Penny Floor Fail

Wrong! Do it again!

That’s the quote from Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall Part 2 that has been on my mind.

This is Part 2 of the Bathroom Penny Floor. It’s the part where it went wrong. The next part will be how I saved it (I hope).

The photo on the left is before I added the topcoat to seal and protect the floor. On the right, you can see that the topcoat has changed the colour and all but eliminated the pattern.

Once again I discover how difficult it is to get a clear answer on the best way to do something that many people have done before me. (The first time I really noticed this was when my first child was born early and the nurses had conflicting ideas about how best to care for her. But I digress.)

A quick recap

By the end of my first post about the penny floor, I was still laying pennies. Like everyone says on all the youtube videos, it took a lot longer than I expected. In my case, it took a full week longer and hours at a time. I stopped putting a drop of silicone on each penny and laid a thin bead down in a row–much faster, but there was some silicon trimming from between the pennies later.

Here is the final 3-minute video of me (and the cats and a bunny rabbit) laying the pennies. You will also see the grouting process.

The Process

First I found the more-or-less centre of the irregular shape I had created with the tile. Then I used a magnetic compass to draw where North East South and West are. Leanne’s Dad pointed out that this gave me magnetic North and not True North, but I don’t think we’ll be navigating a ship using our bathroom floor, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

Next, as you can see in the video, I transferred Leanne’s design onto the floor.

The compass orientation meant that the edges did not line up with the tile borders, so I used different sized coins of various currencies to fill in the gaps as much as I could.

When I wasn’t creating a pattern, I chose pennies randomly, heads or tales, from our collection. Some were discoloured, but I felt that just makes the floor more interesting. Perhaps someone can tell our fortune by the patterns in the chaos–like reading tea leaves. We were happy with the result and I set about grouting. Continue reading Penny Floor Fail

Penny Floor!

We fell in love with the idea of making a floor out of pennies while planning our renovation. This week, I have been laying the pennies on the floor.

Like many things we planned, it feels good to finally be following through.

There are many videos and blogs about doing this and I’d like to share how we did it in detail, but today I’m going to give you a quick overview.


The floor in question is the floor of the new bathroom on the top floor. Just like the master bath downstairs, I embedded water heating pipes in a concrete and sand mixture, coated that with a thin layer of “thin-set” mortar and painted on the Red Guard water-proofing membrane. The result of these steps will be a heated and waterproof copper floor which will be warm to the feet.


I was not near done.

Our neighbour Ron lent me his tile-saw while he was away and I laid tile up the shower wall, behind the toilet, under the sink cabinet and in a border around the perimeter of the floor. I bought this tile at the Habitat for Humanity Restore. It has subtle veins of copper that will compliment the pennies. I’ll share more details about installing the shower and fixtures another time.


Ron looked at my tiling job and said, “Nice job!” and I nearly fell over.

Then Ron pointed out the challenge of laying pennies inside the perimeter I had created. Pennies are not nearly as thick as the tile, so I would have to raise the level of the floor to a penny-thickness below the level of the tile. Then I would have to make a perfectly level surface to lay the pennies on.

Suffice to say, with his suggestions and using thin-set concrete, I more-or-less accomplished that. I can feel a slight wave or two, but the clear surface I will lay on top of the pennies should level that out.

I started laying pennies about a week ago, but haven’t been able to work on it every day. So far I have worked about 8 hours just laying pennies.

Our approach

There are different approaches to this task and we decided on the following:

-washing, but not polishing or attempting to brighten the pennies. I haven’t seen a method of “restoring” pennies that didn’t seem to change the colour or shine of the penny to something not entirely natural. Part of the appeal of a penny floor to me is the story that each coin brings. Each one tells of its journey, but together they make something beautiful.


-we radiated the pattern out from the center of the space. Leanne chose special pennies with significant dates to lay in the center.

-Leanne settled on a diamond pattern. On the floor, I have laid the diamond points to indicate the points of the compass and remind us we are standing on a globe and orient us in the world. I drew a wide cross on the floor in pencil to guide me.

