Today was busy. With house stuff. The list of accomplishments includes: plumber fixed a leak in the new waste lines, we pressure-tested our supply lines, the washer and dryer were delivered, we passed our rough-in inspection, and our denim insulation was delivered. For the much more detailed timeline version, see below. Future posts will have more details on some of these items.
Part 1 of Living Without a Kitchen can be found here. And now, what do we eat, and how do we cook it?
One of the ways I have been cooking without a kitchen is in the crock pot. There wasn’t a great place to put it, though, because of the limited countertop space. I needed somewhere to put it that was near an outlet and where it wouldn’t fall on the children if they tugged on the cord. The new outlet in the closet proved to be the perfect solution. Since then, one of my frequent dinner dishes has been “chicken in the crock pot in the closet.” I prepare it on the dining room table, stick the crock pot in the closet and forget about it. The children don’t bother it, it’s out of my way, and our closet smells pretty good after an hour or two.
I have been able to make a lot of things without a kitchen, but I cannot boil water or bake cookies/cupcakes. On the occasions when I have really needed to bake something, I have gone to friends’ and relatives’ houses. At home, I have been using the microwave (which works fine, although the 2, 6, and 8 buttons don’t work), the toaster oven, the crock pot, an electric skillet, a George Foreman grill, and a microwave rice cooker. We registered for the electric skillet when we got married, although I’m really not sure why. I only used it a couple of times per year in the ten years before this construction project, but it sure has been my friend over these last eleven months. I have used it to cook meat, make pancakes, fry naan, cook eggs, etc.
So what do we typically eat? Not having a kitchen has really only affected what we eat for dinner. We still eat cereal or toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. A typical week of dinners might look like this:
Monday: chicken in the crockpot in the closet with an Indian sauce
Wednesday: dinner at church
Thursday: leftover chicken
Saturday: take out pizza
Sunday: leftovers from the week before
I am always amazed at the amount of leftovers we seem to have. Leftovers are great because it means I don’t have to cook as often. If I’m going through the hassle of cooking “real food,” I might as well make plenty and then we can just microwave it some other night. The boys often don’t like what we’re having, so they might eat chicken nuggets or a sandwich for dinner. We do sometimes get takeout for dinner or go out to eat, but we haven’t eaten out nearly as much as we thought we might when we began this process.
We have still been able to have people over for dinner on occasion. It just gets a little extra cozy in the ditchen, and everyone who has come over knows in advance that we don’t have a real kitchen, so they aren’t expecting anything fancy.
Peter and I have always tried to be fairly environmentally conscious in our choices, but we have been a little less so during construction. We typically use cloth napkins but have abandoned those for paper napkins since we have not had a washer or dryer. We don’t regularly use paper plates, but there are some occasions when we opt for those instead of having to wash glass dishes. We have tried to be more thoughtful about the dishes that we do use. We use our water cups for two days before we wash them, and the boys use their water bottles probably a little bit longer than they should. Whenever Peter uses a plate for breakfast that ends up with only toast crumbs on it, I use that same plate for lunch, and then one of us uses it for dinner. (Don’t worry, if you come over, we’ll give you clean dishes.)
All in all, not having a kitchen has been somewhat of an inconvenience, but it’s been a fairly workable situation. This is good, since it will still be a few more months before we have any semblance of a “real kitchen” again.
We have not had a real kitchen for over 11 months now. It’s amazing to me that it’s been that long already. Before we started the process of tearing off the old kitchen, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for how cooking without a kitchen would go. I do not cook a lot of gourmet meals, and we have a lot of yummy restaurants nearby, so I figured it would probably be okay. Turns out, I was right. It really hasn’t been that bad.
We don’t love having to wash all of our dishes by hand while our dishwasher sits in our shed waiting for the new kitchen, but I am immensely thankful that we have a kitchen sink in which to wash them. Our contractor reinstalled our previous kitchen sink and a little bit of the countertop in the dining room in the first days of the construction back in October 2014. If it weren’t for that, this wouldn’t have been bearable. I have heard stories of people who redo their kitchens and just wash dishes in the bathtub during the renovation, but those situations usually only last several weeks or a couple of months at the most. I can’t imagine not having any running water on the main level and having to go upstairs to our one bathroom for everything water-related.
Our dining room has become our combination dining room and kitchen (or the “ditchen” as we often call it). It’s tight in there, but it works. It’s kind of convenient having everything so close together. There’s not much counter space on which to make food, so the dining room table often doubles as prep space.
