Friday, November 6, 2009

How to fix a leaking dual fllush toilet

I felt betrayed when our new Rona dual flush water efficient toilet started to leak after only 10 months. Every time we flushed it, water poured out from behind the toilet lid, but it didn't leak any other time. These new efficient toilets don't have a flapper, which is so easy to replace. Did the whole guts of the toilet need replacing? Where was the receipt? ARGH! With no time, we turned off the water supply and quit using the toilet, pretending that the problem did not exist.

When I finally found a few minutes to Google the problem, it was looking like I'd blown a gasket - literally! With no big plans on a Friday night, we drained the tank and took it off the bowl. Within an instant, we could see the problem. Check out that gasket and you too can see why the toilet was leaking between the tank and bowl.

We ran over to our local Home Hardware, but they didn't have the correct gasket, so a long drive in rush hour traffic to Rona and $3.49 later, we had a new gasket, and now we have a functioning toilet on the 2nd floor again. Hooray. Life is beautiful. Again.

How we did it:
  1. Close the water shut-off to the toilet. Remove the supply hose to the tank. Be ready to catch any water that spills out of the hose.
  2. Flush the toilet and then bail water from the tank using a small cup. Soak up the remaining water with a sponge.
  3. Remove the two bolts that hold the tank to the bowl, lift it off and set it aside.
  4. Inspect the gasket. If it looks like the one above, take it to the hardware store and find a replacement.
  5. Place the new gasket over the hole at the bottom of the tank, rather than putting it over the hole on the bowl. (I think that's where we ran into trouble about 10 months ago.) Carefully set the tank on the bowl, without disturbing the gasket.
  6. Tighten the two bolts and attach the water hose. Turn on the water supply and look for leaks. If you're a religious person, you may want to pray at this point, but I've never found it to be as effective as using the power of observation and a good screw driver.
  7. Enjoy your newly repaired toilet. You deserve it!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Team Lorraine

If you can't see the slideshow above, you can see the photos on Flickr.

My friend Lorraine was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a rare and incurrable form of cancer, just days after giving birth to her third child. Quick access to experimental treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) combined with Lorraine's positive attitude has proven to all of us that incurrable does not mean terminal. Lorraine is in 'near complete remission'. This is great news, but we need to acclerate the search for a cure, not just for Lorraine and her three girls, but for all the other people living with the incurrable Multiple Myeloma.

From CBC radio's Fresh Air: They say it takes a village to raise a child. What happens when a village helps someone recover from a serious illness? Three months ago, Peterborough's Lorraine McCallum was unable to walk because of a rare cancer. Today she takes part in the Toronto Marathon. Lorraine and two of the people who rallied to her support---Corinne Smirle of Toronto and Ann Farlow of Peterborough---talked with Mary. You can learn more about what they and others are doing to find a cure for Multiple Myeloma at their website.

Listen to the interview. (mp3 - approx 10 min.)

In the news:

It is not too late to support Team Lorraine. Every dollar raised directly helps Lorraine and other myeloma patients through cutting edge research; and, every donation is tax deductible. Donations will be graciously accepted until December 31, 2009.

P.S. Here is a pic of me getting the team together in the dark and one of our Team Lorraine banner on the walk.

Monday, August 31, 2009

How to kill wasps

Summer is so short, I want to enjoy the back yard as much as I can before the snow starts flying again. But, our al fresco dining is often interrupted by pesky wasps. I'm not sure if the garbage strike stimulated the wasp population of Toronto, but it has been a dangerous summer for a person who swells from wasp stings.

A few weeks ago, we were having friends over for a BBQ and the yard was full of wasps. I had heard that you can create a wasp trap with a water bottle filled with a bit of sugar water or pop. I made two such traps, but used some old honey for the sweetener. We caught a few that night, but it didn't stop one of my guests from being stung. (Sorry Frank!)

