Joan was out of town this week, so I decided to hatch a surprise… and no, it’s not that.
Being a man, I see home improvement videos, books, websites, etc. and I think, “Man that looks easy.” I think the folks in the home improvement industry are among the most deceptive advertisers on the planet. Worse than politicians. Worse than big tobacco. Watch out for Home Depot, Rona, or whoever else want to lull you into a false sense of ability when it comes to renovating. You know you watch these videos and it shows them starting the project and then the screen blips and suddenly they are applying the finishing touches? Well, I think the industry should be forced to reveal how much time elapsed during the blip. It might make we, the deceived, a little more wary of pursuing home improvement projects.
Getting back to my story, Joan was away this past week, and I decided to surprise her by re-doing the bathroom. I started thinking I could replace the sink, which is a little dated. I thought about this long and hard, and looked into the different alternatives. Then in dawned on me… Why would I replace the sink before I replaced the floor? If I’m going to pull the sink out anyway, I might as well do the floor.
So my research changed. Instead of looking at sinks, I was now looking at flooring and gathering information on how to install flooring, what tools I would need, what options I had? There are lots of options.
I thought about it long and hard. I stared at the existing bathroom floor for hours. I knew that the instant I peeled even a corner of the flooring up, I was committed to the project until the end. On Thursday night I went to Rona to see first hand what they had. I looked at the laminate. I looked at the vinyl. I looked at the lino. I looked at the ceramic tile. A sales associate, no doubt trained to attack the most vulnerable looking folk in the store, asked me if he could help me. I explained to him that I was looking to install a bathroom floor, and that I was leaning toward ceramic tile except that I was worried about my oddly shaped tub. “No problem,” he proffered and proceeded to demonstrate how easy it was to cut curved edges into the tile using a simple scoring tool and tile nippers. I tried it myself, and it seemed not bad. Despite this, I still wanted to mull it over. I decided not to buy. I decided to sleep on it.
I went home and again looked at the floor. If only I knew what lied beneath. I knew that the instant I peeled even a corner of the flooring up, I was committed to the project until the end. I thought about it and thought about it and finally knelt down and pulled up the very corner of the existing lino. That was it. I had launched the project and there was now no going back.
Minutes later I realized that I was dealing with something more mammoth than I could have imagined. The lino was well glued down and it took a considerable effort to loosen even a small piece of it. I had to scrape away at the glue to get it all off, and as I was scraping away, I revealed the next nightmare. Whoever put the last flooring in hadn’t bothered to remove the previous flooring, which was some old school tile with a funky green splatter pattern. I thought to myself that these tiles kina had a hip retro feel to them, and I thought that maybe I had an opportunity to get off easy. Maybe I could just uncover these tiles, shine them up and voila, we have a hip retro 50s bathroom floor – the kind you cannot buy anywhere for any amount of money. I scraped the lino away with renewed energy. Within minutes my heart was broken. Some of the hip retro tiles had apparently come loose even before the lino was put down because there were patches of crumbled plaster directly under the lino. The tiles did not cover the whole floor. Sadly I was back to plan A. After two hours of work I had about three square feet of flooring removed. The floor is about 20 square feet in total. I’ll let you do the math. I worked until midnight and decided I’d had enough. I packed it in for the night.
Friday I talked to some people at work about laying tile. Everyone said it was easy. They all gave me tips, all of which proved useful. Part of me now wishes someone had told me not to bother. But it was too late anyway, I was now committed to the project.
Friday I went to Home Depot at lunch, just too see how their stuff compared to Rona’s. It seemed not as nice, and more expensive, so on my way home on Friday night I stopped in at Rona. I managed to get help from another sales associate, another highly trained marksman. He helped me pick out a tile. He fixed me up with all the tools he thought I would need. He fixed me up with all the materials he thought I would need. He told me I should rent a mixer that I could use with a drill to mix the adhesive and the grout. I thought about the drill we have and figured it would probably burn out in about two seconds when trying to mix cement. Then it dawned on me… I could use the Kitchen-Aid (just kidding, that’s to make sure you’re still paying attention). I went and rented the stirrer, and I then went back to work to borrow the industrial DeWalt hammer drill for the weekend. Hey, if I’m going to burn out a drill, it might as well not be mine.
I got home Friday and continued scraping away at the old floor. As I got to the edges, I realized to my dismay that the hip retro tiles were going to pose even more of a problem. Many around the edges were loose. I smashed and chipped away at them until only the soundly fastened bits remained. I did some research to make sure I could lay my tile over this tile, the jury of the internet came back with a verdict of yes. At least I didn’t have to chip away every single bit of tile. I finally got a break of sorts. I removed the floor to the edges of all the fixtures on Friday night and decided I would wait until morning to remove the sink and toilet to clean up under them.
