by George Taniwaki

This is a continuation of my class notes from Landscaping in the Northwest without the Need for Automatic Sprinklers, taught by noted local plant writer and speaker Marianne Binetti and sponsored by the Cascade Water Alliance.

Part 1 of this blog entry is posted in April 2014.


Plants mentioned on page 5, Gold band yucca, Miss Willmott’s ghost, Blue fescue, Allium


Plants mentioned on page 6, Smoke tree, Golden ninebark, Huckleberry, Elderberry, Salmonberry


Plants mentioned on page 7, Rosemary, Sedum razzleberry


Plants mentioned on page 8, Sword fern, Sedum autumnjoy, Euphorbia


Plants mentioned on page 9, Begonia, Hen and chicks, Sempervivum glabifolium, Sedum angelina, Woolly thyme, Sandwort, Moss lawn, Blue star creeper


Plants mentioned on page 10, Sedum echeverias, Creeping jenny, Christmas rose

Note: The hyperlinks to nurseries and garden shops in this blog post were added by me and are for reference only. They were not part of the lecture and are not meant as endorsements by me or the instructor.


by George Taniwaki

Last Saturday, I attended a free class sponsored by the Cascade Water Alliance, an association of several water districts in Western Washington. The class, entitled Landscaping in the Northwest without the Need for Automatic Sprinklers, was held in Sammamish, an eastern suburb of Seattle. It was taught by noted local plant writer and speaker Marianne Binetti. It was a great class and I learned a lot. Probably the most important thing I learned was to not be intimidated by plant names. There are thousands of varieties of ornamental plants and you can’t know them all. Just go to the nursery with a plan to buy water-conserving plants, ask for help, and pick things you like.


Marianne Binetti. Photo by Joe B

Ironically, it is raining today. But I know that come summer, the Puget Sound region will have three dry months. Our house has a big yard and out in the suburbs water is very expensive. I want to learn how to design and build a low maintenance/low irrigation landscape for our yard. And you can’t beat the price of a free class.

My wife Sue and I attended a similar class back when we lived in Denver. That class featured a technique called xeriscaping and was taught by the Denver Water Department. Denver is much drier than Seattle (15-inches rain per year in Denver vs. 38 inches in Seattle). However, we had a city house with a tiny yard plus water was much cheaper due to the senior water rights held by the city.

Both the Denver low-water xeriscaping class and Saturday’s no-water class covered how to choose drought-tolerant and freeze-tolerant plants like succulents, hardy perennials, and prairie grasses. These plants are not necessarily native to the respective regions, but will grow there and look appealing. Both classes also offered information on proper soil amendment, and mulching to minimize or eliminate the need for irrigation.

Enough description about the classes. Below are the notes I took during Ms. Benetti’s lecture. I took the notes on a 6-inch square notebook I received from Northwest Kidney Centers using a pen with black ink. I cut the pages out of the book, added the colors using felt-tip highlighter pens, and scanned the pages. Enjoy!


Plants mentioned on page 1, Heavenly bamboo, Japanese red pine


Plants mentioned on page 2, Wisteria, Clematis


Plants mentioned on page 3, Barberry, Euonymous, Lavender, Spiraea


Plants mentioned on page 4, Kinnick kinnick, Rock rose, Potentilla

Part 2 of this blog entry is posted in April 2014.

Note: The hyperlinks to nurseries and garden shops in this blog post were added by me and are for reference only. They were not part of the lecture and are not meant as endorsements by me or the instructor.

by George Taniwaki

It was raining all day, keeping me from doing yard work this afternoon. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. So I started doodling and came up with an invention to keep exterior concrete steps from getting covered with puddles of water.

My idea is to use a hard rubber mold on top of each tread to cut notches in the step that act as gutters to guide the water down to the next step down.

The drawing below shows the cross-section of a typical concrete step with a 11-inch tread and 7-inch riser. The tread has a series of 1-inch wide triangular grooves molded into it. The grooves are sloped down the tread. The groove is 1/8-inch deep at the start of the tread (cross-section AA) and reaches 1/2-inch deep (to become 45-degrees) at the end of the tread (cross-section BB).

The design has several nice features.

  1. Unlike most concrete steps, the treads are not sloped. The tops of the grooves are level to the ground. This improves safety. You won’t slide, and potentially fall, when the steps are wet, muddy, or icy
  2. The grooves shed water from the treads. This keeps water from forming puddles on the treads even if the concrete for the steps is poured slightly off-level
  3. The grooves reduces the contact area between the step and your shoes, to increase traction, which again improves safety


Concrete steps design. Drawing by George Taniwaki

I’ve never seen concrete steps with grooves like this. So either I am the first person to think of this, or my design is a solution in search of a problem that doesn’t exist.

by George Taniwaki

As part of the kitchen remodel we replaced the fire-rated steel door between the kitchen and garage. Once the new door is installed, I need to repair the broken drywall, add casing, weather-stripping, and a threshold.

