Friday, March 21, 2014

English Countryside Bath in Rural Iowa

After running into rotten subfloors in our upstairs bath,

Andy and I made the quick (and relatively easy) decision to tear the bathroom out and start fresh.  After two days of demo, this is what the bathroom currently looks like.

Pretty sweet.  Luckily Andy hasn't run into any other major issues though he has come across several layers of drywall/plaster on the walls, some "fantastic" old wallpaper and flooring
Miscellaneous old flooring
Wallpaper on drywall layer #2
 and a wasps nest that went from the exterior of the house all the way into the interior wall.
Wasp nest
With all the layers of walls we are tearing out, we should gain a couple of inches in the room!  One of the things that Andy and I always laugh at when we watch shows where homeowners take the reins in demo is the crazy people who go at rooms with sledgehammers.  I have never seen Andy use a sledgehammer in any demo.  His tools are a crowbar, utility knife, drill and brute force.  Gets the job done efficiently with easier clean-up when it is all said and done.

So now that we are getting down to the bare bones, Andy and I are negotiating the design and layout of the new space.  I looked at a lot of design books and magazines as well as Pinterest boards and settled on a style I have named "English Countryside Bath".  I'm thinking claw foot tub, rustic wood floor, roaring fire, sheepskin bath rug.  Ok, scratch the roaring fire but everything else stays.  I want the bath to feel warm and inviting and like it has been there forever but still matches with the rest of the house.  The biggest must for me for this design is the claw foot tub.  These can run you at least $1000 but thanks to Craigslist, we are hoping to swipe one for much less than that.  The nice thing about claw foot tubs is you can have them refinished for $350-500 (which if you got it for free, isn't too bad) and you can easily paint the outside to freshen them up.

The other big piece of furniture in the room is the vanity.  My plan is to find a thrift store dresser to paint up and fit with a sink- probably a vessel sink with faucet coming out of the wall.  The bathroom is small and hard to find storage solutions with the slanted wall so I am thinking a dresser vanity would be perfect for storage of towels and bathroom basics.  Since it is a kid's bath, we don't need much more storage than that so I think it will work out well.

Finally, the last design piece of the bathroom is the flooring.  This is what got me into trouble to begin with when I had a vision of painted rustic subfloors... which lead to the discovery of rotted, rustic subfloors.  Once we decided to rip out the bathroom, Andy and I were planning on laying a plywood subfloor and just painting that for the time being.  On a whim, I looked up floor on Lumber Liquidators and found a perfect pine floor which would only cost $100 for the whole room!  The flooring is unfinished.  Usually when we buy wood floors (like in the playroom) we buy finished since it is so much easier and ends up costing about the same once you put all the supplies into finishing unfinished flooring but since we are going for a rustic look, and the room is so small, unfinished works well for the bath.  I am planning on staining them- possibly something like this picture I found originally and then protecting them with a coat of Polyurethane.

I am a very visual person, so to get a feel for the layout, I first tried marking the bathroom perimeter in the living room and using our coffee table as a tub.  After dragging the coffee table around once, I decided I could come up with something better.  Channeling Andy's compulsiveness, I grabbed some graph paper and created a bathroom layout to scale.  I then drew a tub, toilet and vanity to scale using generic measurements and cut these pieces out.  This way, I could move around the furniture in every configuration to get a better feel for spacing and flow.  Our main challenged in the room is the slanted wall which means the tub has to go on one of the two perpendicular walls so we can outfit it with a shower head.  Also, the slanted wall makes it hard to put a vanity there since there really wouldn't be a good place to put a mirror.  Luckily, we can be flexible about the placement of the door since that wall has to be torn down anyway and we are planning on putting in a pocket door.  After all of those considerations/issues, these were our top choices:
Option 1- Door stays where it is, tub along window wall and toilet and vanity on slanted wall.

Option 2- Door moves to middle of wall with toilet along slanted wall.
Option 3- Door moves to middle of wall with toilet under window and vanity along same wall.

We aren't set 100%- we will buy the tub and vanity and see what their exact sizes are but we are leaning toward option 3.  We talked a lot about option 2 but I just couldn't imagine walking into the bathroom and looking right at the toilet.

