19 August, 2013

More Fixing, More Changes

Our shower in the Mennonite house has had problems for some time now (read several years). Minor ones for the most part, such as a couple large floor tiles cracking, the drain cover, warping out after being stepped on (it was made of very thin metal), and finally leakage from the shower switch-over (controlling the shower head or the spigot to fill a bucket), around the drain, and around the cracked tiles.

After several failed attempts to repair the shower on our own, we decided to hire John Harris (who did our pool and the palapa patio).
John Starts Breaking Up the Floor Tiles
It's a fairly simple project - pull out the old floor tile, drain, and underlayment. Lay new underlayment, install a new drain, and tile. Easy enough.
Hot Work in Close Quarters
We knew we were going to run into mold, after all, this is the tropics. Mold is everywhere. A liberal dose of full-strength bleach and letting it dry seemed to do the trick.
The Dreaded Mold
We went with a larger three-inch drain this time (The size refers to the drain outlet diameter not the face you see on the floor). The smaller inch-and-a-half drain that seems to be used everywhere down here, is total crap. the drain cover is so thin, that if you step on it, it warps. We've replaced our old cover about three times with the same result each time.

Time for drastic action. The new three-inch drain has an aluminum top that is about an eighth of an inch thick. More than adequate to keep from warping out. In this next photo, Agusto is enlarging the hole for the drain through the floor.
Enlarging the New Drain
And here's the other side of that. Down in what we call our basement, the ground floor of our house, hooking up the larger drain to the existing plumbing. You can see some of the plastic sheeting we had put up as a temporary measure to protect stuff in the basement (in this case, in Dianna's workshop) from any drips from the leaky shower. We can now take all that down, get things dried out and move on. Finally.
Hooking Up the Shower Drain
Once the tiles had been removed from the shower and the debris vacuumed up, the guys brought in the new subfloor for the shower - a 3/4" piece of Plycem (concrete board). Here you can see the new drain is fitted to it already, which made a tricky installation.
New Shower Floor Arrives
As they lowered the Plycem into place in the shower, as the drain extended through the floor, the guy working downstairs had to glue and guide the drain into the existing plumbing. It all had to be done in one smooth operation, which went off like clockwork, and it came with a bonus - it doesn't leak.
Installing the Shower Floor
When they lowered it down, simultaneously they applied adhesive to help bond it to the sub-floor. We all took turns tromping on it to see how rigid and stable it felt. Just to be sure, they also drove several screws through it into the sub-floor for additional insurance.
The next bit to be done once the Plycem was in position was to mix up some concrete and put a thick layer down. Here's the result of that.
Concreted Shower Floor
Doing the floor of the shower was really the most critical part of the whole repair job. John paid very close attention to all the details of this part.
John Giving Guidance
Here is where things began to differ from the original plan.

Change Order number one

Dianna had been wanting this change for a while. This seemed like a good time to say, "Let's replace the lovely red tulip tiles with blue squares." Of course,

John said "No problem."

And, as you can see the lovely tulip band is quickly going away. It's not quite as easy as it might look. You have to remove the grout first, to minimize the chances of cracking adjacent tiles, then you have to pry out the tile in question. The adhesive used naturally has held very well, which makes removing tiles just that much harder.
Removing the Red Tulip Band
Up north, our experience has been that just about any change of scope of the job is called a 'change order' and results in an increase of cost of the project. Sometimes that increase is commensurate with the size of the change, other times, it's all out of proportion. Our experience here, is if the change can be accomplished with minimal work and materials, it tends to get folded in to the existing project. Still, it's fun to track just how many changes this project generated.

Along with the trim band of red tulips, there were also four matching accent pieces, one on each wall of the shower. Here you can see Agusto chiseling out the grout surrounding one of the pieces before trying to break it out.
A Nail Makes a Fine Chisel
You might be wondering about that short chisel he's using. It's a nail. Seems to work about as well as anything else.

Here's one accent piece gone entirely. A smooth extraction. Will the rest go as easy? One can only hope.
Accent Piece Gone
So much for hope. Here's one that we couldn't get the tile to separate from the adhesive. Ooops. Of course, this ended up happening too often to make for an easy project.
Some Tiles Were Stubborn
Since we couldn't find exact replacement tiles for the accent pieces we were having removed (the existing tiles were all gray. Creative Tile, where we had purchased the original tiles, didn't have duplicates in stock or even available from other locations.

