Sunday, December 31, 2006

Countertop Victory

It is safe to say that I've been a bit preoccupied by the kitchen counter top lately. But it is hard to ignore it when it is leaning against the wall in the living room. I can't even watch TV without the damn thing taunting me. The one thing standing in our way was a belt sander. I asked everybody I knew if they had one to lend out, but none materialized. My father had one that he inherited from my Grandmother's boyfriend. Unfortunately it was a table mount one, so not the correct tool for this job. Yesterday I was going to go rent one from Stephenson's Rentall for $35, but thought - why not try the palm sander first? We put the counter top in place and made pencil marks in the places that needed to be sanded, so that the counter top would meet the wall better. I got out the #60 grit sandpaper, and away we go. Alas, it worked just fine. I'm sure that it was more time consuming, but it did the job. It was hours of putting the counter top up, marking, taking it down, sanding and repeat. But, I think that we're finally ready to bolt that sucker down. Just a few more hours with a variety of levels and some shims, and hopefully we'll be done.

But wait. What about the sink? I guess that now is the time to really use that jigsaw that I got for my birthday last year. We got some special laminate blades, and re-read the internet instructions. I traced a practice curve onto a scrap of counter top and got Dan to try his hand with the jigsaw. I figured that I'd get him to do it so that I could take the photos. He did pretty well, so we figured it was time to move on to the big leagues. So, I traced the template for the new single sink on the counter top and then drilled a 3/4" starter hole. I'm sure that the neighbours were happy to hear us firing up the saw at 5 p.m. on New Year's Eve. The photo gives away the ending of my story, but I have to say that Dan did a fab job staying inside the line, and the new sinks fits in perfectly. Now it is my turn to put that plumbing course to use and get us some running water in that kitchen. That and get that dishwasher running. And tile the backsplash, install the under counter lights, install new doors on the cabinets, move the dishes back into the kitchen, and paint the wall. Yeah, I guess that we are not almost done. Oh well, for now I will celebrate the victory that the sink hole was cut out on the last night of 2006. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gender Bias at the Hardware Store

The only thing still keeping our new range hood/microwave off the wall is a toggle bolt. I told Dan that I would run to the hardware store to pick one up, because I know that he never will. I can tell that my comment offended him, but it is true. He's not that great at getting hardware. He often comes back from such an errand saying that they didn't have it. When I enquire if he asked the staff if they knew where it was, he says no. Why is it that men can't ask for driving directions and they'll rarely ask for help in the hardware store? Is it a sign of weakness to admit that you don't know where the 1/4" x 4" toggle bolts are? Are you admitting failure when you ask which silicone caulking can be used below 10C? Instead, you save yourself time and often money. If I browse around the store looking for the correct caulking, I end up buying all kinds of extra stuff that I didn't really need. (But I do like that circuit tester I got a few weeks back. It is just like the one home inspectors use!)

Maybe it is easier for women in the hardware store. Maybe the gender bias works in my favour. When I walk into my new favorite Home Hardware, they ask me right away if I need help. Is it assumed that as a woman that I wouldn't know what I'm looking for, or is it because I'm always trying to make eye contact with them, so that they will help me. Or is it that they just want a break from all those contractors? I find that they also share all kinds of useful tips too. Are they as willing to share their knowledge with another man? Does a female customer give them a chance to show off their handyman knowledge?

I have to admit that I do love hardware stores. I particularly like the old ones with a slight musty smell and the warped wooden floor boards and big boxes full of screws that you buy by weight - not an electronic scale, but a gravity scale with the little sliding weights. And I love the smocks that they wear, and how everything is so organized. Bolts, copper pipes, light switches, big spools of chainlink, slug poison - all neatly stacked up to the ceiling. I love it. I can spend hours in there, just looking at all the stuff. But usually I'm in a hurry and want to make sure that I am getting the right thing, so I take their help whenever they offer it. Now I know this is a generalization, but why can't men do that too, rather than coming home claiming that they didn't have it?

