Entropy is Real

We’re all going to sit down and listen to an inspiring story of wilderness survival.

– Homer Simpson

This spring, I saw an Investopedia article on six misguided home improvements, which included:


Around the same time, Nicole Balch of Making it Lovely wrote on the difficulty of maintaining her home’s mature garden. Upon moving in:

The neighbor tells us the previous owner was always out there working on things like it was her full-time job. Come on, we think. How hard can it be?

As I’m sure you guessed, the answer is PRETTY DANG HARD.

I brought gardening on myself, and I love it, but it’s less fun if you don’t keep up with it. Last summer, we were so wrapped up in the (still ongoing) remodel that I left the garden mostly to its own devices. The plantings all did just fine, but so did the weeds and general decay.


The quick onset of decline surprised me, because I have a cottage garden — the whole idea is that it’s a little crazy. THAT’S WHY I PLANTED A COTTAGE GARDEN. It’s a profusive and forgiving form

Not every weed is going to drive you crazy (via).

Cottage garden: Lots going on, so not every weed is going to drive you crazy (via)

But it turns out that a year of neglect is a year of neglect, regardless of garden style. Even the areas that look acceptable at first glance have issues to be addressed. Hostas are great for covering up problems, but the results of taking a year off are there nevertheless.


(Nicole’s garden is far more formal — I really feel for her!)

Since we decided that we weren’t going to knock ourselves out on the house this summer, I’ve had some time to knock myself out on the garden. (It’s better than watching the news.) The front of the house and about a third of the back is about 85% in shape now, thanks in part to buying a truck.


Ford Ranger made right here in St Paul before they tore down the plant (via)

Oh, how I have missed owning a truck! I know my redneckitude is showing, but between the DIY and the gardening, it’s just so convenient. There were Other Good Reasons to pick up a pickup, but it certainly is making the garden mess disappear faster. That compost doesn’t haul itself!

Even with the truck, the rest of the back is going to take some more time, and possibly a machete. We decided against moving our cherry tree — turns out, it’s too big to move, but too lovely to chop down. Keeping the cherry tree means losing the surrounding Tetris-shaped raised beds that it now overshadows. Really a shame, but the wood sides are starting to succumb to the elements anyway (or so I rationalize). Removing those and redistributing the dirt will be a big job. I might hire me some teenagers. Really burly teenagers.

Despite the garden getting away from me, there are still good things happening. The monarchs arrived this weekend, and we have a new hummingbird this year, plus more goldfinches than ever. Our apple trees are bearing for the first time, and my sickly clearance-sale Zephirine Drouhin rose is finally coming into its own. Even a messed-up garden is a good thing, and the neglect can be put right (eventually). The fact that it blooms regardless is a reminder not to take it for granted.


Experts might say that extensive gardens are not good returns on investment, and they might even be right. But you can’t make every decision on financial grounds or maintenance requirements. The garden does far more for me than I could ever do for it.

Posted in D'oh!, Repair & Maintenance, Yard & Garden | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

In the Market for a Squeegee


With the shower tile (and niche) done, nothing was stopping us from taking showers except the gaping open side. Some very long time ago, I ordered a frameless shower door (on sale!), and it was finally time to install it.

Aqua Ultra Hinge Shower Door -- we got ours from Wayfair, and it's well worth signing up for their sale emails and lying in wait for the best price.

Aqua Ultra Hinge Shower Door (got ours via Wayfair.com)

The first instruction was to install the base channel. This was to be caulked into place if used on a bath tub, or drilled into place if used on a shower base. Our shower base is porcelain over steel, and I was not super-keen about drilling into it. The internet suggested that the tub/base installation difference was that tubs were often porcelain over cast iron, whereas shower bases were tile or various composites. Customer service could not vary from the instructions (understandably). Reasoning that the bottom channel was mainly a guide, and that the concern about drilling into something that could rust was warranted, we decided against screws. We didn’t caulk it either — we used white Liquid Nails.

The instructions say to center this on the edge, but since we have quite a bit of edge and the shower is a little narrow, we placed it toward the outside edge.