There are only two outlets in the dining room, and they were both on the same electrical circuit when we started (along with most of the first floor). As such, the circuit got overloaded very easily. It was already getting cold by that point last fall, and we didn’t have heat downstairs, so we were using space heaters to stay warm(ish). We quickly realized that we could not use more than one appliance at a time. We had to choose: toaster oven, microwave, or space heater. We didn’t have the luxury of cooking while simultaneously being warm(ish). Jonah got pretty good at reminding me to turn off the space heater before I turned on the toaster oven or microwave. We also tripped the breaker A LOT. Luckily the breakers are near the dining room and could be quickly flipped back on.
After about a month of this, Peter managed to add a new outlet in the closet near the dining room (where the electrical box is). We now had a single outlet on its own circuit, which pretty much ensured that we wouldn’t trip it. We typically ran a space heater off of that outlet and then only had to worry about not using two cooking appliances at once. When we weren’t cooking, we would sometimes even get to have two space heaters running at the same time and feel almost warm. It felt luxurious.
In January, Peter and my dad replaced one of the two outlets in the dining room. Now we had another outlet on its own circuit with new wiring and (bonus!) it had three prongs instead of two, so our refrigerator could be plugged in without an adapter. If you’re keeping track, this gave us three outlets on different circuits in or near the dining room. I was really pretty excited. With this plethora of outlets, I have been able to cook more easily. I can even turn on the toaster oven and, once it’s pre-heated, I can use the microwave while the toaster oven is cooking something. This speeds up the cooking process a lot.
Next post: what we make in our ditchen.
We have finally arrived at telling you about installing our water supply lines.
Amanda spent a lot of time beforehand figuring out exactly what supplies we needed. She ordered most of the PEX, the manifold, and all of the fittings, with a few extras so that we wouldn’t have to run out to Lowe’s, from an online plumbing store. When everything arrived, she counted it all, which maybe seemed a tiny bit obsessive but turned out to be a good move, since the bag of 100 3/8-inch crimp rings we ordered only contained 55 of them. (The company quickly sent us 45 more.)
For the most part, running the actual water lines was as we expected – not too painful, and sort of fun. Each one was like a puzzle: How can I get this unbroken length of pipe from down here in the basement up two floors to the master bath sink, without it going right through the middle of the open floor plan of the kitchen, and without drilling through a laminated beam? For hot water lines, finding the shortest route is especially important in order to minimize water lost at the tap while waiting for all the lukewarm or cold water to flush out of the hot line.
Running PEX means you have to drill a lot of holes. It helps if you have wood-boring drill bits (Irwin Speedbor is one brand). The line to the hose spigot was especially “hole-y,” since the two options for routing it were to go through the exterior wall (and thus through each stud) or through the basement ceiling (and thus through each joist) to the back of the house.
As we have noted, the beauty of using the manifold is that you use one continuous length of pipe for each fixture, running it from the manifold to the fixture. This mostly eliminates fittings (elbows and tees and such). You do have to connect the PEX at either end, and to do that, we used crimp rings and a crimp tool. The crimp rings are made of copper and are sized to the PEX; since we had three different sizes of PEX, we had three different sizes of crimp rings. The crimp tool that we bought is adjustable so that it can be used for all three sizes. Because we have to pass our rough-in inspection before we attach fixtures, we’re putting a test plug in the end of each pipe and crimping it. When it’s time to add fixtures, we will cut off the end of the pipe containing the test plug and attach the pipe to the fixture with a crimp ring.
For each pipe, we had to slide the crimp ring over the pipe, then insert the plug. We had to adjust the crimp ring to be the right distance from the end of the pipe and then crimp it. The trouble was that the crimp ring slides around while you’re trying to get the crimp tool in position. There were a couple of times when we had to use the Dremel to remove a crimp ring, or when we just had to cut the PEX and try again. Oh, and squeezing the crimp tool occasionally took all four of our arms.
Some of our fixtures need the PEX to come out of the wall, so we attached bend supports to give them the angle they needed, instead of having to cut the PEX and use an elbow fitting to create a 90 degree angle.
After several pipes had been run, it started to get a little crazy at the manifold. The pipes were everywhere. It often felt like you were being attacked by pipes while standing at the manifold trying to attach one. They also got a little tangled amongst themselves, but we were glad that we were using color-coded pipes so that we would know which was which. Amanda used some zip ties to clean things up a little bit so that it wouldn’t look quite as much like Medusa.
We made sure to attach each pipe to the manifold as soon as we were done running it through the walls so that we wouldn’t forget where it went at the other end. The manifold comes with labels so that you know which pipe is which.
