Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don’t forget this critical home improvement project

It’s easy to fall into a funk this time of the year. If you’re knee-deep in home improvement projects like me, you find yourself not only consumed with the worries surrounding that project, but also a myriad of other headaches that come due after the first month of the new year ends. Tax documents start rolling in, bills from the holidays come due, and it seems like every Tom, Dick, and Harry is starting a new campaign to try to get more of your money. (Noticed the bulge in your mailbox since the first of the year? It’s direct mail drop season!)

So, with all of those annoyances distracting you, it’s easy to forget one of the year’s most important home improvement tasks. If you do this job right, you’re sure to experience an improved quality of life around the homestead.

What task is it? Valentines Day shopping. That’s right, it’s only two weeks from today, and if you pull this one off, all your hard work around the house will certainly be rewarded (and your mishaps forgiven). But why is shopping for a Valentine’s Day gift a home improvement task, you ask? Read slowly: home improvement. Any gift should make things around the home improve, right?

If you’ve been at this for a while, you can attest to the fact that it’s harder and hard to complete this task in a unique manner each year. Thus, just like the typical posts in Old Home Blog, I’m going to share my experience in hope that it helps lead to another successful project completion for you.

Here are my picks for four sites that make Valentine’s Day shopping easy, and most important, gift-giving rewarding.

That’s right, good old fashioned PJ’s. has a wide selection, from classic pajamas and Valentine’s Day inspired designs, to more risqué designs. Best part: each order includes a personalized card and comes wrapped in a hat box. We’re talking 10 minutes and done here, fellas.

Tired of chocolates? Your significant other might be too. Try cookies from David’s Cookies. They have cookies and desserts that’ll make a box of chocolates look like the most unoriginal gift ever.

I know, it’s so traditional, but I also understand that some just have to have them. If that’s the case shoot over to and check out not only their flowers, but also their other Valentine’s Day gift ideas.

For serious relationships only
OK, if those first three picks almost put you to sleep, this should wake you up. Bare Necessities has a wide selection of lingerie and sleepwear Valentine’s gift ideas that should please all. For you ladies out there, they even have a selection of gifts for men.

Alright, I’ve done about all I can do for you. Now it’s up to you. Do something about it right now before you’re one of those chumps paying $30 for rush shipping two days prior to Valentine’s Day. Oh, and if you get the old frying pan to the head for forgetting again, especially after reading this, don’t blame me.

Back to serious home improvement business tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Patching plaster cracks with joint compound

The upstairs bathroom remodeling project presents plenty of challenges. The most time-consuming project will be repairing the cracks in the plaster walls. There were plenty of cracks hidden behind the wallpaper, and since we’re going to paint the walls, each and every one of them needs to be fixed... and fixed right. The plaster walls are smooth, and any attempt to cut a corner will be amplified once the final paint is applied to the walls.

Over the next few days I’m going to show you the tools, materials, and techniques I use to repair cracks in plaster walls. There’s plenty to learn from this room, because the cracks appear everywhere: hairline cracks mid-wall; cracks where the ceiling meets the walls; cracks where the walls meet; and on, and on.

Joint compound of choice
When patching cracks in the plaster walls of my old home, I prefer a product that is durable and is going to stand up to the subtle movements and drastic changes in temperate and humidity. That product is Sheetrock-brand Durabond Setting-Type Joint Compound. Use in conjunction with (paper) joint tape or fiberglass mesh tape (depending on the type of joint, I’ll show each in future installments) and you’ll end up with a rock hard repair that’s not going to crack again for the foreseeable future.

I could write my own description of USG’s Sheetrock brand Durabond Setting-Type Joint Compound, but why not just use the word’s from their Web site? They state:

SHEETROCK® Brand DURABOND® Setting-Type Joint Compounds are chemically-setting powder compounds for drywall interiors and exteriors that permit same-day joint finishing and, usually, next-day decoration. They provide a hard, plaster-like surface when dry and are virtually unaffected by humidity. (They are difficult to sand after drying; must be smoothed before complete setting.) Also ideal for heavy fills. They provide low shrinkage and superior bond, which make them excellent for laminating gypsum panels to gypsum panels, to sound-deadening boards, and to above-grade concrete surfaces. In addition, SHEETROCK Brand DURABOND Setting-Type Joint Compounds can be used for filling, smoothing, and finishing interior concrete ceilings and above-grade concrete; for taping and finishing SHEETROCK Brand HUMITEK™ Gypsum Panels; and for taping and finishing SHEETROCK® Brand Water-Resistant Gypsum Panels under tile in bathroom wall areas. Other uses include finishing joints in exterior gypsum ceiling boards and presetting joints of veneer plaster finish systems.