The instructions say to center this piece, but we have quite a bit of side ledge and the shower is a little narrow, so we placed it toward the outside edge.

Another channel runs perpendicular up the front wall. This one was screwed through the tile into studs, then tightened down over silicon caulk. Screws came with the door, but they were pretty short. Figure out how long you need your screws to be given the wall depth, then pick up non-rusting screws that length with the same head diameter (because the head has to fit into the channel, which is pretty narrow). We put in 3-inch brass screws to get well into the studs. To avoid tile cracking, we used a glass/ceramic drill bit to get past the tile.

Not promoting this brand -- it just happened to be at Menards. It did work, though.

Not promoting this brand — it just happened to be at Menards. It did work, though.

Apply tape over the drilling spot to further protect the tile.

Apply tape over the drilling spot to further protect the tile.

Front channel in place

Front channel in place

Then the glass. Squirt a bead of silicon inside the two channels, then sliiiiiide the glass to the wall. The instructions say to use a rubber mallet to push it forward, which we did, with trepidation. That pushed it right into place.

First pane in

First pane in; so hard to get pictures in this bathroom!

The last supporting cast member is a brace that runs from the top of the stationary glass pane to the front wall of the shower at roughly a 45-degree angle. Kevin had screwed in some wood behind the cement board for the attaching screw to bit into, but apparently put it too low because nothing met the screw on the other side. (Probably, I told him that the thing was five feet tall as I first thought.) It wasn’t a huge deal — the instructions called for a wall anchor. Anyway, a bigger tile bit, one wall anchor, and more silicon later, it was in.

Odd angle for this picture, sorry -- the brace is level. In actual practice, the brace and shower head don't seem as crowded as they look here.

Odd angle for this picture, sorry — the brace is level. In actual practice, the brace and shower head aren’t as crowded as they look here.

There’s plenty of structure, even if it is “frameless.” Plus, there’s gap enough around the back to get in and out of the shower without even moving the door (assuming we don’t gain a bunch more weight).

The last bits were attaching and adjusting the door with reversible hinges, and then adding some clear trim between the door and and stationary piece and along the bottom of the door. And there’s a towel rack on the front, also easy.

The hinges have enough play to move the door up and down to be level with the stationary pane (this was before we did that).

The hinges have enough play in them to move the door up and down to be level with the stationary pane (this photo was taken before we did that).

I am generally pro-curtain, especially since our municipal water is pretty hard. The Kev had to talk me into this door, but it does look good!

We removed the drop cloth pre-shower.

The drop cloth did come out pre-shower.

We finally get to use the shower, hurrah!

Apparently, if we squeegee it every time we take a shower, it will stay pristine. I don’t see that much squeegeeing in my future! Any recommendations for cleaning products or maintenance?

Posted in Bathroom, Windows & Doors | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Hey, Look! Tile

Just do it do it do it NOW!

– Mr. Burns

On the FIFTH of JANUARY, I posted this photo on our Facebook page:


It was a happy day.

I then learned that the shower door was taller than the top row of tile, so I took a mental health break from tiling. Upon return, I ripped off the existing bullnose, then vacillated between just going up a couple more rows or TILING EVERYTHING. I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, so everything it was.

The drywall above the cement board had been primed by my gallant father. When I pried away the bullnose, I noticed that some of the primer came with it. I was concerned about the ceiling tiles adhering firmly to the drywall, so in an overkill move, I sanded the primer off the shower ceiling, then coated the surface with Peel Stop I had on hand.


Next thing was to get to the ceiling by tiling up the remaining vertical walls. Only one of the walls was perpendicular to the roofline. Knowing from sad experience that I cannot estimate, trace, or even measure an angle with any accuracy, I asked the Kev to cut a jig that would account for the roofline. Which he did.


Measure the desired angle, then cut that same angle into the wood, then finish the notch by cutting at a right angle to hold the tile. Says Kevin.

This allowed me to cut tiles by running the jig along the fence with a tile cozied up in it so the tile was cut at the correct angle. It worked so well, it was a shame that the ceiling tiles later butted up against the cuts.


