Sunday, December 02, 2012


DIY Team dorm remodeling

This summer when doing new construction elsewhere on campus, we decided to pour a concrete counter-top and not a wood-frame structure. Three main reasons: wood has a limited lifetime regardless of where its at and two, its subjected to a lot of heat, moisture and bugs (mainly cheechees, Jamaican termites) here and three, things at CCCD are used by our kids and folks who are staying there for a short-time, so its not like things get handled or cared for like they would in a typical home (hence, things have to be made to last). We haven't tiled it yet but felt that going forward we would always do concrete structures instead of wood.
Then in September we had a team here from Michigan and decided to fix the decaying kitchen countertop. It was a plywood surface with a thin, imitate wood-grain panel glued on top, and it was falling apart. The challenge with doing a concrete counter top for this was that it was a remodel and the cabinet structure was already in place, not a new build from scratch. Bill was on the team and knew his stuff, so thankfully he was able to determine if the existing structure could support a concrete counter top, so we decided to go with a concrete counter top, then formed and poured it in the room where we keep our lumber and cement. We let it cure for a month and then when we had a team here in October we took the next step of removing the old wood counter top and installing the concrete one

Demolition Fun! (Ted, David and Mark were hilarious!)

However, once we got the counter top off and removed the cabinet structure, we realized there was a lot of damage underneath and behind, so we had to do some heavy cleaning, replace a portion of the wall behind the cabinet, and repair the termite and moisture ridden cabinet. David, a Deaf man on the team who is a very skilled tradesman, excitedly took on the responsibility of replacing the damaged areas and then left me with $150 to finish the project, thanks David!

 Then came the fun of hauling the several hundred pound poured concrete counter top from about 75 yards away. It took 3 men and a wheelbarrow to get it going, but about 10 yards into the journey, as the rain from Hurricane Sandy began unleashing on us, we realized that the wheelbarrow was buckling under the weight and so the other 4 guys helping all jumped in and we carried it the rest of the way...I don't think we could have made it another 10 feet further, and thankfully we arrived as our arms and backs were giving out. This thing seriously has to weigh about 4-500 lbs!
 After that we didn't get the chance to work on it again as Hurricane Sandy clean-up became our priority. A couple weeks later I picked out some tile for it and began tiling the front face, which I had to do first in order to know where to place the surface tiles. 
 Then I installed the aluminum bevel trim piece and the surface tiles. When Roger and Mary Stoller came down to visit Victoria, she helped me figure out how to include a cross design and then Roger suggested we get a different color tile to stand out a bit more. So far it was looking ok, but I wasn't sure how it'd all turn out.
Then I installed the backsplash tiles.

 Then inserted the sink to make sure it all worked as measured (I had to bang on the metal brackets under the sink to squeeze it in, it was about a 1/4 inch too wide)
 The final touch was installing the faucet (we didn't have enough in the budget to buy a new faucet, but we had a face basin faucet in storage so I decided to use that for now) and paint and install wood trim (this was also added to make up the gap between where the backsplash tiles ended and the repaired plywood wall was still exposed.

The project was a lot of fun and hopefully is as durable and long-lasting as we anticipate. I had to laugh when my buddy Shaun (our school security guard) came by to look at it a couple days ago. "Blake, looks good, but you can't do this as a job, your family gonna've been working on this for like three months!" We had a good laugh and I had to agree, this was by no means a quick deal. I literally sketched it out and measured stuff 5-6 times, cut it and laid it all out dry before laying down the thinset. It was a lot of fun and I also enjoyed having my kids pop their heads in and out and see the progress and give me their vote of approval. 

The best news? It really isn't all that expensive. David gave me $150. The tile, trim, thinset and grout cost about $10,000 J, or $115 USD, and I had quite a bit left over that I can use on our other counter top later. The sink, drain and pipe fittings cost about $4,000 J, or $50, so I was just a tad over the $150 budget. Not too shabby! Big thanks to Signs of Heaven and Our Savior Deaf Church for helping make it happen!

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