Finishing Up the Bathroom

There were a few more tasks to finish the bathroom remodel. The contractor and his helper came one more time to complete the job. The largest project was the installation of the solar tube in the ceiling. He finished the rest of the tube in the attic having already installed the outside skylight. Then he cut the hole in the ceiling for the interior trim.

I could not believe the difference the solar tube made in the bathroom. It positively glows.

Glowing solar tube
Glowing solar tube

It is so bright it feels like the lights are on in the bathroom. What a great way to keep from having to turn them on. It certainly counteracts the dark tile. Even at night there is a bit of a glow through the tube.

Nighttime glow
Nighttime glow

One more major job was replacing the threshold now that the door was wider. Luckily I had saved some bamboo from repairing the steps so I had some long enough pieces to use. Although they were in bad shape at the edges and had to be planed down and pieced together. The final job was quite nice.

Bamboo threshold
Bamboo threshold

We also had a grab bar that needed to be installed in the tiled bath. That required drilling into the tile and I was glad that it was done with the correct drill bits so that it is sturdy and did not crack the tile.

Grab bar installed
Grab bar installed

The pipe for the tub spout was shortened and they spot soldered the spout to keep it from twisting on the pipe.

After I used the sink I thought a pipe was leaking so they took a look at the faucet and figured out that it was not the pipe connection but the faucet itself. If the lever is pressed too hard when turning it off it leaks from the handle. It probably needs a new cartridge but by being gentle with it we have avoided further leaking for now.

Over the weekend I also installed the towel holders and moose hooks.

Towel Bars
Towel Bars

I had the rustic towel bars that I bought in Arizona at the Restore there.

Moose Hooks
Moose Hooks

The moose hooks were another second hand find. The contractor also attached the rustic toilet paper holder to the side of the vanity.

Rustic toilet paper holder
Rustic toilet paper holder

I washed and hung the double shower curtain. I found this bear-moose-canoe shower curtain at the Goodwill a few years ago. There is a white nylon liner curtain too. These were in the bathroom before the remodel.

Shower curtain
Shower curtain

I am very pleased with the results of this rustic bathroom remodel. I’m going to place a few more decorative items and call it done.

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Shower Niche Light Issues

The niche light was a disaster. It did not go as planned. What I wanted to do and what happened were not the same. I wanted a sleek row of LED lights that were waterproof or damp proof in the shower. The wiring was 120 volt because it was prewired for a strip light. The lights that I ordered, however, did not match the specifications for a shower light so had to be returned and after I researched the problem, I found out I could use a 12 volt LED light strip and driver instead.

120 volt romex wired to switch
120 volt romex wired to switch

We believed that since the wiring was for 120 volt we had to add an electrical box to wire the dimmer/driver. Later my son said we could have used the romex for 12 volt wiring and installed the driver remotely. That was unfortunate news after struggling to install a box large enough for the device in a cutout on top of the niche.
The top of the niche was spaced down with some scrap boards and another piece of Kerdi board to accommodate a dual gang 12 volt electric box.

Top marble installed with gap for electrical box depth
Top marble installed with gap for electrical box depth

At first we planned to use a shallow box but that box frame would not tighten properly in the opening.

Box for LED driver
Box for LED driver
Deeper box installed
Deeper box installed

Then I realized that the waterproof box cover had screw holes at the edges not in the middle like a regular cover. So I had to find a way to attach the cover to the box.

A box extension fit inside the 12 volt box and had bolt holes at each corner where the cover had holes.

Deep box with frame to attach lid
Deep box with frame to attach lid

In order for the bolts to be held in the corners I glued the nuts under the bolt holes. Unfortunately they kept breaking off.

Frame to accept waterproof cover
Frame to accept waterproof cover

Eventually I had to take the frame off and bolt the cover on holding the nuts in place. Then I just friction fit it into the larger box. I placed industrial velcro above the box and on the driver to hold it in but allow it to be removed if necessary and I screwed the orange DC wire box up into the top of the gap in the niche. I had to remove the wiring a couple of times to remove and replace the box extension.

Driver wiring
Driver wiring

Once I got it all together with the cover on and I could not fit the light strip behind the box. I had to slice off part of the cover and take out the whole box to move it over the edge of the hole. While I was cutting the hole inside the tile a little bigger with the multitool I rested it on the niche and of course knocked it off with my elbow and scratched the new tub!

Tub bottom scratches
Tub bottom scratches

I was very angry at myself for that accident. I should have covered the tub with cardboard or a blanket while I was working. I have ordered some Porce-a-fix in Bootz white to repair the scratches. This product was recommended by the contractor.

The cut for the cover was rather uneven as the box is not quite straight.

Cut off to fit light strip
Cut off to fit light strip

I used double sided 3M tape to attach the light to the upper tile and held it in place with some extra tile pieces overnight. The next day I snapped on the light strip cover. Thankfully that part was easy.

Niche with electrical cover.
Niche with electrical cover.

The dimmer switch does not have much of a range. It is difficult to tell whether the LED’s are at full light or at the least light.

Lighted niche
Lighted niche

But with the light on the electrical cover is much less noticeable. I’m sure I will ignore it after some time passes, but it is not what I had envisioned.

