Same guy- new name - new website!

You will be automatically redirected to the new address. If that does not occur, visit
and update your bookmarks. Thanks! -Peter

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.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Tile and Finish the Shower Floor Repair

I covered the basics of waterproofing a shower using the Schluter Kerdi system in my last post (click here). Now it's time to lay the tile and grout it all.

The goal of this project was to just to replace the bottom rows of tile and the shower floor. The older system was leaking and needed to be torn out (see this post). In addition to leaking, the old tiles weren't looking very good and some dirt had been collecting in areas that had been caulked several times in an attempt to fix the leaks.

The layout for the tile was already dictated to me by the original tiles that I didn't remove. I would be using a rounded base tile at the intersection of the bottom of the wall with the floor. This piece would get cut to fit after I installed the wall tiles.

In this case, I would need to start laying tile at the top and go down from there. If you start at the bottom, the weight of the tile is supported by the floor. Starting at the top, I had to tape each piece to the tile above so that they wouldn't slide down the wall and out of place.

One great thing about the Schluter Drain is that is a 4" square. It's perfectly sized for most tile installations where you are using either 1", 2", or 4" tiles. In my case, I installed 2" square white tiles by cutting out the center of one sheet of tile and installing this first (see the picture below). Then I installed all the tile sheets around the perimeter.

The small ledge across the bottom of the doorway is called the curb. It keeps the water contained in the bottom of the shower. I used some curved edge pieces of tile on the corner of the curb to avoid any sharp corners.

After grouting with white unsanded grout and sealing, this shower was ready for business. Hopefully, it will last for decades to come with no more problems.

HINT: John Bridge (Tile guy extraordinaire at says that for a maintenance-free shower, take a minute after each use to wipe down the tile with a towel. This will greatly reduce any mildew over time and keep it cleaner as well.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Waterproof the Tile Shower With Schluter Kerdi

What the heck is Schluter Kerdi???

It's a fairly new system for waterproofing showers that involves installing a membrane (the Kerdi) throughout the shower and over their special Kerdi drain. When finished you'll have a completely waterproof, sealed shower. In fact, it's so waterproof that you can install the Kerdi right over regular old drywall. That says a lot.

Let's look at how I installed the Schluter Kerdi shower system when I was repairing and old leaky shower pan liner that was decades old. In my last post (this link), I tore out the old tile down to the framing. Next, I replaced the subfloor with new plywood and added 1/2" Hardibacker on the walls. (Yes, I could have used 1/2" drywall, but I had the Hardibacker on hand...)

The older method to doing a shower floor included making a sloped bed of mortar that would direct water toward the drain. This needed more time, labor and expertise. For this shower, I used a Schluter pre-sloped shower tray. It's made out of some kind of foam and is easily cut to fit your particular shower.

After cutting the tray to size, I dry-laid it in place to mark the spot for the drain. Once the drain hole was cut out, I covered the floor with unmodified thinset mortar using a 3/16" v-notch trowel. The shower tray sets in this. You can walk around on it to make sure it's well embedded in the mortar. Just be careful not to crush it with your knees as you are working- it is foam after all.

I'm not going to go through every detail of installing the membrane. If you are interested make sure to get the Schluter installation DVD and check out The DVD comes with the shower kit and is great at showing every step along the way.

Basically, the membrane is installed over a thin layer of mortar and then flattened out and embedded using the straight edge of your trowel. The edges must all overlap by a minimum of 2". I started by using something they call Kerdi-Band in all the bottom corners. (It's just a thin pre-cut strip of the Kerdi material.)

It helped to have two trowels or a putty knife so you can hold the membrane in the corner with one trowel while you smooth out the other side with the other one. It's important to have tight square corners so that your tile will fit together correctly.

Once all the corners are done I installed larger pieces of Kerdi on the walls that overlap the corner pieces. Smooth them out to make sure there aren't any air bubbles underneath. Schluter also makes special corner pieces that a pre-formed to fit into corners and over the curb corners.


The walls are done- let's do the floor. I covered the floor with a layer of mortar and then pressed the Kerdi Drain into place. The flange has openings that will help it firmly integrate into the mortar. I spread a little more mortar around the flange and installed the Kerdi membrane, making sure to fully embed it, especially around the drain.