But of course, I also want to make a few other changes. (This is destined to become yet another side project that will take up too much time while adding only a little value to the house. )

The garage is about two feet lower than the main floor of the house. There are two concrete steps in the garage leading to the fire-rated door that opens into the kitchen. At the bottom of the stairs there is another fire-rated door from the garage to the backyard.

I forgot to take a “before” picture of the steps. A photograph showing the space after I finished demolition is shown in Figure 1a. An oblique view with dimensions of the steps  is shown in Figure 1a.



Figure 1a and 1b. Photo of the steps after demolition; Oblique view showing dimensions of concrete steps

These steps have bothered me ever since we moved into the house. First, the top tread of the steps is not level with the doorway, it is one step down. But given the tight space, I won’t be able to add another step to fix this problem.

Second, the risers are not evenly spaced. The first step down from the kitchen into the garage is about 9 inches high, which is way too large. The next step is about 7-1/4 inches high and the final step is about 8″ high. I spend a lot of time in the workshop in the garage, and can walk up and down these steps up to 50 times a day. I’ve never tripped going down them, but it is really annoying. You feel like you are falling into the garage.

Finally, the treads are not flat or the same length. They have bulges and dips in them. The middle step is about an inch longer than the bottom step.

In addition to being uncomfortable, the risers don’t meet building code. Code requires that no step be more than 8″ high (7-1/2″ for public spaces) and that the difference in height between the tallest step and the shortest one cannot exceed 3/8″. Similar rules apply to tread lengths.

Designing a fix for these problems won’t be easy. The stairs are not square to the walls, not level, and not plumb. The drywall that acts as the top riser has been severely damaged by years of wear. What a mess.

Another problem with these steps is that they abut the concrete foundation which leaves a gap between the steps and the drywall (about 3″ wide as shown in Fig 2) that constantly gets filled with sawdust and other debris and is hard to keep clean.

I suppose I could rent a jack hammer and demolish the steps and start over by building a new set out of wood. But that would be a lot of heavy labor and take a lot of time. Instead, I will build an enclosure over the existing steps to fix all the problems.

Figure 2a shows the evolution of my ideas to cover the gap between the steps and the wall. The last version shows the solution I came up with. Figure 2b shows the dimensions of all the pieces and shims to cover the gap and the steps themselves. For simplicity, the stair treads, stair nosing, and wraparound tread are shown already assembled.



Figures 2a and 2b. Sketches showing ideas to cover the gap between the steps and wall (top) and final drawing with dimensions (bottom)

The finished project is shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3. The completed project


Using a pry bar, remove the old casing around the two doors. Using a level and pencil, draw a horizontal line from the top of the kitchen floor to the left door. Using a utility knife and pry bar, remove the drywall below that line. Remove the drywall from underneath the right door and 3.7″ to the right. Use a cold chisel and hammer to remove any lumps from the concrete steps (Fig 1a).

Tile the floor

The floor around the steps will be covered with 12″ porcelain tiles. Adding tile to a garage floor sounds extravagant, but it does two things. First, it visually ties the two doors together and separates the entrance area from the rest of the garage.

Second, the tile raises the floor by a little over 1/2″. This leaves room to clad the bottom step with 3/8″ of oak without causing the rise to exceed 8″. Otherwise, you would need to chip away enough concrete to keep the rise low enough to meet code. It also reduces the total rise of the stairs to 23-1/2″. Since there are three steps, the average rise per step will be just under 8″ which is also needed to meet building code.

Since we are not covering the entire garage floor with tile you will need to add a protective edge banding. I use Schluter Shiene available from Home Depot.  Using a hacksaw, cut a 45° miter where the two edges meet. To ensure the strength at the corner, cut the edging material at a point where it will be mostly solid (Fig 4). Layout the edging to ensure it fits and mark the outside with masking tape (Fig 5).

Using a disk sander with a vacuum attachment, remove any dripped paint and adhesive from the floor and roughen the surface (Fig 6). Layout the tiles and cut the partial pieces using a wet saw (Fig 7).

Place a weighted 2×4 along the side of the edge banding so that it doesn’t move. Using latex adhesive or latex modified mortar, lay the tile. Put 1/4″ spacers between the tiles (Fig 8). After the mortar cures, apply grout mixed with latex (Fig 9).




Figures 4 to 9. Cut the edge banding; Dry fit the edge banding and add masking tape; Clean the floor; Dry fit the tiles, Mortar into place; Apply grout

To see the process for installing a tile floor that includes use of a waterproof membrane and floor drain, see the blog post entitled Build a laundry room.

Frame the knee wall

While the mortar is curing, build the knee wall on the side of the steps (Fig 8).

Since the wood framing will be in direct contact with concrete, it should be built from pressure treated 2×4 lumber. Normally, you use galvanized or stainless steel fasteners with pressure treated lumber. However, since this is interior framing that should never get wet, I use standard steel framing nails in my nail gun.

