The push for occupancy

Happy Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it! Normally, we have a nice day planned, and some really awesome food, and seeing friends. This year it’s not worked out that way.

I guess, since I’m not working, we could have headed out, but since I have to be at work early tomorrow… it’s not ideal to need to head out immediately after food. So.

Anyhow, we’ve been pushing hard on a bunch of things to try and get the house ready for us to be in; the delay on our finish flooring compound (a recycled microcement topping) and the fact that, while Tuff Shed did put up our garage, the haven’t… well, finished it*, has meant that… well, it’s given us space to consider other jobs.

We’ve been working on the skylight wells, which we’d been planning to cover with veneer and ended up covering with 1/8″ plywood. Well, we’ve stared work on the second one, which is coming along nicely… except that we ran out of wood. When we planned out for minimum wood usage, we didn’t twig that the plan we’d drawn requires you to do the 2 of the same side when you’re cutting the largest board. Part of the reason we didn’t realise this was that we’d screwed up early on and ended flipping things around to cut from a better bit of veneer. Then everything kind of snowballed, and to top it off I miscut something (although we eventually worked out that it didn’t make any difference).

Still, we’ve got 4 of the 5 pieces up, and I stopped off to get one more sheet midweek – along with some veneered plywood for our in-wall bedroom bookshelf.


I also spent a lot of time working on the grouting (done, apart from a little tiny bit of patching where I didn’t get the grout fully into the gap between the tiles, grr). And the sink.

The sink proved to be a sod of a job. To be fair, they do recommend that you strip it off the wall, but that obviously wasn’t happening since I only just put it on the damn wall. The Crane Drexel sink is very odd in that it uses the body of the sink itself as the mixer for the tap. The taps pass through the sink and have seals both on the front and the back, and those seals are holding back the full force of mains pressure water.

A while back we’d ordered new cartridges, but didn’t realise how shot the seals front and back were until I tried to change the cartridges, and found out that they were well and truly stuck and that I needed to remove the whole tap body from the sink to get them out. Since the first time I’d turned on the water pressure and watched the water dripping, slowly, from the front and back of the sink, I should have known to order the seals that go along with it… but I didn’t. So we ended up paying an extortionate amount for shipping – but that got us all the bits to turn this:


into this:


There’s a whole twitter thread about my excitement here, so you can join in with the fun. It took a lot of finicking, and gradually tightening (which is terrifying as you’re crushing ceramic between metal and rubber), but eventually we got to a point where we have our ridiculous sink working (now christened “Bert Synke”, thanks to Emma).

And then I tackled the bath. This was very much a me project. I’d pushed for us to get this bath with my optimistic “Oh, we’ll just recoat it” narrative. I’ve never recoated a bath in my life, and this one was particularly sad, with the base of it having stained and eroded almost completely through the enamel in several places. It had also clearly been in a very cheaply refinished bathroom where they’d retiled over old tile (most likely), as it had two beads of silicone on it, one almost half an inch inboard of the first.

It wasn’t looking its best, even when cleaned:


I have had several somewhat sleep deprived nights contemplating this process, and spent several exciting blocks of time watching and rewatching the Ekopel 2k videos – our chosen recoating gunk. The basic points seemed to be – make sure it (the bath) is as clean as you can get it, etch it thoroughly, then throw the gunk on rapidly and don’t futz with it too much. Let it do the work.

I haven’t seen the dry results yet, which is kinda scary. But when I left last night, it looked pretty good:


Who knows how well it has stuck, or how long it will last. Or whether when we get back today it will have turned itself into a giant pool at the bottom of the bath.

I’ve also been scuttling around the house throwing wall plates around our wall sockets. A job Kathryn’s also been doing – we’re getting close to completing that project. With the garage still out of commission, though, it’s starting to get tricky. We might have a plan for that though….

*Some code compliance issues, the wrong roof (which isn’t finished anyhow) and most importantly… no flipping door.

Slightly more convenient convenience

Today did not go totally smoothly. In the end I think it’s worked out okay. I’m wondering if I should have wound the heating up a bit – for reasons that I’ll explain…

So, I committed to installing the toilet today. I’d got my plan, I’d worked everything out. There is less clearance than I thought, but I collected a variety of pipes this morning, and set to on the plumbing.


