Category Archives: Renovations on a Dime

Fresh, new, and (something) blue!

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FIRST, let me apologize for it being so freaking long since I last posted. I have been eating, sleeping, and breathing my new job! I wish I was able to post at the frequency I did over the summer, but the reality is that I have so little free time on my hands.

Either way, I can tell you that I am more excited about this entry than any of my others thus far. Truth be told, the idea happened kind of by accident! I mentioned my future kitchen plans in a previous entry. In this, I spoke of plans to take down a wall and have a custom island built with seating and storage and a granite or marble top. This would cost a number in the thousands. Then the new school year began, and even with a large increase in income, we saw how much rebuilding and prioritizing needed to be done before we could ever hope to do that renovation! We were planning to buy Jeff’s new car in the late fall, but have pushed those plans back to the spring. We decided a vacation back to Bermuda to celebrate a number of things (most of all, our 5th wedding anniversary) was high on our priority list, so that will happen in the summer of 2014. We are keeping our Black Friday timeline for our new stainless appliances (goodbye, 1990’s black appliances). The kitchen demo/reno/island fell back.

SO…we arrive at the point so many others do. The point of “It’ll happen at some point…later.”

I was looking at our beautiful kitchen table and stylish chairs one day when it hit me that they were about to not match a single thing in our kitchen anymore. As soon as those appliances come in, it would just look so wrong and mismatched. It was a hard realization because Jeff and I salvaged and refinished that table together before we moved into our first apartment. It was our first project together. We love it. It’s a part of our history! We spent countless hours doing it all by hand in my grandparents’ garage, and let me tell you…if you’ve never refinished a dining room table by sanding totally by hand, then don’t (if you enjoy having skin on the pads of your fingers, that is!)

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Anyway, the thought of it not being in our kitchen hurt. But I’m a realist above all else, and I knew it wouldn’t work. Luckily, my fantastic little brother is a PA who recently started his first job as an Endocrinologist. College is over, he’s got a real job now, and will be getting his own place in a few months. Aside from looking like twins, we also have similar styles and tastes. It makes me happy to know that it will find a new home with someone I love, who will appreciate it like I do. On an unrelated but “awww” kind of note, I also just bought him his first piece of original art for when he has a bachelor pad. Enough gushing…

So that left the question of what to put in the kitchen when new appliances come in. Many people leave things “as is” while waiting to renovate and are not people to make interim changes. I, however, am a HUGE fan of interim (and cheap) changes! Why not put a little elbow grease into making a space into something you like and can live with until you can afford the expensive reno?!

Anyone who knows me knows of my big, big love of carrara marble. If I had an unlimited budget and could build a kitchen from scratch, three guesses what my countertops would be:Image

I’m just sayin’, is there anything more beautiful and classic?

So, you can imagine my happiness when a kitchen table set with a carrara marble top popped up on Craigslist for the bargain price of $70. It had an off-white base and 4 distressed white chairs with wicker seats.  I particularly loved the grain in this piece of marble. The cool grey would complement the new appliances and the cabinets we painted white (see my kitchen entry for details). Also, because it’s marble, I could use it to prep and serve food! It may seem a small thing, but that really comes in handy. Here’s the set we picked up:Image

How gorgeous is that marble?

Around the same time, I got the thought in my head that I wanted to add a fun pop of blue (likely Tiffany blue) to the kitchen in the form of a refinished dining chair. Problem was, finding a free or inexpensive set of 4 to go with the marble table was not in the cards! I wanted to keep the total for the eat-in area under $100, so that hinged on my being able to salvage a chair or chairs. I was not having luck until I spotted this on the side of the road by a neighbor’s home one day:

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😉

The chair was solid mahogany, at least 50 years old, and sturdy. Hubby helped me do the minor needed repairs! I had Tiffany blue on the brain but when I saw this deeper, brighter teal, it was love at first sight!Image

Rustoleum’s “Seaside” in a gloss finish.

