Monthly Archives: February 2013

#3 Bathroom reveal

IMG_1746I was poking around on a DIY budget/crafty remodly blog and they used the word ‘reveal’ for their posts on finished project rooms – so maybe that’s a thing. I’ll roll with it. I am almost finished with the bathroom in my unit, so I’ll post all these pictures before I forget! I don’t have many before pictures. There was old vinyl flooring with wear and stains and cracks. There was a big, high flush toilet that was so old the porcelain in the bowl was pitted and permanently stained and smelly. There was hideous old oak towel racks and vanity – I don’t know why but I hate 1980’s style cheap oak furnishings. And brass hardware – I hate this too. Well, hate is a strong word, I prefer silver tones to gold tones. There was a leaky tub faucet, that had been reseated and re-gasketed and began leaking again. There was a ripped up vinyl bath surround. There was moldy drywall. There was an old tub with wear and sitting very slanted. My goal was to spend a pittance, re-use or find used everything I could, and make the space as durable and energy efficient as possible. A materials list will follow the photo essay.

Well over TWO YEARS AGO I ripped out the tub surround and drywall and took out the old tub faucet and installed shut off valves. Then my boyfriend took out my shut off valves and installed better ones. After a few months of no baths, he also installed the new faucet I had bought. I can install faucets, really, I was just being really slow about getting to it! Then I ripped out the drop ceiling over the tub and insulated heat pipes and framed in with 2x2s and some scrap 2×4’s and installed cement board all around the tub. Slowly, over a few months or so, working in small chunks of time, I tiled the bath surround:

Then grouting – in progress in this photo. I did a few small mosaics with broken bowls and plates I had been saving up, and I’m happy with them but they probably were a bit more trouble than they were worth!

In the shower head wall I also framed in and tiled a recessed set of shelves for shampoo and such and left an opening for a stack of glass block, since the tub area was quite dark (you can almost make out the old flooring, toilet, etc in the background):

Here is that same view today – new toilet, some trim painted white, glass block installed, tiled floor (I’ll get to those improvements):

And here is a slightly closer view of that wall – the line of mosaic here is to take your mind off the fact that I did not replace or level the tub. I wish I’d leveled it at least. It seems stable but quite tilted. I didn’t want to mess up the drains, but the over flow drain at least does seem, on reflection, to be off such that leveling the tub may actually have helped it lined up. In any case, nothing is leaking, and it doesn’t seem to be settling any more, so I’ll live with it. or the next tenants will. the porcelain is old and stained a bit in the bottom and chipped, so maybe it’ll get resurfaced someday:

The next step was tiling the floor and replacing floor trim, which I first stained ‘bombay mahogany’ with stain a friend had passed on to me:

My big splurge was a super low flush/dual flush toilet with a sink on the tank, so you can use the clean refill water to wash your hands. It was over $700. I’m crazy! You can retrofit a tank to have a sink on top (I’ve seen a great instruct able), but I was time poor and also was convinced by a friend that I wanted to shell out for a Caroma brand toilet because they don’t clog. I’m all for low maintenance:

I had to buy the seat separately – I couldn’t find an elongated used one (just round), so I bought a new wooden (though white painted) cheap one. I like it. I hate the cheap plastic flimsy seats that came with my cheaper low-flush toilets:

I also used the stain I was given on the old vanity, towel and toilet paper racks. I’m happy with the result. I thought of getting updated handles for the vanity but decided I was sick of using up the earth’s resources for my vanity (hah! get it!), so I kept the originals and stained them too:

I tried to use a hand-me-down faucet that matched the new one in the tub pretty well:

…but it leaked when I put on my super-low-flow aerator, so I got a faucet from the thrift store that worked. I love the porcelain handles, not so much a fan of the slightly tarnished brass body, but oh well. I tried to polish the brass (and it is real brass, not plated), but it must be lacquered and I don’t feel like trying to remove that:

That’s about it! I put a fresh coat of white paint on the walls, drop ceiling grid, some trim and the door that had been bad-looking wood. Stuart approves anyway:

I still need to add a panasonic whisper wall fan on a humidity sensor switch and some more trim (around the outside of the glass block, etc), and replace the light fixture on the ceiling with one I bought. Mostly it is done though, and it is very functional!

Materials used (that weren’t already there):
Habitat for Humanity ReStore tile on walls and floor (maybe $50?)
New cement board (another $50 or so??)
Caroma dual flush toilet with sink – ~$700 – – 0.8 gallons pee flush, 1.28 gallons per poop flush
Stain – free from a friend
Poly coat – 2nd hand from ReStore – $1
white paint from ReStore – $5
Sink faucet from Bishops Attic – $3.50 – with aerator uses 0.5 gpm
New bath faucet/ shut offs etc – <$100 (already had the low flow shower head – 1.5 gpm)
thinset and grout and some floor leveling compound – cheap from ReStore
Wax rings and toilet seat – new from Lowes – <$20
Glass block and new ceiling light fixture from ReStore (~$15??)
Also given to me used – some green glass tile and the curved shower curtain bar


State of the Ecoplex


I am feeling good about things lately – maybe because my bathroom is finally (after over 2 years) not in a state of major construction. I feel like I have come far and have all the time in the world to accomplish all the things on my mental to do list. And I feel happy and comfortable in my life and where I am. The daylight must be returning (5 extra minutes a day!)

