A retaining wall to hold up my driveway

We have a retaining wall, readers. It is done, and our neighbours even said it looks great. Phew! It was mildly annoying to live on a construction site for two weeks, but I honestly had more anxiety about what our neighbours would say/do/think about this whole thing….which they would then share with me because they have no beef with speaking their minds. BUT, that didn’t happen. All went well, so let’s get on with the recap.

We left you on day two of construction, where the fence was removed and a sudden downpour of April showers meant the landscapers only worked for the morning on day two and then went somewhere warm and dry for the afternoon. Day three of construction saw snow on the ground, and while it turned into a warm enough day to eventually do some work, I think the crew had already written off the day for working and they did not show up. Oh well.

We lived through the weekend with a construction zone outside out door – large equipment to shimmy around to get to the backyard, and a big wide open gap in the fence network for our yard. That meant little miss Leeloo was not fully contained, and she could not be let outside without adult supervision. We don’t think she’s a flight risk, but she certainly likes to romp and explore, and she’d hop right into the neighbour’s yard for a good sniff if she thought rabbit poops might be there. Every time we let her outside over that first weekend we had to go outside with her, which was a royal pain.

Cut to Monday, day four of construction, and the crew was back with a vengeance.


Mud pit/my driveway.

Monday was the first day the landscapers took over the street with all of their equipment and materials. They were on both sides of the street, and the people-pleaser in me felt terrible about mildly inconveniencing anyone who drove down our street.

The old wooden retaining wall started to come out, small sections at a time. They started at the back of the driveway and cleared a section of the wooden wall, dug down to make room for the new blocks and weeping tile, and then laid in the new wall.


Fresh new dirt hole to be filled with landscaping fabric and weeping tile:


Each block was lifted from the pallet and moved into place with this grabber piece attached to the arm of the backhoe. It was slow-goings.


Monday was also the day that someone from the City of Cambridge complained about the equipment and trucks being on the street. Dan sent me a message while I was work about how the landscapers were told they had to clear everything off the street by 4pm. This sent everyone into a tizzy because they had filed the appropriate permits and paperwork to park on the street. It turns out the landscapers had secured the permits late last year after we confirmed the job with them, and the city changed their permit requirements for 2017 and didn’t tell them. Neat. This meant they did indeed have to tidy up everything by 4pm on Monday, so all the big equipment and the flatbed trucks and the dumpsters had to get hauled away, and a teeny tiny tractor was parallel parked at the end of my driveway (adorable!).

Despite that annoying set-back, the work at the end of day four gave us hope:


Those are real, live blocks in place! The wall is HAPPENING!! The mesh fabric laid across the driveway is called geogrid, and it was installed along the length of the new wall for added stability. This was one of things that put Kerr and Kerr ahead of the other guys when we were getting quotes, because my previous wall was falling over and this stuff helps hold everything in place.

Looking the other direction from the glorious progress made on Monday, you can see there’s still a lot more wall to rip out and replace.


Day five was more of the same, and at the end of the day the progress had stretched to about the halfway point down the driveway.


The view from the neighbour’s side was starting to look pretty good:


And a new shipment of blocks arrived to finish the job.


Day six seemed to kick into high gear. It only dawned on me on Wednesday that this was a short week due to the upcoming Easter holiday weekend, so the landscapers arrived before 8am today and stayed until almost 6pm to make some serious progress.


They’re so close to being done!


And here’s the one that really makes my heart happy – take a look at the wall from the other side:

Thursday, day seven of construction, finished off all the work with another long day. They placed the last few blocks to complete the length of the wall, and spent the rest of the day adding the topper blocks and compacting gravel along the length of the driveway.

finished wall

Again, my favourite thing is walking down the sidewalk to view the wall from the side. She is a thing of beauty.

A little compare and contrast is in order.


Ahhhh, much better!

The final clean-up of the construction site involved fresh dirt filling in the ripped up sections of grass, in the back yard at the end of the driveway and in the front yard where those heavy pallets of blocks sat for a week.

Kerr and Kerr used grass seed on these patches but said they would come back to add sod if it didn’t come in the way it should. So far so good.

Our dirt driveway is the least glamorous part of this whole thing. Wait, there’s also the chewed up edge bits against the house:


We’ll get out there soon and tidy up the insulating foam bits and maybe add a bit of gravel in the low spots. The end of the driveway formed a massive puddle with the all the rain we’ve had for the last two days, so that one needs a bag or two of gravel to fill the divot.

The other outstanding issue is the fence to keep our dog contained. Simon should be coming around this weekend to take a look at the best option to reattach our gate across the driveway, and then build us something on top of the wall to connect to the existing fence. The gate was neatly set aside and sits waiting in the backyard until we can reattach it. Whatever we do to reattach it only needs to hold up for about a year, since we’ll be taking it down again to pave the driveway.


The new section of fence will need to sit on the 20-30 feet at the back end of the new wall, and connect to the neighbour’s existing fence so the wee missus can’t escape.