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Bath Assembly

It took less than a day for the contractor and his helper to assemble the bathroom. But it was not without headaches.

Connecting the vanity
Connecting the vanity

The faucet is a used kitchen faucet I purchased on Craigslist. In my first install the edge of the faucet was a bit too close to the top edge of the sink. So I purchased a sink drain escutcheon to lift the faucet, but it was too tall to fit the nut under the counter and fasten it. I used a dremel tool and cut off wheel to shorten the metal piece and it was still a little too tall so the contractor helped by cutting out a layer of the underside of the counter and getting enough room to fit the washer and nut and tighten the faucet.

Then there was the issue of fitting the drain below the sink. The SINGER decorative bar seemed to be exactly below the drain so in order to get the pipe lined up with the wall he had to loop it in front of the bar.

Sink drain in front of base
Sink drain in front of base

The toilet was reinstalled and the tub spout attached but not completely fitted because they didn’t have the solder and flux to make the connection.

Tub spout too long
Tub spout too long

I had a copper framed mirror that was hanging in the front mud room but it was perfect for the bathroom. So I brought it to the back so it could be hung.

Copper framed mirror
Copper framed mirror

We had to judge how high it should be and I found out that a shorter person can hardly see their head because its a bit too high.

Bathroom assembled
Bathroom assembled

Unfortunately the trim behind the door ended up being crooked. I’m not sure whether the door was crooked or the wall. The door works well though and I’m assuming the trim won’t be noticed.

Door trim is angled.
Door trim is angled.

The crew got this far before leaving for the weekend giving me time to work on the LED light install.

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Bathroom Tiled

This last week the tile in the back bathroom was finished by a contractor. I decided that these jobs are taking me entirely too long. I might have even skipped this remodel if I didn’t have to do it for LEED.
The original tile was on regular drywall and a prerequisite for LEED is that the tub/shower area must be paperless wall board made for wet areas.
I also had plenty of tile for the bathroom from the bulk purchase in 2015. I bought pebble tile for this project from Wayfair. I suppose this was a bit of a gamble but it was the only place I found tile that looked like it matched the tile on the vanity top. It is made of flat marble pebbles.

Pebble tile on vanity top
Pebble tile on vanity top
New pebble tile
New pebble tile

The natural edge was an inspiration I found on Houzz. I also was inspired by my nephew’s professional tile work to use pebble tile in the niche.

Inspiration for natural pebble edge
Inspiration for natural pebble edge

Since the field tile in the other two bathrooms is the same tile I asked for a diagonal install on the walls and squared on the floor. This is the opposite of the family room bath that has a diagonal floor and square shower.

Tile Progress
Tile Progress

After a couple of days the field tile was finished except for the area by the wider door. The back of the niche even had the pebble tile installed.

Field tile installed with niche
Field tile installed with niche

And the diagonal herringbone floor inset was also laid.

Diagonal herringbone inset installed
Diagonal herringbone inset installed

The contractor thought we might leave the wall next to the door untiled because the electrical switch cutouts ended past the edge of the field tile, but I didn’t like the idea of having possible splashes from the sink and vanity hit painted drywall instead of tile. So the next day the helper returned to finish the job. He had to install the wider door and tile the wall next to the door.

Wider door
Wider door

The next day was a long one installing the natural edge tile, and grouting everything. He finished the job and went home saving most of the clean up for the next day.

Pebble tile edge at electrical boxes
Pebble tile edge at electrical boxes
Natural pebble tile edge
Natural pebble tile edge

He was sore when he returned with our contractor to install the plumbing trim, toilet and vanity!

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Brick Patterns

In the middle of the bathroom floor I planned for an accent inset. The tile I wanted to use was 3″ x 6″ tumbled marble that I bought at the Restore. I only had one box of the tile but thought it would make a complementary accent to the tumbled tile I used on the family room bathroom.

Decorative tile grouted first
Decorative tile in family room bath

I was in California when the contractor asked me how large I wanted the inset to be. I had left him this drawing which was not to scale.

Rear Bath Floor
Rear Bath Floor

I thought the inset would look long and thin but when I got a photo of the first layout I thought it was too small.

Initial floor inset design
Initial floor inset design

A longer rectangle would have ended under the toilet and that seemed undesirable. Instead I asked for double the width. When I got home I was able to lay out several different brick patterns in the larger inset.

Brick Patterns
Brick Patterns

Once I tried a pattern I took photos. All of the patterns needed the same number of tiles and there are just enough to fit in the wider inset.

Running bond
Running bond
Herringbone
Herringbone
Diagonal running bond
Diagonal running bond
Diagonal herringbone
Diagonal herringbone

I sent all four layouts to my sister and a friend and we all picked the same favorite, the diagonal herringbone. I sent this pattern to the contractor for the inset area.

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Why Shopping is Not Research

My normal practice is to research every part of the house remodel. I usually spend hours on the internet gathering information about the best way to design and complete a project. But every once in a while I forget to research before shopping. It is a bad idea to confuse shopping with research.

I did ask the tiler who did this lighted niche what kind of light they used, but it was the electrician who did it and he didn’t know.

