All posts by Gary Pardun

Tiling with peanut butter

Skill level skill2

The Hardibacker had gone up pretty well over the furring strips (see “(Door) size matters“) so we were ready to stick the sheets of glass tiles on the shower walls. You might think that 12″ x 12” sheets would automatically result in a perfectly straight pattern but you would be wrong. Don’t ask me how I know this.

12" x 12" sheet of glass tiles for the shower
12″ x 12″ sheet of glass tiles for the shower

Before we started troweling mastic on the walls, my ever-loving wife, “Toots” (not her real name), and I measured 12″ intervals and snapped chalk lines on the walls so we would have a fighting chance of getting the tiles straight. It is theoretically possible to snap chalk lines single-handedly but it is a whole lot easier when you have Toots. (Insert your own joke here.)

Stirred not shaken

Paint stirrer attachment for a drill
(Click to see on Amazon.)

Glass tiles present a challenge because glass doesn’t absorb any water, unlike tile or stone, and the mortar has to dry in order to bond with the wall. So it is important to get the right balance of water and mortar powder.

Mixing mortar is way dusty.
Mixing mortar is way dusty.

 

I chucked a paint stirrer in an electric drill, put on a dust mask (you really need one, trust me), poured half the water in a 5-gallon bucket and then added half of the mortar powder and tried to avoid the dust plume.

Continue reading Tiling with peanut butter

An offer you can’t re-fuse

Skill levelskill2

At a friend’s house, the kitchen lights go out when she turns on the carrot juice blender. Being a loyal reader of Gary’s Fix, you say, “Not to worry. I read the ‘How to shut off the power‘ article and I’ll fix it.”

You grab a flashlight and head down into the nether regions in search of the electric panel. But when you open the cover it isn’t what you expected. Many older homes have a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker panel for protecting the electrical circuits. A fuse box looks like this.

The fuse box has a fuse for each electrical circuit in the house.
The fuse box has a fuse for each electrical circuit in the house.

The fuses are the blue or orange cylinders that are screwed into the sockets in the fuse box as if they were mini light bulbs.

Protect the wires

The purpose of a fuse is to protect the wires in the walls of the house so that they don’t get too hot and start a fire. Fuses are not there to protect the blender!

A fuse has a thin piece of metal that all of the electrical current for the circuit must flow through. Too much current will melt that piece of metal and break the circuit. Continue reading An offer you can’t re-fuse

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(Door) size matters

Skill level skill3

Forget Masters and Johnson or Dr. Ruth. Where size really matters is shower doors.

With the basin for our new shower glued down just as nice as you please (see “Basin or Mason“), we turned our attention to walls and doors. The walls were going to be covered with 1” glass tiles.

12" x 12" sheet of glass tiles for the shower
12″ x 12″ sheet of glass tiles for the shower

My ever-loving wife, “Jenny Mae” (not her real name), wanted frameless glass doors because they look the best, which they do. It turns out you can get them either “exact fit” or with side pieces that can adjust an inch or so wider or narrower. The side pieces kind of clutter up the clean look so we opted for the exact fit.

Measure twice (OK, about 10 times) and order once

Frameless DreamLine shower door
That’s a fine looking shower door right there, I don’t care who you are, that’s a fine looking shower door.

The pressure was on this Math major to measure the door opening precisely. The rough opening was 60″. The tiles are glued on sheets of 1/2″ thick Hardibacker, which is like cement backer board but a whole lot lighter and easier to work with. Two sides make it 1″. Subtract that from 60″ and we should order doors 59″ wide. Done.  

The fur starts to fly

The next step is to get the walls ready for the tile. But before you screw the 1/2″ backer board to the studs, the instructions said to put 1/4″ furring strips on the studs to keep the backer board inside the little walls of the shower pan. For those of you animal rights activists, furring strips are strips of wood not whatever else you might be thinking.  Continue reading (Door) size matters

Basin or mason

Skill level skill3

After defeating the fiberglass dragon (see “Ripping out a fiberglass shower“), it was time to select a shower basin for the new glass tile shower. Showers tend to spray water everywhere and the shower basin has to collect all of that water running down the walls and funnel it into the drain.

Masons get paid to play with mud

The old-school way to do a shower floor is to “mud” it, which means you get a big pile of mortar and shape it with a trowel so that the water will run downhill from any direction into the drain. Let’s just say it requires some skills that we don’t possess (and aren’t interested in acquiring).

Order a basin to go

Back in Manhattan “The Little Apple,” Kansas, my ever-loving wife, “Penelope” (not her real name), and I had built a master bedroom suite with a marble tile shower.  We found a place where we could order a cultured marble shower basin and I described the dimensions to the salesman over the phone because it was a couple of years B.E. (Before Email). It came in a big, heavy crate.

Cultured marble shower basin
Cultured marble shower basin

It fit perfectly and worked well but it was pretty expensive. Did I mention it was really heavy?

This time around we were looking for something lighter and less expensive. That’s in addition to it being water-tight, except of course for that big hole in the middle for the drain. Continue reading Basin or mason

The return should suck more

Skill level skill2

We had turned off the heat in the house while we were gone for a few days (which saves a lot of electricity, by the way) and turned it back on using a web app about three hours before we returned. That remote control of the temperature is a very handy feature.

