I BOUGHT A TOTAL DUNGHEAP OF A HOUSE: It Takes Thirteen Hours (And Two Trips To The Tile Shop) To Lay A Bathroom Floor

Happy hour is great until the next morning, when you've got to throw up a pony tail and try not to puke while learning to lay tile so you can have a bathroom floor, because you really need a toilet in your days-away home.
Publish date:
April 29, 2013

Moving is a mega bitch. No matter how on top of it you think you are, it still always blows. While we were starting to make serious progress at the house, we still had to deal with leaving our rental. Since the house still had a ton of undone elements --

-- we knew it’d be dumb to move our stuff into it. No matter how hard we got down in the final week, it was never going to be enough to throw a couch and coffee table in there, you know? All of our belongings would just be in the way, and always be getting perpetually filthy from ongoing renovation. We found a nearby storage unit and lugged everything over to it. This meant a double-move. Because we like doing things we hate, like moving (twice).

I hoped to only have to use it for a month or two, because it kind of sucks seeing your whole life tucked up into a hot, tin box, piled on top of one another floor to ceiling, with a padlock as its only means of protection.

To ease the move, we got REAL serious with donations. We stuffed boxes upon boxes with stuff like clothes and kitchenware and dropped them off at a local thrift shop. I’ve been moving boxes of books with me everywhere I go for years, but TEARFULLY, I let so many go this time. I was likely swayed by the stifling weather and my guard was down (I’ll basically agree to anything if it means I’ll stop sweating). I sometimes look for them when I’m at that particular thrift shop, but I know if I slowly buy them all back and fill my house back up, that’s sort of its own brand of crazy.

If my books were heavy, they were bested by D’s record collection. And these prickly little bitches couldn’t even go in storage, because the heat risked ruining them (you know I didn’t pay extra for climate control!). SO WHIMSY. They were placed in the necessities pile, just like our mattress and toothbrushes. Priorities, man.

During this time we became real aquainted with Happy Hour. Happy hour is a funny name when you’re milking it for cheap drinks and finger food because you’re really just blown-over and confused about the state of your life. I’ve never been one for it. I like my drinks at night, when I can just sort of fall over into bed and it’s normal because the moon is out. But when it’s only like 7 I just sort of stutter around the house until I give up and go to bed anyway because hell, I’m tight, and even if the sun’s still seeping through the windows, I’m out—even if I have to go to bed in sunglasses.

WELP, that was before. My Cute Couple Alert!: Dungheap house + happy hour. Works so smooth.

Until the next day, when you realize 3 happy hour chicken fingers isn’t really dinner and now you’re all busted up and gaggy, but sort of hungry too. But none of that even matters. You just got to throw up a pony tail and try not to puke while learning to lay tile so you can have a bathroom floor, because you really need a toilet in your days-away home. Happy hour + dungheap aren’t so cute afterall.

A few days before, D had laid cement board in the bathroom, which has to happen before you can lay tile. I’m about to get real serious with a tip in case you ever do this: use a layer of thinset (it’s an adhesive, kinda like a glue) AND screw it in. Apparently people like to shortcut this by only screwing the board down.

We had been given a bunch of small white marble tiles that were leftover from D’s godfather’s bathroom. Since it was free and all, we decided we’d buy something similar for the floor and use the free stuff in the shower because saving money is goooood.

SKIPPING AHEAD SECRET: all that free tile is still sitting in our basement because it didn’t actually work out, but we didn’t figure that out until we bought complimentary flooring. Can only laugh, right? Ha…ha…har.

We pulled our hung-over selves into the family truck we’d been borrowing during renovations and slumped over to what is essentially tile row in South Philly. We figured we’d just pick something out nice and easy, roll back and install it. Nevermind that neither of us had ever actually cut or laid marble.

It was a real surprise when we went in and out of every warehouse only to find out they didn’t actually store their tiles on site. I don’t know what they keep in all those buildings, but apparently it’s not tile, despite being tile shops. We were quoted a week or two at best for delivery. That wasn’t going to work because of the whole toilet necessity. In a week, we’d have to be living there. Tile needed to happen now.

When we’d all but given up, we found apparently THE single tile shop that actually stocks their tile. Bliss. We didn’t have a ton of options, because we could only pick from what they stocked, but we agreed upon a simple white and black carrara.

Sweaty, hungover, and desperate for tile is no time to start making demands, but while looking at the different white marbles, I noticed how some of them were more white and gray muddled, whereas others were crisp white with deep black lines zigging through it like lightning. I wanted the lightning for sure.