Lighted shower niche
Lighted shower niche

I began by shopping for an LED waterproof dimmable light fixture for our niche. The Amazon product descriptions really led me astray though. I bought a damp proof thin fixture that came labeled dry locations only and a garage vapor proof light that was supposed to be dimmable but came with non-dimmable specifications. Both had to be returned.

Thin LED fixture not damp proof
Thin LED fixture not damp proof
Vapor proof shop light not dimmable
Vapor proof shop light not dimmable

I finally realized I needed to research the way to light a shower niche and came across a video relatively quickly. Normally I would rather read how to do something than watch a video but could not find a text and photo post.
In the video a tiler explained how he lit niches. He recommended cuttable LED strip lighting that was certified IP65 which means waterproof. The strip just has a thin film over the LED’s and the connections to keep out water. I had to find a strip that was both waterproof and dimmable.

An LED driver that is a combination of dimmer and transformer is also required. I purchased one with low 12 volt output because I read it is best not to oversize these. The strip will only be about 3 ft long and will draw less than an amp. Also it is easier to fit the smaller driver in a junction box.

Waterproof dimmable cuttable LED strip
Waterproof dimmable cuttable LED strip
Small dimmer/transformer
Small dimmer/transformer

The LED strip can be shortened at any copper connection and 12 volt wires can be soldered to the copper ends. The wires are then connected to the DC side of the dimmer/transformer.

Cut and solder
Cut and solder

The AC side connects to a Triac dimmer which is just one that works with LED bulbs.

Dimmer and dimmer/transformer (driver)
Dimmer and dimmer/transformer (driver)

The tiler was pleased that he found the strip fit perfectly into the Schluter DECO SG 15mm trim piece. That can be mortared right into the edge of the tile.

Schluter SG Shallow Gap trim piece
Schluter SG Shallow Gap trim piece

I was disappointed to see the trim did not come in the bronze color option and this style was not in stock at the tile or home improvement stores. I was able to order a brushed steel version from Lowes to ship to my home at no extra expense.
But again I had not thoroughly thought through the installation. The issue that came up is that the niche is already wired for 120 volts. And the light strip needs 12 volt wire. Since the walls are attached and waterproofed and the dimmer needs to be accessible, it will have to be installed in a power box in the niche. I can use low voltage for this as the dimmer encloses the 120 volt wiring. The box is a whole other problem to solve. I think we can build it into the top of the niche by using leftover Kerdi board and a 3/4” spacer. The niche is a little taller than I wanted it to be anyway.

Wired niche
Wired niche

I think a low voltage bracket and some 3m tape will hold the small driver.

Low voltage bracket
Low voltage bracket

I also had to special order a white, waterproof cover for the bracket. They normally come in gray. The cover will have to be tiled around it..
It may be that the Schluter edge cannot be mortared in because of the width of the bracket. I also ordered some LED strip channels and they will arrive earlier than the edge piece. We can use whichever works best.

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While I Was Away

It’s unusual to see progress while I’m not even home. But having a contractor seems to have helped. The room was drywalled before I left and sprayed with texture to match the house the next Monday. Then the Kerdi board was installed in the shower walls and niche.

Schluter Kerdi board installed
Schluter Kerdi board installed

Next the Ditra tile underlayment was laid for the floor tile.

Schluter Ditra on floor
Schluter Ditra on floor

And tiling commenced on the floor. I wanted to have an insert of 3 x 6 tumbled marble tile. I got the tile at the Restore for my son’s house but we ended up not using it. I used tumbled marble in the family room bathroom and liked the look so I thought a bit of it here would be a nice feature.

Tile Floor with insert
Tile Floor with insert

The insert is not tiled yet. But the walls are started.

Diagonal tiled walls
Diagonal tiled walls

We are waiting until later in the week for him to return and finish the tile. Then we will be able to finish it. Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus COVID 19 shutdown our visitors will not be able to fly here from Germany and California. It’s very disappointing.

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Hamilton in the Time of Coronavirus

When I left Colorado a week ago there were three confirmed cases of the virus. I went to California to celebrate my sister’s birthday. We had a lovely time mostly with family but she had tickets to take me to see the play Hamilton in downtown San Francisco. We wondered if the trip would be cancelled but it was not. It was a senior bus trip developed by a company called Daytrippers. Little did we know we would be the last audience to see the play before the theater closed due to the virus. Afterwards we went to a private early dinner at an Italian restaurant. Then home on the less than half filled bus.
The performers probably knew it was the last show and they were wonderful. They gave the work their all and I was surprised how much I loved the production.

Rise up
Rise up
King George! Ironic comedy
King George! Ironic comedy
Schuyler sisters - Werk
Schuyler sisters – Werk
True Love Hamilton
True Love “Hamilton” at SHN’s Orpheum Theatre.

Maybe it helped that I had read Ron Chernow’s book but I was able to hear and follow most of the lyrics. I also took advantage of the hearing impaired headphones as I often can’t make out diction and I knew there were many words. But we were so close to the stage that I probably didn’t need them. We had orchestra seating row four.
My travel ignored the threat of the virus except I was healthy and was mostly upgraded to first class because of my Delta status from trips to Germany and the half empty planes.
Passengers sat in every other seat waiting for boarding. And there was a line to wash hands in the restroom. There were several hand sanitizer stations too. People were using them.