Future fence for wall and driveway
We paid the final balance on the retaining wall this morning, coming in exactly at the quoted price. We couldn’t be happier with the work Kerr and Kerr did for us, and we would highly recommend them to anyone who needs a big-ass retaining wall. I’m sure they do great work with regular landscaping stuff too.

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Retaining wall construction begins!

You can literally taste the excitement and lack of money at our house this week, readers. Construction has begun!

I called the landscapers on Monday to confirm some details, and they were optimistic about starting work on Wednesday. By Tuesday afternoon, their crew was dropping off heavy equipment in our driveway, ready to get cracking at that concrete the next day. I came home to this:


They squeezed them both into the driveway, with only enough room for one car to park overnight. I made a quick call to the city to beg and plead for an extra day of overnight street parking starting that night, and it was no problem at all.



When they were dropping off the equipment, Dan spoke to the crew and asked if they could rip up the interlocking brick walkway while they’re at it with the driveway. The equipment drop-off crew knew nothing about our project and were only here to leave backhoes in our driveway, so they couldn’t give us an answer. Here’s why we hate the interlocking brick:

Our driveway is just too narrow for two cars to park side by side, but only just. In order to avoid the terrible park-behind-each-other-and-play-car-swap-6-times-a-day thing, I park my car on the brick walkway. Because it’s right there next to the driveway, taking up precious driveway space that could be used to nicely park my car.

There are two problems with this.

1. There is now no walkway up to our house from the sidewalk, and visitors and the mail carrier and the poor paper kids have to squeeze between our cars to get to the front door if we’re both home.

2. Parking there everyday for the last almost 4 years has left divots in the walkway, which irks me. Count this as the only reason necessary for why we’ll never have an interlocking brick driveway.


And don’t get me started on the bushy plants immediately next to the walkway. I walk through them every morning to get to the driver’s side door of my car. I don’t care about them at all, and I usually step directly on them as I get to my car, but they won’t take the hint and they keep on living.

As a quick side note on the walkway, if the cars are not both in the driveway, it still forces visitors to make a zigzag to get to our front door. This strikes me as entirely unnecessary and we plan to change it this summer. The finished driveway will go right to the edge of those plants, which we will then dig out and make a straight pathway to the front door from the sidewalk.

Zigzag entrance

The real construction started on Wednesday morning as promised. The crew arrived early and asked Dan to move his car so they could get to it. Leeloo the dog politely greeted the fellows as she went out for her morning walk, which I hoped would mean she wouldn’t spend all day being anxious about the strangers outside.

They were breaking up the concrete slab as I was leaving for work. When I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to see they got all the concrete up on day one:


They also took out the brick walkway. I’m a happy camper now.


Some wooden beams were taken out on day one, but they kept the fence and the wall intact. It had a really healthy lean going on at the end of the day, so they propped it up against the neighbour’s lawn so it wouldn’t completely fall over.



After the crew was gone, we took a little wander outside to check out our new surroundings.


They started excavating a little bit in the backyard, at the back of the driveway. Leeloo now has a construction zone and a big giant hole to navigate around when she uses the backyard facilities. It’s temporary, dog.



A Dan, for scale.

Day two was kind of a wash, it rained for most of the day so the crew was only out in the morning. They took down the fence, which already makes for a dramatic change in the view from my kitchen window.

I took pictures this morning after it snowed last night. Not sure if we’ll see the crew here today, but it’s supposed to be above zero this afternoon so maybe they can keep working? I don’t know enough about retaining walls to answer that question.



The wooden retaining wall is still there, holding back all the dirt from my driveway. But here’s something positive to latch onto – the first delivery of blocks for my new retaining wall also arrived on day two:


Now there’s a retaining wall material you can set your watch to! Take a close look at all the rotting wooden beams they’ve been pulling out of the ground in the earlier pictures. It’s astounding to me that they were supporting the driveway and car weight at all.

If the crew isn’t back today, I think we’ll be at a standstill on progress over the weekend. Have a delightful weekend, readers. Enjoy your solid, non-muddy driveways and check back in with us soon for an update.

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Property survey and retaining wall construction countdown

Good morning, readers. It’s been almost six months of aggressive saving leading up to this, and today is the day. Or rather, Wednesday is the day. Work is due to start on the retaining wall this week.

When we last left you, we signed the agreement with Kerr and Kerr Landscaping and paid a deposit for them to start work in the spring. After that, we had nothing new to report because we spent the last six months saving every last penny to pay for this project. Without going into specifics about our income, I can tell you it was a long six months of thinking “do I REALLY need this?” before every purchase I’ve made. I have a list of things I actually need to buy or would like to buy as soon as I free up some cash again.

Dan and I each saved up our half of the money for the project. We briefly considered taking out a small loan for a portion of the cost, but we settled on buckling down and saving it all up front so we wouldn’t have yet another monthly payment for something. Our research on loans only went as far as playing with loan calculators on bank websites, so I don’t know what the real interest cost would have been, but even at a very small amount, the monthly payments would stretch out for at least a year. We’ve been depriving ourselves of all the niceties in life since November, and it didn’t sound appealing to keep doing it for another year.

