Posts Tagged ‘Work in Progress’

Now that the walls are in pretty decent shape, it’s time to turn our attention back to the floor.  This weekend, we made progress on the flooring under the tile.

First, the Ditra went down over the concrete slab.  The Ditra will help with a couple of challenges with this floor.  First, it provides an uncoupling layer between the cracked slab and the tile that will be laid above it, so if there’s any movement in the crack in the future, it won’t cause the tiles to crack.  It also provides a waterproofing membrane, and vapor barrier under the tile.

The upper surface has a waffle texture, with undercut dovetail squares, and the bottom surface has a fleecy backing for adhering to thinset between the Ditra and the concrete.

After we laid the Ditra (and the thinset dried overnight), we started playing with the tile layout.  A few of the tiles, maybe a third or so of the square footage, are cut and ready to go.  The starting point for the tile pattern is the triangular half tile that is centered in the doorway.  We’ll build the pattern from there.  That will be a pain when we actually lay the tile, because we want to work our way out of the room, but for setting the pattern it works better this way.

I think the average tile color is darker than the tile that we brought home to look at initially.  Only a few are as light as it was.  I was a little surprised by how dark they are, but I think it will look good when it’s done.

After playing with the layout a bit, we took the tiles out and started the next step in installation, which is the radiant heat.  We used a 3×5′ mat from Laticrete which will lay under the floor where people will walk/stand.  It didn’t seem necessary go to the additional complexity of installing it under where the sink bowl will be.

The mat is self-sticking, so with just a little wiggling and adjustment, we got it down where it needed to go.  The wires come up in the lower left corner, and are run up behind the wall to the thermostat, which will be next to the light switch and GFI outlet.  I forgot to take a picture of that, oops.

Once the wires were run, we were ready to cover it up.  It took quite a lot of thinset to bury it completely, and fill the undercut waffle pattern in the Ditra to anchor it down.

The next step will be tiling over it!

We also started thinking about paint colors.  Sherwin Williams is having a 40% off sale next weekend, so I’d like to decide by then what color I want to paint the walls.  If I really can’t, I can of course buy untinted paint on sale and tint it when I decide, but deadlines are good for me.

I laid out a few pieces of tile in the family room to look at paint cards against.  The walls used to be SW Sleepy Blue, which is the same color as the family room.  I like it, but I think I want something a little darker in the new half bath, and I’m not absolutely wedded to going with the same color card.

So back to the drawing board.

Ok, maybe not that far back.  How about one of these?

Colors from three of these four cards have been used somewhere else in the house already.  It turns out I’m pretty predictable.

We’re thinking about something from the middle (4th) row, probably on one of the two more blue cards.  Sleepy Blue is the 2nd from top, on the leftmost card.  Decisions, decisions.

Laying and grouting the tile are the only two steps left before we can install the new toilet.  Then we can re-hang the door, and be able to use the bathroom again a little bit.  That will save us a lot of walking upstairs!


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This weekend, we cleared out the half bath, and ripped out the baseboard molding, vanity, toilet, and the laminate flooring of horrible installation fame.  At this point it’s pretty much a closet with a drain!  The intention was to spend the rest of the weekend installing the electric heat mats and tiling the floor.  Unfortunately, that’s not exactly what happened.

The vanity and toilet came out ok.  The walls behind the vanity weren’t in fantastic shape, but they weren’t as bad as I was afraid of.

Once they were out, though, it became obvious that the wall that the sink & toilet are on, isn’t straight.  It bows out in between the sink and toilet hookups, which is why the molding buckled.  We also realized that, with the baseboard molding off, we could see daylight through to the garage at the bottom of the walls.  Gee, wonder why it gets so cold in the winter…?

When we pulled the laminate flooring out, there were more surprises.  There was vinyl linoleum under the laminate, which was sort of predictable.  Worse were the discoveries that the linoleum was laid down directly over the concrete slab, there was mildew all over the slab near the toilet drain, and, when the rest of the linoleum came up, we found a crack in the slab.

The linoleum came off only slightly better than the wallpaper did from the walls a few years back.  After that, C and his dad took turns using vinegar & water to soak and scrape up the glue to get the cleanest surface on the slab that we could get, and get the mildew up.

