You know that book “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie?” I feel like that’s the way house projects are. You go to do one simple thing like patch a wall and before you know it you’ve remodeled your basement. We’ve lived in our house for almost 9 years now. When we purchased the house, the basement carpet seemed fairly new. Under our tenure, the carpet endured 9 years of wear and tear, 2 floods, potty training two children, and a demon cat. Let’s just say it wasn’t looking as good as it used to.
The bigger problem though was it wasn’t smelling as good as it used to. Charlie, our $5 shelter cat we’ve kindly allowed to live in our house the last 4.5 years, has a bad habit of peeing on the carpet when we go out of town or any other time he’s generally displeased with our behavior. We’ve tried different litters, spraying his “favorite areas” with citrus to deter him, and even CBD oil, but nothing has made a difference. A relative told me they’d had a similar problem with their cat always peeing in a particular room. When they replaced the flooring in that room their cat stopped. The previous owners of our house had a cat so it’s possible Charlie was smelling something and marking his territory. (It’s also possible he’s just a jerk.) Replacing the carpet was an expensive gamble though and I was pretty sure Charlie wouldn’t survive if he peed on brand new carpet. So, we just kept steam cleaning the carpet (I was lucky to inherit one from a friend when she bought a new one) and trying all sorts of crazy things to get him to stop. At some point, we discovered that vinyl plank flooring can be installed in basements and we began to entertain that as a possibility since the cat doesn’t like to urinate on hard surfaces. That option was even more expensive than carpet though, so we mostly dreamed about it, put down pee pads in his favorite spots, and kept doing the math on how many more years the cat was likely to live.
Our breaking point was the children (as it so often is). Last fall, one of them was getting sloppy about showering and kept flooding the bathroom which leaked into the basement. One day I discovered the paint was bubbling from water damage. As I looked at the derelict wall that led down a hall covered in pet pee pads, I lost it about how embarrassing our squalor of a basement was. We started investigating flooring in earnest and pulled the trigger on ordering in November.
Phase 1: Prep Work
The order came in early December. We rented a U-Haul trailer and brought the flooring home with our Christmas tree. We stacked all 42 of the boxes in the basement (quite a workout, by the way) and left them there for a few weeks while we decked the halls and were merry and bright.
After Christmas, we began tearing up the carpet in the small back room. We wanted to start back there for two reasons: 1. If we made mistakes during the initial learning process we wanted them to be in the most unseen room. 2. Flooring needs to be started in the upper right corner of every room. We planned to have the flooring flow from room to room so this was the kick-off point to make that happen.
This is the part home renovation shows referred to as “demo day.” While it was cathartic, it wasn’t quite as fun as on tv. (Maybe it was the lack of sledgehammers.) The first thing we discovered is that carpet is gross. There was so much dust, glitter, etc stuck in the carpet and under the carpet. We also discovered other fun things that would require extra time. The carpet tack strips had been nailed into the concrete sub floor. These were impossible to remove without damaging the sub floor. Some of the damage was just small divots that didn’t need to be patched, but other areas were large and would require patching. We also discovered wall damage in places were the cat had been repeatedly peeing or the tub had repeatedly leaked. I spent a lot of time cleaning things with bleach and urine cleaner. Then we covered everything in a layer of Kilz to mask lingering odors. Once all of that was done, we were able to start laying flooring.
Phase 2: Laying Flooring
Laying the flooring was actually the easiest part. It did however, involve a lot of math. As it turns out, very few of our walls were square. Because we wanted to the flooring to flow from room to room, Noel had to take the final wall into account from the very beginning so boards wouldn’t be at an obvious diagonal by the time we finished. We also had to do the expected math of cutting boards so the seams were always staggered by at least 8.” Noel handled most of the math and measuring. I joked that he was the brains and I was the brawn of the operation.
