Most of the month of July was spent executing the most massive household renovation/ waste management/ de-stenching operation to date on Panache House while Chi was away on a musical research trip. This installment details the process of demolishing and stripping the beautiful vintage oak flooring in the living room that had been buried under two layers of nasty linoleum tiles and crappy wall-to-wall carpet. 

Listen while you read to “Encendido”, a new TPO piece for 2011 in context of the extremely volatile chemicals I was working with described in this post.  Oh, and it’s also a Latin-ish fusion piece in honor of Chi’s research trip to Cuba 🙂

Mid-July 2011
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After cleaning/ de-stenching/ sealing the living room walls after work during the week, I could finally begin work on the floors.  We had already removed the shitty carpet from the living room on Christmas Day a year and a half ago when Chi’s gift to me was to hire a slave to come in and clean the absolutely pestilential house, and that was when we found ourselves confronted by the scale of the cat piss problemunder the piano.  That was before we ever even thought about putting an additional litter box under the piano!  It was then that I first got acquainted with the full horror of removing wall-to-wall carpeting: having to pull up all the long strips of wood studded with hundreds of tacks to hold the carpet in place that are nailed securely to the floor around the perimeter of the room, the hundreds of thousands of staples stuck in the floor to tack down the pad under the carpet, the glue, etc. — the wretched business of having to get rid of all that bullshit, so I really should have had a somewhat more realistic idea of what I was up against in taking this on.

What was under the carpet….

close-up of the carpet strips we had to remove

and the zillions of staples stuck in the linoleum to hold the pad (as if it would move anywhere!)

one approach to getting rid of them

sweeping up the mess

First stage of floor demolition accomplished!

Anyway, my motivation was high to get the living room floor stripped of the grotty, nasty-ass linoleum tiles (TWO LAYERS OF THEM!) underneath the carpet we removed a year and a half ago, especially after my discovery that what lay beneath was beautiful, vintage oak!  When I saw that lovely stuff glowing back up at me after trepidaciously pulling up one lino tile, I was ready to have a go at it.

Holy shit! There’s oak under here!

Anyhoo, after finishing the walls in the dead of night Thursday and getting to bed around 0330 am, Friday after work I had made plans to go meet an old friend of mine I had recently hooked up with on FaceBook whom I hadn’t seen in at least 20 years, so nothing got done that night.  I had a great time though, and didn’t end up getting home until mid-afternoon on Saturday, so not enough got done that day either.  Nevertheless, while riding my scooter from Venice Beach back to Chinatown, the route I took led me to make the earth-shattering discovery that there is a Home Depot practically right down the street from my friggin’ house!  I had no idea!!  More ironic still, it’s right next to the hospital where I have taken Chi dozens of times for various appointments over the past couple years.  If I had only known that a long time ago, it would have saved me endless time, gas and grief.

When I got home, I decided based on my research that I would need a belt sander whether or not I actually went ahead and rented a floor sander (and for that matter, it would also come in handy for future household repair jobs other than this one), and went to a pawn shop down the street where I have bought several power tools in decent shape for dirt cheap to look for a belt sander.  They had a nice little Makita that I bargained down and picked up for $40, and then I went a couple blocks further to the newly-discovered Home Depot to buy sandpaper for the new belt sander, where I happened to note that the belt sander I had just bought second-hand for $40 would have cost somewhere in the region of $140 new.  That ate up the remainder of the afternoon, so I ditzed around for a little bit, fed the kitties, made a quick dinner in the increasingly dirty and dysfunctional kitchen and finally got ready to commence the next phase of the project.

After putting on eye protection, a dust mask and heavy work gloves to being seriously demolishing the living room floor, I realized that I hadn’t actually finished painting the walls Thursday night after work as I’d thought.  I had only done Stink Corner so that I could pull up the linoleum in that area and bleach/sanitize the underlying wood flooring and let it dry prior to commencing major demolition operations.  I took off the demo gear, re-outfitted myself appropriately for handling paint (chemical respirator, latex gloves, I dispensed with the knee pads this time since they caused more pain by cutting off my circulation than they saved when I had to kneel.  That was when I understood that there is a big difference between knee pads that are designed for sports – that are mostly played on one’s feet – and (considerably more expensive) construction knee pads that are especially designed for being on one’s knees!), got the paint, roller, paint pan, shop towels, etc., back out and finished painting the living room walls.

