Lakeshore Cottage

A reno blog for a cottage just outside of Toronto
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Power outages and an unexpected visitor

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Another Saturday, another day on the road to the cottage. Molly continued with a second skim coat of ultralight drywall compound and I finished the toilet installation before joining her. We got maybe an hour or so into it before the music stopped and we realized the power had gone out. The weather definitely wasn’t the best driving in – we did pass a SUV being pulled out of a ditch at one point and it was snowing that super heavy/wet type of snow – but we were surprised at the outage. We continued mudding until our hands were pretty cold and then took a break on the couch with the dog hoping the power would be restored. 30 minutes later we were no warmer and decided we might as well drive into town and keep an eye on Hydro One’s outage map.

We managed to find this happening:

The wind was so strong it was causing these super high waves to come crashing against the pier. It was pretty fun to watch. The birds in the second photo (that Rosie really liked) were even having a hard time flying against it. We ended up heading back home while there was still sun since the power had still not been restored and it was getting late.

I went up alone on Sunday and cleaned up a bit, setup the microwave we bought last week (it occurred to us that we could bring real food to eat and bought a slowcooker/microwave that we haven’t taken advantage of yet), and rearranged the shingles I had put down on the main floor a few weeks ago. I had been feeling unsatisfied by the leveling/flattening job I had done because it meant the new floor would be at a significantly different height than the existing floor and when I took at a look at the floor another day, I realized I wouldn’t be happy until I found some kind of compromise with the height/flatness level. To recap, you want to use shingles underneath your hardwood installation to make the floor flat because they don’t compress. I took off a bunch of layers where I had set them previously and spread them out, so I think the floor is not perfect but definitely much more forgiving. I need another package of shingles to complete it (I’m competing with the stone hearth that is sitting on the floor taking up space now) and I think I’ll be good to go.

When doing these DIY projects, without having the benefit of professional experience, I find it hard to know when enough is enough. Or, when something is good enough, and at what point it’s overkill. I think I tend to swing to overkill and am guilty of overthinking things for sure, but without any kind of comparison to know just how flat is acceptable for a floor, it’s hard to know when I’m good to start flooring. I find that when I am mulling over the best way of doing something for an upcoming weekend, I tend to be hypersensitive to those same installations at houses/offices/etc. Specifically that hardwood installations in two places I’ve been in over the past week are totally not great jobs (because I can see the effects of a shitty subfloor under it, or lack of shingles for flattening, etc.) but they look great anyway. So if I think they’re fine, and they clearly didn’t bother working on the subfloor, then I have to trust that attempts I make will be good enough and seem fine.

Anyway… shingles are rearranged, there will be a less noticeable transition needed, and my manual flooring nailer is arriving in Niagara Falls, NY today. I’ll have to drive to the US to pick it up before the weekend, but I opted to purchase this manual nailer because I figured it would be cheaper than renting one, I’ll be able to resell it, and it’ll allow you to hit it with the mallet 2-3 times to drive the nail in vs. not hitting it hard enough, driving it halfway, and then needing to hammer them all in individually. It’ll be good training for rugby.

I brought up a cinder block with intentions of plugging up the hole in the foundation with it, and when I opened the crawlspace door, I was met with a pair of eyes staring back at me… an orange and white cat had decided my crawlspace was warmer than being outside. Neither of us were scared, but it ended up taking off. I was about to get in the space when another cat appeared and was much friendlier than the other.

I felt pretty horrible about sending him outside but hopefully he’ll find his way back home. I kept imagining that the next time I come back, there’ll be kittens in my crawlspace (the cinder block didn’t completely fit, I need the ground to thaw a bit).

I’m getting quotes for some final electrical work, probably ordering two windows this week, and am really looking forward to starting in on the floor this weekend. Will probably end up staying overnight to make that happen.