That's it! Let it set overnight and we'll be ready to install the tile.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Redo a Tile Shower Floor- Tearout

Tile shower floors are nice, unless they are leaking! This is the case for a Nashville homeowner that asked me to repair their shower floor.

This was an old shower that was likely 40-50 years old. The way of installing a shower back then (and still today in some cases) was to first install a waterproof membrane that goes around 8" up the walls all the way around. Then, a sloped bed of mortar or 'mud' is installed before tiling the floor. A specific type of drain is used that makes a seal with the membrane.

Many people have the misconception that grout is waterproof. This is not true. Most of the water is deflected and just goes down the drain, however, a small amount is absorbed through the grout and mortar. When it gets to the waterproof membrane the water is funneled to the drain and through tiny 'weep holes' that send the water down the drain.

My guess is that the weep holes were clogged with this shower. This meant that the mortar bed was saturated with water and it was full enough that it was dripping over the top of the membrane around the sides. I saw evidence of this when I started removing the bottom tiles and water started pouring out from behind.

The homeowners didn't want to replace the entire shower and I can't blame them. This is expensive work. Instead I would just be tearing out the bottom few rows and installing a new waterproofing system called Kerdi from Schluter Systems. First, I had to get dirty.

Getting started was easy because many of the tiles were loose anyway and came right off. After that I went around with my hammer and a flat bar and busted out the tile. Of course, I was careful not to damage the tile above that I wanted to keep.

The wall tiles were set on a mortar bed containing wire mesh for strength. Below that was the black shower membrane that had to go. It all chipped away fairly easily exposing the thick mortar bed under the floor of the shower. This mortar didn't contain any mesh and broke apart into pieces that I could just scoop up and dispose of.

Finally, I had worked my way down to the subfloor that was wet and needed to be cut out. It wasn't long before I was looking into the basement and ready to start putting it all back together.


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Finishing Up the Marble Floor and Steps

I knew when we were first talking about this bathroom project that there would be some interesting details to think about as we proceeded. Adding a set of winder stairs to a confined place in the bathroom was at the top of the list, especially when I heard that the homeowner wanted to cover them with marble tile.

Though marble is a natural stone and is very heavy and durable, it's also somewhat brittle. For this reason it was very important to protect the tile at the front edge of the steps with a piece of Schluter trim. If we didn't do this, it would surely wear down faster or possibly break and crack because of the foot traffic to the back door.

Schluter trim comes in a wide variety of colors and styles depending upon what your using it for. It's great for making transitions from horizontal to vertical surfaces or corners where the appropriate tile trim piece is unavailable. The trim remains permanently flexible so it's great for corners that might otherwise crack over time with just grout or caulk.

You can see a sample piece of the trim I used in the picture. It's easily cut with a hacksaw and then set into the thinset mortar just before I lay the tile. The grout fills the seams between the trim and the tile and provides a very professional looking installation as well as some protection to our lovely marble steps.

Mitering is a term often used when doing trimwork that refers to cutting the trim at an angle (usually 45 degrees) where the corner pieces intersect. This can be done with tile as well and is most often used where there is an outside corner that is receiving tile. With these stairs, I used quite a few miter joints where the angled pieces came together.

A mitered cut on tile is not difficult provided that you have a tile saw that has this feature. My smallest tile saw is an MK 4" benchtop model and even it will cut miters by raising the cutting platform up to 45 degrees on one side. My larger Felker saw has an attachment that holds the tile at 45 degrees on the sliding tray which makes the cuts fairly simple once you get the hang of it.

The marble floor is grouted and sealed and ready for business. It will be slippery, though, so the homeowner will want to have plenty of rugs for wet feet. :)


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Beginning of a Marble Bathroom Floor

After adding a bathroom to this home (see these posts) by removing a closet and raising the floor, I had two small stairways to consider finishing. One, in the hall to the den, received pre-finished red oak hardwood flooring (this post). The bathroom, with a set of winding stairs to the back door, would get marble tile.

When I think of marble tile I think of luxury, like a Roman bath from ancient times, right? I guess that was the idea here as well. The homeowner picked out a black marble that had accents of yellowish-green throughout. I always enjoy using stone materials because of the amazing colors and hues that naturally occur in the rock. Most of the time it's covered up with dirt, but now we get to put it in our homes and enjoy it!

Using marble isn't that much different than any other tile, except that the framing does need to be stronger to support the stone material. I had this in mind as I framed the floor so there were no concerns with this on this project.

