I Bought A Total Dungheap Of A House: A Complete And Utter Flooring Failure

THE SMELL. I couldn’t take it. It flooded your nostrils as soon as you opened the front door and hung on to you like an awful wool blanket in hot heat.
Publish date:
May 28, 2013
house, disgusting DIY, fixer-upper

One thing that first attracted me to this house (go on, laugh) was that it had wood floors throughout, because carpet, ick. Unless you have some really lush stuff and also figured out how to not let it get grody from years of dirt and dust seeping into it.

The only way I was dealing with carpet in a house was if it was brand new, or we could budget to rip it out and replace with wood. It’s an allergy thing. But by now we all know how ridiculous that was of me. As it turns out, carpet should have been the least of my concerns. Either way, we ended up with a house full of wood. Some areas downstairs had large area rugs, which helped shield the floors beneath from otherwise disaster --

-- however, we could only use half of the wood flooring in the house. D’oh-oh-oh. The long leaking roof (responsible for all that nasty mold) --

-- wreaked havoc on the second story. The wood was drenched and even if we could have gotten it dried out, the joist pocket (wall responsible for supporting the wood floor) was rotten. Remember how we ended up replacing almost every joist up there?

Even though we ended up dumping tons of debris from the house, D had the good sight to save all the wood from the second story. We hauled it off to his cousin, a woodworker, to make kitchen cupboards. PEOPLE, if you are doing renovation work, and you come across wood and have a place to store it, save it (even though it’s big and annoying). Cabinets aside, we are still using leftover wood from the house. Wood from pre-1875. First, it’s free. Second, you can’t buy wood of the same quality at the big box stores.

Try to keep your eyes out when buying wood- a lot of it gets bowed and twisted from being improperly stacked/stored, rendering it unusable. You can find decent pieces to work with, but take the time to look at them rather than just grabbing the top pieces off the pile. All said, we still have bought loads of wood from stores, so I’m not hating, I just don’t want you to end up with crap wood (kisses).

Anyway, we’ve tried to save as much of the flooring wood as possible (joists included), but that still left us with a second story without a floor. We planned to lay it ourselves and began hunting down some new wood flooring. We were pretty surprised at the prices compared to quality. This far into the game, we weren’t trying to ball out here (for the record, we never have). But then again, coming so far, we weren’t willing to just throw a crap floor down either. Standards, man (for the record, they’re slipping).

We felt like a lot of the wood flooring we came across was kinda like the rot piles at Home Depot, damaged quality and not looking at all like it’d last 150 years, like the original wood (does anything last 150 years anymore?). That didn’t deter the high prices though, which is why we took issue. You get what you pay for, right? But I refuse to swipe my card while simultaneously worrying that my floor’s going to warp in a year or two.

This resulted in a lot of sulky trips around lumber-toting places. If you go looking for new wood flooring, one thing that should definitely be considered is how the store keeps the wood. You’ll want to buy from someplace that keeps the wood in a climate controlled environment. And after that you’ll want to make sure the wood is acclimated to your home before installation. If it’s not, you risk it warping down the road, which blows because flooring is expensive.

It’s not really a big deal to do this—you basically just lay the wood in your house (or wherever you’re planning to install it) for a few days so it adjusts to the temperature/conditions.

Also, you can just buy expensive wood and be all good, too! Money-spending be damned. But remember, this is a dungheap mostly-DIY renovation. We’ve always been aiming to spend as little as possible, instead taking on more work ourselves and being creative with renovation needs to limit our overall cost. Otherwise, we could have just spent more on a finished house.

We were running in circles trying to sort the upstairs flooring, so, UH, we gave up. We sort of just shrugged and adjusted to the idea that we were going to move in with only the subflooring in place. It’s not a huge deal, because it’s a solid floor, but it’s rough and splintery. A nuisance but not a deal breaker.

Calling uncle on the upstairs flooring, we focused on taking care of the downstairs. While these ones were salvageable, they needed a ton of work—needing to be heavily sanded down and then stained.

Home Depot (and Lowes) both have tool rentals, which is really helpful for DIY. We rented a drum sander for the downstairs. While I wasn’t there to see it (but really wish I had been!), D recounted basically being whipped around the downstairs all day at the mercy of this behemoth. This machine is probably a little too harsh for most moderate needs, but for skanky floors like ours, it was necessary.

The only downside to renting tools is that its fees are based on the number of hours you have it. End result: D grinding down those floors all damn (single) day so we could limit how much we would owe (who cares if you want to die at the end of the day, you just saved $75. ((Gross)).

The difference from sanding was stark for sure—but not perfect.

We recognized pretty easily that the floor could use another bout of sanding, but we just didn’t have the time. It may be kind of hard to tell in the above-picture, but in person it was really patchy and uneven color-wise, and also still pretty rough and splintered. I reasoned that not being barefoot in your house wasn’t a huge deal (but it kind of is, right? Strictly house-speaking, not like, big-deal-in-the-actual-world).

Because we were talking a matter of days before move-in, we bought a stain quickly. We both dug the idea of darker floors. Our thinking was that it would cover up the many imperfections already existing in the floors that we didn’t have time to take care of. Fake it til ya make it, right? We tested out a small section and were pretty pleased, so we rolled with it.

Smeared all over the entire downstairs, it turned out the dark stain we picked was heavily cherried, which resulted in a sort-of purple floor. Ugh, hmmmmm. We kind of just awkwardly shifted foot to foot staring at it, neither of us wanting to admit it was kind of shit. Besides, I definitely wasn’t going to be the first to say it, as D was essentially still high from breathing in the horrid fumes.

I was fully panged with guilt knowing he had spent all day in the suffocating fumes, unable to open the windows from the humidity and heat outside. The AC was on, so he wasn’t like a dying pup in a car, but THE SMELL. I couldn’t take it. It flooded your nostrils as soon as you opened the front door and hung on to you like an awful wool blanket in hot heat.

Also, staining is a pretty tedious process. You’re down on your hands and knees carefully doing tiny sections at a time (so your nose is all up in it). D spent two days staining. Which is awesome, except since it didn’t really look that good, we were kinda meh about the whole thing. It was a letdown, but being days out from moving we didn’t really have time to dwell on it. We knew we’d have to try and fix it, but for now we’d just forget about it and move on.

This renovation has had any ups and downs, lots of holding our breath fingers-crossed type of emotions. A veritable roller coaster. Our attempts at DIY home flooring was an outright bust though. We couldn’t continue messing with them, as we needed to let the house air out before we moved in (seriously, you couldn’t breathe in there!). So whatever, we lost when it came to flooring. Boo.

But then two of D’s cousin’s came to town for the sole purpose of busting their humps at ye old dungheap. Not to fix the flooring (LOST CAUSE), but to deal with the rotten cornice. Which was awesome, because water-leaking prevention. They’d come in for the weekend, and then we were set to move in that Monday. We’d finally reached the 3 day countdown (I don’t think that’s really a thing, but go with it, yeah?) THREE DAYS. Dungheap. Home.