All posts by alannabrake

How to Remove Thin Set from Concrete Floor

The Last of the Tilehicans. It was actually a little sad tearing out the last one.
The Last of the Tile’hicans.
It was a little sad to remove the last one from it’s place.

I originally thought the task of removing tiles from concrete was a dirty, thankless job but now that I’ve moved onto separating the Thin-Set from the concrete I have a renewed respect for the folks who do this sort of work for a living.

As usual, I Googled for answers on what to do for this next step of my project and I found that using a floor buffer with a $350+ diamond disc is the best way to sand the thin-set from concrete floors – but between renting the buffer machine and buying the diamond disc (you can’t rent, you have to buy those), it would have cost $500-700 which would have negated the money-saving purpose of sanding the concrete floor so we can stain it in the first place. Re-tiling the floor would have cost around the same amount.

This is the diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set. Do not try this at home!
This is the 4.5″ diamond cup I used to grind down over 300 sqft of thin-set.
Do not try this at home!

Alternatively, I realized they make diamond discs for the cute little 4.5″ grinder that came free with our SRS roto hammer drill… so the conversation in my head went like this:

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Do you realize how long it would take you to finish 320+ square feet of floor with a 4.5″ diamond disc?”

“So what? We do what we have to in order to save mass amounts of cheese. The mini diamond disc is only $40 and we don’t have to rent a machine for it so we can take as long as we want to finish the job. I don’t see a problem here.”

“Psh, I’m glad it’s you and not me having to do all that grinding.   ….wait!”

“Too late! I bought the mini disc and we’re doin’ this! Game on!”

So the disc was purchased and while Jason finished removing the last of the tile in the laundry and downstairs bath, I started grinding. I tried wet grinding and I tried dry grinding. Both had their perks but I decided wet grinding was too slow and too messy to clean up with the shop vac. Apparently those little vacuum attachments that suck up the dust as you grind are not a big seller so none of the local tool stores carry them. Because of this, I decided to grind a few square feet then vacuum the area as best I could to try to keep the dust to a minimum… haha! What a sweet, ignorant woman-child I was.

This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.
This is the dust accumulation from only about 3 hours of grinding.

Dust. Dust EVERYWHERE! After grinding about 12 square inches the room would be thick with a fog of dust. It was terrible.

I finally figured out that by leaving all doors and windows open and blasting a work fan on the area I was grinding I could at least keep visibility around 85-90% and I could do more than a foot of grinding between vacuumings.

I am fully aware that this was not the best, nor the safest way to go about the job and I apologize to any neighbors that might have been hit with my could of dust – but after working for 7 hours and seeing only about 30 square feet of progress you get a little crazed and desperate. I worked on this project for over two weeks, making very little progress every day… near the end of the project I was often in tears over how sick of grinding I was.


Lanna bruised knees Lanna dusty Lanna hand

Thank heavens I had the amazing respirator I had, it would have been extremely dangerous had I not worn that level of protection. The dust wound up in every nook and cranny of my ears, nails, between my toes and other odd places. My skin began to break out in rashes all over and became scabbed and rough as if I’d been sandblasted. My hair became dry and brittle and nearly impossible to wash because the trapped dust turned to cement mud as soon as I hopped in the shower. My knees were bruised all over from kneeling for so many hours even though I wore kneepads. My hand joints became so sore and achey that I felt like I was getting a terrible case of arthritis – I am only now, 4 days after finishing the project, starting to not feel such pain in my hands.

The moral of this story is that there are some projects that aren’t worth taking extreme shortcuts on. This was one of them. If you need to grind thin-set from the floor of a small room, say 80-100 sqft., then using a diamond disc on an angle grinder will work beautifully and the project should only take a couple of days and cost you a measly $40 plus a replacement shop vac filter. Otherwise, hire a pro or at least rent the appropriate tools if you can afford them. Other tools you may want to consider when grinding thin-set are:

  • an awesomesauce shop vac and a spare filter
  • a wire scrub brush to loosen up the mud residue if you’re doing wet grinding
  • goggles are better than safety glasses – the dust will really irritate your eyes
  • knee pads
  • good jammin’ tunes so you don’t go mad listening to the grinder screech for hours
  • Full body clothes and gloves. Expose yourself to the dust as little as possible
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4" and 1/2" thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
This is an example of the thin-set I was working with. it was between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick in places. The smooth area near the door is how it looked after I worked on it.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.
The floor is finished! The dust clean up took me another 3 hours and 3 clean-outs of the shop vac.

One Man’s Trash…

I haven’t quite finished writing my post about removing Thin-Set from concrete, but I just had to gush about this wicked Craigslist find I picked up.