We aren’t quite finished with the supply lines. We have one or two more things to connect and our exterior hose connection to figure out. We also need to connect it all to our new water heater. But soon. Soon the supply lines will be ready for the rough-in inspection.
Now that you know all about manifolds, we can explain why it took us two hours just to get ours mounted to the wall.
The first problem was the same sort of catch-22 we have encountered several times during construction. Completing water lines (and thus the manifold) is necessary before the rough-in inspection. And the rough-in inspection has to happen before drywall is installed, since much of the electrical, plumbing, and mechanical work will be behind the walls. But in our case, the manifold needed to be mounted on the wall.
Can’t a manifold go inside the wall, with an access panel over it, you ask? Indeed it can. But let’s back up. The manifold was to be located in the mechanical room. I suppose we could have tried to put it in the kitchen or someplace else, but the mechanical room is reasonably centrally located as far as water is concerned, and it’s where the water heater is. The mechanical room also has an exterior wall, and it’s not a great idea to put a manifold inside an exterior wall because of the increased chance of freezing. None of the remaining three walls were great options, either. We ended up deciding to put the manifold on the wall between the exterior wall and the cellar door. It wasn’t quite wide enough according to the instructions, but it was close to the water heater.
To get around the drywall issue, we made a rectangular plywood backer, mounted it to the studs, and mounted the manifold on it. The drywall, if we ever make it to that stage, will just butt up against the plywood.
So after two hours, we were on to the really complicated part: figuring out how to properly support the 24 water lines after they leave the manifold. The lines can bend, but the manifold manufacturer says to send them straight out of the manifold and through a support before a bend, to avoid putting bending stress on the manifold fittings – the whole thing is just a giant piece of breakable plastic, after all.
If you mount the manifold inside a wall and have plenty of room, you can drill holes in the nearby studs to support the water lines. Doing it the way we did, there were two options: (1) mount a 2×4 on the face of the wall like a stud that forgot to get behind the drywall, and then drill holes in it to support the water lines, or (2) mount a 2×4 flat on the face of the wall and put clamps on it where each water line passes by. We couldn’t really decide which to do, so we went with option 1 on the left and option 2 on the right.
In hindsight, I think I would have told myself to go with option 2 on both sides. The first problem with Option 1 was that in order to properly locate the holes for drilling, we mounted the manifold, then the 2×4, and then marked and drilled the holes — towards the manifold. Despite my best efforts, this resulted in several fittings being mangled when the drill got stuck in the 2×4, then crashed through it and rammed into the much softer plastic of the manifold. (We avoided connecting anything to the worst of these fittings, and I used a Dremel to smooth down the burrs on the others… we’ll see if it leaks.) We should have taken the 2×4 back down to drill the holes, but I was doubtful I could get it back in exactly the same spot. [Note from Amanda: Or we should have listened to our wife who wanted to drill the holes before mounting the 2×4, even if Peter didn’t think that they would line up right.]
The second problem with Option 1 came later, as we were hooking up the lines to the manifold. For fittings where we needed to attach a line but the positions above and below already had lines attached, it was impossible to fit the jaws of the crimp tool around the fitting. After much frustration, we eventually figured out a workaround: unscrew the fitting from the manifold, crimp it in the air, and slide it back into place. This was also a problem with Option 2, but Option 1 made the workaround a bit trickier.
Next time: the actual installation of the pipes.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of a PEX manifold.
We hadn’t either, really, until we started thinking about whether to have a plumber do everything or just the waste lines. We learned that PEX (a.k.a. cross-linked polyethylene), a flexible plastic used for water pipes, was substantially easier to work with than copper or rigid plastic pipes. One advantage is due to its flexibility: instead of adding lots of elbows, each of which consists of two joints, which are opportunities for you to screw up a connection and cause a leak, you can just bend a long length of PEX around many obstacles. It’s also way easier to cut than metal, although a dedicated PEX cutter helps make cuts smooth and straight. You can get red pipes for hot, blue pipes for cold, and white pipes for whatever you want (although Jonah insists the white pipes carry warm water). This is a special advantage if, like us, you demonstrate that you are a True Patriot by installing some red, white, and blue pipes on the 4th of July.
Another advantage is that attaching fittings requires no heat or soldering. There are a few different types of fittings, but we chose to buy a crimp tool and copper crimp rings. As long as you get the ring and tool around the pipe and fitting in the right spot, and as long as you have herculean arm strength, the tool squeezes the copper ring just the right amount to compress the PEX around the fitting inside it to make a water-tight seal. You slide a little doohickey called a go-no-go gauge over the fitting to see if it is too compressed, not compressed enough, or just right.
