The Renovation Tango

The last two weeks started with the usual two steps forward, one step back, but since then it’s been more like one forward, one back, and a few sideways. Yes, the windows and bathroom floor went in, but the contractor who installed the tile botched the job. He told me he wanted to redo it at no cost to me. Fine. I was just glad I didn’t have to go through any hoops over that. Then it took all of last week to get the tile, so this week I’m hoping that bathroom floor 2.0 goes in. Here’s Bathroom Floor 1.0.


Yes, I brought the toilet into the room. The floor is really thick, and will be thicker still with a second layer of tile. I wanted to make sure that the toilet would fit under the window. There’s just enough space. The second version will be slightly different. I got matte tiles thinking they’d be safer and less slippery than glossy, and went with a lighter shade of gray for the grout. It looks a good bit darker than I thought it would.

So after a full week of barely doing anything with the place, we got back to work this weekend drywalling in the front bedroom. Yes, stopping and starting again, and clearing all the stuff formerly stored in this room and putting it back into the other bedroom. Sometimes it seems like we do more moving junk around than working. But then, are you ready for it? My dad noticed that although it was raining hard, no water was flowing through the waste pipe in the basement. Yes, we have combined sewers, so my rain water goes through my domestic waste pipe. And we found evidence of cement in the drain. We tried to clean it out, shoving a hose and some old wires and whatnot down the drain, and no luck. Instead a small piece of the pipe inside the basement broke off and water started spraying onto the kitchen cabinets I had stored down there. We were fuming.

Then today, we started preparations to (ugh!) replace the whole cast iron drain line. I started chipping out the wall and ended up pulling stones out from around the pipe. Somewhere along the line it occurred to us that this would be a huge project that would involve jackhammering part of the concrete slab out from the back yard, so instead we used the hole in the pipe to snake out the clog. Success! Water is now draining properly through it. We’ll have to patch the hole. Not exactly quality workmanship, but it’ll hold for a couple years until I redo the back yard right. Here’s the offending pipe. Pretty gross looking but it gets the job done. When we unclogged it, we found that there was in fact very little cement in the pipe, too. It was mostly shiny black rocks. Coal! So anyways, I decided I’m not so mad at the tiler after all.

Somewhat funny moment: my dad is obsessed with preventing larger objects from going down the drain and blocking it, so he put a washcloth inside to catch the coal. And then he let it go! You should have heard him scream. The washcloth flowed freely down to the front of the house, where the cleanout we pee into is, and I was able to retrieve it. Yeah, fun day.


Letting it go like that (for now) let us get back to what we came to do: drywall in the front bedroom. The back wall of the closet is done, so this room is now cut off from the bathroom and almost looks like a room again. Coming soon will be the front wall. This is another solid brick wall with no insulation. We’ll be covering over the original plaster with rigid foam and new drywall, which spells the end for the last original woodwork still in the house. Here’s another one for the Hall of Shame.


So what exactly are we looking at here? Lots of holes, obviously, and gorilla glue! Inside that, we have a very cheap window installed so crookedly (in a wall that’s actually square!) that it doesn’t even close. There are scraps of who knows what stacked up to reduce the size of the opening, and there are 1×3’s, that’s framing grade lumber, not what you’d ever have for decorative purposes, attached right to the tops of the window sills. I know this woodwork won’t survive being taken down, but I’ll be able to replicate it. Not just yet though because the front windows are staying until the brick is restored. And until I can afford the windows I want. And when I feel like doing another project. That could be a while.


7 thoughts on “The Renovation Tango

  1. Mary Elizabeth

    Sounds like a complicated dance you are doing, the steps forward, the steps back, and the hopping mad steps! The drain for the runoff going through the basement? Never heard of this, but I’m sure it has something to do with the closeness of the homes.

    Not sure I know what I’m looking at with the bathroom tile. What went wrong with it?


    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      The sheets of mosaic tile aren’t lined up right, so you can see the outlines of the 12×12 squares. Apparently the glue holding the tiles to their mesh backing dissolved before they were able to make fine adjustments. The second batch of tile is on a sturdier backing and they said they figured out what went wrong with the last install, so should be better now.

      And for the drain runoff going through the basement, you wouldn’t see this in any area built after World War I. My neighborhood was mostly built before there were wastewater treatment plants, so rainwater and sewage run into a combined sewer. I’ll throw this link in because I love old maps. You can see that many of the sewers are named after streams that were filled in, and that the parts of the city that were still mostly undeveloped in 1914 have separate sewer systems, while most of the city was too far along with the combined sewers, so we’re stuck with them. The red intercepting lines take what used to go right into the creeks and rivers to two massive sewage treatment plants.

      Philadelphia and all the bigger, older cities have big problems with this because when it rains the combined sewers overflow and release rain water and sewage untreated. My stormwater bill is about $25 a month and is supposed to pay for building huge underground tanks that will hold the overflows. I can design a system to hold some of this water and the water department will cut my stormwater bill in turn. They require that whatever I do hold the first inch of water that falls. Later, I’ll look into if I can do this. Later. For now, I can get a free rain barrel.


  2. Joyce J.

    Hi Chad, are you sure you want to trust this guy to do your tile again? He is feeding you a line of bull. My husband is a retired tile contractor he had his tile business for 45 years. Your tile guy set the tile like you would lay regular square tile, that’s is why it came out that way. Think about it, if you put tile down and see that their is a problem you don’t keep going and tile the whole room. I told my husband about your problem and showed him the pictures (also told him the lame excuse your tile guy fed you) he says Bull !!! tile guy does not know what he is doing, he has never heard of that happening… Just saying if you are going to let him redo it, watch him close. Good luck, sincerely.


    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Thanks Joyce. I called my tiler and my gut tells me to trust him. This is only because I know that the tile backing was flimsy and that I bought the tile on Craigslist out of someone’s garage. That and he’s stood by his work up to now. I guess there’s only one way to find out for sure if I’m doing the right thing.


  3. Mary Elizabeth

    Show up with a rose between your teeth and ask if he knows the Renovation Tango? No, you’re right that you will find out whether or not you did the right thing when the tile is done.

    Something else occurred to me. When the tile backing is new, it sometimes has arrows on the back showing which way to orient each tile. If the backing was deteriorating, maybe those had faded.


  4. Pingback: Progress, thwarted again | Chad's Crooked House

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