Stone tiles, like marble, slate, travertine or granite also call for a different kind of thinset. Be prepared, it costs nearly double the price of the cheap stuff! This is not the time to skimp, if I'm going to all this trouble to install flooring, I want to make sure I do everything possible to keep it looking great for many years.

I started by installing Hardibacker cementboard throughout to provide a solid foundation that would not be susceptible to expansion or moisture absorption the way plywood would. It goes down over a layer of thinset and is nailed throughout with galvanized roofing nails.

By far, the trickiest part of this project was how to approach the winder stairs. They were to be tiled all the way down to the backdoor. We would also be doing a 6" marble 'baseboard' all the way around the room on the walls. The tiles were 12" squares so I cut them in half to use as the wall tile.

A heavy-duty professional tile saw is really useful for cutting stone tile like this, especially if you need straight cuts!

In order to not 'tile myself into a corner' I needed to start at the top of the steps and make my way down and out the back door. I used a tile spacer on the treads while I placed the tiles on the risers and taped them in place. Then, I could take the spacer out and install the tread tiles as I worked my way down.

I gave quite a bit of thought to the layout because I didn't want any weird grout lines going down the steps. I preferred to have a whole piece at the top of the steps and was able to achieve this without having any tiny pieces around the edges of the room. In the end the layout worked great, even with those crazy steps!

To be honest, the steps took extra time to cut and install, but it was a blast! I enjoyed the challenge of making them durable and safe as well as looking great.

Tomorrow, I'll cover a couple other details that were unique to this installation- stair nosing trim, and the mitered corners.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Work Outside Rain or Shine with a Canopy

With the spring rains coming, I new that I would need to get some weather protection or I would start getting rained out and my project would get off schedule. Nobody wants rain delays so I started looking into getting a small roof over my head, a.k.a. a canopy.

I was surprised to find so many offered. Most of them are called tents or 'wedding canopies' because they are most often used for outdoor parties. I just wanted a place to set up some tools so that I could still work, unless it was really storming.

I settled on the 10 x 10 Smart Shade canopy from Swiss Gear. They are the same folks that make Swiss Army Knives and their stuff is usually higher quality so I went for it.

I wasn't disappointed.

One day last week I needed to finish some trim and a light rain was forecasted all day. Time to give it a try! There was a break in the weather and I got it set up all by myself fairly quickly, probably less than 15 minutes. It would be easier with two people, but I was able to do it by going around and moving the legs out a little at a time. It didn't take long and I had a roof to keep me dry. It also came with a nice case that even has a couple wheels on it too.

I'm completely pleased with the purchase and thought I'd share in case you were considering one as well. I must admit that at first I felt like I was taping a TV show because they are always working under tents like this... :)

BTW- I'm also planning to use this as the summer starts heating up. I know I won't mind a little shade to keep me working with a smile.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Open Up The Kitchen Please!

Sometimes the biggest changes to your home aren't the most expensive. For example, you could spend $10k remodeling your kitchen and upgrade everything and still feel cramped in a small room. For these homeowners in the Brentwood area, their budget was much lower, but the change was remarkable.

The split-level home was built with a kitchen wall that divided the kitchen from the living room. The problem was that the wall seemed to 'stick out' and make the rooms feel too divided. The homeowners also wanted more room for setting up a large dining room table for family gatherings. The solution was to remove part of the wall.

Unlike a couple of my other recent projects, this wall was load-bearing, supporting the ceiling joists from the two adjacent rooms. This meant that I would have to carefully build temporary walls along each side before tearing out the old framing and putting in a beefy 2x10 header. The header would extend all the way across the space to the outside wall. To save a little money, we decided to leave the header exposed and covered with drywall than to cut out ceiling joists and conceal it in the ceiling.

There was very little trim to do because I finished all the edges with drywall, however, I did make a small shelf for the serving window out of nice piece of 1x6 poplar. I notched the ends so that the board would seem to extend wider than the opening and give the effect of a window sill.

After removing around 32" of the wall, there was a little bit of hardwood flooring to patch in. It's always tricky to match the color of 50 year old hardwood floors perfectly, but this one seemed to blend in well with a coat of "natural" stain on some red oak.

The change made an incredible difference in this kitchen which now seems more integrated into the living room and ready for family!