Who Needs a Video Doorbell?

Our house is basically all front doors. Besides all the living room french doors there are two entry doors. One door is to the airlock entry which we use most, the other is the old covered entry. We extended the master bedroom to encompass this door. So now we only use it to go out to the hot tub.

Two front doors
Two front doors

Eventually I’ll think of a way to disguise the door to the bedroom so it is not confused with the house entry. I currently have the garden gate in front of it. But that has not done the trick. We decided a doorbell at the airlock entry door would help strangers and delivery persons to know it is the working front door. But when I installed my son’s monitoring camera system I decided it would be fun to have a camera. I didn’t want to spend top dollar so I bought a cheap knock off of the real thing for $50 at Christmastime.

Yeoman video doorbell
Yeoman video doorbell

I noticed this model is no longer available on Amazon. It offers free lifetime video storage for 7 days with automatic recording over the old video. I hope that lasts past its life on Amazon. (Several very similar video doorbells are still available.)

The doorbell was relatively easy to set up. Right out of the box I plugged it in to charge the batteries and it started a voice prompt that it was ready to pair. Of course I was not ready. I downloaded the Xbell app to connect to the doorbell and the steps were easy to follow and pairing worked the first time. The most difficult part was pairing the indoor bell which is a plug in device that starts to blink as soon as it is plugged in. It was not clear to me that the doorbell had to be pressed to pair the blinking receiver to it. Finally after several tries we had the device paired and working with the outside doorbell.

The settings allowed me to turn on the cloud recording and motion detection but even though it was on the lowest setting, and I turned off sound notifications for the bell, I was getting a doorbell ring on my phone every time the wind blew or shadows changed on the front of the house. So I had to turn motion detection off.

Device settings
Device settings

I may be losing video of motion detection just to keep from false notifications. I can look at the camera’s view at any time and take a still shot or video that goes to my photos. The night vision on the camera is quite good.

Night vision video doorbell
Night vision video doorbell

And the day vision is adjustable for various light conditions. I have it set on dynamic. I’ll experiment with the settings for lighting the scene.

Daytime camera view
Daytime camera view

Although I am not monitoring energy use, this is a type of monitoring. Especially for noticing that there are folks viewing our front door sign that says we are a LEED project under construction.

Front door with LEED project sign
Front door with LEED project sign
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Happy New Year!

We spent Christmas and New Year’s with our family in Würselen, Germany. They have a very comfortable apartment there with a huge guest room that was inviting and big enough for ping pong ball soccer played by the grandson and grandpa.

Ping pong ball soccer

Ping pong ball soccer

Our granddaughter made our beds for us which consists of a bottom sheet for each side of the bed and a pillow cover. Each side also has its own soft fuzzy blanket folded width wise and a duvet covered comforter to match the sheet also folded width wise. When going to bed the fuzzy cover and comforter are unfolded and laid out length wise. She is seven and told us that is the German way! There are also no box springs on these European beds, they are like Ikea beds with ladder like wooden springs. She also told us the bed came with the lattices assembled incorrectly and they had to fix it but now it was done and more comfortable. So cool that she is learning different cultural customs.
As at home family Christmas celebrations we enjoyed strewing paper and boxes all over the floor.

Christmas paper and boxes

Christmas paper and boxes

We were treated to a traditional German Christmas feast of sauerbraten and red cabbage. In fact we had several great meals during our stay; from ham to lamb to little french hens.

Three french hens

Three french hens

Most mornings my son-in-law walks to the bakery for fresh rolls and bread. The white rolls are ubiquitous and quite good but the chocolate croissants are exquisite.

We enjoyed being with the family and did a little touring as well. Visited the Aachen cathedral which was originally commissioned by Charlemagne who suffered from arthritis and spent his time in Aachen in the healing warm waters.

Amazing mosaics at the cathedral

Amazing mosaics at the cathedral

We also visited the thermal baths and enjoyed the German version of warm soaks. The family traveled to Ghent in Belgium to see some friends and visit a Viking exhibit in a museum but I wasn’t feeling well so I stayed home. But I went with to visit the small town of Monschauer, famous for its Christmas markets that were already closed but many of the shops carry Christmas market types of items there. It is an old stone town with every building, road, walkway and fence made of stone. We walked through town and up to the castle and then to the glass blowing market where we enjoyed watching the kids help make blown glass plant watering globes. Before leaving town we stopped at a mustard market. Monschauer is famous for mustard.

View of Monschauer from the castle wall

View of Monschauer from the castle wall

Slate stone siding on many buildings

Slate stone siding on many buildings

Handmade and Glass Blowing Market Map

Handmade and Glass Blowing Market Map

Glassblower

Glassblower

One of the most exciting nights was New Year’s Eve from our own apartment balcony and the streets below. People from the neighborhood gathered on the street sharing warm mulled wine and shooting off fireworks or burning sparklers. I watched the festivities from the balcony and the fireworks came from all over town instead of a concentrated show like we have for the 4th of July. Although I went to bed the fireworks continued for at least an hour and a half and then it got quiet again.

Fireworks celebrations
Germans have a quiet rule on Sundays, no loud noises are allowed. No mowing the grass or using power tools where others can hear them. Even practicing an instrument is not condoned.

We also spent time learning to use the sewing machine my granddaughter got for Christmas. She had several projects in mind and she got a great design ideas book with patterns to make some clothes. We started with her running the foot pedal while I held the material and she chose the decorative stitches we used.

