Archive for the 'Nitty gritty how-to help' Category

Some Wonderful Links!

Just a quick post today to share some excellent articles and resources I’ve run across in recent days:

  • How to Practice Hospitality on a Budget – Hosted on the marvelous MoneySavingMom.com, this is a gem of an article with super tips for blessing others while living on a budget.
  • Tips for Reducing Electric Bills – Fantastic information from the great people at LivingonaDime.com. Lots of common-sense ideas, but you’ll also find some that make you say, “OH!” Great stuff.
  • Promotional Codes – This is a fantastic one-stop shop for online coupons, discount codes, and more. I love to find discount codes I can use when placing an order online. This is by far the most user-friendly way to discover new coupons!
  • Soda Stream – I admit it, I absolutely love sparkling water. It’s one of my big addictions. But it is SO pricey if you purchase it in the stores ($1.49-$1.99 a liter — ouch!). I was thrilled when I discovered this handy gadget that allows you to make your own sparkling water (and flavored drinks) at home for 20 cents per liter! I’ll be reviewing this nifty tool later on.

Enjoy!

© Podius | Dreamstime.com

© Podius | Dreamstime.com

A Fantastic Frugal Homesteading Kit!

I just got an e-mail newsletter from Vision Forum with this wonderful package in it on sale (I ordered it!). I thought I had all the frugality and homesteading books out there, but these two were new to me, and I’ve not had a chance to see the videos yet, but I’ve heard rave reviews of them. Just click the banner below to read about the sale. You can get the books bundled, the videos bundled, or everything bundled together. There’s also a deal on the Entrepreneurial Boot Camp CDs. Check it out!

Hello, 2009! Let’s start the year off with some frugal links!

cardornament

I hope y’all had as wonderful a Christmas and New Year’s celebration as we did.  We had a fantastic time with family and friends and celebrated several birthdays in the process, too. It was a great way to end 2008!

As the economy continues its tumble (and we all start to wonder if it will ever hit bottom), I’ve been pulling out all my old favorite resources, including the following excellent books:

  • Back to Basics by Reader’s Digest- I pored over my mother’s copy of this book growing up, fascinated by all the amazing information it contained (how to site a passive solar house, how to build an underground root cellar, how to find a water source, and so much more). You can find copies of the original 1970s edition and the 1980s update on eBay — both editions are great.
  • Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery – This book has been through numerous editions. Mine is about ten years old and well-thumbed. This book covers everything from gardening to grinding grains, quilting to tending your own plot of mushrooms. Very helpful and fun to read, too!
  • The “Have-More” Plan by Ed and Carolyn Robinson – This is another book I just love to sit and look through (as do my children). It was written in the 1940s by a couple who moved out to the country and steadily built a self-sufficient lifestyle on a small homestead. It shows that a family does not need dozens of acres and a giant farming operation to live very comfortably. And even if you have no intention of moving to the country, the book shows what you can do on very little land with smart placement of plants and careful management of the pantry. I totally ignore the advice on insecticides (yikes!), since we do organic gardening, but the rest is a treat! This is available as a reprint from Storey Communications and as an e-book!

I’ve also been going through my favorite frugal bookmarks and gleaning from sites that provide coupons, links to special giveaways, tips for budgeting, etc. Here are some of my very favorite sources online:

  • Money Saving Mom – This one always gets top place. Mrs. Paine is a frugal whiz and pulls together the most fantastic deals every week. Be sure to subscribe to her feed so you don’t miss anything!
  • My Penny Pile – Another super site for coupons, deals, and freebies, from one penny-pinching mom to another.
  • TipHero.com – I have learned so many things from reader tips and tricks. Did you know you can cut drying time by 1/3rd if you put a dry towel into each load of laundry? Lots of practical, down-to-earth helps here. Get the feed, and pass on a tip if you have a good one!
  • Better Budgeting – This site is jam-packed with articles, ideas, practical how-to helps, and more. Get a “black belt” in frugal living here!
  • Living on a Dime – I love their fun sense of humor – this is a site that will encourage you and make you smile, even if you’ve got to dig your way out of serious debt or work hard to scrape together savings. Fantastic e-books and e-newsletter!
  • Sufficient Self – A forum for folks to share frugal ideas and tips for making do or making it yourself. Great place to ask questions.

Finally, let me share some favorite helpful articles that have inspired me:

  • “Seven Good Lessons from the Great Depression”We may not be getting ready for bread lines or seeing hobos selling apples for five cents on the corner, but all this talk of another Great Depression should have us looking back in history for lessons that we can take with us into the future of this wild and woolly economic mess.
  • “The Perfect Pantry”Stock up on the basics below for easy home-cooked meals. [If you’ve never stocked a pantry, this is a great starter article.]
  • “Frugal Living in a Tiny Town”Although far removed from bargain shopping and mainstream entertainment conveniences (we live 15 miles from the nearest grocery store and 55 miles from any real shopping), we have found that Tiny Town living lends itself nicely to our frugal lifestyle. [Reading this piece is like hearing from a kindred spirit. I love this!]
  • “Pantry 2009: Groceries and Your Budget”I love trying to cut costs and increase value at the same time.  I love a bargain but don’t like skimping on quality.  I love to be rich cheap.  I love the challenge of building a pantry.  I love buying bulk.  I love couponing.  That is why my dream outing is going grocery shopping with a load of coupons and stopping in at Goodwill on .99 cent day. [I look forward to reading more articles in this neat series.]
  • “Salvage Your Way to a Kitchen Remodel for Less”We bought a small 2 bedroom house, and put a new addition, with 3 more bedrooms, living room and bath. Four years into the project, I declared war against the original kitchen, which consisted of one wall of upper cabinets built with plywood, and a counter top below, that held the sink. This was the only storage/work space in there! My husband and older son said “There is no way you can even start this project without $5-10,000.” I said “Watch me!” [If you’ve read my kitchen re-do posts, then you know this is a topic I adore!]

