Order of operations
OR
Tile is on the floor

putting in new insulation

Ready to put in some new insulation

So we finished the vanity about a week ago, and had planned to do the floor tile next. Part of our bathroom project involves building some sort of shelves/cabinet where the washer and dryer used to be, since otherwise we have some empty space, and also because we want to hide the plumbing where the laundry tub used to be. I had been thinking for some time that we would want to put the shelves in before tiling the floor, but we still haven’t really figured out exactly what we are going to do for that, and it started to seem like we might never get floor tile down if we waited. Eventually I decided that we could do the floor tile first, so we decided to do it this weekend, hoping that it will be done by the time my parents come to visit next weekend.

All the old tile is out

All the old tile has been ripped out. Now just a bit more cleaning to do.

The plan was to get all the prep work done Friday night, then put in the tile on Saturday, and grout Sunday. We left work a little later that we had expected on friday, and then we also ended up talking with the Harrimans for quite awhile. We stopped there to pick up the tile saw that they agreed to lend us, in exchange for helping them with their website. As to be expected, we got talking about our respective projects. They have more than we do, but hey, we are still novices. So we got home a little after 8, heated up some leftovers, then got working on getting the toilet out. That was actually no problem at all. I shut off the valve, then flushed the toilet, which got most of the water out, but not all. Clare had the brilliant idea of getting most of the remaining water out of the bowl using a cup, which worked quite well. A bit of water spilled when I lifted up the toilet, but not that much. After lifting the toilet off, we stuffed some rags in the hole to prevent sewer gases from getting out. We put the toilet in the foyer temporarily.

new drywall is up

New drywall is up

Then I got to work removing the rest of the old right around the toilet. I worked on this until about 10:30 or so, then decided I would finish up in the morning. In the morning I finished getting off the last bit of tile, and also worked on ripping out more of the drywall around the toilet that had gotten moldy. Clare and Liz were working on cutting the new drywall when I thought I noticed more termite damage on the nailers behind the old drywall. It turns out that it was not termite damage, but that some of the insulation was a bit moldy. So I ripped out about 10 square feet of the insulation and put in some new stuff, and a new vapor barrier there. Though I had poo-pooed the purchase two weeks ago, the staple gun that Clare bought came in very handy. Then we started hanging the drywall. Unfortunately most of the pieces were about 1/4 inch too big, so we spent quite a bit of time whittling them down with the utility knife until they would fit. This time, unlike last, I marked the location of the studs before hanging the drywall, which made life much easier. So most of Saturday was consumed with drywall and sweeping up the bathroom. Clare and I did get some of the tile out and talk about the best layout plan. We decided on doing full tiles by the doorway, which means we will end up with some pretty small tiles right by the vanity, but they should not be too visible. I finished the day with 2 round of mopping, so that the surface should be nice and clean, and the mortar will adhere well.

Clare cuts some tile with the tile saw

Clare cuts some tile with the tile saw

Sunday morning we got out of bed around 7:30. For some reason Clare wanted to shower, but I got straight to work (after a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee). The first thing to do was to finalize the layout, which involved setting some of the tile on the floor (without any mortar), and making sure everything was straight, then marking the position of the tiles using a chalk line. Once this was done, I could start measuring the first few cuts that we need to make. This is one way in which we deviated from the instructions in the HomeTime tile video. They recommended laying all of the field tile first, then waiting a day and laying the edge tile. Since we had so few field tile to lay, this seemed like overkill, and we were anxious to get the project done, so we can put the toilet back in. I mixed up the thinset mortar and began making measurements while Clare got the tile saw and tile cutter ready. Since the tile saw sprays some water around, we decided to do it outside. It turned out to be a nice day — partly sunny and 55 or so — but it was only about 35 when we started at 9 a.m. Clare was a real trooper though.