Anyhoo, other than the jig, wall tiling was…wall tiling. I just continued the pattern on up. What I was concerned about was tiling the ceiling, because a tile to the head is no fun. I read up on it, and the recurring advice was to prevent air getting between the tile and the ceiling. This struck me as a bit like saying the way to fly is to miss the floor.

Jimmy Cagney ("you dirty rat!"), missing the floor

Jimmy Cagney (“you dirty rat!”), missing the floor

The Floor Elf and others recommend this technique for ceiling tiles.

  1. Put mortar on the ceiling and comb it.
  2. Put mortar on the tile and comb it, then trace a spiral or bullseye pattern in the tile mortar from the middle out.
  3. Stick the tile on the ceiling mortar and press until all the air hisses out from behind the tile, basically suctioning the tile onto the ceiling.
  4. Adjust as needed.

So that’s what I did. But I could not get the air to hiss out. Maybe I’m losing my hearing. But I did find that these not-very-big and not-very-heavy ceramic tiles seemed to be pretty well suctioned without hissing when the mortar had maximum contact with the ceiling. After the first couple of rows, I started just slathering the backs of the tiles with mortar and applying them directly to the drywall.


Like this, only mortar (via)

I stuck the tiles about a half-inch away from where they were going and pressed out the excess mortar (which went back in the bucket). Then the tile could be floated into place. If a tile was wrong somehow, I could slide a putty knife behind it and twist to break the suction (but it wasn’t easy!). The whole thing dried up very solidly — they seem to be there to stay.


I put the border tile up first to help keep everything on track.

I wouldn’t recommend this technique for bigger or heavier tiles, but for ceramic tiles sized 6×6 or less, it worked well (although it was messy).

Then grout, then:

Hard to get the whole thing, so...

Hard to get the whole thing, so…

...here's the part I couldn't get in.

…here’s the part I couldn’t get in.

So is the tile all done? NO. We will be putting cabinet doors and shelves into the corner behind the shower, so there will be some tiling around that, and on a little sliver of wall at the other end.


But this is done enough (once the grout is sealed) to put in the shower door and actually use the room for its intended purpose.

Posted in Bathroom, Construction, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nice Shower Niche, Part 2

Yes, it has been a while, but I’m back! Part 1 ended with the niche secured flush with the shower wall and (hopefully) waterproofed. Next: tiling!

As discussed in Part 1, I installed the niche once I had the tiles up far enough to confirm how it should be placed to work with the tile pattern.


I used 3×6 subway tiles and 6×6 square tiles. These are plain white tiles from Menards. The available edging tiles included 3×9 bullnose pieces that I used to frame the niche. I kept everything divisible by three to help line everything up. I also had a stack of 9×12 tiles to cut down for the shelves, sides and tops of the niche (that’s one leaning against the back in the picture above).

So I had all that and I was ready to go!

If my measurements were right, then the 4×12 bullnose should span from the last tile course to level with the bottom shelf. First, I cut a piece of the 9×12 tile the size of the bottom shelf and mortared that in place. Then, I cut tiles from the corners of the shelf out 45 degrees. I did that several times, in fact.

trim niche

I continued the tile pattern from outside the nice on the back, but I lined the sides and flat surfaces with continuous pieces cut from the 9×12 tiles.

trim done

Tiling inside the niche is no different from tiling a wall, only there are more corners. I ran the vertical tiles down so that they landed on top of (rather than behind) the horizontal tiles, on the theory that would decrease the possibility of water leakage through the back. I also added a little more mortar to the wall edge of the “shelf” tiles so that water would tend to run out of the niche, rather than puddling at the back — not enough to look un-flat, though.

I’m led to believe that whenever there’s a turn in the tile, that seam should be caulked instead of grouted. Ergo, there were MANY caulk seams in the niche. I had the color-matched caulk for the TEC grout color I used (Standard White), but after it dried, it wasn’t all that great a match. When I was next grouting, I rubbed some grout into the caulk lines, and they came out great. Now, I don’t know if that’s a legit use of grout (or caulk), so I’m not saying you should do that. I’m just saying I did that. And that it worked.


