Grout color: sometimes you get lucky

I hemmed and hawed for a long time over the grout color for the den. The tiles are various colors (on purpose), with a reclaimed wood look. There are off-white, tan, brown, gray and charcoal tiles with different patterns in each color.

My typical go-to grout color is natural gray. Mainly because it works with many things, doesn’t grab attention, and is forever available from various companies (Laticrete, Mapei, TEC, Custom Building Products, etc.). Meaning you’ll be able to find it if you ever need a patch repair.

The den has wood paneled walls. Though it’s just plywood and moulding, the plywood is designed to look like edge-glued boards. It’s a stained red oak in color (probably originally ‘honey oak’), but the grain tells me it’s not oak. However, I wanted something that went _reasonably_ well with the walls. In other words, a brown grout of some type.

I chose SpectraLOCK Pro Premium from Laticrete because I’ve used it before and it’s a very good grout. It’s harder to install than a cementitious or ready-to-spread urethane or acrylic grout, but it’s worth the effort. It’s essentially stain proof after curing, it’s very strong, and in my experience it is very color-consistent from box to box (especially if you buy ‘Part C’ all at once to get boxes from the same batch).

The problem is that no one local stocks it. None of the big box stores carry it at all, except Floor & Decor which isn’t close to me. But the worst part is that you just can’t trust color swatches. While my main computer monitor is very color accurate, if I look at color swatches on various web sites for the color I chose, they vary dramatically. And the swatch on the grout box itself doesn’t quite match the cured grout.

I chose ‘#55 Tawny’, after thinking for a long time that I’d use Chocolate Truffle. I’m so glad I waited and gambled on the Tawny; it was the right choice. Mostly by sheer luck.

Using SpectraLOCK Pro Premium grout

It’s been a while since I’ve used Laticrete SpectraLOCK Pro Premium grout on textured tiles. I’m in the process of grouting the den floor, and the tiles are textured. The secrets to success as a DIYer with this grout…

  • Use the mini kits, not the full kits. The grout firms up fairly quickly, and becomes hard to work with in as little as 15 minutes (depending on temperature and humidity and the difficulty of the joints). You don’t want to mix more than you can use in about 15 minutes.
  • Use a 2-gallon bucket for the cleaning packets as prescribed, but use a separate 5-gallon bucket of clean water to rinse out the sponge before dunking it and wringing it in the cleaning solution again. This will put most of the epoxy into the 5-gallon bucket instead of your cleaning solution, and greatly reduce gummy build-up in the sponge.
  • Pay attention to timing. If you start the initial washdown too soon, you’ll just spread the epoxy around and probably nick up the joints. But don’t wait too long. I wait until it doesn’t stick to my finger before starting the initial wash down.
  • A white scrub pad is very useful on the second washdown. It will allow you to work the joints as needed, and loosen up epoxy on the tiles. I then use a sponge with a microfiber backing. One swipe with the sponge side, flip it over, one swipe with the microfiber.
  • As a final step I wipe down with a cheap microfiber cloth.

I’m using a 30% acetic acid (vinegar) jug to clean my sponges afterward, mixed in an appropriate ratio with water. Then rinse thoroughly. Since the mini kits come with their own sponge, I use that sponge for the initial washdown and then throw it away. It feels a little bit wasteful, but to be honest, you’re not going to get good use out of it beyond one mini kit.

cleaning up the attached garage bay (the batcave): part 2

I’m still working on cleaning up the floor. There is SO much paint that has been spilled on it over the years (previous residents), along with roof tar and I don’t know what else (some of it hasn’t been identified). I was thinking about putting epoxy on the floor, but the floor is below grade and I’m 99% sure that epoxy will delaminate from moisture seeping through the concrete. However, I’ve been looking at moisture-cured urethanes as an alternative or as a primer for a solvent-based epoxy. In particular, Aluthane. I’m not thrilled with the color (silver), but it looks like it has tenacious bonding properties and does well in moist environments. I’m still planning a BLT mat, but the Aluthane would cover areas not covered by the mat and probably reduce humidity.

This weekend I started replacing the fluorescent lighting. Previous residents had hung 8′ long dual T12 lights from the ceiling. Unfortunately, they were not done well. One of them fell recently, thank goodness my car wasn’t in the bay! The wiring was nowhere close to code; solid wire with no wire nuts, wrapped in electrical tape, run to a wall outlet with a hand-assembled plug. To turn the lights on, the plug had to be inserted into the outlet (no switch was wired). That outlet is trashed from the gazillion insertions/removals of the plug, I bought a replacement. Worst of all, the 8′ lights were FULL of rust and very heavy. When I took them down and tipped them, many pounds of rust went from one end to the other inside the lights, and poured out of the holes. They’re ancient, and have noisy magnetic ballasts.

My replacements are 4′ dual T8 shop lights with all-weather electronic ballasts (good down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit). They have 5′ cords with molded plugs. On the wall near the ceiling, I’m installing outlets and running all of the wire (14 gauge) inside flexible conduit. Having outlets makes it fairly easy to add more lights if desired, or replace the lights.