I gave the chair a good scuff and light sand and then got my spray on! As you can see, there was a lot of overspray, so I switched to a tarp. Here’s the chair without the seat pad:

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The next step was to choose a fabric to recover the seating pad. Jeff and I went to Joann’s and found a great pattern that picked up the teal and was 40% off. It’s a durable fabric made for outdoor cushions. We ended up using $6 worth of fabric and $6 plus change in paint, making this wonderful chair a mere $12 of fun!

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After the chair was finished, I began to look at and dislike the wicker seats on the kitchen chairs. They ended up removed, taken outside onto the tarp, and….

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(painted to match the chair). The top got 2 coats and the bottoms that you don’t see got 1. The paint covered well and evenly, and the result is wonderful:

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A while back, a table runner I adored at Anthropologie came onto clearance for $14. It’s a whimsical cotton twill runner in a blue book motif with fun titles on the books. I knew I’d eventually find the perfect use for it. It’s been folded away for a few months now. Re-purposing some accessories and a table runner later, and this fabulous eat-in area is ours!

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SO. MUCH. FUN.

On the wall, I had a distressed white wrought iron bird wreath from Pier 1. On yet another whim, I took it down and painted it to match the chairs, and it really pops now!

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There are no words adequate enough to describe how thrilled I am with our new eat-in nook! It’s fresh, fun, bright, cheery, and uniquely “us”.

Now for the customary cost breakdown:

Marble-top table and chairs from Craigslist: $70

Paint: $12

Sandpaper: $3

Fabric: $6

Re-purposed accessories, runner, and wreath that I already owned: Free!

Project total: $91

And just a reminder of how the other side of the kitchen currently looks after our fun knobs and painted cabinets:

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Cha-cha-cha-chalkboard!

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Remember in a previous entry, I complained about my kitchen appliances? The fridge was the worst offender and the UGLIEST thing ever in life. Black, shiny, non-magnetic front, chrome accents, creme colored sides. It was a sad, sad machine. Also, it should be noted that it was made in 1991, when I was SIX YEARS OLD!  Ugh. However, we are not currently at liberty to fork over the money for a kitchen full of stainless appliances, and I have a “thing” about appliances not matching. So when we do one, we’ll do all.

My lovely friend Kait suggested chalkboard paint one day. I looked into it, thought it was the coolest idea, and we decided to give it a “go”. Even if we royally screwed it up, it certainly couldn’t look worse than it already did! We had a lot of paint supplies left over from previous projects and plenty of leftover bonding primer, so literally all we needed was a $10 quart of chalkboard paint (which was enough for our fridge).

Here was what we were working with beforehand:

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::shudders::

For the record, you can paint virtually anything with this chalkboard paint…walls, cabinets, the glass on photo-frames, mirrors, etc.

We did prep the sides of the fridge to ensure the best possible adhesion of the paint. We rubbed it down with mineral spirits and gave it a scuff-sand. We then painted it with bonding primer. We found that paint rollers were more than up to the job, and only needed the brushed for fine details and some edges.

Here is what we had after the bonding primer went on:Image

Already better than creme!

Here is the product to buy (Rust-Oleum makes it):

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A helpful tip: MIX, MIX, MIX! I had to stir the paint for a good five to seven minutes to properly mix and blend it. You want to make sure it’s as even and stirred as possible so that it works the way it should.

Here’s the so-much-better end result before adding artwork:

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You give the paint three days to dry, then “condition” it by rubbing chalk dust (the side of a piece of chalk) over the surface before drawing for the first time, and then rubbing with a paper towel. This makes the paint easier to wipe clean in the future. After we conditioned it, my beautiful mother-in-law who is up visiting from Florida went to town with the colored chalk, to this result:

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The cupcake on the fridge was drawn by my mom 🙂

Hubby did this:

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My mother-in-law made me this fabulous pink chalk basket with a container, magnets, and pipecleaners:Image

All in all, a fast, easy, cheap, and FUN project! I’d recommend this to anyone. The product is great and so was the end-result. I no longer hate my fridge and therefore don’t complain about it being an eyesore everyday (which Jeff is glad about). A win-win situation.

Light, bright, and white…Kitchen edition!