As with elbows and other fittings, tees where one pipe branches into two are another place where things can go wrong. The manifold eliminates tees. Or rather, it combines 24 tees (or other amounts, depending on the version you get) all in one spot, so if you screw up, it’s probably right there where it’s easy to access rather than buried in a wall someplace. It’s like an electrical panel for water: you run a single cold pipe and a single hot pipe to the manifold. It then has a fitting for everything else that gets water. Because plumbing is All-American, the manifold operates on the baseball analogy of a home run: Leaving the manifold, each pipe can run all the way to a single fixture with no joints in between.
Manifold advantages: As mentioned above, lower potential for leaks in between the manifold and the fixture. Since each pipe only goes one place, smaller pipe diameters can be used, which is good for hot water, since there’s less of it to flush out of the line before the actual hot water comes out. The manifold has a shutoff for each line, so you don’t have to install a shutoff at each fixture (check local codes, of course).
Disadvantages: The manifold costs money (ours was about $180), and you have to buy and run more pipes (which are relatively cheap). This gets a bit crazy-looking at the manifold. You have to find a place to mount it. And since the sink and the shower are on separate lines, you no longer get to count on immediate hot water in the shower just because the water got warm while you were washing your hands.
So now you’re an expert too. We bought several coils of PEX in different colors and diameters, a crimp tool, a manifold, assorted crimp rings and fittings, and a bunch of support clamps. Next: A summary of what we actually did.
Once upon a time, a man and a woman owned a Pink House. They needed to mount an exhaust fan in their new half bathroom and it required some extra boards in order to attach it to the joists correctly and in the center of the room. One Saturday in June they decided to attempt this task, even though the man does not like attaching two pieces of wood together, whether by nail or screw, and the woman has no real carpentry skills to speak of. They began their work and then the woman made a critical error…
We had the exhaust fan in our hands, so we started by thinking about what we needed to build in order to mount the fan just right. We held the fan up to the joists and positioned it, we measured how long each board would need to be, we drew a plan, we thought about which way we would like to run the duct to send the exhaust outside, we spent a lot of time thinking.
We gathered tools and Peter cut some 2x4s to the appropriate lengths. He worked very hard on attaching all of the boards together just right.
There was a lot of frustration on Peter’s part, but Jonah offered to help.
At one point, it had to be taken apart and redone because we forgot to account for the width of the boards themselves. He finally had all the boards together and I think he felt pretty good about actually building this contraption exactly to our measurements.
Then it was time to attach it to the joists. This meant more screwing of boards together, but he managed.
It fit well and we were pleased with the results, even though it had taken a long time to make it. So Peter was ready to mount the housing of the exhaust fan. He held it up there and realized that the place where the duct would come out was facing the wrong direction. Meaning everything he had just done was not going to work. Oops.
Um. That was my fault. During our thinking time, we had each taken turns holding the fan up to the joists and measuring. When we discussed which way the duct would go, I was holding the fan and looking down at the underside of it. I failed to remember that when the fan was mounted, that would be the bottom of the fan and not the top (as it was currently positioned in my hands). The duct would come out of the opposite side of the box when it was flipped over. So our wooden box we made was completely wrong for mounting the fan the correct way. In fact, when the fan was turned the right way, it required much less work.
Everybody makes mistakes, but I still felt horrible. We had literally wasted an hour and a half of our Saturday morning building this solution that we did not need. It was completely my fault for not remembering to flip the fan over. After we realized my mistake, Peter commented that he had thought we would be attaching it to the other joist, but he didn’t question it when I told him we would need to mount it on the joist for which we built the contraption.
Peter demolished what he had just built (that part went pretty quickly and was possibly therapeutic) and we set to work figuring out what we actually needed. To mount it on the other side, we just needed to attach a piece of plywood inside the flanges of the I-beam joist, and then attach another board to the joist to get the fan closer to the center of the room (this was SO much faster than what we had already done). We had some leftover plywood already cut to fit inside the joist, from when we did our joist repair, so that was easy. Then we found a piece of scrap exterior trim to attach to the joist. It wasn’t quite as thick as what we needed, but it was readily available, and after the frustration we had just experienced, we decided it was good enough.
So when you come to visit our house after the drywall is up and you notice that the fan in the half bathroom is a little off-center in the room, maybe just keep it to yourself.