To meet varying job requirements, a full line of SHEETROCK Brand DURABOND Setting-Type Joint Compounds has been developed to provide a choice in setting times. The suffix number identifying each SHEETROCK Brand Joint Compound indicates an approximate setting time. DURABOND 20 sets in about 20-30 minutes; DURABOND 45 in 30-80 minutes; DURABOND 90 in 85-130 minutes; DURABOND 210 in 180-240 minutes; and Durabond 300 in 240-360 minutes.

For me, the benefits of Durabond setting-type joint compound is that it’s easy to mix with water; it resists shrinking; and it resists humidity changes, which is especially important in a bathroom of a Midwestern.

The downside is sanding. Durabond setting-type joint compound is much harder than your traditional drywall joint compound, and thus, it’s harder to sand. You want to apply it in thin, smooth-as-possible coats to make sure you don’t leave yourself with a lot of unnecessary sanding in the end. Why not just use the pre-mixed, easy-to-work-with drywall joint compound? Because it’s not as strong and the chance of cracks re-appearing is much greater. Spend a little more time and effort doing it right the first time, and you’ll hopefully never worry about the cracks again.

When choosing the setting time (Durabond 20, Durabond 45, or Durabond 90 are most common), keep in mind that the higher the number the more challenging the sanding. Therefore, I typically use Durabond 45 for my first layer, and then switch to Durabond 20 for subsequent layers. I like to think this makes the finish sanding easier.

The other downside with using Durabond 20 is the quick setting time. While 20 minutes might seem like a long time, the clock starts ticking when the water first hits the product. After you’ve gotten the hang of mixing the product, the setting time shouldn’t be a problem. But in the beginning you will most likely struggle with getting the right mixture of water and the dry compound. You could easily kill five minutes mixing and then, if you have a long seam to repair, getting the entire mix of joint compound (or “mud”) on before it starts to harden can cause you to rush and make mistakes. Trust me, with the Durabond 20 you can literally see when the final grains of sand are moving through the proverbial hour glass. At that point it’s best to walk away from that batch. If you try to use mud that is starting to harden, you’ll likely end up with a result that will require additional sanding in the end.

One more thing on mixing: The consistency you’re looking for is similar to peanut butter. After some practice you’ll be able to tell if you have too much water in your mix. If there’s a glossy appearance to the mud, there’s probably too much water. If you try to put on mud that’s too watery, you’ll notice right away because you’ll see bubbles in the mud after you drag it into place with your drywall taping knife.

Next time I’ll cover the tools I use to apply the joint compound.

Visit and search for “durabond setting-type joint compound” for more details (including data/submittal sheets) on the Durabond line of setting-type joint compound.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Gutter ice dams

As I mentioned in my last post, ice dams have formed in all the gutters on the north side of our Cape Cod. Seems the recent snow, thaw, snow, freeze, snow pattern has lead to some trouble for our six-month-old gutters. Those gutters are currently filled to the rim with ice, and from the research I’ve done, there’s little I can do about it. Some tricks, but the focus is primarily on prevention, not what do to once you already have ice dams

One trick I’ve found involves filling an old tube sock (or panty hose) with snow melt pellets (not rock salt) and placing it perpendicular to the gutter to break the ice into manageable chunks. I’m going to give that technique a shot on one of the short, easy to reach sections right above the back door.

More to come.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Shower leak repaired!

Yesterday was the first day we put the downstairs tile shower stall to use after the old grout was repaired. I happy – and relieved – to report that the shower no longer leaks in the basement!

I thought I could now get back to work on the upstairs bathroom project. However, we’ve had some recent snowfall in the area and I noticed some potential ice dams in the gutters on the north side of our Cape Cod.

Today I’ll get out and investigate the problem areas and see if it needs attention. If not, it’s plaster repair time.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rotary tool grout removal kit

So there I am at my local hardware store last night buying another bit for my Dremel rotary tool (actually, for a work project, not the cape cod this time). As I stood and waited for an employee to open the glass case containing all their Dremel attachments and bits, I was perusing the other goodies behind the glass. Turns out, Dremel isn’t the only company that sells an attachment for a high-speed rotary tool. (See my post, Dremel Grout Removal Attachment.)

