Posts Tagged plumbing

Catching Up With Casa de Lovely

Since my last post I’ve gotten a bunch of smallish projects done, and I’ll address those before going into the stairs project and the painting project:


I spent a Saturday wrestling monkey wrenches over my head and broke back the galvanized water pipes to the most convenient joints, and substituted in PEX. I got everything installed, turned the water back on, checked all my joints, and found no leaks at all. Yay!

Then I noticed a drip. Grrr.

Turns out that I had a pinhole leak in a section of the galvanized that I hadn’t even touched. So I got to turn the water off again, heft the monkey wrenches again, and break out another section of galvanized. Luckily, that was the last of the work for the day. There’s still more galvanized, but it can wait until I can buy a manifold and replace it all.

I also ended up having to replace the kitchen sink supply valves (and then the flexible supply lines as well since they were clogged with galvanized pipe-rust), and the PEX-compatible ball valves were so easy to work with I don’t see any particular reason to mess around with copper stubouts and compression valves at all — just run the PEX out of the wall in a chrome sleeve and crimp a valve onto it and you’re all done.


Of course, all the plumbing work was in support of putting in a new electrical panel. The guys from Kemly Electric came out and did a great job installing it and putting in the new mast, and then a couple days later the city moved the wires and put in the meter, and Kemly came back and set up the feeder line to the old panel.

I’ve moved the bathroom circuits and the cooktop circuit to the new panel. I suppose I could move the dryer circuit but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. The rest will have to wait until I start renovating rooms.

More Plumbing

Shortly after installing the supply lines, I went to run a load of laundry. I came back later to find the utility sink completely full of water. Apparently the drain had chosen that moment to clog. Since it’s the drain that serves the washing machine, the kitchen sink, and the dishwasher, I needed to fix it immediately.

So I basically rebuilt the entire trap, with long-throw bends and a cleanout, so it won’t clog as much and if it does I can unclog it without having to cut it all out again.



Through all the frustration and work, I kept telling myself I was not going to call a plumber, dammit.

That completed, I decided the next day to finally install the new garbage disposal that’s been sitting in a box under the sink for almost a year. Installing it was pretty easy, except when I realized that it was physically larger than the old disposal and therefore the shunt over to the sink trap was at the wrong height.

So I basically had to completely rebuild that trap as well. Sigh. At least it’s now built so that it won’t accumulate ick in the shunt pipe, and I installed an air access valve so at least the kitchen sink now has a vent.

Kitchen disposal and trap rebuild

The neat thing about the garbage disposal is that it’s very very powerful. The damn thing sounds like a tractor engine starting up or something.

I think that’s it. Now on to the stairs…

Tags: , , , , ,

Electrical Upgrade Preparations

We’re finally able to go ahead with upgrading the electrical service from 125 amp (and a totally-full, out-of-date, not-terribly-safe panel) to a nice shiny new 200 amp Siemens panel.

The plan is to install a new mast and meter in a better location on the house (where the wires won’t cross over the roof at no more than five feet clearance), run conduit back to the same room in the basement as the old panel, install the new panel there, put in a 100-amp breaker and run a feeder cable to the old panel. That way I can leave the horrible mess of electrical spaghetti untouched for now, and as I remodel rooms put new circuits in the new panel and retire circuits from the old panel until I can remove the old panel completely.

Also, the old panel is attached to a stud wall that I’m going to want to remove (well, it’s attached to the beam above a stud wall, but I wouldn’t want to remove the wall and leave the panel just hanging out in open space). The new location will let me reconfigure the walls however I like, and still leave plenty of room on that wall for washer/dryer/utility sink.

Before the electrician can come out, however, I’ve got a lot of work to do to prep the site. There’s a set of stairs from one of our back doors that needs to get detached and pulled away from the house so the conduit can run (I’ll cut a hole and put them back later). There’s a bunch of drywall that needs to get removed to clear a path for the grounding wire to reach the plumbing (at least the plumbing that will be left once I convert everything to PEX). And, most importantly, there’s a couple of water pipes directly over where the panel will go, which is forbidden by code (confirmed with an electrical inspector at the permit department).

So the plan is to cut out those pipes and divert them around the panel location using push-on or compression connectors and 3/4″ PEX. The problem is that they’re embedded in/hidden behind a plaster ceiling one of the previous owners installed in the whole central section of the basement (for fire protection from the furnace maybe? who knows).

Actually, I’m beginning to think that’s not plaster, it’s concrete. This hole took me half an hour beating on it with a crowbar and hammer:

Here’s a closeup, after some of the wire mesh lath has been cut away:

The reason I’m thinking it’s concrete is not only is it really hard but the sawzall will barely notch it (although it’s easy to cut out the mesh and keys once I’ve knocked off the visible layer).

