Blog Archives

Not-so-fun plumbing

I figure we had more than enough plumbing excitement when we had our house re-piped, but I guess our house wasn’t through with us because we’ve had two completely unrelated plumbing issues just a month later.

First, our kitchen sink clogged up. Dave made a few attempts to clear it, including replacing the P-trap, (which was looking gross, but apparently not the issue) but he finally admitted defeat and called a plumber. The guy showed up with a nice big electric-powered pipe snake and went to town. He showed us that we actually had a very convenient clean-out for the kitchen drain on the outside of our house:


It’s that black (ABS) thing in the middle of the picture. Actually it was originally galvanized steel painted to match the rest of the house, but the guy had to use a HUGE pipe wrench to get it off, so he was nice and replaced it with an extra ABS cap he had in his truck. So we can hopefully get it off using a normal wrench if we ever need to.

Anyway he pulled out a massive amount of gunk and made a huge mess on the patio. Luckily it hosed down pretty easily. (You can just barely see a bit of discoloration in the picture above.) We chatted while he worked, and I guess as houses like ours settle over time, the angle of the drain pipe running under the house tends to flatten out, making it much more likely that gunk will just sit and build up there. If that’s the underlying issue, we could always get the pipe replaced, or we could just get it cleaned out every few years. It’s also possibly that the previous owners just liked pouring grease down the drain, in which case this will hopefully be a one-time deal since we try to be pretty good about keeping grease out of there.

Moving on, here’s our other, ongoing, plumbing issue:

Front lawn

That patch of extra-healthy looking grass means there’s a leak somewhere under our front lawn. We were hoping it was the irrigation system, but when we turned off the main valve for the irrigation and checked a few days later, that patch of grass was still wet and swampy looking. And if you draw a straight line from the water meter by the street to our main inlet valve on the side of the house, you run right through that patch of grass. We tried turning off our main water valve for a few hours and then checking the water meter to see if it moved. I’m pretty sure it moved a bit, though it’s hard to tell.

Anyway, the fix for this involves turning off the water at the street and digging a big hole. We have no idea how deep we’ll have to dig, but hopefully not too far considering the ground doesn’t really freeze here…

Ahhhh the joys of home ownership. But taking pictures of random house stuff isn’t nearly as fun as taking pictures of babies. So here’s a bonus baby picture to make this post more interesting:



Last Open-Walled Bathroom Update

I’m a little bored of taking pictures of wall studs. But I did want to document this process after all, and the drywaller is here today so this was my last chance to show the work we’ve been putting into this project up to this point.

First up, the doors, all framed! Here is a picture taken from right by our bedroom window. The closet door is on the right, the bathroom door is on the left:

Door Frames

This isn’t a load-bearing wall, so the big header boards (I believe they’re 4×6’s) are total overkill. But we just re-used them since they were in there originally.

Here’s the bathroom, looking in from the doorway:

Bathroom from the doorway

Sorry for the picture quality… early morning camera work. 🙂 The shower is on the right, the toilet goes under the window on the left, and the sink will be out of the shot on the left.  And Dave added insulation to all of the exposed exterior wall shortly after I took this. So at least this one little piece of wall will be warm in the winter, I guess?

And here’s the shower floor: (Oh man, so not exciting)

Shower Floor

If you’re feeling really enthusiastic, you can compare it to this picture, which was how it looked before we moved the drain and added the curb and plywood.

Moving along, here you can see a bit of PEX tubing peeping up from underneath the house before it switches over to copper for the shower water supply lines:

Shower Plumbing 1

And here’s the rest of the plumbing work for the shower:

Shower plumbing 2

It’s going to have a rainfall shower head, so the attachment point is extra high. Directly below that we have the diverter for the handheld shower, which will come out of the wall to the right side of the main valve. On a side note, if you get a new valve installed, make sure you install the cartridge and close the valve, otherwise your hot and cold water will mix and you won’t be able to get any hot water ANYWHERE IN THE HOUSE. The plumber came back first thing in the morning and fixed it when we called and said we didn’t have hot water. He was very sheepish and apologetic.

Okay, so turning around back towards to bathroom entrance, here we have the sink! Or at least, where the sink is going to go:

Sink Location

Wooo. Pretty much right after I took that picture Dave crawled up into the attic and ran the electrical wire for the vanity lights and boxes, in case you were wondering. He’s been a busy bee! Here’s a closer shot of the new plumbing:

Sink Plumbing

The new sink has two faucets and only one drain. The plumber was able to tie the new hot and cold lines into the ones that already go to the hallway bathroom sink on the other side of the wall. It looks like a crazy game of Pipe Dream, but hopefully it will all work correctly…

Unfortunately we weren’t able to tie the drain in with the existing drain for the hallway bath, so instead we were able to notch the studs and bring the old drain around the corner. yeah, that took awhile. Adventure! Or something.

