Oh, Calamity!

The Gingerbread Diaries

Or, in other words, a belated house update. (Was it Trixie Belden who said “Oh, calamity” when things went wrong?)

So the other thing, besides the issue of gaping holes in the house during the coldest month of the year (and, yes, the heating bill was shockingly high this month), that can upset a winter remodeling project is the increased chance of seasonal illness. I figured there was a good chance one of us would come down with something during the project, I just didn’t expect us to both get sick at the same time. With slightly different strains of the flu/cold/upper respiratory mess that’s going around.

The good news is that we’re both on the mend and that progress only slightly slowed during our respective downtimes. I cannot take any credit for that, though, since I spent the past Friday through Monday basically holding down the couch while Todd missed hardly any work and kept chipping away at the plumbing and flooring projects.

The really excellent news is that, by 11pm last night, things were looking decidedly up!

Hardie Backer is down!

Hardie Backer is down!

Let’s back up a bit…

Week 5

(Direct link for the feed readers: Episode 2.7: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 5)

At the beginning of the fifth weekend it became clear that there really was no way to leave the toilet in place and do the room in pieces as I’d originally hoped. Le sigh. So we ripped out the rest of the floor (it went so much quicker than the first half), got it leveled out, and by the end of the day Sunday we’d cut and put down the other half of the new subfloor.

The neighbor was out on his porch Sunday afternoon as we were getting ready to cut the plywood and remarked “This is how you spend Valentine’s Day?” Yes, yes it is (was).

And the obligatory juvenile joke I couldn’t help making (but not meaning): At least the floor got laid!

Moving on…

It was the Tuesday night after that Todd suddenly came down with that deep-chest, rumbly, can’t stop it once it starts coughing. Just absolutely out of the blue. Unfortunately Wednesdays are must-work days for both of us (pesky co-workers wanting to get paid every week, sheesh!) so he had to go in for at least half a day and the same on Thursday. By Friday, though, he was doing loads better. Still coughing and easily tired, but as wuick as the worst came it went.

Not so for me. On Thursday afternoon I started feeling a little feverish at my desk and it just kept going downhill from there. Unlike Todd’s chest cold/flu/something, mine stayed up in my head (in the sinus region, not my imagination) and I battled chills for over an hour that night before finally settling down. I was shaking so bad that I could have charged a quarter a minute (Magic Fingers reference anyone?).

Fortunately for me, I was between deadlines and things had been kinda slow at work so I called in sick Friday and floated between fever dreams and listlessness for the next 3 days. And since the fever reared it’s ugly head again after an exploratory trip to the grocery store Sunday afternoon, I stayed home Monday, too. (Otherwise I could have ended up on the wrong side of my boss’s very lovely wife, had I still been contagious and gotten him sick!)

Week 6

(Direct link for the feed readers: Episode 2.8 Downstairs Bath Reno, Week 6)

My “lost weekend” kicked off Month 2 of the renovation project, and Todd kept chipping away at the work to be done. With the subfloor in place and the plumbing mostly roughed-in (we still have to make the spaces for the tub drain, etc.) Todd got started dry-fitting the Hardie Backer into the room. It’s gridded, so the easiest way to shape and section it is by scoring along the cut lines and either bending it to snap or hammering out the voids. Slow work, but worth it.

On Sunday he drove to Tallahassee and back twice to rent (then return) the tool he needed to remove the cast iron vent pipe (aka the last of the old fittings from the room). It’s a ratcheting chain gizmo that you’ll see in action on the video that we tried to find for the previous plumbing repairs but had no luck with. Turns out Home Depot rents this $500 tool for only $30 a day and Todd had the old pipe sectioned and sorted in a few hours. Not too shabby, even with the half tank of gas added in.

Which brings us to last night.

Over dinner I asked if he had brought work home or was planning to work in the bathroom. I didn’t mind either way (dude works hard in all respects, I’m certainly not going to push him harder, especially when he’s still recovering, too!), but I did point out that if we didn’t put the Hardie Backer down until Friday night, we wouldn’t be able to tile until Sunday (it requires 24 hours for the mortar to cure), and if we waited until Saturday it would be next week before we could start on finishing the floor. And the longer the floor took, the longer it would be before we could install the new commode. We’d managed okay with only the one bathroom over the last 2 weeks, but we both agree that it’ll be nice to regain the second set of fixtures.

Again, not pushing, just discussing our options.

I had a project due for Helmar that I needed to get written up (another reason I wasn’t pushing), so I went to my desk to do that and was only semi-surprised when Todd came down in work clothes and started prepping the floor and mortar.

Basic steps to laying down Hardie backer (aka cement board)

  • Sweep subfloor clean
  • Wipe subfloor with a damp sponge
  • Mix mortar to peanut butter consistency and let sit for 10 minutes (okay, do this first so you can do the other two steps while the mortar sets up)
  • Apply mortar with a 1/4″ notched trowel to subfloor in 3’x5′ (ish) sections, laying each board as you go (and try not to work yourself into a corner)
  • Leave 1/8″ gap between pieces of cement board
  • Screw down cement board at 8″ intervals (a 52 sq ft room will take more than 200 screws!)
  • Fill seams with mortar and reinforce with mesh tape (just like drywall seams).

Once I finished with my Helmar project I really wanted to play in the mud mortar–it looked like fun! So I grabbed the trowel and started on a second patch while Todd was situating the first larger board. Then I went upstairs and put on work jeans because, yeah, doing that in a skirt wasn’t really the best idea.

