Jan 302018
 

We fell in love with the idea of making a floor out of pennies while planning our renovation. This week, I have been laying the pennies on the floor.

Like many things we planned, it feels good to finally be following through.

There are many videos and blogs about doing this and I’d like to share how we did it in detail, but today I’m going to give you a quick overview.

Preparation

The floor in question is the floor of the new bathroom on the top floor. Just like the master bath downstairs, I embedded water heating pipes in a concrete and sand mixture, coated that with a thin layer of “thin-set” mortar and painted on the Red Guard water-proofing membrane. The result of these steps will be a heated and waterproof copper floor which will be warm to the feet.

 

I was not near done.

Our neighbour Ron lent me his tile-saw while he was away and I laid tile up the shower wall, behind the toilet, under the sink cabinet and in a border around the perimeter of the floor. I bought this tile at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. It has subtle veins of copper that will compliment the pennies. I’ll share more details about installing the shower and fixtures another time.

 

Ron looked at my tiling job and said, “Nice job!” and I nearly fell over.

Then Ron pointed out the challenge of laying pennies inside the perimeter I had created. Pennies are not nearly as thick as the tile, so I would have to raise the level of the floor to a penny-thickness below the level of the tile. Then I would have to make a perfectly level surface to lay the pennies on.

Suffice to say, with his suggestions and using thin-set concrete, I more-or-less accomplished that. I can feel a slight wave or two, but the clear surface I will lay on top of the pennies should level that out.

I started laying pennies about a week ago, but haven’t been able to work on it every day. So far I have worked about 8 hours just laying pennies.

Our approach

There are different approaches to this task and we decided on the following:

-washing, but not polishing or attempting to brighten the pennies. I haven’t seen a method of “restoring” pennies that didn’t seem to change the colour or shine of the penny to something not entirely natural. Part of the appeal of a penny floor to me is the story that each coin brings. Each one tells of its journey, but together they make something beautiful.

 

-we radiated the pattern out from the center of the space. Leanne chose special pennies with significant dates to lay in the center.

-Leanne settled on a diamond pattern. On the floor, I have laid the diamond points to indicate the points of the compass and remind us we are standing on a globe and orient us in the world. I drew a wide cross on the floor in pencil to guide me.

-I used a small drop of silicone sealant on each penny to stick it down. It will only have to hold the pennies in position until the floor is sealed.

-It is just as time-consuming as everyone said.

Working Fast

As I did with certain other moments in the construction, I set up my iPhone with a time-lapse app called iMotion taking a photo every 5 seconds. (By that measure, I spent 4 hours laying pennies on Sunday!)

Here is the mercifully-short two-minute version of the time-lapse showing where I am as of tonight. I had some fun speeding it up and slowing it down when the cat came in the room, etc. Enjoy!

What’s next?

After I finish laying the pennies, it will be time to grout. I will push the same colour grout that I used between the tiles into the spaces between the pennies. After that, I must choose a clear surface coating. I’m considering an epoxy or a “Marine-grade gel coat“. Any suggestions?

 

Jan 202018
 

It’s a daunting task sifting through the photographic story of our daunting renovation. So let me bring you up to date with a snapshot of “the utility room” as it is at present.

Mountains of debris and materials surround the incomplete but functioning heating apparatus in the basement. The new steel beams stretch above and a Christmas tree of red heating pipes radiate from behind the old electric water heater which is currently keeping the house warm (with the occasional help from our as-yet still in-use wood-burning insert in the upstairs fireplace.)

November 13, 2017

The red pipes are stapled to the ceiling and, when filled with hot water, warm the main floor of the house. I’m not recommending this in most cases but in ours it worked. If you already have a system of hot air ducts and you want to go more efficient and stop burning fossil fuels, you’ll probably end up with a heat-pump of some kind and an air-handler (fan). Much easier.

This is called underfloor heat

The other water tank (to the right) is a new one and it supplies all our domestic hot water (DHW). It is designed to work with a solar hot water system so only the top half is electric. Without the solar system installed yet, it works hard and is unable to fill our large bathtub in one go (I talk about our bathing hardships in this post).

Between the tanks is a utility sink which is not hooked up yet.

In the foreground is various detritus from all the various sub-projects involved in a big renovation. It includes a stack of beautiful custom-made window-sills crafted by Ron’s friend Andy and a classic, incredibly heavy table saw which I bought from a friendly neighbour to replace my much newer one which we burned out and is, apparently, irreparable.

I have to thank Richard at MeadowRidge Plumbing and Gas again. He supplied all the pipe and let me borrow his special stapler to attach the pipes to the ceiling. His team designed and installed the Christmas tree, did all the connecting and made sure everything worked. I’ll be singing their praises again on this blog.