Energy usage chart shows how setting back the thermostat can save big time
Energy usage chart shows how setting back the thermostat can save big time. The wavy brown line is the outdoor temperature and the red area is when the heat is on while we are there over a winter weekend.

Normally it takes 2 – 3 hours to get the house back up to a comfortable room temperature if we let it get down into the 50s. It was pretty chilly outside when we arrived and my ever-loving wife, “Gladys” (not her real name), said it felt good to be inside. The indoor temperature, however, was still in the lower 60s downstairs. Upstairs was fine, Continue reading The return should suck more

Air is devious

Skill level skill3

For some reason I am always cold sitting at the kitchen table in our house. My back and the table feel just frigid anytime the outside temperature is below 60. My ever-loving wife, “Francine” (not her real name), on the other hand doesn’t complain as much about it. Her chair is in the middle of the room while mine is near the outside wall. So, being the quick study that I am, after 5 years of shivering I started wondering if cold air could be coming in through the windows or the floor.

Whence the air?

We had replaced the 1923-era windows with triple-pane units a couple of years ago so they really shouldn’t be the source of the cold air. I took a closer look, or should I say feel, and found cold air leaking between the floor and the molding at the base of the wall. This is not a place that anyone talks about as a source for cold air. “Caulk the windows. Caulk the doors. Yada, yada, yada.” But they don’t tell you to caulk the floor.

leaky floor molding
Air is leaking between the molding and the floor and out of the outlet.

The cold air was pouring through that crack at the floor. It was also coming in around the outlets near the floor. (If you want to feel for air leaks just get your hand wet and hold it near suspicious spots.)

We have a sun room in the front of the house and it too always seems cold in the winter and warm in the summer. The wooden windows don’t fit very well so I had previously screwed the lower sash to the upper sash of each window to stop some of the air flow. But there was still plenty of air coming in from the great outdoors. Placing my hand along the floor-to-wall molding in the sun room confirmed that even more cold winter air was pouring through those cracks than in the kitchen.  Continue reading Air is devious

Goosey LED reading light

Skill level skill3

My ever-loving wife, “Maggie” (not her real name), has been complaining recently that it is too dark to read in bed and that is why she just goes to sleep when she crawls in. Well, maybe. I gave her the benefit of the doubt on this one and ordered a Bruck Ledra Resort LED gooseneck reading light that you mount in the wall above the bed. It has the on-off switch at the business end of the gooseneck so I figured Maggie could be half-asleep and still turn it off. I felt this was an important feature.

gooseneckLED
Bruck Ledra Resort LED reading light
(Click to see on Amazon.com.)

This type of light mounts in a utility box in the wall just like a regular light switch or outlet. So I had to cut a hole in the wall, run some wire from there inside the wall and splice it to an existing outlet. This can be challenging but I had a plan. I could get to the back side of the wall that the bed is against by simply going in the little attic behind the wall. I would cut the square hole for utility box from the bedroom side and then go in the attic to feed the wire through holes in the studs to an outlet. Easy-peasy. Continue reading Goosey LED reading light

Polar vortex burst my PEX

Skill level skill3

The voice on the other end of the line said, “Uh, Mr. Pardun? This is Security.” Conversations that start out like that generally do not bring good news.

“Your water pipes have sprung a leak. We’ve shut off the water to your house.”

It was cold last week. Really cold. The polar vortex swirled down out of Canada, through the Midwest and Northeast, and froze the pipes of our beach house all the way down in coastal South Carolina. That just ain’t right.

Total exposure

Beach houses in our area are built on top of large poles to keep them above any storm surge caused by a hurricane. This means that the main water line runs totally exposed from the ground up 10 feet to the house itself. If this isn’t a prime target for freezing, I don’t know what is.

When we arrived at the house, I asked my ever-loving wife, “Molly” (not her real name),  to watch the pipes while I turned the water main back on. It’s not that I wanted her to be the one to get sprayed, of course, but I had to be the one to kneel down in the dirt to turn the valve. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

When I turned on the main, the water sprayed out of the pipe feeding the outdoor shower in Molly’s general direction a few feet away from the main water supply pipe and not the main pipe itself. This was excellent news. We could easily turn off the shower shutoff without turning off the water to the whole house.

2014-01-10_11-52-04_958  2014-01-10_11-53-50_795 Continue reading Polar vortex burst my PEX

Ripping out a fiberglass shower

Skill level skill2

My name is Gary and I’m a fix-aholic. I can’t stop fixing things. My motto is “Make everything better.” My ever-loving wife, “Trudy” (not her real name), also has a motto: “Find things for Gary to make better.”

Our master bathroom had one of those prefab fiberglass shower stalls that Trudy thought could be made better.

The curved walls and molded-in seat made it pretty cramped.showerstall

Trudy said if you hit your elbows on the walls when you are washing your hair the shower is too small.

So we decided to replace the fiberglass shower stall in our master bathroom with tiled walls and glass doors. While we were at it, we could make the shower itself a little larger because the stall wasn’t as big as the space it was in. In other words, there was room to grow the shower without moving any of the walls in the bathroom.

So I disassembled the shower doors from the stall by unscrewing the sometimes stubborn screws. When you take things like this apart you see just how full of gunk and grime they are. I’ll spare you the details.

That turned out to be the only easy part of taking the old shower out. Continue reading Ripping out a fiberglass shower