Another weekend

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Instead of heading to the cottage not this past weekend, but the weekend before, Molly and I went off for a break in Prince Edward County. It was a much needed break from work and renos and we had a great time (doing very little that didn’t involve staying in our suite). This past weekend though, we were back at the cottage. On Saturday, two friends came up with us and it was definitely helpful for getting smaller pieces worked on.

Molly mastered the hearth tiling and aided Vanessa in applying drywall compound to the gross, textured walls:

You can somewhat see how bad it is at the top. There are about 3 or 4 different types of texture applied throughout the house. The top half is much heavier than the bottom.

The whole main room is covered in it… and there is popcorn ceiling in the front room that is attached to this room. I’m currently thinking of going over that as well, but Molly thinks that once this main room is done, it won’t be as offensive on the ceiling. It’s not currently a priority.

This is the second coat done. I think we can get away with sanding it a bit, going over with a third coat, sanding, and that’s it (for the bottom half). Not sure yet on the top – there’s only one coat applied there so far.

Mudding over the existing texture ended up being the cheapest and easiest way of “fixing” the walls. I had originally considered 1/4″ drywall between the panels and leaving the top half, but that probably would have been more work than this.

While they conquered upstairs, Corey was working on finishing up drywall in the (no longer) green room. It’s looking pretty good but we probably still need another sheet of drywall for the walls.

Molly’s “perla grey” stone mosaic hearth:

The hearth is for the pellet stove, which still sits inactive in the space between the bathroom and one of the bedrooms. It looks awesome. The sealer that Molly put over the stones ended up giving them a much nicer look and made them appear like random darker/lighter shades of grey/brown-ish. Originally the stones looked pretty uniform light grey and I wasn’t so sure about it, but I love the finished product now.

Oh hey- you know what’s fun to do? Try to clean up grout off your tile project when you don’t have running water in your house. Yeah… careful with that one! We had to scrounge for water from the various 1L bottles we had brought up with us over the past few months, and eventually ran out to a point of needing to melt snow by the heat of the 500 watt work lamp and 2 of the small heaters we have in there. That was great panic-inducing-for-Michelle times. It ended up working out fine though. We just need some trim around it, another coat of sealer, and to move it into its final resting place in the corner. Molly did a really great job and it was her first experience into tiling.

While tiling/mudding/drywalling was happening, I was dealing with the attic situation. The house was built and then had 2 sections added onto it. This meant that they built a second roof over the existing roof and access to the other attic areas was blocked off by the old roof. I had to cut two access areas in the old roof – one to get into the space above the one far bedroom and the bathroom, and another to get into the space above the dining room and sun roof/patio door area.

Here’s what I found:

The green shingles are the old roof. This is the area above the bathroom and bedroom. I’m glad that I have complete access to this area. It looks like there is very minimal insulation above the bathroom/hallway, and the pink major insulation has been placed over the bedroom.

This is above the diningroom/sunroom:

This is… not so great. They have put plywood overtop of the joists that are under it. I can see from the main attic original part of the house that there is insulation over this area (under the plywood) but it’s too bad that I can’t beef it up further. Unless maybe I can put it over the plywood? Except that cleaning this reno waste up first would be really annoying.

I need to send these photos to the eco audit guy so he can take them into account for the eco grants. Basically though, we want to increase the R-value of the insulation up to R-50 by using blown in attic insulation. I’m not sure yet on cellulose vs. fibreglass pink stuff. Considering the height of the secondary attic areas, it’s a good thing I’m short.

In addition to the attic stuff, I also did some more crawlspace work. I’m quickly growing tired of it but it’s too early for that to happen. I put 2″ of rigid foam in a small area of the headers and sprayfoamed the cracks around it. Judging by how long it took me to cut the foam and sprayfoam them in place, it’s going to be really fucking tedious and slow.

