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Mr. & Mrs. DIY – Through the Thick and Thin of Building a Concrete Countertop

Concrete countertops, recognized first by architects and designers for their aesthetic potential and project versatility, are fast becoming the answer to homeowners’ demands for a relatively inexpensive countertop alternative that doesn’t require a high-level of expertise to install. In addition, they offer homeowners an exciting opportunity to literally try their hands at being creative. Step-by-step books, videos and hands-on training are now readily available for homeowners to confidently engage in such do-it-yourself (DIY) projects as building concrete countertops.

Married couple Chris and Ali were excited to take on a DIY project after purchasing their San Francisco flat. A logistical real estate developer/construction manager and an educational specialist, Chris and Ali are also architecture and home design enthusiasts. With a penchant for getting their hands dirty, building and installing their own concrete countertop seemed a natural choice for them.

Chris happens to be no stranger to concrete: “My interest goes back several years when I was building restaurants and retail spaces. I installed concrete countertops and worked with concrete artisans doing integral color and stained concrete floors.”

In April of 2003, Chris and Ali purchased a two-flat building in space-challenged San Francisco. Recently, they sold the lower flat as a tenant-in-common unit and now occupy the upper flat, which offers roughly 950 sq. ft. of living space. Before they considered building their own kitchen concrete countertop, they hired a contractor for an extensive remodel of the home. The result is an open, loft-like living space where the kitchen and living zones flow together.

“We both enjoy the process of designing and creating our own living space to fit how we live. This applies to the space we occupy as well as the details within it,” says Ali. “We both like the idea of working with our hands, using materials that are natural, accessible […] and flexible.” Chris added, “Concrete counters are beautiful, cool, earthy, solid, and you just want to touch them. The counters were a perfect way for us to create something beautiful out of our own ideas and hard work, and the uniqueness of the end product is a representation of our unique ideas.”

Their kitchen, 10 feet wide by 15 feet long (150 sq. ft.), didn’t offer much room for Chris and Ali to work — but that didn’t stop the big plans they had for their narrow kitchen. They wanted to have a logical cooking zone with a work triangle, plenty of counter space and still have enough room to accommodate a dining area.

Like most urban San Francisco properties, space is almost always an issue. To remedy this, a straight run of upper and lower cabinets and a concrete countertop with a dishwasher, sink, oven and stove were placed along one wall of the kitchen. A built-in banquette and dining table are located opposite the concrete countertop work area. An adjacent wall hosts a refrigerator and tall cabinets.

Chris and Ali agree that the most interesting addition to the kitchen is the concrete countertop. The couple’s instructional guide and source for design inspiration was award-winning designer Fu-Tung Cheng’s Concrete Countertops: Design, Forms, and Finishes for the New Kitchen and Bath (Taunton, 2002), a national bestseller in the remodeling and design genre.

The finished countertop is a visually stunning work surface with rich, complex colors: reddish-brown with flecks of semi-precious Leopardskin (yellow and black) aggregates. “This particular color combination blended perfectly with the color theme we had for the cabinetry, tile backsplash, floor and wall finishes,” says Ali.

Understated design details of the 12-foot long, 3-inch thick concrete countertop include rounded edges at the countertop front and the sink openings as well as a decorative metal strip under the front edge of the countertop to conceal the plywood sub-top.

Chris and Ali took special note that despite the tight working space of their basement, their collaborative work ran smoothly from pour to finish. “Like the rest of our remodeling project, building the concrete countertop brought us closer together,” says Chris. “We work very well together. It starts from the fact that we communicate very well and our design ideas complement each other.”

With the completion of the project and the creative work done, Chris and Ali admit that their biggest challenge was building the concrete forms. “Particularly for the sink cut-out, which has radius corners and two different size basins,” says Chris.

Despite a couple of minor learning curves, Chris maintains that there is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment upon completing their concrete countertop. “The best part is seeing and feeling the finished product and knowing we did it!” It’s been said that if a couple can survive a home remodel — especially a DIY project — together, they can survive anything.

From the looks of a job well done on their first concrete countertop, these happy do-it-yourselfers are in it for the long haul. Chris says of future projects, “We plan to create a concrete fireplace surround and perhaps a hearth to go with it!”

 

Thank you for taking the time with me to learn more about what Mr. Done Right, the handyman / contractor does for you.

