Monthly Archives: March 2011

Drywall continued…

I like the drywall hanging, even on the ceiling, as long as I have a drywall lift. You put in a good day’s work and feel tired at the end. But you can look back and really see the dent you made.

For me it was time to take on the basement walls and make a dent there. Hanging the gypsum board on the walls didn’t involve a lot of heavy lifting because all of the sheets were cut down to fit to the framed wall portion.

The down side was that I had a lot of cutting and fitting to do. Unlike the ceiling, where the challenge was limited to fitting the drywall around the center columns, I had to work around all the windows, doors, wall lights and outlets on the walls. That did slow things down a little.

In a couple of places, the rockwool insulation bulged out from the wall framing which made the drywall hanging a little tricky. In those instances I needed help to keep the drywall pushed up against the framing while attaching it.

With the walls done, this garden unit really takes shape and begins to look like a living space. The best thing is that the space now got even lighter!


Drywall ceiling

Now that the resilient channels are installed there is little holding us back from putting up the drywall on the ceiling. Except that this kind of work has a bad reputation. Maybe it’s because few people like to lift and hold 5/8 inch Type X drywall sheets all day long.

Well, there is a solution called a drywall lift. I went to our local equipment rental place not far from where we live and was able to rent one for a reasonable price.

Once we figured out how the thing works, I very quickly began to love this piece of equipment. With the lift, one person could do the ceiling job, as long as that person is OK placing the sheets on the lift. If you asked me, it was worth the investment.

It gets even better. Not only did I have Cathy’s help but that of our friends Scott and Carlos. Together we were able to quickly make a real dent in our task list.

It is really interesting how the drywall begins to transform the space in the basement. This has been a very dark place for the past year we have been working down here. It got a little lighter since we put the insulation in. But the drywall got us to a whole new light level. I sort of have to get used to it.


Sound Solutions

Let’s step away from the bathroom and tiles. We still have some serious work in the living space that requires our attention. Let’s start with a look at the ceiling.

Our two insulation layers are in place, the open cell foam and the rock wool. Although these are insulation layers, insulating is not necessarily their primary purpose.

The three inches of open cell foam provide us with an airtight ceiling. Yes, this layer as well as the rock wool will slow down heat transfer, but the other function that we are really after is sound control between the first floor and basement.

Both products, the open cell foam and rock wool, have sound reducing properties. Reading through the product specs, I came across the term ‘Sound Transmission Class’ (STC).

I learned that STC measures the transmission of airborne sounds. I could not find any reference to the STC scale range, other than that the higher the STC, the greater the sound transmission reduction. The International Building Code of 2006 requires an STC of 50 between dwelling units.

The open cell foam, according to the product specs, should provide an STC of 37 in a 2 by 4 wall assembly. The rock wool offers an STC of 45 under the same conditions.

We don’t have either product in a 2 by 4 wall assembly, but rather in our ceiling, and I am not sure what their combined STC would be. What we did notice, though, was that we could no longer freely communicate through the ceiling.

“Even though a joist floor has a good IIC rating, footstep sound with a frequency of less than 100 Hz can still be annoying to the people below.”

Source: Controlling the Transmission of Impact Sound through Floors – National Research Council Canada

Yep! I can confirm that footsteps were still audible, because their sound originates through structure borne vibration, not airborne sound, and easily transmit through the floor joists. But what is that IIC rating thing? Well, structure borne vibration is not measured in STC but has its own metric called Impact Insulation Class (IIC).

“The higher the IIC, the better the attenuation of impact sound, with 50 usually considered the minimum rating for occupant satisfaction in residential buildings.”

Source: Controlling the Transmission of Impact Sound through Floors – National Research Council Canada

Even though I came across an interesting IIC ratings catalogue, I could not find a firm rating for our scenario.  I assume, through interpolation of the data, that we should be somewhere around IIC 50. However that would not take into account the three inches of open cell foam, but assume the use of a resilient channel.

resilient-channelThis is where I came across the resilient channel concept. It is basically a metal furring strip that allows us to decouple the drywall from the floor joists, and as such reduces the structure borne vibration transmission (i.e. the sound of footsteps).