I also decided to try cutting a tile with the tools I bought at Rona. They had made it look so easy there. I tried to score a tile and I couldn’t even make out my own score line. I tried to cut it and it laughed at me, I swear. I realized I would need more tools. It was too late now, I would have to wait until the next day.
By this time I had a couple blisters on my hand, and my back was begging for mercy. I went to bed formulating a plan of attack for Saturday morning.
I rolled out of bed bright and early Saturday morning… 10:30… My hands were sore. My back was sore. I stumbled into the bathroom and was greeted by my nemesis. A 3/4 ripped up floor. I fled to the kitchen to make coffee. A few hours later I gathered the courage to face the project once again. I made my way to Home Depot to buy the additional tools (tile cutter, tile file, tile nippers) I would need to move forward with the project. While I was there I saw one of the stirrers I had rented from Rona, and it was priced at not much more than the rental price. My Scottish blood began to boil, but I left anyway.
When I got home, I used the toilet one last time, and washed my hands one last time, and then began the task of removing the fixtures and the door. I started with the sink. It appeared to have 5 bolts holding it to the wall. I got my screwdriver and began turning one of the bolts. It turned and turned and did not move a millimeter. I figured they must have missed the stud with that one, so I moved to the next. Same story. In the end, only 1 bolt had been holding the whole thing in place. I am sure if anyone had leaned too hard on that sink at any time in the past decade, it would have come tumbling off the wall. But then maybe I am underestimating the adhesive power of paint.
I unscrewed the hinges from the door frame and lifted the door out of place. It was substantially heavier than I had anticipated. I guess in the 50s they still built doors from solid wood. I heaved it into the living room and was trying to place it on the floor when the phone rang. I let it go, and the machine picked up. It was Joan. I placed the door down as quickly as possible without endangering anything and ran for the phone. I was huffing an puffing when I picked up, and had to come up with a story fast so as not to blow my cover. We had a nice talk, and then it was back to work.
The toilet came out without fanfare to reveal even more of the crumbly plaster used to level the floor. Many of the hip retro tiles around the toilet had come loose as well. As I was chipping away at them I realized that I was going to need some leveling compound of my own. It was now early evening on Saturday. I hadn’t yet used my rented stirrer, and I knew I would need it for at least two more days just to get the tile laid and grouted, and that was if everything went well. My experience thus far made me think that I shouldn’t count on that. I set out once more for Home Depot. I bought some leveler and I bought the stirrer. I then went all the way back out to Rona and returned my rented stirrer. One upside was that there was no disputing that it was in the same condition as when I had rented it… I hadn’t used it at all.
The leveler claimed to take two hours to set. I decided that I would get up on Sunday, pour the leveler and cut the tiles that needed to be cut in the two hours. Once the old floor was completely removed I decided to lay the tiles out just to get an idea of how many I would have to cut. They fit beautifully and looked nice already. I had to cut a few to go around the toilet and a few straight cuts to fit against the far wall. The tiles around the tub would be a little trickier, but seemed manageable. I went to bed with a sense of optimism.
Sunday I woke up, had my coffee and began “holding it in”. For those wondering, there is a public toilet in the building, so I was not completely without facilities… I just had to leave the apartment to go.
I decided I needed to lay the tiles out again in order to cut them, so the leveling compound would have to wait. I laid them out, marked them up and began cutting. I started with an easy one. I had to cut the tile to fit against the wall, and then nip the corner. No problem. This was easy. I optimistically picked up the next tile. This one had a more extensive cut to go around the toilet drain almost halfway. I nipped and nipped and nipped. I placed the tile to get an idea of how I was doing, and I nipped and nipped and nipped some more. Finally it was almost sitting the way I wanted it. A few more nips and I would be done. I nipped and nipped and nipped, and then my heart nearly stopped. The tile broke. I was furious. Luckily I came to my senses and realized that this particular tile would be completely obscured by the toilet. I nipped a bit of the broken piece off to allow room for grout and I continued on to the next tile.
I had bought four more tiles than I had calculated I would need to allow for breakage. I had destroyed one already in my attempted cutting, and I had broken another while foolishly stepping on it when I’d had them laid out. I still had two spares. I got to the last tile I would need to cut. By now I was feeling like a seasoned pro. I scored the stile and went to cut it. I pushed down on the arm of the cutter and heard the normal snap, but when I looked down, the tile was in four pieces! I was glad it was the last one. That is why I had gotten spares. So I grabbed one of the spares, measured and scored and went to cut. Again, four pieces. Now I was irate and scared. I had a single tile left, and had just broken two in a row. If I broke this last one I would be on my way to Rona again. I did not want this. I felt like an athlete in a gold medal game as I nervously measured and marked the last tile. It was all or nothing at this point. I brought the arm down, applied some force and heard the crack. I looked down and there, before my eyes, was a perfectly cut tile. I was done. I breathed a sigh of relief. I may have even done a victory dance. I can’t really remember. I gathered up the tiles and swept up the bits of tile that were all over the floor (and over the next few days would be tracked all over the apartment).
