The Great Floor Saga, Part 1

Subtitle: I am exhausted and I’m not even really underway yet.

Those who follow me on Instagram or Twitter have already seen that I discovered oak hardwoods underneath all that gross old carpet in the living room and hallway.

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Initially, I was thrilled.  Existing hardwoods!  Money saved! Original character preserved!  It has turned out to be far more of a headache than it was worth.

I had originally budgeted $3,600 total for new, prefinished hardwoods throughout the living room, hallway and three bedrooms.  This was based on an estimated cost of $3.75 per square foot for the wood, over 900 square feet of area, and an extra $200 or so for the rosin paper or roofing paper to lay underneath.  I thought surely I could undercut that number significantly if there was so much wood remaining, plus I could save myself the time and labor of installing the whole mess if I hired the entire job out to a pro.

WRONG.  First, calling around to local top-rated flooring companies revealed that many flooring companies now only install pre-finished – they no longer sand, stain and refinish existing floors.  It’s emblematic of our disposable culture, I suppose.

Finally, I got a pro who still refinishes existing floor to come and look at my house.  Just finding him, scheduling an appointment, and then waiting for him to write up the quote delayed me by about a week, which was frustrating.  His quote:

$7,053.  That’s right, over SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.  His quote broke down as follows: $1,000 in labor for subfloor preparation, $3,120 to purchase new, raw oak flooring for the bedrooms and install it, and $2,933 to sand the entire body of hardwood and stain it all to match. And he wouldn’t even be able to start the job for another two weeks.

After I started breathing again, I thanked him politely, assured him I’d call him back, and hung up the phone to start panicking.  Ok, what if I sourced raw oak myself, installed it myself in the bedrooms, and then just hired a pro for sanding and staining?  I know the son of a friend who spent his gap year between college and high school working for an excellent hardwood refinisher.  He just took a weekend job working for Home Depot, and had the experience to do the job more affordably.

The issue there was cost, too.  The best price I could find for raw oak was $3 per square foot through a local hardwood supply company, with limited hours of availability for pickup.  Still, that made the cost of the bedrooms alone $1,600, and the hardwood finishing product my college student was most familiar with cost $160 per gallon, with at least 5 gallons needed to do the whole house. That’s another $800 to the project.  Add $200 at least in tool rental, and that leaves me with only $1000 to pay in labor costs before I hit what I had originally budgeted for pre-finished hardwood.  Plus, there would be the mess and fumes of sanding and staining, the additional time to wait while the finish coat cured….I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

I decided to go with my original preference, Saddle Oak from Floor and Decor.

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At the time I purchased it, the price was $2.49 per square foot, which is a dollar lower than its normal price of $3.49 per square foot.  Floor and Decor doesn’t advertise sales, but their prices do fluctuate, so the best thing to do is bookmark the product you have picked out, and watch it like a hawk for any price drops.

The good thing about this?  The price drop means I can afford to put hardwood in my kitchen as well, and still be cheaper than my original estimate of $3,600 for the hardwood in the living room, hallway and bedrooms and $1,200 for cheap ceramic tile in the kitchen. This way, my purchase of enough hardwood to do all of these areas only came up to about $3,300!  Plus, I’ll get the lovely cohesive look of the same flooring throughout my main living areas:

Floor plan

Like many things in DIY, though, things didn’t turn out QUITE so easily.

Next up, the Great Flooring Saga, Part 2.

 

I Used A Reciprocating Saw!

The saga with my flooring has dragged on and has prevented me from writing a concise post summing it all up, because it’s still.not.done.  But, before I can get to the floor and its drama, I do need to fill you in on the prep work for the floor.

One of the reasons I wanted to purchase a fixer, and also why I wanted to blog about it, was to learn how to do things myself without a “handyman” in the picture. A certain stereotype still exists that certain skillsets are men, and pardon my French, but that’s bullshit.  This is the modern era, and I’m challenging myself to learn to do things that used to intimidate me.  Using power tools was one of them.  It’s not anymore.

My first foray into power tool skills?  A reciprocating saw.  It was a $14 rental from Home Depot for 4 hours, plus $20 for the saw blades, which you have to buy yourself, but the amount of time it saved us was well worth the rental.

I used it to take out these shelves in the living room:

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They sat on top of the hardwood in the living area, and once we started pulling back the carpet, it was clear the shelves had to go.