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When we got our house, our kitchen had extremely good “bones”. It is a nice size, there is a good amount of storage, the seller put “Granite Transformations” counters in (granite fabricated to lay over your existing counter), and there is a stainless steel sink with a fabulous faucet. The floor is a slate laminate that is newer and in great shape.

All in all, not bad and definitely workable!

Here were the downsides:

1.) Walls that were so 1973 mustard yellow that looking at them actually hurt my eyes.

2.) Dated appliances (the 1991 black fridge with creme sides and an old dishwasher that I don’t think has that much “juice” left in it). I will say that I have a fairly new black Whirpool gas range that is very nice!

3.) Oak cabinets with bright gold brass knobs. I don’t like the color of the oak, but will say that these are extremely high quality cabinets that probably cost a ton of money originally. All joints are dovetailed, the craftsmanship is excellent.

4.) An absolutely hideous “backsplash” of shiny, textured linoleum tile with tan flower bouquets on some of them.

5.) Weird, unpainted beadboard in a knotty-wood design.

It just looked really, really dated. And too dark!!! There was way too much wood and it didn’t feel cheery at all (despite the blazing yellow). And it was totally missing what is really important to me…

Whimsy! Where was the element of fun, the touch of the unique? Nowhere to be found!

So as always, here are some “before” photos for you to cringe at:

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See what I mean? Good bones, bad choices. Dated, dated, dated.

I am a “warm tones” person through-and-through! Warm colors feel homey, comfy, and inviting to me. Despite this, for whatever reason, I have always dreamed of a white kitchen!

Before tackling the cabinets and the beadboard, I freaked out one day and couldn’t take the yellow anymore. Jeff and I picked out our paint and the color we went with was Olympic’s “Secret Passage”. We got to work painting the kitchen right away(which was a very challenging room to paint, by the way).

The end result was a color that is my favorite color in the house! To say I love it would be a major understatement. It is a thousand times better, and I no longer want to shove bamboo shoots in my eyes every time I enter my  kitchen.

Here is what our kitchen looked like after we painted:ImageImage

HUGE improvement!

To keep the proverbial ball rolling right along, we decided to paint the beadboard white as our next kitchen project. We had some leftover bonding primer from the den and leftover trim paint from the baseboards and trim on the stairs. Here was the result:Image

It already looks like a different room! Notice my owl switchplate cover (I named her “Hedwig, naturally), the outlet cover that is gorgeous but too small in the photo to see, the bird print, the brass “G” monogram tree centerpiece, the runner, and the 3 small tree stumps wrapped in twine. In earlier photos you will notice the aqua blue and white knobs that look like Super Mario turtle shells. Remember earlier when I said the kitchen needed some whimsy? That’s what I meant.

After this, we were planning to wait a while to do our cabinets, but in the Greenberg household, that seems to translate to “next week”. Hah!

So we went for it! We first got clean cloth and wiped down all of the cabinets with mineral spirits to dull the lacquer and give the paint a better surface to adhere to. With our trusty Valspar bonding primer, we gave the outside of the cabinets 2 coats and the inside of the doors got 1. We chose semi-gloss paint (nice and easy to scrub), and the color was Behr’s “Snow Drift” so that it was a little softer than straight trim paint. We did them while hung, but most people remove the cabinets and hardware. We took off the knobs and taped over the hinges. We found that tiny 4-inch rollers and 2 inch trim brushes (with a tiny brush for details) were all that we needed to give the cabinets a smooth, non-streaky finish. The small rollers really did an amazing job making an even finish, while the trim brushed filled in the grooves where the roller could not reach. Here’s a photo of what you need:Image

Let me note that you CAN get spray paint. You can find a special paint made for wood and cabinets, but be aware that this is a pricier option (though also easier). Our goal was “as cheap as possible”, so we chose the traditional paint method.

Now for the most fun part…the results, the transformation, the “WOW” factor that white gives a kitchen. You will never believe it’s the same room:

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Here

We

Go

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(Last one is blurred due to the natural sunlight coming in, sorry about that).