Having dismantled the old plumbing that I’d spent time installing (grr), I spent a while shuffling the toilet back and forth and trying to work out just exactly how much space I had. The answer – not much.

But by enlarging the hole in the wall, and removing the hot pipe which was to feed the bidet, and making the 90 degree actually sit with its join inside the wall (and the exiting pipework pretty much flush to the tile), it was possible to cram the toilet in.


I hooked up the cold side, made sure the valves to the sink were turned off, and turned on the cold side.

Running my fingers around the join (which I could do, because the hot is actually capped off inside the wall for the sake of cramming this whole bloody lot in), there were no leaks. Yay! Okay, so onward with fitting. Well, first there was cleaning the tiles behind the toilet (since they’ll never be reachable again). Then grouting and cleaning the floor tiles (also not really reachable again).

And then I wandered past the front door to grab something and…



Thankfully it turned out to be very simple. It’s just that the nipples for the sink had got unscrewed – probably while I was futzing with the taps – and…were leaking, horribly.

Of course, now… many hours later – the floor’s dry, but the wall is taking longer to dry out. Because it’s full of soggy glass fibre and wood. Which is terrifying me. Hence the – should I have wound up the heating – thought. Didn’t think of it before I left though.

There were a couple more hours of futzing around, and irritatingly, one of the stainless steel screws I was using broke, but…


Ta-fucking-da :)

Yup, if you squint, it’s looking quite bathroomy. I hideously misjudged the amount of grouting I could do in the time I’d allotted – which meant having started working at 7am this morning I didn’t finish until 6pm this evening. Which is a long-ass day. I still ended up semi-abandoning the grout – I’ll have to attack it with vinegar when I get back from my little LA jaunt (LA Autoshow for Transport Evolved). Still, I think I’ve got the grout down enough that it should just be final polish cleaning up, which is not too awful. So there’s just the bath sections to do, and the ‘ornamental’ bit along the wall, which I think I’ve worked out how to do (delicate type masking tape, mostly folded over so there’s a minimal point of contact, stuck suuuper lightly to the plaster, then carefully apply the grout in such a way as to not get it on the plaster, then whip the tape off).

To be fair, while it was a long day for me, the garage builders were still at it when I left, since they think they can get the garage finished today. Which is kinda exciting.

But not as exciting as this:


That’s inconvenient for a convenience.

So let’s start with the good news.


We finally have some actual, factual, running water in the house in a bathroom fitting that… can have the water left on and which allows us actual water we can use – both hot and cold – in the house.

It’s quite exciting.

Today I washed tools in warm water. Woot.

I also did a lot of grouting that I forgot to take a picture of, and I laid some hexagonal tile (ARGH!) that I also forgot to take a proper picture of.

Ah well.

Now, the reason I’m laying hexagonal tile at this point (rather than waiting until we refinish the bath during which process there’s a lot of slooping paint around) is because I’m hoping to fit the toilet. It’s cold outside (there’s no kind of atmosphere), and I’m enjoying using the portaloo even less now it’s at the front of our property, right next to our neighbour’s fence.


So… yeah. Privacy, not a big function.

Obviously, there’s also the enjoyable expense of paying for sewage and then paying again for having a portaloo outside so we’re not using the sewage.

So, yeah, I’ve been trying to get the toilet fitted…and spent some time staring at the toilet today having identified a bit of a problem. See, our toilet position is a bit special. Because of where the beam sits in our house, we had to put our toilet 14″ from the wall (rather than the US standard 12″). This, as I’ve whinged about mentioned previously is remarked on briefly in my plumbing book as “you will have a smaller range of toilets available”.

It took a very, very long time for us to settle on a toilet that we didn’t hate, and that didn’t look cheap and nasty, and that actually got reviews that suggested it might actually flush. We also had to get over the very irritating extra cost of a 14″ rough-in toilet. Anyhow, it arrived, we looked it over, and then plonked it back in the box.

Well, today I got it out of the box and started staring at the newly identified problem.