Since the bowed sheetrock was concerning, and the poor insulation in the walls was a problem, we cut away the lower portion of the wall to figure out what, exactly, was going on.

It was actually better insulated than we expected.  Not great, since it’s an exterior wall, but not egregious.  The real problem was the black drain pipe.  It’s set in concrete, so it can’t be moved, and it sits about half an inch proud of the studs.  The sheetrock was affixed to the studs, and bending around it.  Well that’s no good.

We cut the lower portion of the sheetrock away under the light switch as well, so we could fix a variety of electrical shortcuts that the builders had taken, and install a GFI outlet for the heat mat.  Then we screwed wood strips to the studs to build them out half an inch so the pipe could be tucked in behind the sheetrock.

We squirted foam insulation into the spaces where daylight was showing through, then hung half inch high-R sheathing on the two exterior walls:

then put up new sheetrock over it.  C’s dad came over today to start the taping, since that’s outside our repertoire of skills (among other things he’s helping us do with the bathroom!).

Here’s where it is now:

Talk about a high-maintenance 20 square feet.  We haven’t even started with the floor yet!  The pedestal for our sink is still on backorder until the end of the month, and I’m not too concerned.  I’m not sure if we’ll be ready to put it in until then!

Between the sheathing and the new sheetrock, the room is about an inch narrower and an inch shallower than it used to be.  The toilet measurements should still work, and we figured the real estate was worth it to have straighter walls and a warmer room.

Even though the project is turning out to be a lot more laborious than intended, at least we will know that we’ve taken it all the way down to the concrete and studs, and know exactly what’s there now.  No sneaky mildew (which we think was the result of a poor seal around the toilet), or shoddy insulation and construction.  That will be nice.

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Over Memorial Day weekend (yes, this post is way overdue) we had the mulch delivered to be spread over the portions of the newly leveled backyard that will become landscaped beds.  12 cubic yards of mulch, to be exact:

The tarp was a cute thought, but no.

Before we spread the mulch, we treated the area that we’d be mulching with Round Up.  We hadn’t been super successful at growing grass back along the fence, but there was enough that it’d come through the mulch if we didn’t go the herbicide route.  We also had endless Virginia creeper vines and other weed varieties that we didn’t want coming up through the mulch.

We let it sit overnight before spreading the mulch over it.  The rest of the weekend was mostly a blur of landscaping rakes and wheelbarrows.

By the end of day 1, we’d made some good progress:

On the left side, the mulch ran all the way to the side fence and stopped.

On the right side, it ran up under the conifer (red spruce?) and stopped.

On day 2, we staked out the run up the left side ending with the area under the blue spruce:

We also removed the bulk of the honeysuckle bush next to the blue spruce.  This is a lousy photo of it, but it had these bizarre looking shoots going 4 or so feet above the height of the rest of the bush, plus it was big, messy, and didn’t bring much to the table.  So with considerable effort with a pruning saw, out it came, less the stump that’s still there.  Along that fence, we planted a pair of lilac bushes that we’d been given a while back, that hadn’t had a place to go.  They’ve overwintered twice on our deck – they must be extremely hardy!  Then in went the mulch.

We will eventually take the rest of that honeysuckle stump out.  We’d just maxed ourselves out for the weekend.

We also planted grass seed in the back corner in the areas that previously were not grass, but will be in the future.  The lawn will go a couple feet deeper to the fence than it used to (in theory).

While we were in removal mode with the honeysuckle, we also removed the “miniature” lilacs in the planter boxes on the deck:

As much as I love lilacs, these have been pretty miserable about 50 weeks a year for most of the time we’ve lived here.  (The other two weeks, they’re blooming.)  They were never meant to be contained in a space that small, so they were constantly growing onto the deck, into the grill, into the stairway, etc.  These pictures were taken in mid-May, by which point they were already overflowing their spaces.  The constant pruning effort isn’t worth the brief bloom.

So out they came!

For lack of any other amazing plans, I just planted some annuals, and will put in some herbs.  The planter boxes are in really rough shape, so it’s one year at a time.  At least I won’t have to keep cutting the lilac hedge back to keep it out of the grill.  As a bonus, we can see over them to see our hard work on the back corners from the deck now!