Sleepover cosmetic bag

Sleepover cosmetic bag

Infinity scarf and circle skirt

Infinity scarf and circle skirt

Then she held the material and I ran the foot pedal and finally she did both while I helped keep the material aligned. We used a strip of painters tape on the machine to help her line up the material at the foot. This was an idea from her sewing book. I also worked with her mom to help her remember her sewing skills from childhood. I hope they have time to sew together. It takes a lot of time and vacation is good for working on such projects.

We spent a couple of days with the kids at the local indoor pool. My granddaughter is swimming with the Würselen swim team. But the pools were open mostly for playing during school vacation. There were two large water slides and a wave pool that was turned on for about five minutes at the top of every hour. Also a lazy river around the pool and a large pirate ship playground with warmer water for littles. There was one bubble pool but the water was not warm like a hot tub. It was called the Aquana and it is a pretty cool activity located so close to their apartment.

Huge indoor water slide

Huge indoor water slide

We were very happy to be with the family. We miss them terribly and hope their time there is over quickly. But we see the advantages too, for the family and for us as travelers.

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Refrigerator Recycled

Our used Energy Star refrigerator was making a lot of noise. It was also starting to use more electricity and forming ice at the top of the freezer. The temperature was not staying constant either. All of these issues led to the concern that the compressor was going out.

Our energy company Xcel Energy offers a refrigerator recycling program for consumers to upgrade to more energy efficient models. But they do not offer the rebate if the refrigerator is not running. That meant replacing our refrigerator before it broke to qualify for the free pickup and $50 rebate.

The refrigerator fit our kitchen exactly so it was difficult to replace with a bottom freezer model. Our requirements were an Energy Star counter depth bottom freezer that was not larger than 33 inches. This combination was almost impossible to find! Samsung makes some refrigerators in this size but they are not rated Energy Star.

I downloaded the Energy Star excel spreadsheet for refrigerators to find possible models. The result was that there was only one real choice that was not a built in or foreign and outrageously expensive.

Energy Star Refrigerators 2018

Energy Star Refrigerators 2018

I ordered this model from Lowes as it was on sale for Black Friday and also purchased a 10% off coupon from an eBay vendor to help with the cost. The new refrigerator is only a little larger in capacity and uses much more electricity than the older one rated at 378 kwh/year. But my energy use monitor usually registered a higher usage than advertised at about 450 kWh/year. Still less than the new one at 547 kWh/year for only 1.1 cubic foot increase in size.

GE GWE19 Refrigerator Energy Guide

GE GWE19 Refrigerator Energy Guide

Because I needed to have the gap behind the refrigerator as small as possible I have not added the energy use monitor plug to this new appliance. I also had to cut the edges off the cabinet between it and the stove and move the stove cabinet down about an inch and a half to fit this in place of the old one. But this new refrigerator is much easier to use than the older deep and low unit. The freezer baskets are more accessible although I wish the ice maker tray was less wide.

GE_Bottom Freezer

GE_Bottom Freezer

The  refrigerator and freezer have bright LED lighting and the refrigerator above offers lots of shelving options so that it seems to hold quite a bit more than the old one.

GE Refrigerator 2018

GE Refrigerator 2018

And our old refrigerator was moved to the front hall where it stayed plugged in until the vendor for Xcel came to pick it up. We received a check for $50 in the mail shortly after the pickup. I’m glad we were able to replace it before it broke. That refrigerator only lasted about 9 years and we had it for four of those. I hope the new one lasts longer.

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A New House in Arvada

My son and his wife have decided to move their family closer to us! I have been seriously searching real estate for them since this spring. Home prices went up about 8-10% in our area this year. But there was a bit of a lull as winter came on. This beauty had most of the items on their wish list.

House on 79th Pl.

House on 79th Pl.

It’s a bit further away from us than my daughter’s house-about 3 miles. But there is a pleasant trail for most of the one hour or so hike.

Trail between houses

Trail between houses

We are excited to help our kids do some remodeling in the house. Even before the sale went through I had a project!
The entry/stairwell light is classic but a bit dated. So I looked for a more lantern like alternative.

Dated “terrarium” chandelier

Dated “terrarium” chandelier

I picked up a free one through Craigslist.

Brass lantern chandelier

Brass lantern chandelier

And I took it apart to spray paint it flat black.

New chandelier in pieces

New chandelier in pieces

I used cardboard boxes as spray paint tents. And I used a metal primer on all the pieces before the final black. It took several coats to get the pieces all painted. I bought LED chandelier bulbs to get started on their energy efficient updates too.

Finished lantern chandelier

Finished lantern chandelier

I’m looking forward to hanging it although I have not decided whether to put the glass pieces back in. It looks more modern without them.
I had to look up the order of the hanging pieces as I forgot to take a “before” photo.

Hanging a chandelier

Hanging a chandelier

Just a couple weeks later it has been hung!

New chandelier
New chandelier
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Red Letter Day

We passed the final remodel inspection this week! I had scheduled the final again a couple of weeks ago but when the inspector arrived he said he could only do structural. So I called in and scheduled the correct type of inspection for December 19, 2019.

True to the great friendliness and cooperation we have gotten from the Arvada Building Department, the inspector who came out was very nice and looked at the items that were on our last failed list. We scheduled a final last February when we knew we weren’t done, but had to have an inspection to keep the building permit active. On the list were the master bath shower floor, the family room bathroom shower, one toilet that needed caulk, and the fact that the breaker for the GFCI’s was off but I could not find it as it was mislabeled by the worst electricians ever. He checked those items and then said we passed. Woo Hoo.

He said he remembered coming out for rough plumbing a long time ago. Yep it has been years. But the building department stuck with us. In fact, Dave has written a letter thanking them for their attention to detail and friendly cooperation with our unusual project.

