Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Things Are Starting to Heat Up


Well technically they aren't quite yet but they soon will be. Back when we were discussing ideas for the bathroom remodel, my wife really wanted heated floors. I really didn't care either way but put it in the nice to have part of the list because I didn't think it would be within my technical range to do. Mostly this idea was because I thought it would have to be radiant water heated and I would have to put in some sort of manifold and temperature sensing device. However I started doing some research and found out that they sell kits that come with electric mats, a temperature sensor and a thermostat all bundled together.The mats can be cut (as long as you don't cut the heating element wire) and rearranged to fit various bathroom sizes and configurations and seemed really simple to install. They don't draw much electricity and with the thermostat only heat twice a day when we might be actually in the bathroom. The kicker was the kits were pretty darn cheap. Worst case if I really messed it up and it didn't work, I was only out about a hundred bucks. So I bought a kit.

So after completing the shower tiling, I unwrapped the package and installed it. The installation went smoothly and I was able to complete it in about three hours. The start of the mat is the one on the right and near the door. It has leads that are stuck down in a crack between the floor and the drywall and runs up into the hole you see in the upper right part of the picture down next to the floor. That hole will be covered up with the vanity after I get it built and installed. I fished the wires up to the thermostat base which you see mounted above the bank of electrical switches and outlet. I bought an remodel outlet box that clamps on the back side of the drywall and is made specifically for situations like these.

I think I ordered a nine foot mat and the bathroom is only five feet long (not counting the shower) so that I could bend the wire to fit around the vent opening in the lower left side of the picture and pretty much cover the area evenly. You aren't supposed to put the heating elements under any permanent fixtures like a vanity or toilet which is why there is nothing on the right side of the bathroom. To get everything to lay flat and stay where I wanted it, I used hot glue to tack everything in place.

To regulate the temperature so it gets warm when you want it too, doesn't run when we are not around and doesn't overheat, there needs to be a temperature sensor embedded along with the wires. That is the black wire you see kind of in the middle of the photo that ends in between a loop and runs out and into the hole in the wall up to the thermostat. I haven't plugged in the thermostat because the wires aren't supposed to run without mortar around them and I didn't want to have to figure out how to get the thermostat in vacation mode before things started melting.

The only problem I had was checking the resistance of the system before installing it and before I tile over it. You do this to verify that it is working before cutting it up to fit your area and again before you permanently tile over it. I checked the resistance on the mat before and after installation and it matched the range the manufacturer said it would. I DIDN'T check the resistance of the temperature probe before installing it because I didn't know I had to before I started hooking it up to the thermostat and saw a label wrapped around the wire. For some reason they didn't state that you were supposed to do this in the instruction manual. So when I discovered this omission, I got my multimeter and checked the resistance on the leads. Despite trying several times, I got only infinite resistance which means the thermister wasn't good. I was going to have to call it in, deal with customer service and get another one shipped to me which would be a week or two of delay.

I was actually on hold with their customer support due to 'heavy call volumes' when I decided I should gather all the information close to the phone so it would be handy. I peeled off the label from the wires telling me to check the resistance and the range along with the manual and box it came in when I read the label a second time. It said the resistance should be between 10k and 12k. Now the resistance in the floor mat had a range of 50 to 96 ohms so 10 to 12 ohms seems right in my brain for the thermister. But that k on the end is short for 10,000 to 12,000 ohms and I realized right then that my multimeter was set on the wrong scale to measure it. I quickly switched to a higher scale and my resistance was smack in the middle at 11,000 ohms. Before I could hang up, the service guy picked up and started asking questions. So I explained what I had just figured out and big him a good day.

