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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Upgrade Your Crawlspace Door

I see a lot of homes with a crawlspace door that is either completely disfunctional due to water damage, or just insecure, perhaps held closed by a brick. Sure, it's just a crawlspace, but I'd prefer a door that is secure- so no one can steal all your copper pipes (I've heard horror stories about this) and various animals won't make a home under your house.

I got to work for a few days recently at an incredible home in the old part of Lockeland Springs in East Nashville. The home had been completely remodeled.
At the back of the home was a large plywood crawlspace door that was somewhat adequate, however, the homeowners had been using the space under the house for additional storage and they wanted something more secure.

I was to build a new door.

To begin with, I wanted to use only materials that would handle water fairly well. Crawlspace doors are notorious for getting water damage, so I started with a frame made of pressure treated 2x4's.

To cover the frame I picked up a large 4 x 8 piece of James Hardie exterior sheet siding. It's similar to their popular lap siding, but it comes in these large pieces that are great for siding a shed or making a door. You can get them with a textured wood grain surface or with a smooth surface, which I used for this project.

I hung the door before adding the trim and installed the deadbolt. Once I knew where the hardware would end up, I added some 1x4 cedar boards around the perimeter to dress it up and hide the nails that hold the Hardipanel to the frame.

A door like this can be quite heavy so make sure you use larger hinges and screws so it won't sag on you later. It will get painted later, but in the meantime, a little rain won't hurt...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Easily Install a New Lamp Post

Want to add some light to your yard and character as well? How about a lamp post?

Some clients of mine in Inglewood wanted me to install a lamp post that they had purchased to illuminate some stairs leading to a parking area at the side of their home. The light will help them not fall down the stairs, and look great in the daytime as well.

Installing a lamp post is actually fairly simple. The most complicated part is probably the wiring. It's much like wiring any other light fixture. If that's above your head, of course, call an electrician.
Here are the basic steps:

1. Find the perfect location for your new lamp post and dig a hole. Follow the recommended depth in the pole's instructions, but mine was around 18".

2. Put the post in the hole and fasten it to something so it will remain plumb while you do the concrete.

3. Figure out where you want the wire to go. In our case, we could go nearby into the home's basement. I dug a small ditch and buried a 14-2 waterproof wire. (It's the grey stuff). (If you're lost, call an electrician...) Think before you dig so you don't bust a water pipe or something.

4. Connect the wiring. In this case, the lamp actually has a sensor that will turn it on when it gets dark. I guess you wouldn't have to even have a switch for this. Even still, I installed a switch near the front door so the homeowners could turn it off if they wanted to.

5. With the electrical done, let's add some cement to that hole. Go get a bag or two of fast setting concrete that you can use to set posts without mixing. It's great. You just pour the bag into into the hole, then slowly pour around a gallon of water on top and let it seep into the mix. Within approximately 40 minutes, the concrete will set up and you can remove the supports.

That's about it. Expect to pay $100-150 for the post and fixture, and maybe another $25 if you don't have a post-hole-digger.. :)


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leak? Check the Roof Vent Flanges

First, I'm not a roofer.

There are many usual suspects when it comes to roof leaks. I'd say the most common that I see are either a lack of roof flashing, or a faulty vent flange as was the case for this repair.

One of my clients was noticing a water spot on the drywall above the vanity in their half bath. Stepping outside, it was easy to see that it was in the vicinity of a 4" pipe that vents the plumbing system through the roof.

Once I got up on the roof to get a closer look it was obvious that the old rubber flange had deteriorated and had large cracks that was letting water get into the house with little trouble.

Time for a new flange.

The key to this is to be careful- not only to make sure you don't fall off the roof, but to carefully loosen and lift the shingles surrounding the old roof flange so you can lift it off of the pipe, install the new one and then nail the shingles back down. The top side of the flange goes under the shingles above the pipe. I can usually do this without damaging the shingles and all is well. However, if you break a shingle, you may need to replace that as well.

