Floors, sweat, and tears (Beach house #76)

March 27th, 2018

So you know how sometimes, you should just leave things the hell alone?


So the footprints all over the floor were like little ugly blemishes everywhere. They were annoying, especially given the week of backbreaking work it took to get there, and took the whole look down a level. You could totally tell they were footprints all over, too – you could even perfectly see the fine waffle print in the HVAC guy’s prints. I had wanted those floors to be gorgeous. I wanted glamorous. I wanted a comeback in oak.

And I almost had it – if only I’d put down cardboard overnight after I sanded. Or known about what wet footprints would do. Or taken off my shoes, and asked the HVAC guy to do the same.

If only I hadn’t then tried to fix the damn things.

Because sometimes…


Things are better off…


Left well enough….




I could slap myself. I am so angry. I RUINED THEM.

Another two 12 hour days – I had thought I wouldn’t have to work this weekend, and instead I ended up only seeing my family for about 3 hours total – and all I did was make it even worse. I feel sick about it. Now it looks old and patched instead of new and beautiful. Like, why did I even bother if it was just going to end up looking almost as bad as it was before?

So at this point I have 3 choices. 1) leave it alone, for god’s sake, it’s only a rental or 2) get the floor sander back and suck it up and work some more, for another $150, or 3) get a floor refinishing company in here and have them just fix the damn thing – for $500 if I’m lucky.

And honestly? I don’t know what to do. I feel like I should just leave it be and forget about it and plan to refinish for real in 5 years. Maybe tomorrow, with all the dust spread around more evenly and the final finish cured, it won’t look so bad.


It was so close to perfect. So Close. And I worked so hard, my body and joints have been aching for days. And I’m damned if I’m doing all that work again. So guess what I’m tempted to do? I’m actually tempted to spend money and have the pros do it.

But I don’t like spending money. And so I think: they’re just floors, floors that are going to get ignored and beat up and scratched right away. And we’re not trying to sell the house, so does my deep frustration and disappointment in the floors even really matter?

So I don’t know what to do. What do you think?

Floor hubris, or the beginning of the end (Beach house #75)

March 26th, 2018

So you know how I left the floors gorgeously sanded? Well, overnight it snowed about 7 inches. I came in the next morning with snow on my boots, as did the HVAC guy. At this point, if you’ve done woodworking you are  totally groaning right now.

If not…. just enjoy the photos. And call me Icarus.














Gorgeous, right? So I left it overnight and the next morning came back to –


Footprints everywhere.



Maybe you can see them better if I make it black and white:

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At first I wondered if someone had come in overnight and walked through my new stain – but that didn’t make any sense, since it’d been another 2am night. Then I figured out that…

It had been my own stupid fault.

Walking with wet shoes – even just the residual dampness after wiping off the snow – was enough to open the grains in the wood enough to take the stain much darker than the stain around it.

Footprints. Everywhere. And they don’t look very obvious in the photos, but in person they were just glaringly obvious. I couldn’t let them stay.

And that was my second mistake.


Naked floors (Beach house #74)

March 25th, 2018

Started refinishing the floors this week – and BOY was that a harder job than I had thought it ever would be. I mean I knew the floors were pretty effed up from about 60 years of abuse – stained all over and in one room, the old owner said the tenants had just left a window open for over a year so the entire floor was cupped and warped.

So I knew it would be a chore. But I wasn’t prepared for just how hard it was going to be. I’ve done some hard projects on this house – and this one, I think, I’d rate up there with about as hard as hanging drywall ceilings by myself. Just to start with, the drum sander weighed about 150 pounds. I managed to carry it up the 10 stairs to get inside, but then I spent about 17 hours pushing it around.

Yes, 17 hours. I worked until 2 in the morning multiple times on this part of the project. Which is why the end as you’ll see, is so damn frustrating. Just a little foreshadowing there for ya. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

But first, the good parts. Some before/afters!