I also discovered that a company named Milescraft Inc. makes a Grout Removal Combo Kit (item number 1004). I found the same kit offered by my local hardware store at, and barrowed their description of the product:

"The Milescraft Grout Removal Combo kit has two rotary tool attachments to help solve your grout removal needs. The Angle Plunge is a versatile attachment that adjusts in 15 degree increments from 60 to 45 degree. The Corner Grout Remover has an extended nosepiece that allows the bit to get into tight corners. Both tools will easily attach to corded rotary tools."

See the Milescraft 1004 Rotary Tool Grout Removal Attachment Combo Kit at

Just thought I’d pass this along, as this attachment seems to offer a little more functionality than the attachment offered by Dremel.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Tile floor grout repair

After letting the wall grout cure for about 24 hours, I went to work on the grout line around the base of the walls. I’m using the same premixed grout (Premixed Ceramic Tile Adhesive and Grout, made by Tile Perfect) that I used for the walls, but in gray instead of white.

There were a couple of tricky parts about adding the grout to the grout line on the floor. Since the grout line is at the base of the wall, it’s a little more difficult to work the grout into the line between the vertical wall tile and the horizontal floor tile. I used the same technique mentioned in yesterday’s Tile wall grout repair, by putting the grout down with a putty knife and then bringing the rubber grout float across the grout line at a 45-degree angle.

The other tricky part was I had to replace the one floor tile that had popped out when I was removing the grout. (See that tile resting on the plastic putty knife in the image above.) The tricky part is that each floor tile is only about 3/4-of-an-inch square, meaning it was impossible to get the new grout down on the floor where the missing tile would be set.

To get around this problem, I used a product that I find comes in very handy for a variety of old home projects: styrene plastic. Styrene is very easy to work with and comes in a variety of dimensional shapes and thicknesses. Any model train hobby shop worth their salt sells styrene from Evergreen Scale Models, including 6-by-12 inch sheets. I keep styrene on hand for situations where you need to make a small, sturdy piece of plastic to get adhesives, putty, grout, etc., into tight spots where putty knives won’t fit. The photo above also shows the small piece of styrene I cut down to use as a miniature putty knife to install the grout. Styrene is easy to cut; all you do is scribe it with a sharp knife then bend it a little until it snaps along the seam.

Once the grout was down in the corner, I set the lone tile into place then carefully filed the grout lines around it. (I only used the grout flout on the grout lines running away from the corner, not over this individual loose tile. It was too easy to shift this lone tile with the grout flout.) If you enlarge the image to the right, you’ll notice that I went up the vertical grout line in the corner a little bit, simply to assure that no more water penetrates that corner (at least that’s my hope).

I’ll let this grout cure for 48 or more before I let the family back at it. Hopefully, this will solve the leak into the basement and I can get back to work on the upstairs bathroom rehab. Frankly, in hindsight I wish I had the time to put the lone loose tile down and let it set overnight before I added the grout around the parameter. However, I’m running out of days until family from out of town visit this old house, and I need to get this project put to bed. Plus, I must get back to work on the upstairs bathroom. Hopefully I’ll be addressing that again soon.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tile wall grout repair

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I used two-part marine epoxy to seal the problem areas under the grout line where the walls meet the floor. With the epoxy cured, I can now apply grout to the areas where I had removed the failing grout, both along the floor and on the walls.

I used white grout for the walls, and gray for the grout line along with floor. I started with the white for the walls, and will let that cure overnight before I add the grout to the floor seams.

The grout I used is a premixed ceramic tile adhesive and grout (made by Tile Perfect) and worked it into place with a gum rubber grout float. First I used a plastic putty knife to take the premixed grout from its container to the grout lines on the walls. (The plastic putty knife won’t scratch the tiles, like a metal putty knife could.) Once a generous amount of grout is along the grout line, I took the rubber grout float and pulled it along the seams at a 45-degree angle (the float itself should also be held at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the tile) to work the grout in between the tiles.
Once the grout is in place, I removed the excess grout with a sponge, being careful to remove all grout from the face of the tiles so a haze isn’t left behind. It’s helpful to have a good-sized bucket of water on hand. The larger the bucket of clean water the better, because you’ll want to wring out the sponge frequently.
If you enlarge the photo to the right, you’ll see the bright white grout in the vertical grout line in the corner. It extends down to the floor, but come up a little short of the floor grout line. I’ll add the gray grout up to meet the white wall grout. You can also see the white marine epoxy along the floor joint, and under the corner below where the missing floor tile (which will be re-installed with the gray floor grout).

Again, I’ll let this grout cure overnight before applying the grout to the floor. There’s only one area were the floor and wall grout meet – the trouble spot in the front corner of the shower – so I want to give the white wall grout time to cure a little before the gray floor grout comes into contact with it.

