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The author uses a borrowed miter saw to cut a plank. The portable saw was set up on two sawhorses, and was easily moved as the work progressed through the house.
The stairs were probably the most difficult part, mostly because they were a one-person job.
The new hardwood floor shines in the author's dining nook and bump-out space.
John Hanson, the author's brother-in-law, measures space where hardwood will nestle up against the hearth.
BY JEFF SCHULZE
What to do?
The question nagged at me every morning as I descended the stairs of my townhouse to the main living area. Each day, the morning light illuminated my predicament: What to do about flooring that's seen better days?
The living room carpet was showing the signs of 15 years of foot traffic. Regular vacuuming and the occasional shampooing couldn't undo the years of wear and tear.
The carpet was linked by a thin metal threshold to the vinyl flooring of the kitchen and dining area of my Lee's Hill townhouse. The vinyl, original to the building, was faded, pockmarked and pulling away at the edges. Glue that held the vinyl along a marble hearth had long ago dried out, leaving the vinyl to roll up on itself and crack, exposing the subfloor underneath.
The flooring in the place reminded me of the floors in the decrepit rambler my college buddies and I rented for our junior year. So the time had come to replace it, but with what?
COULD I DO IT MYSELF?
Elbow grease is built into my family's DNA, so I was ready to take on the project myself. Yes, skilled contractors might do the work quicker, more efficiently and with fewer blemishes than I could, but I had vacation time to burn and a yearning to take on a DIY home-improvement challenge. Plus, doing it myself would better fit a newspaperman's tight budget.
Now, about the type of flooring. I could keep it simple, and swap out the old carpet for new and the old vinyl for new. Or maybe I could go with ceramic tile in the kitchen and dining area.
But no, what I really wanted was hardwood across the entire main level.
I saw the main level as a single entity and wanted to create a rustic environment. The hardwood would let me do that. I had previously painted the walls a spruce evergreen color and hung beige, patterned wallpaper in the stairwell. I'd bought faux stones to glue around the fireplace.
I pondered all wood options. The "snap-and-click" variety had a bounce that I didn't like. Engineered wood is easy to work with, but is vulnerable to spills and can be refinished only once or twice. Nope--it was settled. It would be -inch hardwood or nothing. With the decision made in December, I would give myself a few months to prepare and get started in the spring.
BRAINS BEFORE BRAWN
Research and planning account for half the battle in projects like this, and the information age makes it easy. Knowledge that would have taken my dad weeks to accumulate I could acquire in a couple of hours on the Internet. I could also glean information from specialty floor-repair books and tap the know-how of employees at local hardwood distributors and home-improvement retailers.
Selecting a wood type becomes difficult when there are various varieties already in use in the house and you want them to look good together. I chose a gunstock oak variety that works well with the staircase handrails. I can always reface the lighter oak finish of the kitchen cabinets later if I want to.
I measured the floor space carefully in order to buy the right amount of hardwood. It came to a little more than 600 square feet. Knowing that helped me buy the right quantities of nails, screws, shims, wood fill, sandpaper and other supplies I'd need.
From there, it was a matter of following the directions that came with the wood as well as recalling the expert advice I'd gotten. Also, Lowe's has a helpful video on its website that provides step-by-step instructions.
The process is too involved to cover every detail here, but I can pass along a few hints.
THINK BEFORE DOING
The carpenter's mantra of "measure twice; cut once" is gospel, as the number of my miscut boards would attest. I also unnecessarily contracted a door specialist when a simple measurement would have told me I didn't need to replace a pair of french doors.
RESPECT THE MATERIAL
Hardwood's durability, an asset once installed, can be a liability if you're not careful. I managed to put a couple of dings in my garage door with the heavy boxes, snap a few under-strength jigsaw blades while cutting planks, and give my right toe a honey of a blood blister after dropping a board on it.
DAD'S TOOLS DON'T CUT IT
Don't count on the hand-me-downs in the ol' toolbox. Specific projects take specific equipment--as my stack of receipts from Lowe's suggests. And then there are the things you just have to rent: heat gun and scraper to remove old vinyl, a belt sander to level the subfloor and a pneumatic nail gun to secure the planks.
BEG, BORROW AND PLEAD
A supporting cast sure makes the job easier. A neighbor was kind enough to let me borrow his truck to haul in two dozen boxes of hardwood. A relative lent me a compressor for the pneumatic nail gun, a miter saw to help cut planks properly and a staple gun to reinstall baseboards and shoe moldings. And a dear sister and brother-in-law volunteered to help with the actual installation.
PART WITH THE EXTRA BUCK
Avoiding long-term blemishes more than makes up for being a little lighter in the wallet. I used the belt sander to "feather down" and make flush a section of existing quarter-inch plywood that was higher than the adjoining subfloor. While the dip is unnoticeable in some places, it shows a little in others. Installing additional quarter-inch plywood to level it all out would have been the better choice.
THE STAIRCASE SQUEEZE
Installing planks on the stair treads proved to be the most time-consuming, labor-intensive and frustrating part of the project, in part because it has to be a one-person job. Figure on allowing extra time for the stairs.
THE DUST CLEARS
By midsummer, the piles of empty Bruce cardboard boxes had found their way to the recycling center, as had the scrap planks. I kept a few good ones for replacements if needed. The tools are back on the shelves, the rented equipment and borrowed tools have been returned and the debris swept up. No longer do the neighbors have to put up with the incessant hammering, the whine of electric saws and the rhythmic roar of a compressor.
Now when I descend those steps in the morning, I'm greeted not by an eyesore, but by the symmetrical lines, unique grain and rich color of gunstock oak, stretching from one end of my living space to the other. There's no bounce as I trudge barefoot to the coffee maker, nor occasional sharp edge to nick a toe. As hoped, the red/orange of the wood works nicely with the deep green walls, lending the feel of the outdoors even when I'm inside.
It wasn't cheap; I'm out a little less than $4,000. But now I truly feel at home.
On to some decorating: What to do?
Jeff Schulze: 540/374-5446