Category Archives: fixing floors

Kidding around

Ah, summer vacation time in the States. It goes on and on. And on. And. On.

What to do with your pre-teen girl (PTG) and teen boy (TB) for those 11 l-o-n-g weeks? Park them in front of the computer/wii/tv? Listen to them whine about how bored they are? Send them to camp? NO!!!

Why not get them into some demolition at home? Oooohhh YEAH!

Exercise, entertainment, team bonding and DIY all rolled into one. P-e-r-f-e-c-t.

It all started a couple of months ago when I began to suspect that the oak floors in our living room and hallway continued underneath the particle board and vinyl tile in the space between the kitchen and the dining area.

I’ve never been really sure what to call that space, it is a dead in-between zone, hovering pointlessly between the hall, kitchen and living area. It’s like a kind of entry area, except that it is in the middle of the house. Weird.

When we bought the house this space was covered with same brick patterned stick on vinyl tile that was in the kitchen.

fake brick … well it could have been worse

The previous owner’s solution to every flooring dilemma: cover it with stick on vinyl tile (SOVT). In an attempt to make it look a bit better, as a temporary solution, I painted over these tiles with epoxy floor paint before we moved in, with some success.

post painting

But my curiosity about the height difference between the tiled area and the hardwood was piqued at about the same time as I investigated underneath the SOVT in the bathroom. The height difference there was not caused by covered over 1950s mosaics like I hoped, but rather by no less than 3 successive layers of SOVT.

My experience in the bathroom discouraged me somewhat: removing the SOVT there led to a epic saga of rotting floors, removing and replacing toilets, tiling and various other bathroomly adventures.

Suffice to say I was a little floor-shy after that. For a while.

But DIY is kind of like childbirth. You either do it once and never ever do it again, or you simply forget how bad it is until you are in the middle of the next herculean battle.

The way the boards seemed to continue straight under the raised floor called to me like a siren song, and soon enough I succumbed and pulled away the trim around the edge. Which confirmed my suspicions: the previous owners had, in fact, laid particle board and SOVT over the top of their beautiful hardwood floors. Really.

I was all for pulling the whole lot out then and there, but the beloved balked. The hall painting had been put off for too long, and I had a paying furniture-stripping job that I needed to get started on.

So I put it on the ‘to do one day’ list and tried to forget about it.

Which I successfully did until I was pondering things I could do with the kids during the vacation. We’ve been to The Exploratorium, and hiked at Montara Beach with the dog. We’ve done jigsaws, and they’ve read a ton of books. We’ve had friends for sleepovers and been on karate camp.

And now here we are in the hump weeks of the vacation. The excitement of no school has long faded, and the beginning of the new school year is still too far away to add that sad frisson of activity that comes as the vacation draws to an end. The kids were listless and too bored to actually know what they wanted to do. Which is the perfect moment for a parent to come up with something that keeps them busy, and distracts them from endlessly baiting one another in an attempt to amuse themselves.

I pondered several possibilities that involved duct tape and trees, but reminded myself firmly that such acts are most likely indictable. Finally I had a light bulb moment: I remembered the floor and figured that they would probably be capable of demolishing it. In fact, chances were it was destructive enough for them actually to enjoy it.

I must admit they weren’t really sold on the idea at the start. I had to issue a parental decree (involving bribery and loss of computer privileges) to stop them complaining and get them started.

Our plan was to remove all the SOVT and particle board back as far as the peninsula bench in the kitchen.

Furniture out and ready to start

First we had to remove all the furniture from the area, which involved unpacking several cabinets and stacking the contents around the living and dining area. This had a whine factor of about 95%. I started to wonder about the wisdom of my decision to involve them.

But once we had started on the demolition, they actually began to enjoy it. After a little instruction on technique, and in spite of wishing that demolition in real life was as easy as it is in MineCraft, TB wielded the crow bar and hammer like a pro, and PTG collected pieces of particle board and SOVT and relayed them down to the rubbish pile under the deck.

About an hour and half in we were making good progress:

Look at those boards! Why would you cover them up?