Disregard the grout haze that I didn’t notice until now. I’m not totally thrilled with the top “ceiling” tile. Ideally, the top trim tile would come down further and hide the edge, but I’m not unthrilled enough to rip it out.


Since I am a blogger, I also styled it for you:


Seriously, it’s a shower niche. Styling = shampoo and razors. But I might just stare at it being done for a few days first.

Posted in Bathroom, Construction, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Wiring Level: Acceptable

My work is done. Now to reward myself with a case of wine.

– Helen Lovejoy

I picked up a little steam from finishing the fort, and decided to pick something else achievable: closing out the electrical permit. The electrical has been up and running for a while, but to get the permit closed, we need a final inspection. That meant buttoning up the remaining items in hopes of a one-stop approval.

The punch list included:

  • Closing up junction boxes.
  • Installing outlet plates.
  • Labeling lines and circuits.
  • Installing arc fault breakers.

There were a lot of fiddly things to do, but we thought that was it. And then we had a last-minute panic involving TAMPER RESISTANT RECEPTACLES.


TR receptacle — see how the slots are closed?

I was so excited about making sure that I had the Electrical Code’s arc fault requirement pinned down that I somehow missed this more basic “new” (2008) requirement. All receptacles need to be tamper-resistant.

When I was a kid, I playfully pulled the vacuum cleaner’s plug out of the wall, upon which my mother appeared over me and impressed upon me the importance of resisting the temptation to tamper with an outlet.

That's right, Mom -- in my memory, you are Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony.

In my toddler memory, Mom appears as Pinkie Pie of My Little Pony fame.

Because parents can’t be everywhere all the time, the “resistant” part is now built-in: plastic shutters inside the slots that will only open if both slots are accessed at the same time. The hypothetical child-tamperer would have to work pretty hard to stick something into both slots simultaneously.

A single-implement approach is more traditional.

A single-implement approach is more traditional.

The tamper-resistant receptacles were about $1.25 apiece at Menards, compared to $0.39 for un-tamper-resistant (tamper receptive?) outlets. That they have in huge bins at eye level. Even though they can only be used residentially above five feet or behind large appliances. And most DIY store customers are homeowners.


Maybe the margin on obsolete receptacles is high? And big box stores don’t care if they meet code or not? Mostly the latter, I suspect.

There’s only so far you can trust a place selling you something. After all, some tile guy at Menards recently suggested we use Liquid Nails for ceramic tile installation. Compelling idea, but completely goofy. WHAT’S THE MARGIN ON LIQUID NAILS, MENARDS?

[Having said all that, commenter Marie noted below that some cities might still be on the prior version of the code or allow like-for-like swaps. Both may well be true, as well as the fact that Marie is more charitable than I am.]

But I digress (in all-caps). Back on topic, this requirement also includes GFCI outlets, which are rather more than $1.25 each.


“TR”: tamper resistant; “WR”: weather resistant (likely just coincidentally, owing to the holes being covered with plastic)

All told, we had three GFCIs and over 20 regular receptacles to change out. When we chatted with the inspector about the switch, he said, “Yeah, and there are a LOT of outlets up here!” Dude. I know.

Anyway, they are all in now, and we passed the inspection. WOOOO! What I haven’t passed is the upper-body-strength test for plugging in my hair dryer.

Posted in Construction, Electrical | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Arc de Harumph

Nothing to see here, just kneeling in front of the electric outlet appreciating Edison’s miracle!

– Homer Simpson

Remember the remodel? With the homeowner electrical permit? Well, the updated electrical code requires arc-fault protection, which is different from the more familiar ground-fault protection. Ground-fault interrupters deal with electricity that runs to an unintended ground, like someone standing in a puddle wielding a hair dryer.

GFCI outlet (sometimes called a GFI). The "test" and "reset" buttons are in the middle.

Ground fault interrupting receptacle

Usually, arc faults are less immediately freaky. They occur when current jumps between conductors. For instance, a wire nut might not be on tightly enough, so the current arcs between the wires a tiny distance. Arcs are hot (duh) and can start fires, but they don’t automatically trip a regular breaker. To comply with the electrical code, we needed to install an arc-fault circuit breaker on every new and modified circuit.