It’s a “floating” sink, so we added some extra 2×4’s for blocking so all of our anchoring screws will be going into actual wood and not just drywall.

So that’s the state of things. The drywall is going up as I type this, and everything should get mudded and textured tomorrow. Hopefully we can start painting a day or two after that! We still need to buy a light fixture for the closet, but even without a light, once it’s painted we will have storage space again!!! Meanwhile, Dave will get to start on the final big project: tiling. Well actually first he gets to make a shower pan, so we will still be a single-shower household for a little while yet. Perhaps we could install the sink first?

Bathroom Update: Plumbing and More Framing

For a while there it seemed like we were in some sort of plumber communication black hole. Of course it didn’t help that we waffled indecisively for a long while before even attempting to contact anyone, but even when Dave started leaving voice mails, he wasn’t getting any responses! Perhaps it’s because what we’re looking for is actually a pretty big job…

We knew even before we put an offer on this house that the plumbing was a bit of a mess. First, we knew the hot water heater would need to be replaced fairly soon. (it’s still trucking at the moment, but I’d rather replace it before it fails completely.) Also, at some point some enterprising person had gone through and replaced some of the original galvanized steel piping with copper piping, probably as they did things like update the kitchen and add the shower in the hallway bath. The problem with having both copper and steel in the same plumbing system is that you get an electrolysis effect (think battery electrodes) that corrodes the pipes. It’s not like this issue is a big secret in the plumbing world or anything, and the way you’re SUPPOSED to deal with this is to install a little adapter between the two metals instead of letting them contact each other directly, but no one bothered to do this on our house. Unfortunately, our weird piping has clearly been in place for a while, so the corrosion is pretty far along. Here’s where the copper piping from our water heater connects to the steel pipe leading into the house:

Copper/steel connection

I’m not entirely sure, but I believe the rust stains running down from the connection are a bad thing. And I’m told that the pipes under the house are ten times worse than this. Long story short, almost from day one we were saving up to re-pipe the whole house with PEX tubing. We’ve been a bit enamored with PEX since we started seeing it used in home improvement shows a few years ago. It’s a little funny to me that we’re planning on switching to plastic while living in California (aka the heartland of OMG PLASTIC IS EVIL) but Dave is a polymer scientist/engineer after all, so he did his research and we’ve decided we’re a-okay with it.

The nice thing about the amount of foot-dragging we’ve been doing on this bathroom remodel is that we’ve had a whole extra year to save up for the re-piping, and we can get the plumber to move the fixtures that we need for the bathroom at the same time as he’s doing the re-pipe, which will save us a little money. And all of the bathroom pipes are completely exposed at the moment, which will make his life easier too. The downside to our procrastination is that we didn’t even really get the option of trying to do the plumbing ourselves. (PEX is a bit easier than copper for brave DIYers; check out these awesome people for example.) Actually, considering the potential for massive failure, some might consider being forced to hire a professional to be an upside, not a downside. 🙂

Enough background. So we finally got an estimate that we’re happy with for replacing the water heater plus the re-pipe plus moving the bathroom fixtures. That last bit will entail putting the sink on a different wall and adding a second faucet, moving the shower drain and fixtures about 2 feet, and replacing the shower valve in our hallway bath. Here’s the existing shower valve for our hallway bath, conveniently accessible since the two bathrooms share a wall:

Hallway shower valve

The plumber says whoever installed this was very flux-happy but couldn’t be bothered to clean up the excess, thus the corroded green areas. We’re actually replacing the valve anyway because the new valve trim we’ve been wanting to add isn’t compatible with this valve. Don’t worry, the new trim is still big enough to hide that weird-shaped hole in the tile. Sigh… Anyway, the main cost for actually moving/replacing bathroom fixtures will be moving the shower drain and the sink drain, since the rest of the fixtures were essentially being replaced with the re-pipe anyway. We’re pretty comfortable with installing toilets, sinks, shower heads and such, so the plumber will only need to do the rough-in portion.

Enough plumbing, the title of this post implies that I have something to say about how the framing is going! We’re almost completely done with the shower, which now boasts a pony wall separating it from the toilet:

Pony wall

The toilet will be to the left of the picture above, under the window, while the opening to the shower is on the right.

Dave even managed to cut and cap the old shower pipes, so he could remove those last few studs and we can really visualize how awesome our new shower space is going to be. The main thing left for the shower framing now is to frame out the built-in bench. Oh and Dave’s going to reinforce the pony wall with a sheet of 1/2″ plywood, because it’s going to be tiled on one side and we don’t want that sucker to move AT ALL. Here’s how things are looking right now:

Shower drain

The thing covered in green tape is the old shower drain, the pony wall is to the left, and the beginnings of the built-in bench are at the top. You can see the holes in the floor a foot or so to the right of the drain where the shower pipes used to be. The new shower is about 3′ by 5′, minus the angled doorway. The drain will be centered, so it needs to move about 2 feet to the right in the picture above.