I'm starting to get to know all the staff at my fav HH, at least by face anyway. And today, while waiting at the cash, I noticed a poster in the window. Attempting to read it backwards, I slowly figured out what it said: Apply Today. It was a Home Hardware recruiting poster. It showed four different people in those red smocks and with big smiling faces. They ranged in age from 20s to late 60s. There was even a grey haired woman. And then I realized that when I'm supposed to be retired but forced to keep working because I don't have a pension, maybe the Home Hardware would be the perfect place for me. It would keep me out of trouble, and I'd be able to ride my bike to work. Sounds perfect! I worked retail in high school and hated it, but maybe I'll soften to it in my older age. Afterall, by then, the gender bias should be almost completely gone. And I can help young men figure out which silicone caulking would work on day like today, even if they don't have the courage to ask.

Monday, December 25, 2006

All We Want For Christmas...

Installing an over the range microwave/fan seems like it should be easy enough. I read over the instructions twice. I assembled together all the necessary tools. We were ready to go. Over a month ago, I had an electrician run a dedicated wire from the panel to the correct spot in the wall. I bought the necessary supplies at the hardware store and put in the outlet at the correct spot. We cut a hole in the back of the upper cabinet for the outlet. We taped the template to the wall and cabinet to drill holes as described. The harder part is finding studs for the metal bracket to be afixed to. (Is there a stud finder that really works?)

The range hood ships as a top vent, so we had to convert it to back venting. This involved some sort of vent adaptor to be attached with two screws that were not included in the kit. 1:45 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I head out on my bike looking for two #4-10mm screws. We had started our day at Home Depot getting hinges and cupboard doors, and I just didn't want to drive up there again for two tiny screws. Five hardware stores later, I had found the screws -- no charge. (Three stores were closed, one didn't have them.) I picked up some veggies in Kensington market and was home about an hour later, only to discover that they were the WRONG screws. So, we jammed in some that were closer to what we needed, and everything seems fine. But at 4 p.m. we realized that we needed a toggle bolt for the upper cabinet, so we are stuck with the microwave still off the wall, as there wasn't time for another hardware store trip.

For christmas morning, we cleared away most of the power tools to whip up some waffles with fresh strawberries and some coffee. Yum. Sadly, the new dishwasher (pictured here, behind the white chair) is not yet installed, so I had to schlep the dishes downstairs and wash them up in a red plastic bucket. Good exercise, I guess.

Just think how much fun the plumbing for the sink and dishwasher will be, if the microwave is proving to be this much of a challenge. Too bad that Santa doesn't deliver gifts to big kids too.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The House That Christmas Forgot

Unless you consider drywall scraps and old kitchen cupboards as Christmas decorations, then our house is pretty much the only one on the street that has been overlooked by Christmas cheer. Christmas lights illuminate all the walk ways. The city could save some money and turn off the street lights until Jan. 1. Some of our neighbours even have little electronic songs playing at their front doors. I have seen some illuminated snowmen, and even a few polar bears - despite the 11C weather we had last Sunday. Candy canes, Santas, and nativity scenes are also very popular. Our next door neighbours have so many strings of lights that we don't even need to turn on our living room light in the evening. I wonder what the neighbours think of us. "What, you no like Christmas??" It is almost as bad as the time that I was weeding the garden on Easter Sunday.

I thought that I'd seen it all, until I saw this on my bike ride to work. (click on the photo for an enlargement) Only a few houses down is this festive, inflatable merry go-round that actually rotates. Santa, and some cold weather animals (penguin, polar bear, etc.) are spinning around inside their weather protected plastic dome.

I'd like to blame my lack of festive spirit on the renovation, but I cannot. Beyond the Swiss Chalet Festive Special, the holidays are not that special to me. Although, I do love the parties and getting to see all my family. Tonight, Dan & I are going to the Home Depot/Rona/Canadian Tire Super Centre at the Toronto Stockyards where we will pick out each other's Christmas gifts. I am going to get him a stainless steel sink and he's getting me a washerless faucet. So maybe Christmas hasn't forgotten us after all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Point Counter Point

The countertop has got to be one of the most stressful parts of this kitchen reno, despite my belief that it should be so simple. I keep thinking of the Aldous Huxley novel that I read in high school: Point Counter Point. The intellectual characters in this novel would never worry about something so banal as a countertop. I'm sure that none of them have ever even been in a kitchen, let alone soil their hands doing manual labour. Yet I manage to have long, Huxleyesque conversations with all my friends about this damn countertop, as if we are debating human nature, like the characters in Huxley's novel.

