Working downstairs (Beach House #73)

March 18th, 2018

Because the upper half of the house is coming so close to completion, it’s freeing me up to start working in other areas. I’ve still got to finish up the basement and the back porch before I can consider my job close to done.

Remember how the basement used to look? It was a dungeon that stank of mold. It was really hard to breathe in there. I didn’t permit the girls to go in further than just inside the door, even though it was the only cool place to rest in August.


Doesn’t look all that bad, but… That white door on the left was just propped there to hide a gaping hole.


This is after we got a new header and sill plate put in. To take this photo I was actually standing on top of a giant pile of trash that we removed from in there.

So because of the way the refinancing process works, I’m going to have to temporarily have the laundry room down in the basement instead of the back porch. I’m supposed to build one of the cleanest rooms of the house…. from this??


Challenge accepted. (Reluctantly).

First: to close off the furnace and water heater area to make the basement less deep and dark.


The wall went in very easily! I got it all the way from loose lumber to drywalled in one day.


This cuts the basement depth by about 1/3 and lets the natural light from the window bounce around more easily. Makes it seem brighter even with one less lightbulb.


I still haven’t bought a door to cover up the gaping hole on the left. But I did cut down the only non-smashed-up door remaining from upstairs to become the utilities door.

But because neither the slab nor the joists above it are level – and of course not even parallel with each other, that would be too easy! – I had to plane down every single corner of the door individually, turning it into a sort wonky not-quite-parallelogram.


All that work, and it turns out I miscalculated the upper left-hand corner and it looks crooked! GRRRR! I mean, I know it is all crooked, but the goal was to make it look like it wasn’t by following what was there exactingly. That wonky top is going to bother me forever!

I finally got to install the big ole 60″ shelf unit that I’ve been holding onto for like 8 months now. I think I rescued it from the kitchen originally? It’ll make a nice ledge for laundry soaps, etc. and I love keeping stuff out of the dump.

The paint on the walls is called Drylok and it’s actually a moisture barrier. It should help keep the basement smelling nice and clean. I’m also planning to mount that dehumidifier next to the shelf and have it drain down into the washer drain. I still have to paint the whole wall behind where I was standing to take that photo above, though, and man do I hate painting cinderblock.

Unfortunately the three still-in-good-shape-enough-to-be-refinished kitchen cabinets are covered in mold and will be thrown out after all. I suspect the mold was there from before, since it’s only on their backs and nowhere else, and not on anything else either, but it’s certainly possible that it’s from their unexpectedly long stint in the unfinished basement. In any case they’ve got to go – I’m not doing all this work only to have it STILL smell like mold when I’m done!

There’s a ton of work left to be done, but this is a pretty good start.

Working upstairs (Beach House #72)

March 16th, 2018

The upper half of the house is getting so close to being finished. I got the vanity cabinets installed yesterday, and the recycled medicine cabinets screwed in.



And it’s been painted, for the most part! Still haven’t done the closets though, and there’s a lot of edging yet to do.


I chose this sort of warm, light-grey paint that I’d used and loved in our own house, but up on these walls it’s looking a bit more beigey. :(


Doors are in too, and just waiting on final trim.


I’ve got to hang the giant sliding door to the TV room, which you can see to the right in the photo above. First I have to change up the framing a bit, as the opening is a bit too tall. Then I need to case it in drywall and paint it, since I won’t be able to once the door is hung.

I still need to case the closet openings so I can hang the closet doors, and the next huge task is refinishing the floors. Then all the baseboards and window trim and we are practically finished! UPstairs, at least…

Cabinets in! (Beach house #71)

March 11th, 2018

Huh, post #71. I wonder if I’ll get the house finished before post #100? I’m going to close my eyes and cross my fingers and wish for yes.

Meanwhile, cabinets!


We worked Saturday afternoon and got all the wall cabinets in. The color comes pretty close to matching the beams, like I’d hoped.

Ta da!


We were very, very proud of ourselves. (The beams are not really this dark. I don’t know why they look that way in photos.)

Then… then I realized I’d put in a 15″ right in the middle where the 18″ was supposed to go. So I had to take the last three down, move them over, switch out the weenie one, and put them back up. And then I realized that I’d put them all up 6″ too far left and I had to take them all down – every single one – and put them up again. By myself.

Got it all done in one day though. And I bet I have pretty strong arms now because they were quivering by the end of the day.

The bottom cabinets took me another few days, not because cabinets are difficult to install – they aren’t, as long as you don’t make stupid mistakes like I did – but because I could not figure out the wonky floors. No matter what I did, how much I shimmed, they were always off in one direction or other. I ended up taking my level and using it to draw a line from one side of the kitchen to the other, where it ended up hovering a good 5/8″ above the tops of the base cabinets I had already installed.

So I took them all apart again and got a stud and started ripping 5/8″ strips off it, knowing I’d have to raise the floor just like I had to in the TV room. Then something occured to me…

and I used my laser level.

And the cabinets had been perfect to begin with.

My level was totally off the entire time. The level itself is aluminum, but the bubble part is attached with screws… which had come loose.