Passenger distances
Passenger distances


When I returned to Colorado schools had closed and there were over 130 cases of the virus. So I was concerned that I may have a hand in spreading it. Now I will stay home and work on the house!

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Insulating the Bathroom.

About three quarters of the rear wall of the bathroom is poured concrete below ground and insulated on the outside. I added polyiso to the inside of the concrete wall and replaced the Fiberglas with rock wool. The interior walls of the bathroom were insulated with Fiberglas too and I think that was a good idea so I left it in. But in some places it had to be replaced because it was moldy or was removed to work in the walls.
The next day the drywall people were coming at noon so I only had a short time to finish insulating. First I worked in the attic. Without the ceiling I had much better access to the corner of the attic so I stuffed it with Fiberglas bats. Then I replaced part of the knee wall Fiberglas with rock wool in the area I could reach. I insulated around the new fan with left over pieces of rock wool too. I did not insulate the area where the sun tunnel will be located.
The plastic vapor barrier had been cut for access to the attic. I wanted to use the siga waterproof breathable membrane on the ceiling to replace the plastic. I stapled it around the ceiling over the plastic that was still there and taped the edges and joint with siga tape.

Space for sun tunnel
Space for sun tunnel

I was almost finished when Ben showed up with the denshield for the tub ceiling. He put it up while I was finishing the tape.

Denshield over tub
Denshield over tub

Denshield is a type of paperless drywall required by LEED for a tub/shower surround. The Kerdi board by Schluter also meets the LEED requirement.

Paperless board over tub
Paperless board over tub

I also had to insulate the hot water pipes according to LEED. I was almost out of time before the dry wall guy came. The hot water return is located here by the tub. Notice how the sink water pipes were moved from the floor to the wall behind the vanity.

Insulated hot water pipes
Insulated hot water pipes
Sink hot water pipe
Sink hot water pipe

About noon the drywall man arrived to put up water resistant blue board in the rest of the room and mud and tape it.

Blue board walls
Blue board walls

He finished in a few hours and work was over for the week.

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Prepping the Tile

When we started this gut remodel project the goal was to purchase as many used and recycled products as possible. Besides the LEED mandate to reduce the use of new materials I was looking for items that would lower the overall cost of what was going to be a huge remodel. Except for top of the line energy efficient items almost all of the products in the house are either second hand or seconds or they were purchased for less than full retail through outlets like eBay and Craigslist.
All of the porcelain brown tile I purchased through Craigslist was probably a batch of seconds. I bought a full pallet or about 500 sq ft of tile from a warehouse about 3 miles south of our house. I also bought all the available boxes of matching edge tile. It was 50 cents per square ft.
I didn’t have anywhere to store the tile but outside. So as I’ve used it I’ve had to clean it. When doing the job myself I could clean a box at a time but because a contractor is doing this job I needed it all at once.

Dirty boxes of tile
Dirty boxes of tile

We needed about 180 square ft of tile for the bathroom but with extra for waste we hauled 20 boxes of the 13”x13” tile into the garage. Each box had 11 tiles but one tile in almost every box had cardboard stuck to the bottom tile and I didn’t have time to scrub those. I can do them later. I only came across a few chipped or flawed tiles and also put them aside. About half way through I needed a break so I stopped for a cup of tea. Then dinner was delayed so I could finish. Both my son and Dave were kind enough to haul the clean tile into the house.

Progress
Progress

Cleaning it all at once seemed to take a long time. I used a simple green cleaner and wore out two scrubbing sponges and my fingers doing it. But finally by the tome it got dark it was finished. I had to wait until morning for a photo. It is now ready to be installed.

Finished
Finished
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Antique Vanity

Originally I just had in mind to use a copper sink in the back bathroom. I love copper and this is the last bathroom remodel. But copper sinks are expensive so quite some time ago I found a huge copper sink with an antique sewing machine base for only $40 on craigslist.

“Unique antique vanity and sink. Made from an old sewing machine. Sink is copper. Counter is made from small river rock stones. All faucet fixtures included. It is currently disassembled and in our garage waiting for a new home.”

Treadle Sewing Sink Stand
Treadle Sewing Sink Stand

I was not so much interested in the stand as the sink but after I got it home I decided I liked it and planned to use it in the bathroom someday. I stored it in the garage for at least three years before the project started. By that time the cabinet was quite dirty and needed some tender loving care.

Vanity from Garage
Vanity from Garage

I mixed a paste of vinegar, baking soda, and salt to clean the copper. I just threw the ingredients together without measuring. Using a sponge, I spread the paste inside and outside the bowl and let it sit for a few minutes. Then I scrubbed it off and rinsed it. Some spots needed a second coat. I also used an old toothbrush to clean out the drain. That was disgusting.

The wood and metal legs were cleaned with a soft scrubbie and a sponge using warm water and dish detergent. Most of the dirt was just surface deep, I had to scrape a bit of white paint from some spots. Then I used wood restorer in golden oak to freshen the wood.