Problem #1: Choice. I can easily become paralyzed by too many options. I spent a lot of time looking at the different surfaces available: granite, marble, engineered stone, etc. I would love to go with the high end stone, but it is at least 4 times the cost of laminate, plus you can't install it yourself. In my urban reality of a small kitchen, I assumed that a new laminate countertop would not be too expensive. I budgeted the $17 per linear foot that the Home Depot quoted me, but alas, I was foiled. That figure does not apply to the corner sink. (Damn the corner sink again!!) The cost doubled because we had to get "flatworks" or else have two seams next to the sink. So now stone is only about 2 or 3 times more expensive, yet still a ton of dough. For me, more options = less decisions. Argh. If I were living back in Huxley's 1920's novel, the choice would have been easy, but not in our modern world.

Problem #2: I decide to keep it simple and just order through the Home Depot. Dan & I made another appointment specifically for this. We were both sick with colds, but kept the appointment, with dreams of a new countertop before 2007. Unfortunately our guy at the HD is not that experienced with quoting countertops - he has never quoted a corner sink. And since it is a Saturday, he can't call the supplier. Nobody else there can give us a quote. We leave defeated again. He promises to call on Tuesday with a price. We never hear from him again. Enter the Internet. A Google search leads me to two companies: Triplast and Norwill. I fax them my sketch with dimensions and they fax me back quotes. Triplast seems very professional and they have the best prices. They tell me that my order must be in by December 1, or we won't get it before their holiday closure. We go to Triplast before work to choose the laminate, place the order and make a deposit. Decision made!

Problem #3: On the way out of Triplast, I ask to confirm the delivery cost. They do not deliver. WHAT?!?! Everybody else that I called delivers for $50. How did I overlook this question on the phone? Triplast usually works with contractors and installers, not the uneducated public. Hence the factory direct prices. They ask who my installer is, and laugh when I tell them that it's me. They can't help me. Finally I get the name of an installer. He agrees to deliver my countertop for $60 (a rip off, but am I going to take time off work and rent a truck?). He tries to talk me out of installing it myself and offers to do it for $200. I decline. I review the installation instructions on the web, reassuring myself that it won't be that bad. Now all that I need is a belt sander.

Problem #4: There are too many types of laminate. I was confident in my decision until my coworkers started to question it. "White shows stains", etc. "Even Dover White", I ask? But that was it. I was doubting our decision. I called Triplast & they had not yet ordered the materials, so I put it on hold. We made a late evening trip to HD to look at the Formica samples one more time. I spend hours talking to friends and getting their opinion on all the samples. The results are inconclusive. In the end, we must decide on our own. On the morning of December 1, the absolute cutoff date, we go with Pionite's Rock Of Ages, despite being a premium laminate and costing $100 more. I know, it is a crazy name and the song is stuck in my head too!

Problem #5: The installer goes to the wrong house. He calls me and it turns out that he's off by 100 in the address. He asks me what to do. It seems obvious to me: drive around the block and come to the correct house. I'm sure that I didn't tell him to go to #26 since I live at #126, yet he is blaming it on me. I remind myself that I must be nice to him or maybe he will scratch my countertop. When he finally arrives, he says: I hope you know what you are doing. If you make a mistake installing, it is a very expensive mistake. Well, at least it is in the correct house. I re-read Rona's website instructions which say: Installing kitchen countertops is quite an easy project for most do-it-yourselfers. Maybe I will write this on the wall for encouragement.

Some friends came by last night and they admired the countertop resting against the wall in the living room. We had lengthy conversations about countertops and backsplash tiles, which from a distance likely sounded like the deep, intellectual debates that Huxley's characters droned on about in Point Counter Point. Can kitchen renovations really be good fodder for fiction? HGTV: what have you done to drama?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cabinet Maker

By now you must be tired of seeing my kitchen from this angle, but when you live in a narrow house and you don't have a wide angle lens, your options are very limited. But this picture holds the proof that 1) the drywall is finished; 2) the wall is primed; and 3) our first base cabinet has been assembled and installed. That new corner unit will eventually house our new sink. Very exciting.

