In / Set me a challenge

There’s an amazing feeling about living in a space you’ve made. It’s funny, we’ve lived in places we’ve worked on before, and yes, technically we didn’t build this house. It is, technically, a renovation.

But there’s not much of the original left. Even what you see in this photo didn’t all survive:

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So I feel like I have intimate knowledge of this building. Between us we’ve laid hands on nearly every stud, if not every stud. We’ve fixed, tweaked, repaired, replaced, renewed this building.

And it’s weird. There’s this incredible satisfaction which I can’t really describe. This munging together of pride, exhuberance, enthusiasm, and at times fear. On the one hand, whenever I wake up and look at the ceiling I know that we built it.

I look at walls and know that every inch of that is our work. Yes, we had people help and indeed the final finish on the walls is not ours. It’s definitely more skilled work than we could do with lime. But it’s still a thin skin over our building work.

And I’m proud of what we built. Of its compromises and quirks.

Of course, the fear is whenever something doesn’t work or there’s an odd sound, I’m hit by the pounding “Oh god, what did I/we do wrong?” There was a massive hail/rainstorm a week or so ago, and we were both jolted from sleep by a massive downpour. And my first thought was “oh holy fuck, what’s gone wrong?”


So we’ve been doing some progressy things – we cleared the attic (a big job), took a bunch of stuff to Habitat for Humanity, we bought furniture and assembled it, and much of the kitchen is in. The dishwasher does, actually, fit. Incredibly. There’s just one cabinet to go in and we’ll be done on the installation of cabinets.

So that’s all good.

We do need to come up with a solution for a worktop (they are insanely expensive). And there’s a massive list of things to do.

But one of the highest priority items is also proving to be impossible. Or at least quite challenging. The stuff we’ve chosen to use for the wood finish is called “AFMSafecoat Oil Wax”. It’s lovely. However, despite being Low VOC it still stinks, so we really want to use it outside. Which is all very well, except the current weather forecast is wet +/- a peak of about 7 degrees C.

It can’t be applied below about 20 degrees C.

Now the online version of the specs says below about 15C and I figured I could probably throw enough heat at the garage, despite the vents, to get at least a small zone of it up to a high enough temperature. But… no, even that’s not happening.

Again, we’re bitten by the fact that what we really want to do is have power and light in the garage, and the cheapest way to do that as a DIYer is to throw the boxes in the wall – saving on miles and miles of conduit and fittings (and also it reduces the amount of plastic we’re throwing into the world). So because of that we didn’t put insulation or drywall in the garage. And because of that, we can’t heat it, even with throwing a fan heater in there. Why not? Well, it’s got a huge roof vent running the entire length of the roof.

My original thought was that the main problem would be that the garage is full of shit. Mainly it’s full of the wood that will be the battens on the house. That is occupying a good 1/2 of the floorspace that was dedicated for storage of equipment (table saw, shelves), and that means that I can’t get those things out of the way, so they’re now occupying floorspace that was meant to be working area. Also, because of the enormous pile of rocks outside the garage, Rebecca is parked diagaonally across the garage making working around her difficult. But I’d worked out a resolution of sorts to that problem.

But this whole ‘needs to be at 20 degrees’ thing is a big challenge. My friend’s workshop isn’t heated like that, I can’t think of a space I could use as a workshop that is. So we need a bit of a mull on that one.


I’ve been working on the lighting. We are missing the two kitchen lights because they needed complete renovation. I spent the last few days working on them – using a tap/die set to recut the threads that had been lost when the wire supports broke, which it turns out was not because I’m a numpty, but because they were rusted solid.

I then spent a day wire brushing them and getting them prepped for spraying, then giving them a coat of grey paint.

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And finally reassembling them. Then it slowly dawned on me that I didn’t actually have all the bits I’d need. As we had it, the bulbs would hang…right in the centre of what used to be the vents for allowing hot air to escape from the large halogen or possibly arc discharge lights that were used in these.

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So I finally hit up the local lighting store. I didn’t have high hopes, they look like a generic lighting supplier, but it turns out they repair lights and have a stock room in the back which has a selection of common parts…at a much lower price than we’ve paid elsewhere. And without shipping :-)

And supporting a local business.

So that was cool.

And then I brought them home and sprayed them, along with the bits from the really crappy lights we got from Beautiful Halo which I sanded the worst of the rust from…

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Unfortunately, the new paint reacted with the old paint… but hopefully it will look adequate at the distance it is from us.

