Thursday, January 24, 2013

Toil and trouble....

*warning...this is mostly a complaining type post. If you'd like to skip it, feel free =) *

We thought we were doing pretty well with water conservation before, but now we've taken it to an entirely different level.  Well, not that we really meant to.

This past weekend Mandy called me to let me know that the toilets were "burping" after they were flushed.  Both of them...  And sure enough when I got home, we confirmed that we had a near complete blockage in the main sewage line (angina fecalis I guess would be the medical term).  Why is it that things like this always have to happen at the start of a three day weekend? And home warranty service does not respond until "regular business hours" i.e. at least monday if not tuesday.  I took this time to search for the elusive cleanout drain that we were told about before we bought the house, but after several hours of digging and about ten buckets of dirt, it was definitely not where the sewage scope guy had predicted it would be. Argh...

The plumber was able to make it out to our property yesterday and promptly told us that without a ground level cleanout, they couldn't do anything as their insurance does not allow them to go up on the roof and cleanout the pipe through a roof vent.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, the other part of our plumbing problem is that on Monday after doing some dishes in the sink, the water I drained started coming out from around the base of the toilet!  After talking with the plumber, it seems that when there is pressure buildup, the wax ring where the toilet connects to the sewage line can break and water will exit there. 

The good news is that while we was fixing and resetting the toilet, he was able to use a large bore auger and actually do the clean out.  The bad news, however, was that this was not covered by our home warranty because it was now an "existing problem".  Whatever, we just wanted our plumbing working again!

But it gets better... He started augering out the sewage line and got the water line to drop and improved the drainage.  But at about 75-80 feet out he encountered a wall, literally, and was unable to go any further.  From the location of the blockage, he posited that this was likely the point of junction with the city sewage line and that somehow the two had become dissociated. In order to fix this, he will need to contact the city and receive permission to work on it, but will also need to access the property line cleanout site.  (Homeownership really should come with a manual!) 

When we initially had our drains scoped back in may, the guy had mentioned that he thought he had located our property line cleanout site but that it appeared to be under the sidewalk.  Oh....great.  So this means we may need to get another scope by a sewage line guy and once we locate the property line cleanout, will need to access thatby cutting through the sidewalk and then potentially fix this apparently faulty connection between our sewage line and the city main line. Yayyyy.....

So in the meantime we've been in water conservation mode. We've become quite adept at taking three minute showers and minimizing any extra water usage (and what we can put in a container and dump on the garden we do). But sometimes you really just want to take a nice long shower!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Master Bathroom Caulking

As a follow-up to last weeks post on caulking, I took some before pictures of our master-bath countertop. This was done with caulking, but it doesn't seem like they used a silicone based product because after 6 months of light use (we actually use the second bathroom more) there is obvious cracking and falling apart of their caulking.

So in between baking cookies and wrapping presents and writing cards all weekend, I took an hour to scrape out all the old caulking and lay down a new clean layer.

Caulking essentials: painter's tape, a caulking
tool (for those of us less adept), paper towels
and of course, the caulking!
I really don't understand how they could have managed to muck it up like they did. They put so much effort into other parts of our house, and then just flubbed it on this one. Here's my entire tool set for re-caulking (except I did forget to include the razor). I found that one of those little razors used to clean glass worked waaaaaay better than the commercial caulk remover I purchased, particularly because it was great to get into all the little nooks and crannies.

And as I mentioned in the last post, extra paper towels is essential for the first time or two.  This time there was definitely a lot less excess caulking and most of it was in the right places, but still handy to have around to wipe off so you don't spread it all over accidentally.
This last pic is the way I taped off the sink to restrict my caulking to as narrow a section as I felt comfortable.  I ran it a bit too narrow last time and had to smooth some areas out after because removing the tape pulled up the edge of the caulking.  So now we've got beautiful caulking to go along with our beautiful countertop!

The Lost Weekend...part 2

One very nice addition Ikea has made recently (at least at our Ikea) is a flat-rate delivery service.  So no matter how much stuff you have, as long as you are within their area, you can get it delivered for $59!  And if you're super can just give them a list of the items you want and they'll pull it off the shelves and deliver it for you!

