Sweat, blood, tears and concrete stain
The hallway above represents our best cosmetic project to date. I've mentioned before that most of our work thus far has been of the non-cosmetic nature which means that my husband has done a lot of it (since I don't trust myself with activities such as electrical work or plumbing). This project, however, is all mine.
The project started before we moved into the house, when I noticed a rather funky odor coming from the basement. We knew (from using our eyes), that there had been minor flooding (probably when the home stood vacant for a year or two), and I recognized the smell as mildew. I decided to immediately take action by ripping up the vinyl which had the effect of relieving us of the smell, but making our hallway look... well just bad.
After several months of on and off work, we finally completed our fancy stained concrete floor (three weeks ago). The process was much more difficult than I initially imagined it would be, and I poured sweat, blood and tears into this floor. The blood from scratching open a bug bite, and the tears mostly from marital strife, but the sweat was legitimate. If you want to learn more about this process, keep on reading.
Deciding on stained concrete
Normally, I don't prefer to have stained concrete in interior spaces, but because our house rests on a slope, we decided that a small amount of water could again enter our basement during a torrential downpour. Since we are thinking of this house as a potential future rental, we are focusing on minimizing future maintenance, and stained concrete was the only flooring option (that we could think of) that can withstand a small amount of interior water without damage.
As we began eliminating choices that could be damaged under "watery" conditions, we decided that only certain types of tile and stained concrete (and of course nasty vinyl) can withstand those conditions. Since we don't yet own a tile saw, tile was right out. Thus, stained concrete was in. The stained concrete will remain limited to this hallway and the connected laundry room (which is where the water could enter).
I suppose it should be obvious, but we chose stained concrete in an area that had a concrete subfloor which meant that our floor is resting directly on our foundation. It has actually served to keep us a bit cooler this summer, but I think will yield a bit of heat loss in the winter. This is not something that I would be inclined to repeat if we were in Minneapolis. I want a little bit of insulation under my feet to shield me from the arctic blasts.
This project was about 60% preparation. Of course, to properly install flooring you will need to rip up your old floor (and properly dispose of it - ideally without being Redneck Neighbors). This step, which I would think to be obvious was anything but obvious to the previous owners. For this project, I ripped up two layers of vinyl. For other projects, I've ripped up four!
The next step in this process was to use a utility knife and a putty knife to dig the little chunks of vinyl from under the trim. We could have removed the trim altogether, but it's still in okay shape, so we didn't do that.
Next, I cleaned. My Shop Vac, came in very handy here. Anytime that I've done deconstruction, I have been shocked by the amount of sand, sediment and other nasty bits that come with the territory. The Shop Vac is my preferred tool for this type of cleaning. If you are embarking on any type of renovation and you don't have a shop vac, you should probably reconsider. Normal vacuum cleaners cannot handle wet/dry, and the huge amount of sediment that need to get sucked up. I've seen Shop Vacs for sale on Craigslist, and Harbor Freight tools also has a few at a lower price point, but they don't have high customer ratings, so I would stay away from those.
Once I cleaned, I still had one major problem which is that the vinyl had been laid with a nasty black mastic glue. I'm sure this is standard, but I could not for the life of me figure out what to do.
I finally did enough research to realize that black mastic responds best to heat. So I found a wall paper scraper blade, which I had my husband reinforce with a stronger screw (and while he was at it, that gem of a man replaced the blade too). I also found my husband's blow torch.
My technique was to use the blow torch to heat a large chunk of black mastic and then quickly scrape it up with the wallpaper scraper. It worked really well (although, it was a bit dangerous, so it had to happen at night after my little guy wen to bed). My estimate is that for Approximately 150 square feet, I was able to complete this task in 10 hours.
After this activity, I had to clean again. Once again, the shop vac came to the rescue. I would say I spent about 25-30 hours on this prep work (over the course of two weeks).
The Daily Grind
Once the floor was cleared of the mastic, I could have plopped concrete stain and sealer onto it, but it would have looked pretty ugly. I wanted to have a bit of that shiny effect, so I realized that I needed to grind the concrete using an angle grinder. The one that we own is a super high quality angle grinder that my husband bought a few years back when he ground down our patio.
I started with no diamond pads, just to get a rough grind going. This allowed me to remove quite a lot of material, and importantly, it eliminated the majority of the dark lines that were present. My specific technique was to pour a small amount of water over the grinding area, and grind until sufficient material was removed. The main caution is that if you are tired or lazy, the angle grinder can get away from you, and cause gauges in the floor.
It took 8 days to grind down the 150 square feet. At first, I wasn't very strong, so I could only do about 1 hour per night. By then end I was up to 2.5 hours.
I repeated this process with a 50 grit pad, and 100 grit as well. After the 100 grit, I felt satisfied with the smoothness of the floor.
The most challenging aspect of this grinding, was clean up. The process I used yielded tons of debris flying all over the wall, flowing under the trim and stairs, etc. Most nights, I just wiped down the walls (since I would later wash the walls to prep for painting), but I used an old beach towel, three old hand towels, and 3-4 dozen shop rags each days to clean the floor. Each night was concluded by washing a load of laundry. Most mornings started by putting the laundry in the dryer. Thankfully, I wasn't concerned with mildew damage to my rags.
Once I finally finished grinding the floor (probably another 3-4 weeks though not working each night), I once again had to clean. I scrubbed the floor with sponges, Shop Vacced it, and then mopped. The shop Vacced on more time for good measure.
After this, the floor sat and sat and sat. It was prepped for staining, but the stain takes 4 hours to dry, and we needed two coats, so we had to wait for a day when the roommate would be out of town.
Finally, our roommate informed us that he would be going to Charlotte to visit a friend, and on a Saturday no less! That was the day we decided to stain the floor.
Thankfully, we were rain free because we had to move our washer and dryer to the yard for a day and a half.
We used Behr Premium Concrete Stain in the brick red color. Although the manufacturer's recommend spraying, we used a paint roller. First because we don't have a paint sprayer, and second because we did not really want to apply paper and tape to our entire walls.
They key is to successfully using a paint roller for applying concrete stain is to work quickly and avoid any puddling. Smooth stokes were critical. After we rolled, we waited 4 hours, and I "cut in" under the trim using a paint brush. The timing might seem weird, but we really wanted to get the rolling done while my son was napping.
After I cut in, my husband rolled on a second coat of the stain. This time he used more stain than on the first coat, but he still avoided puddling. At this point, the floor looked great! We were a bit worried that it might look splotchy or uneven, but it did not.
Unfortunately, we were already inching towards the early evening, and the roommate claimed he would be back at 11PM or earlier. We didn't have time to apply our concrete sealer.
However, the next morning, after our Roomie left for the lab, we took advantage of his day at the lab by applying Behr Premium Wet-Look Sealer. Once again, we used a (fresh) paint roller, and this worked out perfectly. We only had to wait 4-5 hours before we could walk on the floor again, and by the end of the evening we were able to re-install the washer and dryer.
It feels incredible to have one part of our house looking marginally complete, even if it is the least used part of the house.
Total cost- Less than $75
The total cost for this project was under $75 including one gallon each of the stain and the sealer, new paint rollers, a can of benzotine gas (for the blow torch), and new blades for our wall paper scraper. We already owned the angle grinder and pads, as well as the blow torch.
This will easily be our cheapest project during this renovation (except painting which is free because my husband has the hook up at the Raleigh Recycling Center), but I think it has added a ton of value (if only of the emotional variety) to our house.
I'm a wife, a mom, an employee, and a personal finance nerd who is devoted to spreadsheeting my way through life.