Use 1-5/8″ drywall screws to attach the loose drywall above the knee wall to the studs.

Make panels for staircase enclosure

The staircase enclosure and stair risers are built in a manner similar to a cabinet. Start with a sheet of 1/2″x4’x8′ plywood. Cut out all the pieces using a table saw or a handheld circular saw with a shooting board. To get a straight, clean edge on inside corners, cut as far as possible with the saw with a circular blade. Then finish the cut using a handheld scroll saw or a hand saw.

Any edges where two pieces meet are mitered at 45°. Cut these on a table saw using a crosscut sled or on a miter saw.

Dry fit all the pieces and glue shims as needed (Figs 10 and 11). Sand the pieces smooth and finish with three coats of gloss enamel latex paint.


Figures 10 and 11. Glue shims to the panels; View of assembled enclosure and shims

Make stair treads

Standard stair treads are 1″ x 11-1/2″. The bottom tread in this project will need a tread that are 3/8″ x 15-1/2″. Thus, we will make custom treads using hardwood flooring and stair nosing.

The front edge of the stair tread is made with 3/4″ x 5-1/2″ stair nosing, the return edge is made from 3/4″ x 3″ stair nosing. They meet at a 45° miter joint. The rest of the tread is made from three pieces of 3/4″x4″ hardwood flooring. Using a table saw with a cross-cut sled (or miter gauge), cut a tongue on the end of each piece of hardwood flooring to fit into the groove on the return. A layout of all the pieces is shown in Figure 12.

To make the 3/8″ thick tread, rip each piece of hardwood flooring on the table saw. This will take four passes. Make one pass at 1″ deep, flip the piece over and run it again. Raise the saw to 2.1″ and repeat. The table saw leaves rough saw marks. Clean the bottom of the flooring by running the boards through the planer.

The rabbet on the 5-1/2″ stair nosing is 3-3/4″ wide, which is too wide to rip it to the 3/8″ thickness on the table saw. To make this rabbet, run it through the table saw in multiple passes to make a groove as deep as possible. Then knock out the rest of the rabbet using a chisel. Clean up the underside of the nosing using a jack plane or hand sander.

Glue up the boards in three steps. First, glue the three pieces of hardwood flooring together. Since the tongue and grooves in hardwood floors have lots of play, you will want to use polyurethane glue rather than normal PVA wood glue. You may need to add clamps or weights to keep the boards flat.

Then glue the flooring and the front edge stair nosing together. Finally, glue up the long boards with the return nosing. This last glue up will require clamps and weights in all three directions. (Fig 13).

(I’m a bit concerned about the effect of cross-grain movement between the return and the glued up boards. Time will tell if either the miter joint or the bread board end joint opens up.)

GarageSteps_12 GarageSteps_13

Figures 12 and 13. Cut the tread pieces and glue them up

The glued up stair tread will need to be flattened. Coat the tread with trowel-type wood filler to identify the low spots. The tread is over 15″ wide and thus will not fit in a 12″ power planer. Plane it by hand using a smoothing plane. (I had never done this before. It’s actually quite fast and seeing the board become smooth before your eyes is an enjoyable experience. The absence of the roar from the power planer is nice too. Note, your hand planes must have a very sharp blade and be correctly tuned for this to work. Otherwise it will be a slow hard slog and you will gouge your wood.)

When planed correctly,there is no need to sand the stair treads. Finish with wood stain (I used 1 part MinWax red oak and 8 parts MinWax natural) followed by three coats of varnish (I used MinWax quick drying oil based polyurethane).

Make stair nosing and wraparound tread

The top stair nosing is custom fitted. Start with a piece of 5-1/2″ stair nosing. Cut it to be a few inches longer than needed. On the table saw, rip the stair nosing to the widest required width. Cut a groove in the back to accept the tongues of the boards from the hardwood floor. You can use either the table saw or router. Ease the bottom half of the groove and bevel it to allow for expansion of the wood.

Make cut outs in the stair nosing to fit around the door jamb.

Add a return on the open end. To do this, cut a 45° miter. Cut a triangular piece of stair nosing at 45° and join the two pieces using one or more biscuits and wood glue.

Use a piece of stair nosing to make the wraparound tread that will cover the knee wall. Rip it to width on the table saw. Add a return on the end in the same manner described above. You may need to chisel out the rabbet so that the return will not interfere with the left door closing.

Cut a 45° miter on both pieces to form the inside corner. Cut biscuit slots, but do not glue the pieces together. Do not finish the pieces.

Make door casing

Make traditional Craftsman style casing for both doors. Start with 1″x4″x8′ nominal (.75″x3.5″x96″ actual) S4S primed pine lumber. Cut them to length to leave a 3/16″ reveal around the door jambs. The design includes a 1/2″ bullnose accent as shown in Figure 3 of an Oct 2012 blog post.

Finish with three coats of gloss enamel latex paint.

Assemble the stairs

The stairs will be assembled in layers. At each step, dry fit the parts first to ensure they are snug and check the edges are level, plumb, and square. Any errors early in the assembly will make the following step harder to complete.