So bright and early sunday morning (two hours before the delivery window was supposed to be) they arrived with our mattress and bedframe. Of course, I was excited as this meant I got to spend a Sunday putting together Ikea furniture; a past-time I rather enjoy.  After moving the old bed, laying out all the pieces, and getting all my tools together, I started work. But about halfway through the construction, I found that one of the pieces didn't fit in the pre-drilled hole no matter how I tried to get it in. After trying for about 15 minutes to smush it in place (square peg - round hole anyone?) I gave up and went back to Ikea to see if it was the wrong part.  They told me that in fact, yes, that piece was from the King set and gave me the right piece. Of course, when I got home it took only about 10 seconds to realize that although now this piece fit in the pre-drilled hole, it did not accomodate the bolt that was supposed to pass through it.  So back to Ikea I went, this time taking the bolts and the piece in question.

This time they saw that the bolt and the piece did not, in fact, go together and asked to make sure we had gotten both boxes from the Queen stack and not one from the King bin. Thankfully Mandy had stayed home this round and confirmed they were both Queen size. So they gave me my hardware back and asked me to bring in the headboard.  Umm....what?  The headboard that put together, is about 4 feet tall by 6 feet wide? that wouldn't fit in my car in the first place so we had it delivered? "Oh, well maybe if we can see the sideboard with the pre-drilled hole."

So off home again. This time I brought pictures of the box labels to show they were the same item boxes 1 and 2 of the Queen, the sideboard, the footboard and all the nuts and bolts. We show up and after about twenty minutes of talking with the guys in the shop, they find the problem.

They have two different suppliers for this one item, and somehow we managed to grab box one from one supplier and box two from the other supplier.  EVEN THOUGH they are supposed to be identical, one of them was making the parts wrong! ARGGGGHHHhhhhh! They're suggestion is to bring the bed back in and pick out another one with the same supplier lot numbers. But of course, now it's almost 3pm and if we want to have the correct bed delivered that day we have to buy it by 3pm. 

Fast forward a few hours; we've had the new bed delivered, put that one together (keeping the old one in case we needed to cannabalize parts) and have the mattress all together. We decided there was still time to return the old bed (trip FOUR to Ikea in one day!) so we just dump everything in the trunk with the seats folded down, drive it back, load it helter skelter on a cart and just wheel the whole mess to customer service.  Thankfully the guy (who wasn't part of any of the previous encounters) just accepted the receipt and refunded the money, because lord knows we weren't going to go through and put everything back in order!
Mandy diligently working on the second bed!

Total time spent on this bed....12 hours! Total time spent on this rant...probably about the same! =)
The finished product!

Friday, December 14, 2012

So, IKEA, how do I apply for a refund of my weekend?

In preparation of visitors later this month, we have recently been looking and thinking about getting a new bed. Our old bed was a full-size (yes, for both of us!) I had bought first year of medical the one...8 years ago! It had definitely seen better days and mandy always insisted it tended to slope towards my side (an insinuation to which I still take offense!). But buying a new mattress is such an unpleasant proposition we have kept putting it off.

Like many major household purchases, it's so hard to really know if you'll like it before actually making the purchase!  Consumer Reports was of little help (they only tested 26 mattresses for goodness' sake!) except for two pearls of advice:
  • One, go to the store and lie on the bed, and not just for thirty seconds, but for 15 minutes. 
  • Two, comparison shopping isn't really possible because for each vendor, mattress companies will often rename the mattress, using different coverings, etc.  So shopping around for the best price is mostly a waste of time
Consumer Reports top rated mattress brands were Tempur-Pedic and Sleep Number beds, but average prices were $2465 and $1835, respectively.  Next in line...IKEA at $515!  Not too hard of a decision there, particularly since they're literally less than a mile away.

The line we ultimately chose was the Queen size Sultan Hansbo, which is a memory foam topped spring mattress.  It took a little while to choose a mattress as Mandy prefers the rock hard beds while I need my pillow-top, sinking-into-a-cloud, marshmallow style mattress. In retrospect, this ended up being the easiest part of our weekend.