Phase 1 Revisited: More Prep Work
After we finished the back room, we started to prep the hallway and the next room. The next room was the guest bedroom. As we tore up the carpet, we found some “fun” surprises. The first was that the sub floor was crumbling in the transition from the hall to the bedroom. The second, was the floor was partially tiled. It looked like someone had started to remove them and then given up. The carpet tack strips had been driven through these tiles and some of them were bulging and cracking. I began to rip them up without a thought. Noel paused and started googling things and then very abruptly told me to STOP! He suspected the tiles were asbestos tiles and began sealing off the vents and doorways with plastic.
Project Timeout and Asbestos Remediation
We arranged for the flooring to be tested. When the guy arrived to do the testing he didn’t put on any protective gear and just waltzed into the room, picked up a sample, and stuck it in a plastic bag. This made us wonder if we’d overreacted a bit. The tiles came back positive for asbestos and the glue came back negative. The guy from the company told us this was “the best kind of asbestos you could have.” The worry with asbestos is that it will become airborne. If you breathe it in, it can cause mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. Tiles, even when they break don’t produce as much dust-like particles. Still, lung cancer is not something we take lightly at our house (Noel’s mom died from lung cancer), so we took every precaution to remove the tile properly. We kept the room sealed off and bought the necessary equipment (tyvek suits and respirators, gloves, and protective eye wear).
We did our asbestos abatement on a Saturday. Because we didn’t want to be tracking asbestos around the house, we decided that once we entered the sealed room, we couldn’t leave until we’d completed the project. To keep dust down, we constantly sprayed the tiles with water as we used scrapers and hammers to pry them up. Technically, it’s acceptable to just cover asbestos tile with new flooring (which is what we think the previous people had done), but since many of the tiles were loose and crumbling we didn’t feel comfortable doing that. We double bagged all the tiles, wiped any remaining dust up with paper towels, mopped the floors, and wiped down the walls. That sounds simple, but this took hours to accomplish. It was also really sweaty work since we were wearing tyvek suits. (Remember those weight lose programs where people would run in plastic bags, it was kind of like that.)
Once we were done, we backed ourselves out of the room and began taking off our gear and throwing the tyvek suits, sponges, etc into garbage bags that we double bagged and duct taped the tops shut. We also ended up throwing away the shoes and socks we were wearing (they were completed saturated and even with washing you can’t guarantee the asbestos will come out of the fibers), the shop vac I’d initially used before I realized I was sucking up asbestos tile, and a couple of other tools that couldn’t easily be cleaned. This was an expensive undertaking as we were using the policy, “If in doubt, throw it out,” but like I said, we take lung cancer very seriously at our house. Once that was done, we closed the room up to dry, disposed of all the bags, and took showers before rushing off to Cooper’s Taekwondo testing. We were bone tired by the time Cooper’s testing ended.
We went out to a very late 3pm lunch. Noel and I both could have fallen asleep if we’d laid down, but we needed to keep going. We thoroughly washed our protective eye wear and the outside of our respirators, then donned new shoe covers. I kilzed the entire floor and up the bottom of the walls to shellac any remaining particles in place. Noel went to work thoroughly washing any equipment we were able to save. Then we backed away carefully. We did later do a test of our air ducts to make sure asbestos was not circulating through the house. I’ve never felt as much relief as when that came back negative. I know a family that had asbestos in their air ducts. They had to move into a hotel for a month while remediation took place and remediation for that is not cheap.
Phase 1 – Round 3: Prep Work
The next Monday was Martin Luther King Day. Noel had the day off, but I still had classes to teach and clients to train. While I was away, Noel had a friend from church come over and they removed the rest of the carpet from the large tv/rec room.
We had rented a roll-off dumpster so we spent the rest of the day filling it with everything we could possibly think of – the broken treadmill, the collection of broken pallets we kept around thinking they might be useful, the old sliding glass door, etc. It was kind of cathartic. You acquire a lot of junk when you live somewhere for almost a decade.