Use wood glue to attach the panel on the knee wall and tack in place with brads. Glue the back panel to the wall and tack in place with brads. Glue the bottom step riser to the stair side at 90° and tack in place with brads. Use a liberal amount of construction adhesive to attach this assembly to the concrete steps (Fig 14).

Cut a 3/8″ notch in the miter edge of the stair side to receive the bottom stair tread (Fig 15). Apply a liberal amount of construction adhesive to the bottom stair tread and on the concrete step. Slide the tread into place. Stack 50 kg (100 lb) of weight on the step. (I used boxes of tile.) Apply a liberal amount of construction adhesive to the back of the middle step riser and on the concrete steps. Push the riser into position. Slide the weights against the riser and let the glue cure (Fig 16).

After the glue cures, remove the weights. Use the same technique to assemble the middle step and the top riser (Fig 17).

GarageSteps_14 GarageSteps_15

GarageSteps_16 GarageSteps_17

Figures 14 to 17. Assemble the stairs. Glue the bottom riser, sides and back; Cut a notch for the bottom tread; Glue the bottom tread and middle riser; Glue the middle tread and top riser

After the glue cures, remove the weights. Use construction adhesive to attach the top stair nosing to the hardwood floor and the wraparound tread to the knee wall. Insert the biscuit and use wood glue to join the two pieces. Clamp the miter joint between the two pieces to ensure a tight fit (Fig 18).

After the glue cures, remove the clamp. Use trowel-type wood filler and coat the top stair nosing, hardwood floor, and wraparound tread. Use a disc sander and a detail sander to flatten surfaces.

Use construction adhesive to glue a threshold under the right door.

Finish all the wood surfaces with wood stain followed by three coats of varnish (Fig 19).

GarageSteps_18 GarageSteps_19

Figures 18 and 19. Glue the top stair nosing and wraparound tread; Sand, fill, stain and varnish stair treads

Finish carpentry

Remove both doors from the hinges. Carefully remove the weather-stripping. Inspect the door jambs, hinge mortises, lock mortises, and threshold of left door. (The right threshold is brand new so should be fine.) Fill any defects with polyester resin (Bondo), sand them smooth, and apply three coats of enamel paint. Using a chisel and drywall plane, flatten the walls to be flush with the door jambs (Fig 20). Attach the casing to the walls using 16ga nails. Apply touch up paint to the casing and the staircase.

Fill any screw holes or blemishes in the drywall with mud, sand smooth, and touch up paint (Fig 21). Fill, sand, and paint the two doors. Reinstall the locks, hinges, weather-stripping, and rehang the doors  (Fig 22).

To protect the stairs and floor, add non-slip stair runners and entry mat (Fig 23).



Figures 20 to 23. Fill, sand, paint door jambs; Nail casings to frame and fill, sand, paint walls; Fill, sand, paint doors; Add rugs to protect the new floor

In total, this project took me about 100 hours to complete and cost about $350. The costs are itemized below.

Tile, aluminum border, mortar or adhesive, grout $150
Lumber, hardwood flooring, outdoor carpet, paint, 2 thresholds, and misc. materials $200*
Carpentry, painting, and tiling labor $     0
TOTAL $350

*It may be difficult to buy small quantities of hardwood flooring or carpet like that used in this project (about 10 sq. ft. each). I already had these items left over from previous projects. The costs shown here are pro rata based on the original purchase.

Now that the steps are even, they are much easier to walk up and down on. Now that the crevasse is gone, they are easier to keep clean. And they have to be some of the nicest looking garage steps you’ll ever see.


Since many of the images in this blog post are taken from the same position, I combined them into a single animated gif file to create a crude stop motion video of the project(Fig 24). I used, a free online service to make the file.


Figure 24. A gratuitous animated gif of the project

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All photos and drawings by George Taniwaki

[Update: WordPress does not allow animated gifs to display in the blog body. Click on Figure 24 to open the gif file and view the animation.]

[Note: Some of the tasks below require specialized knowledge and skill in plumbing and electrical installation. If you do not possess this, you should contact a licensed plumber and electrician.]

by George Taniwaki

The first floor of our house has a small powder room off the main hall (about 7’ x 3-1/2’, Fig 1). The previous homeowner remodeled this room a few years before we bought the house so it was in good condition (Fig 2). When we began our home remodeling project, we did not plan to do any work on the powder room.


Figures 1 and 2. Plan view of first floor bathroom (left); and view before remodel

That changed as soon as we began demolition work for the laundry room upstairs directly above the powder room (see Dec 2011 blog post). We discovered that one of the joists between the floors needed to be reinforced and the subfloor replaced. To do that, we had to remove the drywall on the ceiling of the powder room to slide in the new joist. This pretty much ruined the room, forcing a remodel.