So, I had to go put the cabinets all back together again which involved much swearing…


But I got them all in just in time for the countertop templater to come and make his template.

Of course, I’d forgotten to buy a kitchen sink first though so now I need to remember to fax the model number to them before they can actually install the dang counter!

So embarrassing, the whole thing. So glad it’s done. Though it’s really cool to see it come to life! A real, honest to goodness kitchen.

Electrical trim-out is scheduled for next week, so we’ll have lights too! (As long as I can remember to buy brackets for all the second-hand lights that I bought from Second Chance. One of the electricians pointed out that they don’t actually have anything with which to attach them to the boxes…. doh!)

Soapstone, harbinger of cabinets (Beach house #70)

March 6th, 2018

I ordered countertops!

I have to admit, I don’t actually have cabinets yet. Or rather, I have them… all clustered together in a forlorn huddle in corner of the old kitchen. Still in boxes. Most decidedly not hung and arranged on the walls.

The plan is to get them up quick this weekend before the templaters get here next week. What could possibly go wrong?

I found these Chesney Rouge cabinets at a local wholesale place. I had been about to buy white cabinets, but then these just happened to be the exact warm reddish brown hue of the ceiling beams and the floors. Plus, they are all-wood frames and soft-close doors but at a wholesale price… perfect!

Then to Home Depot for countertops, which turned out to be about 3x as expensive as I’d thought and totally gobbled up all the savings from the cabinets. Sigh.

I was considering this:


or this:


or even these, real (cheapest) granite on a clearance sale:

IMG_20180224_160429 IMG_20180224_160510

But even though it was only a very small bit more in price, I decided against granite because of the maintenance involved. And the potential for stains (pretty sure we can’t tell renters not to drink red wine or orange juice.)

Finally I decided on this one:


I adore soapstone, and this is a fair approximation (in person). It’s actually laminate, of course – real soapstone is perhaps the very worst possible choice for a countertop that will get some real use. So buttery, though. So smooth. Mmm.

Anyway. This one lacks butteriness but does sport a nice soft greige never before seen in nature. It’ll go nicely with the wall color and the warm cabinets, while the pattern won’t compete with the marble tiles I found for the backsplash (I hope). It wasn’t the cheapest laminate, though still cheaper than the very cheapest granite or Corian (and let’s not even mention quartz, that lately-come darling of the HGTV gurus.)

Templaters come on Friday, installation a couple weeks after that. Cross your fingers that I can actually get this project completed on time!


99% tile (Beach house #69)

March 4th, 2018

So close! Only the shower curb left to do. I’d have gotten it finished today if I hadn’t had to stop twice during the day and make two separately 40 minute round trips – one for a single extra box of tile and one for a single extra bag of LASH clips. I hate so muuuuuuuuuch when that happens.

GAAAAAH. I get so focused. It’s ridiculously hard to tear myself away while something is still not quite finished. But the school bus delays its schedule for no man, and I should probably make an effort not to make my kids stand out shivering in the cold just because I wanted to fit a few more tiles. Tempting though it may be.


So clooooooooooose! Just the side bottom tub tiles to do!


I am a big fan of the running bond (brick) pattern. But I spent way too long trying to figure out a perfect, elegant way of lining up the tiles so that both the toilet flange and the air vent would end up on tile seams, which would mean I could avoid plunge cuts, while lining everything else up perfectly too… I failed.

I will never be able to not stare loathingly at that one thin little strip in the front. Oops.

Things are not all bad though. Carlos had given me anxiety attacks by saying that the 13×13 tile would look stupid on the shower walls. (My idea had been to have less grout to clean. I HATE CLEANING GROUT.)

I think it looks fantastic.



Starting to tile! (Beach House #68)

March 2nd, 2018

So, I was supposed to have been done with tiling last week. In order to stay on schedule  for refinancing in mid-April, by when I want to have EVERYTHING TOTALLY FINISHED and already rented. Needless to say, things always take longer than I think they will.


Preparation took about half the time. It is so important to get the bottom-most row absolutely frickin’ perfectly level. And even if you do, odds are you’ll still find yourself inserting shims here and there as you climb the wall anyway. Cuz you want the seams to all line up, and stuff.


Those yellow clips are the LASH tile leveling system. They work pretty darn good – they pull adjacent tiles into the same plane so the faces are nice and flat with minimal “lippage”. I’m going to use them for everything from now on. Yes, they’re pricy – I think I bought 4 or 5 bags of clips for these two bathrooms, at $9 each – but totally worth it.

Of course if you have straighter walls, or you do a better (any?) job of leveling and shimming your studs before you actually install the cement board, you’d probably have less of a problem than I did. Ahem.


Getting close… only a few tiles left…

From all the abrasive thinset, and from wrestling stuck sharp tile edges for the past five days, my fingers feel like they have fire blisters on the tip of every single one.

At least Josh and the girls are helping me start the painting (what I was REALLY supposed to have been doing this week). I’d put a picture up, but one of the littles decided to do their painting with no pants on. Perhaps not a photo for the Christmas letter, then.