I like to seal around the new flange with some good roofing cement, especially the two exposed nails at the bottom of the flange. You can see that this one fits more snugly around the pipe and will keep the water out.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Kitchen Upgrade With Laminate Flooring

While I was working at the most serene jobsite (see this post :), I was transforming a kitchen by upgrading the flooring to a new high-quality laminate.

Laminate flooring these days refers to a type of flooring that is often meant to resemble some type of wood flooring, even though it is not. It's quite thin and is actually fairly easy to install. There's much less labor involved than with real hardwood or tile, making it a lower-budget alternative.

The flooring actually 'floats' which means it's not nailed or glued down to the subfloor. This is important because the flooring is expected to expand and contract with changes in weather and humidity. For this reason, I left at least a 1/4" gap all the way around the edges to give it room for expansion. This gap is easily covered with shoe moulding.

The change in this kitchen from the old vinyl is amazing. The homeowner is going for the cute cottage look but didn't want to go to the expense of tiling the kitchen. Laminate is a great and affordable choice for quickly transforming the entire space.

This particular flooring was called "Casual Living" from Pergo. I think the homeowner bought it at Lowe's. Anyway, I wanted to report that it went in well and made great connections throughout. With any pre-finished flooring, I think that you tend to get what you pay for most of the time. Some of the less expensive brands tend to have more gaps because they don't fit together as well, at least that's been my experience.
There's a small stairway off of this kitchen that leads down to the basement stairs and the backdoor. Installing the laminate flooring on the stair required a fancy piece of trim called the stair-nosing. The trim has a notch in the back to overlap the flooring and curve around the nose of the step. This trim had to be special ordered and wasn't cheap! However, if you want it to look right, this is the way to go.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Help! The Shower is Spraying on the Walls!

It's not that unusual to see an older home with a bathroom originally designed to have just a bathtub with no shower. Often, these are also right in front of a window too, making it that much more fun, right? (See this post)

This bathroom was built with just a tub, but a shower head was added later. The problem was that the upper walls were still just painted drywall. The homeowner asked me to extend the old bath surround up to the shower head with matching white tile.

Before laying the tile, I installed Schluter Kerdi over the drywall. It's a waterproofing membrane that will protect the drywall from moisture. It's the same material that is often used when tiling a shower (See this post). It also saves the mess of tearing out dryall and replacing it with cementboard in this case.

I was prepping to lay out the tile when I realized that those old tiles were not exactly the same size as my new ones. The old ones were 4 3/16" while the new tiles are 4 1/4". This is only a 1/16" difference, however, this is enough to really mess up the grout lines and change the entire layout. I called Louisville Tile to see if they still made tiles of the smaller size and they said I wouldn't be able to find them anymore. The solution- cut a 1/16" off of every tile!

Thankfully, the height of the tile was fine because I wasn't matching any old tile on the sides. I just had to cut off 1/16" from one side of each tile. I set fence on my tile saw the right dimension and set out to cut close to 200 tiles. (Not that I was counting, right?)

With that figured out, the tile went in very quickly, and I was on my way. I grouted it with unsanded white grout and sealed it after that. As expected, you can tell where the new tile starts, but at least the walls will stay dry!


Friday, May 7, 2010

Most Serene Jobsite Award Goes to...

I love spring. I always get the landscaping fever and end up ordering unusual plants to put somewhere around our yard. This year the weirdest is a giant plant called "Dinosaur Food". :)

Anyway, I was working last week at an home in the older part of Old Hickory that has to get the award for one of the most pleasant places to work. The yard was just full of all kinds of well-groomed and cared for plants. All of this next to a front porch that spanned the entire front of the house with a very inviting porch swing.

I was working right in the middle of it all, mixing grout for tile and cutting some flooring for the kitchen.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Makeover the Bathroom With a Tile Floor

This recent project involved laying a tile floor in a new home that was originally built with vinyl around the toilet/tub and carpet around the vanity. This is quite common in newer homes, and it's any easy spot to upgrade and completely change the feel of the room.

The vinyl and carpet had to get ripped out and then I worked on a layout for the tile. The home was built on a cement slab so there was no reason to add extra cementboard before tiling. This makes the project move along quickly and saves the homeowner a little money as well.