The work plan

Once we knew that the powder room needed to be remodeled, we had to decide what work to do. Our plan was to have smooth painted walls rather than textured walls or wallpaper. We also want all the metal surfaces to be antique bronze. The following work would be required:

  1. Demolition
  2. Rough in plumbing, venting, and electrical
  3. Add sound insulation
  4. Add blocking for fixtures
  5. Install new ceiling and walls
  6. Tile the floor and baseboard
  7. Install door casing and door threshold
  8. Install lighting, sink, toilet, and fixtures

The following sections describe how to do all this.


Turn off the power to the bathroom. Remember the outlets and lights may be on different circuits. Remove all the old fixtures and drywall. Save any fixtures that will be reused.

Shut off the water to the sink and toilet. Remove the toilet tank lid. Flush the toilet and keep the flapper valve open to drain the tank. Pour a bucket of water into the toilet bowl to siphon out the remaining water. Disconnect the water line and check for slow leaks. Plug the shut off valve if necessary. Remove the bolts holding the toilet to the drain flange. Carefully lift the toilet and remove the wax ring. Place the toilet in a large garbage bag and set aside. Cover the toilet drain with aluminum foil to seal it while you are working (Fig 13).

Disconnect the water lines and drain lines from the sink. Check for leaks. Disconnect the sink from the wall and set aside. If necessary, remove the sink pedestal. To do this, use a reciprocating saw. Slide a blade between the floor and the pedestal and cut through the adhesive (Fig 3). This may ruin the floor tiles and they may need to be replaced.


Figure 3. Removing the sink pedestal

Rough in plumbing, venting, and electrical

The bathroom originally had 5″ long chrome nipples on the water supply line. Replace them with shorter nipples painted antique bronze to match the new faucet and fixtures. Also replace the leaky shut off valves with new quarter-turn ball valves.

The original powder room had an exhaust fan, as is required by building code. It was installed in the wall. A duct ran in the basement joist space and out the back of the house. It was wired to the same circuit and switch as the light fixture.

While working on the ductwork for the furnace in the basement (see XXX 2010 blog post), I discovered that the vent duct was made of 4” flex hose rather than rigid pipe, meaning it couldn’t carry much air. Further, the flex hose ran inside the return air duct for the furnace, reducing the volume of air available to the furnace.

To replace the fan, remove the old fan and vent hose. Repair the hole in the side of the house. Buy a replacement exhaust fan and mount it in the joist space above the ceiling. It is actually preferable to use a less expensive and noisier fan since that will enhances privacy. Vent the fan to the rear of the house using 4” rigid galvanized pipe. Tape all seams. Cap the vent with a flap to keep out cold air and birds (Fig 4). Insulate the opening with spray foam. Paint the cap to match the house.

Connect the new fan to the switch. You may need to splice the electrical line and add a junction box.

One more bit of electrical work, install a light fixture box for a wall sconce. The box should be high enough to fit the mirror and sink below it. But it should not be so high that the light fixture looks crowded against the ceiling.

Add sound insulation

The original powder room had no sound attenuation.

Wrap all the ABS drain pipes and vent lines with mass loaded vinyl (MLV) at 1 lb/sq ft to reduce the noise of water draining from the laundry room on the floor above. Fill the space between studs with R-15 glass fiber insulation to reduce sound transmission and increase privacy (Fig 5).

Add blocking for fixtures

The original framing did not include any blocking. The pedestal sink was screwed into the wainscoting, which did not provide adequate support. The sink would wobble.

Securely nail or screw 2″x4″ lumber into the studs as blocking behind the sink (Fig 6), mirror, towel bar, toilet paper holder, and any other fixtures. Also add blocking around the perimeter of the floor to support the tiles on the base molding.


Figures 4 to 6. Vent cap for new exhaust; insulation for sound control; blocking to support pedestal sink

Install new ceiling and walls

The original walls and ceiling in the powder room were standard 5/8″ drywall covered with knockdown texture plaster. During a remodel by the previous homeowner, the textured walls were  covered with wallpaper, which looked very odd.

To reduce the chance of water damage, cover the studs with moisture resistant drywall (green board, Fig 7). Use 5/8″ thick drywall for fire protection (required by building code for ceilings) and noise suppression. Use ceramic coated screws to avoid rust spots.

Tape the drywall using glass fiber tape . Cut the tape to a 90° point (Fig 8) when fitting the corners so that the tape does not overlap (Fig 9). Apply three coats of mud, sanding between coats to create a smooth finish (Fig 10).

Paint the ceiling, exhaust fan cover, and ceiling wall plate a dark accent color. Paint the walls to match the walls in all the other rooms (Fig 11).



Figures 7 to 11. Water resistant drywall installed; Glass fiber tape cut and applied; three coats of mud applied; ceiling and walls painted

Tile the floor and baseboard

The subfloor in the powder room is covered with 3/4″ particle board underlayment followed by 12” square ceramic tiles. When laying 3/4″ tongue-and-groove oak flooring in the hall we had to chisel out 3 tiles in the doorway. They will need to be replaced. Some of the tiles near the wall were too small (Fig 12) and will leave a visible gap next to the tile baseboard. The tiles around the toilet flange were cut too loose and leave a visible gap around the toilet (Fig 13). These tiles will also need to be replaced. Make sure you have enough spare tiles to do this. Otherwise, remove all the tile and buy enough new tile to complete the project.

