Friday, December 22, 2023

Master Bath and Central Bath Remodel

 We remodeled the back bathroom back in 2004 and remodeling the other two has been on our list since then.  We are finally getting to it.  

One of the main problems is knowing what to do.  We looked for a company that could both do the work, and help with the design, and settled on Vintage Modern Design Build (VMDB). They came and took measurements and pictures and used that to create a computer model of the bathrooms which could then be modified to show us what was possible.

In the master bathroom, the plan is to remove the bathtub, and the current shower and merge them into one long shower area without a door.

And also replace the counter top, the sinks, all the fixtures.  And as long as all that is gone, we will update the cabinets too.

In the center bathroom, we will replace the existing tub with a deeper tub, replace the counter tops, the sinks, the fixtures, and the cabinets.  Oh, and the tile, both on the wall and on the floor.  

 Basically the only thing left in the two bathrooms will be the toilets.  (We've replaced all the toilets over time, and the current ones seem to work fine.)

Linda worked with VMDB to pick out tile and flooring, sinks, fixtures, counters.  They will remove all the old stuff, and put in the new stuff.  $75,190 for the master bath and $43,278 for the center bath.  They estimate it will take 3 months and will start the first part of December.  

They actually started on 7 December 2023, and within a week had finished "demo" (demolition) -- the removal of all the old stuff in both the master bath

and the center bath

Monday, December 4, 2023

Replace Hallway Hot Water Heater

The water heater in the utility closet off the hallway started leaking on Friday.  We were sitting at breakfast and Linda complained of a high pitch noise.  She tracked it down to the hallway, and looking inside the utility closet found the "Watchdog Water Alarm, Model BWD-HWA" making noise.  It sits in the drip pan under the water heater, and the drip pan had water in it. 

Examining the label on the water heater, it was from 7/2004.  So 19 years old.  Probably time to get a new one.

But it's Friday.  I don't have a plumber on call, so I have to search around.  Google suggested Home Depot, which I figured had the water heaters, so I called them.  They use ARS/Rescue Rooter.  When I called them, they had to come out to see what the problem was.  So by mid-afternoon, he had come, and gave me an estimate of around $4000.  I thought that too high, so back to the Internet.

Several other plumbing companies also wanted to come out and look before providing even a rough ballpark for the cost, but finally I found Blue Ribbon Cooling, Heating, Plumbing and Electrical who asked that I text them a couple of photos of the heater, the vents, and the label on the heater.  Then they quoted me from $2950 to $3250, depending.  That sounded better so I took it.  They could be out on Monday to do the remove and install.

Over the weekend, I heard that Wilson Plumbing did this for my ex-wife for a much lower price.  And on NextDoor people were suggesting "Cold is On The Right".   Rapid Plumbing was quoted as charging $2150.  So we were paying more than necessary.

The plumbers showed up Monday morning, around 9:30; they were gone by 12:30.

They removed the old tank

And installed a new one.

The new tank is, like the old one, a 40 gallon, natural gas unit.  Manufactured by A. O. Smith.  Model GCR-40 250, Serial 2343136304504, manufactured 10/25/2023.

In addition to the basics, they added a short extension to the gas pipe, so that any condensation or debris in the gas will drop into the extension and not interfere with the pilot light.  Sort of an appendix for the gas line.

And they added an expansion tank above the tank, to allow space for the water to expand in the hot water line.

The main problem for a hot water heater, of course, is a leak.  There is a pan under the tank to catch a leak from the water heater.  But our previous pan was sealed off. They put in a new pan, and tied it into the drain for the Air Conditioning condensation.


This involved first drilling a hole in the platform under the utility closet and into the return air plenum.  Then the PVC pipe was routed over and into the drain line that drains off any A/C condensation.

A red-handled ball valve was installed to allow this line to be shut off -- the fear is that if the drain line becomes stopped up, then the A/C condensation could flow up and into the water heater pan.  That would, of course, set off the  Water Alarm and (hopefully) alert us that something needs to be done.

 Total cost was  $3,254.06.

And of course, we replaced the 9-volt battery in the Water Alarm, and put it back in place, in the new water heater tank pan (on the right of the gas heater apparatus in the picture below.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Fixing a leaky faucet in the Back Bathroom

We have a leaky sink faucet in the Back Bathroom.  By turning off the water supply for the cold and then the hot water  under the sink, we were able to identify that it was the hot water faucet leaking.

First we needed to get a replacement cartridge for the faucet.  It is an American Standard Amarilis Iris faucets, so we found a replacement cartridge for that

The first problem is removing the handle and escutcheon for the faucet.

 Normally there is a small set screw that holds the handle on, but I could not find any.  Going back and looking at the installation instructions, it suggests that it is under the ring that is at the top of the escutcheon. And sure enough, with some work, I was able to pry it up revealing a little groove under the ring, with a set screw.  