Overall, the manufacture suggests that the grout cure for 48 to 72 hours before regular (shower) use. Tomorrow, grey floor grout. Then hopefully I can get back to work on the upstairs bathroom.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tile grout repair preparation

With the old, failing grout removed from my downstairs shower stall, I can now proceed with what will hopefully be the repair that will stop the leak of water into my basement.

After removing the failing grout, my assumption is the leak is coming from the front corner of the shower stall, where the walls meet the floor. In that area I ended up not only removing the grout that was failing, but also was able to stick a small screwdriver into the corner about an inch-and-a-half. That’s concerning. (I cleaned removed as much as possible, then vacuumed the old debris.)

Since I know grout absorbs water, I didn’t want to just use grout to fix this problem. Therefore, I turner to a product that I’ve used for a couple of other watertight repairs around my old house: two-part marine epoxy.

PLEASE NOTE: This is only a short-term solution (maybe a couple of years) for a much bigger problem. Having done some research around the Internet, I’ve determined the pan under my shower stall is most likely failing and the only long-term fix for that is gutting the shower stall and installing a new shower pan. If you recall, I’m supposed to be working on the remodel of our upstairs bathroom right now. I only started working on these leaks out of necessity, because we had to start using the downstairs bathroom shower after I officially closed the upstairs bathroom during its construction. Thus, with the upstairs bathroom already torn up, I’m not in a position to tackle the proper repair for the downstairs bathroom. Hence this band-aid repair.

My mission here was to use the marine epoxy as a watertight base for the grout. By doing so, I hope to seal any leak that’s going to the basement. Before applying the two-part epoxy, I masked off the tiles in the area so I wouldn’t add to my clean-up headaches after the epoxy is down. If you do get it on any of the tiles, it’s best to let it dry and then carefully scrape it off with a sharp razor blade.

Now to the epoxy itself. I discovered this epoxy at my local Ace Hardware when I was looking for an alternative to caulk for our upstairs shower (where the tile from the shower stall meets the cast-iron tub). The caulk from the previous owner failed shortly after we moved in. I re-caulked; and that failed a few months later. I was officially finished with caulk. I discovered two-part marine epoxy (made by Power Poxy) and have never had another problem with the upstairs shower over tub. Over two-and-a-half years later and it’s still holding firm. (The only minor gripe is that it goes down brilliant white, but ultimately yellows a little.)

Since I wanted absolute control over where this epoxy was applied, I purchased a glue applicator at my local Ace Hardware (item number 254151, as shown in the photo above). After mixing the epoxy, I carefully moved it to the syringe with my stir stick (a popsicle stick).

With the epoxy in my applicator, I was able to carefully move along the grout line in the areas where the repairs were noticeably deep. It was the deeper areas of missing grout that I was concerned with, including the one in the corner. I did not apply this to the entire grout line along the floor, only the deep areas.

In the corner, I inserted the applicator’s tip in as deep as I could and injected epoxy until it started coming back over the tip of the applicator. It’s my hope that, when cured, this marine epoxy will serve as a solid, watertight base for the grout I’m going to install.

The photo above also illustrates how small this shower stall is. Enlarge the image and you’ll see that I’m working on one wall and my back is almost touching the other wall (while kneeling).

The photo to the right shows how the epoxy looked after it was in place. Notice that I kept the epoxy below the level of the floor tile so there would be adequate room for grout. Once the tile that came out is put back in place, I’ll have plenty of room for grout both under the tile, and along its sides.

I’ll let this dry overnight and then install the new grout tomorrow.

Old grout removed

Thanks to my Dremel rotary tool and their 1/16" Carbide Grout Removal Bit (see at, I now have the failing grout in my downstairs tile shower stall removed and ready for repair.

The photo to the right shows where the grout removal bit had been used – the horizontal line – versus the vertical grout line which was hit with only a putty knife and grout saw. As you can see, the rotary tool bit does a great job of cleaning out the old grout and leaves a clean area that’s ready for new grout (after the dust was vacuumed out).

This photo shows the corner that I believe as the cause of the leak into the basement. This photo was taken before I took the Dremel power rotary tool to it. At the time this photo was taken, I had only used a putty knife to clean the grout line. You can see where the far corner tile popped up out of the floor. This was actually good news because it proved that this area was the trouble spot because the back of the tile was wet. (Enlarge the image and you’ll clearly see that there was obviously a problem around the parameter of the that missing tile.)

Having that one tile out also meant I had a little more room to dig into the back corner to remove old grout. This photo shows the grout lines after I used the grout removal bit to clean out the vertical corner grout, the area along the floor, and to the vertical wall grout to the far right.