Since I’m writing this post a month later, we have a little perspective now on our efforts.  For one thing, I envy us our lush green May lawn.  It unfortunately got a little crispy while we were away earlier this month.  We’re also having some trouble with weeds coming up through the mulch.  It was predictable, but it’s annoying — some are almost as big as the hollies we’ve been planting.  Dealing with that is going to be an ongoing effort.  I guess that’s what happens when you reclaim what was growing wild and try to domesticate it.  The mulch is great though.  It makes mowing the lawn so much easier, and it fills in the low areas so we don’t get big puddles like we used to.  I hope that translates to fewer summer mosquitoes, and I know it translates to fewer wet, muddy dog paws coming in the house.

Next up, along with sporadic lawn projects, will be the half bathroom redo, which I think we’re finally going to start this month.  Hopefully I’ll get pictures of that up more promptly!

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This past week we had a tree service come in and remove the poplar and a maple from the back fence area, and take a few dead limbs down off the oak.  I have no good pictures, but it was a pretty great show while I had breakfast.  They used neighboring trees like cranes to support the tree being cut, so it could come down in sections.  I admit to being glad they were fully insured while I watched, though.

The poplar is the skinny white trunked tree near where the guys are standing.  It came down first, suspended from the oak.  Then one of the two maples behind the oak came out.  The poplar was fed into an industrial size chipper/shredder, but the maple’s carcass is still here:

When we eventually split it, it will make good firewood.

Once the trees were done, we spent most of the weekend clearing and leveling the back corner.

The primary subjects were the mound of dirt between the oak and maple, and the depression over by where Guinness is sniffing.

First the white pine came out.  We wanted to do that before filling the hole, so the stump would be buried.  It was kind of a straggler.  (The red spruce will eventually come out too, but not yet.)  Then we dug out the stones that lined the Forever Wild corner.  I was pretty disappointed when I realized those cute little stones were about the top 15% of much larger, heavier, and less cute stones.

See what I mean about the rocks?

Then came the leveling.  First I dug out the mound and moved most of it to a low-lying area to the left.  The fence had been gapping over the soil there, so leveling it out gave the advantage of filing it in to stop the gapping.  Guinness may someday get a 4-footed sibling, and we don’t want a puppy wriggling through.

Then we finally had to face it.  The 5 cubic yards of soil we’d had delivered.

The rest of the day involved a lot of this:

and a lot of raking with the landscaping rake to spread it.  By the end of a longer day than we’d expected, we’d spread about 4.5 of the 5 cubic yards.  It looked pretty good!

Even after 4+ cubic yards of soil, the hole is still a relatively low point in the yard, but now it follows the curve and isn’t so extreme.

It’s hard to believe all the area that’s not covered in grass used to be essentially given up to wild and useless.

Fully exhausted, it was time to sit back and use our highly technical low spot finding device.  An hour or so later… there it is.

Sunday morning it was back to the wheelbarrow for the last handful of runs.  We extended the soil out onto the grass a little more to fill in where the puddle was forming, and filled in a couple random holes and depressions in the yard. There was a small celebration when the driveway got to this point:

We threw grass seed down on the areas that are supposed to be grass, and planted the four hollies across the back fence line, about 4.5 feet off the fence, and 8-10 feet apart.

The weekend was a HUGE amount of work.  We are both exhausted and sore.  It’s sort of disappointing that for now, it isn’t very exciting to look at:

But with a little mulch and a few more plants, I think it will look pretty good.  And one of the unexpected benefits to having had some of the trees removed is that I now appreciate some of the mature trees that we have a lot more:

Before, it was hard to notice or appreciate the oak because it got lost in all the scrub.  So, hi there now!  I can’t wait to put a hammock between the oak and the maple.

And with that we sign off for the week with just a few pictures of spring in Guin’s Yard:

Guinness likes the smell of spring.

and so do his people!

Lilac bloom is a pretty pleasant time to pick to be outside all weekend hauling dirt!

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Last Christmas, a very good friend who happens to be a landscape architect, gifted us with a landscaping plan that he prepared for our lot, using the original lot survey, the existing fence, a few mature trees that we’re keeping, and redoing almost everything else.

