Save a friendship: hire a contractor

Joan Fieldstone

December 10, 2012

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: FlooringContractors

I've been blessed with a best friend who can do just about any DIY project involving physical and mechanical ability -- skills I know I will probably never have. A year and a half ago we bought adjoining, newly built homes to take advantage of the bottomed-out housing market. I'm sure she never expected I would need her help with home improvements so soon; but when I adopted a rescue dog last summer, I quickly realized that either the carpeting or the canine would have to go.

living room carpet

Carpeting, or...

Dog wins over carpeting


The dog was much more appealing than the builder's-grade carpeting, so I priced hardwood flooring and laminates, but soon realized that it would be at least five years before I could afford to finance either type of flooring. Then in October I found my answer at Home Depot. At a price I can live with, Allure Ultra is resilient, waterproof, vinyl flooring that comes in large tongue-and-groove planks that look like wood, clean up with a dust mop, resist doggie claws and have a lifetime residential warranty (10 years for commercial use). Better yet, the style and color I wanted were on clearance and the box proclaimed, "easiest floor ever" to install. So how hard could it be?

resilient vinyl flooring project


My BFF keeps reminding me how I said, "We can knock this out next weekend." "We" quickly became "she," and a weekend became several. First there was the matter of laying plywood to even out and beef up the subfloor, and so that the formerly carpeted areas would be level with the kitchen's flooring that was laid over particle board. That took a lot of time, and filling and sanding the plywood seams and knotholes created a coating of dust that found its way as far as the second floor despite all efforts to contain it.

Two weekends into the project, after she made me watch "The Money Pit," I adopted a new slogan: "It's gonna look great…when it's finished." Meanwhile, Thanksgiving has come and gone. I'm hoping by year-end I can call this project "done."

The underlayment debacle

I learned the hard way to make sure to read and understand the instructions thoroughly before starting, especially if you are unfamiliar with a product or material. If you aren't sure about something -- or if the instructions seem ambiguous -- call the manufacturer's help or customer service line to clarify before you make a big mistake. Here's what happened:

We bought and put down an expensive grade of underlayment and finished laying the planks in the living and dining room up to the entrance hallway. We were ecstatic to see the bulk of the project done, but my friend had misgivings about the way the floor felt underfoot and suspected that the underlayment might not be a good idea. When I reread the installation instructions, I wasn't sure. A call to the manufacturer confirmed that underlayment with this flooring is a no-no. We took up all the planks, threw away $150 worth of underlayment and started over.

resilient vinyl flooring needs a level subfloor

Removing the underlayment was not fun

Okay, practice makes perfect. Round no. 2 went a lot quicker but was not without a few obstacles and injuries; and there are still a couple of planks neither of us can figure how to install without removing two door frames in my entrance hall. My friend is still filling, sanding and painting the floor moldings. It's getting old for both of us, but I love the floor.

It looks great; it improved the ambiance of the entire living space giving it a modern, trendy vibe that goes well with my mid century modern furnishings. Upkeep is easy; doggie and kitty "accidents" take seconds to clean. The floor never looks grungy.

Living room with resilient vinyl flooring

The finished resilient vinyl planks in the living room

My enthusiastic endorsement includes a few caveats: It's not hardwood, so a future buyer might scoff at the vinyl, even though it looks terrific. And installation is not that easy: It takes a lot of planning and some trial and error. Planks have to be angled just right and be debris-free for the tongues and grooves to fit together tightly so the floor won't buckle or separate. My friend used a scrap of the flooring material and a hammer -- her hands bear the scars -- to make sure each plank was snug before moving on; then, she checked over the whole floor after letting the vinyl expand and contract with temperature changes before putting the molding back up. It's tight and waterproof.

As with most remodeling projects, it has been a little painful getting through it. My friend wasn't talking to me for a while, and I "lost it" with her more than once while wading through the mess for a lot longer than if I had hired a contractor. When I think what friendship is worth and how much losing hers would have cost me, I guess paying a professional next time will seem like a bargain by comparison.


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