Finish Restorer
Finish Restorer

The refinisher was very easy to apply, just wiped it on with a white scrubbie and then wiped it off after 20 minutes.

Cleaned Vanity
Cleaned Vanity

I didn’t want to use the wall mounted faucet that came with the vanity because it was nickel and I’m using oil rubbed bronze. I purchased a used kitchen faucet to get a tall enough stem but I found when I finally put it on the sink that it was not quite tall enough. I decided to use it with an extra escutcheon that came with the faucet.

The difficulty installing the faucet came from the fact that the sink is so large it spans most of the area under the vanity cabinet suitable for the hole through the top. After much fiddling I was able to get the faucet’s control hole cut all the way through the plywood top and the frame piece underneath. I used a diamond hole saw for the tile, a spade bit for the plywood, a regular hole saw for the frame piece but then the spade bit and a deeper hole saw. The frame is old oak so quite hard wood.
Then I had to install the faucet control plate and bolt in a small area above the frame but below the top. There was about 1/2″ space to tighten the nut that holds the faucet control steady. I took it apart three times because I could not get the assembly tight. Finally I had to use a shim under the cabinet top to get it tight. I think the copper pipes of the faucet kept the plate from pulling all the way up to the plywood surface. The top is not thick enough so shims under the faucet plate worked.

Faucet and control
Faucet and control

The faucet just barely clears the sink rim. But it does swivel as it should and does not swivel outside the sink. I had to use a trim piece for the faucet spray to lift the faucet just enough to clear the sink bowl. I would like to have something a bit taller and wider instead of this piece but I had to get this together for the contractor.

Faucet extension
Faucet extension

I need to clean the vanity again because it got dusty from the drilling. Then I have some furniture wax I’d like to use on the wood before it is installed. I may not have time though. I leave for a week in California tomorrow!

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Rear Bathroom Gut Job

In order to meet the minimum standard for LEED all the substrate around a tub or shower must be paperless including the ceiling. It’s required even under tiled walls. The existing tiled walls had been waterproof for over 30 years and it seems this requirement is a little extreme for a remodel but there are no exceptions. So that meant before I could apply for my LEED certification the rear bathroom that is over the crawlspace had to be gut remodeled.

I was just not getting to this bathroom remodel. I had spent a couple of months with Westgate Renovations as they redid my son’s bathroom and put in a laundry area I was pleased with the quality of their work and their willingness to work with their clients. My son had several special requests and nothing was ever a problem for these contractors.

I scheduled them to do the bathroom. I purchased a porcelain on steel tub from Restore several months ago. I had decided that the old stained dirty looking cast iron tub needed to be replaced. The new tub was a very good price less than half of the store price for an upgraded steel model. I still have some of the brown tile that I have used throughout the house.

The first step was completely gutting the room. I took off the medicine and storage cabinets but the medicine cabinet cannot be salvaged as the mirror has some moisture damage. The storage cabinet is probably a good donation to Restore because it is a common type with oak doors and a veneer covered particle board box. I’m keeping the Niagara Stealth dual low flush toilet so I removed it too.

Removing toilet
Removing toilet

After the room was gutted there was evidence that the toilet had leaked at some point. The floor under the linoleum was soft and black with mold.

Evidence of toilet leak
Evidence of toilet leak

The interior walls in the bathroom were insulated and some of the insulation was also moldy so that was replaced. I cleaned the wall area with Clorox clean up and new subfloor was fitted in the soft area.

Moldy fiberglass and wall
Moldy fiberglass and wall

The first evening after the gut job we thought the existing 2 x 4 shims would stay and the top would be changed to incorporate a lighted niche. So I insulated the concrete wall with polyiso boards and replaced the fiberglass in the outside walls with rock wool.

First insulation install

The next day however, we decided to install a full 2 x 4 wall to make the niche deeper. All the polyiso had to be removed and recut and reinstalled. I had enough 1″ polyiso on hand to install two layers over the concrete.

Insulated back wall
Insulated back wall

The first layer of insulation in the 2×6 wall was covered with cement board as a backing for the niche and the electrical wire was run for the light. I added another 6″ layer of rock wool in the wall except for the niche area.

Insulation install
Insulation install

The glow in the ceiling is the Velux Sun Tunnel tempered glass skylight on the roof. The new Panasonic Whisper Green bath fan was also installed and will have a condensation control as the one in the master bath does.

Sun Tunnel and Whisper Fan

The bath project should be done sometime next week!

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Berlin

Because our kids are living in Germany we try to get over there a few times a year. We love just being with them and the grandkids but this visit we also got to accompany them on a short vacation to the Capitol City of Berlin.
The concept of Passiv Haus was started in Germany but our visit consisted of the inspiration of German palaces, churches and government buildings.
The intricacy of German woodwork and the beauty of gilt carvings in the Potsdam palaces is amazing. My favorite room in the old palace was the library.

Old Palace Library
Old Palace Library

The books are classics of the time bound in red goat leather with an identical collection in each of the king’s seven residences.
My favorite room in the new palace was the Grotto. A huge open room decorated with shells and minerals.

New Palace Grotto
New Palace Grotto

There were marble shell patterns on the floor and actual shells in the side niches.

