Jeffrey Court Renovation Challenge Week 3

Hey there! This is an update post for the Jeffrey Court Renovation Challenge– where I am attempting to completely remodel our bathroom in just six short weeks. You can catch up with our plans and progress up to this point by reading the posts here:

SEE THE FINAL BATHROOM REVEAL HERE

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I can’t believe it’s already the halfway point of this challenge. Holy moly, time is flying by! And truthfully, I am freaking out. It’s a fact that when remodeling, everything takes longer (and costs more) than you think it will. So far that has proven to be very, very true with this bathroom. We are halfway through the timeframe, but not even close to halfway through the to-do list! EEK! Time to get our hustle on!

But I am very excited to say that last night we finished tiling the floor and it so, so stinkin’ gorgeous. GORGEOUS I TELL YOU! And finally getting to the pretty part of the work has been a mental game changer. It’s given me a taste of just how amazing the space is going to look and has helped me remember that all this work is going to be totally worth it.

Here’s how this week’s tile flooring installation went down.

Choosing The Tile

This was the hardest decision I had to make of the entire bathroom. Jeffrey Court has so many beautiful choices! But in the end, my heart wanted the Carrara Marble. We did a marble backsplash in our kitchen remodel four years ago and it’s still my favorite thing in our entire house. I was worried about the possibility of staining and etching in a high-traffic bathroom, but I found some sealing products that should help combat that and decided that it was worth it. Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby. So we will be using a mix of the 3×6, 4×12 and 6×12 Jeffrey Court carrara marble tile.

Choosing The Supplies

Wow! There are SO many different kinds of mortar and so many different types of tile spacers and trowels and grouts and sealers! It took me hours of research to land on the products we ended up using. There are a ton of variables when choosing the right thinset mortar, grout, sealant, etc. and it depends on the tile material, tile size and location of the installation. The Custom Building Products site was my BFF. I even messaged their customer service department with questions and I’d recommend using their Project Shopping List feature to help you figure out the products that will suit your project best.

If you’re planning to lay a marble tile floor with tile similar in size to ours, these are the products you will need:

  1. Cement Mixer Drill Attachment
  2. Pro Lite Thinset Mortar (Make sure to buy WHITE not GRAY)
  3. 1/4 x 3/8 x 1/4 ” Notched Trowel 
  4. 1/16 ” Traditional Tile Spacers
  5. Tile Leveling Wedges
  6. Tile Leveling Spacers
  7. Tile Leveling Pliers
  8. Five Gallon Buckets (2)

A few notes about the supplies:

  • We went through one bag of mortar for our 5’x8′ bathroom floor.
  • Buy the white mortar if you’re using light colored tile. Only  buy the gray mortar if you’re installing a dark colored tile.
  • The notch size of your trowel matters and is related to how thickly you need to apply the mortar. Larger tile sizes require more mortar underneath while smaller tiles need less mortar, so double check that information. It’s all written out on the information sheets if you look up the products online and on the instructions that are on the product bags.
  • You will need two five gallon buckets: one for mixing mortar and one for cleaning your tools. To easily clean the mixer attachment, just stick it in a bucket of water while the mortar is still wet and zhush it around until it’s clean.

Tile Leveling System

Tile leveling clips are a relatively new product for tiling and they are supposed to help prevent lippage (when the corners of the tile stick up unevenly).  I have heard good things about them from other DIY’ers I know, so we decided to try them out. The white clip goes under the tiles, then you insert the blue wedge on top and use the pliers to squeeze the wedge, which essentially levels out the height of the tiles and forces them to be even. Here are a few tips if you are thinking about using them:

  • There is a learning curve! Start with a small area in an inconspicuous location. We started under where the vanity will be and I’m so glad we did. We got better at it as we went along.
  • They’re much better at leveling than actually spacing. We really had to watch to make sure the space in between tiles lined up correctly. For whatever reason, it is harder to do with this style of spacer. If you know that going in and keep an eye on it, it’s not a problem, but it surprised us (and stressed us out at first haha). I’m sure it was also related to the herringbone pattern we chose. Of course we had to pick something complicated. LOL.
  • Carefully read the directions for whatever type of leveling system you buy. There are different types made for different tile sizes and thicknesses. The first type we bought was only for tile larger than 12 inches on all sides so it wouldn’t work for our tile. We bought this system because it is made to be paired with smaller tile and a thinner mortar application. 
  • We found that we still needed to use traditional spacers in addition to the levelers because our tile was pretty small and we did an intricate pattern. You’re supposed to put a clip on every corner, but if your tile is small, they don’t fit.
  • You’ll need to buy a lot more spacers than you think, especially if you do a herringbone pattern. Better to buy several extra bags and have some left over to return than making not one, not two, but THREE emergency trips to the store for more. Yowsers!
  • The blue wedges are reusable, so we will save them and use them on the shower surround. The white parts aren’t reusable, so we had to buy a lot more of them. We used two bags of the blue wedges and three bags of the white spacers.
  • The pliers are not optional. If you try to squeeze the wedge into place with your fingers, your fingers will turn to hamburger. No really, spend the extra $10. The pliers also make removing the spacer tops afterwards easier.
  • I have seen videos where others simply kicked their spacers to remove them once the mortar was dry, but this didn’t work for our particular spacers. We had to remove each one with the pliers, being careful not to scratch the marble.