These were 12" tiles, but this shade comes in various sizes. You can get as fancy as you want if you mix others in to come up with a pattern.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How About Some Tile Above the Surround?

Many newer homes are built with a standard fiberglass bathtub surround. It still works so you hate to remove it, but maybe you'd like to spruce it up a little. These homeowners asked me to add some tile around the top of theirs as I was working on their floors.

The bathroom had been wallpapered, which looks nice, but sometimes tends to curl up around the shower because of moisture. Some tile above the surround will help this as well.

To start, I removed the wall paper down to the drywall. The tile I was installing were 4" x 4" squares that matched the tile I would be laying on the floor next. The homeowner had picked up a handful of accent tiles that I staggered around the surround.

The result was nice, but will be even better when I get the floor done, and that's coming soon!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Grouting Porous Tile

One of the things that the homeowner loved about the tile I used for the backsplash (see this post) was the look of the porous tumbled marble. Most of the tiles were very textured, with some having decent sized impressions and holes in them. It's always recommended that you seal the tiles before grouting to help keep the grout out of the tile, however, with porous stone, the grout will still fill all those voids. So there are a couple of ways you can approach grouting these tiles.

Probably the most common way is to just grout it all and fill the holes. They will still have the character of the porous stone, but the deeper pores will be mostly filled with grout. This is usually the best method because if you don't fill the pores, they will eventually get dirt in them or even food particles if it's around the countertop. These will be a major headache to try to clean later if they aren't grouted.

If you're filling the pores with grout, I'd suggest using a grout color that matches the stone. If you use a highly contrasting grout color, the filled pores may not look as natural.

Okay, you probably aren't going to be able to keep grout out of all the pores, however, you can use painter's tape to cover the faces of the tile if you want to keep the grout out. If you've got the desire and the time, you could actually tape the face of every tile.

I used this method with the backsplash to cover the pores on just a select few tiles that had the most character, trying to have some consistency throughout the backsplash. I used some larger blue painter's tape and cut it with scissors (rather than tearing it). This makes a clean cut that lays flatter against the stone making it easier to grout over.

After taping the stones I wanted to preserve, I grouted as normal right over the tops. I removed the tape after I had already sponged off the grout a couple times. The tape worked great and the homeowner loved the texture that it left in the tumbled marble.

Of course, when you're finished it needs to be sealed again, this time focusing on sealing the grout.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Tumbled Marble Backsplash Spices Up This Kitchen

Sometimes a kitchen can be quite nice and still lack a little 'wow-factor'. It was time to add some of that to this kitchen with a new tumbled marble backsplash.

The homeowners have great taste and had picked out a handful of various tiles that they liked. We talked over the layout and tried a few combinations before coming up with the final design.

The bottom 6" features a mosaic pattern made up of various shapes and colors of the stone. Above that I would use 4" square tumbled marble set on the diagonal. I was excited to get started.

The backsplash tile can be installed right over the drywall, provided that it is smooth and not damaged. This saved some prep time and I jumped right into getting the layout right. With this many different tiles involved it's tricky to not end up with small pieces of tile somewhere in the layout.

I laid the tile out on the countertop with spacers to get an idea of the design and measure the actual size of things. Then I installed the mosaic tile all the way around. It actually came on a 12" x 12" sheet that I cut in half. The slowest part is always cutting all those pieces that go around the outlets.

With the bottom tiles ready, I started laying out the top tiles on the diagonal. The second row of 4" tiles would alternate between the natural white and a chocolate-colored tile to add more interest. I wanted this to lay out so that the spacing of the accent tiles would not look awkward.

I used a sanded grout to finish it up. This is recommended because even though some of the joints are 1/8" or less many of the spaces are much larger because of the rough, uneven edges of the tiles. I sealed the tiles with two coats of sealer before grouting which is supposed to help the grout not get absorbed into the face of the tiles as much.

In the end, the backsplash looked remarkable and the colors blended perfectly with the maple cabinets and the solid surface counter.