7th House on the Left

Today we are busy moving in. It feels unbelievably good to type that. I’m sure many of you can identify with the feeling. But I digress. We are back, as promised, to talk about our floor installation/refinishing process. Because we had so many other projects going on at the same time, our process was a little different than most. Plus, not everybody gets to move out completely while they renovate. However, we hope we can shed some light on the experience for anyone who is planning on tackling their floors.

TIME TO GO SHOPPING. First off, we needed flooring materials, so we went to our local Lumber Liquidators. We had no idea what we actually needed to make everything happen, but the guys at Lumber Liquidators took care of us and walked us through everything. We purchased shoe molding, a roll of felt lining and, of course, flooring. We chose red oak to match what was already in the house. Choosing a different species would have made blending the new and old floors nearly impossible. We were told to let the flooring hang out in the house for a few days prior to installation. This helps the wood to acclimate to the normal temperature and humidity of your house. If you don’t do this, bad things (otherwise known as warping) can happen.

INSTALLATION. As it turns out, our awesome tile guy also installs wood floors. He agreed to rip out the existing carpet and kitchen tile as well as install the new hardwood floors for a total of $1,400. We were planing on ripping out the carpet ourselves to save some money, but when he gave us such as good price as compared to other estimates, we couldn’t pass it up. He and a couple of his crew members came early in the morning around 7:00am. By the end of the day, we had new hardwood floors installed in the bedrooms and kitchen.

THE WAITING GAME. We decided to hold off on the floor refinishing until all (and we mean all) of the messy work was done. Drywall, painting, tiling… we wanted it all finished before we even thought about refinishing the floors. We didn’t want to risk damaging them in any way. Though this made us hold off on moving any furniture in, it was well worth it in the long run.

REFINISHING & STAINING. In order to get the best blending between the old and new boards, everything needed to be sanded, stained and refinished. We knew this would be a pretty big job, so we asked our friends and family for referrals. We started out with a good ‘ole Google search, but personal referrals really are the best way to go. A) You can’t always believe what you read online. B) Advice from people you know and trust is always more valuable than a stranger’s opinion. Lucky for us, one of our new neighbors is a floor guy and actually refinished Ashley’s parents’ floors a few years back. We’ve been living in their guest room while our renovations have been going on, so we’ve actually lived on his work, and it’s really good. That’s a pretty good referral, don’t you think?

When all was said and done, we had roughly 1,800 square feet of flooring sanded, stained and finished for $2,600. This was $500 to $700 under what we were originally quoted by other floor guys. Talk about a great deal! This price included sanding, water-popping (more on that process here), staining, three coats of polyurethane and putting down the shoe molding. Because we had seen (and literally lived on) his previous work, we knew we knew the job would be done well.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS. Once we found our floor guy, we had to pick out a stain color. He applied three sample swatches of our favorite stains (which we chose from a sample deck). Before he did this, we were pretty sure we liked the Jacobean stain (far right). Once we saw them on the floor, though, we were certain Dark Walnut (left) was the one for us. We learned a very valuable lesson here: It is very important to actually see a sample of the stain on your floor before you pick out a color. Do not depend on the sample book. Read more about our decision making process here and here.

PREPARATION. Our house started out empty, so there wasn’t that much preparation to be done. However, we moved all of the tools, ladders, toilets that have yet to be installed and such to the laundry room.

We also vacuumed the entire house with a shop vacuum. I know it sounds kinda crazy, seeing as how the first thing the floor guy was going to do was sand the floors, but we wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be any dust and grime that might mess up his process. Did we go a little overboard? Maybe, but this is our first house, and we’re planning on being here for a while. We also replaced the filter in the return vent for the air conditioning several times to keep it from getting clogged. Looking back, we should have taped up the doors to the bathrooms and utility room (the only rooms not being done).

LEAVING IT TO THE PROS. When work began on the floors, the first step was sanding them. Out of all of the steps, this seemed to be the longest. Once our floor guy was finished, he throughly cleaned and vacuumed the floors to remove the excess dust. Then, he did a finer finishing sand. Once that was done, he throughly cleaned and vacuumed the floors again to get them ready for water popping.

Once both sanding steps were done, it was time to water pop the floor to make the wood more receptive to the stain. This is an optional step, but we wanted the stain to be darker than the sample. You can read my geeky scientific reasoning as to why that works here.

Then it was time for staining. Later that night, Ashley and I went over to the house and peeked through the windows, trying to get a glimpse of the newly stained floors. Here’s a quick iPhone photo of our covert operation:

The next step was polyurethane. Our floor guy did not two but three coats of polyurethane. Typically, builders use 2 coats, which is good enough to get the house sold and hold up for a few years of moderate use and consistent care.  According to our floor guy, 3 coats will protect the floors very, very well for 5-10 years, if we care for them properly.  Also, we wanted our floors to be protected against Bentley’s little claws. We keep them cut short, but we weren’t willing to take the risk.

CLEAN UP. Even though the floor guy did a really good job of getting up the excess dust, we wanted to go back and give everything a final wipe down before we started bringing in furniture.  This is where washable paint is really nice.  A damp cloth is all we needed to get the fine dust off the walls, moldings and windows.  Now, everything is perfectly clean and ready to be lived in!

So that’s how our floor installation/refinishing experience went! All in all, I don’t think it could have gone much better.

