Plumbing the Depths of Tile Installation

The Gingerbread Diaries

(Direct link for the feed readers: Downstairs Bath Renovation, Week 4)

So, I did it, I got brave and looked at our original timeline to see just how far behind we are, here at the end of week 4:

  • Week 1: Take the room down to studs
  • Week 2: Build new wall
  • Week 3: Electrical and plumbing
  • Week 4: Drywall and painting

Yup, we’re behind!

Granted, replacing the subfloor was never on my list, so that bumps things back a week on its own (2 if we’re being honest, because we only have half the subfloor replaced). If we adjust for that additional task, which we’ll call the new week three between wall framing and electrical/plumbing, we’re only functionally 1 week behind.

Or something like that…

My precious! I hope I love these switches as much in use as I do in theory! | image via House of Antique Hardware

My precious! I hope I love these switches as much in use as I do in theory! | image via House of Antique Hardware

The electrical and plumbing aren’t done, yet, but I have high hopes for that to be checked off this weekend. We’ve ordered the pretty button switches and plates only to have the double plate be on backorder until April.

This, but in brushed nickel finish. | image via House of Antique Hardware

This, but in brushed nickel finish. I hope. | image via House of Antique Hardware

Todd’s looking into what our options are to speed that up (we could have the rest of the order shipped without it and fix up a stand-in until the one we want is available OR we could get a different finish and I could paint it, those are the top contenders at the moment). It isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a delay we weren’t expecting.

Todd’s been working on the plumbing for the new layout this week and since that’s not something I’m all that helpful with I suggested that while he was doing that, maybe I could go ahead and get started on the tile floor. Sounds good, right?


It’s been a week of research into underlayments and waterproofing and tile sizes. See, we bought a roll of DITRA as an underlayment but they didn’t have the tape that you’re supposed to seal corners and edges with (lets ignore, for the moment, that to seal the gaps we’d also need the drywall up–details!). So I was doing some reading about installation on the manufacturers website and saw that they had a minimum tile size of 2″ to use with the DITRA. Well, the octagons are that big, but the square tiles are not, and the size of the waffle pattern on the DITRA could mean it’s not supplying the right amount of support for the smaller tiles.

Reminder of the tile we picked. Simple, not fussy, though it'll look more interesting with the silver grout we picked.

Reminder of the tile we picked. Simple, not fussy, though it’ll look more interesting with the silver grout we picked. (Yes, it’s listed as wall tile, but it has a PEI of 4, which is perfectly fine for moderate to high-traffic floors.) | Image via Lowe’s

The good news is that we get to return the DITRA (that stuff is expensive!) and don’t need the tape, either. Instead we’re going with a layer of cement board (the preferred underlayment for small tiles as near as we can tell). The cement board is water durable, though we’re also wondering about waterproofing between that and the plywood subfloor. Now I’m thinking a treatment would be better than, say, a layer of plastic sandwiched between–we’ll see what consensus we come to.

I suppose the bright side to all of this is that we discovered this NOW as opposed to when we were knee deep in tile-time. My attempt at being proactive actually let us research an area of the project we’re both pretty new to without setting the project back further. So, yeah, that’s what I’m going with.

Window of Opportunity

The Gingerbread Diaries

Growing up there was one summer when Mom made some offhand comment about finding a new place to live and I ran with it–scouring the rental ads in the Sunday Homes section of the paper, reading her likely options. I remember reading one in particular: 3 bedroom, 2 bath…window air. To which I said:

Window air? Like, what, you open the window and there’s your air?

This was one of many times, growing up, Mom wondered how I could be so smart and so dumb at the same time.

It’s worth noting that we didn’t have air conditioning in those days and the summers routinely topped out at 106 and 107, so even a window unit would have been an improvement over the box and oscillating fans we were depending on for our creature comforts. That and the cheap movies we’d go see on Sunday afternoons for a few hours to beat the heat.

Since moving out right after high school I’ve been fortunate enough to always have central a/c. We have it here in the Dollhouse, too, of course, but the upstairs unit just can’t quite hack it during the summer and it’s a bit of deja vu to have oscillating fans pointed at our bed to keep it just below broiling each evening. But it was working, mostly, and it was just temporary until we could either upgrade the upstairs a/c, vent and/or insulate the attic, or come up with some other solution.

Our before...

Our before…

I’m almost ashamed I didn’t think of a window unit until Todd brought it up last week, but once he did I was totally on board and asked the very important question

And what sort of time frame are we talking about?

Because, truly, Todd is a ponder and consider a while before acting sort, and it’s late July already and not getting cooler. Thankfully he was ready to act on it and we made a stop by Lowe’s on our way to dinner, Friday night, two pick up two of these beauties.

We dithered a bit over what size to get. A 5,000 BTU unit cools up to 150 sq ft, which was a little under the size of our bedroom and definitely smaller than Todd’s office across the hall (the destination of the other unit). I was good with going up just to a 6,000 BTU unit, promising to cover up to 250 sq ft, but Todd pointed out that we do like things pretty cool and it wasn’t that much more to get a slightly larger unit. Which is how we ended up with 2, 8,000 BTU units, promising 350 sq ft of cool.