The traps have been sitting in the back yard, but not idly. The bottle on the left trapped considerably more wasps than the other one. Is it a higher concentration of honey? A different bottle shape? Or does misery like company? I don't know, but I made a third trap today and I encourage you to make one and help reduce the wasp population of Toronto.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Now it is "really" done

This weekend, I witnessed that a comment on a blog can inspire action, and that posting a photo on a blog can inspire even more action.

I was so pleased with my new light fixture yesterday that I posted a photo of the complete bathroom. With the photo on my computer I could see how stark and institutional the walls looked. Not impressed. This inspired me to open the package of wall tattoos that I've had resting on the back of the toilet for about 4 months.

After several hours with scissors and tape, I managed to arrange them on the wall in a pleasing pattern. I got the OK from my domestic companion, and then I peeled off the backing and rubbed the decals onto the wall with the assistance of my HBC rewards card (the most use I've ever got out of the thing). I'm quite pleased with the results and just hope that they stay on the wall. I hope that the humidity won't peel them off. Time will tell.

This post is full of hope and inspiration. Sounds like an Obama speech to me.

If you're interested in wall tattoos, check out the art supply store @ 130 Spadina Ave. They have a good selection.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The bathroom is done!

Technically the bathroom has been done since February, after we installed the toilet and sink. But, I could not declare the project fully complete because we were unable to find a suitable light fixture to go over the vanity mirror. That hole with wires sticking out screamed "incomplete". It also made a bad photo.

Last night I received a comment from another renovating blogger who asked how the bathroom had turned out, and I really didn't have a good answer. That gave me the momentum to get this thing done.

After a quick glance at the big box stores, we returned to Living Lighting on King Street, determined to buy a particular light that we were considering six months ago, but then came home with this little number instead. I was so excited, I installed it immediately, and I cannot believe how much light it gives off. I was previously standing in shadows by the mirror, but now I can see all my grey hair and some new wrinkles. Yet despite that, I love the new light! Why did we wait so long for this? Nobody should have to live like that. Nobody.

Pip at 416FixerUpper, thank you for motivating me to get this thing complete!

Now that I'm looking at this photo, I see that it is time to get some art up in there. I bought some wall tattoos a long time ago. Maybe tomorrow they will be ON the wall.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Preventative Maintenance?

This money pit came with a relatively new mid efficiency furnace that was under warranty, as long as we paid $100 per year for a maintenance check. Mature homeowner friends told me that it was the thing to do, so I did it too. But did it pay off? I don't think so.

Last August, on the anniversary of our purchase date, I dutifully had the furnace serviced despite the fact that the fee had crept up to $129. A friendly fellow wearing paper shoe covers vacuumed the dirt out, shone a light around, did some tests with a volt meter and was on his way. The start up made some strange noise, like rumbling bearings, but the technician said that it didn't need to be replaced yet. I felt secure in my warranty, so trusted this opinion.

Three months later, on a cold winter day, the house was strangely quiet and uncomfortably cold. Humm. The furnace was not working. Crap. I called the technician who came the next day, but bearing the bad news that the blower motor was broken and that the warranty had expired a few weeks prior. $625 later, we had heat in the house again and the harsh lesson that despite the annual service, we were not protected. Nor did the annual preventative maintenance prevent the motor from breaking after 5.1 years.

Are warranties a scam or am I just a skeptic? If I had not paid the furnace company for their maintenance visits the previous 4 years, I would have had an additional $430 towards that repair bill.

I called them this August to say that I would no longer be paying their "protection" money, which really only offered me 20% off repairs now that my warranty had expired. But then she explained that for $230, I could have the gold service plan that will cover 100% of repairs this year plus the annual maintenance check. Buying into the public fear, I caved in and bought it. What if this furance turned out to be as unreliable as Dan's Mazda 3? Thoughts of huddling around the electric heater during a Swine Flu epidemic this winter are too sad.

Suddenly I was transformed from skeptic to suspersitious and gullible fool?

What do you think? Are warranties worth the money or are they just a scam? Can I vacuum my own furnace next August and bank the $230 towards my next motor? I do have a shop vac!