Unlike most toilets that we looked at the Toto has an adaptor which allows you to shift the toilet further back (but actually fits the same toilet). It’s quite a neat solution. However, the toilet also has the back almost completely enclosed. The sides are enclosed in a way that’s not dissimilar to our toilet for the micro-bathroom, but we didn’t realise when we bought it that it also encloses much of the back.

And because of where the pipes come out of the wall (because I was assuming a toilet similar to all the ones I’d see in the store)… they foul the toilet.

Now, I think the conclusion is that I’ll disconnect and blank off the hot water supply (originally for a hot/cold bidet), and then use a 2″ nipple and add a 90 degree turn (which should mean the turn happens immediately outside the wall with the actual beginning of the bend happening inside the wall. This should put it close enough to the wall that it’ll clear the toilet. Just.

It’s annoying that I didn’t realise this… earlier. A lot earlier.

When I could have moved things.

Without taking off a bunch of tiles.

So I think this is the best, non-destructive approach I can come up with.

Drip, drip, drip

Today was one of those days where while things didn’t go terribly, they didn’t exactly go well, either. Having run errands (again….Did I mention adulting is really getting in the way of building?) I headed over to the house and thought I’d take a little time to get the sink taps working.


This, of course, did not work. First thing being that the existing valve stems do not want to come out. I suspect (because I know how this works), that when they started leaking, the previous owner tried tightening the stems up – thus making them… less than loose. As I was attempting to remove them I revealed something which I’m sort of glad I revealed at this point and not later. But really wish I’d twigged before…when I was ordering the bits.

The tap’s not just leaking from the valve stem. It’s leaking from the seals that hold the faucet into the body of the sink. Crane Drexel sinks are frankly quite odd. The tap is built into the sink in a way that is completely unheard of now – and the ceramic body of the sink itself acts as a mixer. To achieve this, there are two seals either side of the tap body. The seals themselves aren’t that expensive. One place has them at less than $4 each. The other place, irritatingly, that also sells the brass ring that squishes the seals sells them at $15 / pair, which is more than double the price.

Buuuuut. The first place – where I got the valve cartridges from? They charge a minimum of $25 shipping.

Ironically, they’d still be cheaper – but for the fact that they don’t list the brass ring. Now, had I realized ahead of time, when I was ordering the flipping cartridges then I’d’ve ordered the whole lot in one go. But as it is, I’m paying way over the odds so I can get them quickly and also get the brass rings (because I forsee disintegration).

So, since the faucet wasn’t going to be working today I switched to the main task of the day – tiling. Endless tiling.


Only… that’s the end of the wall tiling (in this room)! Irritatingly there are several minor fuckups which I can’t fix. I misjudged the end point for the corner – partly because this was the first room we built and it’s less square than some other things we did. Partly because I was (for some reason) thinking I might be short (we’re two and a half boxes over), so didn’t want to risk adding extra partial tiles at the beginning of the run. At any rate, there’s not enough room for the chamfer at the edge – because I’d need a tile approximately 2mm wide – or alternatively, a tile that’s a about 10 mil wider than the tiles we’re using. I think it’ll be okay – I think the grout line at the corner will be a little wider than would be ideal, but it’s in the corner behind the toilet.

The other (much) more janky bit is above the shelf – where something went horribly wrong in more than one place. I’m not quite sure how or what – but let’s just say things didn’t meet the way they should have. I’m hoping because it’s all angles meeting on different planes it won’t be terribly painfully bad. But I’m really not happy with it. Especially since the rest of the room turned out okay.

At any rate, I started grouting some of it – the plan is that tomorrow I can install the bath tap and control knobs, then I can use the bath to start washing the floor tiles that we got second hand, let them dry off and lay the section around the toilet – which will mean that we can then seal and grout them (they’re marble, so need sealing), then we can at long last, install a toilet.


Which will be quite nice – being able to use a loo inside and, hopefully, wash our hands with warm water (and soap!) – and save us $80/month on renting a portaloo.

It moves us closer to moving in. A thing which currently feels incredibly distant. Today was just one of those days where things…don’t feel totally positive.