Sincerely,

Don Fenton

(AKA) Mr. Done Right

For more information on handyman or contractor work in the greater Austin area (or beyond), please contact your premiere handyman, Don Fenton, AKA Mr. Done Right Handyman Contractor of Austin, because Mr. Done Right ensures any repairs and/or remodels get Done Right the first time! Call us now for a free estimate! 512-659-8931

www.Handyman-Austin.com

 

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Laying Vinyl Tile The Right Way

Vinyl Tile is still one of the best floor coverings to choose for kitchens and bathrooms. Ceramic tile is great, but the cost to have a professional install it can be prohibitive. The answer, vinyl tiles installed by you. You will save a lot of money you can use toward other home improvements you want to do.

Vinyl tile is also a great choice for other reasons. There are some beautiful choices of both style and color. There are so many different patterns and colors to choose from that you will want to take your time in choosing something that will enhance the beauty of your kitchen or bathroom.

In addition to that, vinyl tile is much better than linoleum for practical reasons. With a linoleum floor, one accident and the whole floor is ruined basically, because it is all one piece. When you buy vinyl tile, you buy extra squares. If an accident ruins one or two tiles, you replace them.

In this article I will help you learn how to install your own vinyl tile floor with confidence. I’m going to teach you the old school way of laying this beautiful floor covering. I call it old school, because I learned from tile layers that had been doing it for years before I started.

First, we need to start with the basics. I don’t know what is on the floor where you plan to put down vinyl tile, so I’m going to show you what our preparation goals are. We want a nice smooth surface to lay our vinyl tile on.

Some people will tile over existing tile. This can be okay, but it is not the preferred choice. To do this right, you need to remove whatever flooring is there now, until you are down to either a smooth cement or wooden surface.

If there are cracks and valleys or unleveled surfaces, they need to be filled and smoothed out before we can start laying your vinyl tile. On cement or wooden surfaces, you can use cement to fill in and smooth the surface. You can also install plywood over the existing floor to achieve the surface your vinyl tile needs. You caulk in all the joints after installing the plywood. You can use Durok as well.

The goal, as I said before, is to have a smooth surface before you begin to lay vinyl tile. Otherwise, your tile will crack wherever pressure is placed on the tile over existing rough areas.

Now, buying the vinyl tile you want is next. There is self-adhesive vinyl tile that is very inexpensive. However, remember you get what you pay for. The adhesive on these tiles is not of great quality and you will be replacing them often. They are usually very thin as well, so they are easily damaged.

The thicker the vinyl tile, the more expensive and durable it is. That is the rule of thumb. Choose vinyl tile that has about 1/8” thickness or above and you will have a floor that will last a long time. So choose your style and color wisely. It will be with you awhile.

Now, the tools you will need are next. You will not need a tile cutter. That isn’t the old school method. Using a tile cutter is tedious and slow, and your edges will never be tight. You will need a good razor knife, a small butane torch, a trowel with teeth along one edge for applying the adhesive, some old rags, and some mineral spirits.

A lot of experts will tell you to always begin in the center of the room when laying any kind of tile. However with kitchens and bathrooms, this is not always or even often the best method. Starting at one wall and working toward your cabinets is much better, because most of your tiles that need to be cut will be under the edge of the cabinets and not seen.

Starting along one wall, trowel on your adhesive, making sure there are ridges by using the toothed edge of your trowel. Do not go too far away from the wall as you will be laying tile there and don’t want to have to reach while doing so.

Let the adhesive dry for about 15 minutes so it’s very sticky. Lay your first tile at the corner and continue to lay a row, making sure you keep your tiles aligned. As you get to the end of your row, do not worry about the area that is left over where a whole tile will not fit in. We will take care of that last. However, remove the adhesive from that area so it won’t dry before we get back to it.

The adhesive you applied should have gone just a little further out than the row of tile itself, so now you have a row, with a little adhesive area waiting for the next row.

Now start back at the beginning. Apply a little more than a row’s width of adhesive, let it dry, then lay another row of tile, again making sure you align the tiles with each other so your lines are straight..

Once you have done the entire floor except those areas where a whole tile would not fit in, let the floor dry until tomorrow. Do not allow anyone to walk on the floor. The adhesive takes time to dry.

Now, once the adhesive is dry, we are ready to do the cutting in portion of your vinyl tile job. You should be able to walk carefully on the tiles without moving them by now. If not, you may have used too much adhesive and will have to wait longer, until you are sure it is dry.

Now, let’s cut it in. Go to where your first row that ended with a little space left over. Apply some adhesive to that area, plus on the floor, along the wall where you are going to put in your cut pieces of vinyl tile. Let that dry, just as you did before for 15 minutes.

Now, take a full vinyl tile, matching it up with your tiles already on the floor at the bottom, lean it at an angle to the wall. Let me explain so you are sure to understand. You place the tile against the edge of the last tile in the row as if you were about to lay it down, but just let it lean against the wall at whatever angle it has to.