I was looking for a simple, maybe vintage or shabby-chic pedestal sink to replace the outdated vanity in the downstairs restroom of Brake Manor when I noticed a fairly unique post that I just couldn’t pass up. Most of the sinks I had found were between $60-120, but even the $120 sinks were all fairly plain and boring. There was one posting, however, that offered a strikingly unique modern sink (one I didn’t think I’d normally have been drawn to) with little porcelain shelf wings on the sides, metal towel bars, and a side mounted faucet… all for only $75.

I emailed the gal, we chatted back and forth, and I told her I was smitten and wanted to come pick it up ASAP. We set a time for the next night since she was located about an hour away, and that was that. …I thought.

I emailed her again on the day I was to pick up the sink, thinking it would have been smarter of me to get the dimensions before committing to the purchase, but she must’ve been at work and didn’t respond. So, being the resourceful gal I am I started Googling for similar images trying to find this sink and it’s dimensions. After a few minutes, I found it. ….aaand I also found the original cost of the sink:

Though I'm not a materialistic girl I have an unexplained penchant for expensive items. I could walk into any store and be immediately drawn to the most expensive item - I found this still rings true, even on Craigslist.
Though I’m not a materialistic girl I have an unexplained penchant for expensive items. I could walk into any store and be immediately drawn to the most expensive item – I found this still rings true, even on Craigslist.

The sink we picked up has the European drain option -which brings the cost up to the $1010- and a slightly fancier faucet mounted on the left side of the bowl. Once I knew the original cost of the sink and factored in the cute faucet I couldn’t help but laugh. I am known for being drawn to the most expensive item in a store, even if I have no previous knowledge about the product at hand. I know nothing of mountain bikes, but if I were to walk into a specialty shop I have zero doubt I’d be drawn to the only $15k bike in the store.

When Jason and I picked up the sink we learned the gal selling it is an architect in Denver and routinely receives rejected items from high-end projects when the client decides to change their mind last-minute.

So now, in our modest shabby-chic DIY cottage, we will be sporting a very out-of-place $1000+ Porcher designer sink that only set us back $75 and an evening of drive time. I am thoroughly entertained by this! It just goes to show how one man’s trash is most certainly another man’s treasure. Someone originally paid $1k for a stinkin’ sink, then tossed it aside on a whim, and someone who either didn’t know how much the sink cost -or didn’t care- sold it to a second-hand-seeking DIYer for $75.

Next steal I’m hoping to make is a vintage iron claw-foot tub. Any suggestions on where to look in Northern Colorado?

Now how do I get one of these bad boys for a steal?
Now how do I get one of these bad boys for a steal?


How to Remove Tile From Concrete

Welcome to Home Renovation Jeopardy!

Answer: SRS Roto Hammer Drill

Question: How to get those damn tiles off of a concrete floor without breaking my back?

MakitaAfter struggling to find a means of removing the tile in the kitchen I stumbled across a YouTube video demonstrating how well a rotary hammer drill accomplishes this task.  Soon after, I found a deal on a 1″ roto drill and a “free” 4.5″ grinder for only $199 at Home Depot (I swear I’m not trying to promote Home Depot, they’re just the only decent home improvement box store in my area) and once I realized that for the same price of renting a massive tile stripper machine for one day I could play for keeps with a hammer drill and grinder, the drill and grinder won. I mean, hey, I should have plenty of projects in the future to use those on.

As much fun as it is, tile removal is not a pretty job. It’s dusty (for health’s sake, wear your dust masks, people!!), and noisy, and not at all glamourous. Expect to get hit with loads of flying tile shards as you work. But daaamn does it feel good to rip into materials as solid as ceramic tile and concrete like they’re butter under a warm knife! I also love the fact that a hammer drill is just as easy for a weakling like myself to use as it is for a buff man. All you have to do is gently press the drill to the edge of the tile and off it goes! It does all the hard work for you, and in fact, it works better if you put little effort into it at all.

In roughly 8 hours of work time we’ve removed all floor tiles in the house except for the ones in the laundry room and downstairs bath. The only reason we haven’t knocked those out yet is because we need to keep a door or window open so our fan can help manage the dust and the weather simply hasn’t been cooperating this week. Right now, as I type, it’s a balmy 2°f out there. ::shivers::

Tomorrow through Friday should be much warmer, around 45°, and hopefully I can finish all tile removal by the weekend so I can start cleaning up the 1/8″ of cement dust currently resting on EVERYTHING in the kitchen. Yuck.

Coming soon: how to grind Thin Set (the cement-like glue stuff you’ll find under the tiles) off of cement.