The next task was the leveler. It directed me to mix 1 part water to 3 parts cement. I was dismayed that it called to be mixed by hand. I wanted to use my new mixer, but it would have to wait a little while. I mixed the leveler per the package directions and it turned into a big ball of mud. I cursed the leveler and added more water to see if I could liquefy it. After a lot more water, the compound began to look like I thought it should. I started applying it to the low-lying areas of the floor and smoothing it out as best I could with my smoothing tool. As best I could was not very good as it turned out. The leveler was as unlevel as the floor it was sitting on. I would have to sand it. But that meant I would need sand paper. And that meant one more trip to Home Depot. For those keeping count, this is trip number six.
I went to home depot and got the sand paper, and a few other minor things I would need to get the project done. Since I had to wait two hours, I also went out to eat. Both Saturday and Sunday I had only one giant meal each day. I had to stay focused on the task.
When the two hours were up I sanded the leveler and made it truly level, not fakey level like I had done before. Then I realized that all this dust could possibly inhibit the tile adhesive’s ability to stick. I would have to mop the floor and wait for that to dry before proceeding.
Once the floor was dry, it was time for the main event. I got out the hammer drill and the mixer. I got my adhesive mix. I put it all in a bucket. I started up the drill and dust went everywhere. I was mad because I had just mopped the floor to get rid of the dust, but then it dawned on me that this dust was the same stuff I was mixing up, so I shouldn’t have to worry. I blissfully continued mixing, not worrying too much if the science agreed with me. The hammer drill worked great. Too great really. It spun so fast that as the cement was forming, a bunch came flying out of the bucket all over the walls. I was irate once again. I continued mixing for the full five minutes (per the package directions) and then proceeded to clean up the walls in the 10-minute rest period (again per the package directions).
Once ready, I slopped a bunch of the adhesive onto the floor. I carefully lined up the first tile and pushed it into the goo. I felt a great sense of achievement having laid the first tile. The second went in perfectly, the third, no problem. I laid 19 tiles plus 2 partial tiles and finally arrived at the last tile. One last tile and I was done. This was it. I was getting ready to relax.
I put the far edge of the tile into the adhesive and brought the near edge down toward the ground. It hit the door frame before it hit the ground. The tile would not sit down. I had laid the tiles out three times before adhering to make sure everything would fit, and now the tile would not sit down. I was furious. I had to go get my nippers and nip the very edge off the tile, even as it was covered with adhesive. I finally got it to sit down, and I was done. I was relieved that this most critical part was over, but as I looked at the tiles I realized that some of the adhesive had seeped up between the tiles and was now protruding above the level of the tile. I knew the grout was supposed to hide that, but there would be no room for the grout. At this time there was nothing I could do, but I figured I would end up having to chip it out. However, I was done for Sunday. I went to bed.
Monday I got up and went to work. I stopped at Home Depot on my way home to inquire about my adhesive problem. The helpful man in the fashionable orange apron deduced that I had probably used too much adhesive and confirmed that I would have to dig it out before I grouted. I bought a chisel. I went home and chipped away at the adhesive until it was all gone. I swept and vacuumed and swept and vacuumed until all the dust was cleared up. What happened next had to be the most fun part of the project. I mixed up the grout using my mixing tool and borrowed drill. It mixed to a wonderful creamy texture, almost like icing. I blobbed it onto the floor and pushed it into all the cracks. All the dark adhesive disappeared, covered by the beautiful creamy grout. The grouting went easily and without a hitch. Once I was done smoothing it all out, I had to wash the floor 3 times to rinse away the excess grout. After all the excess was washed away, I finally saw the floor as it will look going forward. I must say I was pretty pleased with what I had accomplished, despite all the problems along the way.
Tuesday, I stopped at Rona on my way home from work to buy a brush to use to seal the grout, as well and a tube of caulk and a caulking gun to re-seal around the tub. The caulking was a breeze. Sealing the grout went smoothly. It seemed that I had turned a corner, and now everything was going my way.
Wednesday was the first day in a week that I did not go to a home improvement store. All I had to do was re-install the fixtures (that’s right, four days with no toilet of my own!), then my friend Jim came over to help re-hang the door. I took care of all the minor leaks, and the job was done.
It took a lot more time and effort and trips to home improvement stores than I had anticipated, but in the end it does look nice. Still, I would caution anyone contemplating a project like this to really think about what you are getting into.
Home Depot, in the spirit of truth in advertising, I encourage you to change your motto from “You can do it, we can help.” to “Don’t be stupid, hire a contractor.”