Here’s where we stand in the kitchen right now. The grout is sealed and ready but there are two plugs in the corner that aren’t working for some reason—they were fine before I put the tile in but I can’t get them to work. I replaced both of the outlets with new units; sometime GFCI outlets fail over time, but I can’t for the life of me understand what’s happening with these. Strangely the one in the back corner works fine because it’s on a separate circuit. The other big update is that I replaced the rope lighting above the cabinets. Over fifteen years the original filament unit had slowly died, so I pulled that out and replaced it with an LED version. It looks strange in the photo because the under-counter lights are bright white LEDs while the rope is warm light, but in person they warm up the whole kitchen dramatically.
Jen and I were talking this morning about how much brighter it is in there during the day, due to the light reflecting off the shiny white surfaces. It could all be wishful thinking, but I know there’s a big difference when I walk in there every day. Best $200 spent this year.
A few weeks ago, Jen was at Lowe’s shopping for something and stumbled upon a tile pattern she liked. She sent me a picture and we talked it over, and I bought a few to bring home and test-fit. You see, we’ve been thinking about a tile backsplash in the kitchen since 2005 when we had the whole thing redone; we just never decided on what we wanted back there.
This is a large (2’wX1’w) tile with a repeating wavy pattern, sort of a knockoff of the large architectural panels that were popular 10 years ago. It’s meant to be sort of a subway tile for an entire wall, but for our purposes it was perfect: a minimum of grouted area to have to clean, an organic pattern to break up all of the right angles, and a shiny surface to reflect under-counter lights back out into the room.
The big problem was the number of outlets we have surrounding the counter and how I’d cut holes in the tile to bring them all through. I did some digging and found an Italian-made sawblade designed to fit an angle grinder that got stellar reviews for cutting small holes, so I ordered that from Amazon and then bought two boxes of tile.
Saturday morning I rented a wet tile saw, cleared the counters off, and got to work. For the most part it was easy going, and after I figured out the best way to cut outlet holes right the first time it went smoothly. The corner by the range was the only place where things got tricky, but I found a way to make it work and proper application of grout should hide any sins.
There’s a full size tile on the bottom and then a ~2″ slice around the top edge that meets the underside of the cabinets. With some creative engineering I was able to get a medium-size tile saw to cut an oversize tile exactly how I needed.
So, next up is grout; I’m already planning to get a tub of white grout to fix a small stain in the new bathroom floor (one of the cats knocked over a can of purple PVC pipe primer, and that shit stains everything) so I can use some of the remainder to grout the kitchen.
For a grand total of ~$200 and a full Saturday, I’m pretty pleased.
We did a round-trip into Ohio over the weekend for a funeral, one of Jen’s extended family. His name was Floyd and he was a funny man, extremely nice to me when I met him, and he and his wife always sent us Christmas cards. While we were there we saw Jen’s sister Annie and her son Scott, as well as her father and the larger Ohio contingent of her mother’s family. It was a long trip out and a long trip back, my second in a month, and I don’t think I need to go to Ohio again for a while.
While that was happening, our refrigerator decided it was going to go wonky (probably in protest of the small upright freezer Jen bought and installed in the basement). Jen had emptied and defrosted it after moving a pile of stuff to the new freezer, but when we plugged it back in the temperature in the fridge section wasn’t staying cold enough. We packed up a bunch of food and brought it to our brother and sister’s spare garage fridge the night before we left; hopefully we haven’t lost three dozen eggs and two gallons of milk. On our return from Ohio the fridge was cooled properly, if not slowly, so we did some recon on the tail end of the Labor Day sales to see what’s out there.
Most of the new model fridges have things like TV screens and cooling drawers and lights that come on when you knock on the window (yes, they have windows). Most of them are bottom-freezer designs, which I like. They are larger, taller and deeper than ours because they were made for modern kitchens. Ours is a smaller traditional top-freezer design. It’s hiding out in the old hall closet under the stairs, tucked into a hole hacked in the wall. Because of the angle of the stairwell above, I’ve only got a certain amount of width and height I can work with, and the closet is only so deep. Most modern units are 70″ high by 36″ wide, and I think I can make a hole big enough to squeeze one in there. I would have liked to have the weekend to cut and trim the walls to test my theory before making a $1500 purchase, but didn’t have enough time, so we will miss out on Labor Day sales. I’m betting our fridge will probably last another couple of months, especially now that the heat and humidity has left, and we’ll look at a new one in late winter when money is more plentiful.
Meanwhile there’s a hurricane blowing in this week, and we have no idea what it will do to this area. I bought a submersible pool pump from Amazon for delivery tomorrow, and I’ll go out and shore up the defenses after work tomorrow night. I would also have liked to clean the gutters this weekend, but I guess I’ll deal with what I get when it gets here.
You can’t see it in the photos, but there’s a fresh coat of white paint on the basement and back doors, as well as a ton of touchups throughout the room. The shade on the back door is new, and there’s a matching shade over the window courtesy of Jen and her sewing machine.