Once the set screw is backed out, the handle comes off and then the escutcheon, leaving only the mechanism. 

That is held in place with a large hex nut.  Removing that allows us to replace the cartridge.

And then we reverse everything to put it all back together.

Testing it, we have hot water and no leaks.

Thursday, November 16, 2023



Sasha was Lauren's cat.  We got her over Spring Break 2004 so that Lauren could bond with her while out of school.  But she had to be spayed before she could come home, and spaying was done by the Vet students at Texas A&M -- which were on Spring Break!  So she came home a week or so after Spring Break.

When Lauren went off to College, and then eventually got a job, got married and had a kid, Sasha stayed behind at our house.  Although we got her Spring 2004, she was born the previous October, 2003.  And this year she turned 20.

Unfortunately she also developed a lump on the side of her face, which her vet says was Feline Oral Squamous Cell Carcinoma, a very aggressive form of cancer.

She is buried in the Iris Bed.

The Iris Bed has underground drip irrigation, on Zone 5, which loops around the outside of the bed, so we can dig just away from the edges.   We dug down in the corner by the house and the deck.

We dug down about 24 inches.  Sasha is in a box whose top is then about 15 or 16 inches down.

Once we had the dirt back on top

we replaced the irises and lilies that we moved out of the way to be able to dig.

And then, to match the other cats, we added a little brass plaque marking where Sasha is.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Washing all the windows -- inside and out

 It has been awhile since the exterior windows have been washed, and it seems like the right time to do it.  Winter is coming, but today is in the 70s and 80s and dry.

Looking at what we have done before (Nov 2014 and July 2020), we decided to use the same process.  We used the Windex Outdoor.  Listed at Home Depot as "32 fl oz Blue Bottle Outdoor Sprayer", $12.98. 


But our notes suggest we will need two bottles.  As fate would have it, we still have the (empty) spray bottle from the last time we washed windows, and Home Depot has "Windex 128 fl. oz. Outdoor Glass Cleaner Refill" which is good for 4 refills of the spray bottle for only $19.58.  So we bought one of the 128 fl.oz. refills, and used only half of it (two of the 32 fl.oz. bottles), so we have enough left-overs for another washing, in about 5 years!


We started about 9AM, and by 11AM had all the exterior windows done.  For each window, we first rinsed it, then soaped it, let it sit a bit, and then rinsed the soap off.  Actually, we broke the windows up into groups, and rinsed them all, soaped them all, then went back and rinsed them all.  That took about 200 gallons of water.

We left the screens on, so that we rinsed and soaped thru the screens.  The idea is to wash the screen and the window.

Then we went back inside the house and, using a normal spray bottle of Windex and a clean rag, washed each window, inside and out.  The windows are designed to be opened up into the house, both top and bottom, to allow inside and outside to be cleaned. This took hours just because of the number of windows involved.

1. Utility room window

2. Kitchen Breakfast Bay windows (4)

3. Media Room (Dining Room) windows (3)

4. Living Room windows (6)

5. Central Bathroom window

6. Back Bedroom windows (4)

7. Back Bathroom window

8. Guest Bedroom windows (2)

9. Computer Room windows (2)

10. Loft and fixed second story computer room window (2)

11. Master Closet window

12. Master Bath window

13. Master Bedroom windows (2)

14. Front door window and side window (2)

15. Library windows (2)

16. Garage door windows (4)

17. Garage window

This leaves out the Attic window, since we didn't wash it.  That would make an even 40 windows.  (Oops! Forgot the window in the door in the Back Bedroom. I guess that would be 41).

All the windows are supposed to open inside, to allow them to be cleaned both inside and outside, but one of the Living Room windows will not open.  In fact it is so tight, it will not even slide up all the way.  And for some windows, like the Living Room windows, the computer room windows, and the Library windows, it is easier to just pop the screens off and wash the outside from the outside.

All the water and soap spraying showed the windows to all be water tight.  Only the exterior door for the back bedroom leaked water into the house.

One of the screens for the Master Bedroom windows has a small tear in the upper left (seen from the outside) -- probably a tree branch from one of the winter storms.  The repair of the Master Bathroom window screen could use some repair.

Also the windows for the Back Bedroom, the Guest Bedroom, and the Computer room all seem to be fogging or spotting from either something like acid rain or a mineral deposit.  Normal Windex is not clearing that up. The windows on the south and east side of the house do not seem to be showing this, so it could be the windows that are more exposed to the weather or different glass properties in the windows replaced at different times.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Planting a Possumhaw Holly Tree

 Linda decided she wanted a Possumhaw Holly tree in the back yard.  She found it thru the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which describes it as a "small, deciduous tree or shrub,15-30 ft. tall".  It was hard to find, but she bought one from a nursery in Tennessee which mailed it to her.