So now everything is checked and working and ready for tiling. The wires were a lot thicker than what I had thought, probably around 1/8th of an inch so I have to account for that when tiling the left side versus the right side where there isn't a mat. I think what I am going to do so that I don't accidentally nick a wire is to fill the mesh and wires with mortar and use the wires to kind of screed it flat with a float. Then I will apply the mortar to the back of the tiles with a notched trowel and set in place. I think that will work better than trying to run a notched trowel over the wires and mesh and not nick anything.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Ethiopian Tibs


The town we live in currently isn't as culturally diverse as the town we formerly lived in. As a result, your choices for eating are much slimmer especially when it comes to ethnic foods. Surprisingly however, we did have a new Ethiopian restaurant open up here in town and we went down to check it out despite all the social media reviews.

Our town has a couple social media sites where a couple people posted pictures of the Ethiopian food, (essentially pictures like what I have above only not as good as quality) and the reviews weren't very good. Several people just commented that it looked disgusting and they wouldn't eat it. Then others called them close minded and a bickering fest ensued which is typical for social media sites like that. Not one person however said the food had tasted good and I suspect that was because most people hadn't yet tried it.

So we went during prime eating out hours and as it turned out, had the restaurant to ourselves for most of our time there which confirms my suspicions. Normally new restaurants up here are packed for the first month or so upon opening. The young man running the place was extremely nice and walked us through the menu and answered our questions. My wife got a lamb dish, I a beef dish and my MIL a chicken dish. The cuisine style was called Tibs.

Above is the Beef Tibs which came on a hubcap sized plate. The diameter of my plate in the picture is probably 18 or 20 inches across! The beef had been marinated in garlic and tomatoes among other other things before being stir fried. In the upper right there is a pile of sweet potato and cabbage. Going clockwise it also came with a pile of salad greens, some lentil mash and then the green mash in the upper left was from green and white beans. All this was served on top of a bread like tortilla that the server said was made from teff grains.

It came without any utensils and one was supposed to tear off a piece of the bread and use it to grab onto hunks of meat and vegetable while dipping into the mashed beans. I cheated and asked for a fork anyway. The whole thing was very delicious and we tried each other's dish so I can say with confidence that the chicken tibs was by far the best tasting. The beef was very delicious but a little bit more chewy.

The server kept coming back to make sure we were enjoying our dining experience and even brought us out a bowl of some stewed kale like greens with chunks of meat in it that was also very delicious. We ended up taking large portions of our food back home to finish another day since none of us could finish our servings. We will most likely go back for as long as it stays open but I doubt it will stay open for long. I think judging from the lack of people there on a weekend eating out night shows that most people aren't willing to give it a chance. It is also situated in the industrial part of town away from most of the other eating establishments so one has to go out of the way to eat there. It was my first time to eat Ethiopian cuisine and I must say I really enjoyed it.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Hard Part Is Over


On day three of the shower tiling job, I lowered my tile support board another two rows first thing and then re-waterproofed the old holes. While I was waiting for that to cure, I started tiling the back and right walls up to where we were planning on putting the accent tiles and then putting in the accent tiles. Because there wasn't much cutting involved, it went pretty smoothly and I was pleased with everything. I must say though that the narrow grout lines sure take a lot more work to keep straight and looking nice than wider grout lines were you have more room to fudge things to get them to line up. I stuck two tiles up above the accent tiles to see how much of a gap I was going to end up with at the ceiling. It really isn't too bad. I think I'm going to grout it and use some white caulk to seal it up and see how it looks. If it doesn't look good I can still fall back to the quarter round idea. In the afternoon I worked on putting in two more lower rows all the way around.

This was a lot trickier and time consuming. I left a little extra room to make sure I had the room to get the grout lines lined up on the tiles. This meant I had to use more shimming but in the end it was worth it. Finally I started tiling up on the left wall which meant cutting around the shower rough-ins. I wasn't sure how I was going to cut all the holes at first but I did some internet research and came up with a two pronged attack. For the small holes, I bought a diamond hole saw bit. It worked easily. For the larger holes, I couldn't find hole saws that size and had I been able to, I'm sure they would have been way expensive especially when I only had two holes of one size and a third slightly large hole to do. After research, I found I could buy special tile cutting blades for my 4" hand grinder. The blades ground right through the tile but cutting 5" and 5-1/2" holes with a 4" diameter blade wasn't the easiest thing to do. I held the grinder up vertically and sort of swept the hole circumference. By shear luck, the tiles lined up such that I never had to cut more than a semi-circle in the tile. I'm not sure I could do such a small hole in the middle of a tile with that method. With experience, I got better. I found that if I scored the semi-circle and then cut a slot in the discard portion to relieve stress before finishing my cut, I ended up with fairly good holes. It was time consuming and it took me the rest of day three to get halfway through the fixtures.