Hello, new friends!

Hello, new friends!

Not to spoil it or anything, but Monday heard Todd saying it was easily the best $500 we’ve spent on the house to date.

I did have a condition about the window units, that they not be hanging out of any front-facing windows. Thankfully each room in question has side windows that face the side and while the one in Todd’s office would be visible from the street, it still wasn’t as obnoxious as it would have been poking out of our bay window!

My other concern was installation–don’t these sorts of units require a platform for the back end to sit on? And wouldn’t that be a bit tricky up on the second floor with Todd’s wrist still not back to fully functioning? Apparently not, as the more modern units are small enough to rest on the window sill and be held in place by the window itself.

I was shocked at how quick it was to install!

Simple, 5-screw installation.

Simple, 5-screw installation.

As promised, the unit sits on the sill and the bottom of the window sits down into a plate on the top of the unit. And it only took 5 small screws to keep things in place, so it’s not like it did irreparable damage to the 75 year old windows.


Keep the air in and the bugs out!

Keep the air in and the bugs out!

The last step was the weather stripping to fill the gap between the panes. It didn’t look like the provided stuff was going to work (it was too thin for our old windows) until Todd decided to turn it sideways and it filled the gap just right.

They also came with remotes--very useful so far!

They also came with remotes–very useful so far!

After a few nights with these bad boys I can say that they are a bit noisier than anticipated, but not so much that it keeps us awake. The steady noise from the window units seems to be drowning out the outside noises that sometimes do startle me when I’m trying to go to sleep, so maybe the sounds are a benefit? And it was so nice to be able to put the blanket back on the bed and sleep with the weight of it on me–I’ve been sleeping so much better between that and the temperature! And with both units running there is a little mix on the landing between the rooms, so we might actually avoid a $600 utility bill this summer, which would be fabulous!

We did one other thing this weekend that has made daily life so much better.

Mom decided to swap out her kitchen cart/island for another model and offered us her old one. Jason drove it up on Sunday so I took the opportunity to deep clean the kitchen, clear off a lot of the counter clutter*, and even take down the old blinds and put up the sheers I’d purchased way too many months ago. All they needed was hemming and a pocket added to the bottom and they were ready to go!


With the smaller island in place (before it was my old IKEA table, which is now in the Abyss as another work surface) it gives us more room to maneuver. The two drawers in the unit give us much-needed storage (no more dishtowels in a basket on the counter!), the shelves get things off the floor and provide places for some of the aforementioned counter clutter to go, and the counter-height top makes it a much more functional work space.

Meanwhile, the sheers let in so much light in the afternoons that it completely changes the vibe of the room. I cooked dinner, Tuesday night, without even needing to turn on the overhead light. And it feels so airy in there, I love it. We also brought one of the oscillating fans down from upstairs (since it’s no longer needed), and having it blow across the work area in front of the stove made preparing dinner this week so much more pleasant. The room has a single floor register (under the baker’s rack with a diverter) and it just doesn’t put out enough air to cool the room while the stove and/or oven are going.

All in all, the Gingerbread Dollhouse is a much more pleasant living environment after a couple of days effort. I already loved it, now I just love living in it a bit more!

*As I was saying to friends earlier this week, kitchen counters with nothing on them feel like a house without books, to me: empty and unloved. My counters will always have appliances and other often-used items on them, but I consider them “clear” if there’s only stuff single-deep and enough space in front of the items to fit at least a cutting board for work space.

Progress Is a Stack of Empty Boxes

The Gingerbread Diaries
It may be a small stack, but it's still a stack!

It may be a small stack, but it’s still a stack!

We’ve been able to cross several things off The List the last two weekends, for which I am truly grateful. We’ve penciled-in the most likely weekend for the housewarming/open house party so the clock is now ticking to get the rest of the functional changes dealt with!

First thing that happened? Todd took down the problematic doors and I did a happy dance. Now there’s more open space in the dining room and no more spooky spot in our bedroom. I am a much happier camper. Currently the doors are leaning against the back hall wall (the one not under near-constant water assault) but we may be swapping them with other doors that are staying in place but in not as good shape. Or not. That’s still very much up in the air.

A previously blocked corner of the dining room with a new bit of shelving from Homegoods--this side will half of the bar set-up when we're done.

A previously blocked corner of the dining room with a new bit of shelving from Homegoods–this side will be half of the bar set-up when we’re done.

The next big change was the kitchen.

I don’t remember if I said much about it, before, but the weekend prior to the move I was cleaning the upper kitchen cabinets and came to the conclusion that cleaning wasn’t going to be enough. The only way I was going to feel comfortable putting stuff in that kitchen (short of replacing the units) was if they got a good coat of Kilz before-hand. So, already tired and ready to be heading back to Tallahassee, we instead went to Lowes, bought spray cans of the encapsulating primer, and then busted it out, guerrilla-style, in about 20 minutes.

