Do-It-Yourself Flooring

Catherine and I bought a Condo not long ago (a large part of the reason I’ve been so sparse about updating this lately), and we bought it knowing we’d have some work to do. The place had been previously occupied by smokers, so we had to tear out all the carpet, draperies, and repaint. We knew that going in, and bought a flooring product, a floating engineered hardwood floor, that we’d be able to install. However, we ran into some issues.

First, we had a frost heave in the slab (we’re a ground-floor unit), a heave which is several decades old, given that there was vinyl glue in the crack in the kitchen. Wasn’t a problem with carpet, but would have really messed up our floor. Plus, it turns out we had a 1/2” to 3/4” inch slope in the floor on one of our walls we share with a neighbor. While I had planned on installing the floor, I had not planned on concrete work to prepare the sub-floor. And it was something that I was willing to pay to have done.

Unfortunately, every contractor in the Pullman area was booked out 6+ weeks, which was simply untenable for us at this time. So, we resolved to grind down the heave and fix it ourselves. We rented a concrete grinder from a local hardware store, which was a large motor with these teeth at the bottom that were wedged in with wooden shims. Unfortunately, this device had a tendency to loosen the teeth and hurl the three pound chunks of steel at high speed across the room. Eventually, I had to give up, and return the tool (at no charge to me, thank you, Moscow Building Supply). After calling around, we ended up renting an angle-grinder from a Home Depot nearly a hundred miles away, and using that. It was rough, but it was a hell of a lot safer, and we got the job done.

Then, we had to pour the floor patcher. Now, I described the problem I had to the people at the hardware store, and they sold me on a self-leveling floor underlayment product…that turned out to be meant for pouring over the entire floor (damn you, Moscow Building Supply!). The product was 100% concrete, while what I really wanted would have probably been mostly epoxy. With this product, I needed to do a lot of spreading and trowel work, though that might have also been problems in getting the right consistency of the mix. Oh, about that, if you need to mix concrete, use a corded drill. My DeWalt cordless is a great little drill, but it’s not up to mixing concrete, the batteries just can’t quite hold out. It’s fine for one 50 Lb. bag of cement, but when you have three…. You’re kind of fucked.

Once we got the floor poured, and gave it a few days to dry, we got the underlayment down, we used one with a vapor barrier since we’re ground floor, and begun putting down the floor. The learning curve on the floor is deceptively high. For one thing, until you get the third row in, the floor lacks most of it’s structural rigidity. However, once you get those first few rows, it does tend to go in pretty fast. We were able to do the majority of the three rooms we were working (some 700+ square feet) in a few days of work (most of those were week days too). There were only two really difficult parts. First, we had to cut strips using a table saw for certain portions of the floor, because the rooms just weren’t quite narrow enough (or wide enough, I suppose) to do full boards. And around the closet frames in the bed rooms, where we had to cut notches in the boards in both sides. If we’d had a jigsaw, it probably wouldn’t have been too bad. But using the Dremel saw attachment just required cutting from both sides (not ideal). However, the floor is in, and it really does look great.

Now, we’re on to trim, and cutting trim is an interesting experience because it comes in 12 foot lengths (and you want the long lengths), so it’s tricky to work with, and when you cut it, it’s generally at a 45 degree angle. Now, this is a tricky problem, because you need to make sure you cut the right 45 degree angle, so that boards match up correctly on the wall, or at corners. There were some miscuts, and a lot of my wife and I standing around waving our hands trying to make sure we were about to make the correct cut. But we got most of the big pieces in, and now I’ve just got some work to do in the closets and the entryway.

Am I glad we did this? Absolutely. The floors are beautiful. My concern is that it might not have saved us any money, between the hours we’ve spent on it, and the two house payments since we won’t start moving until this weekend at the earliest. I do know that we’ve had to spend several hundred dollars more on this project than I’d originally thought, though to be fair, quite a bit of that was me being naive about the problems. Renovation is hard, and while I don’t think I’ve been really foolish about it, the fact that we’re coming up on two months of being home owners and still haven’t started moving is amazingly depressing. Sure, the end is in sight, but both Catherine and I want nothing more than to be moved.