Next step was selecting a bed frame, since now that we are adults, we are trying to move away from just throwing the mattress on the floor.  They have some very nice beds at IKEA, although unfortunately they have discontinued the Leksvik line (from which most of our other furniture draws). We chose the Hemnes bed mostly because it provided under-bed storage space but also a headboard (neither of us have ever had a headboard!). And at $199 for the Queen bed, how can you go wrong?

We would soon find out...

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

They're Grrrrrrrrrrout!

A few days ago, Mandy came to me with a inch or two long piece of thin white material that she found in the bathtub while taking a shower. Upon further inspection, we found that this piece had come from the joint of the bathtub and the wall-tile. And after even further inspection, we found that not only were these pieces of what we initially thought was caulking falling out, but that the joint was cracked the WHOLE way around the tub.

Now I'm no expert in bathroom construction, but I don't think six months is the expected lifespan of grouting/caulking considering that the tub and the tiling were both brand new.  So I thought to myself, "well, maybe it's grout...but who would put grout where the tub and the wall connect?!"

A quick google search later I found this piece on, that advocates using tiling grout in the spaces one would usually use "tub and toilet" caulk, claiming "It's cheap, long-lasting, looks great, and is better at resisting discoloration due to mildew." But unless you actually read through the comments section, you would think it's a great idea!  (to think I actually learned something useful in a comments section!)  Turns out it's not.

The consensus among most contractors (from the previous article as well as on the forums of is that caulking should be used wherever two different materials meet (wood and tile, tile and metal, etc.) as the two materials will shrink and expand at different rates and this will end up cracking the grout.  Well, that certainly seems to be the case in our bathroom. Less than six months and we had cracks, small throughout all the grout at the joint with the bathtub.

So here's how to caulk a bathtub....(and some of the tips and catches I found)
  1. Clean out all old caulking (if re-caulking) or grout.
    • Grout should technically be removed with a grout saw (although I didnt!) to avoid damaging the tiles.
    • Caulking can be removed with a 5 in 1 painter's tool, or they do sell caulking removal kits at Lowe's that have plastic scrapers.
  2. Clean down all surfaces and allow to dry.
  3. Fill bathtub with water
    • Filling the tub exerts downward pressure so that when the caulk dries and the tub is emptied, the caulking will be compressed rather than caulking with an empty tub and the caulk being stretched when you use the tub)
    • Wipe down the tub edge just to make sure it's dry!
  4. Cut the tip of the silicon caulk tube at a 45 degree angle (or straight if that works better for your style)
    • Caulking for areas exposed to water HAS to be silicon, regular all-purpose caulking is NOT waterproof. 
  5. Using a caulking gun, apply a bead at one corner and continue along the length of the tub trying to exert constant pressure to keep the amount of caulking constant (definitely not as easy as it sounds!)
    • If you've not done caulking before and aren't sure you'll be smooth and even at applying the caulking, painter's tape is a great idea to keep the edges even and the caulking from getting all over the place (and it does!)
  6. Once caulking is laid down, use either a caulking smoothing tool (also sold at Lowe's) or a wet finger (water or mineral spirits) to smooth the caulking and press it gently into the joint.
    • Have a roll of paper towels around. The first time you lay down caulking, you will invariably have too much in some places.  It's very useful to have something disposable to wipe the extra caulking on as it is VERY sticky.
    • Make sure if you are using paint thinner or mineral spirits that they are compatible with your tiles/counters/whatever.  I had a MAJOR scare when there was some slight discoloration of our marble countertop in the bathroom, thankfully it is very mild and actually improved with time.
A good video summary (although they make it look quite a bit easier than it is) and some text-based instructions.

I did the bathtub and the second bathroom sink before remembering to take before pictures (you'd think I'd remember one of these times!) but I've got the master bathroom sink all cleaned out and ready to go so those pictures should be up shortly as well as the finished bathtub pics!

Monday, October 15, 2012

New curtains!