Decoration with minerals and shells
Decoration with minerals and shells

And the wall bands were studded with semi-precious minerals.

Grotto walls with bands of minerals
Grotto walls with bands of minerals

This is what it means to be the king of a great Prussian Empire. Frederich the Great from the country and times of my great grandfather.
But we also toured the Bundestag, the main government building of modern Germany. It is built inside the old government building walls. The original building was abandoned during Hitler’s reign due to a fire in the dome that the Nazi’s are suspected to have started to sow discord and confusion. Right after that Hitler was appointed Chancellor and he did away with the elected government killing many in the congress who were opposed to him.

Bundestag
Bundestag

Inside is a modern impressive remodel.

Modern interior
Modern interior

Russian graffiti was uncovered during the remodel and it was kept except for dirty words.
The chambers were also quite modern with a large metal eagle hanging over the proceedings.

Congressional chamber
Congressional chamber

The officials sit together by party. There are several in Germany.
Above this room is the vast dome that can be traversed by a spiral walkway. The views of the city are wonderful.

Famous Bundestag Dome
Famous Bundestag Dome

On our way through the building we stopped by the memorial to elected representatives. Over 8000 empty boxes piled in rows. Our grandkids counted and did the multiplication. There were black stickers on the boxes for those who were killed by Hitler.

Monument to elected congress
Monument to elected congress members

There were other sites including the Berlin Mall with its McDonalds, the Berlin cathedral and its huge organ, and the bombed out WWII cathedral ruins with the modern blue glass interior next to it. Wonderful city to tour with the grandchildren. We are so fortunate.

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Reused Closet Door

As long as I was working on the barn doors in the family room I decided to see if I could install the closet door. The jamb was already installed when I realized that I didn’t have a door that fit in the space. When I took the time to look more closely at the jamb I noticed the shims from the original door were still behind the boards. I pulled the jamb nails out and took off all the shims. Then I reinstalled the jamb minimizing the space between it and the framing as much as I could. I had to trim off some drywall and pound it as flat as possible. I nailed the frame in place again. Then the door barely fit. With the latch in place it closes tightly but reasonably well and the 24” door finally fit in a 24” frame.

Closet Door
Closet Door

I’m kind of fond of these old doors. Many people replace them because they are just hollow core and originally I thought I would too. But it is nice (and cheap) to be re-using the doors that came with the house and after all, I have saved them all this time. These have a lovely finish unlike the newer prehung doors I bought through Craigslist. I put a quick water based polyurethane on the new doors and they are still quite gray in tone.

Polyurethaned door
Polyurethaned door

I may take the time to renew the finish with a golden tint. But I really need to get started on trim.

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Double Barn Doors

I bought a pair of glass insert french doors five years ago thinking they would let in the extra light from the family room into the dining area. However when I finally decided to hang doors in the space, I no longer had room for swing open doors. Even though the space was built specifically for these doors, they were not going to work. They are cut too short to hang as barn doors too. Briefly I thought closet bypass system would work but I would have to cut the doors even shorter. I gave up on the double glass doors and decided to find another solution. These will go to the Restore. Unless I save them for the new garage! I paid $100 so hate to not use them.

Double Craigslist doors
Double Craigslist doors

The homemade doors that I bought on Craigslist four years ago have been in our way ever since. They are big and bulky and heavy as can be. I paid about $35 a piece for them. I was disappointed they were not hardwood, just pine which is I suppose is wood and wood is hard! I offered a lower price and the owners seemed happy to get rid of them!

2x6 Rustic Doors
2×6 Rustic Doors

I have been moving them from the garage to the closet to the bedroom etc. as we worked on the house. My son saw one that is waiting to be installed in the family room bathroom and said why don’t you use those? Well, why not? I’m losing interest in replacing the older hollow core doors in the house so I might as well use two of these big doors and hang them as barn doors. I had ordered a single barn door hardware system thinking I would use it in the bathroom for the attic door but there was no headroom for it there. So I had one on hand to try.
The two widest doors were 31 1/4″ and the opening is 66″ after the casing went in. But I thought perhaps I could add to the edge to make the doors wide enough to cover the gap.

I put them in front of the opening and stepped back to consider the design as sliding barn doors. They are really too heavy and difficult for me to move around. I was disappointed by the small passage area that seemed to be open when two doors were hung in the space as bypass doors. I was very disheartened by the whole effort and wrote my son to help me just get rid of all these crazy unwieldly doors! Then I spent hours shopping online and at the Home Depot and Lowes apps but could not find 32″ rustic looking doors. I was not anxious to redesign a 36” door kit either.

Doors leaning in place
Doors leaning in place

The next day I put up the barn door rail just to try one of the doors. Amazingly enough it was not too difficult to install a wood board header which I had from another project I had taken apart and the rail. The J style rollers were also easy to put on the door. Dave helped me lift it onto the rail and I thought it looked OK, and much better than I thought it did just propped in place.

One door installed
One door installed

I ordered a second rail set and just one U shaped bracket for a bypass door on one side of the opening. Both came in a couple of days. The U shaped bracket was too narrow for my very wide handmade doors.