After changing back into the demo gear, I picked up the Floor Bully (long-handled floor scraper) tool that I had bought during the initial mission to Home Depot , and had a go at the floor, wedging the blade between a linoleum tile and the underlying hardwood and giving it a good push.  In most cases, I was able to slide the scraper far enough to pry up several tiles at once with both layers still stuck together.  We had a bunch of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods paper grocery bags piled in the kitchen, and once a fair number of pried-up tiles had accumulated, I broke them apart and put them into a doubled-up grocery bag and carried them out to the trash.  I was surprised at how much those things weigh.  Two bags’ worth of tiles was all I had the energy for that evening, so I called it a relatively early night and went to bed with plans to get up early the next morning and finish the job.

Well, when I woke up the next morning, I realized that there was no easy breakfast-like food left in the house, so I decided to hop on my scooter and ride down Sunset Blvd. and stop at the first Mexican fast food joint that caught my eye and have a breakfast burrito.  For some reason I didn’t see anything that looked open quickly enough to stop without having to majorly double back, so I ended up riding all the way to a shop Chi and I like in Los Feliz.  It took quite a bit longer than I’d planned on to ride there and back, which took a chunk out of my morning.

When I finally got home after that unexpected odyssey and was putting my scooter away out back, I heard a cat calling.  Puzzled, I meowed back at it while slowly walking toward the front of the house where the sound was coming from.  The cat and I kept up our conversation, and when I got near the front of the house and looked up, I was astonished to see Pink sitting out on the veranda wall looking down at me with relief, as if he were saying, “Mommy!  I’m so glad you’re home — I have no idea how to get back in the house!”  I couldn’t fathom how he had got out, and was very worried that the other Panache Cats may have escaped too.  I went in the front gate, climbed up the stairs, picked him up and carried him back out and up the driveway to the back door where I let both of us in, and then made a careful tour of the house to find the rest of the kitties and locate the place Pink had got out of.

It turned out that he had again violated the no-fly zone in the living room and fallen out the window where I noted that the screen had come loose from the frame.  I had been leaving all the windows open to air out the chemical fumes.  Well, I was apparently going to have to keep that one closed.  I was deeply relieved that he’d had the nous to figure out how to get from the driveway where he had fallen, around into the yard, and then up onto the veranda where he would be safe and I could find him easily when I got home, and that he’d had the sense to call out to me when I did.  Laxmi has fallen out the window a couple times and it has taken several days to get her back.

Well, I went back to work and eventually got both layers of skeevy linoleum pried off the living room floor.  Practically all of it came off just by whacking at the tiles with the Floor Bully, but in one place there were a few tiles from the lower layer that were stuck so fast to the wood that I still had to slice them off in tiny little pieces with a painting knife and hand scraper, and dig them out of the wood even after dousing them with solvent to loosen the adhesive.  The biggest pain in the ass of that phase of the demolition was hauling the tiles out to the garbage.  Good thing we’d kept all those grocery bags, which were just the right size and accommodated just enough tiles to match the limit of my strength in carrying them, and were also just strong enough for the bags not to burst open on the way to the garbage.  The tiles from just the living room alone almost completely filled up the trash bin, and I wondered how in the hell I was going to get it down the rather steep driveway and across the street for pick-up on garbage day, as those things were friggin’ heavy!

Pulling up the linoleum tiles, one quadrant of the room at a time

Some tiles (or portions of them) were stuck so fast to the floor that I couldn’t lift them with the floor bully

Wellllll…….now I was left with a 2-4 mm-thick layer of linoleum adhesive bonded to the wood floor.  It was actually a nice color – a warm, amber-ish hue that I would have happily left on as a super die-hard wear layer, had it been reasonably smooth, but alas, it wasn’t.  I was also concerned that it might cause adhesion problems with the varnish, depending on how the chemistry of each substance interacted with the other.  So how to get rid of it?  My online research revealed various approaches, using an assortment of things like boiling water, a variety of solvents, and even peanut butter!  For real!