Monday, August 3, 2009


T is for time consuming! But, it really does finish the room off, or in this case, the hallway. Although, three doorways, one door and 40 linear feet of baseboards takes a hell of a long time to prime and paint.

But when it is done, it is so worth it. This is photo of me pulling off the tape in the hallway revealing a crisp line between the newly painted trim against the shiny hardwood floors - priceless. (Well not really. It cost me a whole day. But I listened to some good CBC radio shows at the same time so not all was lost.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bring on the cull: How to rid your garden of slugs

After a long winter of renovation, I thought it would be nice to just sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labour and some of the fruit of the garden. May was a bit cooler than usual this year, so I was about 10 days late getting the tomato and pepper plants in. We have not had any success growing peppers, but this year I purchased a more mature seedling and gave it a prime plot, where tomatoes have flourished in past years.

Pictured above you will see the pepper plant, which now resembles swiss cheese. Seems that somebody or something was feasting on my fruit before me. (Not fair! I pay the taxes here!!!) Unfortunately, my friend Corinne's garden was also suffering from the same affliction, several blocks away. Worried for her transplanted Brown-eyed-Susans, she took action sooner than I, and discovered that it was slugs who were fattening themselves in our gardens. Slugs. I had heard of these translucent pests before, but they'd never taken up residence in our money pit plot. It was time to fight back or risk losing all the basil.

The internet provided a simple solution. Dig a small indent in the soil and place a shallow saucer in the hole so that the rim is on the same level as the soil. At dusk, open a beer (any brand) and toast the slugs last day. After enjoying a few sips, pour a splash into the saucer. If your garden is large, you will need many saucers and more beer. I could only find two suitable saucers, so created some small slug wells by cutting the sides off some individual yogurt containers. Now this is the hard part: wait until morning. I suggest a warm bath to help you sleep, as I had difficulty nodding off due to eager anticipation.

The sunrise will reward your patience (and love of beer) with saucers full of dead slugs. Hooray. Bring on the cull. Who knew that something so delightful as beer could be so lethal to these garden pests (yet safe for pets and children). I recommend burring the drowned critters in a shallow grave which will decompose into rich compost, feeding next year's crop of peppers. It's the circle of life at its best!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Will there be light?

Light shopping is hell on earth.

Our bathroom is 99% done. Our friends at Downtown Lumber (a.k.a. Home Hardware) came through with a replacement mirror for the medicine cabinet, so things are shining. But it really shows off the fact that there is a gaping hole above the mirror. We need a light fixture.

We've been up to Union Lighting, Secso Lighting, Living Lighting, Ikea, etc. etc. etc. Big box store fliers have fixtures for $45, but they are not the right style or finish. So, our search continues.

I can't remember which store had this extravagant crystal chandelier. But, if we ever move to Woodbridge, we'll know where to go.

Does anybody have any suggestions for inexpensive but nice light fixtures in Toronto, preferrably downtown?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Seven Years Bad Luck?

Ontario's 2nd annual Family Day was used to get our "family" bathroom done. After grouting the tiles on Sunday, we were ready to install the sink, then toilet. This took some time, but was pretty successful. We did have to call the plumber to ask how to remove the cap on the toilet (water closet) flange. We thought that it would just pull out, but instead we had to smash it out with a hammer and screw driver. In all my reading on how to install a toilet, I never read anything about that. Thankfully our plumber is never far from his cell phone and quickly lead us in the right direction. After an 11th hour trip to Candian Tire (on a holiday) to buy longer w.c. bolts, then stacking up two flange extenders, the dual flush water efficient toilet was easily installed.