Siemens AFCI breaker


For a standard circuit, the hot/black wire from the line attaches to the breaker, while the neutral/white wire and the ground go to the neutral bus and ground bar respectively. (Stop reading if this is news to you!) The arc-fault interrupting breaker is connected to both the hot wire and the neutral wire. Then, a curly white wire extends from the breaker to the neutral bus. Dad taught me to keep panel wires neat, and the curliness is a little untidy, but that’s incidental.


Despite unsightly curliness, most of the circuits in question worked fine with the new breakers. But on the last modified circuit:


Installed. Turned on. Flipped. Reset. Flipped. Reset. Flipped. In denial, I bought a replacement breaker. Same result. So…there was an arc fault.

Finding and fixing the fault involves checking every connection on the circuit. Assuming there wasn’t a hole in the wiring somewhere (from a stray nail, for instance), there were 26 potential spots to check.

Daunting list

Daunting list

But it wasn’t that bad once we thought about it strategically.

  • Divide and Conquer:  If the circuit branches at a junction box, disconnect everything and then try each sub-branch separately. If one section doesn’t trip the breaker after you try everything under load, then that part’s ok. We eliminated about 80% of the connections this way.
  • Likely Suspects: If the fault is in the connections, then it’s probably in a wire nut rather than at a switch or receptacle. Switches and receptacles should have screwed-down connections, so prioritize checking junction boxes, light fixtures, and pigtails. Make sure that each connection is solid and that the wire nut is the right size.
They look so innocent.

One size doesn’t fit all.

  • Even More Likely Suspects: If you are still reading despite my many disclaimers, you know that many light fixtures have small-gauge stranded wires. They tend to go all frayed when connected with a single larger wire with a wire nut. To combat the problem, strip the fixture wire so it’s a little longer than the ends on the solid wire, then line the insulation up and spin the wires together with pliers before applying the wire nut.

This would have worked better with 14-gauge solid wire instead of 12-gauge. With 14-gauge, you can spin both wires for more of a barber-pole effect. Either way, make the stranded wire a bit longer to really wrap the solid wire for a good connection.

We found two problems. A junction box (pre-existing) had a loose wire nut, and a sconce light (installed by me) had a sub-par connection involving stranded wire. These worked fine with a regular breaker, which doesn’t sense these small faults.

I don't judge.

“I don’t judge.”

The hunt was time-consuming, but doable (especially working together). If checking connections hadn’t worked, though, we would have called an electrician in a hot second (pun!). We don’t have the equipment or knowledge (or, in my case, the fortitude) to isolate an arc fault inside the wall.

Next: closing out the electrical permit!

Posted in D'oh!, Electrical | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Fort D’oh

All I’m gonna use this bed for is sleeping, eating, and maybe building a little fort!

– Homer

In the interest of getting one thing completely done, we made a fort (UK: den) in the attic. We decided to make the attic area that contains the air conditioning handler into a dedicated fort area (using the non-AC part of the space, obviously). This space is accessed through a hatch in the back of our new closet. Here’s the pre-fort stage:

You know the Golden Goose? My dad has a Carpet Tile Goose.

You know the Golden Goose? My dad has a Carpet Tile Goose.

Here’s the inspiration photo:

Inspiration photo (via)

And here’s what we came up with:


I lined the plywood ceiling with reflective bubble-style insulation sheets because they (a) reflect the string lights and (b) prevent head bumps. To avoid other injuries, the Tick is standing guard.


I seeded the place with all sorts of random stuff from around the house–games, books, poster-frame-made-into-a-chalkboard, baseball mitts, a hard hat. And an art gallery.


In the middle, there’s a place to snuggle in and read or nap.


Right now, I’ve just got a blanket tacked up across the entrance, but eventually, I want to do some sort of hidden bookcase-door. I can’t justify taking enough time out to do that right now, but someday, it will be all Narnia up in here.