Combing out mortar

Combing out mortar

I probably laid down the first few tiles around 9:30. It is best to work in relatively small sections, so we made 2×2 or 2×3 boxes with the chalk line. I began by scooping some mortar out of my bucket with a margin trowel, then I used the smooth side of my notched trowel to comb it out. I chose a trowel with 1/4″ wide notches with 1/4″ spaces and 3/8″ deep. The tile video recommended 3/8″ deep for tiles 12″ or larger. Our tile are 13″ (actually 12 13/16″ — to make it easy to do measurements using a 3/16″ grout joint. We decided to use a 1/4″ grout joint). After spreading out the mortar with the smooth side, I then combed it out using the notched side. This gets the proper amount of mortar down. I filled one 2×2 box with field tile, then set a few cut pieces which Clare had cut very nicely. After I had set the cut pieces, I removed one of the field tiles, to check to see how well my mortar was adhering (also recommended by the Home Time tile video). According to the video, the mortar should cover about 90% of the tile. If it is less than this, then the mortar is probably too dry, or if greater than 90% the mortar might be too wet. I thought my test tile was more like 70%, so I added a bit of water to the mortar, and also concentrated on getting a consistent 45° angle with the notched trowel. I then replaced re-combed the mortar where I taken the test tile out, and put down a fresh tile.

test tile

Test tile. Is there enough mortar?

I continued laying tile for several hours, and Clare continued cutting tile. For all the straight cuts we used a simple tile cutter which scores the tile and then snaps it. But for the trickier cuts, we used the tile saw. The tile saw has a circular blade with a diamond edge. It is not jagged like a circular saw though. The saw sprays water on the blade as it is cutting to keep down the heat and the dust. Clare used one neat technique with the saw to get some rounded cuts, which we learned from the video of course. She made several very skinny cuts into the area that we wanted to remove, then nipped them off using the tile nippers.

fancy cuts with the saw

Clare makes a fancy cut with the tile saw using the many teeth method.

I continued laying tile until about 1 p.m. or so, at which point I decided I need a break, so Clare and I had some lunch. By this point we were mostly done, and had mostly field tile to lay down. As I started to lay tile after lunch I started realizing that the tile was deviating from the chalk lines. I began to get worried that the tile was not going to fit how we had envisioned. So I put down a few tiles and sure enough, it looked like we might end up cutting tiles by the doorway, which is exactly what we were trying to avoid. So I consulted with Clare, and we decided to just squish some of the grout lines instead of cutting the tile.

all the tile is laid

All the tile is laid

I finished laying tile around 3:30 or so, and then spent about a half hour cleaning up. Now we have to let the mortar set-up for at least a day. Hopefully we can grout tomorrow, then put the toilet back in soon.

Phase 2 complete
OR
Vanity installation finished

This past weekend we finally finished the vanity installation. We worked on it a bit almost every night of the week.

tile is laid

the countertop tile is down

Monday night we got home around 6:15, and brought pizza with us, so we could get working on the tile pretty quickly. I started mixing up the mortar, and ended up getting really lucky and mixed the last part of one 25lb bag, which ended up being just about enough for the countertop. While the mortar was slaking, we started laying out the tile on the countertop to determine where we wanted to make our cuts. We decided to make cuts on the side next to the half-wall, since it would be less visible when you walk in the room. Then I marked the cuts for the sink-hole, and Clare set off making those cuts with the tile nippers while I started laying tile. Liz also helped cut some of the tile for the edge pieces using the tile cutter. The tile went on quite easily, though after it cured, I realized that they weren’t completely level. Hopefully I will be able to get them a bit more level when we do the floor tile. The actual laying of the tile only took a couple hours.

