Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A good plumber may be easy to find!

I found my plumber Paul at a night course that I took at Central Tech two years ago. It was a great intro to the world of plumbing, and inspired me to renovate our kitchen by moving the sink and adding a dishwasher. So when we decided to reno the bathroom, I gave Paul a call again. After spending hours in a classroom with him, he is really somebody I trust.

We removed all our bathroom fixtures on October 5, so we have been without a shower for 17 days, but the YMCA is close by, as are many kind friends with hot showers, so we've been getting by. But today was a huge step forward in "Project Bathroom": we have running water in the tub again! We can staple up some plastic and shower at home again. Exciting.

Many thanks to our plumber, Paul McErlain (left), and his trusty apprentice. Many of you have asked for Paul's contact details and here they are: 416-854-9846 and mackmechanical.ca.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Keeping up with Robomike

I know that my brother-in-law Mike thinks that I'm crazy. We are exact opposites in many ways. He hates city life, can't understand why we paid so much for such a small house, and is baffled that I would consider a month in China a vacation. But, when I asked him to "help" me replace the subfloor and put up some framing in our old bathroom, he didn't hesitate. I would like to learn how to frame a wall myself, so I wanted to be involved. I have written about Mike before: he's a man of few words but many skills. He arrived at our house on Tuesday morning, just after Dan left for his first day on his new job. I decided to use a few of my vacation days for my reno-vacation, if only to buy the supplies at the store and help carry stuff in and out of the house. I grew up on a farm and I don't have any brothers, so I was raised to pitch in on any job. Nobody in my house was too small, too young or too female to help out.

When Mike arrived, I showed him the scene. He looked around, shook his head and said: "you've got a lot of work to do here". But, he got to work taking measurements and we were off to Downtown Lumber for our first of many trips. As we were struggling to get a 4' x 8' sheet of 3/4" plywood up the winding stairs in our narrow house, I'm sure he was shaking his head again, although I couldn't see him through the plywood. I had to take the oil paintings that his 11 year old daughter painted for me off the wall, so that we could swing that sheet, tilt it, and get it up the stairs. Thank god the ceilings are 10' high in here!

We only had two days to replace the floor, frame some walls and install the bathtub, because we both had to go to work on Thursday. He was determined to get it done so that we could have the plumber in again on Saturday allowing us to start bathing at home again. I appreciate his determined work ethic and agreed that I would not talk too much, nor try to hug him. For all of our differences, I think that we got along well. But keeping up with Robomike was tough! He didn't eat all day, he barely drank any water, didn't pause at all, nor did he complain. I did my best to keep up, but after three days of hauling junk out of this bathroom, I was starting to wear out at 3 p.m. But, I keep dragging my butt until 9 p.m., although I did take several breaks.

By the end of the 2nd day, we had two walls and two doorways framed. We are renovating our oversized bathroom back to its original bathroom with small bedroom. When Dan returned from work, he helped Mike carry the new bathtub upstairs, and finally the rooms are taking shape. The drills are moving forward now. But, as Mike said, there's still lots of work to do! (And lots to write about.) Mike ate a tiny bit of food, drank a thimble full of water, filled his truck with the rubble from our front porch and drove off into the night. Who was that masked robot? He looked like Mike, but he didn't seem human.

Once again, thank you Mike. These words seem insufficient, but I am truly grateful for your dedication to your work and your family. And I promise that I will never try to hug you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pulling Cable

We spent our long weekend hauling crap out of the room that was once a bathroom. It has been two weeks, and yet the power drill is still running in reverse. When will we be putting it in forward and actually building a bathroom, not demolishing one?

We spent Friday night at the holy trinity for home renovators: Home Hardware, Rona and Home Depot. I bought myself an electrician's fishing tape - hooray. I've always wanted one. And today, I needed it, as we fed the four different gauges of wire thru the bulkhead down to the basement and to the panel. (We didn't connect it. We'll get an electrician to do that part.)

Thinking ahead, I want our new bedroom/office to be wired with coaxial cable and phone, plus we are putting a laundry rough-in as well, in the event that we move the laundry upstairs for our golden years. So this required pulling two electrical cables: a 14/2 for the washing machine and 10/3 30A cable for the dryer. That flipping 10/3 cable (the orange stuff) is heavy and expensive! Plus, the future dryer location is as far from the electrical panel that you can get with our tiny house, so we needed a lot of it. This was what I had listed as our easy job for the weekend. Relatively clean and quiet work, yet it still took us a few hours. But, I got to use my new fishing tape, and it worked like a charm.

The harder job was tearing up the remainder of the 3/4" plywood subfloor. It was a loud and dirty job, which I'm sure was even less pleasant for our neighbours. Just pepper the roar of the power saw with some colourful cursing when the head of one of the several screws popped off. The quote of the weekend came from Dan when he said: "drywall comes down a lot faster than it goes up".

