Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Is the Kitchen Done Yet?

If I had a glass mosaic tile for each time that I've heard this question, I'd have a complete backsplash by now!

OK. The kitchen no longer looks like this, but it is still far from finished. I have quit running home from work at 5 p.m. to get banging on the floors and walls to get stuff done. Afterall, if you have running water and a stove, do you really care if you have tiles on the backsplash? We now use the kitchen for cooking.

But one of these days we need to do the following:
  1. Install the glass mosaic tiles.
  2. Grout the tiles.
  3. Install the under cabinet lights.
  4. Remove or repair the wainscotting.
  5. Replace all the trim.
  6. Paint the whole room.
  7. Move the power tools out of the mainfloor bathroom and return the majority of them to Matthew.
  8. Plan the kitchen warming party.
Friends, family and loyal readers, the kitchen is still not done. But we already have the tiles, so one of these days, the room will actually get done.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tiles and Tribulations

It seemed like a good idea to tear down the old backsplash tiles and replace them with new glass mosaic tiles. They do it on TV all the time. How hard could it be?

One month ago, we went to the mecca of tile stores, Olympia Tile, to choose some tiles for our backsplash. We selected some nice glass mosaic tiles at their outlet store at a greatly reduced price. The clerk set us up with the adhesive and grout too. I asked an installation question and she replied – “I don’t know, I’ve never installed tile”. Well, I’ve never given birth, yet I give parenting advice all the time. So, I guess that I should trust her.

Finally it is time to install the tiles. On Saturday, I found this great mosaic site with a photo tutorial, and I studied every word of it. This is how I learned that you should not use mastic adhesive on glass tiles under any circumstances. They even explain the danger of ignoring this advice: mould, discolouration, etc. Well, I don't want that! I looked at the stuff that Olympia sold me, and guess what - it is mastic. Well, maybe this website is over cautious? I know that you can’t trust everything that you read on the Internet. So, I called the store, and they confirmed that indeed I cannot and should not use this product to install glass tiles. Without apology, he repeated that it was the wrong product and that I should exchange it.

We trek all the way up to Lawrence Ave on a snowy Sunday, noticing en route that we were charged for two tubs of mastic, yet only received one. We walk into the showroom, and there is our sales rep, who flatly denies that it is not the wrong adhesive. Her attitude sours, so instead of an exchange, I request a refund, deciding to shop somewhere that the staff has experience installing tile. She made me wait for some other guy, who after a few glances at the crowded showroom, decides that they don’t do refunds on Sundays. That is when I lost it. I had one of those out-of-body experiences when I realized that the shouting person demanding a refund was actually me. Next thing I knew, I had the princely sum of $10.41 in my hand and we were out the door.

While Hardware shopping, we discover that ThinSet with the additive is a whopping $60 and comes in HUGE quantities. But what can we do now? We have the damn tiles, and we need to stick them to the wall somehow, so we lug the powdered thinset and liquid additive to the cash and with the swipe of a plastic card, they are now ours. A few days have passed, and they are still sitting in the same spot on the floor. Now all we need is a big bucket, a mixing paddle and the courage to start cutting those glass tiles. I’ve got to stop over thinking it and just do it.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Don't Give Harper Too Much Credit For the New EcoENERGY Program

I was sitting next to the programmable thermostat in my dining room when I heard the news: the Harper government announced that they were investing $220 million over 4 years to help Canadians retrofit their homes to make them more energy efficient. I am a huge supporter of energy conservation, so I was very happy to hear that they had finally brought back the program that Harper had cancelled on May 12, 2006.

In December 2005, I wrote all about my introduction to the EnerGuide for Houses program. It is a brilliant way to incent people to invest in making their homes more energy efficient. The initial evaluation, partially subsidized by the program, was the biggest education that I've ever had as a homeowner. We learned what improvements would give us the best overall efficiency, so that we wouldn't waste money. Plus, we learned how to do it properly. Needless to say, I was crushed when the Harper team announced the program's demise. I had vowed to write to Stephen Harper and tell him exactly what I thought of his short sighted plan for the environment. But while rushing to get my retrofit work done before the deadline to qualify for the rebate, I realized that of course, they quietly cancelled the program (along with the One Tonne Challenge) so that they could relaunch a similar program and re-brand it with a blue Tory stamp. This way they can have a big press launch and tell everybody what they are doing for the environment. But, they don't tell you that they simply took the program from the Liberals and renamed it.

