Friday, September 4, 2009

The Grout Rout

The subtitle to this would be: Or Why the Bathroom Is Only Two-thirds Grouted.

I’ve been reading about putting down porcelain tile and putting in grout for months now. Many of you were kind enough to offer opinions as I waffled over a grout color for the bathroom.

Ultimately, as we now know, I chose black. And I know it was the right decision. It’s very pretty. It just makes a tough job that much tougher.

That’s because no one tells you you need more than one bucket of water as well as several sponges to do a good job, particularly if your grout is dark and your tile is light. Or at least no one told me. I knew I’d have to change the water during the process. I just didn’t know I was going to need to do that after just a few swipes of the sponge! Mind you, I’m doing this alone.

Early on, I scrambled to add a second bucket to the line-up and very quickly ran out and filled up both with the hose, leaving one full on the porch. I rotated and refilled as needed. (This is NOT stuff you can dump down the drain either and since grout has a pretty short shelf-life – maybe an hour, tops – you’ve got to “move fast, fast, fast” as my dear friend PB put it. So, there was a whole lot of running in between battling the grout.)

I’d never grouted before and let’s just say the float and I didn’t get along from the start. Add to this that I was working with hex tiles, with a manillion little grout lines to fill. (I’ve got to think my next adventure with 12x12 solid tiles will be infinitely easier.) With sanded grout. Yeah. This was a classic case of baptism by fire.

I know that it’s important to start wiping down as soon as you see it starting to haze. That happened pretty quickly and I was falling behind fast. Not to mention that I had already seen I was not going to be able to get along the tub and behind the toilet because I’d already started grouting in the area where I’d have to lay across to accomplish this. (While the toilet was out for me to put the tile down. It was back in place when I went to grout. It had to be. It’s our only bathroom!)

As I used the sponge for the very first time, I think I gasped. Man, that black grout just made that tile pop. It was awesome! But the experience only got ugly from there.

Just as I was starting to make a little progress with the float, I heard a hellatious crash and then a thundering of paws through the house. I scrambled to my feet to investigate.

Taz, who had been barricaded in the kitchen, had done a Houdini. I don’t know if she toppled the smaller of the boxes used to keep her inside or if it was Toby being aggressive. In either case, the toppled box had hit – and flipped – a shared water bowl, sending the entire contents all over the dining room floor. So, I simultaneoulsy had a kitten loose in a house filled with danger (not the least of which is Toby the Terrible), a lake to mop up in the dining room (and quickly, because laminate will warp), and a ticking clock on a batch of grout. Oh, and by this time it was 11:30 p.m. and I had to go to work the next morning. Perfect!

More than 30 minutes later, the kitten was in bed for the night, the water was mopped up, drinking water replaced, and I was back on my butt in the bathroom floor. The grout was starting to set. I didn’t have long left at all. I hurriedly began trying to spread it, only now the goal was to get as much of a pathway between the door and the toilet filled in as possible. I hit a major snag in that the grout on my float was setting too and instead of spreading the grout into the lines, the quickly drying grout on its surface was now pulling the grout out. Having nothing else to work with, I continued my efforts at lightning speed using just the latex gloves on my hands, carefully smoothing the grout with my plastic fingers. Remember, I’m new to grout and I suck at this.

Just as I laid grout into the tile nearest the doorway, the grout in the bucket was no longer usable. For about 2 seconds I debated adding a little water to it so I could keep on going. Instead, I heeded the warning in my head, placed there by reading all mannner of tips, how-tos and other cautionary tales on grouting tile, saying not to do this. I started frantically trying to wipe down, but the grout was stubborn. By this time, it was nearly 1:30 a.m., I was exhausted and had to get up for work in just a few short hours. And I still had to clean up tools, buckets, and all the places that grout had managed to land or that concrete dust had managed to splash. (SO glad I’d painted my walls white the day before – NOT!) By this point, exhausted and exasperated, with black-spattered knees and blackened wrists where grout had slid in behind my gloves, I was in tears. (I think I earned a brief, minor meltdown.)

The good news is that the bath is so small, I’d only used around half the grout I bought. That meant I still had grout – from the same dry batch – to use to complete the job. Here’s hoping that I’ll be consistent enough in my mixing (though I think the first batch was too dry) for the shade to stay the same when I finish up this weekend.

The mother was with my godmother this morning and called to tell me they were heading over to my late great-uncle’s home. She was admiring my handiwork and asked the mother to ask me if I was for hire. “You couldn’t afford me,” the mother relayed for me via the phone, and I could hear them both laughing.

Seriously, I’ll help my godmother do anything she wants. (She is only now starting to face the reality that is the house that’s been standing empty since my uncle’s death months ago. ) I’ll help her do anything – as long as it doesn’t involve black grout.


Anonymous said...

I helped a friend grout his kitchen floor once. ONCE! Very frustrating experience . . .

I'm glad it turned out as gorgeous as you'd hoped . . .

cd said...

With all of these projects approaching the finish line, has the Mother started looking for new house!

joke : something said or done to provoke laughter

Debbie said...

Wow, I didn't realize laying grout was so time consuming and frustrating.

I'm glad I am able to read blogs like this, so I'm totally prepared by the time I have start all my DIY projects on the new house!

The black grout does look amazing; I hope it goes easier when you finish the bathroom floor.

NV said...

COG -- Thanks, Brian. It's still a work in progress but if I can get rid of the haze, all will be well!

CD -- Um, yeah. She looks at houses all the time ... and wishes. But this one is paid for.

Debbie -- Thanks. In spite of all the hassle, black was definitely the right choice. Unfortunately, I've read a lot of grout horror stories, so I felt really lucky after Round 1. Of course it bit me in the butt on Round 2. Round 3 is now under way ...

Anonymous said...