I intend to replace the single-gang switch for the incandescent lighting with a double-gang box. This will make for a nice clean installation and I’ll be able to turn the fluorescent lights on/off with the flip off a switch instead of messing with a difficult plug that is wired to solid wire.

cleaning up the attached garage bay (the batcave)

Yesterday I spent much of the day cleaning paint off the floor of the single attached garage bay. It was a mess, with some spots having 1/8″ of spilled paint (brick red color… brush-on primer?). Roofing tar was spilled on the floor too. I used paint stripper and a scraper with lots of elbow grease to remove the paint, and mineral spirits to dissolve the roofing tar. I’d estimate I scraped nearly 1/2 gallon of paint off of the floor. Some remains, but I’m not ambitious enough to remove all of it. The idea was to get rid of all of the thick stuff that had been soaked with motor oil, dirt, etc. I didn’t make this mess, it was from a previous resident. But I had grown tired of destroying clothes every time I had to be on the floor for any reason (usually car work).

Whoever made this mess got paint everywhere. The brick red paint is splashed on the door to the foyer, up to a height of 30″. There is black paint splashed on the garage door.

Today I powerwashed the floor. Just lightly, using some Simple Green in one of the mix bottles. I then squeegeed the water out and set up my fans to dry the floor.

The main point of this cleanup: I want to put a BLT garage floor mat on the floor, just like I did at my home in Dexter. I want to be able to take it with me when I leave, which means I don’t want it to be a mess on the back side.

Coping with poor ceramic tile installation and maintenance

Before I get started, let’s make one thing clear: I rent my current home, and hence don’t have an interest in dumping my own money into long-term fixes.

For background… my father was a ceramic tile contractor. An old-school one trained by Italians who knew how to install ceramic tile that would last many generations with no cracks in the tile or the grout. Yes, floating mortar bed on the floors. Mortar on the walls with metal lath. Etc.

My current home wasn’t done that way. In fact, it was done in the worst way, which guarantees problems in a fairly short period of time. All of the main living space was done in quarry tile (which I like; natural color all the way through the tile, inherent non-slip surface, not expensive). However, it was installed using mastic directly over plywood. No real tile man, young or old, would consider this intelligent. Mastic is not waterproof, and tile floors will be mopped or sponged clean. Plywood is flexible, tile and grout are not. The end result is tiles breaking free from the plywood, cracks in the grout, which then permits water to reach the mastic and accelerates the floor’s demise.

If this were my home, the solution would be to tear out the whole floor and replace it correctly. Modern method would be cement board, though I’d prefer a floating mortar bed. But this isn’t my home.

I have identified several loose tiles. A week ago I replaced 4 of them at the entrance to one of the bedrooms. Removed the tiles, removed the mastic, replaced the tiles and re-grouted. This week I replaced 6 in the center of the floor in a heavily trafficked spot. All had broken free of the plywood. Disconcerting to find that someone had attempted to repair this area before by just replacing the cracked grout with caulk. Ugh; doesn’t fix the problem, doesn’t hold up well to traffic, and the caulk on the edges of the tiles would prevent grout from ever sticking to it again. Equally disconcerting was what I found underneath: the trowel used for the mastic clearly was not a thinset trowel, the grooves were too thin. To aggravate things even more, the grooves in the tiles were laid in parallel to the grooves in the mastic. Umm, they’re supposed to be perpendicular.

If I ever meet the hack that installed this floor, I’ll be sure to chastise him. I can’t hold much against the homeowners, I don’t expect them to know the right way to install or repair ceramic tile. If I ever put tile in my own home in the future, I’m going to do it right.

Repairing sprinkler system pressure vacuum breaker

It appears that the main valve and the outdoor cutoff valve to my sprinkler system don’t fully shut off the flow of water. I had noticed this in the winter, when water was dripping out of the PVB test ports. I ignored it at the time because there wasn’t much I could do about it in sub-freezing temperatures. However, I knew the potential consequences… broken PVB innards.

Sure enough, today I opened up the PVB to find the bonnet assembly broken. And water continues to flow into the PVB with the main valve and the outdoor cutoff valve turned off. This mean those valves will need replacing. The main valve is indoors, and I’m not sure why it doesn’t function. Might just be a cheapo, I haven’t looked at it closely since it’s on the ceiling in the basement between joists. What I do know is that it’s not just a slow drip; it’s fast enough to fill the PVB in a couple of hours.

For now I’ve ordered a new Febco 905-212 repair kit for the PVB. It’ll suffice for the summer, but at some point I should replace the main valve in the basement. With water flowing into the PVB all of the time, there’s no way to prevent damage in the winter. I had left the drain spigot open outdoors, but it’s buried in a bucket and apparently it filled and froze which allowed the PVB to fill up with water and freeze too. I don’t understand why the installer decided to bury the bucket in the ground and put the drain valve in it; it’s inconvenient and asking for trouble in bad winters.