I feel that there is not that much being done cabinet-wise in this project. We are just changing a few base cabinets, and changing the doors on the uppers. Although, we did have to modify the old pantry cupboard to make it a base with upper, creating an additional 18" of counter space next to the stove. So on the theme of "not much", I decided that we should assemble & install ourselves. As usual, I have seen people do it on TV and I think that I should be able to do it too. I love to read instructions and assemble stuff, so this is actually turning out well. So far. What I did not count on was the leveling. I do have a box of shims, and they are currently one of our fav tools.

While the cabinets are on holiday, all of our dishes and glassware is vacationing in our dining room. It is quite handy because you can select your glass or mug on your way into the kitchen, only to discover that there is no running water in there still. Oh well, it is all part of our Christmas decor: garage sale shiek. You should try it.

And speaking of Christmas: all of these holiday parties are keeping us from making any real progress on this project. But at least the martini glasses are always close at hand.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Kitchen Unplugged

For some reason, the Nirvana unplugged album seems to stick most in my memory, but it seems that every musical performer gets into this style at one point or another. Sadly, Kitchen is not a new band. It is our woeful kitchen. Unplugged for 26 days now. Well, the stove that is. And the sink. And what is a kitchen without running water and the cooking machine? It is just another room. In our case, a room that looks like a tool shed.

Last Saturday, after the sub floor was replaced, Dan was so excited about the return of the stove that he took a pork tenderloin out of the freezer. He did not realize that we needed to finish the drywall first, or else we'd be pulling it out again and again. Tired of the takeout food scene of late, last night he pulled together a gourmet feast of glazed pork tenderloin with green beans - cooked in the toaster over & microwave. The carving was done amongst the tape measures & tools, on top of the new dishwasher box. And since that newest appliance is also still unplugged, I took the dishes into the basement and washed them in the laundry sink. I know that I'm not the first, nor the last to do this, but it still makes me laugh.

I have to say that I'm quite pleased with the drywall project so far. It did take a considerable amount of time for us to do all the cutouts for the plumbing & electrical stuff, but they fit together well in the end. As for the taping & mudding: it wasn't that bad. The green plastic tools that Matthew lent me, along with the tape & mud, plus the instructions that I read on the internet - it all worked fine. Dan did have to make a late night dash to Canadian Tire buy more mud. The biggest surprise was the amount of mud reqired for the job. Maybe I used too much and have a hellish amount of sanding to do. Hopefully not. Tomorrow morning is operation sanding. Can't wait to get that dust all over the house again. But even more exciting is that very soon, our stove will no longer be unplugged. Another leap forward in this crazy project.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Learning How to Install Drywall

When I made my kitchen reno plan, drywalling wasn't even on the list - or the budget. But, when I removed the backsplash tiles, the wall came out in chunks, which I was planning to simply patch. I went to my plumbing class that night, complaining about my predicament and a fellow student said: don't scrape off all that old adhesive. It's not worth it. Just replace the drywall.

Easier said than done. But now is the time to learn how to drywall. My friend Matthew says that the best way to learn something is to do it. He's right.

Another kind classmate at plumbing turned out to be a drywaller, and offered to bring me some scraps from his job site. He followed through and actually delivered them to my house.
We kept the drywall screws from the damaged sheets that we took down. And I bought a little drywall handsaw, which was only $4.99 at Home Hardware. Now we are left trying to figure out how to do it. Measure twice, cut once. Instead I measured three times - but it still didn't work out the first time. We tackled the large sheet that goes around all the plumbing pipes first. It was definitely the hardest and made the other rectangular pieces seem easy. But tonight we must cut out the drywall on the exterior wall, replace the perforated vapour barrier and then replace the drywall with a few smooth sheets. (Oh yes, and install the electrical box for the rangehood microwave and move the rangehood vent by 1/4". Installing the bloody rangehood is another adventure that I wasn't expecting!)

