Installing Self-Leveling Concrete In The Master Bathroom

Another milestone is complete in the ongoing (3.5 year) master bathroom project as the self-leveling concrete was installed on top of the radiant floor heating. The process wasn’t exactly what I expected and the results weren’t perfect but the floor did come out level.

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The manufacturer of the concrete product recommends not to install it when the heater is running and when the humidity is low otherwise cracking could occur. That meant I needed to wait until summer when the heater didn’t need to run and the evaporative cooler could be running. I didn’t need the cooler, it was installed on one of the rainiest days of May and the humidity in the house was over 75%.

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Prior to pouring the concrete I made a riser out of aluminum flashing to extend the height of the air duct in the bathroom. I held the riser in with some cardboard and sealed it to the old duct with some concrete sealant. I did the same for the area around the toilet.

The entire house has an expansion joint around the perimeter and one wall of the bathroom has part of this expansion joint. The self-leveling concrete cannot go into the expansion joint or bridge it or it will crack. I sealed the joint with concrete caulking and put foam under the drywall so it sticks out over the joint.

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I had scheduled 3 friends to come over to help (although only two showed up), one who had worked with self-leveling concrete before. It takes at least three people: 1 to mike the concrete with the drill, 1 to pour water and concrete into the 5 gallon bucket and 1 to pour the floor. My $88 corded Dewalt drill had a tough time with the concrete mixture. Luckily I had an old heavy duty single speed craftsmen drill that tore through the concrete without a single complaint.

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The only problem we found during the pourig of the floor is there wasn’t enough water in the concrete and it wasn’t quite liquid enough. This made some rough spots where the different pours came together. it work in our advantage since one area where I had sealed the expansion joint gave in and started filling with self-leveling concrete and I completely missed a small crack in the concrete slab near another wall. The self-leveling concrete set too quickly for this to impact the level of the floor. Had it been more liquid the entire floor could have drained down these cracks.

It took four bags of self-leveling concrete and I ended up with a 3/4 inch floor, I will have to recheck my calculations as I expected a 1/2 floor. It cost about $50 in supplies and a few beers.

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I was a bit hesitant about doing this pour myself and considered hiring someone. I’m glad I did this small area first and I’m confident I can do the master bathroom with enough people. I may have to have a pour-party and get about 10 people together to have a constant flow of self-leveling concrete then bar-b-que when we’re done. I had meant to take more pictures but I was too busy working on the project, the pictures I did take can be viewed on flickr.

The next step is to install the Schulter Kerdi waterproofing material and to finish up the shower stall before laying tile. This will be a non traditional installation of a shower floor. I’m not sure if I will start this during the summer as I plan to spend my time working on outdoor projects as much as I can.

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Vertical Cement Application

Cleaning up the swamp cooler duct work continues. At this rate I might have it done by summer.

This is my first experience mixing and using cement and I’m pretty happy with the result. Here’s the problem, a large swath of concrete is missing and the original metal duct just rested up against dirt, further degrading the metal. I cleaned up the mess and prepared it to be filled with cement.

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First thing I did was to put some metal lath that is used for stuccoing walls. I folded it in on itself and shoved it into the gap using a few nails (nailed into dirt) to hold it back where it needed help. The metal lath not only will give the cement some strength but will give it something to stick to.

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I used 30 lbs of Quikrete quick setting cement. The cement sets in 10-15 minutes and, according to the container, is recommend for vertical applications. Since I had never mixed cement before it seems like a good first step was to read and follow the instructions. The container says to mix 5.5 parts of Quikrete into 1 part water and only mix as much as you can work with in 10 -15 minutes. Mixing that much water resulted in a wet powered that was pretty much useless. After some experimentation and wasting about 10% of the Quikrete I found I needed about 3x water than was called for.

Another 10% waste of Quikrete occurred trying to figure out how to actually apply the material into the hole. I finally figured out that using a wide putty knife and pushing it up, working my way left to right and top to bottom was the easiest way to apply it. Sometimes it would fall after I put in on and I tried to scoop up as much as I could and put it back.

It was hot and sweat and blood literally went into the making of this. There is a satisfaction to doing it myself..

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There’s a few next steps before I can permanently attach the duct work. The floor of the this concrete pit should also be solid concrete, but is degraded and it’s hard to tell where the concrete ends and the dirt starts. I will have to put about a .5 inch layer of cement down. I will probably use something like the Quikcrete Fast-Setting Self-Leveling product. Since it doesn’t require any trawling, it should be easy!

