This job took so much out of me that I haven't blogged for four months. This job took so much out of me that I still haven't finished painting the closet. This job took so much out of me that I even stopped enjoying woodworking for a bit. But just for a bit.
Rewind, circa 2012 when we bought the house: "Hey, this carpet is pretty cheap, we'll need to replace it."
Rewind, circa 2013 after we'd had the dog for a few months: "Hey, this carpet is pretty cheap and is starting to look worn in a few places. Also, dog hair is a pain to clean out of it."
Rewind, circa 2014: "We should replace this carpet."
Rewind, circa 2015: "Honestly, we really need to replace this carpet. It's starting to pull up in places. Let's look at floor samples."
Rewind, circa 2016: "Dang it, it's actually time to replace the carpet."
Being the stubborn fool that I am, I decided to do this job myself. "It's not that tough," I said in my hubris. "I can build furniture, this won't be that hard," I naively convinced myself. I was both correct and incorrect at the same time. I was correct in the aspect that laying flooring isn't complicated. Flat subfloor, cut things tight but leave expansion gaps, make sure the boards are seated. Simple. I was incorrect in that this is backbreaking work and doing it while you're still living in the house with all of your furniture just sucks. But it all turned out gorgeous in the end.
Selecting the flooring: we agonized over this choice. As a bit of background, our house is on a slab. Under the carpet and on top of the slab, as I discovered some time ago, are tiles that contain asbestos. Removing those tiles was pretty much out of the question, so the floor needed to just float on top of them. This starts to put some hard limits on what types of floors are suitable. Solid hardwood is right out. That leaves engineered woods, Pergo/laminates, and bamboo.
Engineered wood: Looks pretty good, not too expensive, but tends to be thin and would have a weaker, hollower feel underfoot. Can't be refinished.
Pergo: Cheap, quite durable, looks good, but has a bit of an odd sheen and feels plasticky to the touch. Can't be easily cosmetically repaired when scratched, so it's basically a disposable floor.
Bamboo: can range from cheap/crappy to expensive/high end. Whole range of colors available.
We went with a very nice bamboo from Cali Bamboo. I took advantage of a sale and bought it almost on impulse to get the good price. We ended up paying about $4.50/sqft with free shipping. The underlayment (cork, the good stuff) was another ~$0.70/sqft, and we had an additional vapor barrier that was around $0.10/sqft.
The whole project got off to an auspicious start when the delivery driver didn't have the proper pallet jack to handle the 6ft long pallet and he got it stuck on the liftgate. I sacrificed one of my 3/4" pipe clamps to use as a j-bar to lift one end while the driver and my neighbor pushed. In the end, we got it into the garage. From there, we cut the boxes open and sticker-stacked the boards so they could acclimate. Starting from this point, our house was in disarray for the next 4 months.
|This is about 600 sqft of flooring. It's amazing how much material is takes to cover the floor of a house.|
Here's the basic workflow for doing floors:
- Pull up the carpet. Cut it into ~4ft wide strips with a blade and then rip it up and roll it (and the underlayment). Let your wife take it to the dump while you start on the next step.
- Pop up the tack strips around the perimeter. Our had several different vintages of tack strips, dating probably back to the 70s and all the way up to just before we bought the place. Because the tack strips are going through the asbestos tile/mastic, I ran a HEPA vac next to my tool while I was popping these out. This step sucked.
- Pop off baseboards. Optional, I didn't do this in every space, but I did do it in most spaces.
- Clean up all the dust and debris in the room, preparing it for...