Enjoy! I hope to be back soon with more stories about some remodeling fun (and serendipitous mishaps!).

Happy New Year!

windowlights

Dave Ramsey’s doing it again — Everything’s $10!

Dave Ramsey did this great sale back on Labor Day weekend, and he’s doing it again through December 18. If you want the best, most down-to-earth, practical tools for getting, staying, and living debt-free, get Dave’s Total Money Makeover book or order his audio CDs.  I don’t get any kind of kick-back for recommending Financial Freedom products; I just want to encourage you to read, listen to, and learn from their resources.

Total Money Makeover

If you’re like me, you may have grown up in a frugal household but without ever learning how to budget, save long-term, or invest.  When I was a newlywed, I prided myself on being able to live on very little, but I quickly found out that I had a lot to learn when it came to thinking long-term.

Crystal over at MoneySavingMom.com has shared her family’s financial goals and also recommends Dave Ramsey’s excellent materials. Crystal’s story is incredibly inspiring. If a young wife and mom can keep the home and run a small business while her husband finishes law school–and still manage to save money–then so can you!

If you’ve never heard of Dave Ramsey, spend some time on his site and check his radio show archive. 60 Minutes also did a special on him recently that you can watch in segments online (if I can find my link I’ll post it!). Dave and his wife, Sharon, tell the story of how they came out of complete bankruptcy and financial ruin and learned to manage money and save carefully for the long haul. It’s good stuff!

Enjoy!

Quick bathroom floor re-do

One Friday afternoon with the house freshly cleaned and the children watching a movie, I decided to tackle their bathroom floor. It had the same white linoleum that was in the kitchen, and with lots of muddy feet and little bodies, this floor was never clean for long! I had plenty of tile left over from the kitchen floor re-do, since I never ended up tiling into the large utility closet. I’m glad now that I didn’t, since reflooring the bathroom was a much better investment of the tile and the time! At left you see the bathroom before. I’ve removed the floor vent cover, and the linoleum has been mopped and stripped to remove any waxing remnants. You can see the vinyl sticky tiles waiting for me.

I debated on where to start tiling in this room, since it is so small. It seemed silly to mark the exact center and begin from there, so I chose instead to start behind the door (the lower right-hand corner in the photo above). This proved to be a very good choice, as I ended up not having to cut so many tiles to get around the air vent hole.

Here you see the first tile with a notch cut out to go around the corner where the door’s threshhold met the hallway’s carpet. As in the kitchen, I laid the tile down, fitting carefully, then used an old rolling pin to firmly adhere the sticky backing to the floor. I followed up with the second tile, making sure its left edge matched exactly to the first tile and its upper edge butted up against the hallway carpet. Below are the first two tiles in place. See how the second tile comes exactly to the edge of the air vent? I was so happy about that little bit of serendipity. (I confess I didn’t measure–I just eyeballed it and guessed; I’d recommend measuring if you’re having a first go at this sticky tile thing! Measuring in the large kitchen saved us a lot of grief.)

The first two tiles

The first two tiles

With these tiles in place, I quickly moved on, since I could just place all the tiles along the left-hand wall and match another row next to them before I had to cut around either the vent hole or the toilet. Cutting around the vent hole wasn’t very hard, since I only had to cut two tiles, and both of those tiles went up against the bath cabinet. The only tricky tile was the one that had to go around the door jamb (which you can see in the upper right-hand corner of the photo above). But after all my practice in the kitchen, I just sailed on through with my handy-dandy utility scissors.

The part of the bathroom floor re-do that took the longest was going around the toilet. Here you see the last bit of tiling yet to be done (and the tiling that required all the cutting for a perfect fit):

I should have been a good girl and made pattern pieces out of cardboard or paper for the curved base of the toilet, but I was in a hurry and just eyeballed and hand-cut a tile to go around the front of the toilet. I was tickled pink when it was a perfect fit and prematurely patted myself on the back:

I figured that, having eyeballed the first tile so easily, it would also be a piece of cake to eyeball the final tile, but the final one included not only the curved back edge of the toilet but the metal pipe running into the floor and the metal ring around it:

I sailed blithely into cutting the last tile anyway, doing my best to accommodate the little curve at the corner. That proved a bit more difficult than I’d initially thought. When I laid the tile down for a test, I saw that I’d cut too little away from the corner where the small ring sits and too much away from the curve to go around the toilet. Blah. I didn’t want to waste an entire tile, so instead of cutting a new one, I just picked up the scrap that came from cutting out the larger curve and cut a piece from it to fill in the half-moon area of linoleum that still showed. When I stepped back a couple of feet, I couldn’t even see the “patch,” and I was delighted to have the entire bathroom floor redone in under 45 minutes! The new floor is very nice to look at and much easier to keep clean. Total cost for this redo (at 44 cents per sticky tile)? $11! Can’t be beat. Well worth the elbow grease! Next bathroom project: painting over the vinyl wallboard’s “wallpaper” to give the bathroom a more updated look. Hurrah!

