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August 24, 2007

The floors, the floors.... the scary, scary floors.

The one thing I have hated most about this house are the floors. Specifically, the horrible ugly poop-brown sculpted hi-lo shag.


If you think about it long enough, you, too, will be grossed out beyond all redemption. See, sculpted hi-lo shag has not been in style since the 70s. And even with a generous time allowance, this particular type of carpet hasn't been sold in stores since the late 1970s. Which means by my calculations, it is at least 35 years old. IF NOT OLDER. And it has seen how many rental tenants...? And their pets? And children? And possibly not all of them have had the attention to Dysoning that I have...? It is enough to make your skin crawl and drive you to pick up the phone and call the steam cleaners once again.

Not that it helps. I've had the carpets steam-cleaned twice and the owner had them done once. But even with three deep cleans the carpet is an eyesore at best, a health hazard at worst. I really, really hated the carpet.

After a few months of living here I was moving boxes around (oh, that whole time of my life will be known as "divorce - smoking - clutter" always moving a damn stack of boxes somewhere...) and I noticed the carpet was pulling up at one edge. Always a glutton for punishment, I pulled the edge up to see what horrors were lying underneath.

I was SHOCKED! This house appeared to have gorgeous original oak floors under the carpetrocity. Floors that had likely been covered in said brown carpet since the early 1970s, and maybe even long before that.

I tried wheedling the owner into hiring a guy to re-do the floors, but he wouldn't go for the price. "Find me someone cheaper..." he said, over and over again. (There was no one cheaper.) The landlord finally said he didn't care if I paid to pull up the shag but he sure wasn't paying for someone to come and refinish the floors professionally.

[I'd like to pause here and thank you in advance for offering to research all the ways he's slumlording in violation of so-and-so code. Thanks, man! I know you got my back. But this is Los Angeles. Finding a cute house in a safe part of town that accepts multiples of cats and rents for under $2000 a month is like... like finding a gorgeous naked man scrubbing your toilets on a Sunday. Tres impossible.]

In this city you take what you can get, uglyass carpet and all.


I desperately wanted to have wood floors in the living room but I knew I would have to do A LOT of decluttering before I could have people in to do the floors, even if I found a guy who'd work for next-to-nothing. Just six or eight months ago it would have been a full day's work to move stuff out of the living room, last year it would have been impossible.

Time passed, and life got crazy, and floors weren't the top priority. Clean laundry became a much more urgent need, and also "meeting deadlines" and "arriving to work to bring home bacon, fry in pan" and so on. But once things began to settle down and my insomnia returned full-time in late July, I found myself alone at 2 a.m. fixating on the carpet again. My clutter level had reached an all-time low. I had also gotten to an almost-but-not-quite-all-time low, personally, and needed to make some changes. I'd started thinking maybe I should stop waiting for conditions to be right to actually move in, make a home, have a lovely little space, live my life to the fullest. And I knew someone who was crazy enough to work not just for cheap, but totally free.

Me, of course.

In my defense, I am practically an expert in home repairs. Over the years, I have watched at least five bazillion hours of HGTV programming! Surely that investment of time combined with my extensive knowledge of cuteness levels of Home Depot employees makes me an expert at home improvement do it yourselfery. I mean really now.

And that is how I decided to embark upon what might be The Worst Project Ever. (Or, you know, maybe it would be OK.) I made an $8.65 investment in a tackstrip-removing tool, pulled out my gloves, pliers, vacuum, sense of humor, sense of adventure, aspirin, face mask and studiously set upon bringing sexy floors back.


My strategy was fairly boneheaded and simple: Pull up the tackstrips slowly over a period of a week by pulling back the edges of the disgusting carpet and removing a tackstrip or two. I figured this would make the hideous tackstrip removal less annoying, spreading it out and multitasking it while the TV was on at night after work. Then I planned to spend a weekend day removing the carpet and underpad, and cleaning the floor with a round of hands-and-knees scrubbing with warm water and an enzymatic powder (to remove ick and proteins, please don't think to long on this one) and follow it up with several good moppings of linseed floor wash.

The most important step involved two glasses of wine and a decision to hold out HOPE. Hope that whatever was underneath the carpet wasn't horrifying. (There was a point midway through the process when I hadn't yet pulled up the carpet and I confided to a friend that my greatest fear in this Do-It-Yourselfathon was that I would uncover the chalk outline of a crime scene in the middle of the floor. Hey, guess who's seen too much CSI! Three guesses!)