We had to improvise a little to get the maximum decoupling effect. The use of a half inch insulation pad between the floor joist and channel and neoprene washer under the screw head should help with the reduction in vibration transmission from the joist to the channel. The closed cell foam tape at the bottom of the channel may further reduce transmission from the channel to the 5/8 inch drywall.

Boy, they were not kidding when they put the science into building science. How about leaving the brain behind and getting the brawn involved?

I don’t know what IIC rating our floor/ceiling assembly would yield. I assume that it will get us above the critical 50. And if we use runners on the first floor in the high traffic areas, we should be in great shape.

PS: Thanks to Drew for his help with the installation!


Finishing the bathroom tile

Cathy took on the grouting of the bathroom floor. We picked a grout that has a very similar color to the floor tile in the hope that it will hide any remaining irregularities in joint width.

It’s sort of obvious, but there are a lot of joints to grout with the small two inch tiles. That in turn requires extra attention to make sure that all joints are filled and packed with grout all the way. It doesn’t hurt to go back a couple of times and spread additional grout that may fill little nooks and crevices that one missed the first time round.

The last thing we want is to leave a little gateway for the water to get underneath the tile.

We let the grout dry and cure before moving on to the wall tile. The bigger 12 by 12 inch tiles make the installation pretty easy and speedy.

The disadvantage of the larger tile is that cutting around drains and water supply lines becomes cumbersome, but was still manageable. The cutting and fitting just slowed the process down quite a bit.

Looking at the finished wall tile installation, we opted for a darker grout color. While it was desirable to have grout and tile color similar on the floor, to mask the joint irregularities and take some of the busyness of the small tile away, we agreed that more distinct joints on the larger wall tile was preferred.

Based on my grouting experience in the laundry room, I proactively protected the floor from all the darker grout droppings. I knew that the grouting would be messy and was eager to prevent stains on the finished tile floor.

Despite my difficult start, we are very happy with the end result. We feel assured that we have done our due diligence with all the moisture management aspects, which should provide us with good long-term durability and indoor air quality (IAQ).

Finishing the bathroom floor and walls also got us a whole big step closer to actually moving in!


Trial first – to avoid the error

Those bathroom floor tiles instilled a lot of respect, and I would rather proceed very cautiously with the bathroom wall tile.

It would be nice if I could have a test run with some wall tile – like a mock up – where the result wouldn’t matter that much. It turns out that there is a good test location: the wall behind the utility sink and washing machine in the laundry room.

Here is anther little landfill diversion triumph: I had been able to get some leftover wall tile from another job, just enough for the laundry room project. This wall tile is different (smaller) than what we will use in the bathroom, but I still should be able to get a good handle on the installation process.

It turns out that square tiles are much easier to install than the hexagonal floor tile. I started a couple of rows up to make sure that the cut tile in this case is along the floor. The tile spacers are very handy indeed with the square wall tile and help to speed up the installation.

The other task that needed a test run, before moving on with the bathroom, was the grouting. I again used the laundry room as my trial location.

Grouting is a pretty messy job and requires quite a little bit of clean up. Like with the thinset mortar, the grout begins to cure pretty quickly in the bucket so it is a good idea to only mix small batches.

Compared to the bathroom floor, this was actually a positive experience. I now have the confidence to move back to the bathroom job.


Fixing the mess

Have you ever seen that British sitcom Fawlty Towers with John Cleese, where he has German guests and runs around telling everyone not to mention the war?

Well, why don’t we change that to: Don’t mention the tile!

I am back on the scene the day after my botched floor tiling attempt. Cathy joined me later in the day, takes one look and promptly begins to talk about the floor tile. Shoot!

She had her heart set on the tile from the moment we discovered it on Craigslist and had been looking forward to a beautiful bathroom floor. The irregular tile joints generated a very distinct impression of disappointment on her face.

You think we are both way too fussy and shouldn’t worry about it too much? It’s hard to accurately convey the visual effect of the uneven joints through a picture, but let me try anyway.


I had sort of given up and hoped the right color tile grout would hide the flaws. Cathy had none of it and went into “let’s fix this” mode. Fix this? Hey, I have no idea how, but be my guest.