After all the failing grout was removed, I vacuumed the area and then started thinking about how I wanted to tackle the grout replacement. More on that next time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dremel Grout Removal Attachment

I’ve got a little update concerning the Dremel attachments I discussed in my post, Another handy Dremel rotary tool attachment.

Naturally, as soon as I got home from the hardware store with the 1/16" Carbide Grout Removal Bit (see at, I put it to use right away (freehand, sans attachments). Turns out, if you read the instructions that come along with the bit, you’ll discover that Dremel also makes an attachment to go along with their grout removal bit. [Insert derogatory “won’t stop for directions” joke here, if you’d like.]

The Dremel Grout Removal Kit (see it at can be used with the grout removal bit to control the depth of your cut and to keep your bit centered between the tiles. While I haven’t used it, it appears as though the sightline for this attachment would be better than the attachments I mentioned in my post mentioned above. Those two attachments position the tool at a 90-degree angle to the work surface, where this Grout Removal Attachment places the tool at roughly 45-degrees to the work surface. This is a great improvement as you’d easily be able to see the bit as you move down the grout line.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Another handy Dremel rotary tool attachment

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been using my Dremel high-speed rotary tool with their 1/16" Carbide Grout Removal Bit to remove the old grout in my downstairs shower stall. This process takes a steady hand, so if you want added stability, you should consider the Dremel Tile Cutting Kit (item number 566) or Multipurpose Cutting Kit (item number 565). While the bits aren’t the ones you’ll need to remove grout, the attachment for the head is very handy. It screws onto the end of a Dremel rotary tool and let’s you set the depth of the bit you’re using.

While I own this attachment from previous work around my old house (the Multipurpose Cutting Kit, shown above), I didn’t use it when I was removing the old grout in my shower stall. I tried it first without the attachment and everything went well, so I didn’t go back and install it. If I had wanted to control how deeply I went into the old grout or simply wanted more stability that the large base provides, I would have certainly put it into action. Just something to consider if you want more control over this sometime unwieldy tool.

Tomorrow we start to patch the grout that’s been removed!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Shower tile grout removal

My initial assessment of the grout problem in the downstairs bathroom shower was a little over optimistic. With a halogen task light in the shower stall I was able to see the complete situation. It looks as though there’s a combination of original 1939 grout that is failing, as well as a few repair spots that now failed as well.

The older grout has simply cracked over the course of time, and is now to the point where it’s coming out in chunks anywhere from 1/8- to 3/8-of-an-inch long. That’s the situation in the area in the far front corner of the shower, where I presume the leak to the basement is originating.

To remove the loose grout, I used a few different tools and techniques. First, there’s the grout saw, which is pretty self-explanatory. Simply put the carbide-tipped saw blade in the grout line between the tiles and used it like a regular saw. If the grout line is recessed between the tiles, you’ll be fine. However, if the grout line is close to the face of your tiles, you might want to only pull the saw towards you. If you go in a back and forth motion, the blade might come out of the grout line and mar the face of your tile.

The other tool I used to remove grout was my Dremel rotary tool with their 1/16" Carbide Grout Removal Bit (item number 569). Click the image to the right to see a larger version.

You need to be careful when using a power rotary tool around delicate surfaces like tile. Be certain to hold the rotary tool with both hands and work slowly. If at all possible, steady your hand(s) against the wall or floor. If you’re not careful, you could easily move from the grout line into the edge of your tile or, worse yet, jump out of the grout line and harm the face of your tile.

The last tool I used to remove the cracked grout was a stiff putty knife. It comes in handy because it’s narrow, yet its stiff blade can be used with a considerable amount of force.

The putty knife was also used to remove the grout repairs that have taken place before my time in this house. Those old repairs, which are now failing, come in two varieties. The first type isn’t a big surprise: caulk. Caulk is the easiest way to repair missing tile grout, but it is not a long-term solution. It will fail, I can promise you that.

The second old repair looks like some type of adhesive-based patch, possibly epoxy. It was pretty easy to remove with the putty knife.

While removing old grout in the far front corner with the rotary tool, one of the small floor tiles popped out. In hindsight, I’m happy it did, because the bottom of the tile was damp, strengthening my suspicions that the leak into the basement is coming from that corner.

With all the loose grout removed, I now need to determine what path I’m going to take to fix the problem areas. Since some are on the walls and others are along the base of the wall and floor, I might need a couple of different solutions. More to come soon.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Old home blues: shower leak is back

One step forward, two old home leaps backwards.