The new vanity

The new vanity with the sink installed

Tuesday Clare and I worked from home, so in the morning I started off by putting on the backsplash. We used 4×4 bullnose tile for the backsplash, and put it on with pre-mixed mastic, just like we used for the tub tile. That only took a half-hour or so. Then I worked until dinner-time, and after dinner I put on the grout. While I was putting on the grout, Clare and Liz worked on getting the old faucet off the sink. This proved to be trickier that one would think. The faucet part came off pretty easily, but the drain simply would not come off. The ring that fits in the sink would not come unscrewed from the rest of the drain. After I was done with the grout I took a look at it, and tried using some WD-40, but it didn’t help much. So I decided to let it soak in for a day.

countertop with tile and sink

Countertop with new tile and sink installed

Wednesday evening I set about trying to get the drain off again, hoping that the WD-40 would have helped overnight. It didn’t. So finally I got out the hacksaw and simply cut off the drain. Then I spent close to an hour removing the old caulk from the sink with a razorblade, and getting as much rust off the bottom of the sink where the old bolts had been as I could. Once again, I decided to call it a night.

Decorative tiles

Decorative tiles (they match the tub)

Thursday evening I finally installed the new faucet and put the sink in the hole. I attached the flexible hoses that were connecting the old faucet to the new faucet, and connected the first half of the drain assembly, putting a little silicone sealant under the metal rim that sits in the sink bowl, per the instructions. Then I put some more silicone under the rim of the sink, and set the sink in place. Finally, I put a little silicone between the edge of the sink and the tile. I finished connecting the supply pipes and the drain assembly, but did not turn the water on, because I wanted the silicone to cure.

Sink back in

New faucet, old sink

Friday evening I tried out the sink. I followed the instructions and took out the aerator to flush out any debris that might have gotten into the pipes while ripping out the old vanity. I had to tighten the supply pipes a bit more, but then it seemed to stop leaking. I was initially disappointed when I tried to put the aerator back in though. A small stream of water was obviously not flowing through the aerator, but spraying around. I tried tightening it down with a plier (and a rag to prevent gouging the aerator ring), but it didn’t help. Then I took it off, thinking it might be misthreaded, and tried again. Still no luck. Then I happened to notice some black thing peaking out of the sink drain hole, from under the stopper. It was a washer! It must have fallen out when I took the aerator out, or when I turned the water on. Once I put the washer on, the aerator worked fine. Then I spent a good 20 minutes or more working on adjusting the stopper. It seemed to be the appropriate height, but when I pulled it up, it fell right back down. I decided to call it a night and work on it over the weekend. I did caulk between the countertop and the backsplash though, using the Polyseam Seal caulk my dad recommends. This time I tried using masking tape to avoid getting the caulk where I didn’t want it. I was not that impressed with this method, as it seemed like I had to smooth out the caulk a second time after removing the tape.

Vanity up close

The new vanity up close. It has a burgundy finish

Saturday was a nice day, and I ended up spending most of the day doing other stuff besides the bathroom. On Sunday I went back to working on the stopper and checking for leaks. It turns out that the drain was leaking just a bit. I ended up just undoing some of the PVC connections and then re-tightening them, which seems to have done the trick. I also discovered that the reason that the stopper was falling down was because I had not tightened the nut that holds the ball in the drain pipe enough. Once I did that it worked fine.

So, phase 2 is complete. This next weekend we hope to work on Phase 3 – the floor tile.

Break the inner seal
OR
Grouting and caulking.

Rob grouting

Rob grouting

The remaining steps after putting the tile on the wall are grouting and caulking. Tuesday night I spent about 4 hours grouting. It turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the project in my opinion. As we have learned, grout is specially colored mortar, which you put between the tiles to help keep them in place and keep out water.

Grout that fell off the float

Grout that fell off the float

The first step in grouting is to mix it up, which I did using a margin trowel. The Hometime Tile video which we learned much from said it is better to mix it a bit dry, so I erred on the dry side. Then I let the grout “slake” for 10 minutes, which is just to let it sit and let the powder and water mix on their own a bit. Then I stirred one more time, and used the margin trowel to put some grout onto my grout float and smear it onto the tile and into the cracks. This was much more difficult than it looked in the video. Probably 80% of the grout was just falling off into the tub instead of getting into the cracks. I decided that maybe it was still too wet, so I added a bit more powder. That was even worse. I resorted to shoving it in with my fingers (with gloves) instead of with the grout float. After tiring of that, I decided to try adding more water, and it got a bit better. Then I decided to look at the bag of grout again, and it said to mix with water or a latex additive for “enhanced performance”. I was beginning to suspect that I really needed the additive. Clare was in town at the YMCA, so I called her and asked her to look for latex additive at Walmart. No luck. So, I kept chugging along, slowly getting better at it such that I was only slopping about 40-50% of the grout into the tub. I let Clare try for awhile, and she started off about the same as me, so I promptly took over simply in the name of time-saving.

Side wall after grouting and caulking

Side wall after grouting and caulking

Thursday night I did the final step — caulking. I bought the caulk that my dad swears by — Polyseam Seal — which is an acrylic caulk with a silicone additive. I ended up buying a tube for a caulking gun as well as a small tube, because I wasn’t sure that we had a working caulking gun or not. My dad said that the small tube would probably be enough, but we ended up having some pretty big gaps in some places, so I ended up using both tubes. However, I did make one big mistake which made the job much more difficult. I started off with the big tube of caulk. I read the instructions and cut off the tip like it said, then started to squeeze the gun to start getting the caulk out. But it wasn’t coming. I kept sqeezing harder and harder but no luck. I began to think that the caulking gun was broken. So I took the tube out and realized that the caulk had started oozing out the back of the tube. So, I took a small putty knife, and started inserting the caulk with the putty knife and using my finger to smooth it out. This was not very accurate, so I ended up wiping a lot of caulk off of the tub and tile where I did not want it. I used the small tube to caulk around some of the smaller crevices like around the escutcheon and the soap dish. Nearing completion of the project, I looked at the instructions on the big tube caulk again and notice under number 2. Cut off tip to desired width. Puncture inner seal. !!!!! Man, now I get it. I had told Clare to start eating without me because I wanted to finish (having learned my lesson from the mudding and taping), and when I told her my story, she of course knew about puncturing the inner seal. Well, now I know, and you know what they say — “Knowing is half the battle.”

The wet wall after grouting and caulking

The wet wall after grouting and caulking

Don’t take shortcuts
OR
The tile is on the wall

cement board taped

cement board taped and mudded

We haven’t posted anything in a couple weeks not for lack of home improvement projects, but rather because we have been spending most of our free time doing them. In the last couple weeks we really started getting serious about finishing the tile around the bathtub.

cement board on wet wall

cement board on wet wall

In the last entry, I estimated that it would only take a few more hours to finish hanging the cementboard. Well, that was an underestimate. It took most of a day, largely because of some minor setbacks, such as having to redo the cut-outs for the pipes in the supporting 2x4s. I had them all done, then when trying to toeshoe one of them in, I simply could not get the nail in, and finally decided to pull it out and screw in the board. However, the board broke while I was trying to get the nail out. Argh! But, I eventually got all the cementboard hung. The next step was to mud and tape the cementboard, which involves putting thinset mortar on the joints, then embedding fiberglass tape made especially for cementboard. This was quite tricky, as the mortar kept falling off my putty knife. I also made the mistake of not doing it all in one step (dinner intervened). I ended up letting half of it dry, then doing the rest another night. Using this method I ended up going over some joints twice (because of the inside corners), which caused some humps. I also put a bit too much mortar on I think, but hopefully the tile won’t fall off the wall.