Well, this wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time that she surprised me. Because the thinset mortar was barely cured, she was able to carefully pry up individual tiles alongside each flawed tile joint. She scraped some of the old thinset up, put new mortar down and reset the tiles, evening out the joint widths.

Her work made a big difference and before I knew it, the bathroom floor actually looked presentable. This is one of those moments where I messed up and she swoops in to fix it. And boy am I glad she did!


Messing with floor tile

With the bathroom floor tile in hand, we have a sense of urgency to get it installed. The waterproofing is in place and I even found a cheap, used and crooked tile saw at a pawn shop. It’s time to test my tiling skills.

I snapped my guide lines on the floor using a chalk line and made sure they were all square. Our waterproofing system required non-modified thinset mortar, which I began to mix in batches. The other helpful utensil that I wanted to have at hand were the tile spacers, which should help to keep a consistent joint width.

I had some concern that the hexagonal floor tile would make the floor look too busy. To counter that effect, we decided to put a band of three inch by 12 inch tile pieces around the perimeter. It acts basically as a frame around the hexagonal tiles. This part of the installation was pretty easy.

The hexagonal tile sheets, on the other hand, killed me. My first problem was that my mortar mix must have been too wet. Each time I put down a sheet of hex tiles, the mortar began to squirt out through the joints – and there are a lot of joints in one sheet.

I had to clean that mortar from the tile and out of the joints, to have room for the tile grout. All I can say is: tedious!

Once I got the mortar issue under control, I ran into an even bigger problem. The further I progressed into the room the more difficult it became to keep the hex sheets lined up – to keep a consistently sized joint between each sheet. And that despite the tile spacers!

Actually, the tile spacers may have been part of the problem. I eventually figured out that the joints between each tile in the sheet vary, only very slightly, but the variation compounds on itself.

Rather than using tile spacers, I should have rapidly laid two or three rows so that I had time to adjust while the mortar was still fresh. Instead, I fought a losing battle with ever broader joints the farther I got to the end.

I did not have a good day. As much as I liked the hexagonal tiles and the fact that we got them for cheap, they are a hot mess to install. I managed to convince myself that the tile grout may help to hide the discrepancy.


Story tiling

The clock is ticking. We want and need to move in, but first we have to have a finished bathroom and kitchen.

Little is holding us back from installing tile in the bathroom, after Cathy put up the waterproofing membrane. But we have to decide what kind of tile we want and figure out where we can get it.


While we were visiting friends in Germany and admiring their bathroom, we were advised not to use white tile on the floor, which would show most foot or paw prints right away. We both quickly agreed that we should use a light earth tone color.

To maximize the use of daylight through the two small bathroom windows, the wall tile should be something that would match the floor tile color and/or be of an even lighter tone.


Because our bathroom floor is contoured we would be best of using small tiles for the floor. They adjust best to the ridges and slopes of the floor without leaving awkward corners and edges.

I was ready to settle on a four by four inch tile size, but got stopped in my tracks by Cathy who made the point that two by two inch tiles would work much better. The tile size issue got sort of resolved by our goal to rely as much as possible on reused materials.


Our preferred resource, the ReBuilding Exchange, did not have any suitable tiles or anything in sufficient quantities. Our next best option was Craigslist.

Lo and behold, Cathy found an offer for two inch hexagonal tiles in a light earth tone color, in sufficient quantities, and for a good price. We drove out into the suburbs to take a look.

The seller of the tiles had planned to use them for his bathrooms, but then decided to go with 24 inch square tiles instead. He needed to unload the tiles and we were happy to take them.


We both liked the tile so much that we bought the whole lot. This way we have enough for all bathroom floors in the house, and our project budget gets a little breather.


Bathroom water proofing – walls

A couple of posts back, I talked about the need for moisture management in the bathroom and described the installation of the water proofing membrane on the bathroom floor. Since then, we installed the bathroom ceiling and put up the remaining cement board on the walls.

This means that Cathy can spring back into action and begin with the membrane installation on the walls. We used the same product as we used for the floor, but we were somewhat selective about where we installed it.

The walls most exposed to moisture are in the walk-in shower. These have to be protected by the membrane from floor to ceiling. Cathy extended the membrane by 18 inches beyond the actual shower stall to account for splash that may occur.