Putting up the wallboard is one thing, but what about taping & mudding? People talk about it and I just go along with them, like I know what they are talking about. I've used plyfiller, but not mud. The aforementioned friend Matthew has offered up some leftover tape & mud, so we are doing very well in the material cost of this part of the project. But technique, we're just making that up as we go along. Fortunately, all this drywall will be hidden by new backsplash tiles and cabinets, so it doesn't need to have a perfect finish. I guess that what I should be worrying about more is how to install cabinets and tiles. But, that is a worry for another day.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Top 10 Ways To Tell That You're Renovating

10. The shop vac is always plugged in and ready to use.

9. All your clothes are covered in dust or paint.

8. The only TV you watch is on HGTV.

7. You buy Ibuprofen in the "value pack" size.

6. You're really excited about the launch of Mike Holmes new book.

5. You quit wearing your contact lenses (since glasses double as safety glasses)

4. You go to bed exhuasted at 9 p.m. -- on the weekend!

3. Your bedside reading material is published by Black & Decker.

2. Your gift wish list contains only power tools.

1. You keep "Deep Cold" on your night stand.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Could there be a Mike better than Mike Holmes?

My brother-in-law Mike is the handiest guy that I know. He has a huge air compressor in his rural garage, every power tool you can imagine, and he drives a pickup truck. He is also the quietest guy that I know. A man of few words, he works hard and gets the job done right. When he first met my sister back when I was in University, he was keen to make a good impression, and he moved me several times without complaint. Twenty years later, I know that I should not take advantage of his kindness, so I save him for when I really need him. So far, he has not been involved in the Money Pit, except for naming it that. He always teases me about giving up the carefree condo for this time waster we call home.

When we started this kitchen reno, I thought that if we got into a situation that we couldn't tackle ourselves, we'd just call our handyman Ben. When I did call him, I found out that he has gone to Spain for several months. So, we've been trying to do it on our own. But replacing the subfloor -- how the hell are we going to do that?? Even all the illustrated reno books from the library don't give me enough information to really handle this. Now that the insulating, electrical and plumbing roughins are done, we are eager to get the floor back in, ... but how? Alas, Mike to the rescue.

Mike worked a midnight shift at General Motors last night, where he is a Millwright. He finished work at 6:30 a.m., drove to his house to load up the truck and then drove the 1+ hours to our house. He arrived at 9 a.m. without sleeping. While he was here, he did not eat a bite nor drink even a drop of water. But he had his photo taken more than on his wedding day.

Mike cut 2x4s to reinforce the pieces of plywood subfloor that we had cut out to allow for insulating the crawlspace. Then he really impressed me by going UNDER the floor in the 22" crawlspace to secure the 2x4s in the inaccessible spots. We laid down some old bath mats and down he went. The photo above shows him lowering himself into that tiny space, while the one on the right shows him "in the hole". Now that is dedication. Just like Mike Holmes, my Mike likes to do it right, but he's much less self-righteous.

It wasn't enough for him to borrow a portable compressor, bring it here with a pneumatic stapler, a compound mitre saw, the coolest angle drill that I've ever seen, and many other cool tools. He also drove me to Home Hardware to buy the 5/8" plywood & 1/4" Luan sheets. There was a CRAZY amount of hammering to try to get the one big sheet of plywood to fit the tongue into the groove. Mike & Dan hammered the crap out of a few 2x4 pieces while I was jumping up and down on the adjacent sheet of plywood, trying to get the sheet to move even and 1/8 of an inch into the groove. Three tries and we did the best we could. (I should have bought the neighbours a chocolate factory. That box of chocolates seems insufficient now.) We secured it all down with dozens of #8 1-1/2 inch screws and then moved on to laying down the 1/4" smooth layer.

Mike didn't leave until 4 p.m. We now have a secure and level subfloor, plus he fixed our eavestrough! Renovating is full of highs and lows, and this day is certainly a high. Being able to walk on the floor again is a huge step forward. Mike, I love you. You have made my year. When I asked him how I could repay him, he said that this is the way it should be: people help each other out, but we are all too busy. So, I guess that I'll help him out by taking care of his two daughters. I look forward to taking them to the ROM and the Art Gallery, etc. But does that repay him for crawling under my kitchen floor and climbing on the roof of my house? Probably not, but it is a good start.

