Ugh, what have we started?

Ugh, what have we started?

With two bowsers and allergens abounding in Austin, for sinus survival, our wall-to-wall Berber had to go. We didn’t have the $ resources to hire a crew to de-carpet the house, so my husband & I decided to wing it ourselves. Our ultimate goal was to end up with shiny concrete floors that wouldn’t hug pollen and spores and who knows what else. We did it! Here’s the play-by-play:

The scope of our project:
The entire main floor of Casa Przybylinski (other than kitchen & bathroom) was carpeted with allergen hugging Berber loops when we purchased the home in 2004. By 2006, having mustered my way through 3 sinus surgeries, my husband & I knew the Berber had to go.

General budget?:
After paying over $20,000 out of pocket for medical bills that our insurance carrier chalked up to deductibles, our general budget was merely a piggy bank. Piggy squealed when we peeked at wood, laminate or tile floors. Even getting a contractor to do the staining job was out of our reach: we received average quotes of $4000.

To get the job done, and silence the squealer, we figured that if we researched staining pre-carpeted concrete floors on the web, we could pull up the Berber carpet and stain our dining room, bedroom, hallways, and living room by ourselves for about $500.

How close did we land on budget?
We stayed under budget by doing all the work ourselves and returning any unused (unopened) product to respective stores (we hung on to those receipts like a ribbon won at field days). Examples of product that we were able to return; initially we were quoted needing 5 gallons of stain to adequately cover 1000 sqft. Quality (fresh) stain runs $60 a gallon, so right out of the starting gate we plunked down $360 for stain. {I added on one more gallon as I graduated from the school of “More is Better.”} But, by preparing the floors well, and mixing the stain as directed 1 to 1 with water, we were able to return 4 gallons of stain unused and recouped $240.

$ for $, the best money spent was:
The money on the stain was the best money spent—it was fresh, and absolutely the right brew of penetrating reactive stain that beautifully combined with our freshly cleaned concrete. We used BAS-14 “Cordovan Leather” from Butterfield Color. It’s available to the public by a great concrete firm (super personable & helpful employees) on St. Elmo across from the City Hazardous Waste Center. How convenient.

$ for $, money that was not well spent?
A paint sprayer that we purchased at a local hardware store was a clunker—because you can’t use metal when working with acid stain, we searched high and low for a sprayer that did not have a metal wand. We finally found a sprayer with a vinyl hose, hurrah! But when we got it home, a clunk sounded in the box and we instantly realized the uptake section of the hose was metal. Worthless for this project, and the store would not take it back.

We didn’t waste time with haggling—we were on a compressed time schedule—it was Memorial Day weekend, monsoon humid rains were coming and our 2 dogs were raking up the meter at the kennel and surely shaking with each thunder boom while we transformed the floors. Just knowing how uncomfortable Mr. Dooley & Dusty (our family hounds) must have been with storms over furry heads and unfamiliar grounds under furry paws made us work feverishly with our own furry paws to get the job done and get them home.

Can we come in yet?  Hurry up already...

Can we come in yet? Hurry up already...

We went back to several home improvement stores looking for a proper sprayer without success, so we pulled a MacGyver and bought two wooden mop poles (without metal screws) and duct-taped (Garrison Keeler would love us) lambs wool window cleaning thingies to the poles, dipped the contraptions into a commercial rolling bucket and proceeded to stain our floors in great sweeps of color. Hint: you know that you have prepared your floors correctly if the stain turns a shocking fluorescent chartreuse foamy color as soon as connects with the concrete. The stain mellows in a few hours to the chosen color—again, in our case, Cordovan Leather.

If we had it to do over:
I would have whispered incantations over the piggy bank (and/or put my hair in a pony, jumped out of a bottle and blinked for extra cash) in order to hire a crew to come in and help with the initial floor preparations.

When pulling up carpet in an 18 year old home that was built in the crazy “build ‘em fast” housing boom in Austin, there was no hint of what we might find underneath in terms of the shape of the concrete.

Thankfully, the concrete was smooth as our piggies flank, but the project was almost doomed from the start due to the plethora of paint, compound, and swiggly glue from the rug in staging areas in each room (including an apparent spilled can of varnish that a contractor walked through…I know his shoe size and have memorized the tread of his boot.)

In order for the stain to permeate the concrete, we had to clean every speck of paint/glue/compound from the flooring. At first inspection, we were ready to throw in the towel. Instead, we got on our hands & knees and many towels for 5 days and tried every cleaner (starting with less toxic) and kept fans circulating and windows opened. Simple Green worked the best. Oh, slide back on one of those towels for a minute—it must be like childbirth, how fast we forget the pain—before cleaning could start, all the tacking strips that held the carpet down into the concrete had to be removed.

My husband & I tried screwdrivers hammered under sections of strip, but that method was way too arduous (though it did create some awesome sparks!) Julie Nelson, a great realtor in Austin, graciously lent us a floor scrapper on a pole (for leverage) and I admit I took great pleasure in whamming that scrapper under the tacking strips. It pulled up a few satisfying lengths, but still too slow. So we bought a new sharp edged shovel (I had cracked the handle on our previous one), and by using my considerable weight and force, the tack strips finally started flying up—complete with chunks of concrete. I figured we would deal with those concrete holes later—I would not look up until I completed an entire room wall, and then my husband would take a turn. Such focus!

Some advice:
Wear a baseball hat during this project. Not just to protect your hair, but to act somewhat like horse-blinders. Keeping your head down and working on one section of floor at a time (completing that section before moving to another) was our saving grace in completing the job. If we had popped our heads up and fully realized the “miles of work” ahead of us, I think our floors would still be left undone.

Have a clean place to rest each evening during the project. Thankfully, we have a 2 story home and were able to climb the stairs into a warm shower and clean sheets each night.

Make sure that you don’t stain yourself out of the house; e.g. if the cold beverages are in kitchen fridge—make sure that entrance way is clear and unlocked. I can’t tell you how many times we’d forget and lock the door and find ourselves biding our time parched on the front porch while the May rains pounded down.

Did we have a contractor, plumber, electrician, innocent bystander who deserved an oscar for best performance?
Best performance in a documentary probably goes to the next door neighbor’s kids faces when they poked their little noggins into the garage to see what we were up to for the long weekend. We were suited in gas-like respirator masks, full length plastic gloves, professional wrap around eye goggles, and baby boomer mutant ninja turtle kneepads. As I was not in the mood to whip off my gear to give a lovely lecture on why Mrs Przybylinski was looking like a transformer, needless to say, those kids skedaddled but quickly.

Next on our list?
Replacing the gold frames around sliding mirror doors in master bath—perhaps with sleek wood; putting some film on the acres of mirror, and figuring out a way to inexpensively replace our gold framed shower stall with a sleek frameless one—like an epoxied terrarium. (Not that I want plants to grow in my shower—nothing green or black there, please!) How hard could that be? Perhaps we could use some auto glass from the salvage yard… And also plan on painting the 80’s gold sink fixtures with some spiffy stainless steel (ok, brushed nickel-ish) paint. No concrete sinks for this chickie.

Happy staining. And please contact a professional whenever using products like acid stains~~not to be taken lightly; acid stains have dangerous potential…Patti P.

UPDATE: April 1, 2011  finally some “after” staining pics

rustic look--glue swiggles from carpet add character