So here’s the plan, before and after:

Hopefully I can at the very least get all the demo done on Saturday, and then I’ll be taking two days off work: the day the electrician comes to let him in and supervise and do any last-minute helpful homeowner things, and the day before to complete the plumbing and remaining demo.

Then the city’s inspection, then the Seattle City Light guy comes out for his inspection, then he schedules a crew for the re-splice to the service wire, and on that day the electrician comes back and makes the final hookup from the new box to the old, and then we have a completed upgrade.


Tags: , , , , , ,

OMG I’m So Done With This Damn Bathroom

I am so sick of working on this bathroom. Rather, I’m so sick of working on this bathroom and having one stupid thing after another break or go wrong, or just be poorly designed (or have the instructions not match the equipment).

But before I start ranting, here’s the progress so far (and there really has been a lot of progress, just a whole hell of a lot slower than I wanted):


The tile is done. Well, all but done. It’s all on the walls and floor, and it’s all grouted. The wall tile is Rittenhouse Square 3×6 in white with black accent tiles, and the floor tile is Octagon & Dot, both from Dal-Tile. Grout is Polyblend Delorean Gray, sanded on the floor and unsanded on the walls.

The wall grout was difficult and it’s not as clean as I’d hoped, because I only had just enough grout so I was trying to conserve it, and then I ran out of time toward the end and tried to basically do the entire shower at once, which meant that it had started setting up by the time I got around to sponging the excess off. And wiping, wiping, wiping on a vertical surface was very hard on my arms and back.

The floor grout was a lot easier. Granted, there was only about a third as much floor square footage as wall square footage, but the joints being bigger and the whole thing being horizontal made it a lot easier. I only used about a third of the 25 pound bag, but since I didn’t know better I mixed up the whole thing — which is now completely set up in the bucket; I used a plastic bucket that cat litter came in because I intended it to be disposable.


We haz tile


Jen presciently bought us a Wagner Paint Crew airless sprayer and a roller arm accessory. It took me a while to figure out how to set it up, and the first coat of primer went on pretty slowly. After that, however, the second coat of primer and two coats of paint only took half an hour each. We used Sherwin-Williams Bath Paint, and I have about a quarter gallon left to use on the window and door trim. Sherwin-Williams says the stuff is self-priming, but I don’t believe them. It took two coats to really cover and get out all the thin spots. On the other hand, it went on really well, and I think it was a good value despite being $40 a gallon. The only downside is that it’s so white (I didn’t have them tint it at all) it makes the white tile look off-white. 🙂


We haz paint

Shower Valve

And now we come to the clusterf*** portion of the program.

We got the Premier Torino shower/valve/faucet set (and the matching sink faucet). It’s pretty, but in retrospect I wish I’d looked at a model in person instead of just ordering it off the internet — turning the handle adjusts both temperature and pressure simultaneously, so there’s no way to have a lukewarm trickle; a quarter turn from off is both half and half hot and cold and maximum flow. I’d have preferred the type where turning it adjusts the temperature and pulling it adjusts the pressure.

Anyway, there’s a brass bolt with a threaded hole through the center sticking out from the valve that the handle attaches to. Apparently in order to adjust for different valves, wall thicknesses, etc., it’s overly long and you’re supposed to cut it back to the proper length.

Here’s the problem: there’s a brass adapter that screws into the bolt with a knurled knob on the end; the handle fits onto that with a locking screw to hold it on. So I measured and marked where to cut the bolt to have the adapter sticking out far enough to have the handle sit flush with the escutcheon. No problem. But then I cut it, screwed the escutcheon on over it, and then discovered that there’s a piece molded into the top of the escutcheon that blocks the adapter from going in far enough.

So in other words, it’s impossible to have the handle flush with the top of the escutcheon. Now, the instructions are less than clear: the parts list shows the adapter and locking screw, but the assembly instructions show a screw going through the handle and into the bolt with no adapter. I wonder if I have the adapter, handle and locking screw from the newer model but the escutcheon from the older model.

Right now I have it entirely assembled sans escutcheon, so it works but looks kinda ugly. And I get to have the I’m sure wonderfully pleasant experience of calling their customer service and attempting to explain all this over the phone and ordering at least one new part. Grrr.