The other thing I have to do is to clean out the dirt that made it’s way down the main duct that runs from the cooler to the main air distribution point. I could hire a duct cleaning service, but why start hiring people now when I’ve done everything else myself?

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Emergency Cooling

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It’s been hot here. Unusually hot. This last week has been in the mid to high 90’s which seems about 10 degrees more than usual. This poses a problem for me. Last fall I removed the swamp cooler due to the duct work rusting out and making a mess and I haven’t yet resolved it. I realize it’s June and I should be prepared for the heat already, but I wasn’t expecting this much heat at once.

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I managed to get the old rusted duct work removed but I’m not yet done getting the cement casing cleaned up. I did get a MasterCool for free but needed to get it blowing cold air into the house. Getting this small amount of duct work made was going to be extremely expensive, one company quoted me $600 – $800.

The Lowes and Home Depot don’t carry duct work larger than 8”. Luckily I was able to find a local hardware store called Samons that carries pre-made duct work. Not being ready to permanently install the duct work… let me just say that if your a fan of duck tape, you will be a fan of my work.

I have a managed to duct tape the whole mess together and sit it on the cement hole. If there’s a strong wind it will probably blow the duct work away, If it rains It will probably fill the hole with water. For now I’m cool.

The Mess That Is My Underground Duct Work

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This was only the second summer I’ve lived in this house, and the second year I’ve ran the swamp cooler. I thought I was lucky to have a swamp cooler that sets on the ground instead of the roof. I expect to have some dirt get through the ducting, but i had quite a bit of it all summer long this year. I also found that the cooled air was making it out our under the concrete pad that the cooler is setting on. Summer is over, so i pulled off the swamp cooler to take a look. I found a huge mess.

The metal duct work is mostly rusted away. I would expect that the ducting would be incased in concrete, which it appears there was an attempt to do so. Except only 50% of the ducting had concrete surrounding it, the rest was up against dirt. Damp dirt, which led to the rusting and the mud which penetrated the ducting.

I pulled up the majority of rusted mess out. I allowed the pit to dry out then vacuumed up as much of the dirt with a shop vac as I could. I also found a layer of dirt in the 18 inch duct that leads to the main distribution center under the forced air heater. Thankfully that where the dirt stops.

Temporary sealing of duct work for winter

I’ve got a huge mess to clean up. I’m going to need to talk to a HVAC contractor to see what can be done. Hopefully I can do most of it myself, but I will need some advice. I decided not to deal with it this fall, instead I sealed up the main 18 duct so the heated air wont get out this summer. I took a piece of foam and a piece of plywood, sized up to the wall where the inlet to the house is, and held them with some 2×4’s that I hammered into place.The foam compresses and seems to have a good seal. I filled any other holes with pieces of foam and some expanding foam.

If your interested in following the progress, you can view pictures at a flickr set.

Burned Up Wire Nut

Near the end of last summer, I had a power outtage. After the outage my swamp cooler thermostat would show the temp of 22 degrees, which I assume was the lowest temp the thermostat can read. The damage was probably from a power surge.

swamp cooler power wire nutNow the thermostat seems to correctly read the temp, but I wanted to replace it anyways. So I pulled out the wiring and found wire nut that holds the main power wires together has burned up. It looks like it shorted out, for lack of a better explaination. Thankfully the wiring is all contained in a metal box becasue the inside of the box, near where the wire nut was placed, looks like was burned.

It’s very strange, this has to have happned since I moved in becasue I replaced the thermostat. Everything still works fine. What would cause a wire nut to burn up?

September Fire

September Fire

The weather in New Mexico has changed from Summer to Winter nearly overnight. Not really giving the usual transition period to winterize the swamp cooler and get the heater started. Tonight, weather.com says that we the temperature, with the wind, feels like 43 degrees.

Tonight I enjoy a alcoholic beverage while setting next to the fire and watching some TV as the wind blows outside. Not so bad really.

Heat Wave

Temperatures soared into the upper 90s and higher Sunday from coast to coast, bringing out heat warnings, wilting athletes and driving others into the shade. The choking heat was expected to continue for the next few days, and the hot air was moving toward the East Coast, meteorologists said.

The heat in Albuquerque is nothing compared to Phoenix, as I always say. The humidity was still kinda high today making the swamp cooler not so effective. It still cools down pretty good during the night, however.