Thursday, November 02, 2006

Revenge of the roots.

We've encountered another "joy" of home ownership. A couple weeks ago, we discovered some standing water in our basement bathroom, and were unable to determine where it came from. Last night, Chris found a larger puddle of water, this time extending out into our furnace room and through a wall into the basement living room. We suspected maybe it was coming up through the shower drain in the bathroom, but still didn't have any evidence. Later in in the evening I flushed the upstairs toilet...and then we found out where it was coming from. This time the backup god decided to bless us with more than just water, in the form of used toilet paper...and a turd. The scary part is, the aforementioned toilet usage was only of the "no. 1" we don't know whose turd it is. A relic of one of our neighbors now rests on our basement floor.

Today, I spent the last few hours and a few hundred dollars with a plumber. After much half-garbled talking to himself, making a lot of noise, and spraying brown poop water all over our basement, it has been determined that our main drain line has been corrupted by roots.

Thwarted again! Those bastards! I think the souls of the roots we dug up for the patio have joined forces with the roots of the dead tree we had taken down in the front yard to inflict more pain and suffering on us. The plumber cleaned out the clog and as many roots as he could, along with the recommendation that we use a liquid root killer for the near future, but said that within the next year we'd need to have the drain line replaced. He estimated that the clog was about 70' out from our drain stack, which puts us past the sidewalk...onto city property. He was unfamiliar with Ferndale's policy in such situations. It could be either really good for us, or really bad. The best case scenario would be the city takes responsibility and handles the job for us. The worst would be we'd have to contract a company licensed and bonded to do city and highway work. Which means: $$$

Today is a good day for hammering tiles for the backsplash.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The most bitchin'est bachelor pad!

The past few weeks, Chris and I have taken a small break from our own house projects and have been helping his brother Mike update the kitchen in his condo. Luckily, we had taken advantage once again of my employment at the tile distributor, and had already ordered the tile just a couple weeks before I got laid off. Just in time!

The kitchen started out with what Mike fondly referred to as "1970's Pizza Hut tile" on the kitchen counters and backsplash, and what ended up being something like eleven layers of old linoleum on the floor! Thankfully, I was left out of the floor removal process, and left that up to the brothers. They also saved me the emotional trauma of battling my old foe durock, and installed the cement board underlayment as well. Mike also repainted all the walls and cupboards a nice clean white to contrast nicely with the new tile.

We chose a dark grey porcelain tile for the floor that almost has the look of polished concrete. Very cool! The install for the floor went relatively quickly; just an afternoon to lay it, and one more to grout it. It took us a good three or four days of work to install the 12x12 Black Absolute granite tiles on the counter. There was a LOT of cutting involved, and I threw a few temper tantrums in my frustration with it. We extended the granite up the walls 6", and then above that we put seven rows of stainless steel mosaic tile. The steel tile was also somewhat problematic. The tape facing became pretty much useless as soon as it got near the wet saw, so I mostly had to cut each tile individually, and on more than one occasion felt certain that I may lose a finger. Above the steel on the range side of the kitchen, we installed 3x6 white subway tiles up to the overhead cabinetry.

He also ordered all new appliances, which should be delivered next weekend. When it's all together it will be absolutely smashing!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Since I'm on a roll...

We've been able to finally move our large appliances out of the dining room and back into the kitchen where they belong. Having our dining room back to normal inspired me to post before and after pictures from how the previous owner had it and to how it is today...just because our stuff is cooler than her stuff.

When we bought the house:

And how we've redecorated:

God. I'm reminded how tastefully drab the previous owner's decorating style was. Or maybe we're tackily gaudy. Either way, we rule.

The tiniest kitchen in the world.

Since we moved into our house, I've been somewhat obsessed with a certain little problematic nook in our kitchen. Aside from being extraordinarily tiny (somewhere in the range of 45 square feet), our kitchen is also laid out extraordinarily strange. Part of that 45 square feet consists of a little nook at one side, measuring less than four feet wide and two feet deep. The upper half of this nook held an overhead cabinet, but nothing underneath except the outlet for the range, which was located in a different nook that used to be a second entrance to the kitchen (more on this later). The previous owner kept a table and wine rack there, and for the past year, we've just had a crappy little rickety wooden shelf sitting in the space, in an attempt to give us a bit more work area (since we only have two feet of actual counter space on either side of the sink).