After two weeks of toiling in this zone, I'm sure that Dan is happy to be starting his new job tomorrow. He's off the hook for a few day. My super brother-in-law is swooping in tomorrow to save us from this hole that we are in. Super Mike to the rescue!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Renovation is not a dinner party

Chairman Mao famously said: Revolution is not a dinner party. Well last night during a candle-lit dinner party on upper Montrose, I proposed that we should make t-shirts of Chairman Mao holding a reciprocating saw with the tagline: Renovation is not a dinner party. Of course, we thought this was brilliant, but how many t-shirt wearing, renovating sinophiles are there, other than me, of course?

Well, cottage industry aside, it was time to get the floor out today. I was supposed to be off at the end of the week, but asked my kind boss this morning if I could switch with today so that I could help Dan (somebody has to remove the wiring), and my kind boss said yes! So I was free to make dozens of trips up and down the stairs with heavy loads of rubble to the almost full Rhino Bag decorating our front lawn.

After a few pilot drills, we realized that the two layers of subfloor were both 5/8" thick. Many of the screws would not come out or were hidden by tile grout. We had torn out our kitchen floor with relative ease just two years ago, so as always, I underestimated how difficult this would be. I guess that if I thought it would be hard, I wouldn't take it on. It's like some women with childbirth: they know it is going to be difficult, but they do it anyway. I guess the new bathroom is like my baby. I just hope that it doesn't take 9 months!

After several passes with the circular saw, and many hours later, we had an opening 16" across and about 24" long. It allowed us to see the ceiling below and the bulkhead in the kitchen, where all the plumbing passes. After about 30 minutes of gawking at the damage and admiring how strong and sturdy the existing floor is, we thought that we should leave it at that and let the plumber tell us if he needed more floor removed. It was time to walk up the street for a shower and to vote at the advance polls. I may be a sinophile, but I also enjoy the benefits of democracy, so it was my honour to exercise my civic duty.

I think that Chairman Mao would have been proud of my three days of hard labour. It has certainly reformed my thoughts about civil society, but I had the luxury of a hot shower at the end of the day, after a short march north, so it wasn't really that much of a revolution -- just the start of a long renovation.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bathroom renovation begins

Dan starts a new job after Thanksgiving and had a miraculous two weeks off. I thought that we should celebrate with either a trip to New York, or by renovating our over-sized and hideous bathroom. For better or worse, we have chosen the more expensive but more permanent option: the bathroom. New York will always be there, right?

A few years ago we made a temporary fix by removing the wallpaper and giving it a neutral coat of white paint, but we just couldn't get beyond that pink tub and toilet, the waste of space and the fact that the shower dribbled like a water pick. The whole room was disappointing. This is our time for revenge.

Our main bathroom is possibly the largest room in our tiny house. It is the same size as our kitchen and main floor 2 piece bathroom. It was originally a tiny bedroom and a tiny bathroom. Alas, we are going to undo that modification and return it to it's original configuration, but hopefully it will be much nicer.

We started last week by removing the closet and cupboards. Dan began chipping away at the ceramic floor tiles on Wednesday and Thursday, and finally finished this hideous task by Saturday. We bought a Rhino Bag from Home Hardware and put it on our front yard and started to fill it with debris. Any usable pieces were re-gifted to strangers on Craigslist. (Will somebody really want that giant pink bathtub?) Things were looking pretty bare on Saturday night when we used the pink shower for the final time. A little bit more water pressure would have helped my aching muscles, but why would it change now? People and bathrooms do not change.

With this giant task complete, all we had to do on Sunday was remove the fixtures and then tear up the subfloor. We got an early start, but like most things, I underestimated how time consuming these tasks would be. I spent about 30 minutes laying under the toilet as rusty water dripped on my head, trying to loosen the tank bolt. Finally we decided to leave the damn tank on, and Dan carried the whole thing out and placed it proudly on our front porch. A few hours later, we brought the sink/vanity outside as well. I checked my email and somebody had responded to my craigslist posting and wanted all three pieces. Hooray. We had to have the tub out by 6 p.m. because that was when they were coming. This led to the video at the top of the posting, where Dan smashed the hell out of the tiles while I cowered by the windows, and pieces of shattered tile flew through the air. (We both had our safety glasses on.) I got into the action as well. I took my turn with the hammer, and pulled down quite a few pieces of cement board covered in tiles, but we just didn't get any photos of this.

A pink fiberglass bathtub that measures 70.5"x35" is not that heavy, but it is very awkward. We called our good friend Matthew in a panic to see if he could help get it down the stairs, but luckily for him, he was on Highway 407 at the time, and with the new owners coming soon, we had to do it ourselves. Surprisingly, it only took us a few minutes to negotiate it down the steep stairs and over the hand railing, to the front porch, where we leaned it against my bike.

Now it was time to cap the copper pipes so that we could turn the water back on. There are now showers in our house now, but we do enjoy the simple pleasures like washing our hands, or a cool glass of water. Renovators cannot live on beer alone, can they? I pulled out my "plumbing shoe box" of tools and accessories from the course that I took back in 2005 at Central Tech. With an aluminum cookie sheet as a shield, I fired up the torch and managed two good solders on my first try. I was as pleased as Dan when he finished the floor tiles.

Alas, we had run out of time for the day and the floor would have to be done by Dan the next day. So off we went to dinner & showers on Upper Montrose, a civilized way to end a busy renovating weekend. It's not quite New York, but still very nice.