Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What's Behind that Crooked Tile in the Shower?

When the Drywall is Anything But Dry

You've bought a new-to-you old house and some parts are just gross. Like the moldy caulk that is peeling in the kids' shower. You go to take a closer look and realize that some of the tiles look a little crooked, like a six-year-old about to lose his first tooth. Not worrying too much about it, you go back to what you came for--peeling off the offensive caulk so you can apply some fresh, beautiful white latex in its place. Except when you pull on that string of caulk, it comes off easily--too easily, in fact--but also, unexpectedly, so does the tile behind it. That's when you know you're in for some trouble.

A note of warning, some of these pictures are gross and disturbing, and I'm almost embarrassed to post them, except they were like this when we bought the house--I promise--so it's not my fault!

Ew, Gross! Time to Fix This

Moldy caulk, crooked tiles, ugly mismatched grout. Time to go!

Obviously, seeing this in the shower completely grossed me out. So I decided to take the time to pull out the dirty and ineffective caulk. Not only did I want to improve the look, but as you can see, the caulk had receded so far (see right side of photo), that I doubted it was very effective. Instead of trying to clean it, I decided to pull it out and replace it with a nice, clean, even line of fresh caulk.

Is there anything more beautiful than a bead of fresh caulk? (If it isn't gobbed on, that is.)

So I pulled out my trusty utility knife, grabbed a trash can to drop the old stuff in, and figured in half an hour, I'd be ready to caulk and be done in forty-five minutes or an hour. No problem, right?

Until the Tiles Fell Out on Me

Pulling on the string of caulk at the front of the shower/tub under the faucet, I was surprised by the clanging of tiles as they dropped into the porcelain tub. I had been concentrating so much on the caulk, I hadn't even realized the tiles were loose, and in one pull, I had three tiles on the floor of the tub.

You might be able to tell from the picture that the drywall behind the tile was sopping wet. As evidenced by the mold, it had been going on for a while, I had to guess.

Pulling Off the Rest of the Tiles

Knowing there was no way we would want to put the tiles back up on saturated drywall, I started removing the rest of the tiles that popped off with the slightest pressure from my fingertips. Basically, the only thing holding them on the wall was the grout between them.

There was so much water, it was probably that it wasn't a result of faulty caulk at the base of the tile, and I knew we needed to find the source of the problem. In fact, the drywall was so saturated, it was crumbling.

Drywall paper and the backs of the tile. Lovely mold, huh?

I continued to remove rows of tile from the bottom up with the intention of stopping when I came to a place where the wall was completely dry under the tile. That took more rows than I thought it would. In fact, I didn't end up stopping until I got to a place where someone had replaced the drywall before at some point. I could tell this because there were two pieces of drywall next to each other with no mesh or tape or connection of any type between the two pieces. That, actually, was probably a good thing because there was no way for the water to continuing bleeding up into the upper segment.

By the time I found dry drywall (that should be redundant, but it was not), I'd removed all these tiles.

 I saved and reused the tiles I could (after bleaching off the mold). The mold shows the water problem areas.

Then Comes the Hole in the Wall

Removing the saturated drywall was easy. I just ripped it down with my fingertips and got so involved with it, I forgot to take pictures while I was making my mess. But trust me, it was a total disaster.

So then this is what I ended up with: a big hole in the wall, but with nice straight edges.

This is also where my husband took over the project. He's the handyman; I do the finishing touches (like caulk). We could tell by the mold on the two-by-four wall stud and the green patina on the copper fitting that the problem had been ongoing, and the pipe joint must be the source of the problem.

I can't tell you all the technical details (though there are some to come), but my husband successfully replaced parts and got the leak stopped. We actually were stalled at this stage for quite a while because we were just going to replace the broken piece and put everything back in place.

After weeks of online research, visiting local plumbing and box-stores (even a small shop in a mobile home that sells vintage parts for trailer homes), and ordering a part or two online that didn't end up working, we realized there was no way to repair the 1974 fixture. How my husband wished he had kept all the pieces to the old faucet! If he'd just had one small part from the original, he would have been able to make new handles work, but he had tossed it all out thinking we'd just get new. (And that was when we realized that you ALWAYS need to hold on to the old parts until the job is complete. But anyway. . . )

And the New Plumbing

Not wanting to solder the pipes (something my husband has done many times before, but not in this house), he went with SharkBite couplings to connect old copper pipes with the new ones. As you see below, he used some 90-degree ones as well as straights.

Aren't the new pipes gorgeous? Since we already had the wall torn up and were replacing pipes, and because we had no choice but to replace the entire assembly, we decided to switch from the two-handle fixture to a Delta one-handed twist on/off

When we made that decision, we were aware there would be some tiles we would need to replace because of where the cuts were made, but since our shower was tiled in the plain white square tiles that every hardware store in the country sells for a few cents a pop, we figured we were good.

With the water now running where it was supposed to go, and not running where it wasn't supposed to, we were ready to close up the wall again. Of course, we did it with hardie backer board made to go in wet places and behind tile instead of drywall. The plumbing work was gorgeous and efficient, and now the project was handed back over to me.

Time to tile. Except we ran into a little trouble.

2016 tile on the left, 1974 tile on the right.

With {Some} New Tile

Yep. A size difference. Not much, but enough that I was worried it would be all too obvious when it came to lining up to the adjacent wall.

