Thursday, November 6, 2014

Three New Johns (not my husband)

You know what are gross? Toilets. They just are. After living with the same toilets that were here when we bought our condo over two years ago, I finally gave in and decided they needed to be replaced. Let's back up a little, and I promise to keep the grossness to a minimum.


The day we got the keys to our house, the previous owner had a professional cleaning done. Unfortunately, neither that cleaning nor countless cleanings of my own ever made the toilets seem truly clean. They always had a funk to them. We tried replacing the wax ring to see if the issue was that there wasn't a proper seal, but that didn't do the trick either. So here we are, two years later, finally doing something about this problem. Don't judge me though--those babies were cleaned to the very best of my ability every single week.

I think the issue was that the little holes that allow water to come out and fill the bowl were in a tiny little crevice that I couldn't get to when I cleaned them. So, there was a portion of the toilet (and a pretty important portion at that) that never once got cleaned. Our condos were built in '99, so you can do the math. ick.

My number one criteria when choosing a new toilet was to make sure that every square inch of the exterior was actually reachable so I wouldn't have the same issue again. I ended up choosing a Penguin toilet from Lowe's based on its amazing reviews. Who thought toilets would have raving reviews?! What really sold me on this particular brand and model is that it has overflow protection which seemed like a nice bonus. The toilet has three holes near the top of the bowl that drain water should it rise to that level.



I actually bought one back in June for our master bathroom to make sure it was a good egg. When we were sure it was as amazing as the reviews made it sound, I bought two more in August. I never thought the day would come when I'd rave about a stupid toilet, but here I am. I love these dang toilets. So, shall we get started? No part of this process is hard, but you certainly need someone strong around to do the heavy lifting (read: my dad). That, and a lot of trash bags.

Toilets are gross. We've covered that already. To make sure the toilets didn't grossify my clean carpet, I taped trash bags to the floor all the way from the bathroom to the stairs. I would have done the stairs, too, if I hadn't been worried about slipping down them while carrying a 50lb piece of porcelain.


Step one was to turn off the water. In this particular bathroom (our guest bathroom), the shutoff valve behind the toilet was old and my dad said not to trust it, so I turned off the water to the whole house. When we did the half bathroom downstairs, we just turned it off at the wall because the valve was newer.

Please forgive the blurry pictures. It's not easy to simultaneously snap pictures of all of this nasty stuff while keeping your camera clean. After the water is off, we flushed the toilet which forced most of the water out of the tank and into the bowl. Some was left in the tank, so we took a sponge and some gloves (that I later threw away, of course) and sopped it all up. The tank is actually quite clean since all that's ever going in there is fresh water. There was some rust, but it's not as bad as the bowl. 


After all the water was out, we unscrewed the tank from the base and removed it. It went straight into a trash bag so it wouldn't drip as we walked it downstairs, so really the bags I taped to the floor were just backup.


Next we cut through the caulk that was sealing the base to the floor.  First we used an exacto knife and then hit it with a putty knife.


Before you look at the next picture, here's a happy disclaimer: it's not as gross as it looks. Yes, toilets are mega gross, but all the stuff you see is just wax from the wax ring, rust, and caulk, which are not gross. I'll show you a what a new wax ring looks like momentarily.


After scraping up the caulk and removing all the wax, this is what we were left with. Not so bad, right?


The next step was to get the new wax ring ready. I bought an extra-thick one because the reviewers on Lowes.com suggested it.


My dad carried the new toilet up and we flipped it over to place the ring.


We just centered it over the hole and give it a little squish. The wax is quite firm (almost as hard as a candle), so it didn't move much when we pressed on it.



I forgot to take pictures of the bolts, but they have a sort of ovular head that will sit inside the metal plate that's on the ground.


The orientation of the heads is important so they don't come out of the plate, so I marked on the bottom of the bolt (which really is the top once they're installed) with a sharpie to show me which way the head pointed. You can barley see my little marks on the bolt below. The little piece of plastic helped the bolt stay standing up while we lowered the base on top.


After we got the base lined up and the bolts through the holes, we screwed the nuts on and then pressed the toilet into place to seat it.


You want to make them pretty tight so it doesn't move, but not too tight or you'll crack the porcelain which would be, well, catastrophic.


I completely failed to get a picture of us re-installing the hose that connects the toilet to the wall, but you'll want to find one that's the proper size for your shut off valve and for your new toilet. We put some plumbing tape on the shut off valve before screwing the hose on to get the best seal possible.


Et voila! You'll notice that there's some toilet paper on the ground behind the toilet--that's so I'd be able to tell if there was a leak. Luckily, we were leak-free on all three and I've since removed the TP. After this, all that was left to do was to caulk the base to the floor which took about 2 minutes.