After concentrated work on the family room bathroom shower we finally had the indoor work that needed inspection completed and we got the final approval. Wonderful!

Final Building Inspection Approval

Final Building Inspection Approval

The note is just at the bottom of the original permit. But it is also entered into the online residential address database.

Buidling Permit Approval

Buidling Permit Approval

This is a major milestone. So grateful we got this far. Now to try to finish the remainder of projects for LEED certification. And all the trim and doors which don’t have to be inspected.

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A Week in Hawaii!

We were invited to a whole week in Hawaii with our son and his family. What a beautiful place and lovely distraction it was. We had a wonderful time with our two littlest grandchildren. They seemed to love the time together too. So much more than our photos captured.

Waikiki Beach Breakwater

Waikiki Beach Breakwater

Sea Life porpoises

Sea Life porpoises

Sea Life view of the ocean

Sea Life view of the ocean

Polynesian Cultural Center coconut tree climber

Polynesian Cultural Center coconut tree climber

The Byodo-In Temple

The Byodo-In Temple

Feeding the coy at the Temple

Feeding the coy at the Temple

Monster School Bus to admire

Monster School Bus to admire

At the Hanuma Bay beach

At the Hanuma Bay beach

Snorkeling at Hanuma Bay

Snorkeling at Hanuma Bay

Swimming at Waimea Falls

Swimming at Waimea Falls

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Gorilla Epoxy Glue Fix

The shark bite I used to connect the shower hose to the wall was too loose even though I pulled it forward to attach the holder and added a backplate. I tried using caulk to attach the holder to its backing gasket and it fell apart almost immediately. So I used Gorilla Epoxy Glue which was something I bought a while ago on clearance.

Gorilla Epoxy Glue

Gorilla Epoxy Glue

The glue is uncapped and a bit of the glue is forced to the top with the plunger. The idea is to get equal portions of each liquid to mix together in the clear package front which can be used for the mixing. It comes with a small wood depressor to mix with and the mixing time is 20 seconds. Then it is applied with the wooden stick to the area needing to be glued.

First I glued the plastic backer plate to the rear of the holder, after cleaning off the caulk. Then I applied it to the Venetion Bronze backer plate to take up some of the slack in the pipe. I used wood pieces to hold the backer firmly to the plastic back of the holder.

Glueing backer to holder base.

Glueing backer to holder base.

I let this dry overnight and then applied glue to the backer plate gasket and pushed onto the wall. I held it on with a cardboard tube that happened to be about the right length.

Backer plate glued on wall

Backer plate glued on wall

The glue seems to be sturdy enough to hold the pipe assembly firmly at the wall and the backer plate eliminates the gap that was at the wall. Seems to have worked out.

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A Place for the Internet Equipment

About a year ago I moved the internet modem to the living room from the hall closet. We were not getting a good enough signal at the back of the house. I have several types of monitoring systems that are connected to the modem and they need to reach from the garage to the back bedroom and to the hot tub on the front patio and greenhouse behind the house.
The shelf I used was cobbled together and mounted on the post that will be covered with manufactured stone.

Modem in Living Room

Modem in Living Room

I had in mind to buy a plexiglass shelving unit to enclose it. But they seemed to be very expensive and not exactly the size I needed. The backs were transparent and I would have to treat that in some way since the cabinet is mounted right to the 2×4 post framing. I wanted the cabinet to extend past the sides of the post enough to allow for the edges of the stone to be covered but not too much.

Extends about the right amount

Extends about the right amount

I found an inexpensive glass door cabinet on Amazon and ordered it. I put it together and cut openings for the power outlet and cable entry at the back. Unfortunately my measurements were a bit off but the extra opening came in handy later when I was connecting the power and modem cables.

Outlet located higher than my measurements

Outlet located higher than my measurements

I could only use one of the two shelves the cabinet included. Although there was not enough room for both shelves in the cabinet the bottom and one shelf provided enough space for the modem and the various hubs my systems use. I drilled a couple more holes in the back of the cabinet underneath the shelf to thread the cables to the modem.

Cables threaded through cabinet back

Cables threaded through cabinet back

Unfortunately while cutting the rear openings I did not protect the front of the cabinet so I’ll have to touch it up.

Marred the front of the cabinet

Marred the front of the cabinet

It still looks much better than the temporary shelf.

Internet cabinet

Internet cabinet

Now I can put on the rest of the backer board and eventually start the stonework.

Across the room

Across the room

The equipment fits in the cabinet and the signal still reaches the corners of the house. And the cabinet fits perfectly under and between the track lighting. A good solution for organizing the equipment.

Under the track lights

Under the track lights

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Shower Extras

Apparently I am good at making holes in the finished walls. One of the extras I put in the family room bath is a small rack for a wet washcloth. It seems that without a traditional soap dish there is no place to hang a wet wash cloth. So I bought a toilet roll holder in antique brass for this. I decided to put it in the bottom small niche. But I had to drill a hole for the screw holder. Because there are no studs near here I used a toggle bolt. This is the kind that tightens against the bolt as it is screwed in and makes a nice tight connection.

However I didn’t realize the bolt was longer than the wall here inside the niche!

Wall behind bolt has big hole

Wall behind bolt has big hole

I will cut that off with my handy multitool and patch the wall. I like having a rack for a wet washcloth in the shower. I need to buy one for the master bath shower. And hopefully avoid making a hole in the wall on the other side.

