Green River Star -

By David Martin
Editor 

Zen and the art of DIY

 


Less than a week into owning a home, I became one of those obnoxious DIYers.

I can tell I’ve become obnoxious about it; my own mother spoke with me with a glazed expression on her face when I Facetimed with her to show off the kitchen’s hardwood flooring. That floor was hidden beneath a layer of tacky green carpeting, some ancient linoleum and a nasty covering of tar paper.

The project I’m working on started with a simple idea: take the carpeting out of the kitchen and replace it with some tiling.

The house I bought had ugly, worn, green carpeting in the kitchen. I cannot understate how bad the carpeting was. It even ran up the walls by an inch and a half. The idea anyone would want to install carpeting in a kitchen is insane enough. That someone made this tacky green carpet match with walls and a ceiling painted in a bright lime green is beyond insane; it had to be the result of a bad acid trip.

The paint was easy enough. One trip to a hardware store, along with a few hours and large amount of help, resulted in the walls being coated in a more subdued color. The carpeting has become another issue entirely.

After hiring some workers to deal with the carpet and layer of linoleum the carpet was covering, the floor was left with a layer of black tar paper covering what the workers assumed was a subfloor. We peeled away a small portion of the stuff with some elbow grease, hot water and a putty knife and discovered wood flooring. From what I’ve read, the tar paper was used as a vapor barrier between the wood and linoleum placed on top of it. Apparently, it’s common in homes built during the 1950s and before.

The moment after we discovered the wood floor was the first time I heard the DIY mantra “restoring the original character of the home.” That statement is a common theme in those do-it-yourself TV shows. At one point, people thought their home should reflect their personal preferences, green carpet in the kitchen and all. Nowadays, a home can still reflect its owner’s preferences, but serious style points and respect is loss for decisions like placing carpet in the kitchen, or worse, the bathroom.

Removal of tar paper is a slow, painful process that took up the better part of a weekend. There is no way of easily removing the stuff from the floor. The internet, that great repository of collected human knowledge and experience, suggests heated water and a paint scraper or putty knife. We did that, with the addition of vinegar to the water as it appeared to have an effect on glue under the tar paper. The smell was a wonderful bouquet I hope I never experience again.

After removing the tar paper was another arduous task, sanding the floors. We rented a couple of sanders from White Mountain Lumber and while a belt sander definitely is a blessing when it comes to sanding away the discoloration caused by that accursed tar paper, it still was a slow process. It was during this process that I realized home improvement projects carried out by a bunch of amateurs is equal parts meditation and disappointment. Meditation came from the empty minded tasks such as peeling tar paper and sanding the edges of the floor, those moments when a person’s thoughts can shift away from the current task. The disappointment set in near the end of the day when the realization that after a day of hard work, the end of the project still wasn’t in sight.

Yet, the end did finally come and I have a nice hardwood floor to show for it. Through all the work, setbacks and complaining, it’s something I can point to and say I had a hand in completing. While this is the point of a story where the author say they’re willing to try their hand at another major project, this story ends differently. I’m not worried about tackling small or moderate tasks, but I’m not planning to take on another large-scale job.

When the time comes, I think I’ll just save up and hire someone to do the next major project.

 

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