One of the things I was known for writing about early in my time as a columnist was Maintenance Manor, a scene of ongoing misadventures in home improvement.
Maintenance Manor was a 90-year-old house that the Woodwards, displaying poor judgment of colossal proportions, purchased in hopes of turning into a North End dream home.
Nearly everything about the place was a nightmare. It had one bathroom, accessible only from the back porch. The front porch was sagging. The roof, the plumbing, the wiring, nearly everything needed to be replaced. It had an oil furnace dating to Herbert Hoover, zero insulation and zero charm.
In our defense, I can only say that we took the real estate agent’s “location, location, location” advice too seriously. The one good thing was the neighborhood, which was beautiful.
Except for our house. We spent 13 years fixing the place up. The more colorful misadventures ranged from falling off of the roof into a rose bush to an electrical shock that catapulted me from a ladder and knocked out the power to most of the neighborhood. Medical highlights included soot and fiberglass inhalation, a nail through my foot and hammered thumbs and fingers, accompanied by a lavish amount of spirited cursing.
One of the rules I’ve lived by since we sold Maintenance Manor and moved to the house we’re in now is to avoid do-it-yourself home improvement projects, in the way that most people avoid timeshare salesmen or rattlesnakes. This is not to say that I haven’t done a few things around the “new” house – built the deck, done some painting and woodworking projects, but nothing really daunting.
With the furniture in storage while we sweated out the flood threat posed by this year’s record snowpack, the timing was perfect to install the wood floor we’d been wanting in the living room. The problem was that everyone else in the valley seemed to have the same idea. Floor installers were booked solid for weeks. If a help-wanted sign at one of its Boise stores was an indication, even Home Depot is having trouble finding enough floor installers.
So … I decided to do it myself.
How hard could it be?
The salesman who sold us the materials said that a fair number of his customers had installed their floors themselves. It could take a while to get the hang of it, he added, but after that it should be smooth sailing.
Online videos of composite wood floor installation seemed to confirm that. In fact, they made it look ridiculously easy. Simply prep the floor, put down the underlay, cut the pieces to fit and click them together. The installer in the video clicked the boards together with the ease of someone snapping a pop tab on a beer can. There was no reason the floor couldn’t be finished in a day, with time left over for a nap and a cocktail.
The first step, obviously, was to take out the carpet. It had to be pulled loose from the tack strips, rolled up and carried outside. It weighed approximately as much as a small elephant. An elephant probably would have been easier to maneuver around a corner and out the front door.
Then the tack strips and carpet pad had to be removed. We’ll skip over this part except to say that the pad was attached to the sub floor with enough staples to supply a home office for several lifetimes.
With the baseboards removed – more on them presently – the new floor was ready to be installed. This was when the difference between the videos and reality became painfully apparent. Nothing I did would get the pieces to click together. They either didn’t click at all, or, if they did, they pushed the row of pieces next to them out of alignment. It took a day of hot, hard labor to do a pathetically small part of the room, most of it embarrassingly out of whack .
Sensing the desperation in my voice over the phone, my son-in-law stopped by and suggested starting over in a way that should have eliminated the problem.
The guy who had done such a nice job on on our kitchen floor several years earlier was in the middle of a job when I called, but graciously gave me a couple of tips. (He could probably tell that I was near tears.)
His tips made a lot of sense.
But they didn’t work. Absolutely nothing worked.
Two and a half days I spent sweating like a pig over that easy-to-install floor. Two and a half days – before admitting bitter, ignominious defeat.
The guys who sold the floor to me couldn’t have been nicer. They checked around and found an installer who was willing to work us into his schedule on the Fourth of July.
“A nice square room!” he said when he arrived. “This shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours.”
It took him less time to install the entire floor – perfectly – than it took me to sand and repaint the baseboards on a 101-degree day, in a garage hotter than the hubs of hell.
The installer, Tim McHail of Payette River Flooring, made me feel a little better about my do-it-yourself debacle.
“You didn’t have the right tools,” he said. “You need wall anchors so you have something solid to push against. And a special pounding block to pound the ends together.”
So it was all my tools’ fault!
Even with the right tools, however, it would have taken me longer and wouldn’t have looked as good.
And who knows? If I’d bought a pounding block, I might have smashed a thumb or a finger.
Some things are best left to a professional.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Statesman and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.