You can't see it, but we're giving our fiercest tile battling war-cries under those masks.
You should know we’re giving our fiercest tile battling war-cries under those masks.


Silica Crysta-What Now??

*Huchhh Kshh*Luuuke... I am your contractor.
*Huchhh Kshh*
Luuuke… I am your contractor.

Ever heard of Asbestos? Who hasn’t! We all know it’s super dangerous and shouldn’t be disturbed since the airborne particles cause lung cancer.

Ever heard of Silica Crystalline? No? Neither had I until I was two days into tearing up our tile floors -donning nothing more than a ghetto dust mask- and received a what-the-holy-crap-are-you-doing?! tip from my concerned father. Apparently, airborne Silica Crystalline is in all things cement and ceramic and is just as dangerous as our old friend Asbestos. It just hasn’t gotten the same press. Silica really needs to fire her PR manager and hook up with Asbestos’ agency because they’re really doing a fab job about getting the word out.

If you are planning to do any work with ceramic tiles or concrete grinding check out these informative links before you get started:

Concrete Polishing Magazine (Weird, right? But seriously, it’s a real magazine) 

These are the masks we picked up at Home Depot for under $40 each. We decided they would be useful on all future projects  so we sprang for the heavy duty ones. And believe it or not, these beastly masks are way more comfortable (and easier to breathe in) than those flimsy paper dust masks.

Safe renovating, my friends!

Renovations: Day 6

This past week has been so much fun for me; ripping into walls and smashing tiles, tearing down cabinets and diligently learning -via YouTube videos- how to do each step of all of these projects.  I’ve spent the week alone in Brake Manor (while my sweet hubby works the day job so we can afford to do this…) with the tunes cranked and donning my dust mask and goggles like a rockstar.  Jason was able to come work with me this weekend and the job was even more fun with him at my side. [insert girly swoon here]

As of this morning, here’s where we’re at:

Gas Leak1. the final gas leak has been found and repaired. I eventually gave up and had to call in a pro. It turns out the leak was a lengthwise split in one of the pipes deep in an inaccessible attic-space.  It was an expensive fix but the fact that I didn’t have to swim in loose fiberglass insulation made it totally worth it.

No Wallpaper2. all wallpaper has been removed, sans behind the toilet in the downstairs bath. I’m still a little afraid to remove the toilet yet. I also scraped all the popcorn (non-asbestos popcorn, don’t worry) from the ceiling.

3. the vanity in the bathroom has been removed, walls have been cleaned off and are ready for a skim coat (sans, of course, behind the toilet. I figure I’ll try to do that tonight when Jason can help me lift it).

4. all kitchen wall cabinets and backsplash tiles have been removed, and all lower cupboards except for the one with the sink have been detached so they can be shifted around as we work on the floor.

With Kitchen CabinetsWithout Kitchen Cabinets

5. demo on the kitchen tile is about halfway done. We wanted to leave the cute white tile with charcoal grout but the floor wasn’t tiled under the cabinets (as you can see on the right hand side of the above photos), and we were unable to find the same tile anywhere so we had to do it since we don’t plan on keeping the same cabinet configuration.

I’ve taken today off to catch up on my day-job duties and research options for grinding the Thin-set off of the concrete where the tiles used to be, but hopefully this evening I can head back over to the Manor to kock out a few more floor tiles and move that toilet. The rest of the week is supposed to be a balmy 46-48˚which will make it a little less miserable to run the fresh-air fan with an open door while sanding; but then it’s supposed to drop back into the 20’s and snow on Saturday. Here’s hoping I can manage to finish tearing up the floor and make all the runs to the dump before the snow hits.

…and Let the Renovations Begin!

OMG it's ours!
OMG it’s ours!

Closing went smoothly -Jason’s mom and brother acted as POA’s for Grandma and came to the signing- and for some bizarre reason I was completely zen all morning beforehand. We all smiled and laughed and said our goodbyes after we were finished at closing but the the moment Jason and I got in the car I broke down in a hot mess of tears. The relief and finality of the closing allowed me to let go and start to feel that little-kid excitement about our new place again.

Once my tears were mostly dried we picked up a bottle of Prosecco and stopped at Chipotle for a to-go lunch and had ourselves a picnic in the loft of the new house. The champagne bottle exploded as we opened it -flying cork slamming into the ceiling and all- and we got champagne all over the carpet. At first we both looked at each other with an “oh shit, Grandma’s going to be so mad!”, and then we both smiled and shrugged because we realized it was now our carpet we were ruining. It’s a good thing we are planning to replace it anyhow.

Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft
Our Prosecco and Chipotle carpet picnic in the loft

The last week has been overly busy and we’ve only had a few hours at the new house but so far we’ve moved all of grandma’s remaining belongings into the garage so Jason’s mom can take them to storage, torn into the wall behind the dryer to get at that pesky gas leak (or we found a leak, anyway. It may not be the only one up there), now I just need to find a few pipe wrenches to see if we can just tighten the leak away.  We also bought a little steamer and started removing the wallpaper in Jason’s office and the West kitchen wall. It’s such a tedious task but it’ll be so great to have it gone! The back-splash tiles in the kitchen will also be going away so I started slowly chipping at them too. Demolition… feels good, man.

This weekend was a fairly stressful one between shooting a 12 hour frigid December wedding and getting my 4Runner stuck in a snowy mountain ditch (another story for another time…), so it felt really good for both Jason and I to put on our work clothes, turn up the tunes and start working on our house together.  The stress melted away as we worked and all that’s left of the weekend now is our sore muscles and big smiles.

A few backsplash tiles removed.
A few backsplash tiles removed.
Steaming wallpaper on the kitchen wall. It was adhered to raw drywall so it's coming off a little rougher than we'd hoped.
Steaming the kitchen wallpaper off. It was adhered to raw drywall so it’s coming off a little rougher than we’d hoped. I have a feeling we’ll be getting really good at mudding in the near future. ;)


I’m heading back over to the house this morning to continue steaming the wallpaper but I think I might stop by our discount grocery first and pick up a few food items so it feels a bit more like home while I work. I keep brewing coffee every time I go over there in hopes that it will start smelling a little more like home too.

Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*
Our cozy cottage blanketed in snow. *swoon*

Bright, Bright Sunshinin’ Day

As an update to “The Trouble With Underwriters“: it turns out we were met with chilled Champagne, not the guillotine :)

The last few weeks have been chockablock full of ToDo’s with not enough time to keep up with my blog, darn it. Now that I have a little time this morning, here’s where my head is at:

This week (and the last month or so) has been one of the best of my life, and I’m reeling from the amount of gratitude I feel for knowing I’ve gotten to experience full, true happiness before I die. My photography career is taking off faster than I could have ever dreamed of, I am surrounded by such amazing friends and family (for this I am MOST grateful for), my darling hubby and I are about to sign on our dream home tomorrow, and a new fresh year full of even more possibilities is about to begin.

I have had this nagging twinge of guilt for how wonderfully things have been going for us while the world at large has been going through a terrible rough spell, but after thinking long and hard about it I realized that all good times are fleeting. Just as I could hit the jackpot on the Powerball tomorrow, I could also lose the love of my life in an auto accident. I’ve come to the conclusion that being over-the-moon-happy when things are going well is not something anyone should ever feel guilt about.

We made our own anniversary holiday ornament this year. A compass, because I found my way this year, and a key for the new house.
We made our own anniversary holiday ornament this year. A compass, because I found my way this year, and a key for the new house.

We all experience good times and bad, and I just so happen to be in an upswing after spending most of my twenties struggling to find a path. The last 6 years were difficult for many reasons – though mostly because I felt so lost and without a compass –  but now, to quote good ol’ Johnny Nash (though, as a child of the Cool Runnings generation I prefer the Jimmy Cliff version. Ha ha!):

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sunshinin’ day

Tomorrow we close on Brake Manor at noon. There are no words for how excited I am to take on this new adventure with my hunny.  It’s been months of paperwork and roadblocks but we’ve made it through and everything has worked out for us.

Though it may seem silly, I want to thank all the folks who have helped us get to closing day: Jason’s wonderful family for being so supportive and helpful as we try to make this transition. They knew how much it meant for us to keep grandma’s house in the family and they helped us make it happen.  Thank you to John Polansky of CitiGroup – this man is a rockstar in the world of lenders. Never have I dealt with anyone  as prompt, thorough, diligent and kind as John. For anyone in Northern Colorado needing a home loan, we HIGHLY recommend John ….we’ve used him three times in the last 6 years and he has never disappointed. Tonya Brigham, of CitiGroup Title; this woman tells it like it is and was completely supportive of my mission to buy a house without using a real estate agent. She was so helpful as I learned about the process. Jason, my rock and knight in shining armor who has  been so supportive as I giggled and cried tears of joy one minute but then turned around and worried we were crazy for trying to do this the next. He’s listened to me gush about all the plans I have for the new house, and then hugs me tight when I worry we might fail…. he is, by far, the best husband a girl with big dreams could ever ask for. And a final thank you to all our friends and family who were so encouraging and offered additional shoulders to cry on and ears to bend about this adventure. Rest easy all, there’ll be no more house buying for a long time ;)

That’s all for now, I suppose. Jason and I are going to take tomorrow off so we can go do a little something to celebrate (and to relearn how to breathe easy) after the closing. Champagne and a carpet picnic in the new house? Quite possibly.