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I had a friend who had experience with using a reciprocating saw help me.  It’s important to note, beloved readers, that do-it-yourself doesn’t have to mean doing it entirely alone.  When using power tools, it can be a smart idea to have someone with experience along just to show you how to do it safely.  It can also give you the confidence that you’re doing it right, and also said friend can help you take photos for your blog. 🙂

We started by taking down the central overhead supports.

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But then it was my turn to take over the saw and dismantle the shelves themselves.  One note about this type of reciprocating saw (it’s a Makita Sawszall) — it doesn’t kick back into your hand as you would expect, it pulls forward into the wood it’s cutting.  So you don’t have to use a ton of strength to keep it from coming towards you, but you do have to exert some downward pressure as you cut to keep it in line.

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Once the fronts of the horizontal shelves were cut, I stepped around to the back to complete the cut through the backing plywood. Check out my hard at work face!

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Finally, we cut each side away from the wall. This left only the board attached to the wall, which we were able to carefully pry away from the drywall without any major drywall damage.

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The base of support was built out of simple 2x4s, which we simply pried off with a crowbar.  We did find one surprise: a vintage Hot Wheels car had been lost (hidden?) inside the support on one side. I’m going to try to contact the previous homeowner and see if he wants it back. A memento of his childhood, maybe?

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Floor Plan and Flooring Plans

So far, the biggest eyesore in my house and the genesis of the biggest project to date has been the floors.  There were 5(!!!) different carpets in the house, with a dated, wrinkled beige in the living room and hallway, each bedroom having a different color of super worn carpet, and especially horrid carpet in the family room.

View the 70’s-vomited-on-it family room carpet in all its awfulness.

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My daughter’s bedroom was also particularly bad, with electric blue long shag carpet so worn it was down to the threads in the doorways.

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Besides simple wear, the other major issue with the many different carpets was how much it chopped up the layout of the house.  This is a small house – only 1620 square feet in total, with the main portion of the house (minus the family room addition) being only 1200 square feet, including the kitchen.  Here’s a rough floor plan to help you picture it.

Floor plan

You can see how choppy it feels. Everywhere you see white above is old, dated linoleum in about three different patterns, including little patches right in front of both exterior doors, glued down straight over the hardwood by the front door.  I planned to put hardwood throughout the main living areas, like this:

Floor plan

Much better, right?

I was thinking of nail down oak flooring for affordability, in something in a medium tone like this Saddle Oak from Floor and Decor:

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I planned on putting ceramic tile in the kitchen (generally more affordable per square foot) and a nice neutral carpet in the family room:

Floor plan

I’d also put the same tile in the laundry, the storage room and the area in front of the family room exterior doors.  I knew I wanted a 12 x 24 inch large format ceramic tile, perhaps in a neutral like this Prisma Beige from Floor and Decor:

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It’s neutral, light, very affordable, and would go with basically any color of cabinets in my eventual kitchen renovation.  Tile has the benefit of being cheaper per square foot than hardwood, although that is somewhat offset by the cost of backerboard, thinset and grout.

I also gave some thought to running the hardwood throughout the kitchen as well.  It has the benefit of being elegant, and expanding the flow of the house as it negates that awkward diagonal hall transition.

Floor plan

The main drawbacks are durability, and cost per square foot.  On the other hand, it looks great visually, and is less hassle to install.  With tile, I’d need to install backerboard down over the subfloor, apply thinset and lay the tile, then wait 24 hours and grout, then wipe down the grout and wait another 24 hours before I could use the floor.  With prefinished hardwood, once it was nailed to the subfloor, it would be done and ready to walk on right away.

What do you think?  I’ve already finished ripping up the carpet and the prep of the rooms for hardwood has been its own saga.  Blog post on that coming up!

 

Exterior Damage Drama

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The purchase of my house was a bit more excitement than I had initially been looking for, and came with its own set of setbacks.  The market in our area is currently very much a seller’s market, with houses frequently changing hands behind closed doors without ever hitting a real estate listing website.

I’d been looking for a fixer with character in my price range for weeks, watching the clock tick down until I had to be out of my marital house when it closed, and seeing house after house sell in only one day, or have other features that knocked it out of consideration.  Finally the listing for what eventually became my house showed up in my inbox.  I made an appointment to see it with my realtor that day, and by the evening I had made an offer, only to find out that I was competing against two other bidders – all for a house in poor condition, after ONE DAY on the market.