Wasn't that riveting?! Installing them ourselves took a little less than 2 hours per toilet and saved us $400-500 in labor, so I think it was well worth it. Plus, I don't think I'd trust anyone else to tackle it in such a sanitary way. Best of all, the new toilets are a breeze to clean. No tiny crevices.

So what do you think? Are you now inspired to replace one of the grosses parts of your home? I highly suggest it.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Rent House Revamp

Are you ready for some "after" pictures of the rent house? You're in luck! First, though, I want to announce some exciting news. Our wonderful tenants, let's call them The M's, are moving out. Why is this exciting? Well, after living in our rent house for a year and a half and experiencing the awesome community, The M's decided to buy a house in the neighborhood. I'm happy to report that they closed on their new home yesterday which is just a few streets away from our rent house! I was lucky enough to be their Realtor, and I'm thrilled that they're now "official" members of the 'hood! 

What this means for us: we're looking for new tenants. If you know someone looking for a home in north Austin and think this might be a good fit, give me a shout!

So, back to the rent house. In case you missed it, go back and check out my initial tour of the rent house. It features the... unique... paint choices the previous owners made, as well as a fun account of all 8 of the flooring types in the house. A couple of months ago, we did a mini kitchen makeover and nixed the purplish-brown laminate counters in favor of some fresh quartz ones. 

As I mentioned in the first tour post, the interior has been painted. More specifically, The M's moved in and said "holy bananas this place looks weird, please let us paint?!" Although they were a little more polite about it :) We excitedly said yes, and after meeting to go over paint choices, I was relieved that they had very neutral, modern taste. Other than the paint and the kitchen, everything is the same, yet the place feels totally different. It's always a fun reminder how much paint can freshen a place up--remember when we painted our condo?

Ok, enough typing... are you ready for some pictures? 

The front is more or less the same. I've always loved the tree--it feels so nicely placed and shades the whole yard.


Ahh, no more grellow walls!


As I mentioned in my previous post, The M's are using this side of the living room as their dining room, which I think works really nicely. That opens up the formal dining room to be used for something else--a playroom for kiddos, in their case, or an office/craft space. Our previous tenants used this spot as more of a sitting area.


I'm tempted to start every sentence with "ahhh," but I'm going to try and refrain and use some other vocabulary words. I know you've already seen the kitchen, but doesn't it look so much better now?


So fresh and bright!


The eat-in kitchen is also appreciating a neutral color on the walls.  


Hello, laundry room.


Here's the space that the previous tenants used as an office. I've always thought the painted concrete was a strange choice, but I think it goes much better with this wall color than it did with the grellow.


And here's the adjacent room, which our old tenants used as their dining room.


The master bedroom is downstairs, which I'm learning a lot of parents prefer. I'm still not totally sure why this is, but it works for us!


The floors in the bathroom feel a little less clashy now that the walls aren't a competing shade of green.


Remember this room? The one with navy blue doors and trim? Well, no longer!


The bathroom upstairs is also much quieter :)


And now for the room with green walls, yellow doors, and alternating yellow and white trim... muuuuch better. See how big this room is? That's four beds and things don't feel claustrophobic, and there's tons of floorspace to spare.


Lastly, the yard. I love that it's just so open and green. I know that a very typical expectation of a back yard, but this one makes me excited for whatever reason.


So! What do you think? Do you know someone who would enjoy living here? Send them my way!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mini Rent House Kitchen Makeover

My last post gave the grand tour of our rent house, and today I'd like to share with you a little kitchen makeover we did recently. Really, the most glorious part of this reno is that I hardly lifted a finger. I considered doing parts of it myself, but in the end it was a very good decision to have someone else do it (more on that later). We hired the job out to qualified professionals and am unbelievably thankful that everything went as planned! No delays, no material mix ups--every step of the way I found myself knocking on wood that things would continue to progress smoothly, and they did :) It was a miracle!

On the other hand, the day of the counter installation was a horrible, no good, very bad day, because my camera died a very sudden death and refused to take pictures, plus my phone imploded and deleted all of its content within about 15 minutes of each other. I took a lot of deep breaths, and also a lot of iPhone pictures, so please forgive the low-quality images. I was hanging onto my sanity by a thin strand, but it's all better now!

Let's remember where this kitchen started--purplish brown laminate counters that fed up the wall as the backsplash. Behind the stove was a sheet of white plastic, and a utensil holder that the current tenants never used and frankly seemed very odd to me. Not sure I'd ever want to lean over an open flame to grab a spoon? 