-I used a small drop of silicone sealant on each penny to stick it down. It will only have to hold the pennies in position until the floor is sealed.

-It is just as time-consuming as everyone said.

Working Fast

As I did with certain other moments in the construction, I set up my iPhone with a time-lapse app called iMotion taking a photo every 5 seconds. (By that measure, I spent 4 hours laying pennies on Sunday!)

Here is the mercifully-short two-minute version of the time-lapse showing where I am as of tonight. I had some fun speeding it up and slowing it down when the cat came in the room, etc. Enjoy!

What’s next?

After I finish laying the pennies, it will be time to grout. I will push the same colour grout that I used between the tiles into the spaces between the pennies. After that, I must choose a clear surface coating. I’m considering an epoxy or a “Marine-grade gel coat“. Any suggestions?


Bathing in a Half-finished Bathroom

I’m so excited about my new (used) computer and ability to shoot a video and share it immediately that I took my clothes off!

The bathing room January 14th, 2018

To give us a conditional occupancy permit just before Christmas 2016, the City of Maple Ridge required us to have somewhere to bathe. We installed the Master Bath, but not the Master Shower. They inspected the shower pan to make sure it was water proof and I assisted our Master-mason neighbour, Ron, installed the floor tile.

The bathing area has not changed much since then. No shower. Red walls (sealed with Red Guard roll-on sealant). No curtain or barrier between the bathing area and the rest of the bathroom.

How can we possibly live?

This is a video Leanne shot with me last night to answer that question. In it we talk about the where we are, how we got there and where we’re going with the bathroom. I also demonstrate how we bathed when we lived in Japan and how that colours how we bathe now. You can tell I’ve forgotten how to talk publicly at the beginning of the video because I can’t seem to finish a sentence.

**WARNING!!! The following video contains middle-aged semi-nudity. Viewer discretion is advised.**

After we moved into this house in 2007, we updated the kitchen and bedrooms. The bathroom then became the focus of our discussions. It was the reason we started looking at a more ambitious renovation.

It was in this room, when it looked like this:that Leanne inspired me to dream bigger. We were talking about what changes we would like to make while standing between the old sink and the old bathtub.

I said something like, “wouldn’t it be amazing to have a Japanese-style bathroom where you can get the floor wet, bathe outside the tub and then have a nice soak in clean water?”

Leanne said something like, “Why can’t we?”

I said, “Wha-huh? Whaddaya mean?”

“There is no reason we can’t have the bathroom we want.”

I’m paraphrasing, but that conversation led us to ask Annabel the Architect to draw the generous bathing space we have today.

Even though it is not finished, I remind myself every day that we have achieved that dream.

Credits and Thank-yous for the bathroom:

Ron the awesome neighbour for donating his time and expertise. He taught me how to use his tile saw, advised me on everything from framing the tub surround structure to how to create a slope for the shower drain and how to mix sand and cement to pour over the heating pipes in the floor. He lent me his big tub o’ Red Guard, tools, and so much more.

Pro-fix Drywall for putting the drywall and Densshield boards up, mudding, taping and priming the whole room. Great job!

Meadowridge Plumbing and Gas for all the plumbing.

Splashes Bath & Kitchen Center who supplied the shower fixtures.

-Ron’s friend Andy who custom-made the new window sills for all the new windows in the house.

-Our neighbour Sue who supplied tonnes of storage advice as well as furnishings like the shelving unit in the bathroom.

Craigslist for helping me find the toilet, sinks, taps and the dresser I turned into a bathroom counter.

-Our friends who gave us their old bath tub.

-Leanne for giving me inspiration and partnering with me on this crazy journey.

Renovating a home is not easy, but by telling our story, I hope it becomes easier for you.

A Fresh Start

It’s 2018.

Doesn’t it feel like a better year than 2017 already?

We have been living in Hammond Forever House for a full year, having obtained a conditional occupancy permit from the City of Maple Ridge just before Christmas, 2016.

December 27th, 2017 Improved insulation under the roof means the snow melts more slowly

I fear I have settled into a dangerous acceptance of the state the house is in. Have I lost my drive to finish this project? Has my family simply resigned themselves to bare-bulb lighting and unfinished cupboards?

