valve.  Because the PEX line didn't provide a rigid support, I squirted in some expanding foam insulation (trimmed after it cured).

There is a shutoff (quarter-turn ball) valve for the 1" supply line in the wall a couple of feet up, which needed an access door.  I installed wooden support pieces for that and then the drywall went up.  The metal access door frame screwed into the wood, and joint compound added to blend metal to drywall.  (No flushing the urinal for now, until the new water supply system is complete — half-gallon flush.)

Moving right along, finally, I installed crown molding at the top of the wall (only place in the house that gets this molding).  I first screwed nailing blocks to the underlying structure.

Here's what the crown molding looks like after some paint.

Before moving back to the guest bathroom, I added the mahogany edge trim to the vanity carcass.  With all the work going on, the vanity/workbench got pretty cluttered.

Cleaned off, as occasionally happens:

I did some more grouting, but Home Depot ran out of the 4" x 12" tile I'm using for the shower wall, so the tiling has temporarily come to a halt.  But this is a view of the current state of affairs:

I had dreams of building drawers for the vanity cabinet, but thought better of that, since drawer-building could run for a couple of months (if the kitchen and laundry room drawers are included).  So the plan is to resume work in the guest bathroom.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Guest Bathroom — Part 3

This post should really be part of the new water supply system string, but the last post I did on that was a long time ago, so I didn't know what part number to give it.  Instead, I'm lumping this post in with the guest bathroom paraphernalia.  A triumph for expediency!

So with the guest toilet gone and the wall behind laid bare, I ripped out the extraneous copper pipes, leaving one elongated stub leading to the backyard water faucets (a.k.a. "hose bibs" in the arcane lexicon of plumbers).

Transitioning to PEX requires a brass adapter, which must be soldered to the copper pipe.  I dislike soldering.  The heavy brass takes forever to heat up with a regular propane torch, so I bought a spiffy auto-lighting model that uses hotter-burning MAP gas.  I put a piece of steel flashing behind the work to keep the house from catching fire, and proceeded to play the flame back and forth from thick brass adapter to thinner copper pipe.

The problem with this is the copper heated up quickly, getting hot enough to melt the solder, while the brass was still not hot enough.  So the joint was bad.  I unsoldered and cleaned everything up and tried again, this time putting the flame only on the brass, letting the heat go from there to the copper.  That worked. 

Lots up studs under the bathroom window.  Lots of studs that needed holes drilled in them for the two new PEX pipes (a white 3/4" for backyard faucets and the blue 1/2" for the toilet water supply).  The issue was how close the studs were together.  Even with my two right-angle drills, it took at least two hours to drill the holes, using every adapter and contrivance I could find, but finally success.  After that, joining the PEX was a pleasure. 

From here, the pipes go up into the attic.  The outdoor faucet line crosses to the front of the house and was connected to the ex-irrigation shut-off valve.  This line is the full town pressure, which I just measured as 100 pounds-per-square-inch (psi).  Very high, that is.  So there is a pressure reduction valve, as I mentioned in a previous post, to bring the domestic in-house pressure down to a level that will not harm the plumbing or water heater.  I measured that to be 68 psi, which is still too high.  I read that "standard" domestic pressure should nominally be 50 psi.  I am going to try to lower my domestic pressure from 68 down to 55 psi (assuming the pressure reduction valve holds up).  With the high mineral content of the water, it's quite possible that the inside of the valve might be clogged with calcium and magnesium salts after 30 years.  But I digress.

So the other end of the white PEX line started out at the front of the garage at the old irrigation system shut-off valve.  There was already a threaded adapter soldered to the copper pipe — to join to threaded PVC irrigation system pipe; I used a female pipe-thread to PEX adapter, then an elbow to take the PEX vertical, a "tee" to a new front yard faucet, and then up to the attic for the run to the back of the house, like this: 

Here's a look at the new front faucet.  It's fastened to a plywood spacer, because when the garage gets its six-foot extension, the wall (now fake masonite shingles nailed directly to studs) will be covered with plywood and stucco.  The new valve is a quarter-turn ball valve.

