Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WHY THE #%$^ WONT YOU STOP LEAKING, DAMMIT? (aka Installing a Shower Valve)

Have you ever walked down the plumbing aisle at your local building store and wondered why they have so many different types of teflon tape and pipe joint compounds? If you're like me, then probably not, because frankly it's a really boring aisle to walk down. Well for anyone doing any DIY plumbing, let me tell you it does actually pay to stop in this aisle and learn a thing or two, about a thing or two.

Here's what i learned:

1. No matter how much you think you might be saving, don't ever buy the cheap teflon tape. There's a very good reason why some rolls cost 4 bucks and others cost 39 cents.

2. Get some pipe joint compound, and make sure it is safe to use for your application.

3. Shut off valves are your friend.

A few weekends ago i was replacing the shower valve in our basement bathroom. The valve uses threaded fittings to connect to the copper supply lines. So i went and shut off the water and waited while the whole house drained. Then i soldered some brass fittings to some short copper pipes. And using some teflon tape i found at the bottom of my tool box, i threaded the fittings into the valve good and tight. Using a copper coupler, I then soldered the supply lines to the short copper pipes to complete the connections. I was now ready to turn the water back on to make sure i didn't have any leaks. To my surprise the threaded fittings were dripping water, i thought i had tightened them as well as i could without damaging the threads. Of course once the whole assembly had been soldered together the only way to unthread the fittings is to turn off the water, drain the whole system, cut the copper pipes and start all over again. After 2 failed attempts, i was ready to turn the 3-piece washroom into a 2-piece. I had spent an entire day without water and i couldn't turn the water back on until everything was water-tight. My wife wasn't very happy with me.

So here's what i did. First i installed inline shut off valves way above the shower valve, so i could turn the water back on to the rest of the house. And so i could turn the water off just in the area i was working on, when i ever decided to make a third attempt. This would save me hours of waiting for the system to completely drain. These shut off valves would eventually get buried in the wall so they didn't have to be pretty. I turned to the internet to try to figure out why no matter what i did the threaded joints wouldn't hold water. And here's the secret - BUY PROPER TELON TAPE, YOU IDIOT!

Anyhow, i will now share my surefire way to creating a water-tight brass threaded joint.

1. Make sure the threads are the same size, and both the male and female threads are clean and burr free.

2. Put 2 wraps of good teflon tape on the male threads. I like the orangy-pink stuff.

3. Put some pipe joint compound on the female threads (make sure it's non-hazardous for household water, you don't want to drink or shower in poison).

4. Hand tighten till you feel a noticable increase in resistance.

5. Wrench tighten 2 more full turns.

And voila no more drips:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Basement Reveal

I posted a progress post of the basement reno quite a while ago, and now that it’s 95% done, I thought I’d do another progress post. Now that the basement is mostly finished and we’ve set up our TV down there, we spend much more time down there than we ever thought we would. Unfortunately the time is now often spent in front of the TV, rather than getting that last 5% done. I blame it on the new DIY Channel. We were much more productive when all we had to watch were 3 year old HGTV re-runs.

We worked on our basement simultaneously with our kitchen, since we needed to make holes in the basement walls and ceilings to run wires to the new kitchen. We also got rid of the laughably small laundry machines that were in the kitchen and built a nice laundry room, with storage and counters. We wanted many of the same finishes in the laundry room as the kitchen, to keep the look harmonious throughout the house. However in the laundry room I decided to install IKEA cabinets and hardware, as well as sink and faucet (see below Technical Tip if you have bought one of these). We then had our cabinet maker, mill and spray shaker doors to match our kitchen doors, and we chose to go with the same bianco carrara marble for the counter tops. And finally I installed a clean white subway tile backsplash.

Overall we’re quite happy with the results. Our basement ceilings are only 6’4” high, but because it is clear space without any ducts, beams or pipes, it doesn’t feel that basementy.

We still have a few more odds and sods to finish up:
- I need to scribe some filler strips between the sink cabinet and the wall, and I need to install a cover panel below the sink doors
- I need to finish installing the last few feet of baseboard in the laundry room and hide the water heater.
- I plan on refinishing some old French doors and using barn door hardware to install them in front of the laundry room.
- I need to build in some more storage throughout the basement
- And right now I am in the middle of renovating the basement bathroom.

So there'll likely be some future posts if i can tear myself away from the DIY Channel.