WOW, WOW, WOW, RIGHT?!

It does not look like the same space! We are ecstatic about it. It’s bright, light, cheery, and feels even larger. Talk about doing it on a shoestring budget! This “update” was as cheap as it gets.

All right, now for…

The cost comparison:

DIY: $100 for materials that include bonding primer, paint, and supplies.

Professional: A good ballpark estimate for refinishing cabinets is about $2,000. There is a very slight chance it would be lower, but it’s more likely to be even higher.

The future for our kitchen holds:

1.) Stainless appliances.

2.) A glass mosaic tile backsplash.

3.) The wall knocked down to open it to the dining room, leaving a small partition to hold a custom-made island that is both table for 4 and prep/storage space. THIS will not come cheap. We can do most of the demo ourselves, but we will need a professional to move electrical work and finish it off perfectly. My contractor will build me the island, white finished hardwood with a large granite or cement top.

4.) Perhaps furthest into the future, a new floor. My heart is currently set on good wood laminate that looks like driftwood. If not, I will likely go for a medium-colored Pergo. I am not a fan of tile, so laminate it is!

My very fervent hope is that we can get all of the above for between $5,000-6,000, and that is all the money I ever want to put into the kitchen. Compared to what most homeowners spend on kitchen remodels, this is ridiculously cheap. I think we can do it!

But for right now and while money is tight, I love my kitchen.

The 70’s are calling, they want their wood paneling back!

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Ahhh yes, the classic “never should have happened” fetish that is wood paneling. WHO ever thought this was a great idea?! It is ugly, makes any room feel like an absolute dark cave, lets no light in, and gives you a feeling that your walls are closing in on you.

*facepalm*

You can imagine our delight when we toured what is now our home and saw this. Here come the “before” photos. Brace yourselves, it’s bad. Like, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad awful. Paneling come at you in 3…2…1…Image

Check out that sunburst fixture. HELLO 1960’s! I loved it for about a day and then saw the light. It then became a fun game between us and our friends who own a house one neighborhood away, where we’d each drop it off at the other’s house in weird places and pass it back and forth. It was fun for about a week until I put it at the curb. I digress! Here’s the back end of the room, so that you get the full effect of this loveliness:

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UGH. I can’t even. This room is 25 feet long, and that is a lot of wood paneling.

So, when faced with this, you’ve got 3 options:

1.) Leave it alone (option 1 is for those with rocks in their head, don’t pick option 1).

2.) Paint over it using a quality bonding primer with a good paint.

3.) Take it down.

Here are the possible issues with option 3:

*You have NO clue what is behind it. There may or not be drywall underneath it. If so, it may be damaged and you may not be able to salvage it. If you get lucky, there is drywall under it in good condition and you can paint. Again, this is a risk. If you choose this, be fully prepared to hire out a contractor to re-rock/re-drywall the whole room. THIS, friends, doesn’t come cheap. We know this firsthand (more on that hot mess at a later date).

If you didn’t already deduce it, we chose option 2. And to be perfectly honest, I am thrilled that we did. If you buy the right materials, it’s a great-looking, dirt-cheap update that completely transforms a room. There is no comparison. I hated how dark and cavernous the paneling made our den, which is large with a stunning white brick and silestone fireplace and tons of space. It kind of ruined it. In our minds, while looking at the catastrophe that was the paneling, the only solution was “WHITE!”.

Those who know me well were surprised by this. I like my walls neutral and unexpected color pops in my decor, but I can’t stand white walls. Looking at the room, however, it’s exactly what we envisioned. A beautiful, soft white that would lighten, brighten, and cheer up the room! Semi-gloss paint is (in my humble opinion) way too shiny to use over paneling, so Jeff and I chose an eggshell finish.

Before I get to the nitty-gritty (and photos), I will tell you that painting paneling is not a pleasant task, and is much more irritating than painting flat drywall. But the end result is completely worthwhile. Another thing that shocked me was how much I truly loved the texture/look of the paneling after painting. I am a texture-person all the way, and I find it so pleasing to look at.