After discovering a capped-off gas line in the basement that ran up to the nook, we realized that the space originally must have held an old gas stove. From that point the search was on to find a refurbished stove that would fit the space, allowing us to get rid of the electric range that currently occupied the second entrance. We quickly discovered that refurbished stoves are prohibitively expensive, and that we're not in any situation to be dropping at least four grand on a stove when we don't even really cook (but damn, would it look cool!). So sadly, my heart was broken and I had to give up my dream of having a pink gas stove. Besides, we realized how impractical it would be to open up the second entrance at the expense of possible additional counterspace. But what to do was a dilemma, and we've been sitting on it for the past year.

About a month ago, the solution presented itself when I came across a 50's metal hutch on eBay. The measurements fit the size of the nook EXACTLY, giving 1/2" allowance on both the width and the depth. It was as if it were made to fit the space! I put my considerable bidding skills to the test and squashed a competitor's sad attempt at outbidding me in the last eight seconds. The hutch was ours!!

Last weekend, Chris went about tearing out the overhead cabinet that occupied the space to make room for the height of the new cabinet. I was kind of glad to see it go; the lowest of the three shelves was at my eye level, which meant I had to get out a step stool to use the upper shelves. I was a bit concerned, however, about our ability to patch up the devastation; previous encounters with our kitchen's cabinetry has resulted in much pain, suffering, and the realization that our cabinets are built into the studs of the house. Luckily, Chris was able to get the cabinet out with only one hole in the wall as a casualty, and a patch job and coat of paint later, you'd never be able to tell it was there.

The next problem to overcome was what to do with the range. The existing range sat in the second entrance, as mentioned, and extended out of that opening by a couple inches. This meant that after the new cabinet was in place, we wouldn't be able to open the drawer or door on the left side! We did some research and special ordered a 20" wide range that we could put to the left of the range nook, allowing clearance for the drawer and door. It was delivered today, and fits great (in addition to being super cute). Our only problem now is figuring out a use for the remaining ten inches on the right; I'd like to build a shelf at counter height with space underneath for concealed recyclables storage. Eventually I want to build a new overhead cabinet, install an over-the-range microwave, and tile the backsplash to match what's around the sink...but that will have to be a bit down the road. In the meantime, it's going to drive me nuts to have to keep looking at that door behind the stove.

Once that's all done, I can start saving for my new fridge, which I still have my heart set on. We're thinking the robin's egg blue. Chris won't let me have pink.

Chris and I drove to Ohio last weekend to pick up the hutch from the sellers. They were delightful people, and the hutch is perfect. We ordered a sheet of the new reproduction Formica boomerang pattern to replace the existing should be arriving next week! I can't wait! In the meantime, it fits perfectly into our kitchen. Now I've decided I need FiestaWare to keep in those glass cupboards.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mystery wood....

Today I went to Home Depot and rented one of their large drum sanders to remove the remaining residue from our adventure with hoof glue and prepare the floors to be finished. I was happy to find out that the condition of our floors didn't necessitate using a belt sander; I've heard horror stories about gouging the floors so badly that areas needed to be replaced. What I was unhappy to discover was that the sander weighed approximately 150 lbs...and I am not as strong as I like to think. I believe I spent more time wrestling the beast between car and house than I actually spent sanding.

Sanding off the remaining hoof glue residue and the first 70-year-old layer of dead wood revealed another possibility in our quest to determine what type of wood our floors are: cedar! I didn't detect the usually telltale aroma, but it certainly looks like cedar to me. I did some research on cedar flooring and found that it was a common subfloor in the 40's due to its rot resistance and insect repellant properties. I finished the sanding as best I could, which still left a number of dark stains left over from its previous lifetimes. Fortunately, both Chris and I are fond of them and think they give the floor more character.

So far we've got two coats of polyurethane down; hoping to finish up with the last coat in a few more hours!

Here's our floor when we started, with the black and white vinyl we put down when we first moved into the house...

And here it is after...

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hoof Glue.

