Posts Tagged Plumbing

Great Porcelain Scrub, Part II

I’ve learned from the DIY host Nicole Curtis that sometimes old plumbing fixtures just need some tough love in the form of elbow grease and lots of scrubbing. I realized what she meant when it was time to either clean or scrap the old cast iron tub. So now it was onto the original kitchen sink that was still in the house.

What that really means, is I’m starting to actually transition from demo/messmaking mode into cleaning and putting away mode! I’ve set the move-in date for the end of November, which means I have an entire workshop of tools and such to move OUT of the house and then a total scrub down of every surface in every room! No, it won’t be the Taj Mahal, but at least it will be clean and I can then work on 1 room at a time – no more tearing out floors or demoing plaster walls.

So I started with the kitchen area. Tonight after work I went to town on the kitchen sink and window.

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The kitchen sink is the same to me as the bathtub – sure they are filthy and a few dings here and there, but they are original. They give the house that bit of character and charm that says old but loved. Sure there are a few blemishes, but so do all vintage pieces – and those imperfections make it perfect for this house and for the kitchen I have in my mind.

But an hour and some elbow grease and voila!

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It’s shiny and white again, thanks to a little Bar Keepers Friend and a well worn Scotch-Brite pad. Not a bad before & after! (Ignore the extra hole to the left of the faucet – I’ve got it plugged from underneath for now, but when I finally – or if I ever- get to the full kitchen renovation, that will be a great spot for either a faucet sprayer OR this handy air switch for a in-sink disposal!)

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To Tub & Toilet

So the grouting is finished & sealed, 2 applications on the floor and 1 application on the shower walls. Now when the grout gets wet, the water runs across it in little beads. According to the bottle, it must be reapplied in 6 months, but then should last 20 years…? Sounds funny to me, but I’ll do it their way.

A large step forward was connecting the tub faucet and then attaching the mixer plate & handle. Pretty straightforward, except when trying to get the tub faucet to point downward. After screwing the faucet on and off about 20 times (and going through about half a roll of teflon tape) I finally got it to point down. Apparently there is a rule of thumb that the threaded pipe sticking out of the wall should be a very specific distance off the finish wall. But where is the fun in after the fact? I nearly cut my palm twisting it so hard, getting it to the right position, but I got it!

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The mixer plate and handle were pretty straightforward. The plate already had a seal attached to the back, so I simply had to line it up level and screw into place.

Then I decided to install the toilet! (I am probably the only person who is excited when work is over, knowing I get to go home and install a toilet…)

First thing was to line up the toilet flange and mark the holes where I would need to pre-drill. Turns out the floor tile is hard as nails. Even with a masonry bit, drilling directly into the face of these little hexagons was next to impossible. The bit would smoke and eventually turn red hot at the tip – wasn’t working. Because these tiles will never be visible, I used a hammer and nail-set to punch a hole or crack the tiles where the screws needed to be – this worked much better. Then I could screw the flange tight to the finish floor. I used 2″ stainless steel screws, and they fit in the countersunk holes just right.

I actually found quite a bit of discussion on plumbing & construction forums about whether the toilet flange is supposed to be affixed atop of the finish floor (as I did) or if it was meant to be attached before the tile so it would be flush with the finish floor. It sounds like it depends on different areas of the US as to which method is more popular among licensed plumbers. And I’m pretty sure I’ve seen both examples when replacing different toilets, and neither have leaked. Who knows.

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Above the flange is screwed into place (it only required 4 screws, but I used 6 just to make sure – this toilet is going no-where!). I have set the toilet anchor bolts into place and the wax seal is to the left, upside down in the plastic liner. Trying not to get my hands too dirty, I flipped the wax seal into place and peeled the plastic liner away. Then it was time to carefully lower the toilet onto the wax ring, trying to line up the anchor bolts with the corresponding holes in the toilet base.

(It was right about this time I figured I should sweep up the sawdust from the toilet – it has been sitting in one of the bedrooms where I’ve got my miter saw set-up so it got a little dusty.)

IMG_2241 BI never know exactly how tight to bolt down the base. I typically tighten the bolts evenly, making sure the toilet has no play and doesn’t rock at all on the floor. When the metal washers start to bend, I figure that is tight enough. I’m always worried about cracking the porcelain – I hear it can happen if you over tighten.

Attaching the tank is pretty straightforward. Set the rubber gasket on the underneath of the tank, and lower the tank onto the base. This model had 3 bolts. I made sure to tighten them evenly until I felt the gasket was evenly compressed. If the tank looked off-level, I simply tighten the opposite side to adjust.

IMG_2245 BI used a metal hack saw to cut off the tops of the anchor bolts, and then snapped on the plastic bolt covers. A simple braided water supply line, voila! I have a both a working tub and toilet tonight!IMG_2251 B

I’m still readying the dresser before I can set the sink into place. I’m using marine varnish, and it requires 6 coats to have a thick and water durable finish on top.

So what’s left before this bathroom and be a bath-done?