The big missing piece to this system is the solar storage tank. We haven’t worked out the details, but I’m expecting a fairly large tank on the left of the above photo. We were given two hydronic (hot water) solar panels and, dammit, we intend to use them.

With photo-voltaic (electricity-generating) solar panels dropping in cost so quickly, the most common advice now is to install those and use the electricity to heat your water and do everything else, too. Dave the father-in-law likes to remind people that electric water heaters are 100% efficient–meaning all the electrical energy goes into the water–unlike gas or oil ones.

Hydronic panels don’t need direct sunlight like PV panels do, but they have other drawbacks like heating too much water when you don’t need it. That’s why I’m imagining a large storage tank, but it’s also our plan to sink that heat into the basement floor concrete which is why we ran water pipes through the large basement slab. That concrete slab can accept and store a lot of heat during the day and release it through the night.

Pipes in the slab

So, unfortunately as it stands, our electricity bill is pretty high since we are heating everything with two electric water heaters. We must accept this as short-term pain at this point in our journey. With higher incomes, we could install all the bells and whistles at once and show you the finished product like some HGTV show, but we can’t.

We can’t because for the first time in years, we can’t pay off our credit card every month. It’s a scary place to be. We don’t have the capital to move the project faster, and from what I hear on CBC, neither do most Canadians. If Canada is going to reduce energy consumption as we have committed to do, aren’t we going to have to change this situation?

I have a few ideas about that, but I’m going to have to find the time between work, kids and renovations to share them. Thanks for reading and supporting Hammond Forever House!

James

PS: if you’re curious about what the basement looked like before:

May 21, 2015

 

August 5, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may also enjoy the posts about clearing out the basement and getting the basement ready for lift-off.

Jan 142018
 

I’m so excited about my new (used) computer and ability to shoot a video and share it immediately that I took my clothes off!

The bathing room January 14th, 2018

To give us a conditional occupancy permit just before Christmas 2016, the City of Maple Ridge required us to have somewhere to bathe. We installed the Master Bath, but not the Master Shower. They inspected the shower pan to make sure it was water proof and I assisted our Master-mason neighbour, Ron, installed the floor tile.

The bathing area has not changed much since then. No shower. Red walls (sealed with Red Guard roll-on sealant). No curtain or barrier between the bathing area and the rest of the bathroom.

How can we possibly live?

This is a video Leanne shot with me last night to answer that question. In it we talk about the where we are, how we got there and where we’re going with the bathroom. I also demonstrate how we bathed when we lived in Japan and how that colours how we bathe now. You can tell I’ve forgotten how to talk publicly at the beginning of the video because I can’t seem to finish a sentence.

**WARNING!!! The following video contains middle-aged semi-nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.**

After we moved into this house in 2007, we updated the kitchen and bedrooms. The bathroom then became the focus of our discussions. It was the reason we started looking at a more ambitious renovation.

It was in this room, when it looked like this:that Leanne inspired me to dream bigger. We were talking about what changes we would like to make while standing between the old sink and the old bathtub.

I said something like, “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a Japanese-style bathroom where you can get the floor wet, bathe outside the tub and then have a nice soak in clean water?”

Leanne said something like, “Why can’t we?”

I said, “Wha-huh? Whaddaya mean?”

“There is no reason we can’t have the bathroom we want.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that conversation led us to ask Annabel the Architect to draw the generous bathing space we have today.

Even though it is not finished, I remind myself every day that we have achieved that dream.

Credits and Thank-yous for the bathroom:

Ron the awesome neighbour for donating his time and expertise. He taught me how to use his tile saw, advised me on everything from framing the tub surround structure to how to create a slope for the shower drain and how to mix sand and cement to pour over the heating pipes in the floor. He lent me his big tub o’ Red Guard, tools, and so much more.

Pro-fix Drywall for putting the drywall and Densshield boards up, mudding, taping and priming the whole room. Great job!

Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas for all the plumbing.

Splashes Bath & Kitchen Center who supplied the shower fixtures.

-Ron’s friend Andy who custom-made the new window sills for all the new windows in the house.

-Our neighbour Sue who supplied tonnes of storage advice as well as furnishings like the shelving unit in the bathroom.

Craigslist for helping me find the toilet, sinks, taps and the dresser I turned into a bathroom counter.

-Our friends who gave us their old bath tub.

-Leanne for giving me inspiration and partnering with me on this crazy journey.

Renovating a home is not easy, but by telling our story, I hope it becomes easier for you.

Sep 172017
 

I know I promised more frequent, less in-depth posts so here is a cat on a post (in a post).