Just when I thought I could focus all of my attention on the upstairs bathroom again – the project that I’m actually supposed to be working on – another leak appeared under the downstairs shower.

The situation is the same as before: I was in the basement using the utility tub when I glanced over and noticed water on the floor under the shower location. I guess the hot water faucet repair wasn’t the only situation I’m dealing with in that shower.

Upon discovering the new leak, I went into the shower stall with a flashlight to look around. With the better light in hand, it was easy to spot trouble spots that the shower light itself wasn’t illuminating. Most notably, there is grout missing where the tile on the shower wall and the tile on the shower floor meet. (With the better light – either a flash light or camera flash – you can also see shower scum and the overall nastiness of that grout area that isn’t visible to the naked eye with just the shower light. Pretty gross; I can’t believe I’m actually sharing this with the world.)

Since the crumbling grout is in the far front corner of the shower, I presume that water doesn’t always get to that location during each and every shower. If this is indeed the cause of the latest leak into the basement, this would explain why there isn’t water dripping into the basement after each and every shower. Looks like a trip to the local hardware store, and possibly the local tile store.

Of all the time I’ve devoted to the upstairs bathroom remodel, I’d be willing to guess that 30% of it has gone to addressing issues that have popped up in the downstairs bathroom. While I know these problems need to be addressed (especially since some family members are coming in from out of town next weekend), it’s frustrating that all of my time can’t be going to the primary project; the upstairs bathroom.

Old homes; you love them for how they look, but cuss them for what they do to you.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Crazed ceiling paint

Now that I’m thoroughly entrenched back in the upstairs bathroom remodeling project, I’ve noticed another issue that’s going to need to be resolved: crazed paint on the ceiling.

As I mentioned in my December 27, 2006 post, Upstairs bathroom: primer, the bathroom fan in our upstairs bathroom hasn’t been used faithfully by all family members over the past three or so years. Frankly, even if the entire family used the fan dutifully, I’m not sure the $19.99 Home Depot-special bathroom fan would be powerful enough to get all the steam out of the bathroom during hot showers.

The result can be seen to the right. If you click on the image you’ll see the ceiling paint within the shower nook. The ceiling within the shower nook is only 6-feet, 8-inches high, while the primary portion of the bathroom is 7-feet, 8-inches high. The bathroom fan is located outside of the shower nook, on the higher ceiling. With a cheap bathroom fan that didn’t draw enough air out of the shower area, the steam stayed in the room and started “crazing” the paint. (You can see the blueprints of the bathroom, including the shower nook, in the “Upstairs bathroom: primer” post shown above.)

This next photo shows an area of the ceiling outside of the shower nook. If you enlarge the image you’ll notice that I tried a quick test repair. I first took a putty knife to remove the loose paint, and then used sandpaper to see if I could get the area smooth. As you’ll notice in the photo, not all paint comes off, so if it’s painted it won’t look good.

At this point I’m note sure how I’m going to tackle this problem. My initial assumption is that I’m going to need to remove all the old paint off those areas and take it down to the plaster. If I don’t, the areas that would be sanded would be recessed, while areas that were in fine shape and not sanded would be at a different thickness. In other words, you’d be able to tell where I had sanded. I would use spackling, but I’m not certain that’s the right solution... my gut says no.

Do I sand the entire ceiling areas down to the plaster? (Those areas would include the shower nook and lower ceiling marked “arched lower ceiling” on the blueprints, which isn’t arched, simply flat.) If so, do I just drop the hammer with my random orbit sander? Or, is there a paint stripper that will quickly remove the paint but not harm the plaster? Off to the Internet to do some research on this problem.

Oh, the joys of an old home. I know there’s great plaster under that old paint, but how do I get to it? If you know, please click the comment button below and share!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Back to the upstairs bathroom

With the shower faucet leak fixed in the downstairs bathroom, I can once again focus my attention on the upstairs bathroom remodeling project.

I've been prepping the various cracks in the plaster ceiling and walls for repair. If you've never repaired plaster cracks, it's a little different than repairing drywall, as the joint compound that is used is a little more significant. You can't use premixed joint compound (that comes in a five-gallon bucket) for fear that it's not strong enough for cracks caused by the home settling. (At least that's my take on it... I'm sure others would tell you that using premixed joint compound in conjunction with drywall tape or fiberglass mesh is good enough, but it's not what I learned from my father-in-law... a stickler for doing things right the first time.)