I’m perfectly aware that focusing on the fort steals time from finishing the larger project, but it was so gratifying when the nephews–13 and 6–both said, “OOOOOOOOH!” when they crawled in there. Sometimes, you just gotta do something on the house for funsies.

Posted in American vs English, Before & After, Family | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Chain Chain Chaaaaaain

Last time I checked, this wasn’t Worldwide Wrestling, and I checked five minutes ago.

– Chazz Busby

After I became embittered over tiles, I started working on the master closet. I had purchased a three-light fixture on clearance for it, but I wasn’t happy with how the light worked in there. I found something less obtrusive and took down the original.


Managed to get primer all over it before removal

Our basement is unfinished and dark, so I thought, hey, how about sticking this bright light down there? The only issue is that most of the lights in the basement are on pull-chains and this is not a pull-chain light. Fortunately, that’s an easy fix.

1. Buy one of these.

Garn http://www.amazon.com/Gardner-Bender-GSW-31-Plated-Switches/dp/B000BVXWCQ/ref=pd_sim_60_4?ie=UTF8&dpID=419A83en4hL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR160%2C160_&refRID=0775EWNEW9HP44G7PBY6

Gardner Bender Pull Chain Switch (or Westinghouse or another brand, about $4 and typically available in nickel or brass at your big box store or online)

2. Drill a hole through the ceiling canopy.

Pick a spot away from the wiring and the mounting holes and make sure there’s enough clearance inside the canopy for the switch.


Switch spot selected

Choose a drill bit just a tiny bit larger than the threaded nipple that the chain comes through. The packaging should give that size, or you can just unscrew the metal nut and measure it. Ours was 13/32″ and I used a 7/16″ drill. File off any burrs.

3. Stick the threaded nipple through the hole, then screw on the nut to hold it in place.


Left, the threaded nipple stuck through the canopy; right, with the nut.

4. Wire the hot (black) wire through the switch as shown in the instructions.

Use a small enough wire nut to secure these two small-gauge wires.


The “load” is the fixture side and the “line” is the power.

Wiring it up

Wiring it up

5. Hang the fixture.

With THE CIRCUIT OFF, get a stepladder and install it as normal (make sure you know how to do that), with the hot wire now the wire from the switch. I just used regular nuts to hold up the fixture from a cross-bar attached to the box. If you are installing someplace nicer than our basement, find bolts the right length for using decorative cap nuts. If I ever find the ones that came with this fixture, I might switch out the bolts.

When I did this part, I was wearing a full-length flannel nightgown of the Laura-Ingalls-was-not-sexy variety. It’s super-comfy for winter evenings.

Same idea, but not as sexy as this one from L.L. Bean

Same idea, but not as sexy as this one from L.L. Bean.

As I finished the job, unbeknownst to me, the front of my voluminous and highly tear-resistant gown draped over the top of the stepladder. When I reached the floor, I found myself alarmingly entangled with the thing.

Bewildered, I sought clarification. “BWAKK?!” I inquired of no one in particular. I tried to back away from the stepladder, which toppled painfully against my shins but insisted on staying under my skirt while I staggered about.


Thrown off balance but maintaining a continuous yowl, I stepped onto a pile of lumber, which slid out from under me. I just managed to kick the stepladder away to cope with this new challenge.

My brain said, “It appears this nightgown is inappropriate attire for ladder work.”


I never did fall completely over, but I am a bit hoarse. The nightgown was unharmed.

Here it is...? Super glamorous basement light!

Super glamorous basement light (it’s level, just doesn’t look it.)

You’re probably not installing a pull-chain light anywhere glamorous. I didn’t! But it makes a huge difference to the visibility of our paint shelves.

I can see! That I need to organize these shelves!

Perhaps the darkness was preferable.

Anyway, that’s how to add a pull chain to a hard-wired ceiling light fixture, and what not to wear while doing it.

Posted in D'oh!, Electrical | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Insulation v. Winter

Colin: And if we just kept our thermostats at 68 in the winter…
Lisa: …we’d be free from our dependency on foreign oil in 17 years!