As of last month, I reached my saving goal. This is assuming the final cost of the project resembles the estimate we received, so it may cost us a bit more than we planned. Let’s all cross our fingers that they don’t unearth a body or a significant archaeological find under our driveway.

We also had an extra cost as part of the preparation for wall construction – a survey to accurately mark our property line. This came up during the estimate we received from Helmutz in the fall, where the nice fellow who came out to look at the wall asked if we had a survey showing the property line. Nope. He put the fear of lawsuits and court battles with neighbours into me, and I decided we would be getting the property line marked.

In the fall, I contacted a company in Cambridge that does property surveys to get an estimate. They told me $700 – $900 to mark one side of the property. Eek. Not all four sides. Nothing documented on paper to last me until the end of time. Some stakes in the ground and peace of mind. Dan didn’t love this one. He firmly decided against it, and said we would take the risk. Nope, absolutely not. You might not know me personally, readers, but I am not a risk taker. I told Dan I would pay the full cost of the survey, because I want to do this project right, and I don’t want anyone questioning the placement of a very expensive wall of concrete. Two weeks ago, I got back in touch with the survey company to have them come and mark the property line.

Two men arrived at our front door at the crack of 8am on Monday morning last week to hunt for property markers. We were asleep. When I got out of bed a short while later to walk a dog, I introduced myself and told them to do their thing. They said they didn’t need anything from me, so I went about my day. When I came back from my walk, they were around the corner from the house, walking paces from a marker on the neighbours yard. It all looked very high-tech. When Dan and I were leaving for work an hour later, they were in their truck so I went over to let them know we were on our way out. The guy said that was fine, and then sheepishly asked if we had a copy of the property survey, because they were having a hard time finding the markers. Why no, good sir. That is what I am paying you to do. I left them to it and headed out for the day.

When Dan got home from work, he didn’t see any marks or stakes or anything on the driveway. No note or messages about what was done. The one thing he did see was an X, marked in pencil, about two feet away from the side door, and easily 4 feet in from the edge of the existing wall. A visual:
X, marking a very confusing spot for us
I could tell you that we thought nothing of this and that we had a pleasant evening. That would be a lie. We had big ol’ fight about this, because it lead to thoughts like “what if our driveway is 4 feet narrower than we thought?”, and “let’s just pretend we don’t know and build the wall in the same spot anyway”. I read through all of our home purchase documents, including the teeny tiny print on the title insurance documents. We didn’t have a fun night.

The next day I called the survey company to ask what was up. The office guy confirmed that the crew couldn’t find the markers for the property line, but he was on the case now using whatever sophisticated maps he had at the office. And the X? It means nothing. It was a marker for some reference point. Way to cause an epic fight, sir. The next day the crew came back while we were out at work, and the driveway was marked with stakes and florescent orange flags. Ahhhhhhh. Peace of mind.


They placed the first marker right at the sidewalk, on the other side of the old hydro pole:


And for good measure they did one smack dab in the retaining wall itself, knowing full well that it would be ripped out when the construction starts:


And they carried the stakes right through to the backyard, to give the landscapers a reference once the driveway stakes are gone:

The final tally from the survey company was $1017, tax included. My contact at their office said the crew spent more time looking for the markers than I would be charged for, so I’m grateful he kept the cost close to his original estimate.

My next battle is getting a hold of someone at the parking exemption office at the City of Cambridge to tell them when we’ll be parking on the street. I originally left a message saying today was the start date, but we’ve been delayed a few days due to weather. I think that’s the last thing on my to do list other than pay all my hard earned money to the lovely landscapers who are doing the work. It’s happening, and it will be over soon.

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Retaining walls are expensive, yo.

It’s Halloween, dear readers, and we’re signing on the dotted line for the replacement of our retaining wall. Let’s back up a second. It’s been a while, and I think we need to ease into a re-introduction to your favourite homeowners.

When you last had an update from us, we gave you the final run-down of our bathroom reno. It’s been a solid 6 months with our new bathroom, and it’s holding up well. We’ve received a few comments from readers asking about how the bathtub in particular is doing, and we’re seeing no signs of wear or damage. The tub looks as good today as she did the day she went in. Our cleaning routine is pretty simple, and involves a quick scrubbadub with Comet and a sponge.

The shiny new factor is starting to wear off on the bathroom, and it just seems like the place I go to do my dirty sinful business everyday. The magic has faded, but I guess that’s true of any new thing you bring into your life.

In sad news, about a month after our last post, our dear sweet Oscar (the dog) died. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and within a few weeks his health had deteriorated greatly and he was euthanized on March 21. I think about him every single day, and we were deeply sad for a long time.