Yes the EcoENEGY program is very similar to the ENERGuide program, with one major change: they are no longer subsidizing the initial evaluation. I read online that the Tory's are not funding it because it "devoured" the program's budget, since only 30% of people who underwent the initial evaluation went on to apply for the retrofits rebate. I paid $175 for my initial evaluation, which was a very thorough 4 hour consultation with an energy efficiency expert. There is no way that his time is only worth that for four hours! I was happy that the government subsidy for the objective evaluation was subsidized. Had it been $300, I likely would not have done it. And in reality, the $2000 that we spent on insulating our house, and then the $50 final evaluation, will not be covered by the $605 rebate that we will be getting this year. It does not even come close. But it was a good incentive for us to do something about the energy efficiency of our house. Yes, we will save on energy every year which will slowly pay off the investment in the house. But even better, we are saving 1.5 tonnes of green house gas emissions every year by reducing our home's energy consumption. It is a win-win situation.

I am thrilled that the Tory's brought back the program. I'm even happy that it is making the news, because hopefully more people will hear about it as a result and they will jump on the retrofit bandwagon with me. But it annoys me that they have to trash one program and rename it, just to make themselves look good in the eyes of the voters. Imagine the wasted money on administration. They had to fire all the competent people who were running the old EnerGuide program, giving them generous severance packages. And then they had to hire new people who need to be trained to understand all about running such a program. Maybe they are even hiring the same experts back, so those individuals will be paid both the severance plus their new salaries. And I don't even want to get started about all the paper materials that were printed with the EnerGuide name and logo. I received numerous pamphlets and books that explain how homes are heated and insulated, all produced for the EnerGuide program. All the leftovers will be sent to recycling while graphic designers and copy writers will get to work preparing all the printed materials, with the new logos and name. Get those presses rolling. Is this really saving the environment?

All programs are riddled with overhead costs that eat into the program's real goals. I guess that is a fact of life that I need to accept. I just hope that when the Liberals take over from the Tory's next, they don't continue the waste by cancelling and renaming the program again, just so that they can hold a press conference. I really hope that the next government will create and fund a truly unique initiative that they can be proud to call their own. Hopefully Stéphane Dion and his dog Kyoto can come up with a program that justifies the overhead investment and expensive press conferences, and really makes an impact on energy conservation in Canada.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Size Does Matter!

When it comes to simply replacing the doors of your old upper cabinets with some new doors, one size does not fit all. Maybe we should have just painted out the pine strip on the old doors and then rehung them with new handles. I've seen that done on TV. But I thought that it would be easier to get new doors. What I learned is that most people don't want to sell you just doors, or at least that's what an IKEA staffer told me. Their doors are all just slightly off, so we couldn't go with their line. We tried both Rona & Home Depot for the DIY options. I wanted to go with Rona to support the "Made in Canada" option, but unfortunately, they did not make the near-useless 6" base cabinet that we needed. After many trips to measure, I had decided that the HD doors would fit our existing upper cabinets, although I did realize that the round countersunk hinge holes were in a different location from our current doors, so all the hinges would have to be moved. As usual, I figured this was no big deal, and as usual, I was wrong.

At first I planned to reuse the old hinges, but they wouldn't line up with the pre-drilled screw holes on the doors. So, we went to HD on Xmas Eve morning to get a whole bunch of hinges, thinking that they were the exact same ones that came with the Mills Pride cabinets. Bad assumption. They were not. And the new hinges did not line up with the pre-drilled holes either. In fact, they were just millimeters away, so it was very easy for the screw to shift into the neighbouring pre-drilled hole making the hinge crooked! Not fun. So we devised this method with a square and some clamps to keep the hinge square with the door while we drove in the screws. Then we had the same problem with the cabinet side. The new hinge needed to be placed a few inches lower, but one of the holes was only a few millimeters from the old one, so again, same potential for crooked hinges and crooked doors. Sigh.