A couple of years back, we ordered an energy audit on the house (complete with blower test). The test showed that the house was tighter than many modern houses (yay, 1920s construction!), but there was much room for improvement. The results indicated that our exterior doors were leaky, so we replaced them, front and back, and caulked some corners and gaps. The test also said that we should add much more insulation upstairs. We didn’t want to spend a ton on insulation if we were just going to tear it out for a remodel a year or two later, so we just threw down another layer of fiberglass in the attic. That did make the house cozier, but it wasn’t a serious solution.

Closed cell spray foam insulation? That’s a serious solution.

Reminds me of snowdrifts only, you know, upside-down.

Foam in process

After spraying, our builder also added one-inch rigid foam between the rafters and the sheetrock to avoid heat transmission through the rafters. Heat gets through solid wood more slowly but can still cause ice dams.

Can you spot the rafters?

Can you spot the rafters?

Despite our El Nino winter (milder than usual), we’ve had some frigid stretches (down to -14F/-25C), and I’m loving this insulation.

Thing to Love #1: The ground floor is warmer. We knew we were losing heat through the top of the house before, but we overestimated the insulating power of an entire half-story above the main living area. In past winters, I’ve rushed to finish the window insulation on the first really cold day as it became uncomfortable inside. With less heat loss from above, the house isn’t drawing as much cold air through the older windows. I didn’t even do plastic this year (although it’s still a good idea).


We’re as warm and snuggly as Mayya was on Christmas, but much happier.

Thing to Love #2: Our energy bills are lower. We receive a monthly email from the power company to congratulate or shame us on our energy consumption. We’re usually low-average. Since winter started, we’re suddenly one of the “efficient neighbors” and our bills are noticeably smaller. It’s going to take a ridiculous time to break even, but (a) that wasn’t the point and (b) it’s nice to see an actual effect.

Actually, BETTER than efficient neighbors

Actually, 1% better than efficient neighbors

It’s hard to say how far down the bills are in real terms are because last winter was colder; this season would have been cheaper in any event. But as far as I can estimate, we’re down about 10 to 15%.

Thing to Love #3: We need less heat upstairs. The remodel floor plan involved moving a radiator because its original location was going to be inside a closet.

new plan

After BTU calculations, we determined a smaller radiator would work, so we disconnected the old one and capped the lines pending that purchase. But we’ve never needed it. The original radiator in the reading room and the heat captured from the ground floor keep it plenty warm up there. We’ll probably put in a radiator at some point–after we install the bedroom door, we’ll get less shared heat from the reading room–but there’s really no rush.

Thing to Love #4: Our attic storage is warm! When we formerly stored items out in the attic space, it was Really Very Cold out there. And it was Really Very Hot in the summer. Because we did a complete cold roof, the insulation covers the whole roof deck, so the storage space is insulated the same as the living areas (although the ceiling is plywood, not sheetrock).

Temperate storage is terrific. We take the time to put things away properly because we’re not worried about eminent frostbite or heatstroke, and we also make better use of the space overall. It’s so comfy up there, we’re even making a fort for the nephews.

Inspiration photo (via)

Inspiration photo (via)

It might really be a fort for me, in truth (update: here it is).

Thing to Love #5: No ice dams! Until a warm spell this week, we were one of the few local houses with snow mostly on the roof in snow form.


This was Reason One for the insulation, so hurrah!

Posted in Construction, Energy, Siding & Roof | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Course of Tiled Walls Never Did Run Smooth

Marge: I have an idea.
Homer: What? What’s your idea?
Marge: When my father was first trying to catch my mother’s eye, he sent her a box of candy with his photo in it. After that, she never forgot him.
Homer: That’s all well and good, but it’s not really YOUR idea, is it now?

A while back, I ran across this image from a vintage Vitrolite ad, and I fixated on the wall tile pattern.


See more vintage ad images at Antique Home Style

I liked how it was both a staggered and a straight pattern at the same time, and how I hadn’t seen it on Pinterest. MINE, ALL MINE!!!!

