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!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bumps in the Road . . .


I was moving forward with the order for the solid surface material with which I was going to fabricate my kitchen countertop, when I was again met with frustration.  The same internet dealer also fabricates Corian bathroom vanity countertops, so I was going to also order those from the same place.  (Corian used to sell integral vanity tops in various sizes, but I just discovered they dropped that line sometime in the last year.)

I placed my order for the kitchen countertop — tools and adhesives, plus a full sheet of material and a partial sheet (a remnant), and thought I was set.  Next day I got an email saying Formica had reformulated their solid surface material — the whole new sheet would likely not match the remnant (which I needed to extend the top 6" and for the backsplash).  What were my instructions?

I cancelled, and after a couple of days decided to buy two whole sheets of the Formica solid surface and use the extra for a couple of other future projects.  Each 12-foot by 30" sheet would weight significantly more than 100 pounds. 

Delivery to a residence added $110 to the already considerable amount for shipping, so I was looking at close to $400 for shipping alone for the kitchen part of the order!  The vanity tops would add more than $400 to that!  If I picked it up at the freight terminal I could save the $110 for each part of the delivery.

Rent a U-Haul and pick it up at the freight terminal?  But where was the terminal?  I asked the sales rep that question and others, but she did not know most of the answers and said she would get back to me "tomorrow."

Never happened.

Now planning to find a local fabricator, but waiting for awhile for my frustrations to abate.

In the meantime, I had my new supply of PEX parts, and did some more work in the attic.  But now we've hit a stretch of warm/hot weather, so the attic has become too hot.

I did manage to solve one challenge — the unobtainable marble thresholds.  I found a stone/marble contractor that had a remnant room and went to see them.  The woman in the front office did not know what a (marble) bathroom threshold was, but I found an almost perfect piece of marble in their back room — 8.5" wide by 33" long (and 3/4" thick).  $45.  Sold!

I cut it to 31" long, and managed to cut it lengthwise in half using my tile saw.  The sliding table had just enough travel, but cutting the bevels on the top edges was something else.  I had to remove the sliding table and build a temporary (long) stationary table.

The finish on the bevel was good enough that I did not really need to buy the set of diamond polishing discs ($50) to make the bevel shiny.  Not really an issue, because you can't tell without getting down on your hands and knees for a close inspection.

Another task wanting attention was the trim around the bathroom door.  My quirky master bathroom has become the repository for my bucket list of architectural fancies — things I've seen on This Old House over the years and wanted to replicate.  This retirement house is the last chance I'll have to do that before I die, but for the most part there was no good place for those extravagances.  The bathroom, however, is small — perfect for the token flourishes.

The door trim fell victim.  Fancy molding and corner medallions!

But the pocket door frame was too thin for finishing nails, so the molding went on with trim adhesive and wood glue. (Oh, goodie — no nail holes to fill!)

With the base medallion glued on, I was able to cut to size and mortar on the last pieces of cove base tile (and then grout them the next day).

This is what it looks like at the bottom, also showing the marble threshold.

And at the top, where you can also see the crown molding (another flight of fancy, to be found nowhere else in the house).

Unfortunately, I was unable to install the door trim on the left side, because it protrudes from the wall.  The vanity top has to fit flush between two walls, so anything that sticks out will prevent it from being set into place.  (I may even have to temporarily remove one of the electrical receptacles.)

Yes, so waiting to get that vanity top :-(

With the new batch of PEX fittings, I was able to start work on the water softener installation.  The main resin bead tank is tall and narrow and will be full of water (that is, heavy).  In Southern California, that means attaching it to the wall so it doesn't topple over if we're hit by errant tremors.  So build a bracket (later, metal bands around the tank will be attached).

I connected enough of the 1" PEX supply/discharge lines to see how far the tank needed to be from the wall.  Black bits sticking out of the back include meter and bypass valve.

Various brackets go on the wall to support the plumbing; more of that to come.

In the photo above is the tall cylindrical tank holding the treated resin beads that the calcium and magnesium ions in the hard water attach themselves to.  Every couple of weeks the control valve backflushes the resin beads with salt brine, which washes the calcium and magnesium ions off the resin beads, flushing it out a discharge pipe into the drain (if sodium chloride is used as the salt), or outside if you use potassium chloride (doesn't hurt the plants, but costs more).

The shorter, square tank holds the salt brine.  You have to load salt into that container periodically — a consumable.  It will be connected to the other tank with a flexible tube.

At this point, it looks like the water softener will get my near-term attention.  The next post therefore may be all about that, or not.


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Master Bathroom — Part 9

I was expecting to be writing a post about getting the Corian kitchen countertop made and installed,  but I wanted to have some alternate plans (choices) in case the contractor was not giving me confidence (or the dollar quote struck me as too high).  I made a plywood template so I could route out the sink opening myself (having the contractor just fabricate a blank counter), and then procrastinated (still not comfortable with my options).