Our summer was spent not doing a whole heck of a lot on the house, and I will be the first to admit we were pretty lax on the general maintenance of the yard this summer. We bought a free-standing hammock and planted a tree in the backyard though, so we’re taking steps to make this space more appealing to us. The yard is still kind of blah, but we’re about to make a dramatic change to that…

Enter: the retaining wall. I can’t even recall if I’ve ever mentioned the retaining wall in a previous post. It’s been a looming thing since we bought the house in 2013, when we saw that the wall was already in need of some TLC. We knew what we were getting into (kind of), and the time has finally run out in the sand-timer of our retaining wall.

Here’s the wall in question:

My pride and joy

This picture is from Christmas time (duh), but you can see some of the issues I’m about to describe.


You might think it’s just the rotting wooden fence on top of the wall that’s the problem. Oh no, sir. It’s the whole thing.


Look at the lean on that wall! The wall is failing. It’s made of wood. There’s zero drainage in the wall, so years (decades?) of water run-off have been pushing on the wood from the driveway side, and the whole shebang is slowly falling into the neighbour’s yard.


The concrete driveway is pulling apart and coming with it too. That crack in the middle of the driveway should be quite thin, and it’s been widening and shifting in the last three years.


Every time I pull into the driveway, I look at that fence sitting on top of the wall, and I wonder how much longer it has before the whole thing topples over. Is it one squirrel saunter away from collapse? Maybe?

The retaining wall continues beyond the concrete driveway, along the backyard. During the summer months, there are lovely ferns that completely hide that fact that there’s a 1.5 foot drop between our yard and the neighbour’s wooden fence.

It makes me uneasy, it’s unsightly, and I worry about the bigger hassle that will come if it one day falls away from the driveway (or takes the driveway with it…).

OK, so what’s a responsible homeowner to do? Why, replace the whole thing, of course!

One day off I had in September, I struck up the urge to start researching what we could actually do to replace the wall. I spent an afternoon researching all the companies that popped up when I googled “driveway retaining wall Cambridge”. I knew that the job might be more substantial than your typical retaining wall project because it would need to support a driveway and cars parked on top of it.It’s also obscenely long. The retaining wall runs the length of our property. I don’t own a measuring tape that can give me an accurate length of the wall, but my one-foot-in-front-of-the-other measuring method revealed that the driveway is about 70 feet long. Plus the length of the backyard. Yikes.

My general research on the topic of retaining walls told me that they are priced by the foot (double yikes), and depend very much on the depth and height of the wall, and the chosen material. So, how long is a piece of string? I learned nothing helpful in my general searching.

I made a short list of construction/landscaping companies that specifically mentioned retaining walls on their websites. Also, as a tech-savvy millenial, if a company didn’t have a website, I didn’t even consider them. #sorrynotsorry

I narrowed things down to five companies to contact, based on google reviews, general website information, and the “About Us” blurb on their websites. Here are the folks I contacted one afternoon in September, when I struck up the nerve to talk about a great big expensive home renovation:

  • On The Mark Building
  • Concrete Landscapes
  • Helmutz
  • Romar Construction
  • Kerr and Kerr Landscaping

I’m picky about lots of things in life, readers, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I feel like it’s my gut feeling rearing its head and keeping me from making dumb choices. The first company I called, On The Mark Building, gave me a weird feeling from their voicemail message. It was clearly someone’s personal cell phone, and it didn’t strike me as professional. I chose not to leave a message.

Romar and Concrete Landscapes had much more professional sounding voicemail messages, and I happily left a general message asking for someone to call me back to discuss an estimate for a retaining wall. I never heard back from either of them.

Kerr and Kerr answered the phone, and I spoke to a lovely receptionist who took down all my information and made arrangements right then and there for an estimator to come out and take a look at our wall the next day. Point for you, sir.

Helmutz also answered the phone, and the receptionist was equally helpful. He took down my information, and let me know that it would be a week or two before someone could come out to see the wall. Sure. Sounds fine, and I appreciate that you’re not over-promising.

We met with Dave from Kerr and Kerr the next day after work, and he spent a good solid half hour at our house answering questions and discussing our needs. On the topic of needs, one of our concerns with this project is working with the neighbours. Our neighbours on the other side of the wall are….particular. They like things a certain way, and they aren’t shy about telling us so. I pulled up my big girl pants while Dave was taking measurements of the existing wall, and I went next door to chat with them. I invited them out to meet with the estimator and voice their concerns. Dave was great with them, and reassured them that they would move their garden plants aside while the work was being done, and then put them back afterward. The construction would take place entirely on our side, and only cross onto their property about 1.5 feet. Phew!

Kerr and Kerr took a few weeks to get back to us with a formal estimate, but they were in contact with us to let us know it would be a few more days. Point again, I appreciate being kept in the loop.

Another name entered the ring after my initial calls, Country Boy Services, on recommendation of Simon. Simon has high standards, so they must be good! A gentleman from Country Boy came out one night while I was stuck in the worst traffic on my way home from work, so Dan was the one who met with him. He said he would send an estimate to Dan. It’s been a month and we haven’t heard anything back.

