We are the second owners of a house that was custom built over 40 years ago. It is a very solid home but there are a few things we’ve been working on changing since we moved in. One of those things is the wallpaper. It is (was) almost everywhere and it is just not our thing. Whenever I read on design blogs about wallpaper being “in” again, I cringe. I am guessing the newer stuff is easier to remove but even in that case . . . just, no. No wallpaper, please. It is hard to see in the “in progress” shot above but the wallpaper is an iridescent grey/white with blue flowers all over it. All. Over. Ok, I’ll tone down the anti-wallpaper screed.
To remove the vinyl wallpaper we peeled the patterned layer off and then soaked the paper underlayer so it would peel off. That makes it sound simple but there is a lot of elbow grease involved! Especially for the next phase which involves washing the walls of the wallpaper paste. Each room has had a unique challenge — one had an extra layer of wallpaper under the one we removed — and this room was no different. There were weird extra gummy sections of paste that took hours of dedicated scrubbing to remove. Hours.
Don’t forget with older houses to test for lead paint when you are doing work like this. Especially with little ones around. Where was I? Oh, so after wallpaper removal we put up Gardz (a drywall sealer), primer, and then two coats of paint (our white of choice is Sherwin Williams‘ “Creamy” with a deep base in a satin finish, if you are looking to purchase from them, get on their e-mail list as they always are sending out coupons). The carpet really was done for so we discussed replacing it but I had my heart set on hard flooring and my husband really preferred it as well. Luckily Costco had flooring we liked the price and look of by a company called Harmonics Flooring (Costco is the exclusive seller). We picked “Vineyard Cherry” for the finish and loved the results.
We got the coupon book starting June 9th and it is $8 off (we’re going to get our receipt adjusted for that discount, you can see a pdf of the coupon book at Addicted to Costco here). If you send the company an “after” picture of the flooring you get $10 back. My husband wrote a review of the experience doing the flooring, I helped when my sister-in-law could watch the kids (one minute the kids were playing in the little pool and she was sitting by them and the next time we looked out the window she was sitting in the middle fully clothed, playing with them, that is some serious dedication!).
(Note: we prepared this post just to help anyone else considering this flooring, we’ll be sending photos to the company to get the $10 rebate but otherwise haven’t received any other benefit from these photos or this post in that regard. The amazon links are marked as such and link to through my affiliate account, which I explain in detail on my “About” page, I receive a percentage from purchases made when the links are used.)
We just spent two days (15-20 hours?) putting down about 13 boxes of Vineyard Cherry on an old, but nicely level, concrete slab. I used the chart provided on a box to estimate the number of boxes I would need and bought one extra as directed, bringing me to 17 (see above for the picture of all 17). For this effort I was rewarded with a trip back to Costco with four completely unused boxes. In addition to the returned boxes we had 1/2 box of boards that were damaged on arrival and could not be used at all, and a 1/2 box of good boards that I’m keeping for future repairs. I invested time laying out boards and planned the pattern from the outset, which left me with very little waste, perhaps 3 inches on each row. Without making a diagram I can’t quite wrap my head around how much potential there is for waste if you want to lay in a specific pattern for a specific room size. However, if you want to lay randomly, start a row, then use what’s left at the end to start the next row. I f you lay randomly, you should only waste boards that are less than 8 inches, the shortest Harmonics says you can use. But, consider your layout carefully to minimize waste. My small amount of waste might account for my four extra cartons. You don’t want to just start with a whole board and hope for the best. Plan how much will be left over and try to start right. I suggest physical placement of as many boards as you need to do this correctly.
On top of the cost for the floor, plan on about $100 for moisture barrier, installation tools, and transition moulding purchased from the very nice people at Harmonics Flooring. If you e-mail them, they will send you a price list for their products (I’ll link to the pdf they sent me but it may not stay current: 2011 Harmonics Accessory Information and pricing). Shipping is very reasonable and I get the impression this is as much a service to Costco members as it is a retail business.