Oh, and I almost forgot: I was screwing the shower head arm back into the drop-ear elbow inside the wall. The “tight” spot had the arm at a 45° angle past vertical, so I could back it off 45° or push on almost another whole turn. I looked at the threads and it wasn’t really threaded very far, so I went ahead and cranked it. I got about halfway when the goddam drop-ear broke inside the wall. Or at least something broke; I’m hoping it was just the screws and not the brass fitting. Regardless, I’m going to have to cut open the wall, fix or replace it, and patch and paint. Grr raar raar raar.


The shower curtain rod went up easily, since I’ve already put it up temporarily and taken it down again, um, five times now I think. It’s a double curved curtain rod from Bed Bath & Beyond — I like having the curved rod since I really dislike brushing up against a damp plasticky curtain liner while showering.


We haz a shower curtain rod

The medicine cabinet was easy, as were the sconce lights. The overhead light was more difficult, since somewhere along the line it didn’t quite get set proud of the joists by quite enough, so the bolts hanging down from the box to screw the base onto weren’t long enough. A trip to the hardware store later (the next day) it went up just fine. Note to self, however: leave a longer wire to attach to. Last, there was again something wrong with the fan blocking and it wants to droop down a quarter inch or so from the ceiling, which means I have to climb up into the attic and figure out how to attach it better. Bah.


Medicine cabinet & sconces are in


Light and fan are in

Another annoying issue — chalk yet another thing up to inexperience — is the wall sockets. Those little spacer nubs on plastic electrical boxes that are supposed to leave the top of the box flush with the installed drywall? They lie. All my boxes are recessed about 3/16″. Not fatal — I can unscrew them and put in longer screws and spacing washers. But the other thing I didn’t know is that you have to cut the hole in the drywall exactly the size of the box, or at least no more than 1/8″ larger. The snap-on Decora plates need to brace against the drywall, and I’ve got too much of a gap. I’ll need to get out the patching compound that dries hard as rock and fill in around the boxes, and then paint the compound, and only then attach the switch/socket plates. Dammit.


We got the American Standard Champion 4 from Home Depot. Installation was pretty easy, except for the feed valve, which just did not want to go onto the copper stubout. Eventually I’d damaged the brass compression fitting enough that I just threw that valve away and went with another one. A whole lot of vice grip + pliers action later, it was watertight. That was yesterday at 1:00am.


Toilet installed


Look! It flushes!


My sophisticated leak detection device


Clusterf*** part II. We got a pedestal sink off Craigslist from a guy up in Marysville with two warehouses full of … stuff. It’s fairly nice looking and we paid way less than retail because it apparently got dropped in the box and the top of the pedestal was broken. I was able to superglue it all back together and reinforce it with fiberglass tape and adhesive, so I didn’t think there would be any problem.

Until I got both pieces out of the box and put together in good light. At which point I realized that not only were they not quite the same color (white/off-white), but the top of the pedestal doesn’t actually fit into the groove at the bottom of the sink — they’re different models.

Okay. Fine. The pedestal isn’t really important in that it as long as it’s supporting its share of the weight it doesn’t need to be perfectly mated to the sink, and sometime next year when we have more money we’ll just get a new damn sink. So I put them up against the wall and spent an hour getting the assembly perfectly positioned and leveled and the screw holes marked.

My brand new carbide bit that I used to drill the holes for the toilet flange yesterday no longer wanted to drill through tile at all, so I made a late night run to Home Depot and found a set of tile and glass drill bits that I swear they didn’t have when I was looking for them weeks ago. I certainly wish I’d had them before, since they cut through the tile like buttah.

Hooray, right? Well, I put my wood bit into my drill to complete the pilot holes for the wall mounting screws and when it punched right through into air discovered that I’d made a fundamental error. I’d never seen a pedestal sink unattached to a wall before, so months ago I looked at the big holes in the middle of the back and thought that’s where you put in lag bolts with big washers or whatever. I was wrong, as I discovered when I watched a pedestal sink installation video online.

Here, I’ll let the pictures tell the story:



So since at this point I can’t go in through the back of the wall and put in more blocking, I’m going to have to cobble up some lag bolt solution after all — tomorrow.

Punch List

  1. Get some more grout and fill in all the little gaps, in corners and just where I missed a bit.
  2. Call the shower valve company and get some new parts
  3. Scrape and clean all the excess grout, paint, and joint compound off the tile
  4. Silicone all the tile/drywall joints and around the tub
  5. Put up the @#$%*&! sink
  6. Fill in around the switch and socket boxes
  7. Clean, paint, and reinstall the door and window casings
  8. Fix the fan blocking
  9. Insulate the ceiling

Jen keeps telling me what a good job of everything I’m doing, but I’ve been so frustrated by stupid shit going wrong that all I can see is the imperfections. This project started out as hard work but fun and interesting. It’s not fun anymore. I have two days to finish the last couple of crucial items before we have people over for Thanksgiving, and then presumably complete the rest over the long weekend.