The other PEX line leaving the guest bathroom was the supply line for the toilet.  That went up into the attic and thence to the new cold water distribution manifold.

The white 3/4" line (from the right, from the water softener) feeds the manifold, which has six half-inch outlets.  The two outlets without lines connected will eventually feed cold water to (1) the washing machine (now connected into the old copper pipe network), and (2) a separate outdoor faucet for washing the car (softened water that doesn't leave white mineral spots).  The 3/4" white line continues through the manifold to feed the hot water heater.  You can see the separate quarter-turn ball shut-off valve for the water heater, just to the left of the manifold. 

Here's a photo of the PEX water lines coming from (1) the sinks in the pottery studio, kitchen, and master bathroom, and (2) the master bathroom shower.  All of the PEX lines in the attic will have no insulation underneath, and at least 10" of insulation on top (in addition to the regular black foam pipe insulation).  The idea is for them to be as close to ambient room temperature throughout the year, rather than the winter-summer extremes of the attic (40˚ - 130˚ F, 4˚ - 54˚ C).

The new high-efficiency water heater has been connected into the new PEX supply system (but is not yet operational pending completion of the new system, especially the water softener, so as not to fill the water heater with damaging mineral scale).  This is what it looks like from the laundry room:

That cylindrical container on the left is the expansion tank, required to prevent damage to the water heater and plumbing.  When cold water is heated, it expands, which can result in a damaging pressure rise.  This is because the pressure reduction valve (where water comes into the house) acts as a check valve (water cannot flow back out into the municipal system).  If no faucet is open to relieve the pressure, the excessive pressure can damage components in the water system.  The expansion tank is connected to the water heater supply line, and is half-full of air, which easily compresses, giving the excess water volume someplace to go.

My house did not have an expansion tank when I moved in.  They are now required in most places, but I guess not 30 years ago here.  This is a photo of the PEX piping servicing the water heater, above the ceiling:

The cold water manifold is in the upper right of the photo; the shut-off valve for the water heater is just to the left of that.  The white PEX line continues left until it hits a "tee."  The side line runs to the expansion tank; the main line runs to the cold water inlet for the water heater (left upper, going down through the ceiling).  Just below that in the photo, the hot water outlet line comes up through the ceiling, goes to the right to the hot water distribution manifold (out of view).  That manifold distributes hot water via half-inch lines.  At the very right of the photo, you can see a "tee" that will send hot water via a 3/4" line to the new soaking tub in the guest bathroom.  The larger diameter line gives a better flow rate, so the tub fills faster.

I'm now working on both bathrooms, so the next post will be on one of them. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Master Bathroom — Part 7

Last time I was working in the guest bathroom and needed to replace some plumbing that was behind the toilet — my only functional toilet.  For a few minutes I contemplated pulling the toilet and then working very quickly, lest I end up using a bucket.  I quickly came to my senses after realizing there was probably a week's worth of work behind that toilet.  The silver lining in that quandary was motivation — something that had been lacking in my quest to make progress tiling the master bathroom.

The solution, of course, was to bring the master bathroom toilet into operational status.  To do that I merely had to tile the bathroom floor, as well as the wall behind the toilet (at least the bottom half of that wall), which is what I did.

Part 6 of the master bathroom saga left off with the shower floor tiled and grouted; after that, work languished.  I think the problem was that I was having trouble finding the necessary cove base tiles, and then knowing I would have to measure and cut each tile before mortaring it in place, found something else to do.  Much of the shower floor was neither straight nor level, and if the wall tile was to be applied successfully, the base row of tile would have to compensate for that lack of order, so the tile above would go on straight and level.  So the process was tedious, but the only way to get past that was to plod through it.