  • install window
  • tile, grout, and seal grout around window
  • 2nd coat of paint on walls
  • crown molding around ceiling
  • build & paint medicine cabinet
  • install light fixtures
  • fit door to frame
  • install door & window molding

Ok, maybe I’m not as close as I thought to finishing…

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Going Tankless

As in, tankless water heater! The house originally had a tank water heater shoved in front of the electric panel in the very tiny utility room. I remember the back door would hit it when fully opened, and I don’t think I could even open the electric panel completely until the water heater was carried out. And that alone proved interesting – my brother-in-law leaned the top toward himself (it was completely drained), and I went to pick it up from the bottom. Light weight, yes, and then my hand broke through the tank just from carrying it because the metal was so rusted. That’s probably a big part of why the laundry room wood floor is so discolored and sunken along that wall. Basically, if I wanted a standard washer and dryer in this room, there was no space for a conventional water heater.

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I had already cleared the trash out when I took these before photos of the entire house, but you can see the rusted ring on the floor where the old tank sat. And leaked. Slowly. For a long time, or so the floor boards would say.

Well, not having a water heater isn’t such a big deal since I’m not living there yet. But once I got the plumbing finished and the kitchen sink hooked up, I was itching to get the tub cleaned and then also the leftover fridge which is pretty grimy inside and out. And technically I didn’t need hot water to do those things, but I wanted it. Cleaning is gross with cold water, but somehow not so gross when you have hot water.

After reading what must have been hundreds of online review of electric tankless water heaters, I decided upon the ecoSmart brand. The reviews were almost all positive from homeowners and even businesses that had purchased and used this brand. Any negative reviews were either customers who purchased too small of heating capacity for their home, or people who tried to do a DIY installation before reading the instruction manual and damaged the electrical during the install. (And then there were reviews where they had really bad grammar and couldn’t form whole sentences, which makes me think they also fall into the 2nd category. Word to the wise, if you sound like a backwoods redneck when writing a product review, any half intelligent person will probably disregard your comments as “operator error”.)

I decided upon the ecoSmart 27, which means 27 KW of heating capacity. It’s actually the largest residential unit they sell and should be more than adequate for my size of house with just 1 bathroom. But our winter this last year was record breaking cold and for weeks at a time, so I felt very comfortable steppin’ it up to the larger heater. As Tim -The Tool Man- Taylor would say, “More Power!”

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Here’s how the unit looks installed on the wall. I was able to order the water heater from my local Ace Hardware store (shop local is kind of my mantra – it goes with the job), and they had just 1 in stock at their warehouse. Ignore that the drywall isn’t finished on this wall, but I was in a hurry to get the water heater installed. It’s rather high on the wall, just about 2 feet below the 9′ ceiling. But because it’s opposite of a west-facing window, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be in direct sunlight and have that effect the multiple thermostats which control the heating elements. As the photo above shows, I used flexible copper water heater connections to transition into the wall, and then it transitions back into 3/4″ PEX. That was the round 2 decision.

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I first tried fancy PEX fittings to make the 90 degree bend out of the wall, and then a PEX to threaded connection to join to the water heater. The only problem was that the threaded PEX fitting didn’t have a rubber seal inside, and the small garden hose seals you can purchase wasn’t enough to keep it from leaking. So round 1 resulted in a very wet floor. And wet me. And wet Dennis – unable to connect the electrical, helped me decide that I needed to find another type of connection. He found it funny. At the time, I did not. But looking back, if that was the worst leak I ever have while I own this house then I’m not doing so bad after all.

The photo above also shows the water heater in “sleep mode.” It probably has a more technical name (off?), but the LED screen is blank when the unit is a rest. The screen doesn’t light up unless I adjust the temperature wheel or until I turn on a faucet to use the hot water.

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Then it’s lights on, displaying the hot water temperature setting. That’s why this unit is supposed to be such a dramatic difference in energy usage compared to a traditional tank water heater – it only uses electricity when I am actually using hot water. Unlike a tank, which uses electricity on and off constantly to keep the entire tank of water a consistent temperature. And even though it has a strong heating capacity, it knows how much water I am using and how cold the incoming water is, so it uses the minimum amount of electricity needed to reach a constant flowing hot temperature. I haven’t tested it with a thermometer yet, but I believe the numbers. 125 degrees feels normal to me for activities like washing dishes and showering. But for scrubbing the bathtub, I was filling gallon containers and pouring out a little at a time, so I had it turned up to 128 in the photo above.

To sum it up, use the correct parts and pieces when installing a water heater to avoid saying bad words and having a wet floor. And wet clothes. And wet electrician helper. It seems to be working great so far, the water is fast to heat up to full temperature, and it stays steady for as long as the water is running. I’m eager to see how it will do (and how much faster the electric meter will spin) when I have a shower head, washing machine, and kitchen sink all pulling hot water at one time. But I’m a little ways off yet from being able to test it that way.

The above product review is my own opinion, I am not being compensated in any way by the manufacturer or retailer to review this product, nor am I endorsing any manufacturer or retailer claims with this post. I simply want to give an honest review and state the facts of how I experience this product to work for me. Although I wouldn’t turn down compensation… but I would still be honest with my review 🙂

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