I Tackled The Tile!!!

The Gingerbread Diaries

Yes, that absolutely requires three exclamation points.

Y’all, as many small, behind the scenes things we’ve accomplish over the last 6 weeks–and there have been plenty–the only thing, so far, that looked like real forward progress at first glance was framing in the new wall. And that was weeks ago!

But now, now I have something I can point to and not only claim ownership of (I was feeling very third wheel on a lot of the progress to date) but it signifies a major leap ahead in the finishing of the room (even though we’re nowhere close to being finished).

I present to you… our floor.


Tiled. Grouted. Done!

Since we laid the Hardie backer on Thursday night, that meant we could tile pretty much any time on Saturday. First, though, we needed a trip to Lowe’s for a few more things (including a bit to cut the holes for tub drain and supply lines through the cement board, since we didn’t do those ahead of time… for reasons) and then I needed to dry fit the tile.

Now, our tile came in sheets but it’s not on a mesh like some of the super-small tile patterns, it’s more like strong glue spacers behind the tile pattern? Easily cut with a utility knife. I started my dry fit in the back left corner of the room (the commode quadrant, if you will) and tackled the left border of the room as this was where most of the fiddly bits were for the plumbing lines. The compound tile nippers we picked up that morning were nice and easy to work with and fitting around the pipes was pretty simple.

The dry-fit, minus the part just in front of the door.

The dry-fit, minus the part just in front of the door.

The worst fitting problem was with the air vent–the interior corners were a bitch to cut, since two of them fell squarely into the larger octagons, and I had to recut one of them and piece it in. Such a pain. (And even after tidying up the hole post-grout, the vent still isn’t sitting in properly. I’m probably going to have to chisel out some of the tile. Grrrr!)

Except for that first line of tiles along the left side of the room, every other edge had to be trimmed since the room, despite appearing squared off, isn’t. So it took quite a good chunk of time to fit all of the tile edges to the plywood edges, and I had to send Todd back to Lowe’s (for the third trip of the day) for 5 more sheets of tile to finish out the dry fit of the front, doorway-side edge of the room.

But! Dry fitting everything meant that the actual tiling process went pretty quickly. Having everything already cut, and then stacking each column of tile last to first, and stacking them in a row just outside the room meant I could lay down the mortar for a row, then grab the pre-cut tiles, and just keep on trucking. It made for a long Saturday, but it felt good to get it done!

You can see where the excess mortar creates a slight haze over the tiles. It's a learning experience.

You can see where the excess mortar creates a slight haze over the tiles. It’s a learning experience.

Of course, this was my first time tiling a floor, so mistakes were definitely made. My mortar application wasn’t 100% even, with some deeper pockets here and there, and the excess mortar squished up between the gaps in the tile pattern. On the first row I tried to clean up as I went, but that just made for more of a mess. I’m still not sure that was the right decision, because I spent 6ish hours or so (however long it takes to watch/listen to Fuller House, season 1–all of it) on Sunday afternoon chipping away the mortar that had squished up enough to block where the grout needed to go.

At least the mortar cleaned up easily from the tops of the tiles it got onto.

I'm a messy cook, and a messy tiler, too!

I’m a messy cook, and a messy tiler, too!

After hours of chipping away, I was no longer in the mood to grout, so Monday night, as soon as I got home, I threw on my mortar-encrusted work jeans, strapped on my knee pads, and got to grouting.

Okay, a word about knee pads. We each bought pairs of heavy-duty gel knee pads for the renovation work, and I did wear mine during the dry fit and tiling. But they’re really only comfortable for a few hours. At that point it doesn’t matter how thick the gel padding is, the fact that the base of your knees and the tops of your shins have no natural padding of their own starts to come into play. And the straps of said knee pads eventually work themselves into a single spot behind your knee and start to create friction burns from the shifting as you crawl along the floor.

Almost a week later and my knees still hate me.


TEC Design FX Stain Proof Grout in 922 Silver

Back to grouting. The grout we chose is probably my favorite thing, so far, of the entire project. Dude. It’s disco ball sparkly! It’s pre-mixed, ready to go, and despite smelling like hair dye, it was really easy to work with. Grouting took a total of 2 hours, so not bad at all, and the change it made in the room was amazing! I mean, yes, the contrasting grout lines highlight where my spacing got off (the spaces we bought, the only ones Lowe’s carried, only work with square tiles, so were pretty much useless with the octagonal tiles that made up the majority of our square footage), but I don’t even care! Not only will the darker grout not show dirt as easily as white would have, it sparkles!

Can you see the sparkle? It's there, I promise!

Can you see the sparkle? It’s there, I promise!

Plus, most of it is going to be covered up or obscured by the tub, commode, sink, and rug. Uneven spacing is not the end of my world.

Speaking of the rug situation, I totally scored at Tuesday Morning (which I visited on Tuesday night). I had some time to kill before Beer & Cheer so I popped in to pick up a couple things for Todd’s upcoming birthday party and look at their rugs. I found two that had the burnt orange color I was interested in and the approximate size, but I wasn’t sure which one Todd would like so I bought then both. Thankfully–this is TM, afterall–the larger rug was $20 and the smaller one was $15, and if Todd hated them, I could easily bring them back.

The perfect rug would be the size of the one on the right with the pattern of the one on the left. But perfection is overrated.

The perfect rug would be the size of the one on the right with the pattern of the one on the left. But perfection is overrated.

Turns out, we like both of them for different reasons, so we’re keeping both, and we’ll swap them out at will. The larger rug is an indoor/outdoor rug, so super sturdy, which will be good for when we entertain and this room gets more traffic. The smaller rug is 100% cotton, so will be easy to clean and probably be the day to day rug choice. They both have two shades of orange and the grey in each kind of picks up the silver of the grout. I’m really happy to have that out of the way and to have gotten such a great deal on them!

So what was Todd doing while I was fussing with tile? He was under the house working on the supply lines for the tub, commode, and sink. Everything is now measured and cut, just needs to be assembled. Unfortunately, Thursday (when we thought he’d get home early enough to install them) he came home with a bad toothache and swelling and, yeah, not really in the mood to work. Poor guy!

The goal for the weekend is to get the toilet installed and put up the wall between the hall and the bathroom (and the old doorway to my office), since that’s the bare minimum of what needs to happen before the party in 2 weeks. Ideally, we’d be able to get the sink installed, too (though we’re having trouble finding the right faucet at the moment), and get the drywall up inside the bathroom so the walls look semi-finished, but that’s technically optional. The wall also involves the insulation (which we bought this week) and installing the vent fan, so we’ll just have to see how far we can get.

Here’s hoping Todd can get into the dentist today and will be feeling better soon!

PS! The videos are now up for weeks 5 & 6 in last week’s post. This week’s video will be up much more timely, I hope!

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!