All's well that ends well!

All finished and looking good!

Livening up the front door

First coat!

First coat!

While I don’t mind white in my kitchen (where soap and water are always handy for clean-up), I can’t stand a white front door. It always looks dirty, particularly with little hands (and feet!) constantly on the door. So with the approval of our landlord, I got a pint of “Spanish Red” (like a dark mulberry) from Lowe’s. On a day when the humidity wasn’t as extreme, I gave our front door a quick makeover!

The first coat of red over a non-primed surface is always scary. It looks hot pink (no matter how dark that color sample appears). If you opt for red on anything light, be prepared for at least three coats, if not more. If you prime first with a dark grey, it will still take at least two coats. This door took four coats before it finally looked solid and beautiful, as you’ll see in the photos below. I used a high density foam roller–the same kind I used on the kitchen cabinets–to get a nice, smooth finish with no visible “seams” or bubbles. If I’d been aiming for a totally professional look, I would have removed the door hardware or at least masked it off with painter’s tape. I did neither, as this was one of those spur-of-the-moment redos. The nice thing is that latex paint peels easily off of stainless steel, so I had no problem cleaning up the door knob and deadbolt later.

Here’s a close-up of that first coat of paint, plus a shot of my roller so you can see what it looks like:

Here’s the door after one coat of paint (looks frightening, I know!):

The second coat started looking better, but it was still “choppy” and pinkish in tone:

By the third coat, you start breathing easier and feeling like this is going to be a beautiful front door!

With the fourth coat in place and nicely dried, we have a beautiful, deep red front door. I love it! This exterior Latex is washable and weather-hardy. Best of all, it really doesn’t show handprints like the white door did. This door makeover took about an hour total (because the day was warm, each coat dried enough to paint over in about 20 minutes). It’s so easy to make a quick change without the cost of replacing a door!

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

Tiling Laminate Countertops – Part Two (The Grout Stops Here!)

Since I’d run out of mastic before placing the small tiles on the edges of the peninsula or adding the backsplash, that was the first order of business when I returned to the trailer. It didn’t take long to finish placing the tiles along the front edge and to set the backsplash along the short area at the wall end of the peninsula. It was so exciting to see everything coming together so beautifully. I decided to mix up the grout and do the other counters while the peninsula was drying, so I pulled out all my grouting tools and read the directions on the 25-pound bag of grout mix. Grout is extremely caustic and can harm eyes, skin, and lungs, so I had purchased heavy-duty rubber gloves just for grouting, and I carried the grout out to the front deck to mix so the grout dust wouldn’t be in the house. I also tied an old shirt over my mouth and nose to avoid breathing the dust. In the photo below, you see my grout bucket, grout float, rubber gloves, clean-up sponge, and cheesecloth (for removing the haze afterwards).

After adding the correct amount of water, I began mixing the grout with a large paint stick. Grout has to be stirred for five minutes, then allowed to rest for ten minutes, then stirred again before spreading. I found out which muscles are out of shape about a minute into stirring the heavy grout! 25 pounds of grout takes about 1/3rd of a 5-gallon bucket, and it’s heavy! I set the timer to allow the grout to rest for ten minutes, then gave the grout one last stir when it beeped and began using the float to spread the grout over the tiles on the small counter next to the fridge. There was no way to get a picture, since I couldn’t hold the camera with grout all over my gloves, and I couldn’t take off the gloves with all the grout around!

Let me just tell you that I had forgotten how extremely messy grout is. The last time I grouted was when I helped my mom tile a bathroom over twenty years ago. In my hazy memory, that was a totally clean and easy job. Ha! If I had known how messy grouting was going to be, I’d have waited to redo the kitchen floors. Failing that, I’d have been smart enough to place drop cloths on the floor first! As it was, I made quite a big mess that I had to clean up quickly before the grout had a chance to harden onto the floor or cabinet fronts! Pushing grout into the grooves with a float isn’t at all difficult if you’ve gotten the grout to the right consistency. It just kind of seeps down as you gently pull the float over the surface of the tile. Then I followed this 20 minutes later with a damp sponge to make everything neat and smooth. I had the small counter grouted in about ten minutes and was ready to move on to the sink countertop:

In this picture you can see the haze forming as the grout dries. This is normal. You wipe the haze off a couple of hours later, once the grout has had a chance to set in the spaces between the tiles. If you’ve been paying attention, you may wonder why there’s no backsplash on this countertop. After I’d placed the backsplash on the peninsula, I stepped back and had second thoughts. It would probably be easier to grout the countertop first, then go back and set the backsplash and grout it. That way I could also be sure that I’d filled in the crack underneath the backsplash between the tiles and the kitchen wall. So I ended up creating yet another step for myself. If I had it to do over again, I’d just go ahead and place the backsplash and do all the grouting at once!

I moved next to the long sink counter and grouted it. This went pretty quickly as well, though I had to stop several times to clean up grout I’d dropped down the cabinet fronts or let dribble on the floor. Messy, messy, messy. But I was absolutely thrilled at the beautiful appearance of my grouted countertops! Everything was looking gorgeous–even better than I’d hoped.