Now that our overall vision is pretty set, Andy and I are scouring thrift stores, Habitat Restores, Craigslist and salvage stores for the perfect mix of vintage and modern- all while sticking to a tight budget.  We hope to regale you with our exciting shopping excursion to Minneapolis (all the locals call it "the cities" but we still haven't gotten that lingo yet) where we plan to hit three salvage stores and hopefully pick up a claw foot tub we have negotiated through Craigslist.  Wish us luck!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Tarantino Project

Yeah, so this bathroom's gettin' torn out.

So, I'll pull a quick "Tarantino" and back up this story to last Friday night.  After finally choosing a paint color for the bathroom and getting the ceiling and walls painted, I decided to remove the linoleum and plywood flooring.  Andy is on a business trip and would usually handle this sort of thing but I decided to sort of surprise him with a finished project (and my awesomeness) when he returned.  (It wasn't really a surprise since I consulted him on what I needed to do, but the thought was the same).  The linoleum was actually in fine shape but it didn't match which the character we are trying to restore to the house- modern farmhouse charm.  The plan for now was to take out the linoleum and paint the sub floor underneath with a blue and beige stripe.
Flooring inspiration
We had success removing linoleum and painting the sub floors in the upstairs hallway.  One huge note before I get into my process- linoleum and adhesive prior to 1977 may contain asbestos so if you are unsure of the date of your flooring, have a contractor check first.  We were sure this flooring was less than 10 years old so we didn't have to worry.

My first order of business (after tucking the kiddos into bed for the night) was removing the toilet.  I Googled "removing a toilet" and found two helpful resources:  a Home Depot article and a YouTube video.  I can't imagine what people did before the Age of the Internet!  I was a little concerned at the Home Deport article's project time of 2 hours but I figured I could bang it out in a night.  I pretty much followed the directions exactly though when I got to removing the tank from the seat, I realized I hadn't grabbed the right tools from Andy's shop.  Instead of walking outside in the pitch black and possibly being abducted, I decided to try and tip the whole toilet on it's side.
Unfortunately I didn't have anyone to take a picture of me standing on it with one foot after I had conquered it
Success!  No problem at all.  I dragged the toilet on a drop cloth out of the room and removed all the wax around the ring, clogging the pipe with an old towel to prevent sewer gases from gassing me out.

The 2 hour time frame was bogus- it took about 15 minutes (so it would probably take a normal person about 5 minutes).

Now that the toilet was removed, it was time for serious business- removing the flooring.  I closed off the room with a drop cloth and again went to my trusty friend, Google finding a helpful video to get me started.  Andy coached me through operating the circular saw over a FaceTime call until I felt comfortable with lowering the blade and using the machine safety.  I have never even held a circular saw before but of all the tools, I felt pretty comfortable with this one and felt like it is pretty safe.  I set the blade height to just less than the depth of the plywood floor so the blade would essentially just score the wood.  One of Andy's big tips was not to just drop the blade in flat to the floor but turn it on and move it at a downward angle until it was flush to the floor.  The few times I forgot to do this, the blade just skipped over the top of the floor.  I cut a square grid into the floor, getting as close to the edges of the room as the saw would allow.

It seriously took less than 10 minutes.  As I am using this no joke power tool with my new work gloves on and Andy's respirator over my nose and mouth I am singing Katy Perry's "Roar" feeling like tough shit.  I think I have found a new stress reliever and workout (my legs were burning!).  I would have taken a video of my amazing feat but I didn't want my phone to get all dusty.

After I cut the grid (then checked in with my mom, assuring that I still had all fingers and toes), I starting chipping out the plywood with a crowbar and hammer.  I have no idea if this is the proper way but it worked fine.  I put the crowbar to the edge of the section I was working than hit it with a hammer until I got it under the plywood than jacked up the plywood with my serious muscles.

The plywood was held down by thousands of staples so when I would hit a staple line, I had to use serious muscle to get it up but I was successful.  I do have a video of this process- don't mind the terrible camera work as it was just propped on the tub as I was working.  Also, don't mind the huge shot of my butt as I am working.

That's about as glamorous as it gets around here, people.  I didn't worry about the edges but got as close as I could.  To finish the edges, Andy recommended using a sawzall but that tool was a bit more scary to me with an exposed blade.

Once I got the main sections up, this is what was uncovered.

The opening of the room is pretty good- very similar to what we found in the hallway.  Then we come to a square in the middle of the room with 4 layer of linoleum over a wood piece- someone probably tried to patch a rotted area.