Meanwhile, Helmutz called back and made an appointment to view the wall. Frank stopped by one afternoon and chatted with me about his recommendations, took his measurements, and sent me an estimate the next business day. Considering it took Kerr three weeks to send an estimate, it made me suspicious about why it was so quick, and why Kerr took so long. Was Kerr overwhelmingly busy and didn’t spend a lot of time on estimates? Was Helmutz NOT busy, or did they have someone dedicated to churning out estimates? The numbers from Kerr and Helmutz were similar, but the estimate from Kerr was much more detailed. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!

We had originally asked for an estimate to replace the entire retaining wall, curb to back of property. The driveway portion is about 70 feet long, and the backyard portion is another 30 feet, but it only holds back grass and it isn’t as high. The estimate from Kerr and Kerr was a little terrifying for all 100 feet of retaining wall. Ready to wet yourself from money shock?


Plus tax.


BUT, another point in Kerr’s favour here, Dave came out to our house to present the estimate, so we had the chance to talk to him and ask questions about how we could bring the cost down. We asked if we could hold off on the backyard section, and he said this part of the wall looked fine, and wasn’t failing like the driveway part. He was happy to revise the estimate to reflect only the driveway portion of the wall, and reassured us that the demolition and general construction costs outlined on his estimate would be reduced by about half.

The revised estimate from Kerr was $15,085 + HST. Much better.

The estimate from Helmutz was $14,004, taxes in.

Dan hates me for this, but I rarely go for the cheapest price for anything. I want quality work. I want a company I’m happy working with. I want Good and Fast, and I don’t need it to be Cheap.

I’m also not a sucker. I called Kerr back and asked how we can shave a bit off of the estimate to keep us on budget. I was not pushy or aggressive, because the last thing I want is to aggravate the contractor and have him peg me as a bothersome client who is always whining about the price. I respect that quality work costs money, so I asked if there were things we could remove from the estimate. His response was that removing anything from the estimate would compromise what they do, and I was totally satisfied with that answer. I will pay for quality. BUT, because I asked, he said he would honour their discount coupon that comes out in January towards our project. Wa-bam!

I was heavily leaning towards Kerr and Kerr because of the great service they had provided up to this point, and taking even a little bit off the price tipped the scales in their favour. I signed the paperwork today and sent it them, and we’ll be putting down a 20% deposit soon to secure the work for the spring.

We’d like to get this done as soon as the ground thaws, which should be mid- to late-April. This gives us the next 6 months to save every penny towards this project. Imagination Christmas at our house this year.

An on a final happy note, we welcomed a new pooch into our home at the beginning of September. Her name is Leeloo Dallas, and she’s a sweet little mutt.


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Bathroom reno, final round-up and costs

The bathroom is done, readers. It’s been a functional bathroom space for two weeks now, and it looks pretty and like everything I was hoping it would be. The last two weeks here have been about tidying up and putting things back to normal. As I write this, Simon has just left after sanding down the walls in the office and installing our privacy lock. Let’s back this train up and take you through our last two weeks.

First, we have a door! Door day was a great day. Simon had the track and door up in one afternoon, with the handle on and everything.


My lovely Etsy handle looks right at home on the door on the outside…

And her matching partner on the inside looks just as fabulous:

We chose a 30″ wide door for our 24″ wide door opening, so there would be a decent overlap at the door frame for privacy. In order to install the flush pull handle on the inside, we weren’t able to centre the door in the frame (the depth of the panel sections of the door weren’t enough to support digging out a chunk of it for the handle). I’m totally fine with how it sits.

Back on the outside, the track looks simple and pretty on the wall. We temporarily took down our artwork on the walls until we knew how far along the wall the door would slide. We only lost the space for one picture in the end, and most things went back on the wall where they were before.

We ran into a minor catch with the sliding door – it kept bumping into the baseboard trim when you closed the door. The trim at all of our door openings sticks out a few millimeters and it was enough to catch the edge of the door each time.


But of course, Simon has a solution for that:


Shave off the very corner of the trim so the door has a smooth surface to glide over. Done. All I need to do it prime and paint the trim white to cover the small change.

With the issue of how the door slides taken care of, Simon installed the door guide, which just keeps the door sliding where it’s supposed to, and prevents anyone from pulling it away from the wall from the outside.


The view from inside the bathroom, with its newly installed door and handles. Still no privacy lock at this point. And Simon loves touching up the wall after I’ve painted it, so this picture shows a big ol’ patch of drywall mud evening out the wall edge.


Remember how the plastic was still covering my nice new tub in our last post?


Well, no more! Plastic be gone!



Dan even broke it in properly and had the first bath in our new tub:

It doesn’t even look like our bathroom! It seriously feels like showering in a stranger’s house, or a swanky hotel.

Oscar has recognized the bathroom as a finished thing now, by taking his first swigs of refreshing toilet water:


And on Friday, the privacy lock arrived from Windsor Plywood (and my best buddy Tim!), and it was installed today.




See? The top teardrop neatly slides to the right to meet the notch in the door. You might be amazed to know that NO ONE (except Windsor Plywood) carries these in Canada. I paid a grand total of $33.89 to get this lock here. That’s a far cry from $58 USD plus shipping and duty that other sites were charging.