Bracket for bypass
Bracket for bypass

It has 3″ clearance but it must be installed at least 5″ above the first rail which was higher than my header board covered. The metal certainly was heavy enough to carry the load if I had bought five, enough for each bolt in the second rail. But five of these were almost as expensive as a full bypass set for the opening!

I decided to install a matching header board on the kitchen side and the second door there. It was even easier than the first since I had already done one. Even though I hung the door backwards so the pull was on the wrong side, it didn’t take long to switch the J brackets to the other side.

Second door installed
Second door installed

But the gap was so wide my plan to use 2 x 4’s was not going to work. I went out to my wood pile and found a nice cedar fence board that seemed the right width. Then I “borrowed” another from Dave’s spare wood.

Rustic gap solution
Rustic gap solution

These are about 1 x 6 and there is a remaining gap but it still affords privacy and blocks the view to the family room. I plan to put a trim piece on each door to hide the hinge mortises. I also bought some small non swivel casters because I can’t easily put a glide in the floor. I have just enough space to install these. Although the doors are so heavy they don’t swing much, the wheels should stabilize them.

Small Caster
Small Caster

I had figured the depth of this caster in addition to the height of the door to determine the rail position.

I was pleased that both doors moved to either side seems to give plenty of passage space.

Passage Space is Adequate
Passage Space is Adequate

An easy and inexpensive way to hold the doors closed was a pair of iron hook and eye clasps and the pulls are an affordable sliding door set.

Doors with pulls and cast metal latch
Doors with pulls and cast metal latch

I also have fancier bolts for these doors too but the problem of what to install in this space is solved for now.

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Stair Nosing in Hall

The hall stair nosing was cracked and becoming a trip hazard. I had already replaced one of the edges with a dark bamboo piece that I purchased at a Repurposed Materials auction. I have a couple of 8 piece boxes of these so it was no problem to get the materials ready to replace the broken ones. This task was on my list but it did not come to the top until my grandson started nagging me about it. He tripped on the stair one day and I said I would replace the edge. When he came over again he asked why I had not yet replaced it! So he is a good reminder.

Dark bamboo stair edges
Dark bamboo stair edges

The edge under the stair nose is very narrow. I tried 1/8″ trim and it was too thick. Somewhere I have some oak edge tape that I will use instead. Once I find it!

I glued the nosing on with liquid nails so I used some tile to hold the boards down. They feel pretty sturdy now.

Stairs with new edges
Stairs with new edges

A former owner tiled the steps but not the bottom one. I like the tile even though I would have put it on all four steps.

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Utility Room Storage

We severely reduced the size of the original utility room to make room for a dining area and to move the kitchen into the space. But in approximately a 6’x10’ room we fit in a stacking washer and dryer, a small chest freezer, the boiler/hot water heater, its valves and pumps, a utility sink and our water storage treatment equipment.

Freezer and laundry supplies
Freezer and laundry supplies

Needless to say there is not a lot of room for storage. But many sundry things get stored in there. All cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, buckets, extra hangers, rags, mops, and whatever we can stuff in there.
It was a normal January day but I had an idea. I am a big fan of rolling carts. I have two in the garage for tools. Getting them out of the way is really easy. I had one in the front mudroom closet but decided I would make better use of the closet without the large rolling cart. So I transferred the tools and miscellaneous to shelves in the closet or the garage. It’s kind if a sad thing to move messes around and the cart is a little large for the utility room. But I totally filled it with the stuff piled in the room.

Storage, water treatment, laundry sink.
Storage, water treatment, laundry sink.

Now it is easier to get to stuff and easier to roll it out of the way when I need to change water filters or work with the valves or water treatment system.

Buckets, cleaners, rags, hangers.
Buckets, cleaners, rags, hangers on rolling cart.
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Draining the Spa

I had to drain the spa because the winter weather is unpredictable and I did not want the pipes to crack. My planned repair did not work. I ordered the new spa heater from Acura Spa but it was cold and cloudy the day after it arrived. I waited an extra day for the sun to be shining as I worked. Although I didn’t know it at the beginning I had to remove the entire spa pack to remove the heater.
Of course I had the power shut off to the spa. Luckily the spa plumbing had two gate valves to stop the water flow.

Pump side gate valve
Pump side gate valve
Control side gate valve
Control side gate valve

Disconnecting the heater was not a terrible job but I needed help loosening one of the unions. After a little lubricant and a stronger grip Dave got it loose.

Big pipe wrench to disconnect heater
Big pipe wrench to disconnect heater
Disconnecting Union
Disconnecting Union

Once the thing was removed I noticed some goop between the board and the heater.

Old spa heater hooked up
Old spa heater hooked up

The heater was held in by the wiring and a few screws. When I got it all apart I saw that the control board had been burned right through where heater 1 was connected. The insulation on the wire was cracked and disintegrated and it had disintegrated some wires around it.

Burned wiring uncovered
Burned wiring uncovered
Burned wires and board
Burned wires and board

Joe the spa guru from Acura Spa told me the bolts could vibrate loose if I didn’t have them tightened enough but I had to work to loosen the bolts so I’m not sure that was the problem. I suspect the wiring insulation was old and failed. It appeared to be failing in another area too. The heater elements did not look burnt out.