One of our design elements is making it look like our entire roof is hewn from a single block of birch.

That may not be the truth, and it doesn’t really look like that.

But we’ve long talked about a plan to clad our skylights in wood veneer. When we priced it up though, it was both terrifyingly expensive, and having spent much time looking at forums, no-one seemed to have a good way to stick veneer to drywall. There was much debate, and little conclusion. Also, it was pointed out, the drywall would have to be essentially level 5 before you went around sticking veneer over it. And ours is about a level -50.

But the guys at Hardel suggested that we could instead use 1/8″ ply with birch veneer on it to achieve much the same effect (and it would have the added benefit of hiding some of the sins of our shoddy efforts at skimming the plaster).

So last week I broke out our shiny new roofrack and brought home some very, very floppy plywood.

It was excitingly bendy, hence the sheet looped over the front of the plywood to stop it trying to make a bendy, snappy, get-away.

This was plonked in the house and this weekend, once we’d done errandy stuff, we made up the templates for the first skylight bay, bought ourselves a little battery brad-nailer and a entire factory’s worth of glue, and set to on cutting the ply.

Each piece is cut very carefully, then sanded and then glued with a ridiculous amount of glue, and then held with some little brad nails.

Finicky doesn’t really describe it. None of the edges are perfectly straight, none of the angles are 90 degrees. But the template-and-cut system seems to have worked.


We’ll be putting some thin beads of caulk into the corners because this is not something that is perfectly-perfect – take the two bits of wood and sand them together so they mate and they are fixed together forever. No. This is up-in-the air looks very nice but can have some minor imperfections in the joints.

The end result is rather good, though. We put the wood up in one bay, and finished putting the little dobbles of filler on the brads, so that needs to be sanded down, the caulk in the corners will go on, and the caulk around the edge, between it and the ceiling is to go on. Then we need to seal it (for which we’re thinking about AFM Safecoat Natural Oil Wax, and we need to paint the caulk that meets the ceiling with white ceiling paint. Once that’s done we can do the other skylight bay.

It’s quite exciting, and it’s nice to get that job at least partially out of the way as it’s kind of loomed over us as a complex and hasslesome beast that we weren’t sure how to complete, or how long it would take.

We got back home to find the valve cartridges have arrived for our bathroom sink – which is quite exciting. Also arrived is the replacement for our kitchen task lamp that arrived chipped (also exciting). And our kitchen sink had arrived.


Yes. So that’s going back. I debated whether it was worth trying to unbend it, but it’s a honking-great bend. But in a moderately expensive sink it’ll probably never look exactly right…and it’s the front edge too. It’s irritating, because our experience with open-box stuff here is waaay more patchy than I’m used to. Maybe it’s being in the US. Maybe the world has changed. But it used to be that when we got open box stuff it was actually in good shape. Now a good 2/3rds of the time the open box stuff is damaged in some way or other.

Ah well, we’ll see what the replacement looks like.

In other news, I finally remembered to look inside the guts of our dead Breville kettle. It had smelled pretty hot-componenty, so I was kinda hoping for something obvious when I opened it up. Which is why I wasn’t too bothered about waiting until I’d brought home the multimeter (or, indeed, waiting until we have a garage with a workbench). Unfortunately, there’s nothing that’s obviously got very hot in there… but I note the relay is rated at exactly the alleged current draw for the kettle (which isn’t very generous).


Since they’re only 86¢ each, and shipping is slow, I ordered a replacement while I wait for a day when I have both time and the multimeter in the right place. I’ll give it a quick check over, but it’s my best guess until then. It is a startlingly complex circuit for a kettle (even a multi-temperature one). At least, it is in my head. But there y’go. If this doesn’t prove to be its failure point, there are a few other things I can check, but I think I’m probably going to have to break out the drawing-the-circuit approach. Meh.

Adulting is quite…irritating.

I hoped that today would be the day that I finished putting tiles on the wall. But it’s not turned out that way. I kind of suspected it wouldn’t when I got another chance to really thoroughly examine the early morning hours. For reasons that remain opaque to my waking brain, at 3am I’m suddenly accosted by the need to be awake and for no terribly apparent reason not be able to go back to sleep.