Odette is about 6 years old now and she is probably wondering what she did to deserve the new kitten which we have quarantined in the bathroom. They haven’t officially met, but we are now a two-cat household and she knows it.

So how is the house? Well, I’d like to tell you all about it but the photos and video are still stuck on the camera until I find time to clear the memory of Leanne’s computer. My old MacBook from 2007 is not only full, but also too old to update with current software.

Not to fret; this picture, uploaded from my venerable iPhone 4, tells a thousand words.

Odette is sitting on a post I just bolted to the reconstructed front porch. That post came out of the basement and used to hold the house up. Now I’m using it to anchor the porch posts that I’m about to replace.

Behind the post, lying on the porch, is the old railing attached to the shell of the old post. I’m going to insert the new post into that shell.

Here’s what the porch used to look like:

That’s what I’m trying to reproduce. Wish me luck!

PS. If you look closely in Odette’s photo you can see the complex layers I added on the porch to achieve the original tongue-in-groove top surface but still meet modern standards for a porch which covers a living space.

The “living space” under the porch is a root cellar but it still requires a proper water-proof vented roof. That bottom black layer is a “torch-on” roof surface. The blue blocks are 1″ thick XPS styrofoam to ensure I don’t nail into the roof from above. (More about styrofoam here.) Next is a layer of 1X4 “sleepers” onto which I nailed the tongue-in-groove fir flooring. The final surface is “floating” to a large extent, which is why I want to anchor it with these posts.

All this, by the way, I learned from Ryan at HW Construction. Thank you Ryan!

Seriously, that fir flooring is beautiful. It cost about $900 from Standard Building Supplies. Most people wouldn’t put it on a porch, but that’s what Leanne’s grandfather, Carl, did, so that’s what we did. We swallowed hard at the price tag, but I try to remember how much we’re saving by doing the work ourselves. That only helps until the credit card is maxed out, though.

Incidentally, the three houses across the street have the same flooring on their porches, too–it’s just older. You can see one of those houses in the reflection on the storm door.

 

Feb 212017
 

When I finally have time to clear Leanne’s computer enough to download all the photos and videos I’ve been taking for the last six months, half of the posts are going to be gratitude posts.

There are so many individuals, companies and tradespeople who have been so generous with their time, labour and expertise that it is overwhelming, but I want to do them justice and give each of them a gorgeous, sloppy thank you post full of photos and video of their awesomeness.

While we wait for that day to arrive, here is a short time-lapse video that I took on my iPhone.

That is the brand new Master Bathroom and I am stapling down radiant heating pipes to the subfloor. The space on the right side with no pipe is where the bathroom vanity and sinks are now. We don’t need heat there. At the bottom of the screen is the border where the floor starts to slope down toward the shower drain.

The next step was to cover the pipes with sand mixed with cement and then tile it.

The result is a heavenly warm floor underfoot in the bathroom. The thermostat calls for heat, and hot water circulates through the pipes. The concrete and tile serves as a thermal mass, spreading the heat out evenly and retaining it for hours.

These days, if you can’t find the cat, she is probably lolling on this floor like a rug.

On the topic of gratitude, there is a lot to pack into this 17-second video.

Thank you to Richard of Meadow Ridge Plumbing and Gas who let me borrow his modified nail-gun, supplied the radiant pipe and staples and taught me what to do. He and his company have done all our plumbing and heating, but also helped us save money by showing us how to do some of the most tedious tasks ourselves.

Thank you also to Ron, our neighbour and tile expert. He convinced me to put the pipes into the floor, (“I can’t see why you wouldn’t”) and we are so glad we did. He also helped us with the next steps, including installing the beautiful tile floor.

There will be more sloppy blog kisses for Ron and Richard in the future.

Thank you to everyone else who has pitched in, too! You are not forgotten. Do not worry. You will get your kisses.

Jan 272017
 

There’s also a very different feeling when you know you’re near the end of your credit to when you reach the end of your credit.

It’s a constricting feeling. When you cook at home instead of ordering in you feel less proud about your penny-pinching and more bitter that you don’t have a choice.

We budgeted our renovation based on what we thought was a fixed quote from our first contractor. That didn’t turn out so well.

On the positive side, there’s nothing like running out of money to make you look under the furniture for lost change. Our financial squeeze reminded us that our credit card rewards program lets you use points toward paying down debt. We took a look and it turned out we could use our points to pay $1090 towards our credit card!

Woo-hoo! (As you know, carrying a balance on your credit card at 19.5% interest is no fun at all.)

We’ve still got a balance and we’ve had to make arrangements to pay for plumbing and electrical work by installments, but it’s little boosts like Credit Card Rewards that can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.