Following the sink and countertop remodeling we’ve been going back and forth on what to do about the floors in the kitchen. When we first moved in we purchased and installed some cheap black and white peel and stick vinyl floor to cover the faux limestone peel and stick vinyl that the previous owner has seen fit to install. We really like the traditional black and white check pattern. We’d had discussions about perhaps upgrading to ceramic black and white tiles but couldn’t agree on what size tile to use. We’d finally settled on using black and white marble tiles when Kim got laid off from her job at the tile distributor. That kind of puts the kebosh on any further tile purchases for the near future. So, we set out to brainstorming again on some of the other ideas we’d pitched back and forth for the floor. The new leading candidate involved stripping away the layers of vinyl and linoleum, sanding the hardwood floor underneath and creating a black and white check pattern out of wood stain. We decided to go ahead with this plan. One night before bed we took up the kick plate at the foot of the back door landing steps and looked at the layers of flooring. First layer was hardwood floor of indeterminate type (more on this later), second was colorful 1940’s era linoleum (too bad it was wrecked, it was really pretty cool), third was a layer of luan plywood, forth a layer of 1970’s era linoleum, fifth was the faux limestone vinyl and sixth was the black and white check vinyl that we put down. We peeled away and hacked at the layers and found that the hardwood looked to be a very good condition. We made plans to start on the floor in the coming weekend.

We started to work on the floor Saturday evening. The layer of luan plywood with about ten thousand tiny little staples in it made removal a bloody slashing hand hazard. I can count seven cuts and scrapes I sustained across my two fat little hands. It took us a little under three hours to get the entirety of the flooring up. It is now sitting in the drive way waiting for me to cut it into little pieces that the garbage service will accept. Sunday we started working on removing the layer of fibrous material from the bottom layer of 1940’s era linoleum that still covered the hardwood floor.

We went out and picked up a big canister of this caustic solvent substance. I applied it to one area of the floor and found that it wasn’t doing what we expected it to. All it did was put off heady fumes and get kind of gummy. I then went online and keyword searched for “remove old linoleum floor” and found that the adhesive most likely used when the linoleum was applied was HOOF GLUE. Let your imagination run wild on what hoof glue is… yep… That’s right. Apparently the best way to remove hoof glue is with soap and water, which was a huge relief after our experimentation with the caustic solvent. Unfortunately, it seems that when nearly seventy year old hoof glue gets wet it smells like what it is -- dead horses. The stink is nearly vomit inducing. I had noticed a faint “bad smell” the night before when we completed the above layer demolition, but it wasn’t that bad. Well, getting it wet releases its powerful stink. Mighty, stink I might say. Powerful. Pungent. Unpleasant. We worked quite a long time getting the floor wet, waiting for it to soak in then scraping the hell out of it. Our scraping produced a bucket of debris that can only be described as shitty – shitty in appearance and shitty in smell. Soon we were left with a rather surprising looking hardwood floor.

It isn’t oak, as expected. The rest of the house is all oak. It isn’t pine because it’s too hard to be pine. We’re thinking its hickory, but we’re not sure. The next step is to get a sander and go to town. In lieu of the more interesting natural variation of this mystery wood we’re probably going to skip doing the stained checker pattern.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Basement Bathroom and our battles with Monkey Boy

A few months back we decided we wanted to remodel our first floor bathroom. Our bathroom still has the original tub and tile, which we would have been happy to keep had it been kept in good condition; unfortunately, the tile had been painted over in a way that does not scream "upgrade". We wanted to redo the room in a period-appropriate manner while improving the fixtures and probably the plumbing as well. We had bought what became to us our Bible: "Bungalow Bathrooms" by Linda Svendsen and Jane Powell. Initially we thought we'd go the safe route: white subway tiles, white fixtures, white, white, white, and then bring in color with accessories. The more we looked through the book, though, the more it became apparent that we kinda dug the more outlandish bathrooms pictured. Purple with yellow, green with pink, colored fixtures...the gaudier, the better. Our decision was made when I found an auction for unused, art nouveau, lime green slip relief tiles on eBay. From there we decided on cobalt blue hexagonal tile for the shower floor, white octagon with black dots for the floor, blue subway tiles for the walls, and another eBay auction and a drive to Cleveland brought us a vintage pedestal sink that had been salvaged from a demolished school. Before we could start on our new and improved, over-the-top, gloriously tacky bathroom, however, we needed to get our basement bathroom into working order so that we could have one functional bathroom.