Anyway… all in all, it was a productive weekend. I really need to get the hardwood floor down ASAP so we can move the hearth and stove in place and get heat going. I think I am dragging my feet on that a bit because I feel like it’ll be a lot of work, I need to rent the equipement from HD, and I’ve never used it before or installed a floor using a nailer/air before. I really need to do it either this weekend or next, and I think it will involve me either taking Friday/Monday off and/or staying in the cottage overnight to get it all done. I’ll need to spend some quality time with YouTube to learn some technique before I tackle this.

Insulation updates and eco audit woes

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Last weekend was more of the same… another 3 bags of insulation were put between the crawlspace floor joists and the 500sf roll of poly was put down to cover the dirt ground.

The area underneath the bathroom is empty of insulation because the pipes need some sorting out and the spaces around the wall headers are empty as well. I need to put 2-3″ worth of rigid foam there first before finishing off the floor. That said, I have spent an obscene amount of time researching crawlspace insulation this week.

I have been tearing my hair out trying to understand what is the best approach for insulating the crawlspace. Currently the crawlspace is a vented/ventaliated crawlspace because there’s a hole in the foundation and an exterior hatch door that is poorly fit in place. “Real” or traditional vented crawlspaces would typically have vents installed in the foundation walls somewhere. The idea is that in the winter you close them off to minimize the cold air coming in, but in the summer you keep them open to allow humidity underneath your house to escape (vs coming up into your house through the floor). The opposite of a vented crawlspace is a “conditioned” or unvented crawlspace, and this just means that you seal off the vents or any access points that would allow air to come in, and heat it somehow. You’re making your crawlspace part of your overall building envelope/house and in that case, you insulate the walls, but leave the floor joists empty so you have warm floors. When you have a vented crawlspace, you’re supposed to insulate the floor above your house to still allow for air movement underneath, but the insulation will hopefully keep your floors warm.

There is an insane amount of information and opinion out there about crawlspaces and what to do with them. Most contractors say that conditioned crawlspaces are the way to go, and apparently that’s the way that new houses are typically being built (at least where we are in Canada). I don’t have a real vented space… it’s more like a “DIY home owner got lazy and didn’t block stuff off properly”. So when I saw the eco energy grant table online, I started blindly following it and decided that I would always have a vented crawlspace since it’s drafty even if I close up the holes properly (and I don’t have a running furnace yet to provide heat), and started putting Roxul R-22 in between the joist cavities. My plan was to follow the “new light on crawlspaces” article over at and put the insulation between the joists, and then screw rigid foil-faced insulation underneath the joists to help keep them in place. This would bring me to the needed R-24 to qualify. It wasn’t until I realized that the grant for this is $250 vs. $1000 for making your crawlspace a conditioned one and insulating the walls that I started questioning whether I was even going about it the right way. Add to this that the eco energy report I received from the inspector guy doesn’t really match up with the numbers I expected, and I’m pretty confused about the approach to take.

Apparently the auditor thinks that insulating the floor joists as I’ve about 80% done is the best way of doing it, and also would net me the most gains from the grant table. I’m not sure how he’s calculating it and he seems pretty annoyed any time I send him an email asking for clarification. He’s also insisting that the furnace needs to be running and hasn’t (currently) responded to my question about whether the pellet stove being installed satisfies his need for primary heat source for the return visit. The experience with this guy has been pretty frustrating and a bit condescending.

Add in other confusing issues like:
– I am supposed to try to improve the air sealing of my place, which means fixing the holes in the crawlspace since it’s currently wide open to the utility room (which is then attached to the rest of the house by a basic interior door)… but doesn’t that mean I’ve closed off my crawlspace?
– I spent hours trying to figure out if I would be doing any harm by insulating both the floor joists and the walls, and other than people saying it’s “useless” to do, I couldn’t find anything saying it was bad… until I found one paragraph on a document from a government of Canada Natural Resources website that suggests insulating the floors if you have a vented crawlspace, but also to create a “partially heated crawlspace” to prevent pipes from bursting by adding insulation to your walls as well. So it seems like it’s somewhat useless to do both, but might help to save pipes from breaking (which I had present in my crawlspace), and doesn’t seem like it is detrimental in any way to do both.