Time for the finishing touches. We were finally ready to install our fancy mirrored medicine cabinet. When following along with the instructions, ready to put hinges on the door, we discovered a devastating crack on the inside corner (lower right corner in the photo). ARGH! Does this mean 7 years bad luck if we didn't break the mirror? It has been in the box since we bought it, nestled in its protective styrofoam corners, so I don't know how we could have broken it. But the downside is that we bought it a few months ago, waiting for this moment. We've contacted the distributor and are waiting to see if they'll replace the door. Otherwise, this could be an expensive setback. Fingers crossed that this will be resolved soon, and we can declare this bathroom done!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Prefinished vs. unfinished hardwood floors?

The last major part of this job is the floor in the hallway and 3rd bedroom. A week ago, it was exposed plywood, about 3/4" below the other floors. I had planned to buy some flooring and install it ourselves, but we never found the narrow hardwood flooring at the DIY stores. Our friends at Home Hardware actually carry the 1 3/8" red oak strip flooring, but we learned that they don't display it, because apparently, nobody wants it. Why, I wondered.

We learned from one of our tile quotes that the strip flooring comes unfinished, so after installing it, you have to rent a floor sander and sand it, apply two coats of polyurethane, a fine sand, and then a third coat of polyeurethane. Very labour intensive, smelly and messy. But the alternative was prefinished flooring that is 1" wider and won't be an exact match to the exisiting hallway. So we had three hardwood experts come in to give us quotes and ideas, and in the end, we decided to replace the exisiting hallway so we could take care of some excessive squeaking, and have a perfectly matched hallway. We decided that while we're at it, we should also refinish the bedrooms.

Easily said, but not that easy to do, as we had to move everything off the 2nd floor and then leave the house for a week. But is it a renovation without some pain and sacrifice? I think not. (Remember the four months of showering at the Y? I do!) Our only saving grace was the 25 square feet of space in the bathroom, so we packed it full of shelves, books, dressers, desks, bedside tables. mirrors, clothes, bedding, etc etc etc. The rest had to be moved downstairs, creating plenty of opportunity to scratch the walls. With a suitcase, our laptops, and all the dairy from the fridge, we took refuge at a comfy home on Gladstone for the week. Their floors were refinished by the same guys about 5 years ago, so we had plenty of time to admire the work, and dream of how nice our home will be.

On Saturday morning, we could see our reflections in the beautiful shining oak floors. We spent the day moving furniture back to its functional places, while desperately trying not to scratch the new floors. Now we must tread lightly and be careful not to slip on the highly slippery floors, while painting, installing trim, and more painting. Honestly, the fun never ends.

I would recommend our contractors, Peter and Bill at Beach Hardwood Flooring: (416) 699-2113. Courteous, knowledgeable and reliable, but they're a bit camera shy.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Is that the finish line I see, or is it just another mirage?

Oh, we are so close to finishing this lengthy renovation. There are only a few things standing in the way of a fully fuctional four piece bathroom on our 2nd floor. But the long list of "little" things are taking forever and I feel like we'll never be done!

I made a huge mistake last week. I told RoboMike (a.k.a. the Tile Fairy) that I didn't need his help finishing up the tile and trim. I figured that he didn't need to drive 73km on his day off when I have a hammer of my own. So off we went to our local Home Hardware and picked out some trim. But in one day, all that I accomplished was some priming of trim, installing a lockset on the pocket door, and hanging the pocket door. I also did tons of analyzing/worrying about how the trim should be installed, referring to my latest library book. For somebody with experience, I'm sure this is a very easy job. My father tells me that my late Uncle Wally, a carpenter by trade, could trim a whole house in one day. I can't even do a tiny bathroom in one day. 

Anyway, I didn't fully regret my decision until the next day at my niece's birthday party when RoboMike continuously teased me about "firing" him. If I'd known that he has such a deep desire to escape life with my sister for a day in exchange for some thankless hard labour at my house, I wouldn't have stolen his dream. So now I felt bad for not getting the work done myself, and for taking this joy away from a man who doesn't like to relax.