Now, I know this whole sleeping through the night in one solid run is an industrial revolution invention, and that humans naturally would probably waken in the early hours for playing games, sexy time, and other fun and frolics, but we’ve kind of drilled it out of ourselves. And knowing that, and having monitored my sleep patterns for years, I’m well aware that in the middle of the night I do sleep very lightly.

So when I do wake up and I’m not hyper-stressed, I’m not very surprised and I’m fairly used to just rolling over and going back to sleep.

But when I’m hyper stressed I’m aware that it’s the time I tend to wake up and have my mind mull ridiculous pointless things that I can’t do anything about at the time, nor can I resolve at 3am. But the last few times it’s not been like that. It has just been “oh, I’m awake” followed by 3-4 hours of not being able to sleep with no huge circular thoughts. I have no idea what’s going on with this. Usually I’m pretty clear on what’s stressing me, but apart from vague overarching this is taking a lot longer than anyone would have hoped or considered… but nothing… specific.

It’s odd.

At any rate, having barely slept (despite being physically exhausted), I popped the roofrack on Raven, got my hair cut, went to the bank, and then bought the 1/8″ (3mm) ply for the skylights. Then I went and tiled. I’m closer. It is reasonable to think that next time I’m at the house and tiling, I’ll get the last bit of wall done, and the final few (well, 9 or so) tiles in the alcove/shelf.


It’s going reasonably quickly, but the tricky bits (and we have made several tricky bits) are really freaking tricky. But it does seem to be coming together. I think we’re going to fiddle with the order of events, so we can get the toilet in and functioning (so I’ll grout a bit around the bath faucet and behind where the toilet’s going to go, then I can lay the tile around where the toilet’s going to go, then we can install the toilet).

We still haven’t heard about the colour matching for the floor and the en-suite bathroom wall/floor… which is going to soon become the main hold up. But… at the moment there’s more than enough to keep us entertained.

It Liiiiiiiiives!


It has been one hell of a long day. Which is funny, because it’s not been that long-a day overall. I mean, I work 12 hour shifts, and I only put in 10 hours at the house today. But it felt long.

‘Our’ plumber came by today and let me know that:

  • Our installation is very neat, particularly for a first timer.
  • We don’t need a neutraliser for city of Olympia, so I should cut that out of the circuit. More irritatingly, despite what it says in the manual, it Olympia it can just be vented to air, like in the UK, which would have saved me a fuck-load of work.
  • When you fill the boiler, if you don’t do it right… it will air-lock, horribly.

This last one he informed me of after our boiler spent a lot of time complaining there was no water pressure.

Anyway, since he could notionally turn up at 8am, I got up at 6am to get over to the house (because I needed to go and see Bob for some parts – mainly returning the ones I bought yesterday and buying new replacements for them).

Irritatingly, it turns out they don’t do a 3″ long brass FIP nipple (i.e. a brass tube with threads at each end).

2.5″? Yes.
4″? Yes.
But 3″? No.

This is a marked irritation because 3″ would be marginally too long, but 2.5″ is too short. I’ve put in 4″ ones for the moment. But… I’m not happy about it.

Anyhow. I got bits, and then headed to the house and started the international festival of tiling.

Our plumber arrived, complimented me on my plumbing, then left to get bits. So I continued my tiling odyssey, and then when he came back he noted that the gas was locked off. PSE apparently turn it off if it’s zero usage for a long time, and / or they may never have come back to turn it on. Thankfully, they turned up pretty quickly and while the plumber was still there, otherwise today may not have gone so well.

Anyhow, the connection process was pretty painless, and apart from needing a lot of air bleeding from the system (which it’s still working on), then we knew we had heating.


Now, theoretically, we had hot water too… but there’s no easy way to test that. Sooo I continued tiling.

Eventually I managed to tile past both the sink and the location of the toilet. Which meant that I could actually connect the sink:


And just put some valves in and turned off for the toilet and bidet.