So… all that said, I think I am going to finish off the floor joist insulation to qualify for the $250 grant. I’ll add some rigid foam to the crawlspace walls for extra measure to bring it up to R-10 but forfeit any money off that (according to his calculations, I would only get $189 back for that).

The other big area to insulate that is not crawlspace related is the attic. I made a fun discovery that I have not even a second set of shingles under my existing roof, but a whole other roof. The cabin was originally pretty small and I guess at some point (2009?) they extended it in various directions and added a new set of rafters/plywood/shingles over top of it all. I need to cut through the old hidden green roof to access the insulation on the other side. We’re most likely going to use the atticat blown-in type insulation from Home Depot for that.

In happier news, we picked out flat pebble “perla grey” stone for the pellet stove hearth. Molly covered the wood base with cement board and it’s waiting her first tiling adventure the next time we’re up there:

And I’ll leave you with this. Who needs TV when you can have cottage tv just by looking out your window? I think these guys jumped the gun a bit with their ice fishing so early on:

Holiday progress

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Molly and I spent a few days at the cottage and for one of the days, we recruited a friend to help out as well for NYD. A decent amount of progress was made:

– all nails have been grinded (ground?) out of the recycled hardwood (Molly is a machine)
– 4 bags of insulation put in the joists under the floor in the crawlspace, need 4-6 more bags
– The remainder of the 6 mil poly leftover from drywalling the greenroom was put on the dirt floor in the crawlspace and we’ve got another 500sf roll to go to hopefully finish it off
– the main floor has mostly been made flat with 15lbs tar paper and roofing shingles (they don’t compress so are good for this use); the need is for the floor to be flat, not level, for the hardwood installation
– a wooden base platform hearth for the pellet stove has been built and need an extra level of cement board before some sort of tile pattern hits it
– 2 trips to the dump with random shit: heaviest load to date was 430lbs worth of debris (I can’t emphasize enough how much I love my Ranger)
– the toilet has been removed and a new one was about to be installed until we hit a snag (more below)
– the bathroom cabinet came out and reveals mould and rotting drywall
– the wall that the light fixture and bathroom cabinet was on has been pulled down

The bathroom is fun. The tub is in rough shape, the toilet still had old uh, waste, in it from the previous owner (or dog?), the vanity is the same cabinet style as the heavy wood cabinets in the kitchen, the mirror was pulled down to reveal a circular hole in the drywall that was stuffed with white styrofoam, there aren’t any electrical outlets or even a lightswitch in it. Also, it’s covered on all walls with beige/light brown marble 12×12 marble tile that I totally hate, but other people don’t seem to mind. I have to admit that I really like (re-)doing bathrooms and would love nothing more than to gut the whole thing and start over, but due to costs I need to salvage most of it and refresh it through other means. This means a new toilet (American Standard Cadet 3), a new bathroom cabinet (Godmorgon from IKEA in white), a new light, and now that I have torn down the one wall, an electrical outlet and light switch. Tearing down the wall happened much the same way as the 1/4″ plywood that was over the main flooring planks: it was damp and moudly and in rough shape, and ended up being the home to 4 mouse nests.

Up next for January:
– figure out a tile design and finish off the hearth
– some more minor floor leveling with tar paper and then
– get the hardwood down
– install the pellet stove

We’ve been really lucky that the weather has cooperated and not been too cold lately that our 3 small heaters are sufficient, but that seems to have changed in the past couple days.

I have a feeling that laying down the hardwood is going to take longer than I want (/hope/expect) and really hope I can keep the costs of renting the necessary nailer down. Wish I knew someone I could borrow one from!

Other than that, the only other deadlines are to get as much of the insulation/eco audit related tasks done in time to take advantage of the grants before the end of March. I’m really hoping for a reprieve in the amount of money I need to spend on new items and just try to work with the existing stuff I’ve got.