Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Learn From Us

Last spring we took on our second major flooring project: tile.

I am not going to pretend like we are experts or that all of our projects come out smelling like roses, because this one didn't. Our kitchen floor looks leaps and bounds better than it did when we moved in, but it is often still the bane of my existence.

The entryway tile before

Threshold between entryway and kitchen

The kitchen vinyl before

The entryway had an 8x8 industrial-looking gold tile that was loose and breaking, and the kitchen had white vinyl that was badly stained. I wanted a simple, inexpensive 12x12 neutral tile.

Jeff tore up the tile and 2 layers of vinyl. (I wish I had a picture of the vinyl that was under the white in the kitchen. It was meant to look like river rocks or over sized pebbles. Awful.)

The next step would normally be to lay cement board to ensure that we had an 1 1/2" subfloor sturdy enough to carry the tile. For multiple reasons (we don't own a truck to carry multiple pieces of cement board home from the store, we couldn't accurately measure our existing subfloor to know how thick we needed the cement board, we were worried about the thickness affecting the transition between the tile and our hardwood floors, etc.), we chose instead to go with a different product called Ditra mat. It is a lightweight roll of plastic-like membrane that acts as an uncoupling layer between the sub-floor and the tile, so that any movement that occurs in the sub-floor does not affect the tile. It eliminates the need for a 1 1/2" sub-floor and is very easy to cut and work with. It's installed with a layer of thinset directly onto the existing sub-floor.
That was the easy part. The rest is physically taxing. Jeff was on his hands and knees for several hours laying the tile, then grouting while I followed behind him on my hands and knees wiping up the grout.

The entryway went smoothly enough. It might not look like a professional job, but it's a vast improvement.

Around the time I took the above photo is when things went awry. You can tell by the window that it is dark, as in, it was around 11pm or midnight. Jeff started to run out of thinset, and I watched as he slighted each tile with too little. I knew I should have spoken up, but I just wanted the project to be complete and I didn't want to be the harpy, nagging wife. (Secret: I am easily overwhelmed by mess and clutter. It makes me anxious.)

We grouted anyway (we used Tec XT grout which is stain resistant and doesn't have to be sealed. More expensive, but worth the money, in my opinion), and celebrated the finished project.

It was about a week later that those tiles were obviously loose and the grout between them started to crack. Jeff decided to try to pull up the loose tiles and reset them while I was at work one day. The one problem with the Ditra mat is that the thinset settles into the grooves of the membrane, which is its purpose, but makes it hard to reset tiles because you can't get all that dry thinset out of the grooves, and thus, you are laying wet thinset on dry thinset and building up a thicker layer than the tiles around it. Which is how we ended up with this:

And we continue to deal with cracking grout in the surrounding areas.

I spent the next several months searching for a rug that I could live with that would cover the offending un-level areas. I finally found one at Crate and Barrel.

Again, I think it's a vast improvement, but to someone who appreciates perfection I feel like these issues are glaring.

I guess we will just have to remodel the whole kitchen to alleviate this minor disaster.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


After we finished the living room and dining room floors, one of the next projects we took on was landscaping in the front yard. Several of the bushes and shrubs around the front of the house were dead or dying (especially those two at the very front of the house pictured below).

Jeff used to do landscaping in the summers during high school and college, so this was one of the projects he was most excited about. The first thing he did was saw off all of the limbs of those bushes. Then he went about the task of digging up the 50+ year old roots. I was at work the day he did this, but I think it involved a lot of muscle and an attempt to wrap them in chains and pull them out with a friend's pick-up truck.

He finally got them out. Here's all the debris on the street in front of our house. It's basically taking up all of our curb space.

Then Jeff selected some grass and different varieties of Juniper. My only desire was to have hydrangea bushes. We had some mulch delivered, and here is what it looked like right after everything was planted:

This is what it looks like about two years later:

And we've done a bit more work around the sides of the house in the past year including planting wild flowers along the walkway, and a digging up another dying bush and replacing it with a peony bush near the front door.

And when we moved in all of these day lilies were clustered together toward the front of the garage, so I spread them out along the the length of the garage, and they finally bloomed for the first time this summer.

Now, the back yard is a whole different story. Maybe someday we will focus on that, but for now we like that we have a bit more curb appeal.