I couldn’t afford to make a full price offer, not if I hoped to build funds for my renovation into my loan, so I wrote this letter to the sellers, hoping it might sway them:

“Dear Seller,

I love your house.  The details are so charming, the yard is gorgeous and I really feel like it’s got so much potential.

Just to tell you a little about myself, I’m a single mom, just finalizing my divorce, and I’m looking for a house that can truly become a new home for my young daughter and I.  She has already picked out her room (it’s the one at the end of the hall on the left, with the blue carpet), the backyard will be a magical place for her to play, the playground is a short walk away and we even have the space to keep the dog she’s been asking for.

This house has the potential to be a haven for us in a time of upheaval in our lives.  I am obviously on a tight budget and planning to renovate the house with love and care, over time.  I’m not a flipper or a professional investor; we’re just a small family looking for a place we can truly call our next home for a long, long time.  We love that your neighborhood is full of children and families that have been there for a long time, and we want to become one of them.

I hope you’ll seriously consider our offer.

Sincerely,

Me”

I waited almost 48 hours to hear word back. I was competing against two other offers – one of which was too low and was discarded by the sellers immediately.  The other offer, however, was coming from an investor, and I waited on pins and needles to see if my letter would make me a contender against an investor with obviously deeper pockets than mine.  Finally, I heard – my offer was accepted!!

However, that was just the start of the drama.  Next step was inspections.  And they didn’t go well.

Fortunately, the structure of my house is sound.  The foundation looks good, the roof is only 3 years old, and the windows, while the paint is peeling, are still water tight and structurally sound, per my inspector.

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The house sat vacant for several months while the children of the seller (who was elderly, and had made her children her power of attorney to handle the sale) readied the house for sale.  A bird made its nest over the front entry light.

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The roof trim was also showing signs of wear, and the gutter guards in the front were improperly installed when the roof was redone.

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And that’s where the trouble begins.  Because the gutters were improperly sloped when the roof was redone, water damage has occurred in multiple spots along the roof soffits.

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In one place, the damage was severe enough to allow a squirrel access to my attic.  My inspector found lovely squirrel droppings in one large section of my attic insulation, which will have to be cleaned and replaced with fresh insulation.

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The side of the house featured a cracked and settled stone patio (cracking is common in our area, due to frost heaves) which had allowed water to sit against the composite siding of the addition and caused substantial rot.

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There was similar water damage along the joint between the composite siding and the brick chimney, caused by improper weather proofing of the joint.

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But the real problem was hidden behind this one innocuous wall.

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Termites.

The bane of every homeowner’s existence.  With no way of telling how extensive the damage to the framing of that wall was without being able to open up the wall, I was in a very difficult spot.  Since it was an estate sale, being sold as-is meant the sellers were obligated to treat the termites but were not obligated to make any repairs.

On the other hand, backing out of the sale meant that I was back to ground zero in my search for a house, and with no guarantees that anything suitable would even come on the market at all before I had to be out of my marital house.  My realtor even suggested that I consider renting.

I finally decided to take a chance and have a contractor write me up a bid for a best and worst case scenario for repairing the termite damage, as well as a bid for repairing the squirrel damage.  I wrote a strongly worded message to the sellers informing them of the cost of repairs and telling them that I could not safely keep my daughter in an environment with pests such as those.  My realtor wasn’t optimistic, but in the end the sellers caved.  They agreed to reduce the price of the house by the amount my contractor figured as his worst case scenario cost for the repairs.  The rest of the updates and fixes will come out of my renovation budget, but the reduction in price on the house meant that I could still fund the renovations I wanted to do to give the house another life, while still having the funds necessary to properly repair all the damage without cutting any corners.

The closing went forward, and I continued getting bids on the updates.  Now, having closed, I’m still waiting on my contractor to come out and assess the full scope of the termite damage.  It’s the middle of his busy season, but he should be coming out next week to start the exterior repairs in earnest, and when he’s done, I’ll be able to sleep in peace in a house that’s once again sound and ready to last through the years.

Before House Tour!