Cheesy referral demonstration images found here, here, here and here.

The day has come! The happiest day ever — well, at least the happiest day in the last eight months. The other day, we got to walk through the house (in sock-feet of course) and take a look at the newly stained floors. It felt like walking into the house for the first time. Our house. Now that the floors are finished, we can finally start moving our furniture that has been locked up in a climate controlled storage unit since APRIL. I still can’t believe it’s been that long.

If you remember, we started out with carpet in the three bedrooms and tile in the kitchen. We also has a closet or two that had linoleum flooring (check out the full floor plan breakdown here). In order to improve the overall flow of the house, we decided to rip out the carpet and tile and put hardwood floors in these areas. We also chose to have the existing hardwood floors refinished (more about that process here, here and here). Check out what the house looked like when we purchased it (for the complete recap, check out the house tour):

After a really good cleaning, new fixtures here and there, a lot of paint, old fashioned elbow grease and, of course, the new floors, here is what the house looks like today:

Since we don’t have all of our light fixtures up yet, the floor color looks as though it goes between brown and reddish brown. In natural light (which is what we love) it’s definitely brown brown, though. Some of the old light bulbs (bright white, industrial CFLs that we’re not big fans of) make the flooring look more red. That’s really not what we want, so we’ll be putting in some different light bulbs in the near future.

We are so pleased with how the new kitchen floors look! Before, the area was broken up by the tile, which made the kitchen look so much smaller. Now that the wood has replaced the tile in the kitchen, it really opens up the space! Read more about our plans for the kitchen here.

The already long hallway seems even longer now with the dark flooring:

Before the floors were refinished, we were worried that the new paint color in the guest bedroom would be way to bright. But now that the floors are a nice dark walnut, it has toned down the wall color tremendously:

Here’s Greg’s soon-to-be office and a sliver of the master bedroom through the door:

We really love how the floor color looks with the new tile in the bathrooms:

The master bedroom. I can’t wait to move our bedroom furniture in!

What was the price tag on this house-wide project? Here’s the breakdown…

Felt Floor Lining $47.98
Shoe Molding for entire house: $278.71
Red Oak Flooring(886 sq ft): $1,955.54
Ripping up Carpet/Tile & Installing Hardwood Flooring (886 sq ft): $1,400
Refinishing & Staining (approx. 1,800 sq ft): $2,600
GRAND TOTAL: $6,282.23

Worth. Every. Penny. In our opinion, the house doesn’t even look like the same place. With our paint, hardware and flooring choices, it feels like our house rather than the previous owner’s. Now that everything is finished, paid for and photographed; it is time to celebrate. Tonight, we are celebrating with takeout and a movie (on a laptop) in the house that feels more ours than it ever has!

So this wouldn’t be considered the longest blog post known to man, we decided to share our step by step flooring process in a separate post later this week.


posted by Greg  /  4 Comments

Just because our house is “off limits” while the floors are being refinished, doesn’t mean we can’t talk about what’s going on over there. In the comments section of Wednesday’s post, we mentioned how our floor guy is “water popping” the floor. A few of you asked what that meant, so here we are to give you the rundown…

When we decided on Dark Walnut (far left), we told Frank, our awesome floor guy, we wanted it somewhat darker than the sample. Basically, we love the tone of Dark Walnut, but we wanted it to saturate the wood a bit more. Frank’s answer? Water popping!

Water popping, also called grain popping, is when you evenly dampen the sanded wood with water to make the grain contrast more with the wood around it, making the floor “pop”. Time for some geeky science content! Even after the tree is dead, some of the wood’s basic functions continue to work. The basic function we’re interested in is how the wood’s cells expand upon contact with water. When you dampen the wood, its cells swell slightly to draw in the moisture.  This allows the wood to absorb more stain, which results in a darker, richer finished product. Water popping is especially helpful when applying dark stain to lighter-colored wood (like our floors).

Here is a nifty demonstration from Russet Street Reno (who were brave enough to tackle floor finishing, unlike us!). The left side is espresso stain on a piece of freshly sanded pine. The right side was dampened with water prior to applying the stain:

As you can see, the right side of this piece of wood is much more saturated with stain than the left. To read more about Russet Street Reno’s water popping experience, check it out here.

This process, and floor staining in general, is definitely not in our “DIY comfort zone” at the moment, so we left this project up to the professionals. However, if any of you out there are brave enough to conquer this type of project on your own, here are some tips from the National Wood Flooring Association. (Who knew there was such a thing?!):

  • Before attempting to use the water popping technique on a floor, do a test on a sample board. The key to successful water popping is controlling the amount of water applied to the wood and the amount of time the wood needs to dry before applying the stain. Measure the moisture content before water popping to establish the baseline moisture content, and then test to see how long it takes for the wood to return to its original moisture content.
  • The effect of water popping will vary, depending on the amount of water used, the length of time it’s allowed to dry, the species of wood, and the type and color of stain to be applied.
  • Record the moisture content of the wood flooring before water popping. The wood must be allowed to dry completely and the flooring must return to the correct moisture content before proceeding with finish application.

So that’s what is going on behind closed doors at our place. We are so anxious to see the finished product and how water popping enhanced our stain of choice! In the meantime, we’re going to go take a sneak peek in the window. 🙂

Experiment photo courtesy of Russet Street Reno.