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Actual forward motion

So the last couple of days have felt more positive, which is probably more a frame of mind thing than actual change in rate of progress. The mind is a funny thing. Anyhow, the sink is now replumbed with a new seal and some putty, and now only leaks very slightly. I could probably have achieved zero leakage if I was willing to spend endless hours on scraping the bottom surface of it, but it’s just a temporary sink and for the sake of leaving a bowl under it or not, I think I’m satisfied with the time/cost/benefit situation as it stands.

US sinks, incidentally use a piece of cardboard as a “slip washer”. Cardboard. In an area that might get wet.

I’ll just leave that there.

Still, the sink is working.

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We also spent a few hours (quite a few hours) yesterday getting the extractor fan mounted on the wall. Irritatingly, our 3-year-ago guess as to where it would be is about an inch out. Which means that the chimney won’t quite fit the last few inches… On the other hand, it saves us cutting the stainless steel, which probably would have been a complete pig to do well, so maybe that’s for the best. We just need to come up with a neat way for it to be covered…

I also have spent quite a lot of time tidying the garage – well “putting things in drawers”. It’s not really proper tidying, but until the wood is out of the garage and I can sit and have a proper think about which tools should live where… it just needed to be organised enough that we could physically get in there and get things.

In other news, 50% of the house is surrounded by drain-rock.

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And we have a new postbox, thanks to a spurt of stupidity energy, and the realisation that when I’m at work people could pinch our mail.

Oh, and in final news, I have an awesome new sticker on the car:

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It’s courtesy of @distressed_egg

Well that went….

So, we moved into our new house! It’s still not finished, but we’re in it. And things have gone…okay. There’s this deep excitement which I (we) get flushes of.
“We built this!”
“Ooooh, I’ve not seen that angle before, it’s pretty”
“Oh hey! You can see the moon through the skylight!”

Stuff like that.

There’s moments of deep joy. Stuff that works. The washer and dryer doing their stuff without any drama (at least so far). The moment we first switched the cooker on.

Taking a bath…

Laying in our bed at night, looking up at the ceiling that we built in the house we rebuilt… it’s crazy, but it’s cool.

And then there’s the less positive stuff. I’ve realised I didn’t load balance the panel properly. I think it was so long after I did the diagrams and worked it out, that I just went “oh, I could put this here” for the car chargers and the dryer and the oven and reverted to my UKian ways.

Which means that the car chargers and the cooker and the dryer were all on one phase.

Ooops.

I’ve managed to move one of the car-chargers across, but there’s not quite enough length to get either the cooker or the dryer circuit across. I am debating whether to splice some extra length onto the dryer circuit – that’s the easiest to move, and it would make it so that we have dryer/charger on one side and cooker/charger on the other. At any rate, I need to get some blanking plates for the panel. Made worse, because I accidentally took out the wrong flipping covers when I moved the car charger’s breaker.

Irritatingly, the 50AFCI/GFCI breaker that we have seems to be faulty. It’s tripping without purpose. I initially thought maybe it was the damp weather and the tight box that the outlet is crammed into, but it turns out that no. It’s just tripping. I’m leaving that for when I’m next in the panel though – and when we have a second charger. We currently only have one anyhow, so since the 40A breaker is fine, so it is kind of a moot point right now.

We’ve also been working on installing the kitchen – basically one unit at a time we’re creeping down the kitchen. Laughably, I thought we might be able to do it the day after we moved… Oh, the foolishness of youth. We worked all day yesterday and got the two long units installed. And managed to get the temporary sink dropped into the temporary work surface. I then spent much of this morning working out how to plumb it in, only to discover that it leaks from a tiny rusthole which is invisible from the top of the sink, but apparently, someone decided it was okay to give a broken sink to habitat and after a while it just quietly starts dripping.

The main drain side of the sink also seems to have started leaking, hilariously. I’m going to go tomorrow and get a new washer for that one. But I can’t say that I’m the happiest bunny in the world.

Now we just need to get the cooker leveled and then the 18″ unit next to it…

The dishwasher is looking like it might fit…if only I can get the fucking thing to turn on. It’s a used dishwasher that was allegedly working when it was sent. It’s in good condition, but it doesn’t appear to want to start it’s cycle. It illuminates the “yes, I’m on” and “this is the cycle you’ve selected” lights. It just doesn’t start. Now, my guess is that the door-sensor switch is fubar, but that means taking the dishwasher apart which wasn’t high up my priority list.

There’s a slim possibility I might cave and pay for someone to come look at the dishwasher. It’d be convenient if one of the things – either the sink or the dishwasher was working, though. Still, I’ve actually had coffee today, so that’s nice. And we finally have drinking water available in the house (even if I did plumb the tap backwards – so hot is where I think cold should be).