Initially, I tried to match the scale of the tiles in the picture. We’re using plain white tiles from Menards, so I picked up a box of 9 x 12″ tiles and one of 4 x 12″ subways (in the absence of 3 x 12 tile, which looked like it would match the image more closely). I ended up taking it all back because:

  1. Despite all new walls, large-format tiles will tend to exaggerate anything not square or perfectly flat.
  2. More fundamentally, the 4 x 12 tiles were actually about 4.25 x 12.75 inches, while the 9 x 12 tiles were pretty much 9 x 12. They wouldn’t line up.

Oh, woe! I dragged my depressed self around the tile section in hopes of a new solution. I found one, and all I had to do was dial down my expectations. I could still follow the same basic pattern — row of large tiles, offset row of subway tiles, etc. — if I used square tiles for the “large” row. Reinvigorated, I bought out the store’s entire stock of white 6 x 6″ and 3 x 6″ tiles.

We wanted to have a contrasting liner tile, and had dark green in mind. I was surprised at the cost of many liner tile options. I may be super-cheap, but roughly a buck an inch seems like too much for a silly accent tile. Intent on cheapness, I ran to ebay and bought vintage dark green liner tile: under $40 for enough to go around the whole room.

The floor is so handy for everything.

Pattern mocked up on the floor

The liner tile is cool. It’s got a slight bevel and I like the color.


Darker green in person; closer to the mock-up above

It’s new old stock 1950s plastic tile, and came in its original box with most of the tiles still wrapped in bundles.

plastic wall tile

PLASTIC?! Well, yeah, but my thought was it would look just like ceramic tile when installed. The problem: it’s practically flat compared to ceramic tile. We would have to have furred out under the plastic tile somehow to make it look right. Hurrah, I’m going to have to re-sell it!

Instead, I ordered Interceramic liner tile from Lowes in the right color (and material).

I mean, it's not $40 for the whole room, but come on.

It’s not $40 for the whole room, but come on.

It’s the right thickness and it’s a nice (darker than shown) green, so on the wall it went. I finished above the liner tile with white 6-inch bullnose.

Here’s my stolen tile pattern in process.


I’m not the best tiler the world has ever seen, but I am using white grout, which is going to blend in and minimize any amateur effect.

Some grouting, some painting

Some grouting, some painting

Here’s one with the liner tile in place.


What I like about this pattern is that it is both straight and offset, it’s unusual but not weird, and it looks period-appropriate. If you want to try this pattern, here are my tips:

  • Make sure that your tiles’ actual size works for the pattern. The nominal size (what is says on the package) might not be the real size. You also need to allow for grout lines (not a problem if the tile sizes work and you use consistent spacing).
  • Use a long level to make sure that the horizontal and verticals are all lining up row after row. This pattern isn’t hard to do, but the look relies on the tiles lining up.
  • Plan so tiles at edges and corners aren’t tiny slivers. Your walls might not be perfectly square, but if you have more to work with, it won’t be as obvious if you have to taper a bit to keep things straight.

I thought I had the tiling done except for a Big Grouting Weekend when Kev reminded me that the shower door is six foot tall.

Aqua Ultra Hinge Shower Door -- we got ours from Wayfair, and it's well worth signing up for their sale emails and lying in wait for the best price.

Aqua Ultra Hinge Shower Door — we got ours from Wayfair, and it’s well worth signing up for their sale emails and lying in wait for the best price.

The tile doesn’t go up to six feet around the shower, and it’s going to look dumb if the shower door is taller than the tile. Here’s where the door mounting channel will be:


Channel for door will be on the right edge.

Currently, the channel would rise past the tile, meaning there would be a tile-depth gap for the last few inches. It just seems like the gap is going to make the door look shoehorned in. Right? HEY, I HAVE REAL PROBLEMS TOO, I JUST DON’T BLOG ABOUT THEM!

Is it worth ripping off bullnose and bringing the shower tile higher? Instead of making a decision, I stopped working on the bathroom and started on the closet. If I let the issue roll around in my head, I’ll reach a decision. I will probably redo it, but I might be convinced otherwise. Kev’s certainly trying.

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Posted in Bathroom, D'oh!, Decor, Salvage, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment