Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tiling the Backsplash

I watched it done on TV, I even read books at my local library and they all made tiling seem way more complicated than it actually is. Seriously doubting my ability to do this project, I measured for my materials and purchased the tile product. I chose a ceramic 6 inch tile that is mottled in its finish with variations in color and texture. I also chose a premixed grout in a tone on tone color.

Premixed grout is about 5 times more expensive than unmixed grout, but to me it was totally worth the money. I didn't want to have to schlep a huge bucket of grout, get the consistency just right, and have grout powder flying everywhere. If I ever do another tile project, it will be with pre-mixed grout again.

I also purchased a small, inexpensive wet tile saw as well as a tiling kit (nippers, spacers, sponge, float, etc), and tile adhesive. The tile I chose had regular tiles, decorative tiles, and a single type of bullnose pieces. I had already calculated how many of each I would need taking care to try to get the same dye lot. Huge variations in color can happen between dye lots and I did experience this with the tile I chose.

In all my research, trial and error in the masterbath remodel, I did learn that I needed a bullnose tile for an edging and a field tile. I also chose a precut decorative tile for an accent around the backsplash. With all my materials stocked, it was time to get started.

This was a working kitchen during the entire remodel. This is possible if you are either 1) doing the remodel yourself or 2)acting as your own general contractor. I was both. Sort of. So I removed the items from the counter and switch plates and worked in sections at a time. I laid out my tile and decided where I needed to make cuts with my new wet tile saw ;-).

Immediately, I discovered that the switch and electrical cut outs were going to be very challenging with my level of skill and the saw I was working with. Laying the bottom row was a real confidence builder. I was laying off granite countertop that did not have a slab backsplash. I spaced the tile between the granite and the first tile (this is not the space you grout, I will cover this later). My first row proved only a very small cut. Tiling is a science in the fact that you have to measure the cuts to be made, but it is also a visual art. When looking at the field to be laid, a full tile should start at the bullnose and work in. For example, a full bullnose tile would be on the edge of the countertop by the door and as the tile works the opposite direction, lay full tiles until you get to the cut in the corner or adjacent wall.

I would highly recommend eye protection and a towel to dry yourself off when using the diamond blade tile saw. Chips of tile and water flies everywhere. In cutting the tile around the switches, I had to make some cuts with the saw and then finish up with the tile nippers. I learned that the less you take on with the nippers the better. Let the saw do as much work as possible. Also on the switch plates, you must unscrew the plate attached to the wall, lay the tile underneath the actual switch plate and reattach the switch plate to the junction box. If you do not do this and you tile over the switch plate, you will not be able to reattach the switch plate cover. Shut off the electricity if you are not familiar with working with live switch plates and wall sockets.

Since I laid out all the bullnose, field tiles, and accent tiles first, made cuts second, and laid rows of adhesive next. The first section went very quickly. I let it dry overnight, and started on the grout in the section of tile that I laid the day before. Again, since this was a working kitchen, we were actually trying to live in it during the renovation, I wanted to lay tiles and grout them and move on to the next section.

Float the grout at a 45 degree angle across the tiles and fill all spaces. Unsightly bubbles will surface if the grout is too wet, and if that is the case, it will have to dry and go back for a second grout coat or touch up. I used a 1/8 of an inch grout space which was challenging to push the grout into the gaps. The final challenge with the grout proved to be the cleaning. I had to clean light enough not to pull the grout out of the spaces and hard enough to clean the grout out of the divots on the tiles.

Finally, I used a matching sanded grout calk between the tiles and the granite and the tiles and the wall. These areas receive a lot of expansion and contraction, they also may get wet so they provide a waterproof, flexible seal between the tile and the granite. This is a very tricky and messy product, so having wet paper towels and working with a wet finger on the bead of calk is the best advice I can give. The calk product does not cover very much square footage, so buy more than you think you will need. See the pics of the finished project!

DIY project cost: $500 tile and materials.

Refinishing the Front Porch

The farmhouse porch was in need of something, it was your typical painted porch in the typical grey porch paint. Ours was painted a "light grey" and showed every dead bug, spider, foot print, and debris. In the spring, it gets a covering of pollen and it would turn completely yellow. I felt like I had to sweep it in a feng shui kind of way, sweeping out the bad spirits, like twice a day.

I brought a decking contractor out to take a look at it, give me some recommendations and ultimately give me a price for doing "something" with it. I suggested stripping it and staining it, and he shook his head and said, "Nah, just calk it and paint it, it looks fine. Just needs some paint". He obviously didn't want the job and he didn't even offer me a price.

With a bucket of bleach and a scrub brush I set to prepping the porch for a coat of paint. I could tell that there were not THAT many coats of paint on the porch, the house is only 12 years old, but there were a few and the shades were many. I noticed a golden wood underneath the chip marks, and my imagination went to work. Wouldn't the porch look beautiful with a naturally stained wood?

I began working in a small area to see what I could uncover with some sand paper and some stripper. The wood was in very good condition, no rot, and a great color. I expanded my area working on the stripper and thought, this is really a huge undertaking.