In the meantime, I continued tiling the master bathroom shower, and have now finished that, so that's what this post is about (more on the kitchen counter at the end).  This photo shows, more or less, where the tile was when last I reported:

My routine every morning was to mark the next batch of tile for cutting (either using a tape measure or by holding a whole tile up to its designated position), using a Sharpie marker.  I would do a batch of about ten or twelve; beyond that, there would be no installed tiles to measure against.  A large portion of the tiles I put up needed cutting, so I didn't do large batches (although a professional would have to keep putting up all day).  Then I would take my pile of marked tile out and cut them on my diamond-blade sliding-table wet tile saw ("wet" because it sprayed water on the cut to lubricate and keep the blade cool).  Then the cut tile would go back to the bathroom for test fitting, and if needed, go back to the saw for minor adjustments.  Then I would mix a batch of mortar, and start putting tile on the wall.  When the tile was up, time to clean my tools, then back in to clean up any mortar gone awry.

Next morning, the mortar would be hard.  Repeat the process, except when I ran out of tile, when I would do some grouting. 

When I was putting tile on floors (big horizontal areas, with mostly whole tiles), I spread the mortar on a fairly large area with a notched rectangular trowel.  Bare tile would be set in the mortar (most of the time, although sometimes a thin coat of mortar would be spread on the back of the tile—"back buttering"—if tile adhesion was in question).  For the shower walls, with all the cuts and edges, I left the wall bare and spread the mortar on the back of each tile as it went up with a small notched margin trowel.  That way, I wouldn't have to scrape mortar off the wall beyond where tile was placed.  It worked very well.  Neat and tidy.

One of the tricky areas was the shelves, which had concave-rounded cove base tile and convex-rounded bullnose tile.  Here, I'm installing those pieces, and will add the flat 4 x 12" filler tile in between after the mortar is dry.

Another place that took a few days to complete (installing a couple of pieces, letting the mortar dry, before adding the next couple), was the inset for the dog shower outlet:

I would work on several small areas in different parts of the shower at the same time, and many of the cut tiles were similar in size, so I lettered the location and the back of its corresponding tile.  When I brought my pile of cut tiles back in, I was sure where each piece belonged.

This is what my tile saw looked like, with the red laser line showing where the cut would be made:  (having the right tool makes a huge difference!)

I also used diamond hole saws to cut round holes in the tile.  I cut the hole for the shower arm before putting up that tile, clamping a piece of plywood with a proper sized hole to the piece of tile to guide the bit.  I could then spray water into that recess to lubricate and cool the diamond hole cutter.  Without the plywood guide, the hole saw would tend to skip around on the tile's hard glass glaze.  The resulting hole was very smooth:

The two grab bars for the shower needed six screws each, and each screw had to penetrate the tile and fasten into the underlying wood backer.  A regular masonry bit would work for the cement backerboard, but would have trouble getting through the tile glaze without cracking it — so another smaller diamond hole saw (1/4") was used.  I had to drill these holes after the tile was up (and vertical), so it was more important than ever to stabilize the bit until it got started.  Here's the hollow bit, and my improvised hole guide (the tape just kept the wood roughly in place; I had to hold it firmly with my left hand until the bit had made a good start):

The stainless steel grab bars have covers that snap over the screws.  In this photo you can see the three finished holes in the tile.

So the shower is finished!  Hooray!  (although still no water supply for it).  This is the left side, showing a vertical grab bar and the two shower controls (the one for people on the top, and the one on the bottom is for the dogs).

There are shelves on both sides.  The one on the right side is wider (for shampoo, soap, etc.).  Although I do not feel the need for grab bars now, this is my retirement home, and eventually (when I'm really old and feeble) I may appreciate them (and better to install them now). 

And the whole shower, with compression curtain rod installed:

And the dog shower, for those who have never heard of such a thing . . .  The water outlet has a quick-release hose fitting; a short hose with a multi-spray garden nozzle can be easily connected.  Works well all the time, but especially in the winter.

What's next?  So many projects—it's hard to say.  I've just ordered another batch of PEX supplies for the new water supply system; I hope this will give me all the parts I need to complete it.  So that's coming up soon.  I cleared out the laundry room today to make room for the water softener installation, so that's coming up soon.  And I have physical and internet places sorted out to visit to move ahead on the countertops for kitchen and bathrooms (and those pesky, unobtainable marble bathroom thresholds). 

The plan is now to fabricate my own kitchen countertop, using Formica solid surface material (instead of Corian brand).  Still have a couple of things to check out, but it could save a couple of thousand bucks, and with a better result . . .