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:
And THIS (YUCK…REALLY?!)
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:
(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.
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:
(I was SO happy to have hardwood floors).
Here is what sanding the stairs looks like with the hand-sander:
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:
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:
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!!
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!