Broken heater
Broken heater

At this point there was nothing I could do with the new heater. So I called Acura Spa support and eventually decided to return the heater and buy a whole new spa pack. No heater meant the water had to be drained from the spa. If it was July it would be different but it was late January! Although we have been having unseasonably warm weather. It was 62 degrees today on Feb 1st!
The first night when I realized I could not fix the spa I just opened the pump side gate valve and used a 6″ pipe under the union opening to drain the water out of the spa cabinet. The drain spigot does not work when the pipes are disconnected.
That left about 6-8 inches of water in the spa the next day. So I opened the second gate valve but not much more water drained out. It was time to pump out the rest. I have a sump pump for the sump in the house but it has been disconnected so I thought it would be perfect. It was not.

Sump pump didn’t pump
Sump pump didn’t pump

I had a hard time getting it to stand up and when I got it situated it barely pumped. The motor worked but even when I disconnected the long hose for a short one and left it all night it didn’t drain. I also have a Harbor Freight pump that I bought for the chilling project and I had picked up a foot valve at some point on clearance. It still took me several hours to find piping that would work to drain the rest of the water. I had the pump instructions so I knew I had to prime it with a Y shaped inlet/outlet. I was lucky to have one of these too so that I could hook up a hose to prime the pump. Then the plug for the prime was missing so I hunted up a cork that fit. These were time consuming issues.
By the time I got the pump set up it was dark so I let it run overnight but that night it got below freezing and I woke to an icicle in the end of the drain hose though water was still dripping out. It did not seem to hurt the pump as the water in the hot tub was down to an inch or two and it was not frozen.

Harbor Freight pump
Harbor Freight pump

The next step was using a shop vac to suck up the rest of the water and to blow water back through the jets. I tried leaving the cover off the vacuum tank drain so I would not have to stop and empty it but that ruined the suction.

Shop Vac used to suck water
Shop Vac used to suck water
Getting all that water out
Getting all that water out

I could not find the blower attachment but I found a pipe that fit over the blower outlet and I used that to shoot air into all the jets and the filter piping. I read that removing the spa filter is a good idea so I did that too.
I left the tub dirty. The vac didn’t suck up dirt after the water was gone and I’ll have to clean it again before I refill it with water. But now if the weather turns to freezing for a few weeks the tub plumbing should be ok.

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ERV Fixed

Unfortunately the control board on our ERV has been fried since last summer. It was probably due to several experiments trying to get the Lutron Grafix 0 to 10 voltage dimmer to work with the ERV. My son bought a new board for me over a year ago but he also had a busy year. (Moving here!) He just got around to installing it last month.

The ERV worked again with the new board but I lost the original controller for the system. (I packed it away someplace safe!) He had to hook up the humidistat in the bathroom to turn on the unit. It is connected to the boost control so that runs the ERV at full power.

But my son is also interested in setting up the NEST thermostat control. After quite a bit of testing he found that both Nests I had tried to use to control the ERV fan had broken electronics to the G or the fan connection. They still work fine for the call for heat. So he connected one of the inner rings from a Nest that has not been broken. But that is not the only step in getting the Nest to work with the ERV. He is going to add a relay to the system. That will allow the ERV to be turned on from the living room Nest thermostat fan control. Using IFTTT the Foobot air quality monitor could turn on the Nest fan when air quality is low.

Next perhaps he will tackle the 0-10 volt system to see if that can control the ERV too. Nice to have someone more knowledgeable than I am to figure out and fix the problems I created.

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Spa Wifi Controller

Last year I purchased a wifi controller for the spa so that I could set the temperature from my phone instead of having to go outside. Although the device did not seem difficult to install, it required opening the spa cabinet and removing the protective wire covering and insulation to get to the controls. So I didn’t install the system for over a year. Oh well it was a busy year.

I had to open the spa to get to the controls to order the new heater though so I figured it was a good time to install the new wifi device. The most difficult part was reaching the cable that runs from the control pad on top to the equipment controller. I had to move apart the insulation and wire cover at the top as well as over the controller.

Insulated cabinet opened
Insulated cabinet opened

Then I had to disconnect the cable which required removing even more insulation as it entered at the side of the controller. A cap was screwed over the connector that was difficult to remove as there was little room between the side of the equipment and a valve. Unplugging the cable required undoing a clamping system which was difficult to see but I finally figured it out.

I had to reroute the cable from the wifi control to the side of the controller and get the new one plugged in and re-clamped. Then I rerouted the topside control cable to the inside of the wifi control and plugged it in. The instructions say not to position the wifi control with the water from the spa blocking the signal so I placed the wifi control outside the spa cabinet. I’m guessing it is not weather resistant so it will need a weather cover of some kind.

Wifi Controller and cables
Wifi Controller and cables

Once the power was turned back on I was pleased that the equipment re-started without an issue. Then the task of connecting the wifi to our modem was relatively straightforward. I had to be close to the wifi unit to pick up its wifi signal but once I entered the device IP and found our wifi modem on the list I was able to connect it and received an email to register to get the wifi information from the spa control. Then the web site could be read from inside the house. Pretty cool actually.

Acura Spa Wifi Info
Acura Spa Wifi Info
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