I'll share more on my plaster repair in the next few days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Compression faucet repair

As I mentioned last time, I’m going to show you step-by-step the process of fixing the compression faucet in the shower of my downstairs bathroom. If everything is in good order, this type of home maintenance project isn’t too bad. For me, the job was made more difficult by the fact that the valve assembly hex nut had been rounded off, so I had to use something other than a socket wrench to get the assembly out of the wall.

Before you get started with this project, turn the water off to the faucet being repaired. If you’re lucky, there’s a shut off valve for the faucet being repaired. If you’re me (read: not lucky), you have to shut off the water to the entire house... a real crowd pleaser.

With the water off, we’re ready to get started.

Step 1: Remove the screw cover on the face of the faucet handle. If you enlarge the image to the right, you’ll notice there’s tread around the edge of this round cover. If you’re lucky, you can gently use a pair of pliers to remove the screw cover. Be careful not to mar the cover by digging the teeth of the pliers into the cover’s edge. If the cover doesn’t easily screw off, try applying some CLR or Lime Away to break up any calcium or lime deposits caused by your water. Do not apply more pressure with the pliers and use more force, you’ll only be sorry with the result. Be patient if you need to wait for the CLR to loosen the cover.

Step 2: With the cover off, remove the screw that holds the handle in place.

Step 3: Remove the shower faucet handle. I used the soft handle of my adjustable wrench (shown in step four’s photo) to gently bang on the back edges of the handle to remove it. Since you have limited room between the shower wall and the back of the handle, hitting the back of the handle too hard shouldn’t be a concern. Just be ready to catch the handle if it comes off all the way with one of the blows with your wrench. If the handle doesn’t want to come off, you might need to apply some CLR and let it loosen any calcium/lime deposits for a little while.

Step 4: With the handle removed, use an adjustable wrench to remove the nut that holds the primary valve assembly cover in place.

Step 5: Remove the nut and cover to expose the compression faucet’s valve steam assembly.

The photo to the right shows the calcium/lime deposits around the valve stem. You can also see the rounded-over hex nut on the back end of the valve assembly. That’s assuming you can see though all the crud. Just look for the bright brass areas. I’m sort of embarrassed to show a photo like this, but I thought I’d keep the valve as I found it so you can see what you might encounter. Cleaning up the valve assembly – or the wall for that matter – wouldn’t give you the full extent of what’s involved here.

Step 6: If the hex nut on the back end of your valve assembly is the good shape, you can use a shower valve socket wrench to loosen the valve assembly. I got the shower valve socket wrench at Ace Hardware, and it fits both 1-1/32” and 1-3/32” hex nuts, depending on which end you use. A screwdriver through the opposite end of the socket serves as a handle. Why not just use an adjustable wrench to loosen the valve assembly’s hex nut? It all depends on how far the assembly is recessed into the shower wall. My upstairs shower’s valve assembly is recessed into the wall about a quarter of an inch, completely eliminating the opportunity to use an adjustable wrench. Even if your valve assembly is sticking out enough from the wall, I’d recommend using the shower valve socket wrench so you don’t risk scratching the shower walls with your adjustable wrench.

Step 7: Warning: this step is only recommending in dire situations where the assembly can’t be removed by a socket wrench. Since my valve assembly hex nut was rounded over, I was forced to use a set of Channel Lock adjustable pliers to remove the assembly. I don’t recommend this tool on anything you want to keep pristine, because the teeth of this tool do a great job of digging in for great traction (especially in the soft brass of a valve assembly).

Step 8: Remove the compression faucet valve stem assembly from the wall. The photo to the right is how mine looked right after I removed it.

I know the leak from my compression faucet is coming from the area where the valve stem assembly meets the pipe in the wall (due to a worn out gasket), I’m going to make the extra effort to replace all the washers within the assembly since I have it out of the wall.

Step 9: Remove the screw on the very end of the valve stem assembly and remove the rubber compression washer. As you can see in the photo, this compression washer definitely needs to be replaced. If this washer started leaking water, the result would be a dripping showerhead, as the water would get around this washer and head up to the showerhead.

Step 10: With the compression washer removed, check to make sure the end of the valve stem assembly is in good shape. Mine was a little out of round, but the lip is easily bent back into place.

Step 11: At this point you’ll probably have to go to your local hardware store to pick up a new washer (I got mine at my local Ace Hardware). My piece of advice: these washers are cheap so buy a lot of them so you can save a trip to the hardware store on future faucet repairs.

Step 12: Install your new washer on the end of the valve stem assembly and reinsert the screw.

