Creating kitchens and baths for finicky customers since 1993

backsplash features inset metal tiles for accent and texture

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bathroom projects: A new ceramic tile floor

new ceramic tile bathroom floor
Our most recent weekend bathroom project transformed our hideous linoleum floor into a beautiful ceramic tile finish. With hours of help from my two handy sons, this chore started on Saturday and wrapped up Sunday afternoon. Good thing, too, since it's our only bathroom!

Bathroom floors take constant abuse from water, bare feet, and heavy traffic in general. Our original floor had gotten so ugly, and was so difficult to clean, that we generally closed our eyes on entering. In addition, the wood baseboard and shoe molding needed complete refinishing. I'm not sure what we could have done about the creepy smeared caulk around the perimeter. (Previous owner)

So what did we do about our icky floor? My youngest ripped out all the wood trim, and the three of us re-nailed the whole floor -- right through the old vinyl floor. We might have chosen to strip out all the existing floor materials down to the sub-floor, but that would've added another full day to the job. Since I'm the only one who has to guaranty this new installation, we cheated a bit. (Adding 1/2" DuRock or similar tile backer is a safer choice.)

The new tile we chose is very heavy, and imitates a weathered sandstone. Nice grip, and a dramatic three-dimensional look. Our new theme is "beach cottage" so this works perfectly. While it will be more difficult to clean than a smoother, shinier tile it adds enough character to the room to offset that concern.

We decided to use narrow (1/8") grout lines to emphasize the tile over the pattern, and to reduce the amount of exposed grout area. Grout stains much more easily than does tile, because it's so porous. We'll apply a sealer, but that's not a cure-all. The result, as you can see, is a floor that looks very much like an exposed sandstone shelf like you might find in a river or at a beach. Perfect!

copyright 2008 - all rights reserved

What's your opinion -- did we make a good decision? Do you think that a textured ceramic tile makes sense for a bathroom floor? Have a look at what we did to refinish our oak plank dining room floor for comparison.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bathroom projects: Bugs in the tub!

bathtub walls hid a nest of black ants
Who knows what evil lurks behind a 30-year-old ceramic tile tub surround? I do! About half of my jobs involve new tile bathtub walls, mostly to modernize dated designs. Day one almost always involves some heavy lifting -- tearing out old walls and tubs and hauling the debris down a flight of stairs. It's hard work but generally routine.

The usual tools required are a saw, hammer, pry-bar (I have a really big one), and sometimes even a sledgehammer. But I don't usually need a can of Raid! When your old tile has missing grout, however, water can seep behind the tile and create a haven for certain bugs and mold or fungus. Moldy drywall behind the tile is pretty common, but finding a nest of ants lurking back there is (thankfully) rare.

close-up of ant colony found behind bathtub
The mess shown in this close-up shot is all cleaned up now, but it was touch and go there for a few minutes. I don't carry bug spray, and so had to hastily search my customer's basement shelves for a remedy. Those little critters were extremely healthy and mobile. They would've spread far and wide if I hadn't come up with a quick cure.

When I've finished this job I'll stop back and post the after picture. This time I can safely guaranty "major improvement"!

Have you ever found something scary hidden behind the walls during a remodel project? Or have you discovered a long-lost treasure under the floorboards? Leave a comment here or contact me via email if you'd like to share your find.

Monday, October 13, 2008

5 Tips for Organizing Your Tool Shed

Keeping your tool shed organized is one of life's baffling challenges.

this tool shed needs organizing! jcb 2008 An outbuilding for tool storage can quickly become an unmanageable shelter for all sorts of useless junk, unless you start out with a system. Two problems contribute to the ill-repute of tool sheds: (one) they are usually too far from your house for convenience, and (two) you often end up storing things away in a panic when bad weather descends unannounced.

Here are five tips for avoiding tool shed nightmares.

First, decide what belongs in your tool shed.

Is this building your lawn and landscape management center? Or is it your own private workshop? Make a decision, and banish all unrelated items from the premises. If your 20-horse John Deere lawn tractor lives inside, then keep your table saw somewhere else. If your shed houses clay pots, potting soil, peat moss, and garden implements then leave the skis, golf clubs, and bicycles in the garage or basement.

Second, un-clutter your tool shed's floor.

Stop thinking of the floor as a place to put "stuff." Things get wet and rusty down there, and then you trip on them and get angry and break valuable possessions. If you simply must store things on the floor, put them in cheap plastic bins and label them clearly. Then, when you need to move that junk just to get at the important things, it's easy. Not only that, you'll actually know what you have stored in there.

Third, add shelving right away.

Shelves make organizing and retrieving your tools and supplies easy, and they help keep the floor navigable (see previous tip). For damp sheds, choose easy-to-assemble plastic shelving. For heavy boxes of supplies or tools, choose metal shelf systems when moisture isn't a problem. If you're a bit handy, build in some wooden shelves for the most versatility. Make your shelves twice as strong as they need to be for the load you will place on them, and that whole ugly "sway-back" shelf syndrome won't be your undoing.

Four, use rafter storage carefully.

When you start loading up your little shed's rafters with boards and long tools and other junk, you are admitting that you really don't have enough room in there. Face it, things placed in the rafters often remain there undisturbed for years. They sit there getting moldy, gathering black dust and spiders, useless. Consider using hooks instead. Hang up tools or other items that you use MORE often, not less. They'll be at eye level and easy to find, and you'll soon learn which objects belong where. "Hey, who took my good garden rake?" You'll know it's missing because its customary spot will be empty and quickly noticed.

Five, and finally: keep your shed clean and ventilated.

If you've sensibly organized your gear, then a quick sprucing-up will be a breeze. If possible, add an outlet and lighting so you can run a shop-vac out there. The spiders won't like this approach, and you'll smile when you open the door to get inside. If you can add a small window for natural light and ventilation, even better.

Invite outside air inside by installing a couple vent grilles in the sidewalls, if a window isn't practical. Gable or ridge vents similar to the ones on your house can also be used to keep air flowing inside. Why does this matter? Because fresh air makes your shed a better place for you, and for all your valuable stuff.

It's all about your attitude, in the end. If you see your tool shed as a nice place to visit you'll take better care of it. Your things will be where you expect them to be, and you won't just toss junk in there hoping to "get back to it later." One final thought: put a good lock on the door. No sense inviting burglars into your little sanctuary, after all your hard work.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Projects: Ceramic tile and air-jet tub

Our most recent big bath project had us install a new air-jet tub with a gorgeous ceramic tile tub surround. We replaced the owner's original, dysfunctional whirlpool-style tub and tile combination with all new product, including the faucet and fittings, and a polished brass shower door.
ceramic tile tub surround over air-jet tub The tile is a tradional, glossy 8 by 10 with an inset border. Installation included two ceramic corner shelves and a center soap dish. Grout lines were held at just one-eighth inch to emphasize the tile itself, rather than the pattern.

ceramic tile surround with inset border tiles over air-jet tub This second image is a bit tricky. It's a shot of the right end of the tub, with the fixture (left) end reflected in the sink area mirror. This project took about eight man-days, and involved no less than one hundred trips up and down the main stairs.