Then past the square toward the tub it gets really ugly- lots of rot especially around the tub.

Wood butting up to the tub... really no wood and a huge hole
At this point I know that Andy is not getting a finished room on his return from China.
Andy blissfully unaware of the situation at home
Whenever you take up a floor, you need to be prepared for what you find under and go into the tear-out process with an open mind.  Luckily, Andy and I are used to this and had some back-up plans going in depending on what I would find.  Yes, we could have just left the floor or painted the linoleum but we are both the type of renovators that we like to fix the bones instead of slapping stuff on top.  Do I want my kids taking baths over a rotted floor?  No thank you.  So though we are now faced with a bigger issue, we are both glad to have found it and now fix it.

Options?  Well, no matter what, the whole floor needs to come out and be replaced with a plywood sub floor.  Just patching the rotted places is not really an option since we can tell the rot continues under the tub. We could have just removed the fixtures (tub and sink), replaced the sub floor and placed everything back as it is now but for us, it is an easy choice- gut it.  We had planned to do a total bathroom gut in a few years anyway and now it is just getting pushed up.  That means a couple other projects we had planned this year will get put off and it means that we won't be choosing glamorous and expensive fixtures but we are both happy with the decision to take care of the whole problem now.

Unfortunately since Andy is out of town until Friday, this leaves me with a trashed bathroom and toilet sitting in my quilt room but alas, that is pretty much the story of our life.  I am busy with ideas and layouts for our new bath and will share our plans soon!  So, this story started with a paint job and ended with a total gut- a True Tarantino Event.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Biting the Bullet

Over the past year and a half, Andy and I have been painting, tearing apart, rewiring and decorating every nook and cranny of our little farmhouse... with the major exception of the upstairs bathroom.  When we first looked at the house, the bathroom was the one room that I considered charming- it had some leftover farmhouse character that the rest of the house was so devoid of.

Quickly after moving in though, the character lost it's charm and we were left with a oddly arranged bathroom complemented with olive green tiling, a pull cord light and a fly graveyard.  I'm not sure what attracts the flies so much to this particular room but there is always a pile of dead ones on the floor.  Yuck.

We plowed into other rooms and ignored the bathroom, other than throwing a bathmat on the floor and calling it good.  We have a grand plan to tear everything out, move the door and put in a proper shower/bath with a double sink.  This plan nourished us for a good year and a half but day 3 into Andy's second trip to China in a month and I finally lost it and decided to bite the bullet.  With a green tile in hand, I charged into Walmart's paint department determined to fine a complementary color to the tiling that made the green tiles feel more contemporary.  After a little deliberation, I settled on Brown Taupestone by Better Homes and Gardens.  I had the color color-matched in Glidden's Paint+Primer in eggshell.

After tucking the kiddos in for the night, started by giving the ceiling a fresh coat of white paint- I usually use straightforward ceiling paint but I didn't have enough left so I used a white wall paint in eggshell.  After 2 coats and a quick dry time, I scrubbed down the bathroom walls with dish soap and warm water, washing from bottom up to avoid drips.  Man!  You wouldn't believe how filthy the walls were- they were almost a different color after their bath.

My painting system for walls is always the same.  I begin by cutting in all the edges with a good quality, angled brush.  I don't tape anything first- I prefer to work slowly and make sure I have a wet rag (or ratty sweatshirt on) to fix any mistakes quickly.
First coat cutting in
A good quality paintbrush is key and well worth the money.  I was excited to bust out a new one for this job. The biggest pain in a bathroom is painting around the toilet, so I cover the tank with a garbage bag so I don't have to worry about getting paint on the toilet.

The color was dark enough going on over beige so it took two coats.  I prefer to do both coats of cutting in before I roll.  It doesn't really matter but I do this so I don't have a wet tray and roller to deal with longer than I have to.  After cutting in, I went around the bathroom with two coats of the roller.  I used a 3/4" nap roller.  Usually rolling is Andy's job because I hate it but since he is gone, it was all left to me.  Thankfully it was a small room.  The key to rolling is to not over saturate the roller and to not press too hard on the walls or you will be left with drips and/or roller lines.  Work slowly or you will end up with paint speckled hair (my favorite look).  I always roll from top to bottom so I can catch any drips.