After taking on the teaching of a second LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) class, this one in the evenings, my time to renovate is even more limited.

I’m now looking at getting the last outstanding elements done–things like basement drywall, upstairs windowsills, bathroom tile and the exterior finishes. After the holidays, I’m finding it a struggle to get my head back into the game.

However, I am optimistic for one main reason. I bought a new computer.

Well, it’s not new. (If you have been following you’ll know I hate buying new stuff (because it is wasteful and expensive and has such a huge carbon footprint.) I bought a used MacBook Pro from mid-2012 which Simply Computing had leased out to a University and was now selling for $650. I spent another $120 doubling the RAM to 8GB so it would run faster aaaaaaand so far all is well! Apparently Apple has been selling this same basic computer until about a year ago so it’s not really “old tech.”

Anyway, what this means is that all the photos and videos that were trapped on other devices because my old MacBook was too old and Leanne’s MacBook Air was too full are now at my fingertips.

I can finally go into detail.

There is a lot of detail. Every photo contains so much. For example, in this photo from three weeks ago.

December 26th, 2017


1. The diamond window is the same single pane of glass in its wood frame as it was in 1923 but behind it is a new triple-paned fiberglass-framed window (custom-made by Milgard and ordered via Haney Builders). The wall on either side of that window is now about ten inches thick and full of insulation. I thickened that wall myself based on suggestions from Monte Paulsen at Red Door Energy Design.

2. The new front staircase is the second staircase I have ever made myself and it has exactly the same rise and run and number of stairs as the original. Achieving all that is a story in itself.

3. The chimney and new chimney cap are the work of our master-crafter neighbour, Ron, who stewarded the chimney through the house-lifting and lowering process and then rebuilt it using bricks from the old center chimney that is no more.

Inside the brick is a steel liner and cap which is disguised by the period-appropriate concrete cap. Without Ron, we would have no chimney. Thanks Ron!

4. Then there is the mysterious hot spot at the bottom left corner of the roof. You’ll notice below the chimney there is a hole in the snow. That means enough heat is escaping through the roof to melt the snow in that spot. I suspect that the wall underneath that spot is lacking insulation so the heat from the living room gets into the wall and shoots up to the roof like smoke in a chimney. The solution is going to be finding a way to fill that cavity.

5. Finally, there is the level of the gravel pathway leading to the road. That is the elevation of the future path which will probably be poured concrete as it was before. By the level of the surrounding ground, you can see we’ll be removing about 6 inches more fill to get the yard to a reasonable grade.

Sometimes it feels like we’re going nowhere, but if we look back a couple of years, I feel better. Here is the front porch in August, 2015 just after the house was lifted.

August 21, 2015

Telling the whole story has always been the goal but having promised to do so also kicks my butt to keep going. I find blogging provides inspiration to push through and finish.

Is there any aspect of this project that you’re wondering about? Leave a comment with your questions and I will address them in my upcoming posts.

Happy New Year!


Shop at the ReStore!

Quick shout out to the ReStore!

Habitat For Humanity opened one of their ReStores in Maple Ridge and I have found some great stuff for Hammond Forever House.

Last Thursday I noticed some toilets there that were still in their boxes. What we really want was a toilet like the one we had in Japan which had a little sink on top of the tank so you could wash your hands with the water that was refilling the tank–what a simple solution to reduce wasted water! We haven’t found one of those in Canada, so we’ll settle for a dual flush toilet that uses as little water as possible. (Update: I found one on the interweb and it looks like you can have it shipped to you in Canada! Find it here for a mere $468.00. Oh, wait, it says “This item is not for sale”. Never mind, we can’t afford it anyway. Why can’t we have nice things??)

I came back to the ReStore the next day and another customer had checked out all the toilets very carefully before I got there. He was taking one told me about the others. There were some toilets without boxes, and some pieces, but there was also a perfectly good dual flush toilet brand new in box.

How much? $130!

This thing is going in the new kids bathroom upstairs so it doesn’t have to be fancy (but it is) but it does have to conserve water.