I pulled carpet by cutting it into 4-foot sections and rolling it up. You’ll need a sharp utility or carpet knife for this job. That was followed by pulling up padding and scraping residual glue. Bully Tools makes a nice standing scraper (Made in the USA) that will save your back (amazon link), and Warner makes a shorter, but sharper scraper for cleaning up residue (amazon link). I went around the floor three or four times until the glue was either gone or completely level. Also in the name of leveling, I filled in all the “divots” left by the tack strip with Henry 345 (amazon link, probably cheaper at the store) and a firm scraper. Great product. If you have large areas of unevenness in the floor, consider a self-leveling patch instead, because Henry is not self-leveling.
I mopped, shop vac’d, swept, vac’d, swept, etc., until the floor was CLEAN. I didn’t want to be stepping on “crunchies” after the floor was down.
Next up was the 6-mil underlayment. I considered buying the 6-mil they sell at Home Depot (amazon link), but I’m glad I went with Harmonics for this. It was long rolls instead of big sheets, which saved me a lot trouble, I’m sure. Vineyard Cherry has padding attached and Harmonics says you can’t use additional padding, just plastic. A little painters tape (amazon link) kept the edges in place to start and allowed me to work without fighting the first sheet. I used white masking tape (amazon link) to seal seams that were not factory glued, e.g. where I had to start a new roll in the middle of the room. Remember, Harmonics says you have to run the plastic up the wall one inch, and conceal it under the baseboard. This will take some effort to lay properly.
Starting out is hard to do! The first 5 rows (including the closet, a door, and 4 jambs) took a inordinate amount of time compared to the rest of the floor. But if you get started right you’ll hit the other edge right where you want to be. I clicked together a quick row of boards from one edge to the other, in the direction they would be laid, to determine what space would be left when I got to the other side. I would have ended up with one inch wide boards on the North edge, so I started by ripping the first row down to two inches, leaving me with reasonable-width, even edges. We also took great care with the first row to cut out notches to allow full coverage under the jambs and into the closet. A jig saw or coping saw will be required here.
Lengthwise I determined to start with a 1/3-length board and go from there. Then the next row I started with a 2/3 board, and with a full board on the final row of my pattern. Be very careful to know where your edge tongues will end up. I worked with the groove toward the room, so I essentially cut a board, then the halves switched places. In other words, you can’t ever have two cut edges together or you’ll have gaps that won’t close up. My pattern (start with 1/3, next row starts 2/3, and third row a full board) was very simple to follow but now that it’s in place it doesn’t look like an intentional pattern. I think this is largely because I was careful to mix up boards, so the randomness created by variation in boards “conceals” the patter in which they lay.
Door jambs have to be undercut so you can fit a board underneath (but don’t cut the stud!). I used a Shark Pull Saw (amazon link) that is extremely sharp so be careful, but it works great for the job (and accounted for my only band-aid). Push a board flat against the floor and use it as a height guide. The pull saws have a very thin kerf which minimizes the gap that will be above the board. This saw left such a minimal gap I won’t even have to fill it. Working boards under door jambs is not difficult. This was something I was worried about but once I was looking right at it, the issue was very solvable. It is possible because the boards can both “angle” in and “slide” in flat with proper (that is, appropriate) power.
Check each board before and after installing it, to make sure you didn’t get a dud. I think I had a whole box that was bad, but because I was mixing them in batches it’s hard to know. You will get to know the tools in the Harmonics kit very well. They are exceptionally well designed and made and hold up to a lot of (ab)use. Only near the end of the job was the “pull bar” starting to bend.
Remember to use spacers at every edge, keeping an expansion gap, but keep in mind how wide your baseboard is. I think it’s normally 1/2″ or slightly less. Though obviously you will be able to measure your choice. The other option is to leave your baseboard in place and use 1/4 round to conceal the gap. I didn’t want a built up look at the baseboard so I opted to pull mine and will be replacing them next weekend. Once the entire floor is down you need to use transition moulding strips at the doors. Harmonics sells it in matching laminate and the instructions are simple. I would only add that I think they suggest too large a gap for even-to-even floor transitions (option “A” in the pdf linked above). The 1.25 inches recommended should probably be one inch or slightly less. If you have a oscillating tool it’s easier to remove material and very difficult to add.