But here’s where I must confess to yet another rookie mistake. I’d come out to the trailer later in the day, thinking it wouldn’t take very much time to finish up what I’d started. So I took a leisurely lunch with our next-door neighbors after laying the last of the peninsula tile, chatting for about an hour before heading back over to the kitchen to do the grouting. By the time I had finished mixing the grout, grouting the first counter, and cleaning up the colossal mess from that area of the kitchen, it was already 3:30 pm. I had to head home by 4:30! Even though the sink counter grouting went fairly quickly, it was 4:15 when I was cleaning up the mess from it, and I knew there was no way I’d get the peninsula grouted and cleaned. My children were playing next door, so I’d have to clean up, pack up, pick up the kids, and head home–all within fifteen minutes. I inwardly berated myself for foolishly thinking I could get so much done in so little time. Worst of all, I had to dump the last third of my grout out, since it would harden in the bucket while I was gone. Rats. Another half day added to this project unnecessarily. Thankfully, my neighbor was willing to run over later that evening and wipe the haze off the grouted counters for me, since that didn’t need to sit for so many days!

I headed home, mentally going over my calendar to figure out when I could get back and finish the grouting job. We were already packing for our move at that point, and I had less than a week left before we’d planned to load up and vacate the old place. So I decided I’d just have to take a day off packing and run back over to the trailer to finish the grout and do the backsplash. Four days later, I did just that. I stopped at Lowe’s to pick up more grout on the way, but I couldn’t find the exact same color. I was sure I’d bought “Sandstone,” but Lowe’s only had one called “Sand.” I went ahead and bought a 7-pound bag and another cheesecloth for final clean-up. When I arrived at the trailer, I saw the original paper bag for the first batch of grout lying on the deck and had an “Uh-oh” moment. By now, I’m sure you’ve lost count of my rookie mistakes, but let’s trot this one out as yet another word to the wise: Remember where you shopped! I hadn’t gotten the grout at Lowe’s at all. If you read Part One, you know that I deliberately got the grout at Home Depot, since Lowe’s didn’t have the color I wanted!

Feeling sheepish, I trekked the 12 miles to Home Depot and picked up the Sandstone grout. With that in hand, I was ready to get back to work and not waste any more time. I followed the mixing directions as before, but this grout came out clumpy and sandy in texture–not at all like the first batch. I re-read the instructions, wondering what I’d done wrong, but I’d definitely added the right amount of water. So I wondered if I’d added too much water to the first batch. A glance at the first bag nixed that idea, but I decided to use the grout as it was anyway. It was like trying to force play dough into the spaces between the tiles! So I disobeyed the instructions and added more water. Bingo! Worked like a charm. I quickly finished grouting the peninsula and its backsplash, then grabbed my mastic and finished placing the backsplash tiles on the other two counter sections:

Above is the fridge counter, with some spare tiles lying on the front. Below is a close-up of the backsplash on the sink countertop:

Now we come to my final rookie mistake. When I’d bought the second batch of grout, I’d only counted the square footage of the peninsula and its edges. I hadn’t thought to include the backsplash for the other countertops. So, yes, I ran out of grout and couldn’t finish the other two backsplash areas! There wasn’t time for another trip to Home Depot. I had to get back home. I knew I wouldn’t have time to get the grouting done before our move, so I figured I’d just have to do it after we moved in. I did manage to get the grout sealed before we started using the kitchen. Here you see the handy-dandy sealant dispenser with its little wheel that is sized to go between the tiles and roll on the sealant. Below is a picture of the sealant drying on the grout. You can wipe off any excess as you roll it on. Sealant prevents your grout from staining as you use your countertops, so it’s definitely a step you don’t want to omit.

Now that we’ve moved in, I am loving my tiled countertops. I can place hot pots and pans directly on the counter, and I love the color. It looks fantastic with our old curtains and furnishings. So, without further ado, here’s the finished kitchen!

Our small round table fits nicely into the center of the room with two chairs. I’ve got a spare chair over by the pantry. A toile valance goes with the toile slipcovers on the chairs, and the blue china on those end shelves of the peninsula help pull everything together for our blue and white color scheme.

Here’s a closer view of the sink counter with our new sink installed. I love my sink!

And here’s a nice close-up of the tile next to the stove.

This was a project well worth the time and effort–and the silly mistakes! If you learn from my errors, you could easily cut this down to a two-day job for a similarly sized kitchen. Best of all, you can save serious money by doing this project yourself. Here’s a rundown of costs for several countertop upgrades, beginning with most expensive:

  • Granite – The average cost for granite is $55 per square foot. That would obviously have been overkill for a trailer like ours, but if we’d gone that route, it would have cost us $2,640. Stainless steel would have come in even higher at $3,360.
  • Solid surface (like Corian) – $1,920
  • Poured cement or wood (butcher block) – $1,440
  • New laminate/formica – $720

So, what did we pay when all was said and done? Here’s the breakdown:

  • Countertop mosaic tile: $94.56
  • Backsplash tiles (the splurge): $82.80
  • Tile spacers: $2.97
  • Mastic: $16.92
  • Grout float, sponge, cheesecloth, tile sealant and applicator: $58.22
  • Grout: $31.82
  • GRAND TOTAL: $287.29

That’s almost two-thirds less than it would have cost to replace the laminate, and it’s way, way below any other replacement options. You could bring the price even lower if you eliminated the backsplash tiles, which were definitely a splurge, as they cost nearly as much per tile as the 12×12″ mosaic sections! If I’d left those out, along with the extra mastic and grout needed for them, that would have dropped the full price to $180.67. Amazing, isn’t it, what a little elbow grease will do?