Remove the unwanted tiles using a hammer and cold chisel. Be careful not to chip the tiles you want to keep. Remove the mortar or adhesive using a putty knife or oscillating saw with scraper attachment. Remove grout from between the remaining tiles using an oscillating saw with grout knife attachment (Fig 14). Don’t try removing the grout using a handheld grout knife. It is too much work. If you don’t own an oscillating saw, it is better to just remove all the tile and start over.

Decide whether you want the factory edge or the field cut edge facing up on the tile for the base molding and ensure you cut the tiles on the correct sides. (For this project the factory edge is facing up.) Remember to leave room for the door casing (see next section). Using a tile saw, make all the straight cuts for the new tiles (Fig 15). Spray paint the top edge of the tiles for the base molding to match the grout color (Fig 16).




Figures 12 to 16. Tiles next to wall are too small and need to be replaced; Tiles around toilet flange are misshapen and need to be replaced; Removing the old grout; Making the straight cuts for the tiles using a tile saw; Painting the edges of the baseboard tile to match the grout color

To tile around the toilet drain, make a paper template (Fig 17). Trace the template onto the tiles using a crayon or permanent marker and add 1/4″ extra to allow room for grout (Fig 18). Notice that the right side tile contains more than half a circle, which would be difficult to cut. Since this tile is mostly hidden under the toilet, we can cut about half of the circle out. This line is also marked on the tile. Cut a series of parallel grooves into the tile using a tile saw. Cut away the unwanted tile using a pair of tile nibblers (Fig 19).

Add flange extenders to the toilet drain to ensure the flange will be about 1/4″ above the finished level of the tile. Use plenty of silicone sealant to ensure a gap free (and thus odor free) connection. Use mortar or tile adhesive to attach all the tiles to the floor and walls. Wait a day and then grout the tile. Wait another two days and seal the grout (Fig 20).



Figures 17 to 20. Making a template for the toilet flange; Tracing the template onto the tiles; Making curved cuts using a tile saw and tile nibbler; The completed toilet flange

Install door casing and door threshold

The door to the powder room is fir and the exterior casing is made from stained hemlock (see Oct 2012 blog post on how to make this). However, I think stained wood looks too formal on the inside of the powder room, so I made the interior casing from 3-1/2″ wide primed pine.

Paint the casing with 3 coats gloss enamel to match the other trim in the house. Attach the casing to the studs using finish nails. Fill the nail holes, sand, and touch up paint (Fig 21).

To connect the tile floor in the powder room to the oak floor in the hall, insert an oak threshold. Stain it to match the floor and apply three coats of varnish. Use construction adhesive to attach it to the subfloor and use clear silicone sealant to attach it to the oak floor and tile (Fig 21).


Figure 21. Detail of door casing meeting tile floor and tile baseboard

Install lighting, sink, toilet, and fixtures

Install the fixtures from the top of the room down, starting with the cover for the exhaust fan and junction box.

Install the light fixture following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Install the mirror to a height that matches the light fixture and is centered beneath the fixture (not centered on the wall).

Install the towel bar at arm height. If the towel bar is made of thin gauge metal, reduce the rattle it makes by first filling it with foam insulation  (Fig 22). After the foam cures, cut off most of the excess, leaving about 1/4″ plug sticking out. When you insert the rod, it will not rattle and will sound solid when you tap on it.

Install the sink centered beneath the light fixture and mirror (not centered on the wall). First mark the pedestal with pencil or tape indicating the exact front, back, and sides. Place the pedestal and sink in position. Using masking tape and pencil, mark the floor with the alignment points for the front, back, and sides of the pedestal (Fig 23).

Mark the mounting holes for the sink on the wall.

Remove the sink and pedestal and set aside.

Drill holes in the wall and screw in 5/16″ anchor bolts for the sink. Add neoprene washers to the anchor bolts.

Attach the pedestal to the floor using clear silicone sealant. Add shims to ensure it is plumb. After the sealant to cures, apply foam tape to the top of the pedestal and slide the sink into place and onto the anchor bolts. Add more foam tape as needed to ensure the sink is level.

Slide on another neoprene washer, a steel washer and nut on each anchor bolt and tighten until the sink does not wobble.

Replace the faucet and pop-up stopper, with a new antique bronze set. Replace all washers on the p-trap and drain pipe and assemble the drain line. Note that there are two types of washers. Use the plastic and tapered kind for threaded connections. Use the rubber and square kind for slip fit connections (Fig 24). Sand the p-trap and drain pipe and apply two coats of antique bronze spray paint (Fig 25). Replace or paint the shut off valves, escutcheons, and water supply lines, if necessary. Turn on the water, fill the sink, and test for leaks.