For more on the other Mike, read my post on the house that Mike Holmes built.

Friday, December 8, 2006

What Happened to Friday Night?

I remember when Friday night meant going out and having fun. Now it is an opportunity to prep for the home reno projects that need to be done that weekend. Often it involves a trip to Home Depot or Ikea. But not tonight.

My brother-in-law, Mike, is coming tomorrow to help us put in the subfloor, so we need to finish a ton of little things. Replace the dry old duct tape with the proper heat resistant metal stuff, install proper hangers for the ducts, fish the coaxial cable thru for the sunroom, fish the speaker wires thru the crawlspace and up the wall, move an electrical outlet box, and fish the dishwasher cable thru the crawlspace and up the wall, etc. It is our last night with an open crawl space, so we have to finish everything.

We weren't planning on replacing any drywall. That was until I removed the backsplash tiles, which removed the drywall in chunks. So, gotta go to the library to get a book on how to drywall. Then tonight, when moving the wires, we realized that we had to remove even more drywall to fish the wires thru. Fortunately a guy in my plumbing class is a drywaller and he gave me a little over a full sheet of drywall for free.

All the little stuff like this that has no impact on the overall visual appeal of the home takes a lot of time but hopefully we will enjoy the rewards with a warmer, more energy efficient home, and one that is wired for sound! One day we may return to our former Friday night glory and host some parties in the money pit. But for tonight, after all this, I'm just happy to grab a bite to eat in Little Italy and watch another episode of the Sopranos.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Keeping the Peace (When You Can't Be Quiet)

I often think of the right thing to do, yet usually don't find the time to do it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as I always remind myself. When we started this latest renovation, I thought that it would be a good idea to give our neighbours some flowers or a plant or something, as a token to acknowledge the inconvenience and noise. Sadly, I didn't get around to it.

Last night, my plumbing teacher, Paul, came over to rough in the new sink in the kitchen & move the hose bib. He was supposed to arrive at 6 p.m., so Dan & I started ripping out the old sink & cabinets right after work, at 5 p.m. Lots of banging and sawing, but it was early. We finised right at 6. Paul arrived a bit late, around 7:15. We finally got to work and realized that ofcourse, there were lots of weird things that made the job more difficult and time consuming. To move the hose bib, for the outside garden hose, involved drilling a hole thru the exterior wall of the house. Paul forgot the correct drill bit, so he got part way thru, and then he took an old piece of 1/2" copper, that he banged thru the rest of the wall. It worked, but LOTS of banging. Then he wanted to secure the copper supply lines so that we wouldn't have pipe hammer. He once again took scraps of copper and hammered the end flat, so that he could wedge it between the wall studs. Then he sauldered the two copper pieces together ensuring that they would never move. As he was hammering the copper pipe flat against the floor joist, we heard a bang on the party wall of the house. Paul stopped instantly, thinking that it was an echo. But no, it was our neighbour, banging on the wall. He hammered again, and they started to bang again. Humm. Yes, I really regret not getting that poinsetta over to them. Dan went over to make the peace with them, but all their lights were off -- even their Christmas lights! It was after 10 p.m. and they were trying to sleep. I understand. I felt bad. They are quiet and friendly neighbours. How friendly will they be now?

Paul had to be on the job site at 7 a.m. the next day, but he was in no hurry to leave our house. 11 p.m. and he was still chatting away and tossing his tools around. (Good thing that we'd agreed on a flat rate.) Dan & I were carrying his stuff out the car, trying depserately to make the noise end faster. Paul pulls up his Firebird, the kind that revs really loudly. He doesn't realize that all our neighbours are retired. We load the tools and wave goodbye.

This morning, I rode my bike over to the only store that was open at 7 a.m. and bought their nicest box of chocolates and a pretty gift bag (I never buy gift bags), and wrote a card dripping with sincere apology. I selected a bag with that icon of Christmas: the dove carrying an olive branch in its mouth. I dropped the bag off on their front door on my way to work. When I came home, it was gone. So hopefully they got it before the squirells or racoons did. And I hope even more that they accept my olive branch. Afterall, I plan to be neighbours for long long time.