Looking back on this project, I’d say it is something I definitely wouldn’t want to do after moving into a place. Having the time to do it before a move is really wonderful, so if you are able to, do it that way! I can’t imagine the hassle of trying to live for several days without the use of our kitchen while re-doing countertops. But it certainly could be done, so don’t let me discourage you! Just be prepared for the time, effort, and mess. All three are absolutely worth the end results! Below are photos of the before and after–what a difference!

Tiling laminate countertops – Part One

I’ve got a bit of time this evening to write about the counter tiling job, but I’ll make this a two-part post, since this was a bigger job than any of the others I’ve attempted thus far! In this post I’ll cover preparing the laminate countertops and doing the actual tiling. Next time I’ll cover grout, clean-up, and sealing. I learned several things during this whole process, but the most important one fits the old Boy Scout motto: “Be Prepared!” This is true confessions time, and I hope all my goofs will help the next person avoid time-wasting mistakes. At left you see the original pea-green laminate countertop. The old sink has been removed so that I can tile right up to the edge of the hole. The new sink will fit down on top of the new tile.

This is the old sink we removed. It was one of those typically shallow stainless steel sinks for manufactured homes–barely over five inches deep. I knew this was going to make washing and even food prep difficult (hard to stand a deep pot in a shallow sink to fill it with water for cooking). Strolling down the sink aisle at Lowe’s and Home Depot left me cold. There were lots of gorgeous kitchen sinks, but the prices bordered on the ridiculous ($289 for a basic white sink?). So I got back online and started shopping around for deals. eBay came through for me again, and I found a seller offering this fabulous white sink in a size standard for mobile homes–but deeper:

This sink, though brand new, was listed as “with blemishes” and so was only $29.99 instead of $80. The seller explained that the sink had minor scratches or pitting–but nothing that would effect the overall quality of the sink. With $20 for shipping added on, I had a beautiful sink for just under $50! When the sink arrived, I opened the box and unwrapped it to check out the blemishes. For the life of me, I could not see them. The sink is made of a special composite (tough like PVC), and it is white all through. I guess that must make the blemishes invisible, because I’ve never been able to find them! Before shipment, I requested the seller to drill a fourth hole in this standard three-hole sink so I could add a water purifier later. This has been one of my favorite finds during this trailer remodel. You’ll see later how beautiful the sink looks installed.

But let’s move on to tiling! According to the helpful DIY instructions I found (and contrary to popular belief), you can tile directly over laminate counters. The old methods decreed that you’d have to put plywood over the laminate or use a special fiberglass paper (called “thin skin”) to cover the laminate completely prior to tiling. This just isn’t the case. To prepare laminate to accept mastic (tile glue), you simply need to rough up the counter with #50 sandpaper on a hand-held rotary sander. And so we arrive at my first mistake. When I glanced at my sander’s accessories (including several circles of sandpaper), I thought I saw #50 sandpaper there. So I didn’t bother to stop at Lowe’s and pick up sandpaper before heading out to the trailer to put in a day’s work. On this trip, I’d hoped to get all the countertop prep done and start laying tile. I also planned to rent a tile cutter from the local Home Depot (12 miles from the trailer).

After arriving at the trailer, I mentioned to our landlord that I’d be renting a tile cutter, and he told me that Home Depot in our area doesn’t do tool rental. However, he gave me the names of two other places that rented tools, so I drove 12 miles to check them out. Wouldn’t you know, both of them were closed that Saturday! I didn’t want to drive 20 miles to get to the next closest Lowe’s, so I just headed back to the trailer to rough up the counter tops, figuring I’d at least get that done and not make the day a total washout. When I began sanding the countertops, I noticed that they felt smoother rather than rough. So I pulled the sandpaper box out to check the number again. Whoops. #150! That was a far finer grain than I needed. I was actually just making the counter feel even silkier to the touch than ever! I dug through my stash of sandpaper rounds and had nothing lower than #100. Rats. That meant a trip back to town. I could have kicked myself for not double-checking the sandpaper earlier, since I could have gotten correct sandpaper at Home Depot on my first trip to find a tile cutter. Phooey.

Knowing I couldn’t proceed without the right sandpaper but unwilling to make yet another trip into town, I decided on a whim to see if the tiles would fit without any cutting. I seriously doubted this was possible, but I had time to try it, so I opened the boxes of tile and started laying them out on the countertops to see where I’d need to cut tile when I did have a tile cutter. On the first counter I tried, I was elated to discover that the sections of tile fit perfectly. I would not need to cut a single tile:

I even tested the backsplash tiles I’d gotten, and those were a perfect fit, too. The tile I purchased came from Lowe’s in one-foot square sections. Each individual tile is slightly under two by two inches with 1/8″ spaces in between. The tiles are held together in a square by dots of glue. This is called “mosaic” tile and is typically used in showers, but it’s also fantastic for counters. I liked the shades of brown (doesn’t show dirt as easily) and the fact that I’d be able to set hot pots right on the counter. Can’t be beat! I’d already measured the counters to see what kind of square footage I was looking at, and from that I knew I’d need 50 12″x12″ sections (really 46, but I also planned to use individual tiles to cover the front and side edges of the counters). I’ll give you the cost breakdown in part two once I’ve added in mastic, grout, and the backsplash. You’re going to be amazed at how inexpensively you can redo your countertops!