Which brings us to our next deviation from the plan, such as it was.

Change Order Number Two

The replacement tiles we did get unfortunately had a red tinge to them), we decided that since the replacements didn't match exactly, and we really never did care all that much for the gray tiles in the first place, "Let's get rid of them all and replace them with white subway tiles."

Again John said "No problem."

So, here's the shower with a whole lot of no tiles going on. Looks a bit different.
Lot More Tiles Gone
The end wall of the shower needed to be completely replaced. Removing tiles that were reluctant to give up the ghost, just damaged too much of the wall to attempt just patching it.
Board Gone and Tiles Too
At about this time, along came another idea. Which leads us to:

Change Order Number Three

"Let's get rid of the red tulip tiles bordering the vanity. Replace them with the blue tiles too."

Once again, John said "No problem."

Dianna said she thinks that's why he likes doing projects for us. He can count on the projects almost always growing. You know what? She's right.
Augusto Pulling Vanity Trim Tiles
Finishing Removing the Trim
Here's a shot of the new blue tiles going in to replace the old trim. Much better. They give a much more fresh and tropical look to the place.
New Trim Around the Vanity
NOTE: It would be misleading to give the impression that all this work was taking place in some sort of strict order - the shower floor, then re-tiling the shower, then the vanity, and so on. No. doesn't really work that way. Mostly, after the shower floor, it kind of began to occur simultaneously. So, that's why the photos may seem at times, to be somewhat jumbled up. That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it.

Subway tiles in the shower going up. Progress with those larger tiles makes it seem like the project is really moving right along.
Applying Adhesive for the Subway Tile
Part of the project of the shower involved the threshold for the shower. It took Boo (one of the workers) a bit to figure out how to accomplish tiling that. Here he is hard at work on that bit.
Boo Figuring Out the Threshold
As you can see, a lot of tile has been placed already. We ended up getting seven boxes of the white subway tile. Each box held 24 tiles.

The little blue tiles, which went perfectly in our bathroom, John had left over from a previous project, so he didn't charge us for them. His guys even managed to cut them to fit around the floor drain. Since they are glass tiles and brittle, that was no small feat in itself.
Floor Tiles Going In
Another use for nails is as tile spacers. They seem to work about as well as the real McCoy.
Nails Work As Spacers
Sometimes, working room in the shower got just a smidge tight. Here's a shot to illustrate that. Don't forget, the guy holding the camera (me) is in there too.
Setting Tile in a Crowded Space
For the most part, the tile job went smoothly. it was just about the end of the day and finishing the tiling of the walls in the shower, when somebody got tired and their concentration slipped. I didn't notice this error till after the guys had left for the day. I was sitting on the throne, contemplating nature (as you do) and admiring the tile job.

As it happens, when occupying the seat of honor, you do get a good view of this particular wall and corner. Something just didn't look right. When I was done with my nature studies, I looked closer at the tiling. There was a real problem to be corrected.
Somebody Fell Asleep
And it wasn't just the blue tile, but the white subway tiles underneath on that wall weren't aligned properly either.
Lines Don't Match
As soon as the guys came back the next day, I showed John and he had them rework the wall. In short order, everything was lined up properly and looked really good.

One of my pet peeves, it turns out, is finding tile spacers laid flat in the corner intersections of tiles. Somebody, in years past, taught tile workers here in Belize that that was the way to do tiling and to use spacers. You have to pay attention to these little things like that. Even with this project, lots of little spacers ended up laying flat. Some habits are hard to break.
Wrong Way to Use Spacers
Here's the result. All the tiles are properly aligned and it looks really great.
Here's a quick glimpse of the finished shower. It looks really good.
Other End of Shower
Shower is Finished
Tiled Floor and New Drain
And a quick glimpse of the finished vanity tile. It looks so good.
William Finishing Blue Tile on Vanity
Search and Rescue Interlude

Here's an aside for you. In the midst of all the construction, Miss April disappeared.

Sometime early on in the project, she went missing. We think it was the noise of construction that just got to be too much and scared her. She's always been a real homebody, never venturing out of the yard, so it was a real mystery where she had gotten off to.

We started off walking around the yard calling for her. We checked, and re-checked, and re-checked again trying to find her. In and under everything was checked and re-checked, and checked again.