The boards did indeed continue under the floor, and in spite of a ‘tan line’ between the newly refinished boards and the old ones under the particle board, things were looking exciting.

tan line between newly refinished boards and old hidden boards

And then the phone rang. It was the beloved calling to let me know that a business colleague who was visiting from Australia was coming to dinner that night. He would be arriving home with the beloved in approximately 1.5 hour’s time.

Oh.

Given his earlier edict about NOT pulling the floor up in the dead zone to see if there was hardwood underneath, I had kind-of-not-mentioned to the beloved that it was what I was planning to do with the kids that day.

We thought we would get it done and surprise him with it.

‘What are we going to do?’ the kids gasped.

‘We’ll be fine. The only thing we really can do is keep going.’ I replied.

And then quietly muttered under my breath, ‘And hope that it is all done by the time he arrives’.

By this stage both kids were well and truly invested in the task, and we all redoubled our efforts. Cheers rang out once all the particle board was gone, and then we set to work cleaning the floor and pulling out all the left-over nails.

Board and SOVT gone, now for the nails

Then we gave it a final sweep, and washed it. And Roxy gave it the ball test.

Floor passes the ball test

We were hot, grubby, tired and sweaty, but we couldn’t stop quite yet. First we had to replace the furniture that was stacked everywhere, and return everything to rights as if nothing had happened.

Finally we were done, and we staggered off to shower and freshen up. I was just returning upstairs after my shower when I heard the beloved walk in the door, swiftly followed by a loud ‘Wow!’ Mission accomplished.

And it does look pretty wow. And will look even more wow when I refinish the boards at some point.

The one disappointment? The boards stopped short of the kitchen, so now we have a strange ply patch that I will need to rectify. Luckily our local salvage yard has recently obtained a quantity of the same top-nailed oak boards from a house they demolished. So I suspect it will involve a few of them.

Are we going to continue them into the kitchen? Not for now. As the kitchen will be completely replaced at some point, possibly relocated and definitely rearranged, it makes more sense to leave it as it is, and not expend effort needlessly.

As for the kids, I am extremely proud of them. I might make remodelers out of them yet.

So, I can heartily recommend DIY as a summer vacation activity for your kids. Cheaper than camp with the added bonus of something crossed off your to-do list. Plus they actually enjoyed it.

Best of all, though, is seeing their sense of achievement. That satisfaction of knowing they pushed through and got it done.

That, as they say, is priceless.

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Absolutely floorless

Well almost. Down to the bare boards: that’s where I was last time I wrote.

blank slate

I had wrestled out three layers of vinyl tile, then a layer of rotten plywood underfloor. After much thought and conscience wrangling, I removed the vanity, and finally the toilet. Which left me with a nice blank slate to build from.

In Australia, at this point, you would pour a concrete sub floor, and in it you would include a floor drain, called a Palazzi trap. You would grade the bathroom floor towards the Palazzi trap, so if the bathroom ever flooded, the water goes down the drain, instead of ruining the rest of the floor and the house. Then you tile on top.

They don’t do that here. Here they put down a waterproof membrane, a layer of plywood, a layer of backer board, and then a layer of tile. So if the bathroom floods or the pipes leak, you have to pull it all up again, replace the damaged bits, and start over. Which seems a little crazy to me, but that’s cultural differences for you.

Here pouring a concrete subfloor is considered old fashioned and not to code. And no one has heard of a Palazzi trap. When in America, do as the Americans.

So, down went the waterproof membrane.

A layer of waterproof membrane underneath everything

And down went the ply sub floor. This involved careful measuring, and cutting around the curved-edge bath, and the sewer pipe.

First piece of ply down

This looks challenging, doesn’t it?  It is actually quite straightforward. Lay down an over-lapping layer of masking or painter’s tape, that goes over the edges of the area you want to cut out.

Tape the area you need to cut

Use a craft knife to cut around the edges, carefully peel it away, and then you have a pattern.

Then cut out your pattern

Lay this on top of the ply sheet, and cut around it using a jigsaw.

Place pattern piece on ply, then cut with a jigsaw

See, fiddly, but not difficult. Imagine if I had to cut around the toilet and the vanity. Now THAT would have been fiddly AND tricky. Now do you see why I pulled them both out?

Eventually the ply sub floor was down.

