The Floors (Part 2)

In the interest of just getting this out there, I am certain I’m leaving out a lot of useful information. If you want to know more about the technical aspects of our process, or if you want to know how we are holding up mentally (uhhh…), leave a comment and I’ll respond.

Before we even closed escrow, we had a plan. If the floors were not usable, we were going to:

  • install new prefinished hardwood in the living room (prefinished to save time and effort, but install it ourselves)
  • have carpet installed in the downstairs bedroom (playroom), carpet in the boys’ bedrooms (carpet because it’s nice for the kids, but also cheap, and would save us time installing something ourselves)
  • install floating laminate flooring in our bedroom and the hallway (cheap, easy)

It was going to be the quickest and easiest and cheapest temporary solution for our floors.  The eventual goal would be to install the same hardwood throughout the house. Eventually.

Living room, before.

When we saw the living room floor, we didn’t think we could refinish it. We assumed we wouldn’t do anything with it, and went forward with our thinking.  But since the particle board was really gross in all the rooms, we kept pulling it up.

Downstairs bedroom (playroom), before.

And we kept finding floor.

Matthew's room, before.

Floor that might look good refinished.

Our room, before.

So when our friend Mark came by and recommended a floor guy, we decided to give him a call.  We assumed the floor would be pretty bad in Max’s room — where the fire started in the 70s, so we were only going to have him refinish the living room, and our room and hallway upstairs.

Max's room, before. This is where the fire started in the 70s.

And we pulled more particle board.  Then we thought, if someone can do most of our floors for us, why don’t we have him do all our floors?  So we hired Rick Willits to refinish our floors. (I can’t recommend him enough.)

Close-up of the living room floor. It was covered in an underlayment paper that had to be removed.

We (Ben) needed to prep the floors for refinishing. That involved pulling thousands of nails from the particle board. And pulling tacks. And setting each and every nail down an 1/8 of an inch. (Thank you Rick H. for helping with the nails.)

Matthew, pulling a few nails from our bedroom upstairs.

And cleaning the soot from the gaps in the floorboards from the fire.  The soot was in every room, and he came home covered in filth.

Ben cleaned cracks. For hours and hours he cleaned cracks. Cracks cracks cracks. All he thought about were cracks. (Thank you Mat for helping with the cracks.)

All the dirt and soot had to be cleaned out of every gap between every board in the house.

The floors were sanded.  And sanded some more.

The living room, after sanding. Compare to "before" picture up top. (Also see a sneak preview of wall color!)

Close-up of floor after sanding.


Playroom after sanding.

And we’re certain that this floor gave our floor guy hell, but man, now that it’s finished, it looks beautiful. It’s rustic and weathered, and this floor glows. I can’t wait to touch it, and walk on it, and roll around on it. It is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

Only two coats of poly, but so close to finished here. Isn't it lovely?

He finished today. We can walk on it tomorrow. We move in on Saturday. (Oh, shit! We still have painting to do!)


I am only a few weeks into this house-owning and renovating gig, but this is my umpteenth time moving, and I am pretty sure about one thing. Let me give you some advice:

If at all possible, while you’re spending every free second packing and cleaning and painting and fixing, do not, under any circumstances, get a new puppy.

This is Booker. Two months old today. He's a cutie. And we love him to pieces.

(In our defense, the previous owner said he would keep him for three more weeks until we were moved in, and then pressured us to take him the next day. We’re crazy, so we said yes.)

The Walls (Part 1)

After we got the carpet out, the men worked on removing the particle board and a thousand nails (more on that later), and I started on the walls.

Our closet.

Our closet.

Most of these photos were taken with my cell phone, so they don’t quite show the intensity or breadth of the work that was cut out for me. There were many challenges: filthy walls, big holes, hundreds and hundreds of nail holes, push pin holes, staples, scotch tape. Sharpie and magic marker graffiti. Dark paint in Max’s room, blue paint in ours. Cracked and chipping lead-based paint downstairs. There was candle wax, unidentified dried globs (mucous? semen?), and plenty of dirt. And in our bedroom, there were hundreds of small slashes — presumably where the kid was throwing his knife against the wall. Every wall.

A sampling of holes.

I spent plenty of time on the phone with various paint departments, and lots of time researching on the ‘net.

This is just above where our bed will go.

My main goal was to get as much primer and paint on the bedrooms and living rooms before the floors were to be refinished. That gave me two weeks, which sounds like a good amount of time, but juggling work and kids meant that I wasn’t working on the house as much as I wanted or expected. Also, Ben’s task of prepping the floors for refinishing took priority.

This is on the ceiling in Matthew's room. I love how you can see that it didn't work the first 6 times, but they decided to keep trying to hang something there.

I scrubbed walls with general purpose cleaner, and then rinsed with clean water. I filled holes with spackle, and then spackled some more. Every time I went past a wall, I found more and more and more tape and staples.

The three upstairs bedrooms had so much of this.

I got a couple good weekend days in, and a few weekday nights. Only a handful of hours, really. Eventually I hired someone to help — there just wasn’t enough time to make good progress without taking time off of work. And that would have been economically unwise. Just throw some primer on the walls and paint the ceilings, I told him.  The next day, I had him paint a couple rooms too.

No caption necessary.


Shellac primer. Three coats. Then latex primer. It's ready for paint.


Max helped roll the primer in his room.


The Floors (Part 1)

We closed escrow on October 7. That night (I couldn’t wait), I went to the house to tear out some of the carpet.

All photos on this page taken with my cell phone. Had no time to remember the camera.

Two layers of carpet on the stairs. (Phone photo)

The floors had two layers of carpet. The top layer (shag green) was mostly removed during the cleaning of the house when we were still in escrow. At that time, two dumpsters were filled with broken furnishings, trash and old clutter. And shag green carpet.

Army man found in the shag.

There was a flea infestation so it was priority to get the carpet out, and I was terribly curious to see what was under the carpet.

Old gas box heater. We were happy to take this out too.

I knew it was particle board.

But what is under the particle board? I had to wait until Saturday to find out.

Some of the stains on the particle board. Yuck.

The weekend we closed escrow, Amy and Kirby were visiting. They took care of Sam, while Ben and I and Jerome (yay!) ripped out carpet and particle board.

This was from one corner of the upstairs hallway -- next to the bathroom door. Just four square feet of carpet had this much dust underneath.

Some of the padding and carpet. It was gross.

And we found redwood.

Good redwood flooring in the living room.

We weren’t sure if we could refinish the floor, or if we still had to put new flooring over it. We needed to keep working on the house and sleep on it a few nights.

It might be something good.

The Beginning

Buying a house is a bit like having a child. There’s the whole miserable escrow thing that you carry around — you mention it to people, and they’re excited for you, and they ask, “when’s it going to close?” And you say, “I don’t know, hopefully a couple weeks.” And then you start going into the details, leaving out the bits about the hemorrhoids and impulse trips to NYC because “when will we ever have the chance?” — and your friend’s eyes glaze over and you realize moments after they’ve walked away that you never asked how they were doing.

So you close escrow and start renovating the place (you’ve been looking at paint chips and flooring samples for months) and you have just a few weeks to make the place livable before you have to move from your rental.  Talking about renovation — you mention it to everyone — seems eerily similar to talking about newborns’ sleeping habits.  Your friends have either been through it or they haven’t. Either way, unless they’re good friends, they don’t give a fuck.

You decide to stick it all in a blog. As if you’ll find the time.