working out the tile patterns

working out the tile patterns

This past weekend, we finally got to put the tile on the wall. Clare and I spent most of the day Saturday chalking lines on the cementboard, measuring, and cutting tile. Our neighbors, the Greenwell’s, lent us their tile cutter, which was very nice of them. It basically is just a cutting wheel on some rods. You score the tile with the cutting wheel, then snap the tile. Clare started off cutting triagular pieces from the 4″x4″ tile for the fancy pattern we did. Then I started making some of the cuts with the 6″x5″ tile we had measured. I was initially very worried, because the first 2 tiles I attempted broke in the wrong place. Then Clare passed on the advice from her mother to snap the big tiles near the edge of the tile, which worked very well. Besides the tile cutter, we also had tile nippers and a rod saw in our arsenal. The tile nippers are a bit like pliers with a sharp edge, and are good for cutting off rounded pieces. But, after learning the hard way, they do not work very well for inside cuts. That is, if you want to leave all the corners intact, but cut out part of the middle of the tile, the only options are the rod saw or a router (and we did not buy a router just for this project). They make rod saws that fit into hacksaw frames, but we could only find a small one that came in its own frame. It is a small rod which is very rough, almost like sandpaper, but metal and rougher. It works pretty well, but requires a lot of effort. More on that later.

Clare setting tile

Clare setting tile

On Sunday, we finally got to putting up the tile. I would say that this was probably the easiest part of the job so far. We bought pre-mixed mastic to stick the tiles to the wall. You spread the mastic on with a triangular notched trowel, then simply stick the tiles in. The mastic is very sticky, so the tiles stick almost immediately. The tiles we bought had lugs on them, which are basically little pieces on the side that space the tiles automatically. There were some pieces that we had cut where we needed to use 1/16″ plastic spacers instead. We started with the longest wall of the tub, ensuring that the inside corners would not be as visible as if we had done it the other way around. I got several feet up the wall done while Clare had her weekly chat with her parents. Then she finished off the rest of the wall, and I worked on making a few more cuts we hadn’t gotten to the day before. The trickiest cut by far was the cut for the spout, because it consisted of a circle in the middle of a tile. For this I had to use the special drill bit that came with the rod saw. It probably took me about 10 minutes to drill through the tile, and then another 15 minutes to saw out the hole.

the tricky cut for the tub spout

the tricky cut for the tub spout

We continued working on the tile after a little lunch break. After finishing the back wall, I started getting worried about running out of tile. Sure enough, after counting out how many tiles we needed, we realized that we were about 5 tiles short of being able to finish. This was due to 3 factors:

  1. We ended up tiling all the way up the wall, which was not our original plan
  2. We decided to only do the fancy pattern on the long wall, which was not our original plan
  3. We probably ended up breaking more tiles than we had originally thought

So, Clare being the trooper that she is, drove all the way to Bloomington to get about 10 more tiles so we could finish that day. I stayed home and did a few more cuts, cleaned up some, and started laying more tile.

interesting cuts by the ceiling

interesting cuts by the ceiling

Another tricky cut was around the shower handle, which was a 4″x4″ hole spanning the middle of two tiles. I thought I had both done, but when I went to put them on the wall, I realized that I had accidentally cut the two tiles upside down, so I had to do them over again. I wanted to continue tiling before the mastic dried out, so I asked Clare to do the last one. Clare, being the ingenius one, decided to use a combination of the rod saw and tile clippers (which I advised against). Sure enough, the tile broke. I was of course a bit upset, and decided to do it myself. I got about 90% done with the cut using the rod saw, and then for some crazy reason, I decided to try to use the clippers for the last bit, and it broke again. So, I gave it one more try using just the rod saw, and it worked, but we wasted another 2 tiles and a good 30 minutes. So, the lesson of the day is: don’t take shortcuts.

cut around the faucet handle

cut around the faucet handle

The last few pieces included the edge pieces to go on the outside corner of the wet wall. We ended up using countertop edge pieces here, which fit very well. I had to cut 2 of them to fit up against the tub, and I ended up cutting the top one a little bit as well, which was another tricky cut with the rod saw. Clare helped me cut the last set of tiles for the top to fit against the sloped ceiling. Then we cleaned up a bit and called it a day.

The tile is on the wall

The tile is on the wall