Digging my way out of frustration

I was going to tell you about the goals I’ve set for May. But before I got to that I had some complaining to do, and this post is so massively long already that I’ll leave you with this. Rest assured, in spite of all this aggravation and snark, I do see a path forward. And writing it all down makes me feel so much better.

So you’ve seen before that I’ve been pretty burnt out. I still am. I was shaken into action a bit this week though when I got a call from the contractor that did the insulation, windows, and chimney. I thought work was complete when they did the blower door test, but as it turns out, I can’t get my PGW rebate or complete the loan process until the boiler and water heater are combustion tested. They failed the last time, but now that the chimney vents to the outside of the house, they should have more normal carbon monoxide levels, and better yet, that carbon monoxide should make it outside the house! So I put my plumber on notice that he needs to replace the gas line soon. But then this week I got a pleasant surprise phone call: the loan expires on the 13th! So if we’re not done by then I would need to reapply. The plumber is coming out tomorrow to replace the gas line, and a few other things including (hopefully) the toilet and bathroom sink.

So along with the toilet and sink are that troublesome thing under them. I’m really, really coming to hate that bathroom floor. The contractor who tiled had missed a few spots, and was supposed to come back to scrub off the grout haze and seal the grout. Well, I asked when he was coming last week and he said “by the weekend.” Then Saturday I texted him to remind him that it was the one month anniversary of the required project completion date that he put in the contract. He said he’d definitely be in Monday night. Then when I was there Wednesday night, I texted him that if work wasn’t complete Friday evening he didn’t need to come back to finish or collect his second payment.

But then I saw that although he didn’t clean up and seal the grout, he had touched up the spots he missed. And also, he made me a really deep threshold out of the pine flooring that is original to the house. Ideally I would have had marble, but there’s a pretty big height difference between the two floors, and it’ll still look nice to have it match the floors perfectly.

So let’s talk about a few other things. He said that he was held up with cleaning off the grout haze because the floor was really dirty. I questioned this excuse. Because it’s asinine. I scrubbed the floor thoroughly and got all the dirt off, but only some of the grout haze. On principle I didn’t want to do something I paid someone else to do but this time it was worth it to prove myself right. Also there were a couple of tough spots that I had to scrub hard, damaging the tiler’s sponge. It’s all good though. He dumped my screws out to use the plastic box they came in for thinset.

Then there’s a little more trouble with the radiator pipes in the bathroom. They have flex in them because the plumber ran them in Pex, but switched to copper where they show. So when the radiator came out, they dropped near the floor, and the tiler went right up to them so tight that the coupling to transition from copper to pex don’t fit through anymore. That’s right, I have radiator pipes that cannot be hooked up to the radiator.


I suspect that the brand new copper pipe is gonna need to get cut out. And we know whose pay that is coming out of. The tiler said that he guesses the pipes are ok as they are, but the plumber should have put a piece in to transition to copper. I told him that that’s exactly what he did, and that the tile job is preventing that very piece from lifting up to where it needs to be! Arg. Also, you can see what he meant when he said that the floor was very dirty. For a construction site, it was very clean. No worries, it’s spotless now, except for some grout that I couldn’t get off.

So we made a *little* bit of progress today. All Sheetrock and Hardibacker are in place in the bathroom!

P1040257 P1040260


OK. OK. There are a few little pieces left. The little pieces next to the tub are going to be a pain to cut. The small gaps near the floor will be whatever is left over since they’ll be behind the baseboard anyway.

Oh, and we discovered something else while we were doing this. I asked the tiler to free the radiator pipes from the grout, so he had tapped them with a rubber mallet and broken off a few pieces of excess grout. He may have missed spots but he was very thorough grouting in those radiator pipes. So then he put the small chunks of grout that broke off into the smartest place possible: in the bathtub. Remember, my tub is glazed cast iron. It’s sturdy and all, but  those scratches would show. Luckily we saw them before we stepped on them, and gave that blue blanket a good shaking.