The first thing to do is get yourself a good bonding primer. It’s worth its weight in gold and is one of the most underrated renovation products on the market (more on the joys of bonding primer at a later date). It negates the need for sanding or “roughing up” the paneling, and provides a surface that your paint can adhere to. It’s going to give you strong, long-lasting wear. We used Valspar’s, and it’s fabulous:

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As for materials, the best ones for this job are a few different sizes of trim brushes (my local dollar store carries them 3 to a pack (multiple sizes) for $1). You need this for the trim and for between the grooves in the panels (which is a pain in the you-know-what). You’ll also need rollers. Just, please, whatever you do…NEVER use foam/sponge rollers. Foam rollers equal air and bubbles. Here’s a photo of the priming (the rockstar in this photo who helped me tackle this room is my best friend of nearly 24 years, Kerrie):Image

And here we go again:Image

As you can see, my side is a lot heavier. I have a heavier hand with paint than she does, but it all came out even and beautiful in the end. You can already see what a difference it will make in this one small section with the soft white paint on it:Image

It’s already a thousand times improved, no?

If you take on this project, make sure to paint your trim and baseboard, and be sure to get between all of the grooves. Any uneven or falling parts of molding can be nailed back in or up, or caulked for a seamless finish. Hubby went around caulking in here once all was finished. My sister is great at trim and got both the bonding primer and a first coat of paint on all the trim in the room! This space was a true team-effort, and I am so thankful. I can’t say it was fun, but painting this room did turn into a singalong and dance party (typical in our house)!

So to recap, This is what we inherited (also note the “magical” polished brass ceiling fan that has since been replaced):

ImageAnd this fabulous room is what we’ve got now:Image

Image(And in the back of the room, we opted to set up a game table):Image

Here’s a pulled-back view of the room, with my “daughter” hanging out and walking around (you can see a glimpse of our nice, new rubbed-bronze fan, too):Image

And remember the bizarre 60’s sunburst-looking fixture as the centerpiece for the fireplace? Here is the mantle now:Image

See what I mean about the texture of painted paneling being nice? The soft white paint we used (Olympic’s “Delicate White”) ended up being just what we needed. It feels comfy, bright, and inviting in here now. All for the cost of paint and some materials! Such a complete and utter transformation!

The future of this room includes ripping out the carpet and putting down a nice laminate at a later date. For now, I am living with the carpet.

As always, the price comparison of DIY VS Professional:

DIY: About $100 for paint and supplies

Professional: At the low end for priming and painting the room, you’ll see about $750-800. On the higher (and likely more realistic) end: You’re up over $1,000. If you want a pro to take it down, prime and paint existing drywall, you are over $1,000. If they remove bad drywall behind the panels and have to re-rock the room, you’re now in multi-thousands.

Once again, DIY is dynamite.

Hello, hardwood!

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Okay. So, you’ve just bought a house that is covered in carpet. Maybe it’s nice carpet, maybe it’s musty, old, stained carpet. Either way, it’s not what you want. You find out that there is hardwood underneath them.

That is really the luckiest scenario. If they’re in any kind of shape, it’s a whole, WHOLE lot easier to refinish them than to lay new wood throughout your home. Granted, you take the risk of them possibly being in bad condition when you tear out the carpet, but it’s the only way to do it. I will admit that, although not our style, we had very nice, plush, clearly pricey carpet throughout our home when we bought it. It didn’t matter, because once we knew there was “amber gold” under there (my nerdy husband’s phrase), we were itching to get started. We couldn’t wait to get rid of this:Image

And this:

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And THIS (YUCK…REALLY?!)

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THAT is what we were working with. The photos make me cringe. Now, we were prepared to outlay the expense of new flooring if we had to, if the wood couldn’t be saved or was in too bad of shape. Fortunately, we got lucky beyond our wildest dreams, because the floor was in a much better condition than we could have hoped for! The first step, is cutting the carpet with a razor into manageable “sections” to then rip out. We tag-teamed this job and pulled together. Teamwork makes it easier! Here is Jeff pulling up the first piece of carpet in the house:

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(Cute, isn’t he).