The ReStore guy told me it had come from Home Depot.

Later that day I happened to be in Home Depot with some birthday gift cards burning a hole in my pocket and I took a look at the toilets (as you do).

I don’t think I saw the exact model–it was probably discontinued–but I did see this one:I’m pretty sure that’s pretty much the same pretty toilet. But it was $200 cheaper at the ReStore.

I bought a “hardly-used” dual flush toilet for the main downstairs bathroom from craigslist for $100, but I think this is a better deal. As so often happens on craigslist, the owner bought a new toilet to spruce up the home he was selling and then learned the new buyer planned to demolish the home, so he rescued the toilet. We haven’t had any problems with it so far and I’ll let you know if there are any problems with the ReStore toilet.

Save-The-Planet note: it is always better for the planet to re-use something instead of buying new. Sometimes it takes a little time to find the right thing, but it always saves energy and resources and it always saves us money, too.

Short & Snappy

I’m changing up the blog a little.

I wanted to give a play by play of the project, but it hasn’t been possible. Most recently, the goal of getting into the house by Christmas made me abandon writing altogether.

The next deadline is renting out the Little Yellow House again. That means moving everything out of it and making room for all of it in the big house. That, in turn, means finishing the upstairs rooms and basement.

On top of all that are the simple but essential needs to rest, re-learn how to live in the (unfinished) house, and re-connect with my family after so many months of renovation stress.

My posts need to be shorter and snappier. My habit of writing lengthy and detailed essays must end. You don’t have time to read them and I don’t have time to write them.

So once I get the photos somewhere that I can use them, check in regularly and I’ll paint you a complete picture, one piece at a time.

Thanks for visiting Hammond Forever House

The Women’s March

Yesterday we stayed home and worked on the house.

The kids had a couple of friends over who had slept over in the living room because the bedrooms upstairs are not finished yet.

In the morning, I worked on adding more insulation to the sloped ceilings in my son’s room and Leanne made a big batch of soup for everyone–lunch for all the kids, lunch for Leanne’s parents and cousin who were coming over to help on the house, and meals for the future.

Later, Leanne’s dad worked with me to finish making an insulated door for the new root cellar in the basement, her mom worked on cleaning up the mess we had been ignoring in the kitchen, Leanne and her cousin worked on clearing out the little yellow house and the kids…continued being kids.

Vancouver yesterday. Photo credit: The Georgia Straight

Meanwhile, millions of people all over the world gathered, rallied and marched in international women’s marches. More photos like this one can be found on The Georgia Straight’s website.

We like to think what we’re doing with our house–exploring and sharing what it’s like for regular folk to preserve and retrofit a beautiful old house–is doing some good in the world but today Leanne and I both woke up regretting we hadn’t taken a day off and gone into Vancouver to join all those people on the right side of history.

There is so many actions we can take to make the world a better place, sometimes it’s just hard to choose.

Titania Called It

Sometimes Shakespeare really nails it.

Lately I have been hearing Leanne say some lines that really echo human-caused Climate Change.

She is playing Titania, The Faerie Queen, in the Bard on the Bandstand production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Midsummer Nights Dream Poster

I am playing Oberon, the Faerie King.

The King and Queen are not getting along and it’s causing all kinds of problems.

Titania describes it like this:

Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound:
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Far in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems‘ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set: the spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which:
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension;
We are their parents and original.

Oberon responds with:

Do you amend it then; it lies in you:
Why should Titania cross her Oberon?

Which is a pretty typical response to the global threat of Climate Change, isn’t it? If we’re not denying it’s happening, we’re expecting someone else to do something about it.

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania by Sir Joseph Noel Paton



Flashback to December 11, 2013 at 4:59pm.DSCN1534

Two chimneys: one for the oil furnace, one for the wood-burning insert in the fireplace.

A light dusting of snow melts soonest where the 2X6 rafters are all that lies between the warm air of the kids’ bedrooms upstairs and the roof. They show like ribs on a feverish, bedridden child.


At the back of the house the cat door leaks heat into the neighbourhood. Among the clearly defined rafters are splotches of dark where the snow has melted around the plumbing and  roof vents as well as above the joint between the original house and the shed addition.