But I digress. I decided to turn up the heat and get this job done myself. So for one week, I have been leaving work promptly at 5 p.m. and changing into my work clothes and getting right to it. I nailed the baseboard trim, put up the door jams for the pocket door, and filled the countersunk holes. The next night, I put the trim around the door and window. It is important to point out that I only have a cheap plastic mitre box with handsaw that somebody leant us 2 years ago, so that slowed me down a bit. I also used the mitre box with our cheap hacksaw to cut the metal tile trim for the sink backsplash. Dan came to admire my work at 9 p.m. after his French class, and I suggested that we tile the backsplash. He didn't really agree, but next thing I knew, he was mixing up the thinset with a stick and I was slapping the tiles up (and then franticly putting tile spacers in to keep them from sliding together). The area is only 27" x 10", so how long will that take, right? Well, as it turns out, it takes a bit more time than I thought, but much less thinset. (Oops. We've got about an extra 4 litres here just hardening in a bucket.) But, the bottom line is that the tiles are up and the trim is now painted, and we are ready to move onto the next task in this fun renovation.

If I squint hard, I can see the finish line on the horizon.  (Or, is that my tired eyes blurring the glass mosaic tile into a checkered flag?) When I drive down Toronto's Lakeshore boulevard, I always flashback to those last few kilometers of the first half marathon that I ran. I can remember the exact point on the road when I had that thought: "what the hell am I doing here". Every step after that became increasingly difficult. But as I turned away from the lake and ran towards the CN Tower, I could hear the people cheering at the finish line, and I just pretended that they were all cheering for me. And those last 500m were the best, because then I was done! I have only ran past that spot one other time, when I reapeated the half marathon the following year, and I had the exact same reaction. So, while I hope that this is my last bathroom renovation, I have a bad feeling that in a few months, I'll forget the pain that I'm feeling right now and get myself into this mess again. But hopefully only one more time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Can we really renovate our way out of recession?

The sight of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the evening news in casual attire using a nail gun looked as awkard as me wearing heels. This publicity stunt caught my attention, and I had to find out more. 

Touted as temporary, timely and targeted stimulus, The Conservative government's proposed Home Renovation Tax Credit came a few months too late for me! Sadly, this tax break for home renovations is NOT retroactive to Jan. 1, so I can't claim a credit for the tile work done last week, nor for all the materials I have purchased over the past few months. It is too bad because the total is nearing the HRTC limit of $10,000, which would have given me a healthy $1,350 tax credit (which could have been spent on even more renovations). This is one of the rare times that procrastination would have paid off, literally. But we had just started smashing out the floor tiles when we witnessed the first of many big crashes on the world stock markets. We could have put the renovation on hold, covering the plywood subfloor with a nice big bathmat, but I joked that my spending may stimulate the economy. And despite going over budget on this reno, one little home was not enough. So people, get out there and get renovating.

Or should we save? Am I the only one who finds it ironic that this is the same government that launched a massive plan just under a year ago to encourage Canadians to save? The Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) is promoted as tax-free money for what matters to you. Every year, Canadains can put up to $5,000 in a registered TFSA account and the gains will be tax free and there is no penalty for withdrawls. But from what I understand, this intitiative was only created to make up for the Conversative's broken campaign promise to adjust the capital gains tax. I don't think that they really care that Canadians today have the lowest personal savings rate of all time. The airwaves (and cyberspace) are littered with ads for the TFSA, either from the government or from all the banks lobbying hard to have you open your account with them. Some say that "it's worth talk". And I guess that it is good for the banks to have something good to talk about these days, when all their news of late is full of doom and gloom. Although, I can't help thinking that if I'd had this TFSA last year, maybe I really would be "richer than I think".

Both these programs remind me of when the Conservative's canceled the EnerGuide for Houses program. We were midaway through the program to make our home more energry efficient in exchange for expert advice and a small grant. Harper's cancellation made us rush our energy efficient retrofit work, from 18 months to only 8, without any guarantee that there'd be enought money left in the program to pay out the promised grant. It was a real disappointment. But when Harper launched his new program, it was vaugely similar, but rebranded with the media friendly prefix "Eco" in the title. 

