23 July 2011

DIY: hardwood flooring installation

My four or so loyal readers may know that since I started writing here, I’ve posted a DIY project every Saturday. And no worries, I won’t stop today! Sort of! See, those same four readers are probably also my real-life friends who will immediately recognize that I am basically gussying up an old project to feature today. BUT those same four readers also may realize that I am currently in the middle of traveling to attend a family event and have a little bit of a vacation and also present at a scientific conference and this is probably obvious but just in case you didn’t know HOME PROJECTS ARE HARD TO COMPLETE WHEN YOU ARE NOT HOME.

But still! I have something for you today! And I have something even better soon! Like wicked awesome. Do the young people still say “wicked” nowadays? Either way, before I left home to gallivant around greater Chicagoland, I started and almost completed a total overhaul of a space in my home. It was a pretty big project and I can’t wait to finish up the last details and share it with you! Although first I must actually go home! So please forgive the punt today. Next week I have, like, a double hat trick for you.

(Yes, I am an avid football watcher. Also hockey! My interests are myriad and my metaphors, mixed.)

Anyway, it’s worth noting here on the blog that last year, we replaced the flooring in our kitchen. It previously had ceramic tile installed by the previous owners not long before they sold the house. It was nice, actually, but in the time since I purchased the house, the house settled and left a huge grid of cracks running around the entire kitchen floor. It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was starting to look pretty bad, and we have been looking to polish up the house to sell it.

Here’s a view of the kitchen before, with only a sliver of floor because I didn’t realize I’d ever need a better photo:

And from the other side, again with only the tiniest hint of the ceramic tile which is sort of the point of this post, but oh well:

The cracks ran from the oven to the table, from the sink to the entrance to the kitchen. Yeah, that doesn't sell a house.

So, we decided to take out the cracked ceramic tiles and put in oak hardwood floors that matched the flooring throughout the entire upper level of the house, figuring that it would take better to settling than another round of ceramic tile. Well, “decided” is too strong a word, actually. It was more like, I’ll do a little research, maybe that would work, and perhaps we can DIY, or maybe do nothing and leave it be and decide that ceramic tiles with huge cracks are “farmhouse chic” or something nowadays, I dunno?

But then Mr. P and I went to Home Depot for a can of spraypaint and noticed hardwood flooring at the end of an aisle at the front of the store marked down to $3 a square foot, and before either of us really knew what was happening, we’d confirmed the return policy and given them lots of money and shoved it in my car and OH MY GAH WE HAVE TO INSTALL THESE. WITHOUT ANY IDEA HOW.


So the flooring sat in its packaging in the dining room for awhile, because we hadn’t really gotten past the “buy 10-20% extra” part of researching directions for hardwood installation (so we bought 120 square feet for our 100 square-foot kitchen). But after a few weeks, Mr. P decided he’d had enough, I guess, and mentioned casually that he and his friend would install them while I was away at an upcoming conference. I… did not love that idea. Or even LIKE it. I mean, how would I be able to have fits of anxiety over the floor installation if I wasn’t there to witness it happening?

Furthermore, and more relevant to you, how will I be able to blog about it today if I wasn’t there to take photos?

Well, thanks to Mr. P and his Flip camera, you too can see what I saw sitting in a seminar room on the Cold Spring Harbor campus! This was my first glimpse of what was going down in my kitchen:

I KNOOOOOOOOOOOOW. I mean if you got that video of your home in a state of destruction when you were literally a thousand miles from home what would you do? Panic? Groan? Laugh? I did all three, honestly.

A little explanation. The guy in the video is Mr. P’s friend, and he was annoyed because after taking up the ceramic tile, they found linoleum covering the subfloor. That wouldn’t haven been so bad except for the hundred screws going through the linoleum into the subfloor that had all been plastered over meaning they had to dremel the screws out making it impossible to remove the linoleum easily. Because the ceramic tile itself was so easy to remove, they felt quite betrayed after finding that the demolition wouldn’t be quite so easy. Hence Mr. P’s friend calling the floor “Judah-floor”. Because “Judas-floor” is harder to pronounce. Clearly.