Before any of the demo go started, I had to choose our materials. This was a pretty hard process for me, because I had to constantly fight the urge to upgrade to something we didn't need. After all, this is just an income property, and not something that I (or the tenants) will have to live with forever, so getting a fancy edge on the counter wasn't worth the extra money.

For the counter, I chose a white quartz, and they came from Home Depot because they had the best prices, by far. It took me a couple of trips and an appointment to successfully connect with someone in their design department, but once I did everything went very smoothly. First, I gave them the rough measurements that I had taken myself, and then they sent someone out to template the space. Easy peasy.

The backsplash came from Kevin Lorino at The Tile Guy. I'm a huge fan of Kevin's, and I highly recommend his store if you ever need tile. They have a huge selection, but I think Kevin's knowledge of his inventory is what makes him stand out the most. I went into the store with an idea of what I was looking for and found a sample that I really liked. Unfortunately, it was about $20/sqft which is a lot more than I was looking to pay, and when I showed Kevin what I liked he actually apologized that something so expensive was out on the floor! Apparently someone had come in and requested that particular product, and that's the only reason it was out. He said he had something that looked exactly the same for less than half the cost, and went and grabbed the tile I ended up using. Sure enough, it was just as nice and was a much better price!


So, demo time. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't do much of anything myself, but I was in and out to oversee the process as a whole. Partially because I'm a control freak, and partially because I really, really love learning how all of these things work. I didn't know anything about how counters were removed or installed, and was eager to learn.

The counter guys requested that we move the stove, so our handyman took it out and also removed the plastic panel that was behind the stove. Unfortunately, it uncovered some pretty sad drywall work, so he had the added step of re-drywalling that area so the backsplash would have something to stick to.


Here's a better look...


In the end, the biggest reason I was thankful that I decided not to demo myself was when I saw how hard it was to get the laminate "backsplash" off the wall. It was installed with a huge amount of adhesive, so our handyman had to get it really hot with his heat gun. Even then, it was difficult to get off, and after watching him struggle with it I was glad I could just snap some pictures rather than burn my fingers!



After he got some pieces off, he started chiseling the corner to detach the backsplash portion from the counter portion.


It was a very sticky situation.


To get the counters off, first he pried off the decorative cap on the front of the counter.


Then it was just a matter of separating the counter top from the wood it was nailed to.


You'll see that the wood is actually just sitting on top of the counters. We debated removing it as well, but it provided some extra support (mainly on the other side of the kitchen from where this picture was taken) so we decided to leave it.


Woohoo, no more purplish brown!



Next up was the counter installation. As promised, the counter guys called me on their way to the house so I could meet them over there. They made pretty quick work of it, and really, it was very anti-climactic. They got the counters, put down some caulk, and laid them on. Not much to see or learn there.


On the other side, they cut a hole for the sink. The hardest part of their whole installation process was rigging a platform under the sink hole to "catch" the counter when they finished cutting it. 



See how pretty? Me lovey these counters.


Next up was the backsplash installation. Earlier I said I didn't lift a finger... well, that wasn't quite true. I carried all of the tile and grout in from my car, and holy cow that stuff is heavy! Don't laugh, but I was sore for days.


Laying the tile went pretty quickly, although longer than I would have guessed. All in all, it was probably a  6 hour process. 


Once the tile started going up, I was pleased to see that it had more blue undertones than I realized. I was worried about the kitchen being white on white on white, but didn't want the backsplash to have tons of color either. What we ended up with is perfect!


Before they grouted, I was feeling a little nervous because the glass tiles were reflecting light in a strange way and almost looked like they were glowing on the ends.



Once the grout went on, though, it took care of that problem!



Instant gratification is my favorite thing, so naturally I was a huge fan of the point where they start wiping off the excess grout--haze, I think they call it. The left side of the picture below has been wiped, the right side hasn't.


Helllloooooo pretty tile. How are you?


And now things are so much lighter and brighter! You'll notice that between the counters and the cabinets is a dark line--that's the wood we decided to leave that I mentioned earlier. These cabinets are due for a new coat of paint, and when that happens, that line will get painted and disappear.



How about a little side-by-side action?



Of course now the grout on the floor seems a little harsh, so painting that might be in my future. They sell "grout pens" which are a lot like paint pens, but are specifically made to re-color grout. I think a lighter tan/beige would make those floors look more seamless and less in yo face, but that's a project for later, especially since it's tedious and completely unnecessary.

Next time, I'll post some pictures of the rent house as a whole and you can see how far it's come since we bought it! Amazing what a fresh coat of paint will do, especially when you have navy doors and avocado-colored trim :)