Why so quiet?

Well, as has become tradition, after Xmas I headed to CES for Transport Evolved which is a week of work surrounded by 2 days of travel at each end. It went well this year, and you can find videos at Transport Evolved’s website / Youtube channel. That took me away from the house after our Xmas break. Part of this was because while there is stuff to do, the inside stuff is – or was – waiting on the arrival of the flooring compound. The outside stuff is not particularly time critical – and it was time for us to have at least a bit of a break.

We took a couple of days down in Oregon, just walking and mooching around the Hood River area because we were gifted a voucher towards a holiday stay. It was much needed.

Then, like I say, CES. Today I was back at it – a little. See I got some plague at CES and have a tedious cold. Yesterday I had to go over to the house because Tuff Shed were back to fix the code violations on the garage. Thankfully, our inspector was available to come and talk them through what he wanted done, and I think it’s been resolved. But yesterday I bascially got to the house, opened up the garage and sat in a chair for 2 hours while they worked.

Today was the more exciting day. Today we got a garage door.

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This is super handy because we handed in our notice and are planning to move next week. So it’s super handy also that our house is completely finished.

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Well…”completely” might be over stating it. But the flooring compound has at last arrived. And today I put down the elastomeric membrane that hopefully stops the flooring compound from cracking. So Sunday is the terrifying day when we start putting down the compound. Then Monday is another compound application day. Then Tuesday is starting moving and…installing the kitchen.

And then moving continues until it’s done.

Fingers crossed.

Well there goes the schedule

I mean, it’s not like we had a schedule. We have had multiple optimistic timelines, and I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by the gradual acceptance that it’s not going to be livable by the new year. I’d refused to say “we’ll be in by the New Year”, because we’ve missed every other deadline.

But I had hopes.

And we’re not.

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The garage is still not done (although it is now sporting the right roof), and because of the code-fixes required and the space needed for the garage door, we can’t stack lumber in there.

Which means that we can’t plane the lumber which is to be our battens – which was a job I was thinking I could ‘fill time’ with. Why do I need to fill time? Because our special flooring compound is still not on its way. The guy who makes it had some supply issues – and has ended up rush-ordering a polymer that he uses from a different distributor, because his usual one is… out of stock.

All of this means that the interior is effectively stalled until it arrives.

I spent the day working on the outside – slowly shifting the ridiculous pile of construction driveway rock into being a somewhat intense pile of pseudo-drain-rock.

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The idea is this will stop water pooling by our foundation, and plants trying to grow up next to our foundation.

I also spent time digging out the trench that was originally meant to be dug by our groundworks folks. At least, they said they’d try and get it done… I’m not sure what happened there, but they stopped after a few feet, which has left me with the unenviable task of digging out a 60cmx60cmx4m trench, into which will go lots of gravel and a soak away pipe.

This will, of course, do sod all because the water table sits about 6″ below the surface when it really rains.

But hey, it’s required, so I’m doing it. Hopefully I can get that finished off tomorrow, and we can arrange for the garage to have guttering as soon as we can yank the tank back out of the ground.

I’m just going to lie here going zootlewordle.

It turns out that loading 7 30kg bags of sand-mix (which is, sadly, a concrete based thing) onto a Bob trolley, then loading half that into the car (I got help with loading), then unloading 6 bags into the house (I realised I’d done my sums based on 60lb bags, not the 80lb bags they had in stock). then mixing 5 of the bags, spreading them, then lugging the 6th bag back to the car, and then the 6th and 7th bags bag onto the trolley and into the store is about my limit.

So I’m just going to lie here going zootlewordle for a bit.

I did also clean the tiles in the bathroom and prep the bedroom for flooring.

This (the bathroom floor) is a job I’ve been worrying about since planning it. I’ve watched countless how-to videos, and read countless articles. Everyone has their own opinion and just to make it doubly complex I switched from the schlauter-kerdi membrane to the paintable hydroban membrane.

After I’d installed the schlauter-kerdi special drain.

But everything I’ve read suggests that this should all work.

So I spent today making everything slope nicely… It just has to set up (I’m leaving that heating off for 2 days), then in a month’s time I can paint it with the hydroban and we can get this bathroom in service too.

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In rather more irritating news, it turns out that 1/2″ (15mm) UK pipe is a different size to 1/2″ US pipe. By a fraction of a mm. Meaning the plumbing valves I picked up nice and cheaply from Europe won’t fit the US 1/2″ pipe. Balls.

Also, Tuff Shed. Pfer.

Grrrrout! And other things.