After spending like twenty hours removing the linoleum and the screws, they laid down tar paper and started installing the hardwood over it. There are dozens of websites out there that give you tips for installing hardwood floors, and I suppose the websites provide good information because Mr. P and his friends had no experience installing hardwood and (spoiler alert) they managed to make it look pretty awesome. Wicked awesome.

So basically, here’s what’s needed for installation:

1) hardwood flooring bought on impulse when you were only going to buy spraypaint
2) a saw to cut the planks
3) a floor nailer rented from your hardware store, plus a nail gun for the tight spaces
4) the internet, to learn how to do it
5) two out-of-work engineer friends to help

As Mr. P’s friend was an out-of-work engineer, they already had half of the out-of-work engineers needed, so he called another to reach the quota. Here’s a video he shot as he called that friend, which also shows how completely chaotic our house was during installation:

(Remember: I watched these videos, helplessly, A THOUSAND MILES AWAY.)

Anyway, once they gathered all the needed supplies and reached the minimum number of out-of-work engineers (item needed #5), they followed the internet’s advice (#2) to cut up the hardwood flooring planks (#1) with a saw (#2) and fasten them into place with a nail gun or floor nailer (#4). Wait, was that not fake-home-improvement-television-show enough for you? Ok, then here’s Mr. P’s friend to teach you how to do it:

Confidence-inspiring, I tell you. (Thousand miles away.)

Note that you can’t use that giant floor nailer in the tight corners. Instead you use a nail gun:

When all the hardwood is laid, you should be left with this:

Which is beautiful! But also perfect for discussing two snafus. First of all, through no fault of theirs, the kitchen floor ended up WAY higher than the adjacent dining room floor – you can see it at the very beginning of the video. The guys did a fantastic job of lining up the planks to look continuous, even matching the wood tone, but it needed two threshold pieces to span the gap. I’m not in love with the solution, but I have yet to find a better one myself so I’m living with theirs. Another problem was that they overestimated the thickness of the quarter-round, such that the gap between the floor and the baseboards was too wide. However, that turned out to be a nice accident in the end, although it meant a lot more work for them: they built out the baseboard with shims, which made for big, substantial baseboards in the kitchen. It actually looks nicer that way, though I’m sorry for the extra work.

Finally, an after shot, which is admittedly one I had on hand because I am once again far from home:


Total time:
I was away at the conference from Tuesday morning to Saturday evening. I am pretty sure Mr. P's friends pulled mostly 12+ hour days throughout. A good part of that time was the infuriating demolition phase - they only rented the floor nailer for one day.

Cost (roughly estimated, because I wasn't keeping track for a blog back then, and technically Mr. P's friend did a lot of the purchasing):
Hardwood planks from Home Depot: $400 (120 square feet, including tax)
Floor nailer rental: $40
Tar paper: $20
Shims to build out floorboards: $30
Additional tools, like nail gun, air compressor, etc): borrowed from the friends
Gift for friend who spent HOURS of his time working for us: (undisclosed, but less than a hired professional)

The best part of the DIY flooring installation? They did it themselves. Yes, it was somewhat stressful for me to be away and unable to do anything but watch those videos, but nowhere near as stressful as the situation for Mr. P and his friends. When I got home, it looked amazing - and Mr. P was exhausted. So if you choose, do-it-yourself is totally doable and great and all, and I wish you luck. But if you don’t want to go for it? I happen to know of an out-of-work engineer with experience installing hardwood floors who is available!


Shanna said...

I absolutely applaud and commend Mr. P and his amazing friends because I have a really good idea how much work it took to do that floor, seeing as how I live in a nearly 100-yr-old farmhouse and Russell & I have done a lot of hard, not-so-much-fun DIY projects over the past 22 yrs. Beautiful job, Mr. P!!!