It then took a while because in the middle of connecting the pipes to our manifold (some time ago now), I discovered that as they’d passed through the floor it had rubbed the markings for which pipe was which off. Whiiiich meant that I could only label the ones I knew. So there’s some things on the manifold which are marked, and some which aren’t.

The main bath had – oddly, the shower hot and the sink/toilet cold marked. Eventually, and after some exciting trial and error I got the sink turned on and…


I have now ordered the new “Dialese” replacement cartridges which should stop the sink leaking (and turned it off in the mean-time). Tomorrow, if I’m lucky, I’ll hopefully finish the wall tiling in the bathroom and can move on to the grouting. Then I can clean the bath, recoat it, and then I’ll start on the floor. Which is going to be my first time tiling with hexagons…

Then we can install a toilet! Plumbing. Inside. Who-da-thunk?

Not exactly a resounding success

Today’s been a three-Bob day. They’re never good. They’re never good because I get frustrated at wasting the roughly an hour and a half in travel and futzing around (each trip ends up taking about 45 minutes). It also almost invariably means something broke, I forgot things, or a job didn’t go as planned.

So today, it turned out I wasn’t paying enough attention when I picked up the angle-stop valves for the taps. Because I picked up one angle and three straight. So that’s annoying.

It also turns out the stupid little brass nipples I got are too short (I need 3″, not 2.5″). I also didn’t get more 3/4″ PVC pipe, which I should have. Thankfully I realised that before I got under the floor.

And I needed an extra 3/4″ 90 degree turn.

Unfortunately, I realised that after I got under the floor (when it became apparent that my planned pipe route wouldn’t work).

So. First thing I did today was turn on the water to fill the boiler. This was not a raging success because a bunch of joints leaked. These are the threaded joints (as opposed to my solder joints).


Eventually I had to dismantle several of them and trade the PTFE goop for PTFE tape. That done, and the joints retightened, and things seem better. I even turned on the boiler and pump controller for a few minutes, and everything seemed to be working (apart, obviously, from the fact there’s no gas supply to the boiler).

So eventually it was positive, but it took quite a while to reach positive.

Then I went and grovelled under the floor. The changes we’ve made to the guttering (with the water now actually draining away from the house) seem to have worked. The surface of the black plastic was dry and didn’t look like it’s had pooling water on it. And a quick check showed the sump-pump is working. So yay.

As I revealed in my spoiler above, it turned out that I needed a second 90 degree bend, in this case because the only bit of the soil pipe that wasn’t completely covered in insulation (and which wasn’t in the hideously complex bit where all the bathroom and kitchen pipes join) was in a place that wasn’t…ideal. Which meant putting an extra bend in the condensate pipe. Which meant crawling back out from under the house, closing everything up (because I don’t want to shut a cat in there), changing, driving to Bob, buying one part at a total cost of around 50¢, then driving back, changing, reopening the crawl space, crawling back across the floor and attaching the pipes together.

It felt deeply worthwhile and pleasing. ;-/

That done, I and because I’ve been doing sooooo well on the plumbing today, I decided to tackle the sink.

So the extra long drain that I managed to find has – I think – exactly the minimum number of turns required to clear the Crane Drexel sink’s extra long overflow and have juuuust enough to attach to the U-bend (or P-trap).

Incidentally, if you’re wondering which one it is, because you’ve got a Crane Drexel sink and you don’t want to spend $300 on a replacement drain, it’s this one:


However, the seal that came with it didn’t work very well with the sink. Also, because the crane sink’s overflow drains much lower than modern ones, it doesn’t line up (at all) with the drain holes in modern drains. So having assembled it, it sloooowly developed a leak.

The solution to this was, I think, to drill a hole in the drain at roughly the right height for the overflow. This seems to have worked… at least, it had when I left.

Irritatingly, the amount of time this took meant that I didn’t end up putting up a single tile yesterday. So the plan for tomorrow is to sprint to Bob to rectify the incorrect length pipes and the incorrect (straight instead of) angle valves… then sprint to the house and start hurling tiles on the wall. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to get them up before our plumber arrives, which would be nice. Or at least, before he gets to a point where we might want to test the hot water.

So. That’s where we’re at.