The new shades should arrive in a week or two, but we figured since we'd taken the plunge with the window coverings, we needed to deal with our two sliding glass doors.  We opted not to get professional blinds/shades/curtains for those as estimates were in the way-more-than-we-can-afford range. We'd been talking and talking about Ikea, and as both of us were not working this weekend, we had a visit.

We decided to go with the two-layer look, a more sheer layer for privacy and then a more light-occluding layer if Mandy ever has to night shifts again.  One reason I love Ikea is that sometimes they really do have some very beautiful and elegant designs (e.g. the entire Leksvik line). The Renate Ljuv line has this wonderful sheer/lacy pattern with dahlias (Mandy's favorite) that we thought was quite elegant.  Not too fancy or obvious, just a nice subtle design that would be a nice light filter. For the over layer, we chose a darker earth-tone Medium Brown of the Ritva line which should go well with our floors. I'm really hoping that when we put it all together it doesn't look atrocious! But that's the theme of our family isn't it?
Buying the curtains and rods was one thing, but putting them up was an entirely different beast.  Looking online, there is a lot of advice on how high one should hang the curtains.  Hanging the curtain rod higher than the window makes the window and room appear larger.  In terms of the curtain lengths, one can either opt to hem them at or just minimally above the floor for a clean look, or allow several inches extra to let them pile on the floor and look more "luxurious". We couldn't hang the rods too high as the ceiling is only about 12-15 inches above the sliding doors at that point, but high enough that they are out of the way.  Once we decided how high to place the rods, I had to figure out how (Ikea's instructions as always are open to interpretation and do not include wall-mounting hardware). It was a bit harder to find instructions for doing this, but an Irish DIY website had a nice tutorial.  But really, half of the fun of this video is this lady's brogue, "furst tings furst"!  I probably could have figured out how to do it on my own, but it's nice to have instructions just to keep from making a silly mistake that you know you would have and to have all your equipment ready.
My biggest problem in terms of bracket placement was in the living room.  Our sliding glass door is nearly abutting the wall on the left side (see pic above) which makes for basically no room on the left. I ended up only using two brackets on this door (although they recommend three for widths greater than 55 inches) as otherwise it would have just looked funny. The other problem I ran into while putting up the rods was the inconsistencies with our walls.  On the right, our stud finder didn't find any stud despite the fact that it was directly above the door frame (usually there is a stud along each side). However, I did a test drill and although the bit initially went through drywall into space, about half an inch further in was a stud or some other piece of wood! I found the same anomaly in one of the spaces in the bedroom as well (even more interesting was the drywall tape I found there meaning a previous repair had been done at some point).  I don't know if we'll ever know what work was previously done on this house.  But that's what makes it fun...right? The bedroom curtain rod was much easier to install since there's plenty of space there to work.
Mandy's part in this was to help hem the curtains. The heavy cotton curtains we'll be taking up to her mother's so we can use her sewing machine to hem (an upcoming post), but the light curtains come with a "iron-on" hem  strip that is basically a mesh of cellulose(?) that sticks together after ironing.  Half an hour later, after measuring and hemming beautifully, Mandy had our sheer curtains ready for hanging!  I have to say, I don't think we did too badly at all.  We did leave them slightly long, but they will shrink about 4% when we wash them. So what do you think?  I'd say not too shabby for a total cost of less than $175 (including the heavier curtains we'll be putting up later)!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Murder Cat

Wow.  I recently posted on facebook about cat's and their hunting prowess. I thought this was just humorous, but the last few nights, Muji has let the inner serial killer in her out for full display.

Over the last three nights she brought back two grasshoppers (mostly alive) and two lizards!

The grasshopper she played with until I grabbed her and brought her inside, but apparently it didn't have the good sense to leave the scene.  When I let her back out an hour or so later, it was still sitting there and Muji was more than happy to munch it up (I could hear the crunching from inside!). The lizard I wasn't taking any chances with so when she brought that home, that was her last outing for the night.  Most of the time the lizards are unharmed, just terrified and curled in a ball.  They at least usually have the good sense to skidaddle when she's gone!

So what does Muji think of this? Well, she's currently sitting about four feet behind me, meowing angrily because she's grounded for the night.