Choosing A Pattern

I played around with a dozen different pattern ideas using two different tile sizes… 4×12 and 3×6. I knew that I wanted to do some kind of border and then use mainly the 4×12 tiles to fill in the center. Here are some of the patterns I came up with:

I love the look of the 3×6 tile stacked long sides together, but we just couldn’t figure out how to make it work as a border because I didn’t love how it made the corners look. I still really like the stripey pattern with the mix of the two tile sizes, but in the end since we are trying to go for a traditional look, we chose a herringbone design with a mitered border made up of a row of 4×12, then a row of 3×6.

Tiling Tips for Beginners

  • Prep Work is Key. I talked about this a lot last week, but you must make sure you prep the subfloor correctly before installation. A level floor is critical! Read more about how to prep a floor for tile here.
  • Dry Fit. This was critical for us, especially since our pattern was a bit more complex. Dry fitting just means laying everything out before actually using mortar to glue it down permanently. We laid out the pattern, cut all of the tiles to size and even added the spacers to make sure the tile would fit perfectly.
  • Label. Especially with a herringbone pattern, there were specially sized angled pieces along the edges and we needed to make sure we put them all back correctly, so we drew right on our tile with a pencil. You could also stick a small piece of Frog Tape to each then draw on that with a Sharpie. We did not label full tile pieces, only the ones with angled cuts in them. We even took a picture of the final dry fitted and labeled floor to refer to during installation and it was extremely helpful, so I would definitely recommend doing that.
  • Make Small Batches of Mortar. Mortar is like a ticking time bomb and if you are anything like us, you’ll be very slow at first while you learn how to get everything right. So save yourself the stress of watching that mortar dry up too quickly and only mix up one small portion at a time. We divided our 5’x8′ floor into six sections and found that was as much as we could install before the mortar started to harden up too much to use. Yes it means you’ll have to wash your tools and bucket six times. Yes it’s still better.
  • Trowel Technique Matters. Before I began researching all things tile, I wouldn’t have guessed that how you apply the mortar with the trowel matters. Then I watched THIS VIDEO that explains why you need the ridges of mortar and how improper mortar application leads to tile failure and it just made everything make sense. Once you understand the WHY, you’ll be diligent in making those nice straight trowel lines.
  • Wear Gloves. I didn’t protect my skin while working with the mortar and I wish I would have taken the extra few minutes to grab a pair of latex gloves. My hands are fine, but boy does that mortar dry out your skin!
  • Keep Your Cracks Clean. LOL. What I really mean is that wiping away wet mortar is easy, but chiseling away dried mortar is difficult, so after your tiles are in place, double check every single grout line and use a toothpick to scrape away any mortar that may have squelched up into the cracks.
  • Mix Tile Batches. Natural stone has a lot of variation. I opened all of the tile packages and mixed tiles from different batches together to ensure that the patterns in the floor flowed nicely. If you don’t do this, you could end up with all of the super white tiles in one section or all of the heavily veined tiles clumped together. To me it looks better to spread them out and think about the pattern on the tiles as you lay them next to each other.

Mistakes We Made Lessons We Learned

Overall, I think we did a pretty good job with the floor, but if we were going to do it again, we could do even better. Isn’t that how it always goes? Here are some of the things we would change if we were doing it all over again.

  • We installed the tile border on Friday night, then fit the herringbone center section inside of that on Saturday. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now there are some height issues between the border and the center section because we couldn’t use the leveling spacers. If we were to do it again, we’d install the border and center at the same time working from side to side even through the different patterns.
  • We used pieces of wood as spacers along the outside edges to make sure everything stayed straight. We didn’t pull the spacers out while the mortar was wet. Guess who now has wood spacers cemented to their bathroom floor? Hahahahaha. I have no idea what we’re going to do about that. Stay tuned.

So what’s next on our to-do list?

  • Remove old tile around tub and shower
  • Remove old tile floor
  • Clear out debris
  • Remove old vanity
  • Add outlet behind vanity
  • Move light box down
  • Repair drywall
  • Remove toilet
  • Clean floor and prep
  • Lay down cement board
  • Tape and cement seams
  • Tile floor
  • Seal floor
  • Grout floor
  • New plumbing valves in shower
  • Install cement board in shower surround
  • Tape + Mud
  • Redgard
  • Tile shower surround
  • Seal shower surround
  • Grout shower surround
  • Install vanity
  • Wainscoting wall molding
  • Sand, caulk, prime and paint molding
  • Wallpaper above wainscoting
  • Install new toilet
  • Install light, mirrors, towel bars, decor, etc.

Three weeks left. Think we can get it all done?

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