And the bathroom, she is complete!


The final round-up of costs:

Toilet – $128.82
Shower/Tub Faucet – $213.57
Sink Faucet – $162.72
Shower Wall Tile – $197.75 + 7.91 = $205.66
Accent Tile – $31.72
Grout (not all that we needed, the first bag) – $20.33
Vanity Top – $311.88 + $36.16 = $348.04
Floor Tile – $171.81
Bathtub – $487.03
Shower Shelf – $193.83
UPS duty fee on shower shelf – $65.76
Lowe’s gift cards – $400 + $250 = $650.00
Simon and materials week 1 – $377.25
Simon and materials week 2 – $340.00
Simon week 3 – $400.00
Materials week 3 – $255.60
Door and track hardware – $260.35
Door handle and flush pull – $52.04
Simon week 4 – $473.02
Baseboard Trim – $27.09
Shower Curtain Rod and Liner – $45.18
Paint and painting supplies – $57.02
Privacy Lock – $33.89
Simon week 5-6 – $400.00

Grand Total – $5,400.73

Come on a short journey with me to see how far we’ve come in 6 weeks.





We’re still working on getting the office back to normal. The final coat of drywall mud has been sanded, and I think we’re in the clear to prime and paint the wall back to normal. Simon needs another foot of baseboard trim to cover the new wall, and then our office needs to be rearranged to suit the new, ever so slightly smaller, space. More on that soon.

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Bathroom reno, week 5 update

It’s been a good week, readers. Like, a delirious, happy, mock-sobbing kind of week. Maybe real sobbing. Maybe.

When you last heard from your heroes, we were growing weary from the drywall dust that just keeps reappearing on everything on our house. I had decided a while ago that I would wait until the project was completely done before dusting and tidying up all the horizontal surfaces in our house, but I caved this week. I vacuumed and dusted, but stopped short of mopping the floors, because what’s the point? It lasted about 2 days before the hazy film came back. Moving on.

Last week we left you hanging with pictures of the fully tiled and ready to be grouted shower. Grout got started early this week, and took more than the single day I imagined it would take. Simon started grouting the far corner of the shower and got maybe 1/4 of it done the first day. The bigger change that first day was the vanity countertop.

Way back in my original post about what pieces we bought for the bathroom, I talked about this lovely countertop from Rona:

"Modern" Synthetic Marble Vanity Top - 49'' x 22''
Now, this should have been obvious to us from looking at the picture you see above, but this beauty only has one hole for a faucet. The faucet we chose needs three. Oops.

Simon had opened the box for the countertop and was getting himself organized to put it in place when he noticed this major discrepancy. We taped the box back up and zipped back to Rona to exchange it for something else. As it turns out, the vanity top I originally wanted was in stock, and the swap was painless. The new vanity top cost $30 more than the one we bought originally, but I think I like it more than the one we settled for. The countertop we bought is 49″ x 22″ and is made from fake marble. Here she is, in her $308 + tax glory:

Vanity Top
Once we came back from Rona, Simon had the new countertop in place in minutes. Hooking up the faucet was no big deal either, although Simon had to extend one pipe coming up to the sink from the basement because they were just a teensy bit too short to meet the new faucet lines.

Lovely. Just lovely.

The next morning when the light was better, I took a picture of the first day of grouting progress for y’all:


We chose a light grey (called Alabaster) unsanded grout. Simon was schmearing it around the first night and commented on how dark it was, and if we really wanted something so dark. Way to throw all my carefully thought out plans in the trash, Simon. I had a real panic that night that I had made a horrible choice, but Dan reassured me that it goes on dark because it’s wet, but it will dry just the way it’s supposed to look. He was right. Phew!

Also on that first day, we had a two-steps-back kind of moment when I got home to see that the tile progress Simon made on Monday was gone. Poof. Completely ripped up and back to the blank subfloor. It turns out Simon made an oopsie with the tile and had to start over. He had been carefully lining up the tile with the true centre of the room and checking that everything was nice and straight. But when your room and the walls aren’t straight and true in any sense, the tiles looks off no matter how carefully you checked things first. New plan is to line everything up with the “straight” line your eye sees first in the room, which is where the tub meets the floor.


Much better. This is after the tiles sat drying for a day in their new position, and you can see the section around the toilet area has been grouted.

Now, tile that has been set down in place with thinset and allowed to dry for 24 hours before you realize your oopsie isn’t going to play nice when you want to use it again. The thinset was stuck to the back of all the tiles, just like you would hope it would be, so there was little hope in being able to use those first few sheets of tile again. When I ordered the tile for the bathroom, I made sure to include a 15% buffer to little mistakes and for cutting sheets of tile around things. I didn’t account for 1/3 of the bathroom tile being discarded. Simon was good about this though, he arranged for more tile from Sarmazian and paid for the extra himself. I was amazed at how quickly Sarmazian had the new tile ready considering it was a week before we got our tile from the first order.