The master bedroom (the one with the worst floors). This was the one where I straight up replaced half the floors to begin with, and left the rest because it looked like it was in relatively good condition. Forgetting that I was judging it based on the rotten parts that had been there before… suffice to say, I probably should have removed more of it.



You can’t see how cupped the boards are, and in these photos I’ve already patched a whole bunch of holes and gaping seams. Still:


Worked out pretty good. This was soothing.

Moving into the second bedroom:



Took about 1/3 the time the first did. The floors were flatter.




Great room:



So very satisfying.




This part was more difficult. Not only was it nearly 2am and I was at the end of my strength, but it seemed like over the years various coats of paint had been laid down between coats of polyurethane. Or maybe it was just sticky black layers of decades-old crusted pet pee – smelled like it, at times. Suffice it to say, I didn’t do as thorough a job here. I admit it.

So I left the place (relatively) beautiful. Sanded up to 100 grit and vacuumed within an inch of its life, as I intended to come in and apply sealer the next morning. That was my mistake. I should have applied the sealer that night, before tragedy struck…

Working downstairs (Beach House #73)

March 18th, 2018

Because the upper half of the house is coming so close to completion, it’s freeing me up to start working in other areas. I’ve still got to finish up the basement and the back porch before I can consider my job close to done.

Remember how the basement used to look? It was a dungeon that stank of mold. It was really hard to breathe in there. I didn’t permit the girls to go in further than just inside the door, even though it was the only cool place to rest in August.


Doesn’t look all that bad, but… That white door on the left was just propped there to hide a gaping hole.


This is after we got a new header and sill plate put in. To take this photo I was actually standing on top of a giant pile of trash that we removed from in there.

So because of the way the refinancing process works, I’m going to have to temporarily have the laundry room down in the basement instead of the back porch. I’m supposed to build one of the cleanest rooms of the house…. from this??


Challenge accepted. (Reluctantly).

First: to close off the furnace and water heater area to make the basement less deep and dark.


The wall went in very easily! I got it all the way from loose lumber to drywalled in one day.


This cuts the basement depth by about 1/3 and lets the natural light from the window bounce around more easily. Makes it seem brighter even with one less lightbulb.


I still haven’t bought a door to cover up the gaping hole on the left. But I did cut down the only non-smashed-up door remaining from upstairs to become the utilities door.

But because neither the slab nor the joists above it are level – and of course not even parallel with each other, that would be too easy! – I had to plane down every single corner of the door individually, turning it into a sort wonky not-quite-parallelogram.


All that work, and it turns out I miscalculated the upper left-hand corner and it looks crooked! GRRRR! I mean, I know it is all crooked, but the goal was to make it look like it wasn’t by following what was there exactingly. That wonky top is going to bother me forever!

I finally got to install the big ole 60″ shelf unit that I’ve been holding onto for like 8 months now. I think I rescued it from the kitchen originally? It’ll make a nice ledge for laundry soaps, etc. and I love keeping stuff out of the dump.

The paint on the walls is called Drylok and it’s actually a moisture barrier. It should help keep the basement smelling nice and clean. I’m also planning to mount that dehumidifier next to the shelf and have it drain down into the washer drain. I still have to paint the whole wall behind where I was standing to take that photo above, though, and man do I hate painting cinderblock.

Unfortunately the three still-in-good-shape-enough-to-be-refinished kitchen cabinets are covered in mold and will be thrown out after all. I suspect the mold was there from before, since it’s only on their backs and nowhere else, and not on anything else either, but it’s certainly possible that it’s from their unexpectedly long stint in the unfinished basement. In any case they’ve got to go – I’m not doing all this work only to have it STILL smell like mold when I’m done!

There’s a ton of work left to be done, but this is a pretty good start.

Working upstairs (Beach House #72)

March 16th, 2018

The upper half of the house is getting so close to being finished. I got the vanity cabinets installed yesterday, and the recycled medicine cabinets screwed in.