Between the rafters in these photos–under those rectangular blocks of snow–is fiberglass batt insulation. Its insulation value is probably about R14.

As we get ready to fill the roof rafters of the newly renovated house with insulation, it’s important to look back and see what we’re aiming for. R28 spray foam insulation plus an addition of approximately R14 batts. DSC03911

That makes R42–an R28 improvement over the old house.

This winter, and in every winter from now on, when it snows on Hammond Forever House, all you will see on the roof is snow. I like to think it will take the sun and a warm day to melt it off.

Talk with your MP

So I went in to chat with our new Member of Parliament last month. March 3rd.

I won’t lie, it was because it was Federal budget time and I wanted to put retrofitting homes for energy efficiency in the back of his head. It’s one of those things, like funding the arts, that people say we can’t afford but which are actually a great return for the investment.

As you may know, we elected a new government last year. Justin Trudeau is our Prime Minister now and, surprise of surprises, our local Liberal candidate, Dan Ruimy, is part of Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal majority government in the House of Commons.

I say it was a surprise because Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows (and formerly including Mission) has been a polarized Reform/Conservative vs. the NDP riding for a loooooong time. In 2015 I supported the very strong NDP candidate, Bob D’Eith, because I felt that if we sat back and pondered who to support, Stephen Harper would win.

Dan told me he doesn’t want to waste time. He wants to make a difference.

I made an appointment to see Dan in his brand new office before its official opening.  I told him about the Maple Ridge Net Zero Home Energy Retrofit Project now waiting on the shelf for someone to dust it off and set it going.

I told him about the Nelson BC Ecosave Energy Retrofits program.

I told him about Solar Colwood which released its final report last year.

And I told him about the Design Charrette we held in 2013 to move the Retrofit Project to the next step: a project manager and project design.CharretteGroup

Unfortunately, I have been too busy with our own retrofit and renovation of Hammond Forever House, which I hope will be the test case for the larger project, to have a clear proposal ready for Dan (and Justin, for that matter).

Among other things, we chatted about Dan’s apartment which he said is so badly insulated that there is no point wasting the energy to leave the heat on when he is not home. What a common problem! Tenants and homeowners alike suffer with high energy bills while the climate changes. Our best information estimates that Climate Change will cost Canada $5 billion per year by 2020 and there is very little being done to address the problem of inefficient existing buildings in a meaningful way.

The new Liberal Government, Dan said, is looking for innovative and unique programs they can support. Heritage, Energy, Climate Change, reducing home-heating costs for families–all these things are easy to support. Neither of us had a clear idea for the next steps in the Maple Ridge Retrofit program but Dan suggested we keep talking about it. Then he pointed to the large conference table in the next room and told me what it was for.

I left our meeting thinking it may be time to renew my conversation about the community project with our excellent City Staff to see if they have some new ideas on the subject. After all, I’m not the only one around here with ideas. (I haven’t had time to make that call, yet.)

It seems that since that first meeting with Dan, he spoke to a few other people because last week Leanne and I both found ourselves in that next room sitting around that big table with a bunch of other like-minded people. Leanne was there representing Ridge Meadows Recycling and I was there representing, well, this blog I suppose. Others from local environmental organizations were there, too.

DSC03460Dan’s idea was to start some sort of ongoing advisory panel on the environment.

There was a kind of stunned optimism in the room as a result of being invited. Many in the room remarked how much of a change the approach was to the previous government. If you remember, I had some professional criticism for our previous MP.

I also remember appealing to our former Prime Minister to attend a climate meeting while he was in New York in 2014. No luck.

It struck me afterwards that many Canadians may prefer the government to make decisions on their behalf without them having to lift a finger. I can understand that and it would be fine if our MPs were infallible gods and/or if everyone agreed with them. Other people, like myself, believe that building consensus is key and that means citizen engagement.

DSC03459Dan admits that he doesn’t know everything and is willing to collaborate and learn how he can help.

I think I can safely say that everyone in that room will be there next month with bells on. We have a lot of catching up to do!