Around day three, we began to lose hope. This just wasn't like her at all. Tears were beginning to flow, and, strange as it may seem, Nelson, really exhibited behaviors that showed he missed his 'sister'. He'd go out the kitty door, and walk around the house, meowing constantly. Then he'd come up the front steps and come into the house, meowing at us like we were hiding her. He'd go throughout the house, looking in everything, trying to find her.

This pattern continued non-stop till Monday. when the workers returned after a day off. It didn't end, it just slowed down. Throughout this whole time, we periodically thought that we heard a faint meow, but we could never localize it.

Then early Tuesday morning, we were jarred awake about three AM with what sounded like a short cat fight on our front porch. I quickly threw on a pair of shorts and ran out to the porch to see who was killing who. I didn't see Nelson, but I did see a smallish calico-looking cat in an absolute panic, running from one end of the porch to the other, trying to figure out how to get out of our porch. The cat had to have come through the doggie door and once in couldn't figure things out.

I made the mistake of leaving the screen door into the house open, so as soon as I moved away from the doorway, guess what? The hyper kitty zoomed back into our house and made a quick circuit of things. I went back into the house and successfully herded it back onto the porch. Once there, it found an area rug that Dianna had rolled up and placed vertically in the corner. The cat zoomed up it and immediately went down the central part of the roll, where she or he decided to stay.

This was essentially the situation for about a day and a half. We started putting out a little food and water for the cat. In some ways I think we both thought that maybe the great Cat in the sky was sending us a replacement for the missing April.

Eventually, the cat calmed down enough to leave the security of the carpet roll only to use the cushion of one of our porch chairs as a bathroom. Well, now there was no doubt as to the sex of the cat. Pee-yew! It's an un-neutered male. Well that decided me in short order to get rid of the cat quickly.

Hoping the cat wanted to escape, I opened the outer porch door and by now, the cat was laying beside the carpet roll, so, as I lifted the roll, he took off running around again. Only this time, he found the correct open door and took off. Thankfully we haven't seen him since.

There were just some cat noises outside, so I got up and was looking out the living room window. I saw Nelson, slightly to my left downstairs, and I heard a faint meow once again. Only this time, it seemed to come from off to the right as I was looking out the window. So, whatever it was, it wasn't Nelson.

Going downstairs, thinking I would walk around and see if I could hear the sound once again. I guessed that maybe April had gotten tangled up somehow in or near the pile of waste that we periodically burn, or trapped, or injured, or something. Anyway I was strolling around over there looking for her and calling her name.

As I got near the fence, I called her name once again and thought I heard an answering meow. It sounded like it came from across the street.So I got closer to the fence and called once more. I got a definite response. I still couldn't tell then if sounded like April or not.

I ran up and got my keys and a flashlight and headed over to the gate of the property next to Denis and Vivien's, where Bob is staying. At the gate, I called again and got a stronger response. It sounded like April. I noticed the gate was latched but not locked, so I opened it and went in. Young Mr. Nelson had accompanied me across the street as well. We heard her call from up in this scraggly pine tree right near the gate. I shined the flashlight up into the tree, but all I could see was two reflective eyes staring back at me from way up near the top of the tree. I called up to her and got a definite 'rescue me' meow. At this time, there was no doubt with Nelson or me that April was up the tree.

Trotting back across the road. I reached my extension ladder, unlocked it from it's storage location in the breezeway and headed back across the road.

Getting the ladder into a stable position, I began climbing up to rescue April. About 4 or 5 rungs up, I missed my footing. The ladder shifted because of a ton of tiny, brittle branches breaking. As a consequence, I took a tumble. I tucked my shoulder and rolled, emerging none the worse for wear. Not a bad stunt in pitch dark, if you ask me.

Taking a bit more care, I re-positioned the ladder more securely, then began climbing up once again. i had the ladder extension out for about half it's length, so I was really hoping I wouldn't repeat the tumble. About then Dianna arrived and was hollering up to April and me with words of encouragement..

I reached April and I could tell, she was really glad to see me, but she was also scared half out of her wits. I tried lifting her off the branch with one hand as I had to hold on to a branch with the other as the ladder up that high was none too stable. Eventually, I was able to get in real close to her and convinced her to make the change from the branch and to get onto my shoulder.

Once on my shoulder, surprisingly, she stayed there for the return journey back down to the ground and to Dianna's waiting arms. I thought I would be pock-marked with holes, but she was surprisingly gentle on me.

