Light Townhouse Rehab - Project #6, Week #7

It's halfway through June, and progress is happening. We are projecting that we will be ready to show the place within the next 2-3 weeks and have it ready for move-in by the last week of July.

We are starting to focus our efforts on the bathrooms and the kitchen, since it is impossible to show the place unless they are ready. It's OK to show a place to potential residents without carpeting or paint, but nobody seems to be able to see past toilets sitting plumb in the middle of the living room and bedrooms.

The larger of the upstairs bathrooms was painted blue, so Pops came over and helped roll out a coat of latex-based Kilz primer. It's not that he likes to paint, but he likes to lay tile...and I wanted to paint the bathrooms before tiling. Here he is hamming it up for the camera. Sorry, ladies, but he is taken!

The day after the priming and painting, we started working on the tile floors. Each of the 4 bathrooms had vinyl on the floor, but will have tile when we are done. All the upstairs bathrooms have 5/8" OSB subfloors, which only provides marginal support for floor tiles. The floor must be very solid, otherwise the tiles will pop loose if the surface flexes. So next up on the list was the installation of 1/2" thick "Wonderboard", or concrete backer board. Backerboard is basically a sheet of concrete either reinforced with fiberglass strands or wrapped in a fiberglash mesh. There are other brands of backer out there such as Durock and Hardiboard, but I prefer the Wonderboard for small rooms because the edges are not tapered and don't require tape to be seamed together. Instead of a taper, there is open mesh that the mortar can ooze into to bond the boards together along their lengths. And since these are just bathrooms, I should not run into boards that need to be joined along the short edges with mesh tape and mortar.

The first step is to measure, cut and test-fit the panels into the bathroom. Cutting the panels is done in a fashion similar to drywall. Instead of an utility knife, a carbide cutting tool (the blue-handled thing) is used to score part-way through the board. The board is then snapped, and a utility knife is used to trim the remaining mesh on the backside. I also had to knock out a hole for the toilet flange, as seen in the picture below. Notice that I am working on that hole over a trash can, so I don't have to sweep up the debris from the floor later.

With the board trimmed and cut, it is test-fit into the master bathroom.

Satisfied with the fit, some mortar is mixed up and spread evenly with a 1/4" notched trowel. The purpose of the mortar is twofold - It helps bond the backer board to the subfloor; and it helps compensate for irregularities in the floor surface.

This process was repeated in the larger bath as well. First, the board was trimmed, cut and test fit:

And mortar laid down with the notched trowel.

In addition to the mortar bond, the backer board is held to the subfloor with fasteners. Look closely at the pictures above, and you might be able to see that the manufacturer paints small dots on the backerboard for each place a fastener should go. When you go to Home Depot, they will recommend expensive "Rock-On" screws. These are great for hanging board on the walls, but overkill for the floors. I used galvanized spiral-shank deck nails to hold down the backer. The spiral shank nails screw themselves in as you nail them, and don't back out. Hint - Each one-pound box of 8d nails will be enough for two sheets full of backer. Each panel is laid down and fully fastened before spreading mortar for the adjacent panel.

In addition to the toilet flange in the large bathroom, another hole needed to be made to accomodate a HVAC return register. I thought I would show the process for making the holes in the backer board. First, the measurements are made on the sheet of backerboard, both top and bottom. The carbide scribe is then used to trace along the lines several times on both sides. In the picture below, the bottom of the board is showing. The white lines are from the scribe cutting the mesh and into the board about 1/8" deep.

With the scoring done, take a hammer and knock a hole right through the center of the material to be removed.

Continue hitting with the hammer, working out from the center hole. The backerboard will break out right up to the lines that were scored. Notice that I am working above a trash can again!

Now that the backer is cut, mortar is spread with the notched trowel and the sheet is bedded down and fastened with the spiral-shank nails.

With the backer installed, we were ready to start tiling. Pops spent some time laying out the pattern, and trimming some tiles to fit against the walls. The Harbor Freight tile saw got plenty of use. Did I mention that this was happening on Father's Day? Thanks, Pops!!!

Here's a picture of the tiles laid out in the smaller, master bath. You may recognize the tiles from other projects on this site - we use the same 8"x8" ones everywhere! The granite threshold provides a clean transition for the wall-to-wall carpet that will be laid in the master bedroom. Also notice that small sections of backerboard were installed on the lower wall just outside the shower stall. This is to replace the water-damaged drywall that was there before. Once the floors are done, I'll cover it over with tile to finish it off as well.

That's as far as we got this week. During the next week, Pops will lay down the tile in the larger upstairs bathroom so that I can get both of those bathrooms grouted at the same time. I'll also start prepping the 1st floor powder room for the tile installation. See you next week!

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