The cove base tile (lowest row of wall tile) flares out and overlaps the floor tile, so the floor tile needed to go down first.  Like the shower, the bathroom floor tile is a satin-white 2" hex mosaic tile that came in foot-square sheets.  The individual tiles around the periphery of the floor had to be cut to fit (although mostly while they were still attached to the mesh backing).  Also, the sheets would not always align precisely, so some single tiles had to be pulled off the mesh and slightly moved to split the difference in the uneven gaps.

Here's with all the tile down, but not yet grouted.  I would have liked to have glued the marble threshold down first (across the doorway), so to run the tile up against that edge, but no threshold yet, so I tiled up to a line on the floor.

With the floor tile finished in both the shower and main floor, I started on the cove base in the shower, and then moved to the bathroom proper.  The blue tape is supposed to keep the mortar off the finished floor.

Once the cove base was installed, I moved to putting the 3" x 6" subway tile on the wall, using plastic spacers to keep it even.  I did this in small batches, because the process was somewhat tedious — marking and cutting tiles, mixing mortar, putting tiles on the wall, cleaning tools, and then coming back and cleaning the excess mortar that often squeezed through the gaps and otherwise stuck to the surface.  Then I would let the mortar harden overnight and repeat the process the next day.

This next photo a bit further along, showing the temporary spacers.  I want to mention an issue with doing a bathroom in white.  There are many colors of "white."  I bought the subway wall tile from Home Depot and some of the trim tile from Lowe's, because Home Depot didn't carry all the types of trim tile I needed (e.g. the cove base tile).  The small "white" hex floor tile was ordered from HomeDepot.com (not carried in the stores); it turned out that tile was "whiter" than the wall tile, which skewed to off-white, although you could not tell looking at either one separately.  At first, the difference was distracting, but I'm getting used to it and don't notice any more.  Things to consider.

You may have noticed the 4" black pipe jutting up from the floor.  That's the drain for the toilet.  I left it long so I could tile and grout right up against it.  Once the floor was finished, I cut it off flush with the top of the tile, using a special compact hack saw.  Then the ABS toilet flange could be cemented into the pipe, so the bottom of the flange was flush with the floor.

Although the flange was a nominal 4" and so was the pipe, the fit was apparently a little too tight.  Ordinarily the dry fit is a little tight when joining ABS or PVC drain/vent pipe, but when you apply the cement to both halves, it dissolves the upper layer of plastic and the joint slips together cleanly before the cement bonds the two together (within a very few seconds).  Unfortunately, when I applied the cement to the flange and pressed it into the pipe, expecting it to go to the floor, it only made it halfway there and stopped.  I immediately yanked it out of the pipe before it had the chance to become one.  It took a couple of hours of scraping, sanding, and filing before the two would readily slide together.  Had I not managed to pull them apart, it would have taken a day, at least, and the flange would have been destroyed.  Counting my blessings.

Grouting was uneventful, as it usually is.  Here three-quarters of the wall is done (having exhausted the batch of grout I mixed).  White grout for the walls (and a very light grey for the floor). 

You've undoubtedly noticed that the tile (and cement backer board) only goes halfway up the wall.  Yes, odd.  I still need to finish the plumbing inside the wall before closing it up, and then I will add the rest of the tile (which only will go up another 8"; above that will be painted drywall).  That will be Part 8.  Remember, the point of this was to do enough to be able to install the toilet.

And here it is, fully operational, with the temporary toilet supply lines rerouted in the attic.

I also got some more wall tile up in the shower, whenever I had leftover mortar from a batch for the bathroom wall tile.  The rest of the job will fill another post, at least; a complex job, it is.

With the new toilet operational, I pulled the guest bathroom toilet out and started work running the new PEX water supply lines for that toilet and the two outside faucets.  When that's done, some drywall will go up, the new window trimmed out, etc.  Those tasks will be the subject of the next two posts . . . probably.