So, the question remains: what should I do with all my extra money? Should I save it in last year's budget surprise: the TFSA. Or should I get myself a nail gun and continue stimulating the economy? Or should I say screw it all, and jump on the next plane to Costa Rica? Pura Vida, amigos!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Welcome to Command Central

I write to you from the warm travertine floor of my new bathroom. I have to sit here to enjoy the heat and admire control central. Today I wired up the floor heating to see if it would work. It is pessimistic to think that it wouldn't, but all the warnings in the package and the fact that the only friend I know who had floor heating installed found that it didn't work after the tile was finished. Hers had to be removed and replaced.

Last week, we chose to call in a pro to finish the floors. I was hoping to find somebody to do both the tiles in the bathroom and the hardwood in the hallway & back room. We had two contractors who were willing to do both jobs, but neither had a wet saw, so had to rent one, and neither had experience working with the traditional strip oak flooring currently in our home. The third contractor did tile only, and were not fazed by the travertine nor the NuHeat floor heating mat. They were my favorite already, but I had to wait for the quotes. In the end, they had the bathroom, but we had to find somebody else to do the hardwood.
We agreed on a price Thursday and they came the next day to do the scratch coat. This consisted of metal mesh covered with shiny mortar and took less than an hour. The following day, they came to do the drypack and level the floor. This is when they imbeded the floor heating mat. This needed to dry for a few days, but they were back on Tuesday to lay the tile. Wednesday they returned to grout. A finished floor in less than a week. Incredible!

But, then came the waiting. Three days and we could seal the tile. On the appointed day, I painted the walls, and then did one coat of tile sealer. A second coat of sealer today, and "light traffic" is permitted 4 hours later.

We wanted to install the baseboard trim before putting in the toilet, but sadly the paint can says we need to wait TWO WEEKS before gluing on trim. So, more waiting. (Please note: I was intending to glue and nail the trim, but have since been adviced to only nail after committing my intentions to print. Thanks to my readers!)

Feast your eyes on this beautiful sight! Tiled floor, a mirror in the vanity cutout, and our sink/vanity in place. Now, just imagine the luxury of the 31C floor temperature contrasted against the -22C temperature outside (with the windchill factor). My command central has a backlight overhead light switch, a timer for the exhaust fan, and a programmable termostat for the floor heat. And best part -- it works.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The waiting is the hardest part

Tom Petty may have beat me to this phrase, but honestly, the waiting can be the hardest part. Months in the making, we thought that after the grout went in, that we'd be showering at home in a matter of days. But, the grout sealer bottle said to let the grout cure for 10 days before sealing. Everybody in my network thought that seemed like a long time, but when you've gone to this much effort, what is a few more days? Or 10?

So, we waited. And worked on figuring out how to get the floors finished. My part time tiler/brother-in-law refused to work with the travertine we'd selected and the floor heating mat. Who could blame him? I thought about doing it ourselves, but after checking out the large wet saw at the rental department of Home Hardware which rents for $78/day, I thought twice. I had visions of us trying to cut the 12" x 24" tiles on our front porch in the -24C weather with all our neighbours watching (and laughing). So, at the end of the year, I decided to call in a few pros and speed up this outrageously long bathroom reno. Right now we're waiting for quotes from our three selected contractors, recommended by our friends Max and Tino at Home Hardware.

Yesterday my tiler/brother-in-law called to say that he was coming to caulk the tub area. I wanted to do it myself, but like the grout, he said no way! Who am I to argue. Again, after the months of work to get to this point, I'm happy to have him do it. So last night, Dan and I poured out some toxic grout sealer and applied it with some sponge brushes to all the grout lines. Twice.

Mike has just finished caulking and in 24 hours, we can use our shower and tub. Hooray. This is a huge victory worth celebrating. And since I didn't do much of the work for this part of the reno, waiting really was the hardest part. But now, showering at home will be my reward!

Thanks again to Mike for all his amazing work. The shower looks amazing! I can't wait to have my victory bath tomorrow.