This is as far as he was able to get with the tile before running out:


Grouting continued on Wednesday and Thursday:

And on Friday, I was looking at a fully grouted shower with my shiny new shower head and tub faucet:


The second round of tiles arrived by Friday, and Simon made quick work of getting them down in place:

Oh, yeah, and we have a second toilet in the house now.


It’s been ages. Too long. We are a two toilet kind of household. We know that now.

Also, check out how pretty my floor tile is with the grout? Nice, yes?

Once we could walk around on the floor again, I didn’t waste any time in making my bathroom look like my old bathroom. I rehung the pictures on the wall, touched up the paint in a few places where Simon re-spackled, and MOVED ALL MY BATHROOM SUPPLIES BACK.


This was Sunday morning. I probably should have been getting ready for work, but instead I put my makeup and hair supplies back in their drawers and hung pictures on the wall. Don’t worry, I was at work with plenty of time to spare.

Here’s where we are this morning, with a shower that I can totally use (once I take off the protective plastic cover from the tub), a toilet that flushes, and most of my things back where they belong:


The baseboard trim around the wall edge isn’t nailed in place yet, because Simon still needs to grout the tiles around the toilet area.


Our medicine cabinet is back in place, and more securely fix in its hole in the wall. It was just sitting in that big wall opening before with nothing holding it in place. Simon screwed it in place and caulked around the edge.


The last picture showing these frames was missing one because a frame was coming apart and had to be glued back together. It’s all good now, and my little sea monster prints are back where they belong.

Dan bought a brushed nickel tension shower curtain rod yesterday so we could put our shower curtain back up and *gasp* bathe in our own house again. We were terrified to muck up the tile so we opted not to install our old rod which would have required drilling into the tile.


I still haven’t removed the plastic cover on the tub. I think I’ll do it tonight when I have a nice hot shower. Mmmmm.


And my favourite one, the view of the bathroom from our bedroom, where it totally looks like a finished room:


Except there’s still no door on the bathroom. That’s coming soon! Simon was measuring and marking the wall for the track to be installed, and the handles I ordered from Etsy arrived this week:


Final touches to come this week:

-Install sliding door and handles (the locking hardware should arrive this week from my pal Tim in Manitoba)
-Finishing grouting the floor
-Attach baseboard trim
-Seal grout, shower tile and floor tile
-Touch up paint, again. Simon loves slapping up drywall mud on the wall surfaces I’ve freshly painted
-Reattach towel bars under the window
-Reattach transition strip from the hallway laminate to the bathroom tile floor
-Have a nice hot bath to celebrate

Then there’s still the office fixing up to do, as the wall we moved still looks pretty rough from the other side. Simon hung the drywall to neaten up the new corner in the office, but it’s about two coats of drywall mud away from being paintable. Dan has some plans to rearrange the office when the wall is done, as his comic book selection has greatly expanded in the last year and the book nook is bursting at the seams.

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Bathroom reno, week 4 update

We’re in the home stretch, readers! I can safely say that we are at least over the half-way point. I sincerely hope that we’re well beyond the half-way point, but I’ve learned not to be optimistic when it comes to Simon’s timelines. Simon, if you’re reading this, take no offense. As previously explained, we get it. You’ve got loads more on your plate than just our bathroom reno. You’re also not great at estimating things like timing or cost. I recall that last week Simon said he would be in over the weekend and would get the whole bathroom done. Today is Monday, readers, the day after the weekend. I can assure you, my bathroom is still a construction zone. But we’re getting there.

The theme of this week’s update is definitely “tiling continues”. I think it’s no secret that tiling is not Simon’s favourite thing to do, so I’ll tell you flat out. Tiling is Simon’s LEAST favourite thing to do, and this week’s progress was slow but steady as a result.

At the end of last week’s update, two of the walls were tiled to the top of the cement board with the subway tile pattern, except for the inside corners which required tiles to be cut. Simon hammered out the third wall to the same point in one afternoon early last week. There was one day during the week where Simon didn’t make it over to our place, so this is as far as we got by Wednesday morning this week:

I left for work on Wednesday and went straight to a work conference out of town, and I didn’t come back until Thursday evening. I was pleasantly surprised with the progress over those two days:

You see that? That’s my shower ceiling covered in TILE!

I really like it. I’m very happy with the choice to tile the ceiling in the same pattern. This did of course mean my earlier calculations for the number of tiles to purchase were now wrong. I did a quick tile run to Lowe’s on Friday afternoon for another 20 tiles. That lasted through Saturday, until Simon realized the shower shelf needed to be tiled in, and that wasn’t part of his original calculation of how many extra tiles he told me to get. He ended up running out on Sunday and getting another third of a box of tile to finish everything.

Before we get too far, let’s zoom in and take a closer look at the shower shelf accent tile. You can see a peak of it in the picture above.


Oh baby! She is gorgeous! Also, let me tell you how much Simon hates cutting teeny tiny 1″ hex tiles to fit in stupid shower shelf corners. It’s a lot. He hates it a lot.