See the oddly-colored foam stuff under the actual carpet? That is the pad, the insulation. Sometimes it’s super easy to pull up, sometimes the installer goes adhesive-happy and you have to all but scrape it off. Either way, it has to go. Once you pull up the carpet and the foam, you will notice you are left with tac-strips around the perimeter (that hold the carpet in place), and what appears to be about 3 million staples. Brace yourself, this is the WORST part! There’s no short-cut to be learned here, you just have to get yourself a good pair of locking pliers and pick them ALL out. Some will fight you, too! You can always go back if you miss one, but it is so important that you do a thorough job of staple removal before you sand, because nothing tears up sandpaper and screens like stubborn, evil staples. Here is our tac-strip garden/collection (that very happy man is my new across-the-street ne.Image

A fair warning: The worst part area in the house for carpet removal WILL be the stairs. You will need to pull and rip with all your might because It will really be on there! Or, like us, you have a beast of a brother-in-law who yanks it out for you…thanks, Steve!

Once the carpet is gone, you have pulled out the staples, and you have removed the tac-strips, you’re ready to refinish. You’ve got several options. Our home is a 1965 center-hall colonial, and they nearly always had oak hardwood and (for whatever reason) pine stairs. I am a huge fan of oak hardwood because of its grain, beauty, and durability. You can choose to change the color of the floor with a stain, which only adds an extra step and more drying time…or, you can leave the wood its natural color and skip to the poly after you sand. Our floor was 50+ years old, and we decided to leave it its natural color.

Onto sanding: You can rent the sander at your local Home Depot. Usually, an orbital sander is used for deep sanding. We chose a drum sander, because we were able to get away with more of a good “scuff” than a deep sand. DON’T sand too much, you don’t want to wear away too much of the wood, which is especially true in an older home. Best practice is always to sand in long strokes, with the grain. This will bring out your floor’s natural beauty. For stairs, you can use a small hand-sander, which will make the job easy for you. We own one, but you can rent one. Here’s the drum sander:

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(I was SO happy to have hardwood floors).

Here is what sanding the stairs looks like with the hand-sander:

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Once you’ve sanded the whole area, and are down to bare wood, it’s time to vacuum up the dust. We found that a shop-vac was perfect for this job:Image

Your next choice to make is going to be what type of poly you want. Decide whether you want a gloss or semi-gloss finish. We chose semi in the bedrooms and gloss everywhere else but most people choose between the two. You can go with oil-based or water-based poly. I’ll break each option down for you:

Oil-Often more durable, a bit more scratch-resistant, much higher fumes, and slow drying time. Oil-based poly will “amber” over time, darkening your floor. For some, this is a great thing and a look they enjoy, because it will eventually accomplish what a coat of stain might have.

Water-based: fast-drying (a matter of hours per coat), low fumes, and will NOT darken over time or change the color of the floor. You can walk on it 24 hours after the last coat and it cures within a week. It’s 90% of the way there in a couple of days, so this is a GREAT option for a family who needs their home back quickly or in a pinch.

Here’s a good comparison, bearing in mind that the oil side will “amber” or darken more with time:

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To brush on the poly, you can buy a special sponge mop with changeable head for the job at any home-supply store. It will give you a great finish. You pour the poly on and then “brush” it around with the mop in long streaks so that it’s even. Just make sure you leave yourself a way out of the room!!

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So pretty! Then you simply let dry and enjoy 🙂

Looks like a lot of work, right? It is. But here’s the best part, and it’s the cost breakdown of doing it DIY vs hiring a pro.

DIY: With the cost of the poly, sander-rental and paper/screens, mop, brushes, and supplies, we spent about $350 total.

Pro: To have a professional remove your carpet, tac-strips, and staples, sand and then poly your floors in the whole house…you’re talking about $3,000 on the lower end and $5,000 on the higher. Staining adds extra cost because of the extra labor. The costs are ALL labor, because it’s such a labor-intensive job.

The difference is staggering! So roll up those sleeves, get your hands dirty, and get to work…and save a TON of money!