On day four, I removed the support boards and waterproofed the holes for the last time. I then got started cutting three more tiles to go around all the hand valves and body sprays with the hand grinder and hole saw. Once I got above them, the rest of the left wall went smoothly and I soon was complete up to the ceiling. I then cut the last row of tile to size and grouted them in place.

Despite having a line on the liner and beveled screeding rails for the sloped concrete shower pad, I soon discovered that I had a couple low spots where the concrete would hold water if it got beneath the tile. I ended up using the leftover mortar from my wall tile to flatten those spots out. Once it hardened up, I will mortar over it with my notched trowel as normal and nobody would know the difference. I cleaned up things and called it a day.


It's hard to tell but on day five, I added a row of bull nose tile on the left and right walls to give things a more finished look. I also had to cut the last piece of wall tile up next to the shower curb in the background. Then I spread mortar over the shower floor and laid all the whole pieces of floor tile. They had built in grout spacers on them so it was pretty easy to get them all lined up and looking nice. The hardest part was just figuring out how things would lay so that I could get a nice fit around the drain and not end up with a tiny sliver of tile up next to the wall. Once all the whole pieces of tile were laid, I quit early for the day to let things set up so I could get closer to the far edges when measuring and mortaring them in place.


My wife was packing to leave for a week long conference in Florida and she was taking her mother with her and I was looking at a week of taking care of the kids myself. So on day six, I made a concerted effort to finish laying the tile on the shower floor. I didn't think it would take me more than a couple hours but cutting and measuring all those tiles and then tiling the shower curb ended up taking my most of the day. I struggled with how I was going to do the shower curb. Option one was to make the tiles on the side of the curb overlap the 'flat' top tiles of the curb so that you see the more finished edge of the tiles. (I say flat because it looks that way but in reality it is slightly sloped towards the shower for any splashed water to drain inwards. ) However, one tile wasn't wide enough to fill in the gap on top so to make things look symmetrical, I would end up with three grout lines running the length of the shower curb. It just seemed like that was inviting more places for potential problems. Option two was to do like what you see in the picture. Overlap the flat tiles over the side tiles. I would end up with only one grout line running the length of the curb but the cut side of the tiles would be exposed. I decided to go this way because frankly the exposed tile edge didn't look much worse than the finish edge did because the finish edge wasn't colored gray like the face of the tile. I'm going to smooth the edge out with a tile stone and probably call it good. I frankly don't think once the shower is done, the fixtures and glass door is in place, that your eyes will ever look down in that direction. Worst case I could paint the tile edge after I get done grouting but I don't think it will come down to that.

So as I write this, it has been a week since I stepped foot in the shower. Next up on my agenda is to tile the floor which should be easy compared to the shower and grout it so that I can at least get the toilet set back in place and functioning. It gets old walking down the hall in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Once the crapper is working, I can go back to grout the shower and get the fixtures all mounted so that we have our master shower working again. After that I will need to build the vanity and get it plumbed up. Finally after that, there is lots of little things that need to be done but can be done in a working bathroom. I have to trim around the baseboard, door and window, hang bathroom fixtures like towel rack and toilet paper holder things. I also need to hang some artwork on the walls to admire, touch up paint, put the ceiling fan back together and a myriad of other things. Despite this lengthy list, I feel with the shower now tiled, the hard part is over and the end in sight. I can't wait.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

... and Tiling Continues


After we got back from Dallas, I started in on tiling again and this is as far as I got on the second day. It doesn't seem like much and I always figure I can get further but it never seems like I do. When I started this project and was buying supplies, I bought some 1/8th tile spacers but when prepping for tiling, I didn't think it looked right so I shot for 1/16th of an inch. That went okay but I didn't have any spacers so I was using bits of plastic and cardboard as shims which was slowing me down since I didn't have very many of them. So before I started here for the day, I went and picked up a box of 1/16th spacers.