We had a bit of a scare with a cracked hot water pipe when Dave removed the old shower fixtures, so we left the old sink fixtures in place pending the re-pipe, meaning that we still can’t frame out the new bathroom doorway since one of the pipes is in the way. But hopefully our experience framing the new closet door will allow us to get the bathroom door framed pretty quickly once the pipe is out of the way. Here’s the current opening:

Bathroom door

I was standing in the shower looking back at the master bedroom to take this picture. The old sink pipes are on the bottom right, with the left-most pipe juuusst in the way of where the king stud needs to go for the new doorway. The new sink will be along the wall out of the picture to the right.

The plumbers will supposedly be completely done by next Tuesday! Next up: Ummm I think laying the plywood subfloor?

The Hallway Bath

Since we knew we were going to be down to one bathroom for a few months, we figured we should add some storage space to that bathroom to make it a bit more functional. Pedestal sinks look nice, but aren’t terribly practical.I forgot to get a true “before” shot, but here’s the old sink shortly after we started the removal process:

Before installing the new sink we decided to paint the walls and replace the towel-hanging hardware while we were at it. The walls were originally white white, and we decided to paint them with a super pale blue. I think it works pretty well with the dark dark blue floor tiles. You can see it in some of the following pictures, depending on whether I did a good job using the “white balance” function or not. 😀

We wanted the sink to be flush against the wall on two sides, which immediately caused issues since the base trim on the wall was the same type of tile as the floor, with a metal quarter round edging. (I’m probably not using the right terminology, sorry.) We debated a couple different solutions, and had mostly settled on tiling all the way up and around the sink so it would be flush. That still meant pulling up the metal trim piece…

But after some more work we ended up just pulling out the all the wall tiles/trim where the sink was going to go:

My thinking is that I don’t really like carrying the dark floor tiles onto the wall at all, and would like to eventually redo the baseboards with the more traditional white painted beveled wood baseboards like we have in the rest of the house. Boring? Yes.

Here’s the sink and vanity once we were done cleaning up the trim:

We were able to pick up the sink/vanity combo on clearance at the hardware store (there’s a little bit of cosmetic damage on the bottom lip of the sink) and it was exactly the amount of storage space we were looking for, while still having a somewhat interesting sink shape. Of course then we needed a faucet and drain, so I wandered around eBay until I found something I liked. We spent a little more than we could have, because we really like the oil rubbed bronze look and decided it would be fun to try something a little more modern.

Okay, that picture isn’t all that great, but I refuse to take more hi-res pics of a faucet. Sigh. The water is pretty cool-looking though. Every time  I use the sink it makes me smile.

Anyway, I’m leaving out a bunch of steps, since I believe we ended up having to replace a leaky valve and buy an extra adapter for the faucet since it was male instead of female or something like that. Also, we discovered that the faucet was European sized while the sink holes were American (or at least that was the impression Dave got from his Internet research). So we ended up using a ceramic bit on the Dremel tool to widen the faucet hole on the sink a little. And Dave will be sad if I don’t include a picture of his plumbing handiwork:

We’re slowly but surely getting more comfortable with the basic home improvement skills. 🙂 And here’s the closest thing I have to an “after” shot:

I still want to replace the light and the mirror, but they work just fine so it’s not really a priority for now. I should probably at least replace the doorknobs on the vanity…

We did do one other functional thing though, and that was add a ceiling vent. The bathroom has a window, so technically a vent isn’t required, but I’d rather clear out the moisture without shivering on cold mornings. 🙂 We had to fix up the electrical anyway, since the wires were coming in through the wall from the side by way of the master bathroom. (You know… the room that we’re totally renovating.) So we pulled up all of the wires from the two bathrooms and dropped a new wire from the attic down between the walls to that light switch you can see by the door in the picture above.

We were prepared to have to cut a hole in the drywall to make this happen, but by some stroke of luck Dave managed to drop a string with a screw weighting it directly through the wall from the hole he made in the attic to the opening in the light switch box. From there we were able to tie the new electrical wire to the string and pull it through. My Dad, who was overseeing/assisting, assures us that this method NEVER works. Whatever, I’ll take it! Here’s the boring but wonderfully functional ceiling vent:

And here’s the new light switch, now with TWO switches. yes, amazing I know.

That reminds me, I need to paint that stupid door and trim so it’s white instead of beige. Arg. Ah well, this is our only functioning bathroom for the time being, so it’ll have to wait!