Currently, my dad is renting one of my upstairs efficiencies – which is wonderful! It is so good to have beloved family under the roof. The other efficiency has a wonderful new tenant, and because of this the chicken coop has three new hens! The downstairs 2 bedroom is about to turn over. The incoming tenant there is also lovely, and will be house hunting which allows me to hurry up and finish cosmetic upgrades to the main floor two bedroom. That will allow my son and I to rent it out and move downstairs (where the guts of the building are – water shut-off, heater, pumps, etc – really should be the landlord’s unit!).

So what’s been accomplished since purchase of the ecoplex in October 2008? Much of this is a repetitive list for those of us who have followed along, but I’m a western, goal oriented person and I like to bask in the glow of goals checked off. Here we go:
-New, efficient indirect hot water heater to replace two old (end of life) gas ones
-4 inches of blue board foam insulation around entire outside of building including 4 feet below the ground around basement: stuccoed on basement, resided with fiber-cement board lap siding above
-some new triple pane windows
-3 out of 4 toilets replaced with low flush ones (and the last one purchased and awaiting installation)
commercial washer replaced at end of life with energy star model, and set up to charge by water temperature – a pittance for cold water, exorbitant for hot
-commercial dryer replaced at end of life with one that can charge by time (to encourage less drying, more hanging to dry hopefully – sign prompts at point of pay also used to discourage dryer use)
-low flow faucet aerators and shower heads
-fixed/replaced faulty zone valves on the heating system
-4 out of 5 thermostats replaced with programmables (and the 5th sitting there waiting to be installed – but it is a bedroom zone that gets set back manually pretty regularly)
-2 really ugly and in poor repair bathrooms remodeled with Habitat for Humanity ReStore tile, new non-leaky faucets, ReStore paint, and lots of upgrading and reuse of current or ReStore fixtures and trim etc.
cork flooring replacing bad, worn carpet in one apartment
-more insulation in attic and some air sealing – more needed, but correctly air sealed around boiler chimney.
-one dishwasher replaced with energy star model. The only other dishwasher in the building has conked out and currently not been replaced.
-lots of trees planted, garden beds made, soil improved, lawns mulched over, parking areas encroached upon and eaten away, compost bins added
-lot next door purchased to fulfill dream of someday having community garden project
insulated chicken coop built in existing shed, chickens and ducks added
bees attempted – deemed too fidgety for Alaska and my laissez faire attitude to animal husbandry. Lots of bees wax and pollen accumulated though
-2 out of four fridges replaced with energy star models. One tested and already fairly efficient. One left to go!
-Insulation added behind drop ceilings between units for better thermal and auditory separation
-many heat and hot water pipes wrapped in pipe insulation
-all bulbs replaced with energy efficient bulbs, outdoor light replaced with photosensitive fixture, fluorescent tube fixtures in basement, kitchens, and entry replaced with single-bulb fixtures with LED bulb (from 80 to 11 watts – some loss of light, but still plenty for the small rooms these were in)
-Lots of other minor repairs, air sealings, leaks fixed, etc
Recycling provided (Curbside service and self-hauling of some things)

Utility use depends a lot on tenant numbers, habits, etc, but generally gas use is down about 40% from the beginning, electricity around 50%, water a bit trickier to tell – very dependent on number of tenants and bathing, garden watering and other habits.

I have recently discovered I still have some very low hanging fruit in the efficiency department – part of the north side of my salt-box roof has no insulation (just kraft paper and foil – guess it’s supposed to be a radiant barrier – those wacky 1960’s builders!) and I still haven’t managed to seal a massive cold air leak at the basement rim joist where the porch attaches (even though I sprayfoamed well where I thought it was). So some air sealing and insulating that should have a great payback. Other big projects I dream of involve insulating the back shed (which recently got a south facing window), finally adding bike parking and a small greenhouse, and taking out the small, single pane northfacing windows in the basement apartment and earth-berming that north side of the above-ground basement wall.

Efficient commercial washer and dryer

My building’s coin op washing machine gave out this winter, and boy was I excited! This was an old, inefficient top loader that made lots of noise, easily got out of balance, and barely charged enough to really cover my costs. I wanted a few things out of a new washing machine. I wanted it very water and energy efficient – that goes without saying. I also dreamed of being able to charge by water temperature, but wasn’t sure that was possible. If I could charge by water temperature those of us who use cold get rewarded financially, and there would be a disincentive to use hot water to wash. But it would still be an option for those who need, or feel they need hot water. Searching out the most efficient options, I found that not only does DOEs Energystar have a spreadsheet of the most energy efficient washers and their specs, but also the Consortium of Energy Efficiency (CEE) rates the most efficient washers in tiers, with the most efficient in tier 3. One tier 3 washer was a Maytag commercial machine, and I’d already had a good experience buying a commercial dryer from my local maytag salesman. Then I found out I could charge by water temperature with this machine! (and time of day, etc if I was so inclined). Sold!