Rack for wet washcloth

Rack for wet washcloth


But the photo shows I didn’t get all the caulk cleaned off. If I missed it here I missed it elsewhere. I will have to wash the shower tile again.
Another project was covering the bright chrome light fixture with brassy looking paint. I already had some copper colored metallic spray paint from the kitchen sink project and some gold glitter paint that I picked up because it was on clearance. The gold glitter alone did not have the right shade of brass so I primed it with automotive gray primer for metal and fiberglass. Then I sprayed several coats of the copper paint first and finished with a coat of the gold glitter. The effect is that of a toned down brass.

Painted chrome light fixture

Painted chrome light fixture


These little extras customize the shower for us and at a very reasonable cost.

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Hot and Cold Switch

I mixed up the hot and cold piping to the shower. I had hot connected on the right side when it is supposed to be on the left. Fortunately the supply pipes are exposed in the utility room behind the washer and dryer. Here are those pipes when they were first connected.

Hot and Cold Connections

Hot and Cold Connections

I moved the heavy set of stacked washer and dryer just enough to squeeze behind them and then work in a very small space. I had to crawl in and out a couple of times to get the right tools. The water was turned off but I had a bucket to catch the remaining water.

Bucket to catch water in pipes

Bucket to catch water in pipes

I used the small step stool to get over the gas pipe and into the back corner. The connections to hot and cold are against the back wall. I removed the insulation which was on the cold side to get to the pipe connection. It was also fortunate that there was enough pex on each side to reconnect them. Of course using shark bite connectors meant all I had to do was separate the connections and switch them.

Confined space

Confined space with pipes disconnected

The pipe to the left side of the valve was insulated so I only had to replace part of it on the pex where it was unprotected. Then I added insulation to the copper hot water pipe. I left the insulation off the cold pipe. This is the finished job that shows the space I entered to get it done.

Tight squeeze

Tight squeeze

The shower is not on the hot water loop but is piped directly from the hot water heater with original 3/4″ hot and cold copper pipes that once supplied the laundry. So the shower is on its own supply that does not wait very long to get hot. The pipes to the diverter are also insulated to keep the water running hot.

Insulated Diverter Pipes

Insulated Diverter Pipes

Now that hot is hot and cold is cold it should be a very comfortable shower.

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Shower Fixtures

The fixtures for the shower are Delta Champagne Bronze. I think the color is a nice complement to the dark brown tile. The style name is Lahara which is a very plain style. I couldn’t find the diverter trim in Lahara so I bought the Classic style.

Champagne bronze hand shower

Champagne bronze hand shower

I purchased the faucets in August of 2016 which was a long time ago. When I was installing the diverter trim, I couldn’t find the knob. I looked all over and was pretty sure it should be in with the other pieces, but I didn’t know exactly what it looked like. After looking for some time, I happened to see a new set for $24 so I bought it. Turned out that I found the knob in with the shower trim and I didn’t need the knob but the extra base plate came in very handy. The hose connection did not fit flush against the tile wall so I used the second base plate to help fill in the space.

In order to get the shark bite connected for the hose spigot, I had to pull the loose connection as far towards the surface as possible. I looked up the photo of how the pipes were configured.

Diverter Pipes

Diverter Pipes

I was able to pull the pipe connection forward with a piece of hanger wire.

Hanger wire looped on pipe behind wall

Hanger wire looped on pipe behind wall

Then I had to hold the shower hose connector and it’s plastic backing, and the backplate from the extra diverter valve and push the shark bite on while the pipe was pulled as far out as I could get it. This was to get everything mounted as close to the wall as possible. It looks ok but it is loose so I’m thinking caulk will tighten it.
The next job was to install the main shower valve trim. I ended up leaving the wall guard on the shower valve when the tile was done and when trying to screw on the face place, the holes in the valve were covered up! It seems that the shield was just a little off center.

Black valve shield covering screw hole

Black valve shield covering screw hole

I used my handy multitool with a narrow blade to cut off the plastic covering the screw holes. Then I was able to attach the face plate.

Face plate and valve cartridge control installed

Face plate and valve cartridge control

I had a bit of trouble figuring out how to connect the shower valve. There are two inner plastic gears that control the temperature setting. The first is placed to meet the gear teeth in the volume control handle. The instructions say that this should be placed to not allow the hot water to get over 120 degrees. We have a whole house temperature regulator so I just wanted the piece to be set at the hottest temperature. But it wasn’t clear at first what part of the gear was up and what part made the handle stop at the hottest temperature.

Water Temperature Gear Diagram

Water Temperature Gear Diagram

The instructions skipped placing the gear inside the handle, then added this direction to control temperature.

If the water temperature is above 120°F, remove the temperature control knob (1) and rotate the limit stop (2) clockwise one tooth for every 4°F – 6°F (approximate) change in temperature. If water temperature is cooler than desired, rotate the limit stop counterclockwise.

Eventually I realized the center white knob could be rotated with a pliers all the way back and forth. So all the way to the left was hottest and all the way to the right coldest. The center of the cap fit over this knob. So to get the water as hot as possible the gear underneath had to have the limit stop in a position relating to the knob that allowed the cap to rotate to full hot. I screwed in the set and tried turning on the water.
Well, then I realized I had not opened the screw stops on the valve. That meant taking it all apart and taking off the face plate and opening the stops with a screwdriver. Nothing like doing the assembly all over again.
I first tested the hand held shower and found that I had left out a rubber gasket as it sprayed me from the bottom of the handle. After changing my shirt and finding the gasket and installing it, the leak stopped. Then I tried the shower head. It worked! But when I turn off the water it drips for a bit. I supposed that is from the long shower arm. The next task was to test the hot and cold water settings. I could not get hot water to flow from the hot side! I tested the hot water in the sink and it was definitely hot, then I realized that I may have connected the pipes the wrong way! I tried the cold side and the water got hot. This is a problem I seem to have frequently. So fixing that was another exciting adventure. But at least the faucet trim was completed.