Of course, our tree doesn't look like that (yet).  It's a bare stick with an attached root ball.

Linda wants it planted where the jungle was, and we've already cleared that off, so all we have to do is peel back the mulch and black plastic and dig a hole.

This turns out to be harder than we thought since the exact spot where she wants it planted has a buried stump.

And once we get the stump out, we hit rock.

But after hours of work, we get a hole ready for it.

Of course removing the stump, and the rock, means we have to bring in bags of dirt.  Seven bags (40 pounds each), plus a couple of bags of mulch.  Home Depot. $27.24.


The result is a nicely planted tree.  Note most of what appears to be the tree here is actually the bamboo stake that holds it up -- the tree itself is barely a foot tall.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Planting a Lacey Oak

Having lost two trees on the west side of the house, from the storms that killed them, having them cut down, and digging out their stumps, we now have a mostly exposed West Side of the house.  So it seems reasonable to plant a new tree (or trees) to replace them.  We want something that will be big enough to shade the side of the house, but not so tall as to shade the solar panels on the roof.  Plus we want a resilient, native tree that can tolerate the cold of winter and the heat of summer.  A Lacey Oak seems to fit our needs. 

 Lacey Oaks will grow to 25 to 35 feet tall.  It is drought-tolerant, oak wilt-resistant and can grow in poor soil.

We found one at Lawns (Leander Area Wholesale Nursery Supply) Tree Farm in Leander.  Ours was a one-year-old 1-gallon container, for $10. 

First we needed to pick a spot.  We tried to put it midway between the last remaining Elm, at the front corner of the house, and the big oak tree in the back -- about 30 feet from both.  

 We dug a hole, much too deep and wide, then filled it back in until it was the right depth for the little tree.  Planted the tree, and filled the hole back in with the dirt we dug out.  


Then we bought a bag (one cubic foot) of top soil to spread around the tree, and covered that with a bag (two cubic foot) of hardwood mulch.

The tree is currently about 15 inches tall.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Foundation Parge

I noticed that the cement covering over the foundation on the West side of the house was coming off.  We had this problem once before.  The covering is called "parge" and is basically just a layer of masonry mortar to cover the raw cement foundation.


So I called  Dean's Plastering and Stucco Repair (which I found listed on NextDoor), and asked if this is something they can fix.  They came out a couple days later to fix it.

First thing they did was remove the part of the old parge that had separated.

That showed the extent and cause of the problem.

The cause of the problem was rusting rebar in the cement foundation.  Apparently it is too close to the edge of the foundation, and water had caused it to rust, causing it to expand.  The pressure from the expansion then fractured the outer layer of the foundation and the old parge.

So they removed all the old fractured concrete and parge, and treated all the exposed rebar with an anti-rust agent.  Then they applied a layer of mortar mix (cement and sand, Type S) over the top to recreate the foundation.

After letting that dry a bit, they then topped the entire area with a new coat of mortar mix to create the new parge, blending it with the pre-existing parge.

The cost came to $400.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Slow Closing Toilet Seat for Central Bathroom

 After mainly using the toilet in the Master Bathroom, the few times we used the toilet in the Central Bathroom, the noise of closing the seat was jarring.  So we decided to replace the seat with a slow closing (quiet) seat.

 Of course, the seat is not just a standard white one, but Linen colored, so we needed to special order the correct replacement seat. had one, $64.61.

The old toilet seat was held on by a couple of plastic screws under the snap-close covers, so taking it off was easy.

The new one was pretty much the same, but with plastic washers, and the snap-close covers over the screws open the other way.  But basically the same, and the appearance differences are subtle.  But it does close slower.  And quieter.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Master Bathroom Shower Changes

 For a number of years, we have been using an adjustable shower extension to allow the shower head to be moved up and down easily, since Linda and I are of different heights.  But they break easily -- the bolts that allow the extension to be adjusted just do not hold up.  So after this most recent failure, we replaced the shower head mechanism completely.

The new scheme has a hand held shower head on a hose.  In our case, a WaterPik Model #SRXPP-763M from Lowe's.  It has a hand shower with a 6-foot metal hose that can sit on an adjustable height holder on a metal bar.  The bar is held to the shower tiles with pieces of 2-sided tape. 

The hose attaches to a shower diverter  that allows either the hand-held head or the normal fixed head to be used.

There is also a slot in the diverter to hold a hand-held shower, but the WaterPik hand-held shower head is too big and will not fit in the slot in the diverter.

This arrangement is meant to be a temporary solution until we remodel the bathroom completely.  We will try to learn from it what works and what does not.