Now that I knew one counter could be done with no cutting, I headed over to the most difficult counter–the sink section. I didn’t think it was possible to get around that sink hole without cutting at least some tiles. Imagine my great surprise when the tiles fit there exactly as well! Here you see the tile all laid out. Because the tiles were less than 2×2″ individually, it was easy to simply cut through the dots of glue to create smaller mosaic sections. As you can see, it only takes a row of tile one deep to go across the back of the sink. It’s a double row across the front. Below is a photograph showing how I cut through the glue to separate the tiles as needed.

With a little snip, the scissors go right through the glue. Any glue residue left on the edge of the tile can be peeled or scraped off afterwards to leave a smooth edge (particularly important for tiles that will line up with the edge of the counter–you don’t want glue showing there).

Now I was down to the last counter–the peninsula. This one was a bit tricky, since it has a display shelf unit on the end that tile has to go around. I was just positive I’d have to cut tile here, but check it out:

No need to cut a single tile! So now I was thrilled that I hadn’t rented a tile cutter after all. I wasn’t going to need it. Quite providential. Now, when I’d pulled all the tiles out of the boxes, I found that Lowe’s had shorted me three 12×12″ mosaic sections (they come ten to a box, and one box had already been opened, unbeknownst to me). I knew all my tiles would fit on the countertops, but I still had those front edges to do, so I counted all the leftover pieces to make sure I had enough. Nope. I definitely needed those three extra sections. The day was drawing to a close, so I decided to head back home and come back the next Wednesday to do the extra tiling, stopping at Lowe’s first to get the three that had been missing from my box and to purchase the right sandpaper.

When I stopped at Lowe’s four days later, they only had four pieces of my mosaic tile left, and two of them had broken sections. I spoke with the lady at the customer service desk, and she not only gave me the three I’d been missing, but she discounted the fourth I’d need to cover the broken tiles. Never hurts to ask for a discount when something is broken or damaged! I headed back to the trailer and jumped right in to sanding the countertops with the #50 paper. The difference was not as noticeable as I thought it would be, and the counters still felt relatively smooth to the touch. I worried that the mastic might not stick, but I went ahead and followed the DIY directions, wiping down the counters to remove any sanding residue before tiling. This is where the real fun begins!

Believe it or not, laying tile is actually very easy with the right tools in hand. I had my notched trowel and my 1/8″ tile spacers, so I was ready to go. I slathered on the first section of mastic and laid the tiles as directed, putting a section of mosaic down and giving it a slight push to move it into position. You don’t want to lay it down far from where it needs to be, because the idea isn’t to mess up the mastic. The slight push is just to encourage the tile to stick into the mastic. With the first section down, I laid the second section, then placed spacers between them to make sure the 1/8″ spacing remained consistent between sections. Here you see the first four sections in place on the far right edge of the sink countertop. The mastic to the left has been spread and then “combed” with the notched edge of the trowel. You don’t want a very thick layer of mastic or it will ooze up between the tile spaces (as you can see on the tiles just to the right of the mastic!). Here’s a closeup of the spacer to show you how it works:

I purchased the spacers that have a little “handle” on the top to make them easier to remove when the tile is set. Conventional spacers can get stuck in the mastic, which means you have to pry them out later with a knife–no fun. The tile guy at Lowe’s recommended these spacers, and another video demonstration I watched online also showed how easy they were to use. I was very happy with the way they worked.

Tiling the rest of the countertop went very quickly, since I’d already laid out the tile to begin with when I tested the fit to see if I’d need to cut anything. That added step ended up saving me lots of time, since I didn’t have to stop to do any special fitting. I just troweled on the mastic, tiled, placed spacers, and moved on. The only real challenge was setting the tiles onto the front edge of the counter, which is a tad bit trickier, since you don’t want to drip mastic or drop tiles. Here you can see the front edge with mastic and some tile (over the dishwasher):

At right you see the sink countertop completely tiled and ready for grout. All told, it took about twenty minutes to tile this counter. I was amazed that it went so fast, and I moved on to the smaller counter next to the refrigerator, saving the more complicated peninsula for last. Mastic only takes about 45 minutes to set, so I intended to go ahead and grout the counters once I finished tiling. I figured I’d begin at the sink area, which would be set by the time I finished the other two counters. I’d purchased my grout at Home Depot, because Lowe’s didn’t have a color I liked. I wanted a brown grout that wouldn’t show stains, so I got a sandstone color from Home Depot in a 20-pound bag. The tile guy assured me this would be more than enough to grout the entire kitchen, including the backsplash (you can see in this photo that I hadn’t placed the backsplash yet).

Next I moved to the short counter next to the fridge, which went even faster:

Finally, I tackled the last counter. This peninsula turned out to be a lot tricker than I’d anticipated, even though I’d already pre-fitted the tiles around the display shelf and on the odd little notch that sticks out next to the stove. By the time I got to the end of the counter, I was also completely out of mastic, so that meant I wouldn’t be able to get the backsplash up that day or grout the countertops, either. I was disappointed, because I’d really hoped to wrap up the entire tiling job in two days. Word to the wise: a pro could get this done in two days, but amateurs need to add at least another day and a half for the learning curve and for silly mistakes (I was about to make another one–but that’s for part two!).

At the end of the day, I did have all three countertops nicely tiled and ready for grout. The following Saturday I’d be back to place the backsplash and tile the edges of the peninsula (there wasn’t enough mastic even for the small tiles). All in all, a good day’s work. I was just thrilled to see the difference between the old laminate countertops and the beautiful new tile. I cleaned up and headed home with the children, who had enjoyed a day playing at the new house while I tiled. In part two I’ll reveal a few more blunders and show you the beautiful end results of my amateur labors. If I can do this, so can you!

