Monday, May 21, 2012

Adventures in DIY: Concrete Countertops


We are not newbies to this process. We started with tabletops and practice pieces, preparing for a full kitchen one day. Last year, we did a bathroom counter and it turned out lovely. But that still did not prepare me for the HUGE amount of TIME involved in doing an entire kitchen. We’ve always done one piece at a time. This time, we did five (one coming in at 11 feet long). It multiplies the time involved significantly.

That to say, I know they’ll be worth it (actually, I haven’t calculated our final cost figures, but I’m certain it’s cheaper than granite).

The following is our process (for those of you interested in building your own concrete counters):

We made the template for the counters out of 1/8” composite board. Stapled it to the cabinets with a staple gun while laying it out, then glue-gunned it together, took out the staples, and voila a template! (about 3 hours)


We then cut the melamine for the sides of the pieces and began our mold-building. (about 6 hours)

Note: you need a protractor to do this.

Second note: if it’s NOT school-supply time, the only place in town you can find  protractor is an office supply store.

Over the next few days we continued building molds. Saturday, I remember thinking “Yay, we’ve only got one more mold to build, then we’ll caulk them and let them sit while we take a break the rest of the day!” Many hours later I was thinking of which fast food joint would still be open by the time we finished. :-)


After the molds were built, we vacuumed them, cleaned them with vinegar and water, taped them, and THEN caulked them. 



Then, we removed the tape.


THEN we built the reinforcement. We used remesh and some rebar in front and back of the sink, as well as behind the stove. (about 5 hours)


Sunday! The day of the big pour! Our molds prepped, Rob arrives with the cement mixer. He starts filling it with water to be sure it can hold the amount of cement we want so we only have to make two loads. Oh NO! It is too small for our planned two batches. Since the rental place is closed we decide to make it work. Rob re-does the math to find out how much of each ingredient to add for each batch. He decides on four batches. I begin to portion some of the ingredients and we begin.

The first batch goes into the molds about 3:30pm. I begin pushing it into the corners and vibrating the mold with the orbital sander to make sure there’s little or no air bubbles, especially on the edges.

My station for the next (unbeknownst to me) six hours is at the molds, pushing the concrete into the molds and trying to distribute each batch evenly and on top of the next layer in an effort to keep the color as consistent as possible. As the fourth batch goes in, we both realize that we don’t have enough!

Later, we decide the reason math failed us is that our water reducers worked extremely well and Rob didn’t add as much water as originally calculated, as well as the 3% air in the mixture was very likely absent as I found very few air bubbles. Either there will be tons of air bubbles because I was completely ineffective (although I doubt it) or we’ll have very very few air bubbles.

At any rate, Rob made a run to the store about 7:30pm for more concrete. We thought it wise to get the countertop mixture from Menards, but in retrospect we wish we’d just gone for quikcrete 5000. Four bags of countertop mixture and $63 later, we still needed more and the pieces were setting up! Crisis! I phoned a friend who VERY sweetly picked up four bags of quikcrete 5000 for us and brought it over while we screeted as many pieces as we could. Of course I don’t have any pictures of that process because documentation was not high on my list of priorities. (Screeting is when one slides a straight piece of wood or melamine back and forth across the top of the pieces to scrape off any excess and make sure the entire piece is level with the sides). Right about the time we couldn’t finish any more pieces with the screeting, the new concrete arrived and Rob mixed up another batch. Whew! Pieces all filled in and setting. (6 hours plus of hard work)


We celebrated by going to a 24 hour diner and enjoying a hearty late brinner.

Today, I have decided to deservedly take a day off and I shall be doing my nails, which are in a very bad state and have been pretty much since renovation began.

Next week, we’ll take the molds off and grind a little down, then fill in any air bubbles. Can’t wait!!!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Renovating Couple

Of course every day is different. But here’s a sampling of our days the past couple weeks.

After I spent most of the week sanding and mudding drywall, Rob textured the ceiling while I attended a bachelorette party Friday night.

Saturday morning, we met the landscaper at the local Menard’s to chose our paver color – sienna tumbled holland stone – woo hoo! Later, we met him at his nursery to pick our perennials for the new flower bed. Yay!

Then, we went to brunch. Because we deserved it. And brunch is awesome.

After prepping the backyard for landscaping, we attended a wedding in the Black Hills. That was Saturday.

Sunday was church and more landscape prep – Rob digging lots! He had to move the sprinkler valves so they wouldn’t be in the middle of the new patio (he did a great job, by the way!). He dug a giant hole around our basement window well so we could replace it before the patio went in (one would have to tear out the patio to replace it later, so now is the time to change out the rusty well).



Monday, Rob painted the ceiling with the paint gun.

All this week was “spring cleaning week” at the local landfill so dumping was free all week. I kept Rob’s truck during the day and went four times! Loads of drywall, carpet, carpet padding, broken pavers from our old patio (sold the good ones on craigslist!), and other renovation trash. The people at the landfill know me now and I can only imagine what they say! “There’s that crazy pregnant lady heaving rolls of carpet out again. What a nut!”

When I wasn’t making landfill runs, I painted the trim on the shed so it would look pretty for the new patio (what a difference it made too!! Just a little paint and it’s brand new!).

This past weekend, our progress stalled when unexpected projects cropped up. We installed the pantry and a couple base cabinets. When the sink cabinet went in, I discovered that the hot water line didn’t leave enough room for my plan – I ordered a sink with one drain on the side so that I could put trash cans under one side of the sink (I always find the under-sink area is terribly under-utilized). Thanks Tucker and Rebecca for the inspiration!


Well, Rob accommodated my crazy and moved the hot water line, soddering like a pro! Additionally, when the sink cabinet went in, we discovered that the vent into the kitchen would come out under two cabinets, not just one. So Rob moved that. I think he was excited to use duct tape for its original purpose – we hardly ever do!


Monday, the landscapers arrived and began work on the new patio!! Unfortunately, they gave us some unexpected projects as well. Rob needed to raise the sprinkler valve cover so it would be level with the new “ground” next to the patio. That evening, he also set one post of the future pergola so pavers would go around it.


Tuesday, we discovered that the landscapers were unable to remove the garage landing (from the garage back door to outside) without taking some time to break it apart at extra cost to us. After taking a few swings at it, I figured I would price renting a jackhammer. WORTH IT!!! Not only did it make short work of our way-too-thick slab of concrete, it was simply AWESOME.


Rob also repaired the hole in the floor from the original furnace chimney. After almost three weeks of living with it quite well, I stepped into it yesterday and am very happy I didn’t break a leg!

Hopefully, today we have no more surprise projects and can continue installing the base cabinets. Whew!