One of the drawbacks to having multiple projects going at any one time is trying to remember where certain tools got left. Is it in the basement by the toolbench? Or is it out on the side porch with the insulation? Did I leave it out in the garage with the Scout? My screwgun is still AWOL and presumed dead, and I have an entire toolcaddy that disappeared sometime last month with my 1/2 metric sockets.
Monday night, after bathing the wee one and tucking her into bed with Ox and Teddy, I spent a half hour gathering tools from four different locations around the grounds of the Lockardugan estate and prepared to do battle with the kitchen sink. Our kitchen is fabulous, and it’s been five years of bliss since the renovation, but there’s one thing that didn’t get done right which is beginning to pose a problem: Our sink. We bought an undermount double sink to go with our granite countertops, and at first blush we loved everything about it. But after a month or two, we noticed it was beginning to sag downwards from the stone, to the point where the silicone seal was peeling apart. I looked underneath and found that the installer had used two pieces of scrapwood on either side of the lip to tack it in place, a decidedly unprofessional solution to a potentially disastrous problem. (Both sinks full of water, plus the weight of the disposal, equals 100 lbs. or more).
I started propping the metal lip from underneath with lengths of wood cut to fit, but I soon got nervous about putting pressure on the weakest point of the granite slab (the sink cutout), so I took all of that stuff out. Instead, I carved all of the old silicone out—the stuff that’s separating and turning funky colors—and replaced it with new mold-resistant silicone. After five years, it’s doubtful I’ll get any love from the company who installed the counter, but I’m going to call and pitch a fit anyway just to see what happens.
(FYI, the proper method of undermount sink installation involves epoxy-bonding metal clips to the underside of the granite which hold the sink in place).
The range we bought was different from the one we originally chose, for several reasons. We thought the Kenmore 79363 was dual-fuel (electric oven, gas range) like the one in the store, but they offer a gas-only model as well. This range has five different burners, a cooktop that makes it easy to move pots around, and several different burner sizes for simmering, hardcore cooking, and regular heating. It came with a cast-iron grilling rack that reverses to a frying surface, something we haven’t played with yet. The difference between electric elements is huge—water boils much quicker, and the heat it puts off is immediate.
The oven has a convection option, soething that came in handy for browning the turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s 5 cubic feet of space, which means we were able to fit a 20 lb. bird and two casserole dishes of stuffing in at the same time. The user’s manual is huge, and there are several features we haven’t figured out yet. It also features a warming drawer on the bottom, which we tried using for the rolls on Thanksgiving.
Overall, I’d say we’re thrilled with the range. It’s everything we wanted without a $3,000 “Viking” badge stamped on the front.
The fridge was the one appliance we didn’t change our minds on. We bought the Kenmore 76233 21.7 model in stainless steel. Consumer Reports gave it a good review, and it has a stellar EnergyStar rating, so I was sold. It’s been very good so far. The freezer is ice-cold (it doesn’t play around, be warned) and the fridge is absolutely huge—two gallons of milk fit comfortably in the door, something I’ve never seen before. There’s a built-in water dispenser on the left side, and the filter produces cold, fresh water that tastes pure. However, because it’s set up with the thin plastic water hose used for most ice-cube makers, the water comes out slow, which means the door is open for a long time. Consider the next higher model with the dispenser built in on the outside, or another model with a true water dispenser.
Other than that small quibble, there’s nothing else to complain about. It’s quiet, huge, and worlds better than our old fridge.
So we went with the Kenmore 16279, in black. (The other model we’d picked out was unavailable.) So far, it’s working well; we’ve found that there are problems with spotting and haze on the glasses, and had to increase the water softener setting higher from the factory default to prevent etching. As with any appliance, we’re still learning its peculiarities, but overall, we like it. We’re also going to stick with the black front—after being told we could order a custom cabinet front mount, I called Kenmore and couldn’t get anyone on the phone to find the part. So be warned, folks-the Sears salesmen will advise you to go through Kenmore directly to save money, but Kenmore might not be able to help you.
If you have children, I’d recommend this one. The controls are on the top, which hides them under the granite of the countertop, away from little fingers. It has several different washing options (Turbo Wash being one of them) and when it’s operating, it’s very quiet.
After finishing most of the touch-up work in the kitchen, this weekend I moved out into the dining room. (Some history: the dining room has been unfinished since our first year in this house. We scraped wallpaper and pulled the lousy paneling off the walls before the wedding, pulled the carpeting up the night before our first Fourth of July party, and painted last fall. It’s been in stasis ever since.)
The strange hole in the front corner has been filled. There are two new baseboards installed and finished with cap molding, waiting for a fresh coat of paint. The other two will get new molding and a sanding before being painted—it’s hard to get a 17′ length of wood without having it specially cut—and the remaining nicks and dings in the wall are getting smoothed out.
I’m leaving the window as it is for a while, until we can afford a replacement—getting something architecturally accurate with modern construction is going to cost big bucks. Until then, we’ll cover over the holes with curtains and I’ll tack in the replacement molding.
Also, I covered the nasty paneling out on the front porch with three(!) coats of white Kilz to try and brighten the light coming in the front of the house. Years of nicotine have already burned through the paint and stained it brown.
With these two rooms done (or close to done), we’ll have three rooms on the ground floor completed, and we’ll be able to focus on the living room.