At this point, we were counting down to our Costa Rica trip. We chipped away at prep work for an hour or so at time in the evenings. We had to do quite a bit of concrete repair. We also discovered the hallway was higher than the two rooms it lead into, so we had to do our best to create a gradual slope from one room to another. (It turns out you can hide a multitude of flooring sins with carpet.) Then we took a 10 day hiatus in Costa Rica where we rarely thought about winter, asbestos, or sub floor imperfections. That was nice.
Phase 2 Revisited – Laying flooring
When we got back from Costa Rica, it was crunch time. We had three Saturdays until someone was staying with us and 4 Saturdays until almost our whole family showed up for Ellen’s baptism on March 7th. The guest bedroom had some tricky cuts, but for the most part went down fairly quickly.
The large tv/room also went quickly. We laid the final plank on February 17th which left 2 Saturdays until Ellen’s baptism.
Phase 3: Painting
With the flooring in place, it was time to paint. We spent every free moment cleaning, masking edges and trim, and painting. The quality of painting in the basement was not stellar. The previous owners had made a few bad paint matches so you could tell where touch-ups had happened. The kids had also done a number on the walls over the years with grimy hands and unrequested murals. It was nice to freshen the place up.
Phase 4: Baseboards
The final step was baseboards. Baseboards are necessary with a floating floor because you leave a 1/4″ gap between the wall and the flooring for shifting and expansion. Installing baseboards involved more math. Especially for those pesky-not-square corners. We actually used the law of cosines to help us figure out those angles. (Stay in school kids, you will use that math some day!)
Interior walls were fairly simple as we could use a nail gun to attach them. (PS, I’m the better out of the two adults at our house with a nail gun.) One of Noel’s co-workers let us borrow his air compressor and nail gun which we greatly appreciated. Exterior walls were a different story. The exterior walls were concrete with a thin spackle on top. To affix baseboards to that wall we would need liquid nails (a heavy duty glue) and lots of cinder blocks. The glue required 24 hours to cure which meant each step would take at least a full day and if you didn’t get it right (which happened multiple times thanks to inexperience and our walls not being straight) you had to add an extra day on to fix it. After the baseboard was attached, we’d attach a quarter round to the front of it. The final step was painting the baseboards.
Danielle, Noel’s sister, stayed with us the weekend before Ellen’s baptism. When she arrived we were 80% done with baseboard installation and 50% done with baseboard painting. Danielle was supposed to head to California in between her work trip to Denver and Ellen’s baptism, but her trip got cancelled because of Coronavirus. Danielle and Jessie, Noel’s cousin, came and helped us do all final prep (washing floors, moving furniture, etc) the evening of March 4th. Our first round of visitors arrived the next day and we were as ready as we were going to be.
Before and Afters
Now the fun part, the before and afters. (You can see expanded pictures by clicking on them.)
I always hated the color of the hallway. It was this light mauve. Now it’s a brighter, lighter shade. (Painting that high ceiling was super fun by the way. We don’t have any pictures of me on the ladder with a long handled roller, but just imagine.) We still need to redo the stairs, but we decided months ago there was no way that was going to happen before Ellen’s baptism.
The angles are different, but you get the idea on the hallway.
The office/Sewing room isn’t completely done, but it’s workable which is important in our new work from home era.
The guest bedroom has gone through a few updates over the years. In 2015 we painted it after some flood damage. In 2016 we got new furniture and decorated a bit more because this room became our bedroom while we cared for Glenna, but we didn’t take any pictures at that point.
A look at the far end of the TV/Recreation room. Sign from my brother-in-laws Etsy shop.
This next evolution is probably my favorite. We’ve come a long way since the patio furniture days. The hoop art was made by my sister who also has an Etsy shop.
We still need to add a few finishing touches (some prints, maybe a rug) and of course finish the stairs. There were a few times we though about just filling in the basement with cement, but I suppose I’m glad we persevered as it looks really nice now. So far, the cat hasn’t peed on anything and even if he did the floor is waterproof which is a nice feature. I’m pretty sure he’s one of the most expensive shelter cats ever though. Knock on wood (not the flooring, it’s fake), the basement doesn’t require any more unexpected remodeling for a LONG time.