Install the toilet paper holder and any other remaining fixtures.

Install the toilet using a new wax ring and hold down bolts. Replace or paint the tank lever, if necessary. Replace or paint the shut off valve, escutcheon, and water supply line, if necessary. Turn on the water and use a dye kit to test the toilet for leaks. (You can get the kits free at most hardware stores.) Replace the flapper valve if there is even a small leak.

You are done (Fig 26a).



Figures 22 to 25. Fill a hollow towel bar with foam; Align the pedestal to the light fixture and mirror; The two kinds of washers for the drain, threaded on left, slip-fit on right; Paint the water supply lines, escutcheons, and drain line to match the faucet color

For such a small room, there certainly was a lot of work involved in the remodel. And given the amount of work I did, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of change. Oh well.


Figure 26a and 26b. The finished powder room and the original.

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All photos by George Taniwaki, drawing in Figure 1 courtesy of Soderstrom Architects

by George Taniwaki

Unlike many of the other blog posts regarding the home remodel, this one is rather short. In a few hours you can build a desk from a slab of wood and metal angle bars.

Make the desktop

Actually, I didn’t make the desktop. Sue bought a single slab piece of walnut 2″ x 23″ x 53″ with an interesting live edge and a large check (split) on one end. The desktop is already planed, sanded, stained and varnished. She purchased it from elpis&wood of Marysville, WA. The desktop is smooth but not flat on top. It even has one depression large enough to hold paper clips (Fig 1).


Figure 1. Smooth but uneven top can be used as a paper clip holder

Make the desk legs

Sue wanted an industrial look to the desk. Thus, I decided to make the legs from 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ x 36″ steel angle bar from Home Depot. Cut the angle bars to 25-1/2″ long. This will result in a desktop that is still a little high for a computer desk, so we will add a keyboard tray to this desk.

We don’t want metal legs to sit directly on the hardwood floor or on the rug, since it could cut or ruin them. Take 3/8″ PVC tubing, and cut four pieces, each about 3″ long. Cut each piece open lengthwise. Using clear silicone sealant, attach one piece to the bottom of each leg (Fig 2). After the sealant cures, trim off any excess tubing and clean off any excess sealant.


Figure 2. PVC tubing makes the pad on the desk leg

Make the brackets

Normally, when constructing a table, the table legs are attached to an apron and the apron attached to the table. However, a desk generally sits much lower than a table and you don’t want an apron since it will make it difficult for you to slide your legs under the desktop, especially if you also have a keyboard tray.

Also, since the tabletop is a single slab 23″ wide, it will experience a lot of seasonal movement. A metal apron in the cross grain direction could cause damage to the desktop.

Thus, instead of an apron, we will make two brackets for each leg of the desk using 2-1/4 x 1-1/2″ x 48″ steel angle bar, also from Home Depot. This wider bar has two sets of holes on one side which will allow more bolts in the connection, making it more rigid and ensuring the legs don’t wobble. Each bracket will be 4-1/2″ long, for a total of 8 pieces.

Assemble the desk

Using two 1/4″ x 1/2″ hex bolts and nuts, attach a bracket to the inside of one side of the leg. Repeat on the other side of the leg (Fig 3). Do this for the other three legs. There will be 16 bolts total.


Figure 3. Bracket attached to the inside of a leg

Flip the desktop so the bottom is facing up. Place the four legs upside down on the desktop so that the brackets are resting on the desktop. Arrange them in a nice pattern. Since the desktop is not square the legs may not line up on a rectangular grid. Using a pencil, mark the location of the end holes on each bracket on the desktop. You will end up with four marks per leg or 16 overall.

Using a hand-held drill with a 5/32″ bit, make pilot holes 1″ deep into the desktop at each pencil mark. Be careful to make the holes vertical. And be very careful to only go 1″ deep. You don’t want to go through the desktop and ruin it. Attach the brackets to the desktop using 1/4″ x 1″ lag screws.

Attach the keyboard tray to the desktop following the instructions that come with it. Flip the desktop over (Fig 4). And you are done!


Figure 4. The completed desk

Bonus: Make a set of small drawers

Sue also bought two desktop organizers and asked me to turn them into stand-alone drawers for her desk. Each organizer is 12″W x 9-1/2″H x 14″D and contains three drawers. We will make an industrial frame from metal bar stock to match the desk legs. The frame will hold the bottom organizer off the floor and hold the upper organizer above the bottom one.

To make the front legs of the frame, cut two pieces of 1-3/8″ steel flat bar from Home Depot to 15″ long. To make the back legs, cut two pieces of  1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ steel angle bar to 15″ long. The angle bar will make the back of the frame. Use PVC tubing to make pads on the bottoms of the legs. Attach them using clear silicone sealant.