I used the same process with the backerboard, but it needed a layer of thinset (a kind of mortar) underneath.  This ensures a smooth level surface to tile onto.

Backer board down

While I was waiting for the thinset under the backerboard to dry, I set to work on getting the tile ready to lay.

As you may remember, I found enough marble tile at our local salvage yard to do the upstairs bathroom for a grand total of $30.

Marble tile from the salvage yard

The down side of this tile was that some of it had been laid previously. So it had a layer of thinset on the back.

the disadvantage of pre-used tile

Before I could lay the tile this had to be scraped off. And it had to be done carefully so as not to break any, because when I say there was enough to do the upstairs bathroom, there was Just. Enough. To. Do. The. Upstairs. Bathroom. Eeesh.

No pressure or anything. I had about two tiles to spare, so I had to clean and make any cuts I needed to make without really breaking any. At. All. Anyone who has done any tiling knows how tricky this is.

Just as well I like a challenge.

Cleaning the tiles involved soaking them in a bucket for 24 hours to soften the mortar, then using a scraper to scrape them clean.

Soak that thinset!

It wasn’t quick or easy. Wet and repetitive. Luckily I had some assistance in the form of the two children with this process.

I would love to report that they did this happily and willingly, but actually I issued them with a 5 clean tile punishment for every misdemeanor.  Astonishingly, their behavior rapidly became angelic. They were polite to one another, and to us, helpful and cheery. They cleaned up without being asked. Their rooms were spotless, and their homework was done the second they got home.

It was quite strange. Here I was prowling around waiting to pounce on the slightest thing, and there they were frantically being as good as gold.

I think I am going to buy some more tiles from the salvage yard. I am sure I can find some other things to tile.

I know, I’ll turn the backyard into a mini version of Antoni Gaudi’s Guell Park:

Antoni Gaudi: Guell Park. image source

That should keep them out of mischief until they go to college.

I digress. Eventually the tile was all clean and ready to lay. Then I played with a few layouts, and cut all the tiles that needed to be cut to fit around sewer pipes, curvy baths and the asymmetric room itself. I was finally ready to put those tiles down.

Starting to tile

It’s at this stage you start to get excited

And very gratifying it was. After they were laid, I waited overnight and then grouted them.  Then waited over night and cleaned off the last of the grout, and then sealed the whole thing.

In the meantime, as the toilet was out already, we decided we may as well take advantage of our local City’s generous toilet rebate scheme and buy a new low flow toilet. They give you $100 if you replace your old water-waster toilet with a new Watersense accredited one. Our existing toilet used the equivalent of Niagara Falls each time we flushed, and with the rebate – and reduced water bill – as incentive, it made sense to replace it.

Cue several days of internet and Craiglist research. Eventually we settled on a toilet, and I answered a question that had been niggling at the back of my mind ever since I took the toilet out. I had successfully removed a toilet, but could I install one?

The answer to that is yes. Yes I can. And I have the photo to prove it. But as that photo also shows the tiled floor in a finished state, let me first remind you of what the floor looked like originally.

Before

Vinyl tile before

And here it is now.

After

After

After with our shiny new low flow toilet

Isn’t that better?

So the bathroom is getting ever closer to completion.

Best of all, while tiling, I finally figured out what I wanted to do with the vanity cabinet. First it was going to be pink like the walls, and then I tried the same blue as on our kitchen cabinets.

After the first coat of blue

But that wasn’t doing it for me either.

Eventually, my steam-punk upcycle of the vanity lights provided me with inspiration.

Lights post steam-punking

I decided to steam-punk the vanity cabinet. Which is exactly what I am in the process of doing. But you are going to have to wait until it is finished before I show it to you. And that will be part of the big bathroom reveal, coming next time. Stay tuned.

And in case you are wondering happened to the old toilet? I put it on Craigslist for free, of course. And someone wanted it. Really.

He came yesterday and took it away. He was from Tonga, and was going to ship it back to his village at home. I gave him the $20 white vanity top we didn’t use in the upstairs bathroom as well. He said he would take anything we had, and to call him whenever I pulled anything out, he would come and pick it up. Tongan interiors: 1. Landfill: 0.

P-e-r-f-e-c-t.