Here is the room before carpet removal, this photo shows the big Ikea rug in the middle of the floor. Notice that nearly six months after I sold my old coffee table in the yard sale I still have not bought a new coffee table. Le sigh:


And a picture without the rug concealing the carpet:


The biggest obstacle standing between me and wood floors was no longer clutter removal or time, it was the loathsome, dreaded tackstrips. Furthermore, I have discovered along the way that I HATE TACKSTRIPS. Whoever laid the carpet in this house some century and a half ago was not messing around with the tackstrips. I started at one corner of the living room and each night after work I would carefully remove a tackstrip or two, then fold the carpet back down over the area and move on to a new quadrant of horror.


The key to this job is to work slowly and carefully, wedging the tool beneath the strip and slowly prying it up nail by nail. I was surprised how fulfilling it was to remove each strip, I felt like I was channeling Bob Vila, showing off my Southern ingenuity, and also, you can drink wine simultaneously if you work slow enough!

Despite the repeated steam-cleaning and the massive amount of vacuuming I do here at Chez Furball, there was a layer of dirt and detritus underneath the entire carpet pad. It was ancient dirt. Perhaps even prehistoric:


I got all the tackstrips removed last Friday night and spent the weekend pulling up and removing the carpet and cleaning the exposed floors. (For this job, I put the cats in the other part of the house and closed the hall door which leads to the living room. I did not need that amount of feline assistance.)

I will not lie to you, removing the carpet and cleaning the floor and baseboards was sweaty, exhausting work. It was also AWESOME. Every time I got tired and wanted to rest alone in a big glass of wine far away from the hellhole of home, I would find a new horror and get inspired all over again to get rid of the shag. And I believe this speaks for itself:


Brilliant me undertook this adventure fully on my own. I also didn't tell many people about my big project because I am sensitive to the amount of advice folks love to give, advice which usually involves doing things in some way other than the way my stubborn little brain has decided to do the job. I can be hardheaded like nobody's business. Plus, if I decided halfway through the process to change my mind I wasn't accountable to anyone but me (hey, it could have happened.)

And aside from my fears of unearthing a crime scene (which would've made a heckuva story, I tell you what) this harebrained project of mine was kind of empowering. I think women have a better attention to detail than men do, and so I was extra-careful with the tackstrips and left the most tiny, barely visible holes. I had to be smart about moving the furniture so I didn't end up in traction, and I decided to divide the room into three segments of work. To remove the carpet, I cut it in manageable strips and got it all out of the house by myself. There's something really rewarding about sweaty manual labor, and the fact that I did it entirely by myself gave me the "I am sweaty, hear me roar!" feeling.

Not bad for a Sunday afternoon:




This part of the job took me about nine full hours of labor: pulling up and removing the carpet, moving the furniture around, scrubbing each section of floor with enzymes, letting it dry and mopping it with the linseed floor wash. In addition, I spent roughly five hours removing the tackstrips and staples on the floor. The total amount I spent on supplies was a very affordable $14.86.

By the time I finished on Sunday night it was almost 11 p.m. and I was dirty, sweaty, aching and exhausted. Therefore, I did not take a picture of the floor without the rug because I was smelly, see above, and the cats were refusing to walk on the floor like normal until I put the rug back down. Weirdos. However, I assure you there was no crime scene underneath the carpet, just lovely oak floors.

Here is my living room on Monday morning after I took two Motrin and hobbled out of bed like a hunchback:


Well worth it!


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Edited to add a few notes: To clean the dirt and proteins and general scum, I used Ecover enzymatic laundry powder dissolved in lukewarm water. Very cold or hot water can warp the floors, so it's important to use lukewarm water. I used a scrub brush and a bucket of the soapy water and washed the floor in segments. As soon as I scrubbed an area, I cleaned the soap off with old towels that had been dampened in water and well wrung-out.

For the general mopping, I used Ecover Floor Soap, which has linseed oil in it to feed and shine up the floors. You could also use Murphy's Oil Soap. Two capfuls of floor wash in a bucket of lukewarm water cleaned the floor with a basic sponge mop. Rinse, wash, repeat. And repeat again!

Posted by laurie at August 24, 2007 6:00 AM