Our yard currently has a serious case of things having overgrown their spaces, or having been planted in too small a space for the variety’s mature size, so there’s a lot to remove.  The landscaping plan will be implemented in phases over the next bunch of years, a few parts at a time.  One of the first is the back fence line.

When we bought the house, the back property line was sort of a mess.  There were (are) a few nice mature trees, but the rest is just kind of wild.  It’s everything the developer didn’t bulldoze (back in 1985), and the previous owners left it that way.  Although the real estate listing photo makes it look like there’s nobody behind us (overexposure FTW!), there are houses back there.

As trees have died, and as we’ve realized that we were unnecessarily ceding the back 10 feet or so of the property to no man’s land (which became more evident when the fence went in), we’ve started removing things.  Last summer we cut down a bunch of “volunteer” trees that were scrawny and badly located, but the stumps were left behind:

So this spring we’ve been working on clearing that back corner out so we can start moving forward with it.  We took the stumps all the way down to ground level, raked all the leaves out, and removed the pile of rotted firewood stacked between two maples (it had rotted even before we moved in), removed the dead varmint in that stack of firewood, and cut down the one maple that we felt ok about doing ourselves.

Yesterday’s starting point:

and Ending point, ten or so lawn & leaf bags later:

Ok, so let’s not lie.  It’s still kind of a mess.  But at least it’s a mess without piles of leaves, and we can see where the contours are that we need to level out a little.  We can also see the rows of stones that make sort of a line of demarcation:  probably the old owners “mow up to here” line.  Those need to come up.  But the amount of land that we’ve cleared out is probably almost as large as the entire backyard at our last house!

We have an estimate and are just awaiting a call back from the tree surgeon to schedule:  The poplar (right most in the above photo, growing at an angle) and the maple up against the fence (leftmost tree inside the fence) are both coming down.  The oak and maple in between are staying (and hopefully holding up a hammock someday).  Once those are down, we need to even out the ground a bit, mulch, and start planting.  These hollies are the first four of many that will line the back fence:

The plan is that they will grow tall enough to give us some year-round privacy from our rear neighbors, although we’ll need some patience for that.  The yard is going to be a lot of work, but we look forward to having something a little more planned and a little less forever wild.

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Almost done!

The only thing left to finish is the last few coats of spray paint on the banister brackets, and then putting the banister back up.

I’m really pleased with how well the Stone Lion paint below the chair rail coordinates with the carpet, curtains, and couch slipcover in the living room, when you look into the foyer from the living room.

Once I get the banister back up, I’ll post a photo of the finished stair case.  I think the chair rail and the darker paint help de-emphasize the green carpet a little, which is great.  The green is no longer far and away the darkest, most obvious thing in the space.  I’m still looking forward to replacing it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a little less aggressive now.  I’ll take it.

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Painting continues here at Guin’s Yard:  the molding is finished, with three coats of semi-gloss paint.  We’ve finished edging the ceiling white, cream, and brown along the trim, and rolled the brown.  It essentially looks finished, but there are a few spots on the walls where a 2nd coat would be a good idea.  Hopefully tomorrow it’ll be done!

This is a good look at the color, from a little earlier in the week:

The thin little strip of Sandbar shows how much lighter it is than the Stone Lion.  Now that it’s (almost) done I think we made the right choice.

One little part of the project that’s still ongoing is that I’m spray painting the brackets for the banister.

From the looks of them, the banister was stained in place, and stain drips are still all over the brass brackets (which I’d probably spray paint anyway, since the brass doesn’t match anything in the house).  I cleaned them up with hot water and a pot scrubber to get little bits of latex paint and dust off, and primed them with spray primer.

Tomorrow I’ll do a first coat of oil rubbed bronze spray paint.

I still haven’t decided if we should leave the banister itself stained or paint it.  I’m not sure what color to paint it if we were going to, so I think it’ll stay as-is for a while.  White seems like it’d get dirty fast, with hands on it all the time.  Plus, there’s still a lot of unpainted molding, so it won’t look out of place right away.  We will get to painting the baseboards when we replace the green carpet, and painting the door frame trim when we replace the interior doors with nicer 6-panel doors in the future.

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