Lighten up that living room!

When we started out with beige vinyl wallcoverings and brown wood trim, the living room was rather dark. I knew this large area was going to take a tremendous amount of time to redo, so I yelled for help and brought in a dear friend who has assisted me with countless home dec projects. We’ve painted more rooms together than I can count! The first order of business was to remove all the switch plates and outlet plates and thoroughly wash down the walls with warm, soapy water. That done, we laid our drop cloths carefully to cover the carpet and pulled out the five-gallon container of Zinsser’s Bull’s Eye 1-2-3 primer I’ve written about before. Before it was all over, we’d primed the walls and trim three times to thoroughly cover both (that dark wood trim especially needed all the coats). This process took about three days total, but we did this over a couple of weeks as we had time, allowing each coat to thoroughly dry.

Once the primer was dry, we pulled out the white semi-gloss interior trim paint and put two coats of it on the crown moulding and beadboard. When that had dried, I taped off all the trim so I could paint the buttercream color on the walls without ruining any of my previous work. It took surprisingly little paint to do that, even though I needed two coats for a nice, solid finish. You can see the amazing difference! The room is now light, open, and cheerful. In this photo you can also see the white ceiling fan my husband installed. The only tricky part in painting this room was keeping paint off the carpet at the bottom of the beadboard. Neither of us thought to just tape off the carpet (I figured that out later in the office!), so I used a wallpaper squeegee to help me keep paint off the floor. I’d just push the squeegee up against the wall on top of the carpet and paint the section immediately above it. It worked well, but it sure was labor-intensive! Taping off is far easier. Below are pictures going around the rest of the room so you can enjoy the full effect:

It was so exciting to see this come together so beautifully! I’d already brought over some furniture from our current home, so I decided to set up an entryway table and hang some plates. This is my inspiration photo from Country French Decorating. Obviously, this is in a much more formal, traditional home than a double-wide trailer (!), so I’m toning it down just a tad but keeping the inspiring colors and basic design idea. I found fabric nearly identical to what was used for the tablecloth in this photo, but I don’t have time for sewing right now, so that’s a project that will have to wait. This time around, I simply wanted to get the plates up on the wall with the table beneath. I don’t have wall sconces, and those would be a bit over the top for our living room anyway, so I left those out as well. Below is a picture of the area in the living room where I decided to place my entry table and the plates. I’m using the area between the batten strips, which will nicely frame this arrangement:

Since I don’t have a tablecloth or table skirt now, I went ahead and placed a favorite basket of lavender on the lower shelf and set my silver tea service on top:

Next, I measured between the batten strips so I’d know how much room I had and could make an estimate of how many plates would fit nicely. Then I laid out my plates on the floor, experimenting until I came up with the arrangement I liked:

Now it was time to place hanging hooks for the lower two plates. I wanted to hang them first so that I’d be sure the plate arrangement hit the wall above the tea set. I set the first hook by eye, then measured the distance from it to the nearest batten strip:

Now I knew how far from its batten strip the second plate needed to be, but I wanted to be sure it was even vertically as well, so I measured from the top of the first hook to the chair rail:

The spot properly marked, I tapped in the second hook and hung both plates:

From this point, it was not at all difficult to find the center and eyeball the spots for the remaining platter and plates. I did use my tape measure a couple more times to make sure plates were level (a laser level would have been a wonderful help, but I managed!). In the end, I had a pleasing arrangement of china on the wall over my entry table:

At left you see the edge of the white bookcase I’ve since placed in the room.

When I get around to making the table skirt, I’ll be sure to take more pictures. Oh, and after I snapped this one, I ended up swapping the smaller, dark blue plates with the lighter, larger ones just above them! It’s fun to play around until things look right.

Next time I’ll be sharing the adventures of tiling over laminate countertops in the kitchen. It’s much easier than you’d think, but be prepared for a bit of a mess!

New floor in a snap!

I knew right off that the white linoleum in the kitchen, sunroom, and laundry room would have to go. We’ve owned a home with a white kitchen floor before, and I knew from experience that we’d be mopping daily if we left the white linoleum! So I started researching our options. I didn’t want to lay ceramic tile down, but I really love the look of tile, so I checked into peel-and-stick vinyl floor tiles. I found tons of designs on eBay at incredible prices, but I found once shipping was added back in, the price came out to over $1.50 per square foot, which was higher than Lowe’s price of 88 cents per tile. I still thought 88 cents was a bit high for vinyl tile (almost the same as ceramic tile in the same size), so I kept looking. We have a flooring “liquidator” place nearby, but their prices were higher than Lowe’s also! No luck there. So I just figured I’d wait. There was no rush, since I wanted to finish painting before laying down any flooring. I finished up trim paint in the living room and put two more coats of primer on the sunroom (a wonderful helper had already done the first coat). This room, while small, proved a bit of work to prime, as it had narrow, flat trim below the ceiling (and we didn’t want to hit the ceiling, which didn’t need repainting). With crown moulding, it is much easier to miss the ceiling and hit only the moulding. This room also has sliding doors with retractable blinds that couldn’t be removed easily. That meant painting carefully with a brush behind the blinds:

Finally, the batten strips in this room seem to stick out a bit more than those in other rooms, and the roller couldn’t easily get paint right up next to them, so I had to cut in all that paint by hand:

When I ran out of primer and had to stop back at Lowe’s for more, I was very excited to find the Cryntel vinyl tile I liked was 50% off! That meant each tile came in at 44 cents–just as good as the eBay prices but without the shipping! This is the “Sandstone” color, which is similar to ceramic tile I’ve loved in our old house. It’s the color of dirt, so dirt won’t show easily! 😉 I went ahead and purchased enough tile to cover the kitchen, sunroom, laundry room, and large laundry room closet. I needed just under 350 square feet to do everything. As always, you’re supposed to add 8% for waste, so I decided to purchase 375 square feet of the tile. Lowe’s had just that in stock with one box left over! I was so glad I’d just “happened” to be in the store that day and had thought to check in the flooring section. While there, I also grabbed some ceramic tile to test out on the laminate countertops for a future project. The flooring tile sat around for over a month and a half before I got to it, since life got busy and I had no time for the trailer during the last half of March and most of April.

After finishing the kitchen cabinet re-do, I went ahead and de-waxed the linoleum floors as directed, using two parts ammonia to one part water. After letting this dry and air out thoroughly, I thought I’d just put down a couple of the peel-and-stick tiles to see how they looked. My helper from church and I measured to find the center of the kitchen. Normally, you’d mark the center by snapping a chalk line, but the white linoleum was already in a one-foot-square grid pattern, so we measured and found that the exact center of the room was only one and a half inches off in the grid. It would be a piece of cake to use the grid to lay the tiles perfectly square, so we opted to do that instead of starting at the exact center. I’d thought we’d just put down a few tiles to “see how it’s going to look,” but, before we knew it, we’d tiled half the kitchen!

This really was a cinch. The tiles have paper backing that you simply peel away to reveal the sticky adhesive beneath. You press the tile firmly to the floor, laying an “L” shaped pattern to begin with and filling that in to keep things nice and square. Once the tile is in the right place against its neighboring tiles, you firmly roll it flat to the floor with a rolling pin (I used my old faithful retired after years of service in bread making!). Here you can see my helper rolling a tile:

This job is actually so easy that my children later got in on the act. Here’s my daughter helping Mommy “rolling pin the floor” (as she said!).

We continued working for a total of fifty-five minutes and had the entire kitchen finished except for the edge pieces abutting the cabinets, floor vent, and carpet (those would have to be cut by hand, and I didn’t have a utility knife with me that day):

What a thrill! The kitchen really would be more user-friendly with its new floor, and I couldn’t wait to see it fully come together. But that would have to wait a few days until I could get my hands on a utility knife and scissors. At left is a shot taken closer to the dishwasher that shows the floor more clearly. You can see that I’d only need small rectangles of tile near the cabinets to finish up there (slightly larger ones to go beneath the dishwasher and stove). Going around the vents and the carpet curve at the living room would take a bit more doing. In the meantime, I still needed to finish painting the sunroom, since I didn’t want any of my buttercream paint dripping on a new floor! After the initial two coats of primer (long since dried), the color paint went on very nicely, as you can see here:

Four days later, my two oldest sons and I laid the rest of the full tiles in the sunroom and laundry room. Because those rooms are much smaller, they were done in a wink. Then it was time to get to work custom-cutting tile to fit around the cabinets, door jambs, and vents. I’d read in one how-to online that it would help to make a cardboard pattern to fill in the smaller spaces. So I cut my first pattern to fit next to the cabinets on the far right wall next to the fridge:

Next, I took the pattern and laid it out on a whole piece of tile, then scored firmly along the side of the pattern with my utility knife (in the second picture you can see the score line):

After scoring three times, the piece easily broke along the score line:

All I had to do then was flip the tile over and cut through the paper backing to get the tile to come apart cleanly:

Now I was ready to place the tile and roll it to stick:

Going around some cabinets was a bit tricky, and I actually found it easier to use scissors instead of the utility knife:

The curve of carpet that separates kitchen and living room was another challenge, but I found the utility scissors worked nicely. I did end up with blisters on my thumb and one finger after cutting tiles that day–ouch! But it really was worth it to see the final results, as these pictures will demonstrate:

My oldest son and I placed the last few cut tiles in the sunroom and utility room to finish, then stepped back to admire our handiwork:

This was well worth the grand total of six hours (including breaks for lunch!) that it took to get our new floor down. We are absolutely tickled pink with the results. And the final cost, including the ammonia I purchased to clean the floor? $167.44. Another bargain basement do-it-yourself project!

Next time I’ll show the results of the living room paint job and share some decorating photos that have inspired me. See you then!


About the Queen…

Amanda Livenwell is the pen name of a stay-at-home mom who shares the adventure of living large on one income in, yes, a double-wide trailer! Join our family as we say goodbye to suburbia, trim down, and start saving to build our own home. We're going to talk about doing it yourself, living beautifully on less, making do or doing without, and counting it all joy in the process. We'll cover prep-work and painting, refacing kitchen cabinets, flooring on the cheap, tiling over laminate, upholstering furniture, and just rolling up our sleeves in general. If you love home improvement, this is the place for you. Let's get cracking!

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What Inspires Me Most!

"She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness." ~ Proverbs 31:13, 17-19, 27

"Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings;he will not stand before unknown men." ~ Proverbs 22:29

"The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich." ~ Proverbs 13:4

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