The Trouble with Underwriters

Ohhh, crap on a flapjack! I figured things were going far too smoothly up to this point. It was only a matter of time before someone came along and popped my bubble and dropped my butt back into reality.

I covered all our bases, I had all of our ducks neatly in a row, we have spent upwards of $800 on tests and forms and inspections to avoid nasty surprises, I have researched all possible hiccups to the point where I could now teach a class on Radon mitigation or Asbestos… I have done everything humanly possible to make sure nothing bites us in the butts during the purchase of this house. Too bad it still wasn’t enough…

Last night we got an email from our lender saying the underwriter had decided that buying an awesome 1890’s beautiful brick bungalow on .5 acres of land in the center of the Loveland art scene for slightly under the market value -from family members- is somehow not a good enough reason to leave and rent out the house we’re living in right now, and so that is enough of a red flag for them to deny our primary residence loan.  Although -they ever so helpfully suggested- we could simply come up with an additional $15k and just buy it using a rental property loan if we wanted to. Oh, $15k, is that all??

this is how I feel about this
Fry gets it.

This sort of feels like trying to convince an insurance company that you actually do need that appendectomy the doctor ordered and you’re not just requesting they cut into your body for shits and grins.

*twitch…t-tw-twitch*, says Lanna’s poor little stressed out eyelid.

So, after a mini fit of fury and sobs over the fact that I never could have predicted, nor circumnavigated, an issue like this I set to work writing the rebuttal letter our lender is recommending. Though the fact that we already have a renter for the Evans house is, again, somehow still not enough evidence to show we plan on moving into the Roosevelt house [seriously?! WTF] – I added 7 other reasons we want to move into the Roosevelt house… but at this point I don’t think it’ll be of any use if having renters isn’t already proof enough.

The letter is written, the lender has double checked it and added his points that he feels will further help clarify our intentions, and we’ll sign it and submit it tonight.

And so now we wait… to be met with either chilled champagne or a guillotine. Though we won’t know which until it is 3 inches from our throats.

Worry-Free Moving

Worry-free moving? Okay, I know that’s a stretch, but I figured there has to be a “best practices” plan to pack up our entire life and shuttle it across town…

The loan is in process, my sister and her husband will be renting our house out until next October, and we’re already picking out carpet and paint for Brake Manor (have I mentioned that’s what we’re affectionately calling it these days?) and we’re counting down the time until Closing and the big move.

After a quick search I found an article regarding painless moving on . The article has reasonable advice and the commentaries after the article are just as useful.

Check it out:

The ball is rolling…

Tonight we met with the family and went over the contract for Grandma’s house. No one had any major concerns so we drove over to Grandma’s with her son, the executor of her estate, and his wife for a visit and so we could all sign the contract together. We sat in the nursing home’s little coffee house (it’s such a lovely place, if I had to live in a nursing home I’d hope to land in that one) and we shared yummy snacks and chatted for an hour. She told us how Jason’s scruffy bearded face made her laugh, and she repeatedly noted how we all were wearing glasses. She looked well, much more robust than the last time I had seen her, and she was her usual spunky self throughout the visit.

Since grandma’s memory has gotten pretty spotty we had to keep reminding her what the papers on the table were for. Each time she’d question her son he would patiently explain it all over again, “Alanna and Jason would like to buy and take care of your house for you”. Repeatedly he’d explain it, and each time she’d exclaim how happy it made her that we wanted it and that we were keeping it in the family… just before gasping about how much work those big trees are and asking if we really wanted to do all that work. :) I just adore that woman – her moxie makes me so happy.

All day before the signing Jason and I jokingly asked each other if we were truly ready to do this… and lots of “yes!”‘s and reassuring hugs were exchanged. I was fairly nervous about signing the papers because it brought my longstanding daydream into reality, but knowing my sweet husband is as excited as I am about this big change makes me feel like we can conquer any challenge that comes our way.

After visiting with Eileen and seeing how excited she was each time we reminded her that we were going to buy her house it sealed the deal for us. There is no doubt in my mind that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be at this very moment.

I can’t believe it. The contract is signed and the ball is rolling. Today is the beginning of a very interesting adventure. <3

But for now, I’m off to bed. My excitement is giving way to emotional and physical exhaustion.

Goodnight, Moon.