The shower niche was built into an existing stud cavity and like most framers do when putting in internal stud work, they really weren't concerned with every single stud being plumb. As long as they could hit it with a drywall screw they were fine. So the shower niche had an ever so slight lean to it as I discovered as I tiled up around it. I did my best to keep grout lines constant while trimming tiles around it but I ended up with a few wider ones. We are planning on going with a white grout so I really don't think it will be that noticeable when done but it is still a blow to my pride.

Next up when it warms up enough to thaw the water in my tile saw outside (as I wrote this it was a balmy 27 degrees!), I plan to put the row of accent tile up above where I left off. I had planned for a 4" strip of accent tiles but my wife called an audible and switched it to 6" which means when I put one more row of the large white tile above that, I'm going to have a gap of 1/4 to 1/2" between the tile and the ceiling. Too small for another piece of tile. I think I may buy a stick of quarter round to cover that up or if it turns out closer to the 1/4" mark, I may just grout it. I'll have to see. (In fairness, I hadn't calculated how the distance would have been effected if we had stuck to plan so it could have happened just as easily that way too.)

Now that I have a row of tile on all sides of the shower, I will remove the prop boards and fill in the bottom and that will leave me with cutting around all those shower nozzles and handles. I hopefully have a trick or two up my sleeve for them to make it easier but still, it will be slow going until I get up above them. Fortunately we have another shower and I have the time to do it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tiling Begins


I'm not a tiling rookie but I would still say I'm no where near an expert yet. I've done two small floor projects and one project up around a tub surround and that is it until this project. In those three projects I've always felt that the first tile mortared was the hardest. There is a sense of permanence that makes me agonize over things because I know that once they set up, they aren't coming out in one piece. I spent many a day working on other things in this project pondering the best way to tile the shower. But the day before we left for our trip down to Dallas, I overcame that hurdle and stuck up the first tile. This was my progress at the end of the day. It doesn't look like much but I had to set everything up and the details of the shower niche ate up a lot of time.

I started by putting tile on the bottom, then sides, then top of the shower niche and putting a cut piece of the floor tile between the two tile pieces that makes up each side. That way it is supported on both sides and the back mosaic tiles which I installed next. Originally I was going to install the wall tiles up to the edge of the shower niche but they don't have a really nice edge when cut. So I got some bull nose tiles and edged the shower niche with them. As you can see and what I quickly found out, if I had planned on using them from the beginning, I would have probably made the shower niche and inch shorter so that the top corner joints would look like the bottom corner joints. As it was, I don't think it looks too bad and could have looked worse. I think it will look better once I get the field tile on the walls.

The field tile is 9 x 12 subway like tile that I'm going to put on a staggered joint which explains why I used little pieces close to the shower niche. I installed the board underneath the niche to get a full row of tile installed with the proper spacing and to help hold things up until it set up. This will allow the row lines to line up with the bull nose lines so they appear to be in the row. The only problem with this is that I still have two and a partial row to do underneath that board. This will mean I will have to install the level boards two more times. Ideally you would only do this once and work up. I just wasn't confident that I would end up with the proper tile spacing when I reached the niche and then I would have either staggered joints or a big wide grout joint now up in plain view.

The biggest relief is that the permanence of the tile is over with now that it has been there for a week. I can't change what is up short of pulling off the cement board and starting over which I am not going to do. So when I start tiling again, it is just filling up the field which is pretty straight forward work now that I have two rows up straight and level. Once I get up past the niche where I can put up a dozen whole tiles at once instead of just a few before having to cut some, I will probably apply the mortar directly to the wall to speed things up. So far I am just 'back buttering' the tile which is to say I'm applying the mortar to the tile back and then sticking it to the wall.