And it’s been painted, for the most part! Still haven’t done the closets though, and there’s a lot of edging yet to do.


I chose this sort of warm, light-grey paint that I’d used and loved in our own house, but up on these walls it’s looking a bit more beigey. :(


Doors are in too, and just waiting on final trim.


I’ve got to hang the giant sliding door to the TV room, which you can see to the right in the photo above. First I have to change up the framing a bit, as the opening is a bit too tall. Then I need to case it in drywall and paint it, since I won’t be able to once the door is hung.

I still need to case the closet openings so I can hang the closet doors, and the next huge task is refinishing the floors. Then all the baseboards and window trim and we are practically finished! UPstairs, at least…

Cabinets in! (Beach house #71)

March 11th, 2018

Huh, post #71. I wonder if I’ll get the house finished before post #100? I’m going to close my eyes and cross my fingers and wish for yes.

Meanwhile, cabinets!


We worked Saturday afternoon and got all the wall cabinets in. The color comes pretty close to matching the beams, like I’d hoped.

Ta da!


We were very, very proud of ourselves. (The beams are not really this dark. I don’t know why they look that way in photos.)

Then… then I realized I’d put in a 15″ right in the middle where the 18″ was supposed to go. So I had to take the last three down, move them over, switch out the weenie one, and put them back up. And then I realized that I’d put them all up 6″ too far left and I had to take them all down – every single one – and put them up again. By myself.

Got it all done in one day though. And I bet I have pretty strong arms now because they were quivering by the end of the day.

The bottom cabinets took me another few days, not because cabinets are difficult to install – they aren’t, as long as you don’t make stupid mistakes like I did – but because I could not figure out the wonky floors. No matter what I did, how much I shimmed, they were always off in one direction or other. I ended up taking my level and using it to draw a line from one side of the kitchen to the other, where it ended up hovering a good 5/8″ above the tops of the base cabinets I had already installed.

So I took them all apart again and got a stud and started ripping 5/8″ strips off it, knowing I’d have to raise the floor just like I had to in the TV room. Then something occured to me…

and I used my laser level.

And the cabinets had been perfect to begin with.

My level was totally off the entire time. The level itself is aluminum, but the bubble part is attached with screws… which had come loose.

So, I had to go put the cabinets all back together again which involved much swearing…


But I got them all in just in time for the countertop templater to come and make his template.

Of course, I’d forgotten to buy a kitchen sink first though so now I need to remember to fax the model number to them before they can actually install the dang counter!

So embarrassing, the whole thing. So glad it’s done. Though it’s really cool to see it come to life! A real, honest to goodness kitchen.

Electrical trim-out is scheduled for next week, so we’ll have lights too! (As long as I can remember to buy brackets for all the second-hand lights that I bought from Second Chance. One of the electricians pointed out that they don’t actually have anything with which to attach them to the boxes…. doh!)

Soapstone, harbinger of cabinets (Beach house #70)

March 6th, 2018

I ordered countertops!

I have to admit, I don’t actually have cabinets yet. Or rather, I have them… all clustered together in a forlorn huddle in corner of the old kitchen. Still in boxes. Most decidedly not hung and arranged on the walls.

The plan is to get them up quick this weekend before the templaters get here next week. What could possibly go wrong?

I found these Chesney Rouge cabinets at a local wholesale place. I had been about to buy white cabinets, but then these just happened to be the exact warm reddish brown hue of the ceiling beams and the floors. Plus, they are all-wood frames and soft-close doors but at a wholesale price… perfect!

Then to Home Depot for countertops, which turned out to be about 3x as expensive as I’d thought and totally gobbled up all the savings from the cabinets. Sigh.

I was considering this:


or this:


or even these, real (cheapest) granite on a clearance sale:

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But even though it was only a very small bit more in price, I decided against granite because of the maintenance involved. And the potential for stains (pretty sure we can’t tell renters not to drink red wine or orange juice.)