The kitchen before painting...

The kitchen before painting…

And 20 minutes later once the spray-paint dust settled.

And about 20 minutes later once the spray paint dust settled.

We didn’t have time to do the lowers, though, so that got put off. I also would not recommend the spray paint route without first removing anything that moves, because the little particles get all over. We wiped down the counters, etc. afterwards, but there are some places that still show a bit of over-spray, etc. Oh, well, we know the current kitchen is temporary and aren’t sweating it.

The very scary lowers (after prying up the old liner paper)...

The very scary lowers (after prying up the old liner paper)…

And a couple hours later--a vast improvement!

And a couple hours later–far from perfect but a vast improvement!

But two weekends ago, ready to finally unpack all those kitchen boxes, it was time to tackle the lowers, the drawers, and put down fresh shelf-liners. The painting took one afternoon and it wasn’t until this past Saturday that I finally put the liners down and started to unpack.

Ahh, the comfort of having your stuff around!

Ahh, the comfort of having your stuff around!

I still haven’t painted the cabinet doors and I’m not fully sure I will. Maybe the large ones for the lowers but, while I’m still not a huge fan of open shelving in general and neither is Todd, having everything open for now means we can find things a touch easier.

And it’s looking like it’ll be the first of the year before we actually do the big kitchen reno, because I didn’t want to be mid-project during the holidays!

Another big thing that greatly makes this feel more like our home and less like a nursing home was the removal of the ramp out front!

(Direct link for the feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries 1.5–The Great Ramp Caper)

Todd had been concerned that the bricks under the ramp would be in bad shape or crumbling. Thankfully, aside from a bit of moss growth, they’re in great shape just need some cleaning up. It’s so nice to be able to walk down the two steps to go out to the mailbox in the evenings instead of balancing on the ramp–no problem in flats, but in heels it’s another story!

It's the little things, folks!

It’s the little things, folks!

And in another case of using what we’ve got, we immediately repurposed the larger “half” of the ramp as a platform for the grill!

Waste not, want not!

Waste not, want not!

Our side yard is mostly sand and, like the rest of everything, tilts quite a bit. We’d used the grill a few times but it leaned back at an alarming angle. The eventual plan is to extend the bricks over to create a patio or maybe even pour a slab at some point, but for now this works.

One step at a time, we're creating a home out of a house.

One step at a time, we’re creating a home out of a house.

In the downstairs bathroom we added an etagere for some much-needed storage and, despite the fact that we added a piece of furniture to an already cramped room, it somehow made the space feel bigger. Maybe it’s the bright white covering some of the grey-mauve walls? Who knows! All I know is that it helped. Big time!

The bins on the etagere top and shelf are some I’ve been picking up at places like Tuesday Morning and Homegoods. Since we don’t know what color schemes or themes we’ll be using in the back hall and bathroom yet, I figured a good beige/khaki neutral is something that can go anywhere. And if I want to, later on, I can dye or paint them to match whatever we do.

We have lots of shelving in the back hall and can use this for a butler’s pantry if need be, but I don’t want various stuff just sitting out looking cluttered. Bins cover a multitude of organizational sins, so I’m still on the lookout for more (and cheap is good, too, since we need a bunch).

Finally, the programmable thermostats have gone in. This was fairly high on the to-do list but moved to the very top of the list when we got our most recent utility bill. *gulp* It doesn’t help that it was July, and a real scorcher of one, too. But our bill was over $500 this month!!! Yeowch! We expected an increase thanks to just having more space to climate control, but that bill hurt a bit to open.

It started so well...

It started so well…

Of course, nothing goes completely as planned at the Gingerbread Dollhouse, so of course the thermostat install had some hiccups.

Jenn: How’s it going?
Todd: Okay. They had the wires screwed in extra tight and the lead painted in place on the opposite side of the wall, but I’m getting there.
Jenn: Cool. Do you have the right number of wires?
Todd: Oh, yeah, I just have to get them in the right spots.

The above was a condensed paraphrasing but I jinxed us, really, by asking about the wires. Because sooner than expected what do you think happened? There may have indeed been five wires in the old thermostat set-up but were they all connected? As in to some sort of power source? Nope.

1 step forward, 2 steps back...

1 step forward, 2 steps back…

Having already mounted the back plate of the new thermostat to the plaster wall, Todd put the old thermostat hanging from the wires so we’d at least have air. He ended up having to crawl under the house and went so far as to open the access panel of the a/c unit to get everything working. Upstairs went much smoother, by the way.

While we didn’t go for the shinyness of a Nest thermostat, Todd did get a wi-fi accessible thermostat for the downstairs that we can control through our cell phones. So that’s kinda cool.

I’m still not sure we’re going to save much on the utility bill for another month or so, though, as any time the a/c units are off during the day just seems to mean they work harder cooling the place down in the evenings.  Oh, well, fall will be here soon enough.

Until next time, we’ll just keep on unpacking boxes!