Then I want to not think about projects for a while. The rest of this house had better not be this stressful.

Tags: , , ,

Lots Of Progress, or, My Wife Is Awesome

The Baby Gate

Since we have a little one who will be bipedal any day now yeesh, Jen’s been after me to put up a baby gate at the top of the stairs. The instructions said it needs to be installed into a solid if not structural elements, which presented a problem. The staircase has sidewalls, but they have about three 2×4 studs each — you can wiggle them about an inch either way without even needing any effort — so I couldn’t install the gate into the obvious opening. There are structural columns at the top of the stairs which are in place of the original outer wall of the gable cottage but which now form one of two arches from the addition on either side of the fireplace — one into the stairwell and the other into the living room. But they’re too far apart for the gate.

So I built extensions, I guess you could call them, that anchor into the columns and make the opening narrow enough for the gate to fit. They’re not particularly pretty (I learn a lesson about carpentry every time I pick up a power tool: in this case, don’t try to drill a perfectly perpendicular hole without one of those mini-drill presses you attach to your drill), but at least instead of having bare ends of 4×4 posts sticking up I covered them with little fence post caps.


And, since they don’t meet the stair sidewalls or the fireplace, the cats can get around them but even a bipedal baby can’t:


So it’s nice to have one project completely done with and checked off the list.

The Bathroom

I got the floor down a couple of weeks ago, but it’s just been sitting there mocking me ever since.

As you can see in the photos, it’s an octagon-and-dot mosaic tile, and I really should have used a smaller-notch trowel. Pretty much every joint has thinset squidged up into it. That is to say, every one of the thousands and thousands of little tiny joints has thinset squidged up into it, some halfway, some to the top. Scraping them out with a utility knife is going to take forever.

I’ve been working slowly on finishing the drywall — it’s not that it’s particularly difficult, it’s just the first time I’ve done it so I’m figuring out my technique as I go along. But the bathroom absolutely must without fail be all the way done by Thanksgiving, so I took the day off work today to get as much done as possible. I spent the morning doing second-coat on the drywall, and then Jen called and said she was taking a half day and would be home to help.

So we decided to attack the walls. I mixed up a bunch of thinset, set up the borrowed laser level along the reference lines I’d already marked, and then Jen went to town setting all the field tile while I worked on making all the odd cuts and fits. The result: we have walls!


There are two reasons we didn’t completely finish: I can’t do the ends of the shower walls because the end-bullnose tiles are on order, and I can’t do the top row of tiles until I’ve skim-coated the drywall (since there will be a bit of overlap). The bottom row of black tiles is just going to be an evening of cutting and fitting, and we were both tired after working all day, so that’ll have to be another post for another day.

And here’s why my wife is awesome: not only did she do almost all of the work to get the tile up, she actually got it up a lot faster than I would have done. If she hadn’t taken a half day off, I’d probably have gotten one wall done and maybe two, instead of all of them. And that doesn’t even mention all the work on the rest of the house she’s been doing while I’ve been putting all my energy into one room. The fact that this place looks like a home instead of a box and tool storage facility is all due to her.


So you’ll remember the missing drain hole for the sink. I’m happy to say that it was pretty easy going in through the linen closet, since it was faced in particle board, not the 3/4″ tongue-and-groove of the bedroom closet, and my measurements were pretty darn close:


(Yes, I’m aware that it’s not centered. The sink, shelf, and medicine cabinet aren’t centered on the old pre-existing drain line, mostly because of having to mount both sconce lights into studs and find a center point between them.)

Now I have to figure out the best way to interface between the 1-1/2″ ABS and the 1-1/4″ standard sink drain and P-trap. I guess the trap escutcheon is going to have to cover a lot.

Oh, and here’s a photo I forgot to put up months ago.


Moral: don’t try to pull eighty-year-old framing nails out of eighty-year-old wood with a little bitty finishing hammer.

Tags: , , , , ,

What’s Wrong With This Picture

Here’s where the sink is going to go. What’s wrong with this picture?

(And no, “it’s red” is not the correct answer.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , ,

Good News and Bad News

Friday all the inspectors showed up.

First was the electrical inspector. She actually arrived when I was on my way back from the hardware store so I talked her through most of it on the phone, only arriving as she was finishing up.