In all, I highly recommend the product. It does, however, require attention to detail and some finesse to massage everything together well. There is a lot of tapping involved to motivate the boards to “uniclic” together. It is marketed as a “quick click” joint but if you’re expecting LEGO you’ll be disappointed. That said, I’ve never installed laminate before and still got a result I’m very happy with (i.e. that my wife is very happy with). I need to give some of that credit to a good friend who has a great eye for woodwork. I’ve tackled harder projects on my own but he had a lot of good advice and a good pair of hands. He also provided access to a very nice miter saw and an even nicer table saw for a few in number but high in importance rip cuts. Without these power saws I don’t think I could have done it myself. Every row, and remember that each row is only 5″ wide, required two cuts. A miter box will simply not do the trick unless you have a lot of extra time … and patience that I don’t possess. I suppose a circular saw would be somewhat better than any hand saw, but the precision required still isn’t there. If you don’t own a power miter saw, consider renting one (or you could try a laminate cutter with which I have no experience (amazon link)).
There are several useful videos on youtube.com that explain some of the intricacies I’m sure I missed.
One final note on durability. I don’t know how well it will wear but I have two anecdotes for what that’s worth. One involves a hammer that was cast aside flippantly, bounced once, and made no noticeable impact on the finish. The other involves me using a utility knife to score the laminate layer so I could chisel a piece away from under where a transition moulding was meant to go. Obviously, from the second pass with the knife, there was a scratch, but it took several minutes to breach the laminate. I think if an intentional act of destruction can be prevented, the floor will last a long, long time. That, plus I followed every installation rule to a “t” and I’m not above cashing in the lifetime warranty in 20 years.
One final, final note. I’m not in the best shape of my life but many of my good years are still ahead. I’ll say that this is a very physical job involving getting up or down (or bending down) twenty or thirty times an hour, even when you’re in a good rhythm with another person. The floor required more physical labor than the 4 coats of paint I put on the walls the weekend before. Be aware and give yourself time.
Hammer (16-ounce claw worked for me), chisel, tape measure, jamb saw (see Shark saw, above), pencil/sharpie (sharpie comes off the finish easily with a magic eraser), Install kit tools (pull bar, block, moulding cutter, etc), Miter saw, Jig saw, Table saw (or another way to make relatively straight rips), tape, a big garbage can, shop vac, utility knife, safety glasses and hearing protection for power tools, a pry bar, and others I’m sure I’m forgetting.
I could sit in this room forever just enjoying the floors! I would only add that putting the boards in was a two person job, we took turns standing on the immediately preceding board while the other person tapped the next board into place. If you don’t do that the boards start to move too far along the floor even with the spacers. Also, the person standing on the board can tell the other person when to stop tapping.
We still have to put in baseboards like my husband mentioned and we are going to order some blinds from another Costco supplier, Graeber. It kind of saves time to just go with what Costco offers and we like the return policy. We’ve removed wallpaper and painted in other rooms but this is the furthest we’ve gone in re-doing a room and it is exciting though it is a lot of work. No ceiling popcorn removal until the kids are much older, it is just not worth the risk. The final cost can’t be beat on a re-do like this, it is way better than carpet and I love persian rugs so we’ll be putting one down in the room. We can’t say much yet about durability but our friend that helped told us his laminate floor (not the same brand or anything) in his kitchen has held up great for 7 years so we are optimistic.
Oh, and as for cleaning a floor like this, you don’t want to use a wet mop, that is something I never knew but may be obvious to everyone else. We had some trouble finding reviews of this stuff online because it is exclusive to Costco. Feel free to ask questions if you have any!
1/25/12 Note: The latest 2012 coupon book includes “Unilin Flooring” – the colors look the same as Harmonics’ in the picture. I believe Unilin has the patent for the clicking style of the floorboards and Harmonics licensed it…long story short, I think our experience with the Harmonics flooring should be of use still if you purchase this alternate Costco offering. Always best to use your own judgment, though!