Oh yeah glamor shot (Beach house #64b)

March 1st, 2018

Forgot to throw in a picture of the finished hardwoods in the new TV room. This isn’t exactly a “glamor” shot by any means, but at least you can kinda see the whole floor. Kinda. Also, no tools.


Yay, room with wood floors, ta-da.

Since this room is currently packed full of boxes containing twenty-odd cabinets waiting to be hung, I doubt I’ll see these lovely floors again for quite a while.

Waterproofed – adventures in rubber paint (Beach house #67)

February 28th, 2018

I was so confused for so long when people would talk about a “waterproof membrane.” I thought it was some kind of plastic sheeting or something until I realized it was painted on. How cool is that? It’s like this rubber/plastic paint. It goes on like normal with brush and roller, but it’s thick as peanut butter.

Every brand has their own color. I went with Lowe’s.


It’s yellow. Like a raincoat. I like it.

I also bought fiberglass mesh tape – which, for extra confusion, is also called waterproofing membrane.

 That got smooshed with nice sticky layers of paint on both sides and carefully pushed into all the corners and edges, and even along where the tub/shower curb meet the floor, and especially in all the corners of the shampoo niches.

Then two layers of the rubber paint membrane, one applied horizontally and one vertically, with plenty of time to cure in between coats, and voila!


A rubber ducky shower.

I thought it looked kind of thin until later when I had to try to change part of it and it was really hard to cut with a boxcutter. It was like a shell of hard plastic. I was a bit skeptical before but I’m a believer now.


Showers up! (Beach house #66)

February 21st, 2018

I finished the shower and bath structures!

The Durock was pretty easy. Anything I couldn’t cut with a boxcutter came out easily with a sawzall.


You can’t puncture the PVC liner with screws, so you can’t use Durock on the shower curb. You have to build it out of metal lathe and mortar instead. I beat it into shape first between a few studs first so that the bends would be crisp – and beat a couple of my fingertips too.

Blood, sweat, and tears, I’m telling you. The rehabber’s trifecta.

I also got the durock on the floors mortared down with thinset and screwed every 8-10 inches. So those will be ready to tile pretty soon.

The hardest part was the shower pan. I knew it would be – I’ve probably watched just about all the Youtube tutorials.

First I had to get a level all the way around, with a minimum thickness of 2-3 inches – and then adjust the drain to the exact height that would give the pan the right amount of slope. Sounds easy, but it has to be just perfect.


Oh yeah, I got my first layer of mortar on the curb too. It came out pretty nice and square. It takes a different kind of mortar than the thinset or the pan mortar.

My shower pan came out rougher than the ones I saw on Youtube, or maybe that’s a function of seeing mine up close and touching it vs. seeing it on a video the size of a cell phone. The slope is good though, and that’s what’s important.


It is funny how it looks so flat in this photo. In real life there is a decided slope to it, all nice and neat down towards the drain,especially on the shortest sides. Up close it certainly doesn’t look as beautiful or smooth as the ones in the tutorials. I’m not too worried though. It’ll all get smoothed over with thinset. And in any case, as long as water runs downhill it can’t be too bad, right?

The drain is up from the surface by about 1/16″ less than the thickness of the tile I’m going to use for the floor. The idea being, of course, that it rests lower than the tiles so the water can flow into it.

I waited overnight for the pan to harden enough to walk on, then spent today covering all the seams with fiberglass mesh – much like drywall mesh tape but a different formulation to withstand concrete’s alkalinity – with thinset. That was actually pretty enjoyable once I got the hang of it.


I decided to cut a shower niche into the bathtub wall as well.


Well technically, I decided to go back and excavate the shower niche that I’d framed out, that Carlos had Durocked over (he did the bathtub walls). It was tempting to leave it hidden – easier, faster, and cheaper to tile! – but personally, I hate it when there’s nowhere to put all the shampoo bottles in bathtubs. I’ve never really understood why there are usually niches in showers but not in baths.

Tomorrow the newly thinsetted seams, edges, corners, etc. will be dry enough for me to cover with a waterproof fiberglass fabric and waterproofing “liquid membrane” (goopy, paintable silicone-ish stuff). A few days after that, the shower pan should be dry enough for me to waterproof it and everything else, too, and then I can start actual tiling!

Rocking on (Beach house #65)

February 18th, 2018

I got to play with Durock cement board a bit today. It was pretty rewarding actually – not difficult, I didn’t make any bad cuts, and everything fit into place nice and neat. Not bad for a first time ever.


By the end of the week (my new deadline for tile prep), I need to have those boards cemented down with Thinset and screwed down with the special cement screws I bought.

I even got to start rocking in the shower, the very last part that needs to be done!


I wasted some time re-framing the shower niche after I realized that if I raised the top by just a couple inches, taking into account the thickness of the cement board and the tiles themselves and the cool marble threshold I want to use as a lip/ledge on the bottom, I should be able to avoid cutting any awkward rectangles out of the surrounding 12×12 tiles. (At least, I hope I measured that right.) It looks really tall in the photo but it’ll be just a standard 12×24 when finished.

My plan is to have the cement boards up and taped tomorrow, and the shower pan poured by Friday or Saturday. If I do then I’m on schedule to start tiling next week, and painting the week after that!