Everything passed, except one of the boxes in the ceiling should have been face-up (into the attic) for accessibility. She was concerned about the remaining knob & tube, but I convinced her that the rest of the house was running off it and I would be happily removing it room by room as I renovated. I had her look at the little subpanel, and even though she couldn’t officially “inspect” it since it wasn’t included on my permit she said everything looked okay.

(Apparently she asked Jen if I had an electrical background. She said what I would have, which is no, I’m a complete newbie, but I read books.)

Second, the building inspector. As I figured, everything looked good, except for a couple missing nail plates over holes through the studs. He gave me a pass with the stipulations that I install nail plates and insulation (which I already had on site) and that the plumbing inspector passed me. All good so far.

Then the plumbing inspector showed up, and I wasn’t done with running the PEX. I’d hoped he’d arrive later in the afternoon, but no such luck. In any case, it didn’t matter, since he took one look at the new tub drain and said it didn’t pass. There wasn’t a vent close enough to the drain, and Nate had installed flexible Fernco compression fittings (not the metal-covered ones) to connect the toilet and tub drains to the cast iron stack (which apparently aren’t approved for indoors, notwithstanding my plumbing guru’s book — maybe it’s just a Seattle thing). The inspector took pity on us and basically went outside his purview and described what he would do if he were the plumber and officially allowed to tell us what to do. Heh.

Now, at this point, we had a non-code tub drain, half-installed PEX supply lines, cuts in the old lines, and no water to the house. I was utterly exhausted, and Jen was dog-tired after removing about a million nails holding down the carpet on the stairs. Our plans for closing up this weekend so we could possibly have an operational bathroom by next Friday were quite obviously scotched.

So we discussed it for a few minutes and did what we should have done in the first place: called a plumber.

The plumber arrived about an hour later, looked around, came up with a plan, and handed us an estimate for just $1700 (and that was contingent on us doing all the necessary demo). We handed him a check and a house key so he could do the work on Monday, and went home planning to break into my current job’s 401(k), which up to now had been sacrosanct. (All of our credit cards were near the limit already.) He’s going to do the drain right using 2″ pipe the whole way plus a vent and a test cap, install the PEX supply lines correctly using 3/4″ tube on the main line instead of 1/2″, and install the shower valve, which is reportedly much more difficult than it looks.

Jen called her folks when we got home, and we got more good news: they were sending us a check as an investment in our daughter; it was supposed to be a surprise, but they figured they should tell us so I didn’t tap my 401(k) on Monday morning before the check arrived. It’s going to be enough to cover a lot of things and a huge load off our minds.

So we won’t have a completed bathroom by move-in day. Not possible. But it should at least be minimally operational by then, even if we have to hang plastic around the shower or at worst have to take showers at our friend Alexia’s house a mile away. The rest of the work can be evenings and weekends without having to drive twenty miles each way.

Tags: , , , ,

Things Start Going Back In

(or, Welcome to The Bathroom Renovation Death March, or, Plombieren Macht Frei.)

This is where things got bad. I was running out of time and the to-do list just kept getting bigger as I discovered step after intermediate step that I hadn’t planned for.

The plan was to finish up the framing, including framing in the hole where the old closet door was and building the stub wall to go at the foot of the tub, then to run the electrical back to the breaker panel, then tap into the existing feed lines and run PEX to the faucet, bath and toilet. Didn’t even come close.

First off, of course, is that I didn’t even get to the house until after 3pm, what with having to run around and pick up supplies, including my busted Craigslist Special circular saw from the repair shop way the hell up in Kirkland (about fifteen miles out of my way). Then I ate a sandwich and finally got to work about 4pm. I called the city and county and scheduled all the inspections for the following day. I was committed now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , ,

Bathroom Demo Part 3

I haven’t been posting the last few days because I’ve either been too goddam busy or too goddam tired.

The difference between the DIY reality shows and reality is that the shows never show people covered in filth on top of a ladder working with heavy tools at arm’s length in the middle of the night.

Monday I pulled down the ceiling and dropped a huge pile of rockwool all over everything — I pulled one nail off the corner of each sheet of drywall and the whole thing came down. There were a bunch of nails in the joists, but the drywall must have been completely rotten. After I cleaned all of that up, I scraped up all the vinyl flooring and the linoleum underneath it (at least I hope it was linoleum). Also, the building inspector showed up for the preliminary inspection, and signed off on all our plans, including the stairs; what was especially useful is that he let me know that on old existing buildings they’re understanding about what’s possible and what isn’t, and with respect to the winding stairs that the 6″ inner width of the tread was the most important part and that if we missed the 10″ middle width by a quarter-inch or so they could let it slide.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tags: , , , , ,