- Leveling. God, the leveling. I knew going in to this that I would have to do some leveling. I was prepared for some leveling. I was not prepared for the amount of leveling I would have to do - our floor had dips in excess of 1/2" over wide areas. This might not sound like a lot, but trust me - it is, and filling these gaps to get thing suitable takes both a lot of material and a lot of time. I leveled using two methods: self leveling and concrete patch. Generally, I would take up most of the dips with self level and then finish with the patch. One complicating factor is that self leveling is fast, but it works with gravity to make things level. What's most important for flooring is that the subfloor is flat, which is not quite the same as level. So in some spaces I had to rely on patch alone because self-leveling compound was impractical. Patch takes a lot of time to both apply and cure.
|8ft level, a pretty sweet purchase. Also seen, my Festool HEPA vac that I bought to deal with asbestos while I popped the tack strips.|
- Once you've gotten things flat within spec (spec was ~3/16" over 10 ft, I aimed for better than 1/8" over 8 ft and often got about 1/16" over 8ft), scrape the patch to take off sharp spots and vacuum the floor again. Wait a few days for the patch to fully cure.
- Underlayment! First underlayment is a vapor barrier, just black plastic. Tape the seams with underlayment (metallized) tape. Then, roll the actual underlayment out and tape the seams. This part was pretty easy.
|I was so full of enthusiasm at this point, just starting out. Now I'm wiser. Oh, past J, you were so innocent.|
- Now, finally - flooring. Our stuff was click-lock, which is supposedly the most DIY friendly version. It both is and isn't. Pro: if you aren't happy with how it's going, just unclick it and change things up. I did this a lot. Con: if the boards aren't perfectly parallel or there's some defect in the click mechanism, they just won't click together. This led to a ton of trial-and-error to find boards that fit together perfectly. I cannot express how frustrated I was at times because of this. It's also crucial to stagger joints appropriately to strengthen the floor, so some planning was important. Typically things would be very slow to start as I had to find the happiest set of planks to start the floor (ensuring that all of the click-locks in the first few rows mated perfectly), then things were able to speed up because the floor becomes easier to add to as it has more mass and stability. I was able to do a bedroom in about a day, but I was pretty much busted afterwards - this is hard work.
|Dog toys mandatory.|
- After the space is done, put in quarter round to hide your expansion gap (1/2" per the manufacturer spec).
- Move the furniture back in and enjoy that room before you head to the next one.
|This is fine. Everything is fine.|
|Oh, wait, it really is fine.|
|I wonder who could have left paw prints in the wet patch...guess I didn't do a good enough job of blocking it off.|
- Your woodworking skills will come in handy when you get to tricky spots and have to transition into closets.
|Wood tetris. I bought a new jigsaw for this job, and it's awesome. Crucial purchase.|
|New rug, picked out by wifey. Love it.|
After the bedrooms were finished, I had to take a break for a few weeks. Our main room was a big undertaking and I was getting pretty burnt out at this point with the constant disarray in the house and pressure to finish.
Okay, the main room: this room is about 525 sqft. We didn't have enough space in the rest of the house to accommodate all of the furniture that was in this room, so we had to rent a storage container that was parked on the driveway for a couple of weeks. This expense was well worth it. Level it...
|There were three huge dips, up to about 3/4", throughout this room. It took 3 bags of self-leveler and about 8 pails of concrete patch. It's a big room.|
And then start with the flooring. I did this room in roughly two days. Afterwards, my legs hurt. This was incredibly frustrating - so many full length planks were needed that the slight errors in fit that I'd come to expect multiply, requiring an absurd amount of time trying different planks to get a good fit. But in the end, I got it done.
|Seriously, it's a big room.|
|I really wanted to cry at this point, I was so relieved to be done.|
The last little things that had to be taken care of were transitions. I used transitions from Cali for most of the spaces, but around the front door I had to make my own out of some spare planks because the slopes and offsets involved were just too strange to make me want to spend $100 on transitions that I would have to modify anyway. It worked out fine.
|This 30" piece is like $25. Pretty pricey.|
|You can't tell from the picture, but the tile has a different slope compared to the wood floor. This required cutting a sloped rabbet into the bottom of the transition piece, which was pretty tricky.|
And so, after around four months of disarray and work, the floors were done. The extra effort spent leveling and flattening the subfloor was absolutely worth it, as the floors feel great underfoot and are feeling better all the time as they settle in. Sure, there are some areas where I can see flaws, but I think that the end floor will last a lifetime. Which is good, because I sure as heck don't want to do this job again. But despite all the work and frustration, the end result looks great. On to other things!