Cut eight pieces of flat bar 3″ long. Bend each piece 90° in the middle. Attach these brackets to the legs using 1/4″x1/2″ hex bolts and nuts. Four will be attached 1-1/2″ from the bottom of the legs and four will be attached 1-1/2″ from the top of the legs.

Cut two pieces of 1/8″ Masonite or hardboard to 12-1/2″ x 14″.  These will form the bottoms of the frame. Drill 1/8″ holes in each corner and connect to the brackets using #8 bolts with washers and nuts. The frame is now complete. Slide a desktop organizer into the bottom opening of the frame and set the upper organizer on top of the frame (Figs 5 and 6). Another quick project completed.


Figure 5 and 6. Front view of desk drawers (left) and rear view (right)

For more ideas on home remodeling projects see the Home Remodeling Guide.

All photos and drawings by George Taniwaki

[Update: Added the name of the company that made the desktop and fixed a couple of typos.]

by George Taniwaki

The inside back cover of each issue of Consumer Reports magazine has a column called Selling it. It features what it calls “Goofs, glitches, gotchas, and howlers from the world of advertising.” In the past week, I’ve encountered two cases of unusual packaging that may not be goofy enough for Consumer Reports, but definitely got my attention.

Shine your pie

The first example is a blueberry pie I purchased from a Kroger owned grocery store called QFC. Their bakery goods are sold under the Private Selection brand. They taste really good. As I was putting a box into my shopping cart, I saw this bit of advertising puffery on the box flap.

Pie boxFlap

For those who can’t read the brown text on brown background, it says,

The Private Selection journey rewards your sense of good taste. Inspired by food artisans and crafted with authentic ingredients and tantalizing recipes, each private selection offering is sure to feed your passion for gourmet foods.

Well, that certainly is enticing. Now I really want to read the ingredients, but I can’t of course because they are on the bottom of the box and I certainly don’t want flip the box over while the pie is still in it. I could hold the box over my head, but then I would look like a dork. Not that it’s ever stopped me before.

After I get home, I open the box and have some pie.. Then I flip the box over and look at the ingredients. Check out the list of authentic ingredients for the pie shine. Pretty tantalizing. Yum, gourmet foods just like mom used to make.

Pie boxBack

For those of you who aren’t familiar, pie shine is what makes the top crust of a pie shiny. It is traditionally made from egg white. (One egg white can shine about four or five pies.) I figured that Kroger would add some stabilizers and preservatives to the egg white to ensure consistency in a commercial bakery setting, but apparently not. If you can’t read the small ALL CAPITALS text in the picture above, the ingredients used by Kroger are,

Water, soy protein, canola oil, datem, methylparaben and propylparaben and sodium benzoate and mixed tocopherols (preservatives), caramel color, modified cellulose gum, artificial flavor, disodium phosphate, corn syrup, pectin, citric acid, yellow 6, maltodextrin, sodium alginate, soy lecithin, silicon dioxide, mono- and diglycerides.

My guess is that egg whites have too much variability in color and viscosity, are too expensive, and spoil too quickly. In comparison, the ingredients used in Kroger’s pie shine are cheap and will never spoil because no microorganism would touch it. Incidentally, if you are not familiar with datem, it is an abbreviation for diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides.

So a few rules for product packaging designers:

1. If you want people to actually read your copy, don’t use low contrast colors (like brown text on a brown background)

2. You should read your advertising copy in the context of the actual product so you don’t make ridiculous claims

3. If you want people to actually take time to read your copy, don’t use ALL CAPS. (Although in this case, you don’t want people to read ingredient list.)

Detailed instructions please

My other encounter with weird packaging is for a product called Caulk Saver. This handy tool plugs the end of a tube of caulk between uses and keeps the tip from getting clogged with hard caulk. I own several. The front of the package is shown below. I like how the photograph behind the actual tool clearly shows how it works. Very clever.


The folks at Caulk Saver love their product so much that they posted a 3 minute long video on YouTube. You can never oversell.


Tell me more! Video still courtesy of Caulk Saver

However, it’s the back of the package where the real weirdness appears. There you will see a picture that shows that the tip of the plug can be cut to fit a caulk tube as you use it up. The caption reads “Cut stem wherever necessary for tool to fit.”


Above the illustration is a long paragraph of text. If you cannot read the text in the photograph, it says,

Important: There may come a time when you have an inch or two of product left in the tube and the tool will not fit all the way in, due to the plunger that forces the product out. At this time, cut the stem off of the tool wherever necessary for the tool to fit properly. Turn the tool 3 or 4 times into the stem of container to seal the container and your product will stay fresh.

This looks like it was written by a frustrated novelist. I guess everyone who has ever worked as an advertising copywriter (including me) wants to believe that engaging text can always improve product packaging. I think the packaging would be less cluttered if the caption were reworded to read “If your Caulk Saver is too long to fit in the tube, just cut off the stem” and eliminate the entire paragraph above it.

But really. If you only have an inch of caulk left in the tube, use it up or throw it away. Life is too short to spend time keeping track of small quantities of old caulk.