Friday was all about the shower shelf accent, and Saturday and Sunday were all about finishing the corners and the edges in the shower. Simon recommended a white plastic edging product to cover the edge of tile where it meets the painted wall.


You will also notice, right next to the nice neat edge of the tile, that there were some spackle touch-ups to my freshly painted wall. Sigh. I’ll touch up with some primer and paint some time this week, once we’re sure Simon is done knocking in to walls and fiddling with things until they’re “just right”.

The shower shelf took the longest to finish, but here she is, finally boxed in by subway tile:


After a few deep discussions on the matter, Simon and I decided on have the horizontal tiles on the bottoms of the shelves go right to the edge, for a “fall over” effect for future water run-off. The grout line for the sides of the shelf are on the inside, so it carries the pattern right up to the edge.

The last of the tiling on the shower surround was finished today, so grouting all this comes next. We chose a light grey for the subway tile grout and for the flooring grout, called Alabaster. On Simon’s advice, we chose an unsanded grout because it has a smoother finish and makes cleaning easier.

On Saturday night, another real progress level was achieved. Prepare yourself, readers. The floor installation has begun!

The cement board underflooring was screwed in place on Saturday night:


Sunday was a good day. The first few sheets of floor tile went in place:


Followed by some toilet checks and measures, and a little more tile down today:


On a completely different note, we’ve been tackling the bathroom door issue this week too. As we get closer to having our bathroom finished and usable again, we’re going to need some privacy.

You may recall that the old bathroom door was taken off its hinges and chucked into our basement weeks ago, when the tub was first set into place. Since then, we ruled out a pocket door (too risky and expensive on the load-bearing wall), and decided on a sliding barn style door. I’ve been agonizing over which style of door and hardware to choose ever since. This week, I went to Lowe’s after work and just bought something. There were several hours of internet research going into this “just bought something” statement, but I got tired of waffling back and forth.

We decided on a modern looking three panel solid white door, and the more minimalist barn door track hardware, both from Lowe’s.

Sliding barn door hardware – Regularly $149, but on sale for $119
6.7 ft x 3 in, dark brown finish

Here’s how it will look when it’s attached to a door:

3-Panel Slab Door – Regularly $139, on sale for $111.20
32″ x 80″

And here’s the dynamic duo lined up in my hallway, waiting for their turn to play:


And if you think I spent a lot of time humming and hawing about which door to choose, I can tell you I spent even more time thinking about which hardware to chose for the handles and locking mechanism. Handles seemed fairly straight forward. I wanted something simple with a clean line, without being to “barn-y” looking and over the top. For the inside handle, I wanted a flush pull style handle, exactly like you would use on a pocket door, but I was particular about the style of the handle.

After an exhausting search that kept leading me back to companies with $110 USD flat shipping rates to Canada (yup, not a typo), I found this awesome Etsy store. In Canada. With exactly what I was looking for.

Meet Simon from Spearhead Collection. He sells flush pulls in a variety of styles and finishes. I found exactly what I had in mind, and for a reasonable price. One of these goes for $12.95 Cdn.

1 x Cast Iron Flush Inset Door Pull  Handle 5" x 1" (add extra as needed)

And he sells handles, also in many styles and finishes. I chose a 10″ handle with rounded ends for $15.83 Cdn.

10" Antique Iron Bow Handle - penny end (sold as 1 x  handle)

Perfect. Including shipping from Alberta, the handles cost me $52. I’ll take it.

Way back in this post, I told you about the only kind of privacy lock that exists for sliding barn doors. I really wasn’t kidding. There is literally nothing else that anyone sells, and like many things in life, they’re extremely difficult to find in Canada without paying through the nose for shipping and duty. I was looking for teardrop privacy lock for a sliding door. This one, to be exact:

Teardrop bronze

My search for a supplier lead me to Windsor Plywood, a franchise retailer of home interior finishing products, based on the west coast of Canada. Neat. They don’t sell their products online, so I took a leap of faith and called the closest store to where I live, which happens to be in Thunder Bay, which is nowhere near where I live, crossing all my fingers and toes that they would ship a product to little ol’ me.

The first person I spoke to was wonderful. He told me this was definitely a product they stock, and that they would be more than willing to ship it to me. The only problem was that someone beat me to the punch and bought out the last six teardrop privacy locks they had in stock that morning. Come on! Clearly I’m not the only one with sliding barn doors on the brain. He was great though, and told me that another store would likely carry the item and could ship it to me. His advice was to call another store and check with them. The next closest store to me was in Manitoba, which is also nowhere near where I live. It took a few tries to different Manitoba stores to find someone who cared enough to help me. A nice fellow at one store offered to call around for me and find one so I didn’t have to keep calling stores. He got back to me later that same day to get my contact details for shipping. Today I received an email from him saying that the lock has been ordered from their warehouse and is on its way to their store, where it will be packed up and shipped to me in Ontario. Shout out to you, Tim at Windsor Plywood! You win the customer service prize of the day!

Let’s end on a happy note for the week, with my completely tiled and ready to be grouted shower:

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