After lowering the ladder, we made our way back across to our house. Somewhere right in that time-frame, we lost Nelson. I don't know how or why. he was just gone. Just our luck. We loose a kitty, get one as a sort of replacement that we don't want to keep, get rid of him, find the original missing kitty, and loose a second family kitty. He was gone who knows where till about 7:30 PM that following night, when I saw him come ambling up the back stairs.

We decided that it would be best for the next couple of days that we lock up the kitties with the dogs down in the pool house, while all the work is taking place, just so we don't have any repeats. What an adventure in the middle of all this work.

Now, we can get back to the original story.

"You know, since you're here, John... How much trouble would it be to paint the entire ceiling white and add in some trim pieces to mask the joins of the plywood panels?" Oh, dare I guess? Another variance from the path. It must be time for:

Change Order Number Four

Not surprisingly, John said "No problem."

First things first, the guys got busy with dusting rags and some fox-tail dusters we had around the house.
Making Sure Everything is Dust Free
Along with the dusting came the moving of some of the furniture out of the way. Most of it was moved from room to room as the job progressed. I thought that would be a big hassle but it really just became part of the work process and was a non-issue.
Last Furniture Being Moved Out
One place that did get a lot of stuff stored was the back porch - that is till the following day when it looked like rain was threatening and then everything came back inside. That was when we adjusted to just moving it around as needed.
Back Porch Filled With Furniture
The first part of the project was applying 1" x 3" wood battens to the plywood joints on the ceiling - to mask those joints and give a more finished appearance to the ceiling overall.

To get to that point actually took quite a bit of thinking and 'what-iffery' on the part of John and Dianna.
Decisions, Decisions
 Of course, once the decision was made as to what size of wood to use for the battens, then getting them all properly cut to size and fastened became a chore in itself. Here's John's compressor getting a workout all over our house. Thankfully, he has a long enough hose for it that reaching the far corners was no problem. At one point I would have loved to have a compressor with that kind of capacity. But now, my little one or two gallon sized tank compressor is more than adequate for my needs. Both compressors are about equal when it comes to the noise factor. they are loud.

Come to think of it, this may be one of the things that scared Miss April enough for her to run away for those four days.
Compressor on the Porch
Here's a shot of the guys installing the battens between each of the rafters. It was a bit hard to get them properly lined up down the whole ceiling, but it all worked out in the end.
Decorative Wood Trim Going in
Battens are being applied in the kitchen in the shot below. You can also clearly see the joint lines before the battens are applied to mask them.
Applying Trim in the Kitchen
John is busy making sure the battens go in correctly. It was hard to keep them lined up right as the pneumatic nailer tended to jostle them enough each time to force a realignment check.
Another View of the Wood Trim Application
The Battens required one or two trim cuts to ensure a close fit. We really did try to minimise the gaps at the ends of the pieces.
Making Sure the Wood Trim Fits
Finally the white paint is beginning to go up on the ceiing. Hard to tell right here just how much of a difference it will make - throughout the place.
Painting Gets Started
it moves fast at first. But, as the painting progresses, it soon became apparent that a liberal application of caulk would be required over the whole ceiling, not just on the battens, but along the existing rafters as well.
And it Moves Right Along
Luckily, I had a huge supply of tubes of caulk on hand just waiting for the opportunity to be used. I'm not sure why I had so many tubes (about a dozen or so). Maybe Cinty's had a sale sometime back. Who knows?

One side benefit is that now our ceiling fans (there's five of them here) really stand out. The wood blades really look nice. And just so you know, it's not really necessary to bring all this sort of stuff down with you all the time. We bought all five fans (they're indoor/outdoor type too) at Marin Electric, right here in Corozal - and that was six years ago. Availability of all sorts of stuff has increased markedly since then.
Fans Really Stand Out now
It took very little time to get a first coat of paint onto the ceiling. Caulking the obvious gaps came soon after, along with a second coat which was pretty much entirely brushed on to ensure excellent coverage.