A different contractor for my master bath arrived to work on a different project and saw what I was doing, it was almost spiritual. He said he had a porch he just refinished and he used a belt sander to take of 100 years of paint off and that he was then able to repaint the porch and completely restore it.

A quick search on the internet for porch refinishing proved nothing, which is another reason why I'm writing this blog. I did learn that I have a "tongue and groove untreated pine porch", but no suggestions surfaced on exactly what I should do with this. The porch is about 4 feet wide and not really wide enough for a belt sander so I explored other options.

I needed a sander I could handle and not take me for a spin. I decided on an orbital sander, found a local equipment rental place. It cost me about $50 a day to rent the sander and a little extra for sand paper, all available at the rental company. I refuse to be intimidated by men or be uncomfortable in a "man place" like the rental company. I definitely got a bit of attention, asked questions like they wanted me to, and they even loaded the equipment into my car. When I feel the discomfort coming on, I tend to talk in "we's" like my husband sent me to get this and I have no idea what I'm doing. It works every time. ;-)

Using a 60 grit sand paper, the sander was very user friendly. It wasn't too heavy for me to handle, but it was a lot of time on my knees. The sander easily got as close as I needed it to up against the columns and around the exterior wall of the house working with the grain of the wood. I had to be careful to keep the sander moving back and forth or the result was uneven sanding, heavy divots in some areas.

The outside framing of the porch that is exposed to the elements is pressure treated. Removing the paint showed beautiful untreated pine, and then "green" treated pine. I hadn't expected this, as well as not being able to get all the paint out of the grooves of the floor. All in all I was pleased with the removal process and my ability to get that part done!

Next came choosing a finish for the floor. Of course, on the Internet everyone offers up their own favorite product. I use Sherwin Williams products, so I went for a natural toner in an oil base for the untreated area. It gave the most natural look with uv protection and water resistance. A word of caution though, it was very ORANGE when first applied. It has since faded a bit and is more natural looking. Also the oil based product will allow me to go back and do touch ups as needed without again restaining the entire floor.

As for the pressure treated framing, I used a solid brown Sherwin product that has very high ratings on uv Resistance and is completely waterproof. The result is a nice two tone look. As for the leftover grey paint in the groves of the floor, I secretly painted over them with a coordinating brown paint. It gave the floor a worn, rustic look and covered imperfections and knots that had paint deep down in them. Finally, I used a clear silicone to seal gaps in the floor and between the floor and the framing, around the columns and against the house in an effort to keep the floor from getting wet, warping or rotting. I also had to do some touch up on the house where the sander bumped it.

And now the porch is one of my favorite places to be. The deck contractor came back, he admired my job on the porch, and he asked for more business from me and I thought "no, I think I'm good, thanks!" ;-)

Project cost: $250 for materials

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dangling. Dangerously.

No wonder I saved painting the vaulted walls until nearly last. I fear the ladder.

I've been on this ladder a ton times as a step ladder. I've painted the inside of my whole house on this step ladder. It is a handy extension ladder that has a step ladder feature when folded in half, it extends out to a full size ladder. It has enormous bolts that lock the ladder in place for safety. It also folds away nicely and stores in the garage in about a 4ft space. It is a heavy duty homeowner ladder.

Something is entirely foreboding about this ladder when used as an extension ladder. I'm a visual person, so I see this ladder and I think back to all the shows I've watched on the home improvement networks..."have I ever seen anyone on those shows on a ladder higher than about 6 feet?" Obviously, "no", I do not ever recall anyone being filmed on a high ladder.

I seriously contemplate calling in a professional painter, because I'm thinking that it would be entirely worth paying whatever a professional would charge to finish painting this wall. That thought is quickly erased when I think about the embarrassment I would feel calling on a professional for "cutting in" a wall that is 99% complete.

It literally takes me two hours to arrange this ladder so I feel confident enough to climb up about 14 feet to "cut in" the line between the ceiling and the wall. I shake it, I slide it, I try to wedge it from sliding on the hardwood floors. In my mind I'm calculating the slope of the ladder, my weight, the weight of the ladder, the distance the ladder could fall...none of these physics I actually "know" it is more like a guestimation of what could happen.

I take two steps up, then two more, and realize, I don't have paint or a brush for that matter and how am I going to hold a paint container, a brush, and the ladder? I gather my brush, a small paint container, change my Ugg slippers into sneakers, I say a quick prayer, and slowly make my way up the ladder thinking all the while...thank God my husband is working upstairs, Hopefully, he will hear me fall and call 911.

I don't think I mentioned the time I actually fell from a ladder, thus my fear. I had no fear until my fear was "learned" so to speak. I was hanging some blinds in a previous house when I slipped, tripped, lost my grip and I don't really know what happened but I hit the floor square on my bum. I only actually fell three feet off the step ladder and I don't know what made me fall in the first place, I just know it hurt and I know I was all alone.

Now that the one vaulted wall is 99.9% complete, the day is done. I could wring out my socks from nervous sweat and I need a shower because I smell of fear. It is almost time to start on the adjacent wall. I'll let you know how it goes.

Here's what I discovered today...
Being on a ladder is no joke, either have someone hold it or be a witness to your stupidity.