The most perfect older Italian gentleman was running the warehouse and expertly agreed it was a better look. Instead of just pulling a few boxes from the top of the pile, he took us into the warehouse and we went through a few lots until we found the right one (for us).

Then he one upped us and was all “how are you laying this” and swirled our birdbrains into thinking we should actually cut the tiles in halves, and lay them in thirds, so it had a layered (think brick) pattern.

Heading home, we were actually excited about the project. It was early morn and we were just going to go for it, not stopping until it was complete. We set up the tile cutter in an empty bedroom. It was cool to know this project was beginning and actually ending on the same day, assuming all went well.

I’m admittedly less-than-skilled when it comes to home renovations. I’ve told you before how my main tool is the boring shop-vac. Well, if I do have a calling in home renovation, it may be in marble tile cutting. I FLIPPIN' LOVED IT. First, the wetsaw is kind of like a bird bath, in that you fill it with water and it rotates over the blade while you cut. I don’t know why this charmed me but it did. ALSO, the blade (apparently) can’t cut through skin, which is weird because it cuts marble, you know? I didn’t actually test this theory, but it did make me feel a lot more comfortable using it.

I MAY have walked with my head just a bit taller that day. There was something empowering about trading in my shop vac for the tile cutter.

A few hours in and it seemed we were off without a hitch. We were keeping track of our measurements (to be consistent with the bricklaying pattern) and hadn’t wasted any marble with accidents. Having to measure and cut every tile definitely slowed us down, but we had dedicated the day to the job and figured having a pattern would be worth it, even if we were there til midnight.

We were on a roll until we ran out of marble. SEE, we somehow gave measurements for literally HALF the bathroom. There was a good half hour panic while we high-tailed it back over to the tile shop. When we were there the first time, it had been explained to us how marble comes in lots—and each has its own unique variations. So you wouldn’t want to do half your floor in one lot and the other half another. The coloring and patterns would be slightly (or possibly a lot) off.

I only learned this because we almost bought another white marble. It was more expensive, which is why we didn’t go with it. But it had been mentioned it was the last of its lot that they had. So we could have been really bitchslapped by our measurement mistake, in that we would have wasted a couple hundred dollars, a few precious hours, AND had to restart.

Luckily, we were all good. We laughed (though I kind of cried) as we paid for the second batch. When we bought the first half, I was like HMMM why don’t more people use marble? Everyone thinks it’s so expensive, but the little higher cost is worth it because you know, marble is kind of hot. And yet so cold against your feet, which I loooove. But then you know, when I realized I had to double the amount and thus, double the cost, it was kind of a pricey floor. We paid just over a grand for the tile. We saved money by doing all the work ourselves, but still, I get why people use slate and stuff now, OK?

Stocked back up, we got back into our groove. The only other oops was when we realized we had starting tiling in a way that would back us into the room. You shouldn’t step on tile once you lay it because you will push it too far down, and end up with an uneven floor (it has to set). On the other hand, we didn’t want to start on the back end because that’s where the toilet would go, and the tile there required some extra complicated cutting (to account for the circular sewer pipe). We had hoped to get some practice in before trying for that.

D was completely stuck in the bathroom, while I was left to do all measurements and cutting on my own. Somehow it worked out. It was pretty tight for him though.

Also, by the time we got towards the back of the bathroom the upstairs was RIPE. Even though we had all the windows open, it was hot with little breeze. Ten hours into tiling and I was starting to get woozy from the thinset because I’m kind of a sensitive baby. I kept stuffing my head out the window for fresh air, which was just humid and stuffed up my nostrils. Butty but but, thirteen hours later and we got the job d-o-n-e.

The white crosses sticking up in between each piece of tile is a 1/16th spacer, which is the ‘proper’ way to set marble. You can make your spacing wider. I hate cleaning grout and how it discolors, so I was happy to use the tiniest ones (the thickness of a toothpick).

After the tile was laid, we had to let it set a couple days and then grout. After the grout was set, we finally had the plumbers come out and bestow upon us the all-important porcelain throne.

Kinda crazy right? But let’s back up to an original toilet shot.

And again-

ANDDD, since the plumbers came out to install the toilet, we were able to have them connect a laundry sink in the basement, which meant we officially had running water in the house.

Even though I had to pee upstairs then go down two flight of stairs if I wanted to wash my hands after, uh-uh, didn’t even matter. You know I was skipping down those stairs like a sweet little dollbaby. This was kind of a major breakthrough for us. We had concurrently run into some down luck with the wood floors (which I’ll get into next), so kind of scoring high on the bathroom floor, toilet and sink was pretty much a high.

Learning the twitter world is proving as confusing as home renovations, want to watch me embarrass myself there too? Or, teach me things? @rachel_yard