Immediately dismissing the peanut-butter-and- putty-knife method as way too expensive, toilsome and time consuming, I started with the boiling water approach.  Epic Fail.  Didn’t do jack.  I had bought a quart of Klean-Strip paint stripper, but after some research, wasn’t convinced that it was the right chemical for this particular type of adhesive that looked like some sort of expoxy-ish resin-y stuff.  I made another mission to Home Depot and picked up five gallons of acetone (@ $16/gallon).  While I appreciate the risible absurdity of having thought that one little quart of Klean Strip would have been sufficient for this whole production, I’m sure glad I hadn’t bought gallons of it to have to exchange!

Before starting the adhesive removal phase of this operation, I noted that I still had the problem of a few massive objects I couldn’t relocate out of the living room: my grand piano, the ginormous TV & armoire that Chi had bought, and the sofa.  Well, I’ll see if I can at least wedge the sofa into the kitchen, or better yet, upend it and stuff it into Chi’s room until further notice.

At any rate, after some initial anxiety about the extreme flammability of acetone and admonishments I found online against using it for this purpose, I launched into the adhesive stripping phase in earnest.  I began somewhat awkwardly by pouring acetone on a section of floor and trying to spread it somewhat evenly with a paint roller, only to have it immediately flash off in the intense summer heat, dissolving only the uppermost surface of the adhesive sufficiently as to stick to the paint roller and render it useless for any other purpose.  I then tried placing a layer of shitty construction towels I had bought for this job on the floor and dousing them liberally with acetone, again only to have it flash off too quickly and stick the towels to the partially dissolved adhesive.  Well, by that point I was running low on ideas and energy, and left it for the next day after the day job.

the stuff I used for stripping the adhesive off the floor

While at the day job I did a little more research and learned that placing a sheet of plastic over the acetone keeps it from evaporating before it’s done its job.  Armed with that information, I set back to work after feeding the Panache Cats and myself upon my return home for the evening.  It was getting increasingly awkward trying to deal with food with all the displaced stuff piled in the kitchen, and I was running out of food anyway.  I realized that the great big box of humongous landscaper trash bags I bought along with the five gallons of acetone over the weekend would work exceptionally well for this purpose, assuming the acetone wouldn’t dissolve them too, adding yet another layer of crap to have to strip off the wood.

I laid out an array of towels about the size of one of those trash bags on the floor, drenched them with acetone, lay a bag on top, let it sit for 20 minutes or so to give the acetone time to work its magic, and then took off the bag (which fortunately came right up without sticking to anything) and towels and scraped the partially dissolved adhesive off with the floor bully.  It came rolling off in big, sticky globs something like half-cured rubber cement, that were quite a pain in the ass to pick up since they kept sticking all over everything.  I tried my best to gather up all the gunky dissolved adhesive with shop towels and put it in grocery bags to throw in the trash.  For the most part, this proved to be a winning strategy, albeit a painfully slow and labor-intensive one, stripping one 42-gallon trash bag’s worth of floor area at a time.

the bag technique

FIVE FRIGGIN’ HOURS LATER with my hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck and back aching like hell, I was non-plussed to note that I had only stripped ½ to ⅓ of the floor, and there were odd patches where the adhesive had apparently somehow fossilized and wouldn’t dissolve, mostly around the perimeter of the room.  By that point I reluctantly decided that it would be a great idea to rent a floor sander after all, and hoped they had some sort of “pee-wee” model that I would stand at least a fighting chance of being able to lift by myself.  That should make short work of any remaining adhesive residue.

Once I was successful in completely stripping the floor, the next conundrum would be how to go about varnishing it in sections without ending up with an obviously uneven finish.  That made me realize the impracticality of trying to hot coat the floor.  There’s simply too much of it, and I’d inevitably end up with foot prints and/or lap marks, and the end result would be pretty awful.  That further strengthened the case in favor of renting the sanding machine, and allegedly I can sand after only one hour of drying time for the ridiculously expensive oil-modified polyurethane varnish I am using, which wouldn’t add much to the timeline, but it did revive the spectre of the varnish sanding dust spontaneously combusting and destroying our insanely expensive brand-new vacuum cleaner.

– to be continued –

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