Like all parts of this kitchen project, once it is complete (see photo on the left) it didn't seem that difficult afterall. With all the cupboard doors on last night, I spent today moving all the dishes and food from the dinig room table into the cupboards - a much less cluttered look. We just have one more upper cabinet to hang but it is a custom job, as we have to cut out a wedge for the heat duct to pass through. That we shall leave for another day. There's been enough swearing for one week!

Open Concept Shelving: You will also note that the centre cupboard does not have a door. This is because the door was 3/16" too wide. HD does not make a door that is 14 1/8" wide, so I'm afraid that we are out of luck. So, until I take that woodoworking class at Central Tech and learn to make my own doors, I guess we'll have to live with this open shelving idea. And if asked, I will explain that it was all a part of the original plan.

Oh yes, and the dishwasher is now working. We did a test cycle tonight and no more drips.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

My Current Nemesis

Pictured here on the left is my nemesis. It is the one thing standing between me and a functioning dishwasher. It is a brass elbow fitting and for some reason, it keeps leaking. Curses!!!

I spent most of yesterday on my stomach on the kitchen floor. Installing a dishwasher is not as easy as I thought - which seems to be the same as all the other projects on this kitchen project. I read the installation manual a few times and it seemed pretty straight forward. I installed the electrical supply that the electrician had roughed in. Then I ran the water supply and drain, as per the manual. I tipped the dishwasher onto its back (with the help of Big Bad) and inserted the copper fitting as instructed. Then I spent about an hour trying to fish the electrical supply, water supply and the drain hoses under the dishwasher, and then installing them in a space only 8 inches tall. Trying to get my wrench in there was a challenge. But finally I did achieve the goal and everything looked great. When Dan returned from work, we turned on the hot water and instead of rejoicing, I spent about an hour laying on the floor, watching water drip from this copper fitting. I turned off the water and tightened it some more, but it still leaked. More tightening, more cursing, and more leaking. Argh!!!

It was such a pain getting everything connected that I didn't want to disconnect it all, pull out the dishwasher, put it on its back and try putting the elbow in again. So, I spent another hour laying on the kitchen floor, watching the elbow leak. Then I thought that none of our projects have gone right the first time. It took three tries to get the kitchen sink in properly. The microwave range hood - three attempts too. So maybe the third time is a charm. Should I even bother trying to get it right on the 2nd try?

Finally I admitted defeat, disconnected it all and tipped it on its back. With a clear view of the copper elbow, I could stand above it and really give it hell with my wrench. (Although it deserves more of my aggression.) And in the end, still a tiny bit of moisture is felt on the fitting once it is all back in its tiny opening and reconnected. I admit defeat again. I will deal with it later. For now I will relish the success of having the sink working properly and I'll go make some coffee using the water coming from the new faucet. Hopefully the third time will be a charm in this installation as well.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Who Needs A Plumber?

In October, I took a 9 week plumbing course at Central Tech. Looking back at my blog entry after the class, I see that I barely mentioned the kitchen, except for the installation of a dishwasher. Yet here I am, under the kitchen cabinet, installing the faucets and drain. Good thing that I can fit under there.

Plumbing itself is not necessarily that difficult. Working in a small space with bulky tools, that's often the biggest challenge. How do you get your hands in there? Not to mention firing up the propane torch under your newly installed counter top. Well, I decided to go with compression fittings so I left the torch in the basement, and the counter top is still intact. But I must admit that there was a considerable amount of cursing as Dan can testify.

In the class, our teacher Paul was very encouraging and often told us to just do stuff. I would take him photos of various plumbing questions and he would tell me what parts I needed and an overview of how to do it. We also did two projects: copper soldering and ABS waste plumbing. So I do have about 2 or 3 hours of hands on practice, so why shouldn't I be able to do this project myself? Paul did discourage me from doing the rough in plumbing myself, so I did hire him to do that portion. But the finishing was all up to me.

Yesterday I went to the library en route to Home Hardware. I picked up the Illustrated Guide to Plumbing (which I had previously borrowed for 9 weeks) and then re-read that section for the fifth time. But as my friend Matthew says: the only way to really know how to do something is to try it yourself. So by following the directions in the book and on the various product packages, I put the sink, faucet and drain together. We turned on the water and alas, only a minor leak on the hot water supply. So I got out the wrenches and tightened it up, and no more leak. And better than that - running water in the kitchen. Oh joy. You know, it really is the little things that can give you so much joy.