Step 13: On the opposite end of the valve assembly, remove the first nut (shown to the right). You’ll probably have to use one wrench on the large hex nut and another wrench to remove the smaller nut. This would be a great time to pinch some skin between the wrenches. Try to avoid that.

Step 14: With the smaller nut removed, you can pull the valve stem out the other end. Twisting it back and forth along with way will help. Take a flashlight and look in the end you just removed the stem from. There’s an O-ring within the assembly housing that needs to be replaced. I used a flat-bladed screwdriver to carefully dig out the old O-ring.

Step 15: When you’re at the hardware store, also buy a stash of O-rings for the valve stem. Mine are of the fabric variety, and fit around the valve stem very snuggly. With the O-ring on the stem, work it up into the assembly housing.

Step 16: I added plumber’s grease around the threads on the end of the valve stem. Once the assembly is back in the wall and joined with the head that’s tucked inside the pipe in the wall (see the photo below), this grease will ease the turning of the handle.

This shot shows the way the valve stem adjoins with the head inside the wall. When the faucet is turned off, the compression washer on the very end of the valve stem assembly presses up against the very end of the head, cutting off the flow of water. When you turn the faucet on, the water starts flowing around the compression washer.

Step 17: As I mentioned earlier, the area that’s leaking with my shower’s compression faucet was where the valve stem assembly meets the pipe coming from the wall. If you enlarge the photo to the right, you can see the gasket for packing the valve against the wall pipe was clearly warn. Remove all of the old packing material from around the rim.

Step 18: I used modern TFE String (a stranded, 3/32” thick material made of Teflon), cut to length to fit perfectly around the valve stem’s rim.

Step 19: Put the valve stem assembly back into the wall. If you enlarge the photo to the right you’ll see the gasket made from the TFE String. Compare that to the photo in step five and you can clearly see why this faucet used to leak.

Step 20: Replace the shower faucet handle parts shown to the right, and you’re done. Turn the water back on and cross your fingers! For me, the leak was gone and I was back in business.

There’s nothing like the satisfaction of tackling a home project that was once foreign to you and solving the problem... without resorting to the yellow pages! Now, back to reality that is the torn up bathroom upstairs. So much for a victory parade.

Monday, January 8, 2007

No more shower faucet leaks!

Great news! The leak in the downstairs bathroom has officially been fixed.

I went down to the basement first thing this morning to make sure all of the boards around the drain pan were dry before the troops hit the shower this morning. (See photos of the leaking shower from the basement.) Everything was dry, so the true test was upon us: was it indeed the hot water faucet in the shower causing the leak?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s Shower faucet leak: nothing’s easy post, I’ve fixed the leak in the hot water compression faucet. With that fixed, I wanted to confirm it was the water from that faucet going into the wall, then down to the basement. If it wasn’t, it meant the shower tiles were not watertight. That, my friends, would be really bad.

I’m happy to report that after all showers were complete, I went back down to the basement and there were no signs of water. That’s one headache solved. Now I can get back to work on the upstairs bathroom, which is why we’re using the downstairs shower in the first place!

Tomorrow I’ll try to post the step by step process of fixing a leak in a compression faucet. Until then, may your water flow where you intend it to.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Shower faucet leak: nothing’s easy

As I’ve mentioned, the downstairs bathroom shower has been leaking into the basement. With the upstairs bathroom out of commission because of the remodeling, the downstairs shower is our primary shower so I need to get the leak fixed immediately.

The water dripping into the basement appeared to be coming from the hot water faucet of the downstairs shower. As most home improvement projects go around here, the shower faucet repair didn’t come easy. I’ve had experience rebuilding this type of shower faucet because the upstairs shower faucets were leaking last year. Since I’ve rebuilt these faucets before, this should have been a quick fix. However, I couldn’t get the compression faucet assembly out of the wall because someone before to me had rounded over the corners of the nut on the compression faucet. If the nut were in good shape, the shower faucet socket wrench shown to the right would easily remove the compression faucet assembly. With the nut rounded off, I couldn’t get the socket or wrench to grab.

This problem meant I had to make a trip to the hardware store to buy a set of Channel Lock adjustable pliers to remove the compression faucet assembly. Using an aggressive set of pliers like that on a brass faucet assembly is a big no-no because the teeth of the pliers dig in to the soft brass of the faucet assembly. However, I had little choice since someone else had already rendered the assembly nut useless to socket wrenches. Regardless of how hard I tried, every tool I tried to grip the nut with would slip off because of the rounded corners.
The good news is that I overcame this obstacle and now have the shower repaired. Next time I’ll go step-by-step through the process of fixing the shower’s compression faucet.