Technical Tip:

Anyone who is planning on installing an IKEA faucet LISTEN UP! The robinets (hoses) that come with the faucet are metric, they will not fit on 99.9% of the fittings available in our country.
So here's what you need:
- 2 Male Adapters 1/2" Code: W01131H ( i picked mine up at Home Despot).
- 2 1/2" sweat to 1/2" sweat inline shut off valves.- all the soldering goodies (emery cloth, pipe cutter, flux, blow torch and solder)
- Some teflon tape and pipe joint compound

Here's what it should look like:

Finally, The Kitchen Finale

So here it is, after months of take out dinners and BBQ’ing, our kitchen was truly and finally DONE. It was time to hang up my tool belt and put on an apron, I was finally ready for my inner chef to wok out with my spatula out. OK I’m getting carried away, but the point is we’re really happy with the way it turned out and at how much more storage and counter space we now have. The appliances which started us down this path are dreamy. Going from one working electric burner to 5 gas burners is like going from steerage to First Class. And we are just scratching the surface with the features on our new wall oven. It can bake, roast, broil, convect, microwave, steam and clean itself. That’s 5 more things than our old range.

Overall, the reno process went fairly smoothly and quickly, even with us doing much of the work on evenings and weekends. More often then not the availability of tradespeople became the bottleneck. I guess with the Home Reno Tax Credit, they’ve got more jobs than they know what to do with. But we were able to find some excellent trades through Homestars. We also saved a lot of money by doing much of the work ourselves. The first quote we got was for a turn key renovation of our kitchen and basement, it ended up at $50K-60K labour only. Much more than we were prepared to pay. That made our decision to roll up our sleeves an easy one. We did the demolition, framing, insulation, plumbing, flooring, painting, and finish carpentry on our own. In total we spent about 13K on trades for items that were beyond our abilities (mason, electrician, drywallers, and HVAC) and in that 13K number were a lot of materials embedded in their quotes, like bricks, wires, electrical boxes, drywall, switches and outlets. With all the money we saved on labour, we were comfortable splurging on finishes, like the deep undermount sink, marble counters and moonstone backsplash.

OK, this pic is just before i installed the grates on the cooktop, but hopefully you get the idea:

Christopher Peacock - eat your heart out!

I know, i know, i should have taken my Crocs out of the picture, and put my Guinness pint glass in the washer:

Here's the new powder room. Note to guests: please do not confuse the little sink for a urinal:

I installed marble counters in my old house, but that was in my bachelor days when I ate out more often than not, so the counters really didn’t see much duty. Now that we’ve had a chance to really use our marble counters in this house, I wanted to share some advice and feedback to anyone who’s considering them. We sealed our counters and backsplash with a product called TileLab SurfaceGard Penetrating Sealer, and we haven’t had any problems with stains at all. I’ve discovered spilt wine, coffee and other stains that have sat on our counter so long they actually dried. These come up with just a wipe from a damp cloth. The hardest thing I’ve encountered to get off was the red chalk line that the installers used to draw measurements on the marble, but those wiped off using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. We haven’t found any signs of oil or grease that’s been left on for a while. Marble does show a small blemish if you bang it with something hard and it does scratch if you drag something heavy and rough across it. In a kitchen that gets any use, these scratches and blemishes are inevitable, so we opted for a honed finish, rather than a really glossy one, which would have highlighted these imperfections. There are professional marble restorers that can buff out imperfections. They also repair more severe damage like cracks and chips. So if we ever wanted to, down the line we could always have someone come in and freshen up our counters, but we actually like the patina that marble gets over years of use.

What we love about our new kitchen:
- So much more functional and better planned
- The appliances are great, and they were a steal.
- The counters and backsplash make us swoon.
- The heated floors feel really good
- The abundance of natural, ambient and task light really makes cooking more enjoyable
- The wine fridge was a splurge, but it gets a lot of use.

What we slightly regret:
- Wish we had enough room to include storage for coats and for a step ladder.
- We wish we had chosen a lighter flooring stain, because dust really shows on it

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pumpkin Envy

I spent Saturday afternoon carving a large pumpkin, i was quite pleased with the results. After a couple of hours of scooping, drawing and cutting, Drac-O-Lantern was born.

In our neighbourhood, we have a Nov 1st tradition of taking all of our pumpkins to the local park for the pumpkin parade. When we arrived at the park, we set Drac-O-Lantern down and had a look at the other pumpkins. It was a beautiful night, and the skyline view from Sorauren Park was really quite nice, but the sight of thousands of lit pumpkins was even more spectacular. And i can tell you, there is no shortage of pumpkin-carving talent in Roncesvalles Village. I have to admit, i had a bit of pumpkin envy. So instead of a reno update, today i thought i'd share some pictures from last night's pumpkin parade.