December 2014 Archives

This Old House...

| going to make me mental before too long.

I have a love/hate relationship with my house. It's 115 years old, which means it's seen a few things... a couple of World Wars, a moon landing, the advent of central heating/air conditioning, and who knows what else. I love that it has character and I love the neighborhood. I hate having to fix anything on it, because even the most simple jobs turn into massive headaches.

Case in point: the plumbing.

The upstairs kitchen (my kitchen) was plumbed at some point along the way with soft-walled, coiled copper tubing. This stuff has its practical applications, but it's finicky. It can't be bent by hand at any point, or it will kink, and those kinks will eventually leak (as well as restrict water flow). And that's exactly what happened... I was planning to change my drinking water filters (under my kitchen sink) when I noticed the copper tubing was leaking. Here's part of the mess I saw under the sink (the green stuff is corrosion/leaks):


I had good luck running PEX tubing in my bathroom, so I figured I would fish new PEX lines from the basement up to my kitchen and remove all of the mess that was the combination of copper, galvanized steel, and lead piping (all of which made-up my current plumbing environment). So I procured all of the necessary tubing, fittings, and adapters and set about replacing the kitchen plumbing supply lines.

Problem #1 came when I couldn't remove the original plumbing. Someone had apparently routed it so that the pipes didn't run in a straight-shot from the basement to the upstairs. They made a stop (and bend) in my renter's kitchen, and then made another stop (and bend, through wall studs) somewhere in the ceiling of my renter's kitchen. Joy.

Rather than remove the tangled mess, I decided to bypass it and drill a new access hole so that I could route the PEX through a single wall cavity (sans bends). The drilling went OK, but when I went down into my renter's kitchen to feed the PEX through her cabinets, I encountered problem #2:


Her kitchen counter was made from cheap butcher block (from IKEA), and was never properly treated. Water and wood don't get along too well, so the counter top was failing. And, when I went to lean against the counter, I managed to put my hand through a section of the counter top. Awesome.

I eventually got the PEX run; my pal at Howe Brother's Plumbing Supply provided me with these super nifty water supply valves - they connect directly to the PEX without the need for any adapters. SCORE!


That same friend from Howe Brother's also hooked-me-up with a new faucet for my upstairs kitchen. The original one was leaking from where the faucet swiveled in the base, and the sprayer handle failed at some point, so that it wouldn't shut-off unless it was set in the *exact* correct location. He sold me an all-brass and real stainless steel Kohler faucet at a massive discount. Someone had special ordered it and then changed their mind, so I got what was essentially a $699 faucet for under $250. Here it is, fully installed:


Last but not least, I decided to remove the garbage disposal; it never worked and it was always in the way especially when I would try to do any type of work under the sink. The disposal came out easily enough, but engineering a new drain assembly was anything but fun. I eventually got it figured out; I used a series of elbows and schedule 40 PVC to make it all work. Yay! No more stinky disposal and no leaks (on either the supply or drain side of things).


Whew. That was a full day of fun plumbing work. I'm so grateful I'm not a plumber... you're constantly working in cramped spaces and contorting yourself into poses that are so unnatural... my neck still hurts from lying in that cabinet for a few hours.

But wait... there's more... I still had to address the counter top issue in my renter's unit.

I checked IKEA's website for a replacement section and was thrilled to discover they still offered the butcher block counter top. I was less thrilled when I realized they changed the thickness at some point. UGH.

Her original counter tops were about 1-and-1/8th of an inch thick. All of the new IKEA counter tops were 1.5 inches thick. Hmm. And, they were no longer solid wood; they were "laminated butcher block with a particle board core." Ick.

On a whim, I checked-out Menards, and was pleased to see that they sold true butcher block counter tops. So, I drove over, bought two sections, and headed home to start working on replacing the downstairs counter tops.

The sink-side of the counter came apart quite easily. I guess all of the exposure to water had really loosened things up.


The longer section was another story... whoever installed the counter tops decided to glue the counter tops to the cabinets, which made it nearly impossible to remove them without damaging the under bracing. Yay. I managed to get most of the counter top loosened, but did end-up breaking several sections of the bracing. And, to make life even more fun, the original bracing was made out of: you guessed it - particle board.


So, it was back to Menards for some 1-by Aspen wood that I would fabricate into new cabinet bracing. I took several measurements, broke-out the biscuit joiner, and made a few cuts. Here's a section of it being test fit.


After I confirmed everything was accurate, I glued all of the biscuit joints, clamped them, and let them sit overnight to dry. The next day, I fit the bracing to the cabinets and everything looked good. Here's a section that I fabricated, for illustration:


With the bracing in place, I was able to set the longest section of the counter top. It measured 26" wide by 96" long by 1.5" thick, and weighed about 150-pounds. Good times, setting that in place by myself...


The next challenge I had was mating the two sections of the counter together, so that they'd form a tight seal that wouldn't easily allow water or debris into the joint. The original counter top didn't have any type of joint - it was just butted-together and that was it. No wonder it failed...

After thinking about it, I decided to biscuit and pocket-screw the joints. I bought this nifty little pocket screw jig for $40 - it was super cool and did the trick.


The jig allows you to drill a perfectly angled hole that results in your fastener landing dead center in the joint of the two boards. It's a genius device. Here you can see the angled holes that it makes:


I installed 4 biscuit joints, glued them, and then screwed the two sections of counter top together through the pocket holes using 3" screws. Perfect! A super tight seal.


The next challenge (oh, there were plenty) came by way of the original cabinet installers (again). I'd like to find whomever installed these and have a few words with them. They were too lazy to notch the base board trim, so they set the cabinets against the trim, rather than flush with the wall. The result: a gap of about 1" between the wall and the counter top. So, I had to fabricate and fit my own section of butcher block to fill the gap. I planed, glued, and screwed butcher block pieces and made it all work. I'm still not quite sure how I got it all to align properly, but it did, so I'm not asking questions.

Finally, I had to cut an opening for the sink, and that's when the next problem arose: the new counter top was too thick to accommodate the original sink's built-in fasteners (it was also an IKEA sink)... another trip to the plumbing supply store netted me a new sink and faucet; the original sink and faucet were a nightmare, any way, as seen here:


Here's where I got the most nervous... I had to triple-measure and then cut into my pristine butcher block so that I could drop-in the new sink. I had to be fairly precise, because the sink didn't have much of a mounting/drop-in lip. After many measurements and re-measurements, I used a hole saw to make a starter hole, and then carefully cut out the opening with my jig saw... the result:


I had to make a new drain assembly again because the new sink's drain was in a slightly different location that the original... and, I fought with the supply line to the faucet, thanks to a galvanized pipe that snapped while removing the original water supply valve...

So... at the end of it all, I have new, non-leaking water supply lines from the basement to my kitchen, a new faucet, new counter top/sink/faucet for my renter, and new supply lines in the lower kitchen. Total time to perform the work? 3-days. Total cost: around $1200. Merry Christmas to me...

And... someone hit-and-run my car the other night... Yay again.


OH - I almost forgot... this whole mess started with me wanting to replace the filters in my drinking water system.

"But Steve, why would you need a fancy drinking water system?" - I can hear you asking...

My filtration system has 4-filters: a pre-sediment filter, a finer-sediment filter, a charcoal filter, and a reverse osmosis filter. In the photo below, the white filter is a new pre-sediment filter. The one to the right of it is the exact same filter... after 3-months of use at my house. Gotta' love Madison water, eh?


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This page is an archive of entries from December 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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