Shangri La

Shangri La

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sanding the drywall: slightly better than insulation, worse than everything else

LSW here.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. During our last trip to Shangri-La, we were hell-bent on getting some serious work done. As you can read in the previous post, we met that goal. Let me tell you about it from my perspective.
My first task of the weekend was to sand the rest of the drywall. Physically, this is an easy job. All it takes is some elbow grease and the Vermonster’s specially-made mesh-nailed-to-a-wooden block tool. However, it is also the filthiest, nastiest, nails-on-a-chalkboard kind of job. You sand and sand and fine, powdery dust magically starts to cover everything, including your lungs and your eyeballs. About ten minutes into the action I donned a face mask and sunglasses which helped, but also creates a nice sweat barrier when you’re working. So then you’re sweating and being covered in carcinogenic pixie dust. To make matters worse, the Vermonster is a perfectionist when it comes to this sort of thing whereas I’m more of a “We’ll just stick a cabinet over that seam” type of gal. It’s just not a fun job.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, was more tile work. Of all the jobs I’ve done on the cabin (and admittedly, that’s only a fraction of what the Vermonster has done), I find tiling to be the most satisfying. More specifically, I find grouting to be very calming in a Zen kind of way. Once you get the rhythm done—fill, scrape, wipe, fill, scrape, wipe—you can imagine Mr. Miagi standing there saying, “Wax on, wax off, grasshopper.”
The downside to it all, however, is that you have to stay bent over on your knees all day long. Now that’s fine if you’re 25 years old, but I am not. It all goes to hell after you turn 40. I’m prone to sciatica and I have disc issues in my lower back. I couldn’t stretch out by the end of the day and, of course, we’re sleeping on cots which didn’t improve the situation. Lucky for me, I work at a spa during the week so I was hooked up. As soon as I got home, I passed out on a massage table and let my co-worker have his way with me. A couple of elbows on my pressure points and I was a new woman. Now I’m ready for the next wave of grouting. I’m just thrilled that the dry wall is done. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Twister in a Closet: The Tiling Continues

There’s nothing like the prospect of guests to force you to get your house (cabin) in order. Having completed the kitchen tile and a good chunk of the trim, the front tile was nagging at me: If I could get it laid prior to their arrival in late May, we could grout it the day before they arrived and have the place looking less constructiony and more cabiny. It’s futile to be ‘house proud’ while you’re still building, but there you have it. Adding to the ‘work in progress’ ambiance were the mounds of dirt thrown up by the winter plowing that needed to be raked down and re-seeded.

And so it was that I found myself back in Shangri-la solo on a sunny and temperate mid-May Friday for what I thought would be just a few hours of work. You know how that goes.
Pulling in, I was pleased to find that Ivor Stevens – who does our mowing and plowing – had already taken care of the dirt mounts and mowed for the first time. Next winter we’ll minimize the damage by marking the driveway better and limiting how much plowed. We only need space enough for one car, after all – winter guests are unlikely until we either expand the place or build a heated guest cottage.
The tile work, however, was rough. Unlike the kitchen – which was basically a rectangle, required minimal tile cutting (due to careful selection of accents) and had an entry at both ends – the entry space was such that the first tile had to be laid furthest from the walls and closet. This means that I basically had to work from the most accessible location to the least, struggling not to:
  • Move freshly laid tile while standing on them
  • Drop mastic on the same while prepping new sections
  • Contort myself into impossible positions to complete the work in the entry alcove and closet 
Imagine playing twister in a small closet. Sux. And my leg muscles were sore for the next two days as a reminder. And to make matters worse, I realized when nearly done that I had used the wrong trowel for both the entry and the kitchen – laying enough mastic for 6” and smaller tiles rather than 6” – 12”. Big or small oops? We’ll see, I suppose.
In the end, what I thought would be a 3 hour job took almost 6 (“twice as long and 3 times as much”), and I was on the road before 6. Should have stayed overnight and enjoyed a beer and burger at the Saxtons River Inn.
A couple of other quick notes:
  • I remembered to turn on the water properly this time – first the well pump, and then the water heater after the tank was full. I left the water on figuring the freezing was over; I was proved wrong 3 days later, but I suspect 2 nights of 30-degrees between two days in the low 60s won’t prove a problem.
  • The knob on my hose bib turns, but no water comes out – what gives? It’s not like this is a complex piece of machinery. I’ll have to fix it for our guests, as they’ll be using a hose connection for the pop-up we’re renting.
  • In the end I was able to return 4 boxes of tile and recover about $100. I left 1 box of each type in the crawlspace, just in case any of them are damaged in the future.
 Next up: Hardwood floors, guests, food, beer and campfires!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Price of Hot Water

The 2013 'first weekend' in April had a modest goal: Install the Kitchen Tile and get the trimwork around the bathroom door so our guests in May could feel they had a modicum of privacy. We arrived on Saturday to find our friends up the street were in for the weekend and so promptly got together for a walk up the trail. I'm sure the neighbors shook their heads in disbelief, knowing that the logging road we were heading toward is essentially a river during 'mud season'. We soon found this out, but somehow managed to navigate half way up the mountain before finally admitting defeat. The boy stayed to play with their kids all afternoon and we met up again later for homemade pizza, wine and conversation. Very nice.

Sunday morning we set to work, deciding that we should finish sanding and priming before starting the tile work. We hung a drop cloth to keep the dust at bay and the LSW gamely set to work. Miserable job, that is, and the place was back to looking like a construction site. While she was at it, I began framing the windows in primed 1x4 joined by pocket screws. After a couple of false starts, I had it down to a system, and all of the windows were trimmed out by the end of the day.

Halfway through the day, however, I noticed that we didn't seem to have any hot water. Huh. After checking that none of the wiring was loose, we had a decision to make: Call an electrician and take the double time hit for a Sunday call, take very cold showers and deal with it during work hours Monday, or call it a weekend and go home. Most people would have chosen one of the latter options, but I wasn't about to give up either my hot shower after a hard day of work or my 4-day weekend. Two weeks later I received a bill for $275 for 1.5 hours of work. I should have gone with the cold shower.

The fault, it turned out, was mine. When we were setting up, I turned on the well pump and the hot water heater at the same time. I recall wondering at the time if I should do that, but the water tank is small and I figured it would fill before the element had time to heat up. Wrong. Apparently, without water to draw the heat off, the elements burn themselves out almost immediately. Fill the tank first, moron, and then turn on the water heater - that's why you installed a separate switch for each, remember? The electrician was kind enough to show me the $10 tool I'd need to replace the next one myself and save $250, so now I'm packing extras...

On Monday we covered the 10'x10' kitchen in 1'x1' tile with 3 accent strips and decided to spend the afternoon geocaching in New Hampshire. On Tuesday, the LSW got to work grouting while I installed the bank moulding on the windows and finally trimmed the bathroom door. By noon we were taking notes on all of the supplies we were running low on and packing up.

A very productive weekend. I had expected to complete the tile work, but had no idea I'd be able to also complete all of the window trim. Nice to exceed expectations every once in a while. The next trip is solo in May - I'm hoping to get the entry tile in place in advance of the hardwood flooring weekend in late May...