Shower control and trim installed

Shower control and trim installed

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Caulking Mess

Have I ever mentioned I hate caulking? The family room shower is large and that meant lots of caulking. At the ceiling, at the floor, in the corners and inside the niches; all needed caulk. I used the same dark brown low voc caulk that I used in the master bathroom-Dynaflex 230 by DAP.
No matter how I try I cannot smooth the caulk with a wet finger as others do. Instead it gets all over the joint. I have tried various ways to clean up the mess this makes and so far pushing the caulk into the joint with a wet sponge works the best for me. It is not very smooth but it is also not all over the tile on each side.

Caulking mess

Caulking mess

For this large caulking job I used the tool I bought for the huge caulking job in the crawlspace. I had a half used tube of caulk that I couldn’t get to flow again with a hand caulk gun and the battery powered caulk gun was just the ticket. I had cut the caulk spout with a small opening and set the gun on its lowest feed setting which worked well for most of the caulking until I smoothed it out with a wet finger while wearing a surgical plastic glove. By the time I got all the joints trimmed back with a wet sponge and scrubby for the excess, I had let the caulk in the shower niche dry too much to scrub off!
Luckily I had some Goof Off which works on tar and caulk!

Goof Off cleaner

Goof Off cleaner

I sprayed it and let it work for about an hour and then came back and it made short work of cleaning off the excess caulk.

Shower niche after cleanup

Shower niche after cleanup

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Setting the Granite Shower Bench

I had a nice piece of dark brown granite already cut for the bench. Originally I wanted to use left over granite from the sink top but it was not wide enough to completely cover the bench, and the narrow pieces I had cut for the master shower were too difficult to install. So Bill had me go out and get another granite remnant to cut one wider piece for the master shower ledge and have enough left over for the bench in the family room shower.

Although I had the bench seat cut about to size already, after fitting it over the tile edge of the bench I decided to trim off another half inch using the wet saw so that the bench didn’t overhang into the bathroom. Then I had the arduous task of polishing the edges. I have a series of diamond sanding wheels and the roughest one can round the edges of granite. Then it takes about seven more grits to get a polished edge. If one grit doesn’t do its job then it is necessary to back track and try to move from the lower grits again to the higher. I don’t have enough patience for this so I left the edge a bit marked up. I’m hoping the sealer will cover it.

There was waterproofing at the bathroom edge of the bench, but the handyman had a problem with the corner of the bench so to fix that I added a piece of cement board to the end. That meant a gap between the waterproofed bench and the tile. So I filled that with caulk.

Bench with caulking over hardboard edge

Bench with caulking over hardboard edge

Bill had bought special mortar to set the master shower ledge.

Natural Stone Mortar

Natural Stone Mortar

There was plenty left to mix up a small bucket of it for the bench. Just in case there was something special about setting the granite, I looked up instructions on the internet. But there was not more information than just coating the bench and the granite with mortar spread with a 3/8″ trowel.

Both bench and granite coated in mortar

Both bench and granite coated in mortar

Then I picked up the granite and laid it on the bench. A bit of settling it into place by shaking it back and forth to get a good set. And cleaning off the excess mortar provided a nice preview of what the finished product will look like.

Bench set in place

Bench set in place

I didn’t plan ahead and I had to wash that thick layer of mortar off the overhang which was messy and kind of a pain.

Bench overhang

Bench overhang

I also checked the slant of the bench with the plumbing level and it was good. Setting the bench was a short job that made me feel like I was getting close to finishing the project.

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Grouting the Shower

It took me several days to get the family room bath shower grouted. My right arm got really sore. But after a few days it was back in shape. This shower took a lot of grout. I mixed seven batches of the epoxy grout. The batches are each 1/4 of a professional pack. I described measuring and dividing the grout packages when I first started.
It is a bit difficult to estimate the correct amount of the colored powder when mixing the grout. I tried weighing out 2 lbs of the stuff but that tended to make the grout too thick, so I finally just mixed in the powder until the right consistency was achieved.

Grout Mixed

Grout Mixed

The grout goes on like putty and is pressed into the tile joints. It takes a firm hand on the trowel to get it pressed into place.

Putty-like grout

Putty-like grout

Then the wet grout is scraped across the joints with the rubber grout float. I bought a handy half sized float for this. It was easier to use than the full size float.

Grout scraped with float but still dirty

Grout scraped with float but still dirty

Pressing the grout into the mosaic tiles at the rear of the niches was one of the more challenging parts of the job.

Niche grouted

Niche grouted

The grout is washed with a vinegar solution within one hour of mixing it. It typically takes me a little longer to use a batch but the first wash is still not difficult. I used a flat razor blade in a holder and a new 3M white scrubby for each batch. The white is a finer grit than the green pads. I cut each pad into eight sections. Scraping off the grout with a razor is easier than scrubbing when the grout left is thick. Then a couple of hours later a second wash is required with more vinegar. It is important to rinse the sponge often to remove the slightly sticky film that is on the tile. The professional batches come with some powdered wash solution but not enough for the whole kit. I just used it up and then used plain vinegar in water and that worked just as well.

I liked doing the difficult parts first and then returning to the field tile. I started above the shower head with the trim tile up there and next grouted the  field tile in that space. Next was the trim tile surrounding the shower. And the niches were done in two sssions with the trim tile.