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Grrrrout!

It’s done.

Now there’s just the silicone to do around the edges, and the corners, and the shelf. And there’s a couple of spots on the grey grout that need touching up.

Oh, and then once the floor is fully cleaned, I need to pour natural stone sealant on it… which will also seal the tiles.

So that’s done.

Then I had endless terror pouring black gunk over the floor – this is the anti-fracture goop which I smeared around the bits of the floor I could reach. Our final finish goes on top of this, and we’re hoping this will allow for any cracking of the self-levelling compound (which has definitely got some hairline cracks in it). It’s meant to allow cracks of about 1/8″ (3mm!).

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Once this lot is dry we’ll move the kitchen units up into the lounge, then I can paint this gunk on the dining room and laundry floor – and we can get the bedroom floor laid… then kitchen into the bedroom so we can get our final floor laid, then put the kitchen in and move in.

This is, of course, dependent on the floor coming soon.

Which would be nice.

I also spent some time digging the soak away for the garage… I’ve got a few feet at one end, and a couple at the other to do. Hopefully the rain won’t wash all the dirt back into the hole.

In other news, I talked to Tuff Shed again today. The woman I spoke to said all she can do is keep asking the area manager to call me. Because I complained to the customer service team, she thinks it’s been escalated to the regional manager, but she has no way to contact the regional manager, apparently. All she can do is keep pestering the local area manager to call us, which he so far has never done. Feh.

A plan, if you call it that.

As we wait on tenterhooks to find out whether our flooring material will arrive before our bedroom floors do, we’ve continued to work on a variety of projects. Kathryn’s been busy up making our skylights more pretty – waxing them with a substance which is meant to be low VOC and air-quality friendly, but which instead smells like a thousand oilpaints compressed into one tiny can.

It’s all, apparently, plant based. But 2 days after coating it, it still stinks to high heaven. I actually turned the heating off today and opened a bunch of windows to get some air through the house. We’ll see how it is tomorrow.

However, it’s worth it. The skylight looks awesome.

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That is of course only one of two, so there’s a whole ‘nother one to be sanded, fettled and coated. Yay?

I, on the other hand have continued my quest to tile everything in sight. At least, in the bathroom. And finally finished putting down the floor tile today. I’d got to a point where there were 6 partial tiles left to cut on Saturday (we had a social day yesterday!), and rather than attempt it when I was tired I declared I’d do it today. And lo, with very little drama it was done. Incredibly there was only one miscut – and that was out of a tile scrap, so it didn’t cost us any usable tile. I need to grout the whole lot tomorrow, then when that’s dry I can silicone the corners of the bathroom floor and the base of the bath / floor join.

I did, however, break out the grey silicone to seal around our bath which, if you ask me, is looking positively resplendent in it’s new coat of white pseudo-enamel.

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I still need to gunk the corners of the shower with the hateful stuff, and the corners of the shower shelf. That’s because I don’t trust grout to hold the water out of those areas. I also need to treat the floor in the bathroom with tile protector once I’ve got it good and clean and the grout’s in. So much fun!

But I’m super-pleased with how the bathroom’s come together. It feels luxurious despite being mostly salvage or very cheap (the white subway were the cheapest home depot had on a special offer, the copper tone tiles were clearance (albeit not cheap once we factored in shipping), the marble tiles were salvage, the bath and sink were salvage… only the toilet and shower were bought new).

It was a little close on tiling the floor. There were 6 tiles left over – and they were all somewhat stained with rust. I did actually use a few rust-stained ones, where the stain could be cut off. We thought we had much more than that. Actual off-cuts were pretty small, too. So…

I spent a lot of time staring at the problem of “we don’t have a date for the floor coating arriving yet” and “in theory the bedroom floor could be here tomorrow”. My conclusion was that we could paint the anti-fracture paint in sections: the hall and lounge area tomorrow, then when it’s dry we can move the kitchen units into the lounge, and we can do the kitchen/dining/laundry area. This is not ideal, but it does mean it can happen without moving everything into the bedrooms and… if we’re lucky and the bedroom flooring (a floating engineered wood affair) does arrive soon, it’s something I can quietly put down while we’re waiting for the main room’s flooring material to arrive. So the afternoon was cleaning up the floor in the main room and hallway ready for the anti-cracking paint which was endless fun. I did discover that it’s relatively easy to sand back our self-levelling flooring compound which has allowed me to ‘fix’ a few of the most obvious issues.

I continue to wait with bated breath for a date for a garage door, or them to turn up and fix the incorrect roof.

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.

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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:

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into this:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Well…shit.

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…

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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:

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