Troweling mortar is a lot like icing a really big cake. I loved it. Tiling tools could take some pointers from cake decorators, though. I was this close to sacrificing one of my offset spatulas to the cause while doing the seam filling and taping–the putty knife I was using got the job done but was not ideal.

The plan for this weekend is that Todd will work on the supply lines, etc. for the plumbing while I set the tile on Saturday. Sunday we’ll grout and maybe by Monday we can install the new toilet and sink. That would be pretty fabulous!

Everything In This Post Could Be Wrong

The Gingerbread Diaries

Does anyone else remember those sorts of disclaimers in tech manuals?

Direct link for the feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries 2.5: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 3

That was the lesson we learned as we took up the first half of the bathroom floor bright and early on Saturday morning. Turns out that the joist we were basing everything on, the one we uncovered as we opened up the 10″x8′ gap in our back hall, the one that had been “supporting” the existing bathroom wall, that one? Was the lowest point in all the bathroom joists.


Todd’s Wreck-It-Ralph overalls are getting some real use this week!

So, yes, that whole conversation about what level we were going to build up to, etc. was next to useless and the rest of the room is already that high. Okay then!

The new plan became to pick the most level joist in the bathroom itself and work to that. With said joist identified, we then had to adjust 3 others–one was too high, one was too low, and one was even lower than that! For the two low ones we bought 2″x1/4″ slats (for lack of a better term) to sit on top of the joists–one needed one, the other needed 2 stacked on top of each other, and for the third we would “take it down” about a quarter of an inch.

Take it down you say? Why, yes, we needed to remove some of the wood, and I was concerned that the method Todd first mentioned (planing) would have us in a too much, build it back up, too much again, etc. loop. So I asked if sanding would be a decent alternative (figuring it would make for less drastic changes per pass compared to a planer).

And that’s how we ended up with a belt sander.

Week 3, tool 3… I sense a trend, here.

Our Lowe's Haul (Week 3, trip 4)

Our Lowe’s Haul (Week 3, trip 4)

After a trip to Lowe’s for said sander and half the store’s complement of PVC elbow joints, Todd started in on the sanding. Even with the added power, it was still a tough, tedious job. I haven’t tried the sander for myself (I will when we get to the next half of the floor which will need similar treatment), but I did get to use the reciprocating saw this week!

We needed to build up the joist we’d put in the previous week, a task easily accomplished with a spare 2″x4″x8′, but there was a small section at the end that needed fitting in. I took it upon myself to notch out the bottom of the stud that was in the way (the sawzall is pretty cool!), trim an offcut of 2×4 to the right length (with the hand saw), and nail it into place.

My handiwork! (Considering the thought of powered blades sends chills down my spine, this is actually a pretty big accomplishment for me!)

My handiwork! (Considering the thought of powered blades sends chills down my spine, this is actually a pretty big accomplishment for me!)


Todd cut down the first sheet of plywood (3/4″, I believe) for the floor and I suggested going ahead and cutting both but we were a) losing the light fast and b) losing Todd–he was pretty wiped out by this point so we stuck with the single, got it into place, and called it a night.

The double box on the right will be for the lights and the fan vent. The single box on the left is for a GFI outlet.

The double box on the right will be for the lights (what is currently hanging in the middle of the room) and the fan vent. The single box on the left is for a GFI outlet.

Sunday brought with it a revision of our plumbing plan of attack (the new toilet location will be set up and hooked up before we remove the other half of the floor) and an overwhelming urge to nap. Not super productive, but super needed. The rest of the changes for this week are small by comparison.

  • Filled in some gaps in the clapboards and where the walls meet (from the original, inadequate build) with spray-foam. That stuff is awesome.
  • The removal of a kajillion square nails from the studs as well as removing the braces that once were–we’ll replace them with our own.
  • The building up of two exterior wall studs–they installed them flat to the wall rather than perpendicular, then placed a brace across them, rather than between.
  • Sistering the guide-joist of the bathroom after I noticed it had a crack radiating from a knot that became more visible when Todd leaned on it.
  • Determining the height of the light switch and outlets and installing the boxes for their eventual wiring-in.

Last night Todd tackled actually attaching the floor to the joists (couldn’t be done until the wall studs were in place, so I’m not ragging on him for the delay) and was employing a 2×4 as a lever to scootch it up as close to the wall as it could go, when I asked “Oh, is it raining again?”

Y’all, I wish I’d been recording that, because this would have been a scene just perfect for Renovation Reality (did anyone else see that show?). The lever had shifted a pipe under the house and what I heard as rain was actually it draining. Now, in Todd’s defense, he didn’t hit the pipe, he hit the cinder block-and-brick rigging that was holding it in place because the braintrust that last fixed it didn’t use the correct coupler to keep it in place on its own. And it’s one of the pipes that we’ll be moving soon, anyway, but still. Not something you want to do, much less have to rectify, at almost 10 pm!

But it wasn’t all sandpaper and rusty nails! While at Lowe’s we accomplished a couple of side quests by confirming what tile we’ll be using (the same one I snapped on my Pinterest board) and picked out our grout (a dark grey to coordinate with the faucet, etc. and it even has some glittery flecks in it to look shiny, not just dull and grey. Also, while browsing the lighting aisles to try and get an idea what we might want (because I seriously had no clue on this so far), we ended up finding and purchasing the most perfect light for this room–it echos the details on the sink and toilet we’ve picked out, came in brushed nickel, and was only $25 in store (website shows a higher price). Score!

Anyone want to place bets on what the week 4 tool purchase will be? I have a strong feeling a nail gun and compressor are now on the short list, but will we bite that bullet this week or wait a bit? Hmmm….