Now, you will need your razor knife and your small butane torch. Be careful with the little torch that you don’t burn anything, please. If you are not comfortable with handling a small torch, this method is not for you.

Place the fingers of one hand on the top of the tile along the wall with very slight downward pressure. Wave the flame of the torch back and forth across the center of the tile about where you would like it to bend. Don’t let the flame linger on the tile to melt it. Keep a distance so it only gets heated up.

As it gets hot, the pressure from your fingers will begin to push the vinyl tile downward, bending it into place. As soon as the tile is bent to the point where it is flat against the floor and the rest against the wall, set down your torch, pointing it carefully away from anything or anyone, and take your razor knife and cut along the bend right at the wall. It will cut like butter.

Now that tile fits perfectly to the contour of the wall. It also, because of the light pressure you applied as you pressed it down, has tightened up that entire row, so the vinyl tiles will not separate later. This is a floor that will last a long time and answers the problem of the tiles separating later.

Continue that same process for each row and everywhere the tiles need to be cut in. Then clean up. You are now an old school master at laying vinyl tile!

One last warning, as I said before, if you are not comfortable using flame, you should go ahead and use a tile cutter. It may not be as tight, but you can still do a good job with it without endangering yourself. This article was intended to pass on an old school method I learned and have used to lay many beautiful tile floors that lasted for years. I hope that by passing it onto you, the old way will not be lost.

Thank you for taking the time with me to learn more about what Mr. Done Right, the handyman / contractor does for you.

Sincerely,

Don Fenton

(AKA) Mr. Done Right

For more information on handyman or contractor work in the greater Austin area (or beyond), please contact your premiere handyman, Don Fenton, AKA Mr. Done Right Handyman Contractor of Austin, because Mr. Done Right ensures any repairs and/or remodels get Done Right the first time! Call us now for a free estimate! 512-659-8931

www.Handyman-Austin.com

 

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DIY Methods to Save on Utilities

If your utility bill is out of control, you need to consider ways to tame the beast. There are plenty of do it yourself [DIY] ways to save on utilities.

DIY Methods to Save on Utilities

Utility costs for heating, cooling and electricity are near record highs. Worse, they are expected to rise fairly dramatically over the next few years. Since you will live in a residence for the rest of your life, making small changes to save money on utilities will save you tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. Here are some areas to check out and fix to start saving some bucks.

Leaks and drafts from the interior of your home to the exterior can easily double your utility bill. There are a couple of obvious areas to check out such as windows, frames around doors, fireplaces and entrances to attics. Less obvious spots to check include gaps around electric outlets, mail slots, pipes, spaces around baseboards and gaps around air conditioners where the interface with the exterior. If you find gaps, caulking can often take care of the problem or you can pursue a weekend DIY repair.

Insulation in a home can be a real problem when it comes to utilities. Since I hope to avoid getting sued, let me just suggest builders tend to use the minimum amount and grade of insulation required by regulations when building homes. If you live in a tract home, this may be all the more true.

If you seal the areas where you have drafts, but the heater or air conditioner is still turning on every few minutes, insulation may be a problem. Inspecting insulation isn’t the easiest or most comfortable task. The easiest method is to first climb into the attic and see if there is any exposed insulation. Unfortunately, the grade of insulation in the ceiling may not match the grade in the walls.

To check the walls, the best bet is to find a small are where you might have a hole. Closets are typical spots. If you have kids, look for areas where a doorknob has punched through a wall. If none of these are available, you can remove a small surface area in a closet. Once done, determine if the entire area is filled with insulation as well as the R grade of your insulation. Compare it to recommended grades in your area. You can then patch the area and nobody will be the wiser. If all else fails, get a thermal inspection for a professional.

Most people are not going to need to blow out their insulation. Doing so will help, but sealing a home will go a long way to cutting your utility costs. With this in mind, give your home the once over.

 

Thank you for taking the time with me to learn more about what Mr. Done Right, the handyman / contractor does for you.

Sincerely,

Don Fenton

(AKA) Mr. Done Right

For more information on handyman or contractor work in the greater Austin area (or beyond), please contact your premiere handyman, Don Fenton, AKA Mr. Done Right Handyman Contractor of Austin, because Mr. Done Right ensures any repairs and/or remodels get Done Right the first time! Call us now for a free estimate! 512-659-8931

www.Handyman-Austin.com

 

Mr. Done Right on Facebook Mr. Done Right on Yelp Mr. Done Right on Angie's List Mr. Done Right on Yellow Pages, YP.com

* Click here to protect your privacy and the safety of your children on the Internet.

 
 

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