Finally I decided on this one:


I adore soapstone, and this is a fair approximation (in person). It’s actually laminate, of course – real soapstone is perhaps the very worst possible choice for a countertop that will get some real use. So buttery, though. So smooth. Mmm.

Anyway. This one lacks butteriness but does sport a nice soft greige never before seen in nature. It’ll go nicely with the wall color and the warm cabinets, while the pattern won’t compete with the marble tiles I found for the backsplash (I hope). It wasn’t the cheapest laminate, though still cheaper than the very cheapest granite or Corian (and let’s not even mention quartz, that lately-come darling of the HGTV gurus.)

Templaters come on Friday, installation a couple weeks after that. Cross your fingers that I can actually get this project completed on time!


99% tile (Beach house #69)

March 4th, 2018

So close! Only the shower curb left to do. I’d have gotten it finished today if I hadn’t had to stop twice during the day and make two separately 40 minute round trips – one for a single extra box of tile and one for a single extra bag of LASH clips. I hate so muuuuuuuuuch when that happens.

GAAAAAH. I get so focused. It’s ridiculously hard to tear myself away while something is still not quite finished. But the school bus delays its schedule for no man, and I should probably make an effort not to make my kids stand out shivering in the cold just because I wanted to fit a few more tiles. Tempting though it may be.


So clooooooooooose! Just the side bottom tub tiles to do!


I am a big fan of the running bond (brick) pattern. But I spent way too long trying to figure out a perfect, elegant way of lining up the tiles so that both the toilet flange and the air vent would end up on tile seams, which would mean I could avoid plunge cuts, while lining everything else up perfectly too… I failed.

I will never be able to not stare loathingly at that one thin little strip in the front. Oops.

Things are not all bad though. Carlos had given me anxiety attacks by saying that the 13×13 tile would look stupid on the shower walls. (My idea had been to have less grout to clean. I HATE CLEANING GROUT.)

I think it looks fantastic.



Starting to tile! (Beach House #68)

March 2nd, 2018

So, I was supposed to have been done with tiling last week. In order to stay on schedule  for refinancing in mid-April, by when I want to have EVERYTHING TOTALLY FINISHED and already rented. Needless to say, things always take longer than I think they will.


Preparation took about half the time. It is so important to get the bottom-most row absolutely frickin’ perfectly level. And even if you do, odds are you’ll still find yourself inserting shims here and there as you climb the wall anyway. Cuz you want the seams to all line up, and stuff.


Those yellow clips are the LASH tile leveling system. They work pretty darn good – they pull adjacent tiles into the same plane so the faces are nice and flat with minimal “lippage”. I’m going to use them for everything from now on. Yes, they’re pricy – I think I bought 4 or 5 bags of clips for these two bathrooms, at $9 each – but totally worth it.

Of course if you have straighter walls, or you do a better (any?) job of leveling and shimming your studs before you actually install the cement board, you’d probably have less of a problem than I did. Ahem.


Getting close… only a few tiles left…

From all the abrasive thinset, and from wrestling stuck sharp tile edges for the past five days, my fingers feel like they have fire blisters on the tip of every single one.

At least Josh and the girls are helping me start the painting (what I was REALLY supposed to have been doing this week). I’d put a picture up, but one of the littles decided to do their painting with no pants on. Perhaps not a photo for the Christmas letter, then.


Oh yeah glamor shot (Beach house #64b)

March 1st, 2018

Forgot to throw in a picture of the finished hardwoods in the new TV room. This isn’t exactly a “glamor” shot by any means, but at least you can kinda see the whole floor. Kinda. Also, no tools.


Yay, room with wood floors, ta-da.

Since this room is currently packed full of boxes containing twenty-odd cabinets waiting to be hung, I doubt I’ll see these lovely floors again for quite a while.