Then there’s the insulation. Recall that I have smooth plaster right on brick, and I wanted to glue rigid foam right to these. I had a few reasons why. I’ll get higher R value per inch, and lose less of my not-so-big bedroom that way. Also, my lime based masonry is soft. It’s not like the more modern Portland cement based masonry that I’d have if the house were a bit newer. Insulating brick from the inside makes it colder and more vulnerable to freeze thaw damage. My research found that it’s better to put up an impermeable closed cell insulation to prevent moisture from getting through into the brick from the interior. This should be glued right onto the brick with the glue applied in a serpentine pattern so that there are no paths for moist interior air to circulate between the insulation and the wall. I’ll also be sealing the joints to the best of my abilities with canned spray foam and caulk, and then going over them with house wrap tape. Here’s the best article I read about how to deal with this.

Now it gets better. I was going to put furring strips over the rigid foam to hold it in and provide a surface to attach the Sheetrock to. I bought Tapcon screws, which are supposed to be for concrete, concrete block, and brick. But they were useless in my brick; it just crumbles between the threads. So instead, we’re holding the foam up with scrap wood screwed right into the window frames. Keep in mind that when I replace the windows, all that is coming out. That wood is starting to rot and I need to build the frames thinner to fit new windows that are the same size as the originals, whose sashes slid right inside the frames. Here’s what it looks like today. After years of bad paint jobs, gobs of caulk, attempted use of gorilla glue, and inappropriate piecemeal replacement, this poor woodwork is suffering one final indignity.


So, now that I can’t securely anchor the furring strips to the wall, they were completely useless. Instead, we’ll be gluing the drywall right to the foam. I’ve seen some indication that this is fine, especially since we’re using 5/8″ rock. This is sturdier than the standard half inch, and better for installing on substandard framing, like studs on 24 inch centers. Or the ones in this house that are 27 inches apart and about 2 inches out of square. Hopefully it works! If not, I’ll do what previous owners of this house did and use wallpaper to hide the cracks. I won’t paint over it though.



7 thoughts on “Digging my way out of frustration

  1. Chris Stergalas

    Optimism and/or a few cases of beer should do the trick of calming the nerves.

    Throughout our process, it’s definitely been a give and take with contractors. We’ve had some great ones that saved us a tone of time, but also had awful ones that did shotty work and charged more than they quoted. But then again, seeing our bathroom project entering month three, there are also constant second guessing and wondering where it would have been worthwhile just to hire someone.

    On the radiator issue, we have a similar yet opposite issue, in that we no longer have radiators, but in resurrecting the old tile, we have radiator holes in the floor. Trying to figure out how the heck to fix that one…


    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      And, are you putting in a built in tub? As I recall the floor goes through the whole room so maybe you can attack everything that’ll be hidden and get a couple usable tiles out of it.


  2. Mary Elizabeth

    Or, Chris, if you can’t cannibalize tile under the tub, you could put in a “faux radiator.” 🙂 Serious ideas:

    1) Actually, we had a place where a small strip of the floor tile was missing in our bathroom when we did it over–it was behind the toilet, and the person who put in the tile had covered it with quarter-round molding, which we didn’t like the looks of and which didn’t match the rest of the woodwork. So my husband put in some grout the same color as the grout already in the floor, leveled it off at the same level as the tile, and it doesn’t look too bad. You can get grout in many colors, so maybe you can find something close to what you have and fill in with it.

    2) You could also use that Epoxy Putty that you sculpt to fill in any space in any material. We have a carpenter friend who used it to fill in part of an outdoor window frame that had rotted. You put the putty in the spot you want–in your case the radiator holes, and level it off to match the surrounding material. After it is dry (about 24 hours) you can paint it to match your floor.

    Chad, we hear your frustration, but you are really making progress in some areas. The problem being your own general contractor is coordinating things like this (the plumber and the tile man working at different times and not knowing what the other is doing). My suggestion is not to drink more beer but offer more beer to the guys who come and try to do what you want when you need it done (but only at the end of work, of course!).


  3. Pingback: Cash for Clutter… and beautiful old plaster! | Chad's Crooked House

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