Decorative tile grouted first

Decorative tile grouted first

Then I worked from top to bottom but in sections so that each batch was not all upper tiles. I saved the bench for last. Good thing because I had to cut another corner tile as the one that was installed was short about a half an inch.

Walls and bench grouted

Walls and bench grouted

I also had a double accident with one particular tile. Once I kneeled on it and then I stepped on its replacement.

Broken trim tile

Broken trim tile

I had to use a non-edge tile here but the edge is buried in this spot where it meets a tile that sticks up a bit too much on the floor. Ah amateur’s work.

Finally there was a marathon two batch grout job to finish the mosaic tile on the floor. I worked all day from early morning to evening. I was so tired when it was time to do the final wash on the second batch that I forgot a little spot that I filled because it was forgotten once before-the top tile under the lower short niche  I was able to scrape and scrub the excess grout off the next morning.

What next? Set the bench top, caulk the edges, and install the fixtures. Whew.

Grout in mosaic tile floor

Grout in mosaic tile floor

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Shower Floor is Mortared

The shower is getting closer to being finished! The floor layout has finally been mortared into place. I mortared the mosaic tile first, then waited a day to mortar the trim tiles. That way I could adjust them to the space around the mosaics.

If you are paying attention, you can tell that the trim tiles on both edges of the drain side of the shower get narrower. This is due to the wall on the right not being exactly square. Oh well.

Drain end mortared

Drain end mortared

The left corner L shaped tile is one piece because the corner was so uneven that it was easier to mortar in one piece than two.

You can see some of the wall tiles put in by the handyman were not pressed even. Or they were and they sagged out of alignment. That just meant I didn’t feel so badly about my uneven tiles. The back wall tiles show the taper to correct about half of the slant in the front of the shower.

Floor along back wall mortared

Floor along back wall mortared

I don’t think the taper is jarring here. The trim tiles at the rear along the bench seat are a bit tapered but it is much less noticeable. And the tiles against the shower opening also taper but not as much as at the partial wall near the drain.

Bench side tiles mortared

Bench side tiles mortared

The few remaining bathroom floor tiles were cut and mortared into place. I had to recut two of them because I left them tilted up against the doorway and they fell over and broke! The box was just to remind us not to step on the newly mortared tiles.

Last bathroom floor tiles mortared

Last bathroom floor tiles mortared

Luckily the rest of the tile was mortared into place before the weather turned snowy.

November Snowfall

November Snowfall

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Shifting Tile Layouts

No matter what I do the tile in the family room shower is not going to be square. The walls are off square and my job is to figure out how best to hide the tapers.

All mosaic floor

All mosaic floor

Of course I asked my friendly family tile guys, Bill Boyd Tile in Sebastopol CA.and he said the wider the tile around the perimeter the easier it is to hide a taper. So I tried an alternative tile type I have laying around as a border.

Sample border tiles

Sample border tiles

I couldn’t use the dark brown field tile because it is porcelain and thicker than the mosaic tiles. But I didn’t like the look of a wider border. He said about six inch wide tiles would hide the off square the best but that took too much away from the mosaics.

Border tiles with edging

Border tiles with edging

I tested using the remaining border tiles on just one side of the shower but after looking at that for a few days, I decided it didn’t look right and I don’t have enough of these full border tiles to use around the entire shower. But I do have several partial tiles left over from cutting the edge tiles for the shower niches. These average about two inches wide. Since the border has to taper anyway, I thought I could use these and both halves of the edge tiles that I will cut for the shower opening to have enough for a border.

Shower edge tiles

Shower edge tiles

In order to make the two side edges close in width I moved the tile around the shower drain several times to get the best fit around the drain and at the edges.Then I removed the last row of mosaics and laid out the partial border tiles. I like this look the best.

Shower drain side with border layout

Shower drain side with border layout

With the tile moved a bit off center with the drain, the edges are about equal and the taper on the trim tile should be less noticeable. The tile border will be about the same size at the rear of the shower too.

Rear of shower with narrower trim tiles

Rear of shower with narrower trim tiles

If the tapers are noticeable, Bill and Kristen recommend embracing the uniqueness.

I have the mosaic tile spaced and laid out. I also cut the rest of the floor tile to meet the shower, The next job is to mortar it and then cut the trim tiles to fit.

Shower mosaic and floor tiles

Shower mosaic and floor tiles

The days are cool but sunny so I can mix mortar and cut the trim tiles outside but I need to use Bill’s trick of putting warm water in the tile saw!

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Replacing the Oven

This is our third oven. Fourth if we count the temporary countertop model we have used when in between broken ovens.
First we used a fun technology with the purchase of an Advantium oven. A combination microwave and halogen heating element baked cookies in 8 minutes. But it overheated and went dead. I bought the part to fix it but broke the control panel taking it apart.
I replaced the Advantium with an Ikea model from Craigslist. This one arrived extremely dirty. So I took it apart and cleaned it. That took about a month!
When my brother was coming for a visit and I was trying to get the house clean I used the self clean mode. That was the end of that oven! The control panel went dead. Apparently this is a known issue with self cleaning ovens. They overheat and in this case blew a safety fuse. Typically this is due to a malfunction in the exhaust fan or temperature control. In any case it is common. I could have bought the parts and tried to fix it but I also ran the risk of spending more money on it and not getting it fixed.
So I started watching Craigslist for an inexpensive used oven. I enquired about several but they were often more expensive than what I was looking for. In the meantime we still had the countertop model I put on the bar table and great food including a few tasty pies were made in it.
As Thanksgiving draws near I started thinking I needed a replacement oven large enough for a turkey. So I looked up craiglist offers and found several whose owners forgot to take their ads down after a sale.
I wasn’t thrilled about the drive but I decided to purchase a stainless steel GE oven of unknown age and exact model. It is a GE Profile series and the owner was willing to negotiate.

