Now that the majority of major construction is finished, it seems the rest of the work is smaller, more localized projects such as building the shower, building the kitchen cabinets, building the stairs, building the couch, etc. None of those projects are as major as, you know, framing, but just because they address a smaller section of the house doesn’t mean they aren’t still hard work. In fact, Eric would argue that these jobs are more of a headache because from here on out, everything has to have function and form. Sure, we wanted the siding to look perfect, but no one is really going to look at every seam of it to see if the boards line up just right. So, if some are off (which some are) then oh well. But, if the stairs are crooked, or if the cabinets won’t shut, or if the couch is uncomfortable…people will notice that. And, more importantly, I will notice it. Once the spray foam went into the house, it signaled a shift from just making sure things work, to making sure things work and look really nice.
This includes the shower floor, which was the first project we tackled after the spray foam was installed. This project was definitely a learning experience for us. Eric decided to make our shower floor out of sandcrete, which is a kind of concrete. We debated getting a traditional shower pan, but we could never find the correct size, and why buy it when we can build it?! So, many youtube tutorials later, we started on the shower floor. PS: I’ll probably say the word “concrete” in this post, but just remember what I’m really talking about is sandcrete, which is basically a type of concrete, so never mind, just don’t worry about it, it’s all the same thing.
The first thing to tackle was building up the edge of the shower so water won’t pour out into the rest of the bathroom. Eric put down a vapor barrier, and then built up the threshold with three 2x4s. We then used one of my favorite tools, the hole saw, to drill all the way through the subfloor, insulation, and the metal trailer for our shower drain. I loved drilling through everything and seeing all the different layers. Eric then cut the subfloor to have a slanted downward angle to fit the drain. Once the hole was ready, he glued the drain and pipe together, put it in the hole, and then sealed it up.
Then, Eric laid down the flexible PVC shower liner. It reminded me of above ground pool liners, and basically felt like a rubber blanket. He laid it on the shower floor and wrapped the threshold in the liner, and nailed it onto each shower wall about a foot up from the ground. This is so the liner can act as a water barrier behind the shower walls. Then, he cut small holes so four bolts on the drain could pop through the liner. Those bolts are necessary to hold down the second piece of the drain that fastens down holding the liner tightly in place around the hole for the drain. Once that second piece was in place, Eric cut the drain hole in the liner so water could actually drain out of the shower.
Once the liner was in place, it was time for the sandcrete to go in! This part was a total “learn as you go” experience for us. I, of course, had visions of stained and polished concrete in my head, while Eric would have been happy if it looked just like a regular old sidewalk. I wanted the cement to look a little darker than a regular sidewalk so we decided to add in a charcoal powder to the mix. Once it was the right color we began to add the water. Right away we realized, “Oh my. It’s black.” When adding the charcoal color, we didn’t realize that it was actually a dye, so when the water mixed in, the charcoal dissolved and coated everything black. Too late now, though, so we kept on with the project.
The water had to be added and mixed very slowly. We wanted to get the ratio just right so the sandcrete wouldn’t be too wet and slop around and not firm up, but we also didn’t want it to be too dry and not set and keep crumbling. We added water until we could squeeze the mixture in a fist and it wouldn’t fall apart when we opened our hands. By the time the mixture was ready, the color had grown on me, and I was really pumped about my dark shower floors.
Eric began the long, pain-staking process of leveling the concrete on the shower floor. Except, we didn’t want it quite level. Eric actually had the concrete sloping towards the drain. It sounds like an easy job to do, but every little adjustment on one section of the floor, meant an additional adjustment somewhere else on the floor. Eric used a cut 2×4 to flatten, pack down, and slope the concrete. Once he was satisfied with how the floor looked, we played the “waiting and obsessively checking on the floor” game. Once enough time had passed, we went to see if our floor had turned out the way we hoped, and it looked….okay.
We had a nice dark color, but it didn’t seem to be even throughout the floor. The bigger problem, however, were several small spots where the floor was loose sand. Apparently we hadn’t gotten the mixture wet enough, so as the floor dried some spots just turned into sand instead of hard concrete. It was a bit of a disappointment, but we were determined to persevere. We scrubbed the floor with a wire brush to get all the loose sand up, and then vacuumed all the grit away. We then mixed a smaller batch of concrete (with dye) together in hopes of patching up the divots and holes we created by removing the loose sand. After smoothing it out over and over again, we were finally ready to let it set again. This time it worked, and while the floor definitely has some variation to it, the sandcrete pretty much worked out.
Once the concrete was set, it was time to seal it up so that the water would run over the floor to the drain, instead of absorbing into the floor and then draining. We painted on several coats of sealer just to be safe. Each coat made the floor look more wet, which I really liked. I liked the color, but I wasn’t crazy about the variations in it. And, eventually, I began to worry that the dark floor would make the small shower seem cramped or dirty. So, of course, I began to doubt everything. Eric was thrilled to hear this revelation, let me tell you!
After going back and forth and back and forth, I decided I would paint the floor with a stencil to brighten it up. After wasting a bunch of time searching, I finally found a stencil I really loved. It was a beautiful Moroccan design, and I was pumped. After picking out two different shades of light grey, I was finally ready to go. I decided to paint the floor white and use the greys in the stencil design. When the white was ready, I taped down my stencil, sketched out my color plan, and started painting…. Only to realize that I’m an idiot who didn’t think about how the slight bumps in our floor would make it impossible to paint on a stencil and leave crisp lines. Ugh.
Now, I’m not a perfectionist in every task I tackle, but there are times when it rears it’s ugly head. This project was one of those times. When the stencil didn’t work, I repainted my white base, and decided to make my own design using Frog tape. At least then I could try to seal up the edges of the tape to make fairly crisp lines. Painter’s tape isn’t all that flexible, however, so I decided a simple pattern would be best. Diamonds, it is. I laid out my tape pattern, smooshed down all the edges, planned out my colors, and finally started painting. I carefully worked my way through each diamond. Once the paint was dry, it was time to pull up the tape and see how this was really going to look. I was pretty nervous that it was still going to look rotten and I had wasted a bunch of time, but to my delight, the floor didn’t look half bad.
Several edges had to be cleaned up, but that wasn’t too difficult using my wedge-edge sponge brushes. I went over all the edges to sharpen them up. (Perfectionism can truly be a curse.) Once all the paint was dry, it was time to seal up the floor again. When the sealant dried, the floor was officially finished! Eric was thrilled I announced the floor was done, because this took about a month and half longer to accomplish than we originally planned. Pshhh, timelines. Who needs ’em?!
Making our own shower floor was definitely a guessing game and learning experience. I would consider doing things differently knowing what I know now. I don’t know how Eric felt exactly, but I never felt confident in any of my decisions for this project. I guessed at darkening the cement, and I guessed at painting over the floor. I wish now that I had left the dark color cement as the base, and painted my diamond pattern over it, rather than paint the whole thing white first. I was just so worried about the tiny shower feeling dark and dirty. And, the last place I want to feel dirty is in the place I’m trying to get clean. Oh well. Live and learn! Once we have the shower completely finished with the walls up and ceiling painted, I will see if I like the floor better. If not, I might just paint it all over again! (Don’t tell Eric. He’ll have a stroke.)
Ok, on to the next project! Interior walls! This was a big transformation for the house. Once the bones of the house were covered up, it didn’t feel like a gigantic building project, but more of a gigantic decorating project. I can get on board with that! Ha!
Check back again soon and see!