Now that the painting is done, my mind is rolling with ideas for the rest of the bathroom- flooring, mirrors and lighting.  I guess the moral of the story is if you don't know where to start with a room, just dive into something manageable- paint, flooring, etc and let the rest roll from there.  You can't wait forever to have the money or time to make the room how you really want it down the line but do something now to make it a happy place and a livable space.  Will we be tearing this bathroom apart eventually?  Oh definitely, but until then, I am much happier walking into the room since it feels more like home.  (And hoping the flies decide to move on).

Now that the color is up, I am imagining a painted sub floor- possibly in blue and taupe stripes.
Flooring inspiration
Since Andy is still away, I am planning to attempt to take up the linoleum glued to plywood floor by myself.  Andy is the carpenter of the family so I have never ventured into the world of power tools or really any tools for that matter beyond a hammer and screwdriver but I am excited for the challenge and hope to surprise Andy with my amazingness.  Result to come...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


Although I am a (fairly) young guy I have always been pretty pragmatic and very logical. The same goes when Christmas comes around. Over the last 8-10 years I have been getting grief from my family regarding my gift wishes, some of which have included a new vacuum cleaner, cook wear, wool sweaters, etc. This year’s wish list include a new house thermostat. But not just any old thermostat… a NEST! And to my surprise and excitement I unwrapped the gift that keeps on giving, warmth and cooling at least.

If you are unaware of the wonderful splendiferousness of the Nest, it is more than just a programmable thermostat but a Hal like self-teaching thermostat. It takes about a week of human to machine interaction and then goes self-aware like Skynet.  Except the goal of this device is to keep you comfortable and save on energy bills, not enslave and exterminate.  Nest was co-founded by ex-Apple engineers, which you can easily tell from the get go by its clean lines and packaging that takes you on an emotional journey.

The Nest is capable of running heat, air conditioning, humidifiers, and I’m sure launch a Russian built satellite into orbit. Our system is heat only but I think I might be able to wire it into our future whole house fan… fingers crossed. The installation is really straight forward and comes with an outstanding manual, but if you are even slightly confused or have questions their help line is quick and extremely friendly. There is a disclaimer seal on the box that is quite insistent that you call or email ahead to make sure your HVAC system is compatible; which ours was, but I called anyway. You can actually take a picture with your Smartphone, email it to them, and they will send you back a custom diagram suited for your installation. Really cool!

I have a two wire system, so I felt a little dumb, but what the hell the guy was nice and I didn't feel like I had to explain myself. The diagram came, I unwired the old thermostat and wired up the Nest. 

The screen welcome was so exciting I made a girly noise and made Megs come look. The set up took about 10 minutes by answering questions such as zip code, wi-fi data, and personal information. 

From there the unit searched for updates, churned, bubbled, and finally gave me back control to tune my house temperature at my lease. That latter part I could always do, but the pleasure of the action changed immensely.

The well diagrammed and easy to read pamphlet that come within the packaging says the Nest will require about 7 days worth of human to machine activity, which means when you wake up turn the temp up to where you want it, when you leave or go to bed turn it down. 4 days in the NEST kicked on automatically at 5:45am! When I approached my precious, it sensed my presence and the screen read “The NEST will now make your life more better”… not really but it prompted me that I was no longer needed. AWESOME!

If by now you have not realized that I think this simple device will make me more handsome and smarter you do not get my humor. I love this thing. I also love the fact that it will generate daily reports of how long the furnace has run, the program time and temperatures, and how much energy it has saved you. The last feature I can rave about on the nest is the little green leaf icon that comes on when either you or the Nest is saving energy. If you turn down your heat even one or two degrees the leaf pops up making you feel warm and fuzzy inside despite the fact it is getting colder in the house. My family has decided that the leaf feel good I get does not equal the life sustaining heat that they need… whiners!

To add to the awesome/ creepy factor is a feature that “knows” when you are in the house and when you have left for the day, or at least a part of it. It senses you have left and turns town the heat/ cold to a base set point, for our house that is 58 degrees. When you walk in from being away for a days outing the house is cold but instantly kicks back on like a welcome home gift. I swear one time I heard it whisper…  “I missed you”.

I have drank the Kool-aid and can’t say enough good things about this product. Because I am a nerdy engineer, I will be comparing year over year heating costs to see just how much energy it has saved us and will provide an upcoming report out, even with this Arctic Vortex on full blast. Megs has already started mumbling about the Nest fire and CO2 monitor that they have released and I am fully on board. Bring it on!