Craigslist ad for oven

Craigslist ad for oven

It was a 45 minute drive in the truck to reach the guy remodeling a home in Aurora. The owner also had an older Advantium for sale but I wanted s turkey oven. He told me he had bought the home in 2001. So I’m guessing the oven is about that vintage.
This oven was much cleaner than the Ikea and it only took a day to take it apart and clean it. The shelves are not shiny but a gray porcelain so it appears they can be left in the oven when it is self cleaned. The owner told me he self cleaned it before removing it for sale. The oven is a bit smaller than the Ikea. A little less wide inside as it is probably better insulated. I has “true convection” and instead of just a fan to blow warm area around the interior like the Ikea, it has an element surrounding the fan. The bottom heating element is also protected by a porcelain false bottom that can be taken out and cleaned.
It was a puzzle to get the Ikea oven out of the cabinet because the latch was stuck shut. All the online info said to move the latch with a coat hanger to open it but I couldn’t find the latch. Finally I pulled the door out just enough to take off the front panel of the oven. Then the latch was accessible and I could open and remove the door to unscrew the oven from the cabinet. I used the island table with cardboard protecting it to slide the oven onto. Then with a helper it was easy to lift it down to the floor for disposal.

Ikea oven ready for disposal

Ikea oven ready for disposal

The opening in the log cabinet was exactly the right size for the new oven. It even slid in a bit further and was easier to screw into the sides of the cabinet. I forgot to put in the shelf above it so I had to unscrew and pull out the oven to fit the shelf back in from behind the cabinet.The shelf actually sits a bit lower with this oven than on the other so there seems to be room for a short microwave above it, about 10″. It will be nice to clear off more countertop if I can fit a microwave up there. Ours is quite old and dented and even a bit burned inside but it works. Although it is small it doesn’t fit above the oven.
Even though the oven is an older model, it has many electronic functions that seem to work fine. Dave roasted a chicken in it with convection roast and it was very successful. The fan that cools down the oven is not very loud although it seems to run much longer than the Ikea did. It makes sense that a better insulated cavity would take longer to cool.

New/used GE Profile oven

New/used GE Profile oven

It didn’t come with a meat probe as it should have so I ordered one and I’m looking forward to roasting with a probe that will measure for doneness; a convenient gadget for the Thanksgiving turkey!

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Wood fired boiler!

Nice fire in stove

Nice fire in stove

It works! I’m so pleased with the wood boiler system. This fall it was easy to start up. Just a few steps and it was all working as designed.
I recorded the steps I took to get the first fire for the season started.

Pump switch and system instructions

Pump switch and system instructions

Before firing up the stove it’s a good idea to check and empty any ashes from the ash drawer. I also cleaned the glass front of the stove.
Then I uncapped the boiler drain and hooked up a short hose to the spigot. Running water through the system with the end of the hose in a bucket will release air that may have entered the pipes. To get the water moving in the system the stove pump switch is turned on. I also checked that the automatic fill valve was open. There were very few air bubbles. Once the water stops bubbling in the bucket, the drain is closed and recapped.
After that initial step, each fire of the season is the same.

  • Turn on boiler pumps with switch in laundry room. Be sure the primary pump is running.
  • Check that all valves that control the flow to the boiler and heating system are open.
  • Plug heating system pump into the power strip. This separates it from the thermostat controller so it runs all the time.
  • Open all stove air intake valves. There are three. One in the ash drawer, one on the bottom right controls the outside air flow, and one on top controls the chimney damper.
  • Open a couple of zone valves. There is not enough heat to open them all and just a couple will warm the house.
  • Start fire.
  • Once fire is going close the ash drawer intake. Then manage the outside air and damper with the other intakes.

The water temperature and internal pressure can be monitored with the gauge at the top of the stove.

Pressure and temperature gauge

Pressure and temperature gauge

The red marker is set at approximately atmospheric pressure. If the water gets too hot the pressure release valve will open and relieve the pressure and send overheated water into a stainless steel milk can.

When the water gets to 90 degrees the second pump turns on. That sends the water to the heat exchanger. I check to be sure the secondary pump is running at this point. If not, the fire would need to be separated and stop burning so the stove would not overheat.

Heat exchanger

Heat exchanger

In the exchanger the warm water from the stove runs next to the water from the radiant system. The heat transfers from the stove to the system water which is pumping through the open zones.

Transferring the heat from the stove to water means that the stove does not get hot like a normal wood stove.

Stove is warm not hot

Stove is warm not hot

Having a fire in the evening is quite lovely on a snowy day. This is the first snow we’ve been home for. It snowed while we were out of town but it melted before we got home.

Late October snow

Late October snow

And inside the fire is so delightful.

Winter ambiance

Winter ambiance

When the fire dies down and it’s time to turn the heat back on, the system pump is plugged back into the thermostat controlled outlet and the switch to the wood boiler pumps is turned off. The house is cozy and the heat is unlikely to come back on before morning.