I’m sure it’s no surprise to everyone, but my house was a real diamond in the rough when I first saw it.  The bones, though, were great, and it obviously had potential to be beautiful.  Thankfully, aside from some exterior damage to the siding at ground level, and some soffit damage to the overhang of the roof, it was structurally in great shape.  The roof is only three years old, the crawlspace had no water issues, the brick was sound, the foundation was very stable.

These photos are the listing photos, so the furniture in the house is the former owners.

Exterior

From the front it’s a fairly basic brick ranch.

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However, there is an addition to the back set at a right angle to the main structure to the house, creating a very nice sunken family room.  The backyard is large, filled with gorgeous trees and a tiny rivulet that only runs with water when it rains.

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As soon as I saw it, I knew it would be perfect for my daughter.  Summer days playing in the shade of those beautiful trees, splashing in the creek in our rain boots when it rains, enough flat ground for a small raised bed garden……

Living Room

You enter the house directly into the small front living room.  When I purchased the house, it had old carpet that was pulling loose, and those fabulous rainbow bookshelves.

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Kitchen

The kitchen is quite open for a ranch in this part of the country.

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The star, however, is that combo electric cooktop, overhead oven and dishwasher.

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My inspector said he has inspected over 2500 houses in his career and only ever seen one other of these.  (That’s my realtor, btw).

Guest Bedroom

The guest bedroom had blue carpet so old it had faded to taupe everywhere except where a piece of furniture sat for decades, dated wallpaper and a built in desk and bookshelf combo.

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Eva’s Bedroom

My daughter Eva’s bedroom had electric blue shag carpet so worn it had been rubbed down to the threads in the doorway.

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Master Bedroom

The master bedroom had similar shag carpet, this time in mustard yellow, and a dated half bathroom.

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Full Bathroom

The only full bath in the house had a fabulous 70’s era swag light, dated wallpaper, a vanity with a truly questionable paint job and a tub with tiles falling out.

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Family Room

This room, despite its obvious decor issues, is one of my favorites in the house.  Carpet that looks like the 70’s threw up on it notwithstanding, those beams overhead are beautiful and the dated wall paneling will take on a cute cottage look with paint.  The stone fireplace is wood burning and needs some repair but will be great in the wintertime.

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There she is, the grand Before tour!  Work has already begun.  The house had baseboard heating, a defunct attic furnace, and no A/C, and my HVAC professionals have just finished their installation of a new furnace and A/C unit.  The baseboard heaters will be coming out, and I’ve already removed the carpet in bedrooms and living room.  I’ve got a handyman for the exterior damage and an electrician coming in for electrical work and I’m hoping to be moved in by the end of May, if not sooner.

I Closed On A House!

My new house!

 

It’s been a long road to get to this point.

The process of readying our marital house for sale, listing it, fielding offers and then searching for two individual properties was a long, emotional one.  I cried when I saw the listing sign first pop up in our former front yard, and while I have saved the professional photos from the listing, I haven’t been able to bring myself to write up a blog post about our former house.

We lived there for four long, painful years, and while we bought the house full of hope for the future, it represents many projects left undone and many dreams broken along the way.

I purchased this home (my first as a single homeowner) with a renovation loan, and the process of inspection and purchase was long and filled with drama.  However, eventually everything got done, and I closed on the house on Tuesday of this past week.  Renovations started immediately, with a new lock going in (tutorial eventually!) and a full HVAC overhaul, which was budgeted into the home loan.

It’s amazing how much just having closed on the house and started work has improved my mood.  It’s a total turnaround, and it’s directly related to what the new house represents for me – not endings, but new beginnings. It’s full of projects to work on, a new space to call our home, and a fresh start built with my own hard work.  After investing years sinking everything I had into a relationship that was failing, I can’t describe how good it feels to have something to invest my energy into that’s just for me.

I’ve only really been able to put in a few hours worth of work on the house so far – real life work and holiday schedule has filled my time to the brim this week.  But already I can feel my energy seeping into the bones of the place.  I walk down the hallway full of the dust left behind from carpet removal, and the path my feet trace already feels familiar to me.  It’s getting a hold on me, or maybe I’m setting down roots into it, and it feels good.  Safe and exciting at the same time.   Two weeks ago, the sheer amount of work before me felt daunting, another burden on my already overburdened shoulders.  Today, it feels invigorating and exciting.  Onwards and upwards!