The other areas, although not quite as critical because they are only exposed to incidental water, are behind the claw foot tub (not shown in the time lapse), the toilet and bathroom lavatory.

The installation process was the same as for the floor, just on a vertical surface. It went very smoothly and swiftly because of Cathy’s experience gathered during the floor installation.

The membrane will protect us from the frequent as well as the incidental water. As such it will increase the long term durability of the building components and maintain good indoor air quality (IAQ).


Secret of a shower riser

Well, I can’t get to the secret without an introduction. It is all about low flow water fixtures.

While we were getting ready to sign up for the Chicago Green Homes Program, we decided that one of our Green Permit Menu Items is exceptional water management.

This menu item requires compliance with the USGBC LEED credit WEc 3.1. I quote from the credit:

Meet one or more of the following requirements by installing high efficiency (low-flow) fixtures of fittings. […]

  • The average flow rate for all lavatory faucets must be less or equal to 2.0 gpm.
  • The average flow rate for all showers must be less or equal to 2.0 gpm per stall.
  • The average flow rate for all toilets must be less or equal to 1.3 gpf OR
  • Toilets must be dual flush and meet the requirements of ASME A112.19.14 OR
  • Toilets must meet the U.S. EPA WaterSense specification and be certified and labeled accordingly.

These requirements are actually rather generous. We have to do much better than this, which is mandated though the plumbing code variance we received. That variance released us from upgrading our existing one inch water service line to one and a half inch, but we need to meet the following:

  1. 0.5 gpm lavatory faucets
  2. 1.5 gpm kitchen faucets
  3. 1.5 gpm shower heads
  4. 1.28/0.8 gpf dual flush water closet (averaging 0.9 gpf)

These mandates allow us to meet and exceed the LEED credit WEc 3.2, which is a notch more stringent than the above mentioned WEc 3.1. Again, I quote from the credit:

Meet one or more of the following requirements by installing very high efficiency fixtures or fittings. […]

  • The average flow rate for all lavatories must be less or equal to 1.5 gpm OR
  • Lavatory faucets must meet the U.S. EPA WaterSense specification and be certified and labeled accordingly.
  • The average flow rate for all showers must be less or equal to 1.75 gpm per stall.
  • The average flow rate for all toilets must be less or equal to 1.1 gpf

See also: LEED for Homes Rating System

Let’s focus on the showers, which can’t exceed 1.5 gpm. It’s not easy to find a shower head that meets this requirement and feels comfortable – meaning that it doesn’t just give you a pathetic trickle of water.

I eventually found a product that could work. It’s manufactured by Oxygenics and is called the ‘BodySpa SkinCare Showerhead’. (A shorter, snappier product name would do much better, don’t you think?).

I say ‘could work’ because the water output varies with the water pressure. This shower head would meet the 1.5 gpm requirement if the pressure won’t exceed 37 psi.

Could I swing this? To find out, I purchased the showerhead to try it out at our rental place, the HUB.

I was instantly impressed by the very nice and forceful stream of water, so much so that I did not want to believe it would be as little as 1.5 gpm. Well, it was pretty simple to find out. I ran a test with a stopwatch and bucket, and lo and behold, the output hovered around 1.5 gpm, which also confirmed that water pressure is a critical variable.

To get this to work, to get to my 1.5 gpm output, I need to control the variable, the water pressure. And we finally arrived at the secret of the shower riser!

I called Mariusz who stopped by with an adjustable pressure reducing valve. He installed the valve in the shower riser, shortly after the hot and cold water mixing valves. I set the dial to 30 psi, which should firmly put me in the 1.5 gpm range.

pressure-valve-01 pressure-valve-02

Another quick test with my stopwatch and bucket confirmed that everything is performing as it should.

The pressure reducing valve is a somewhat cumbersome and expensive solution. The valve is not cheap! There may be other simpler options that we could try.

Last November, on the GreenBuild tradeshow floor, I came across a new product from Niagara that has a built-in pressure compensator. That would eliminate the need for the pressure reducing valve and make the solution a whole lot simpler.

I don’t know if that showerhead will work as well as the current one, or if the pressure compensation will perform as promised. There is only one way to find out. I ordered a sample and will give it a try. This may be the solution for the 1st and 2nd floor bathrooms.