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Kerdi Shower Floor Installation

The Kerdi shower floor is made of sloped pieces of EPS styrofoam that are fitted and mortared to the floor with a non-modified mortar. I had to trim the pieces of shower floor to fit my shower. The floor pieces are 32 inches wide and this shower is about 30 inches wide. I purchased the floor that sloped to one side for an offset shower drain. This is similar to a typical tub to shower installation except that mine is longer. The area is 73″ long to the shower bench.
Unfortunately I cut the wrong end off of the shower drain piece and had to move it over, cut again and piece in the other side. I also added a piece of Kerdi floor that we did not use in the smaller shower in the master bath to fill the extra foot or so near the bench. I started cutting with a plain handsaw and I ended up with a crooked edge. Afterwards I used the multitool which cut the Kerdi straight and easily. I used the trim to fill in the side gaps. Although the directions do not call for it, because of the ragged cuts, I caulked the edges with Kerdi-Fix.

Kerdi shower base drain side

Kerdi shower base drain side


The extra piece was slightly higher than the rear of the larger Kerdi piece. Not sure why because it should have been higher only at the edge and sloping from there, And the edge of the 60 inch piece should have the the high point But the side I had to trim was on the extra piece.
Kerdi shower base fitted at bench side

Kerdi shower base fitted at bench side


I lifted one piece to be sure the mortar had even coverage as recommended. Walking on the base a bit helps it to settle in place on the mortar. The system allows the application of the waterproofing membrane right after the floor is mortared in.
I used a fresh piece of membrane instead of the piece that came with the shower base so that it would not have a seam. I have quite a bit left on the roll that I purchased. The shower is a little narrower at the drain end where the wall is located and I just cut about an inch away from the drain side of the piece to fit it around the wall.
I used the same mortar to place the membrane. But I had a problem at the drain end. I cut away the entire drain cover of membrane to fix the gap created around the drain. I installed the drain way before the I put in the leveling cement. So the drain was recessed too far into the Kerdi base. I tried to mortar the extra base piece that goes under the drain on top of the original to raise the drain. I spent a lot of time trying to trim the piece to the exact level that was needed.
My attempt to raise the drain to be level with the floor

My attempt to raise the drain to be level with the floor


I could not get the mortar to hold the piece firmly so I gave up and decided to find a piece of pipe to keep the drain open while I filled in the gap with mortar. I had a couple of extra toilet bases and the one with the metal rim sat higher in the hole. So I used it and poured some mortar around the pipe.
Mortar poured to raise the drain area

Mortar poured to raise the drain area


I spent a lot of time trying to smooth out the membrane. Including lifting the membrane to carve away the lip that the back portion of the floor had. I used a multitool to shave off the styrofoam to meet the piece next to it. The idea is that all water should run down the base to the drain. The membrane tended to be lumpy where the mortar was a bit uneven. I applied the mortar with a V notched trowel and I was surprised I had so much work to smooth out the membrane. I thought I spread the mortar evenly before I put the membrane on. But smoothing it out was still time-consuming.
The mortar on the floor and membrane have to dry 24 hours and then it will be time to lay the floor tile.

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Leveling Cement on the Shower Floor

I was fortunate to pick up a couple of free 50 lb bags of Mapei Novoplan 2 self leveling cement compound for free. I needed it to level the shower floor. Although some filling had been done with mortar, specifically a big hole in the corner near the wall, the Schluter Kerdi shower base installation requires a completely level floor.

I read the instructions on the Mapei website and then looked around the internet for installation advice and for my small area most of it didn’t pertain. Except I did decide to apply the Mapei primer. So I had to make a trip to buy that. For porous cement as in this shower which had never been sealed, the instructions recommended thinning the liquid 1:1 with water. So I did and spread it with a paint roller as recommended.

Primer spread with felt paint roller

Primer spread with felt paint roller

Some of the primer remained a bit white as it foamed a little when I mixed it with water. I tried to thin out the white areas but then I just left them and one coat seemed to dry very well giving a slightly shiny cast to the cement. The white spots went away after the primer dried overnight.

Mapei primer spread on shower floor

Mapei primer spread on shower floor

The next day I mixed the leveling cement. I had a partial bag to use up first. It was about 3/4 full so I used about a gallon of water instead of 5 quarts. It was easy to mix, pouring half of the bag into the pail of water and mixing with my good 1/2″ drill and cement paddle and then pouring the second half in and continuing to mix. The final product is quite soupy and I knew the consistency was right from watching videos of others pouring.

Mixing the Mapei Novoplan

Mixing the Mapei Novoplan


The advice was to mix the cement where you would be using it and I found out why when I carried that five gallon bucket into the bathroom from outside. Boy that was heavy.
The pour was pretty easy. I used a wooden float to smooth it out and push it together. The internet also said to keep the edges wet and mix and pour quickly. With such a small area that was no problem.
Leveling cement pour

Leveling cement pour


After pouring around the drain and getting it to flow evenly there, I poured the other end and worked it into the corners, then the pour met in the center. Unfortunately I only needed a little more than half of what I mixed. So a lot was wasted. I didn’t have another use for it so I just mixed water into it and dumped it on the outside gravel patio that we will eventually cover. The setup time was only 15 minutes and the slurry was workable most of that time. I tried smoothing a spot with a metal trowel but the cement just stuck to it and left a divot. In that one spot when I went back over with the wooden trowel I could tell it was starting to set so I just left it alone. The small divot the metal trowel made magically came back together through its self leveling power.
Wet poured leveling cement

Wet poured leveling cement


I didn’t try to alter the depth of the slurry, I just poured a bit and spread it around. I really wanted to maintain as deep a depression in the floor as possible so that the styrofoam Kerdi would meet the edge of the cut out in the cement. When pouring the floor I used some old panel doors from my daughter’s house to create the cut outs and those doors were just about the right depth for the Kerdi shower base.
Twenty four hours later I could have mortared in the Kerdi shower base but it took me awhile to cut the base to fit so that is the next job.

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