Luckily, we had cleaned and kept all of the tiles that were intact or could fit around the new plumbing, so we only had to come up with a few new tiles. I decided it wasn't worth retiling the entire shower--time, expense, or work. I'd line them up as close to straight as I could, centering the small tile so that with a little extra grout all the way around, maybe no one would notice.

New and old tile mixed together.

For the grout, I purchased a tube of premixed, non-sanded grout. Almost as easy as the caulk I was supposed to be using when I started the project.

It worked out okay, even if a forty-five minute project turned into a month. At least we had another working shower!


Not too bad--as long as you don't look too closely.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Painting Ceiling Beams to Look Like Wood

When we moved into our house, almost every single surface was painted the same color--vanilla. Quite literally. Ceilings, walls, trim, plantation shutters, kitchen cabinets, everything. Including the ceiling beams.

Before: Everything was basically the same color (except for the lovely wallpaper).

I know some people like to paint the ceiling beams so they recede from focus. I don't really get it, but I've heard it. I, on the other hand, wished mine had the rough-hewn look of wood beams, complete with the warm color to accent my furnishings.

So I made it happen. Knowing we would be replacing the carpeting and knowing we'd have to unload our moving truck soon, this was one of the first projects I tackled in the house. It was important to do the beams while I had all the space I needed to move my huge-honking, ten-foot aluminum ladder where I needed it. And it was wonderful not to worry about needing a drop cloth.

Here's my process:

1. Paint the Ceiling an ACTUAL White

While I know many people are anti-popcorn ceiling and would do anything and everything to get rid of it, it doesn't bother me that much. I would have removed it if it were easy, but because the ceiling had been painted several times, I feared it was stuck there forever--unless I wanted to replace the drywall, and that wasn't happening.

I loved the difference right away. Including removing the fruit-themed pendant light.

So leaving the popcorn, I painted it a bright white rather than the faded parchment color it was. I loved how quickly it lightened up the room. Honestly, after painting all my ceilings white in this house, I vowed to never again have a ceiling any other color. White ceilings make me happy.

Oh, and you can see that the ceiling extends onto the walls. This was a little different for me, but I painted it just to see how it would end up. It's actually not bad. I don't mind it anyway.

2. Paint Wood Undertones

Because the wood beams had been painted several times, there was no chance of getting the wood tone back, unless I wanted to strip the wood, and I really didn't want to do that. I've used a chemical strip product before, and while it works, I think I would have had difficulty removing all the paint in the crevices of the wood, not to mention the corners. Also, at 5'2", even with my twelve foot ladder I would have had difficulty reaching at the apex of the ceiling.

So my aim was to paint the beams to resemble wood, and that meant recreating the undertones. I'm not an expert on colors, and I didn't want to go buy paint if I didn't need it, so I looked at what paint I had on hand. I figured a yellow and the orange-y brown would be a good base. I used a regular 2-in angled paintbrush--my go-to tool.

Steps One and Two--First the yellow, then the orange-y brown.

I didn't worry too much about coating the whole beam evenly--in fact, I wanted it to have variations like real wood does, which is why you can see some of the yellow under the orange. One thing I tried to avoid, however, was overlap. While it's impossible to keep from having any, try to keep the start/stop places from becoming too thick.

3. Paint Mid-tones

Because the first two colors yielded more of an oak color, which was not technically what I was going for, I decided the next color I needed had to be a darker brown.

Third color in the transformation.

This brown is obviously matte and lacking the richness of true wood tones, but I was getting closer. In fact, it became my last base coat before the final step.

4. Finally, the Gel Stain!

Knowing the furniture that was going to be going into this room was mahogany, that's the color of gel stain I decided on in Minwax brand. I prefer the gel stain over the regular stain because it is thicker (especially for a project like this, which still drips enough). Not only does it drip less, it covers more completely and can be applied with a rag, though I chose a cheap chip brush.

I painted it on with a chip brush so that it would be uneven and allow some of the lower layers to show through. Obviously, you can see some places where I stopped and started. With having to go up a ten-foot ladder, paint as far as I could reach, run down, move the ladder, positioning it just so, and then running up to work on the next segment, some drying occurred at times, leaving the overlap. Still, isn't it just amazing the difference between the flat paint and the gorgeous wood tones in the gel?

What a difference gel stain makes! If you look closely, you can still see some of the undertones, but only subtly.

While all of these may seem like a lot of steps, and perhaps one or two were redundant, I'm glad I took the time to add so many layers. I know that I did not get the same effect when I rubbed gel stain on an off-white board as I did when it was applied over all these other colors. And now, as I look up at my ceiling beams while writing this post, I can see many of the tones peeking through the final layer. It adds such a richness that would never have been there with the plain, boring vanilla-painted beams that blended into an equally boring and ugly ceiling.

The entire process was fairly cheap (if you have the ladder). Actually, it didn't cost me a thing because I already had all the paints and stain. Well, maybe the cost of a couple of two-dollar chip brushes, the enormous cost of the ladder, and several days' worth of painting. I wish I could remember how many, but it's hard to say because I would do a coat, go do something else somewhere else in the house, and then return to do the next step. (Let's just say I listened to at least two, maybe three, entire audiobooks.)

I'm just so glad I took the time to do it. The beams are now one of my favorite parts of the house.

The wood painted ceiling beams are done!

PS--If you like how the fireplace mantel turned out in the above picture, you can follow this link for a tutorial on how to build one of your own.