BTW, the rod you see in the photo below I had had installed after the house was delivered here. The idea being that it was supposed to help keep the place from spreading laterally. It might have worked if the rod had been installed correctly and if proper lag screws had been used. Lag screws and bolts built to ASME specs are almost impossible to find here in Corozal. Once in a while you can find them in Belize City. The reason that's important is in the sheer strength of the bolts. When I went to remove the bolts holding this rod, they snapped right off. The whole thing would have been of no use at all if the walls had spread. The rod would have simply been another bit of metal in the way and offered no support at all.
Ceiling is Looking Good
Another view of the ceiling painting coming along. Just amazing how much it brightens everything up inside.
What a Difference
Manuel, who's worked for John for eight or nine years, is the oldest worker in the crew. He speaks very little English but is a solid and steady worker. He's also very good with the roller - as he demonstrates below.
Manuel - An Artist With the Roller
Painting the ceiling seemed to flow just naturally along one half of the ceiling from the living room to the kitchen, although no one had really talked about how it should flow. But it worked out great all around. As they got started on the second half, some of the guys did some additional caulking and finished up the second coat on the first half.
Really Brightens the Ceiling
Paying Attention to the Details
Caulking all the Joints
Rolling the Office Ceiling
The  second half is well underway in this shot.
Rolling the Ceiling
Painting the Ceiling
Working On the Ceiling
By this stage, the ceiling is almost all done. Here Boo is touching up some of the areas that needed it.

Boo Painting the Ceiling
Hard to belive, but the whole ceiling from start to finish, including the battens and caulking and two coats of paint was all completed in one day. Impressive.

You know, now that the ceiling is looking so white and fresh, it's making  the yellow on the walls look kind of dingy. When it was just the yellow, it looked passable. You'd never guess there were actually three  different shades of yellow - one shade in the kitchen, one in the living and dining room and a third iin the office and bedroom.

It seems that now would be a great time to get all the walls repainted with a single shade. How about going with a nice sky blue?

Change Order Number Five

John's getting good at saying "No problem."

So, even while work is still going on with the ceiling, some of the crew got busy with putting the blue stuff up on the walls.

Dianna had already taken down all the switch-plate and outlet covers. These had all been freshly washed and were ready to go back up after the nice new blue paint was applied.
Another Wall Turning Blue
This shade of blue might seem familiar to the discerning eye from a prior project when we had the pool house painted. This is the same light blue we used down there.
Chippie Painting the Columns
By now, with all the projects seeming to roll into one, some members of the family lost focus. Here's Cindy, exhausted from it all, but still gamely trying to pay attention, when she's not snoring that is.
Cindy Keeping Up With the Work
Dianna even got into the act. Here she is with bucket and brush in hand, slinging paint with the pros.
Dianna Lends a Hand
I even got into it. We had never liked the dull gray of the circuit-breaker box cover, so I took it off and applied two coats of the blue to it. The dull gray acted as a primer and had just enough 'tooth' to take the blue paint. Now it blends in nicely but yet still stands apart with the wood trim.
Even the Breaker Box Door Got in the Act
The blue on the walls and the white of the ceiling, just makes the place seem not only brighter, but it seems so much cooler, even though the thermometer still reads the same.
Looking Cooler and Larger
We had contemplated painting the wood trim, but I think we're happy leaving it as is for now.
Living Room is Turning Blue
From one end of the house to the other, blue paint is going up everywhere.
Kitchen Getting the Blue Treatment
For a while, Agusto was trapped in the bedroom. While painting the living room we had shifted furniture around and blocked the bedroom door. It was a good thing he had a full can of paint. I shot this through the window into the bedroom.
Agusto Through the Bedroom Window
Finally, all the painting is done and John and his crew are gone. I'd love to show a photo of the completed job, but that's going to have to wait a while. We're still cleaning and rearranging everything. Maybe later. For now, we're just enjoying a house that seems not only larger, but cooler and brighter as well. And the best part - the shower looks fantastic and it doesn't leak!

Now we're actually thinking of putting in a suspended ceiling in both of our workshops downstairs. That might brighten up both of those rooms as well. I tell ya, these things seem to just never end.

But, this would be a whole new project, not just a change order.

John's still going to say "No problem."


JRinSC said...

Good job on a marathon post!!


Dave Rider said...

Hi Julian,

Thanks. It felt like it too. I debated whether to break it up into several posts, but towards the end, all I wanted was to kick it out the door, which is what I opted for.


Unknown said...

Loved the post! I just spent 20 minutes of my busy day looking at all the pictures and reading it. I got lost day dreaming about being back in Belize again. I will make sure I ask for a tour the next time I'm down and Earl and I come over for your Friday pool party.


Dave Rider said...

Hi Alan,

I'm glad you liked the post. Hope you didn't get in any trouble.
We'll be looking forward to you coming.