We bought our house on the premise that it had two bathrooms. We'd never actually used the basement bathroom, other than one time when I think I may have peed in it just because it seemed a novelty that we had another toilet. The previous owner had installed the bathroom in a rather shoddy, inexpensive manner, so we thought we'd have no trouble tearing out the cheap shower surround and vanity sink and install new white tile in the shower, a new sink, and white hexagonal floor with black rosettes, again trying to keep with the era of the house. Since most of our proposed work was to be cosmetic, I thought we were in for a much easier time than we were with the kitchen. Alas.

The previous owner's boyfriend, or "Monkey Boy" as we have taken to calling him, apparently approached this project without any actual research as to how things should be done. After gutting the shower enclosure we discovered that the walls were framed with as much as two feet between the studs, and his gallant attempt at pouring a mud shower pan was pathetic at best. There was no sign of a pan liner, just mortar spread right on top of the concrete slab, and tile on top of that. My personal favorite was the drain: I noticed that I could see some manner of scary pipe underneath the drain grate, and upon closer inspection realized that there is no actual drain assembly, but the grate was simply a plastic piece of shit caulked into the tile opening on top of the drain stub!

Chris finished removing the tile from the shower floor, and we laid down a pan liner and installed a new pan and drain assembly on top of that. We installed durock for the first time ever, and I hope to never have to do it again. Messy, sweaty, heavy work, that durock is. I laid the new tile on the shower walls and floor, as well as the rosette tile on the main floor, and painted the upper half of the walls. Our basement was finished probably in the 1950's with knotty pine paneling, and we've kind of run with the idea and decorated the living area down there in a sort of campy up-north, ski lodge type feel. We hope to carry that theme through into the bathroom and install wood wainscoting and trim it with some pinecone decorative tiles I picked up at work. All the tiling has yet to be grouted at this point, and we have yet to find an appropriate sink. We had originally planned to relocate our first floor bath's existing pedestal sink into the basement, but when we removed the vanity sink we discovered a drain access that would be right in the way of where we wanted to put the pedestal. My hope is that we'll find something cheap and local on eBay.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Sunroom tile

Over the Memorial Day weekend, we braved the unseasonably warm 95 degrees and decided to tile our sunroom floor. The previous owner had installed a medium-grade beige berber carpet, and the combination of Chris, myself, two cats, and two dogs had done a number on it. Chris has an inherent hatred of berber carpet to begin with, so between that and the pale yellow walls that were there when we moved in, he was especially motivated to do a makeover.

I had purchased from work Kund multicolor slate for the field tile and 7/8" glass mosaic tiles from Jeffrey Court to add as accents. My mother came into town with my dad's pickup to help move the slate and the 200 sq. ft. of durock backerboard to use as underlayment. When Chris and I pulled up the first corner of carpet, we saw that there was a layer of tile underneath the carpet padding, and around the edges, we could see what looked like concrete. Could it be that there was a concrete slab underneath all those years of layers? Was it possible that we could avoid having to lay backerboard? We are both so unaccustomed to stumbling upon shortcuts in any of our home improvement projects, discovering that we were, in fact, standing on a concrete slab was cause for celebration.

We finished pulling up the carpet and put it out for trash pickup, where it was salvaged by a passerby within the hour. That always makes me feel better about discarding things; in our neighborhood, usable items seldom actually make it to the trash truck. I actually kind of liked the checkerboard tile that existed underneath the carpet, but we saw that many of them were already loose and no longer adhered to the subfloor. For the rest of the day, we proceeded to remove said tiles, and it wasn't until we were almost finished that it dawned on us that we may have been removing asbestos tile. Panic set in until we came to the conclusion that the damage had already been done, and we had learned a lesson for the next time we attempted such a project.

The next day we started laying down the slate tile. What we assumed would be a fairly quick and easy installation proved to be anything but. Hours bent over, hauling heavy stone tile, did a number on both our backs and by the end of the day we were both on the verge of passing out. The extreme heat and humidity didn't improve matters, and we were happy to call it a day.

Finally, the next day I was able to grout the entire floor. I was unprepared for slate to be as porous as it is, and found that I had grouted a much larger area than I should have before I started cleanup in the first areas. Chris and I spent much of that evening trying to scrub off grout residue that had embedded itself into the nooks and crannies of the clefted layers. Ultimately, we were fortunate enough that the variation in the stone helps camouflage the excess grout that we were unable to remove. The aggressive scrubbing dislodged a couple of the glass mosaic tiles, but a little super glue solved that. A couple layers of stone sealer, and the floor was done!