A before and after story about our 1890 home DIY upstairs floor landing renovation.
Way back in 2021 we tackled our upstairs hallway floor. Our house was built in the 1890s for one of the sons of the local tool and die factory owner. Over the last 130 years it has had many occupants and has acquired many layers of “home improvements”.
Old Houses and Shrek are Like Onions
“Shrek: Ogres are like onions. Donkey: They stink? Shrek: Yes. No. Donkey: Oh, they make you cry. Shrek: No. Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs. Shrek: No. Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. Onions have layers. You get it? We both have layers. Donkey: Oh, you both have layers. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions.Shrek and Donkey
Like Shrek and onions, my old house has many layers. Sometimes too many…..The upstairs hallway and landing of our old house had thick brown carpet, lovingly installed in 1995 by the previous residents. Below that layers there was thick underpadding – stapled everywhere. Below that, we had plywood, nailed….. and below that a vinyl wood tone floor – glued with thick black adhesive – and finally, the original pine floors – and several layers of paint.
Renovating without Moving Out
Our goal was to get back to the pine floor – if possible, without disrupting our household too much. The pine floors had already been revealed and refinished in three of the bedrooms, and we had installed engineered flooring in the master bedroom addition.
We have never moved out of our house to carry out our repairs – and so we have been taking things one room at a time. Our young adult children move in and out from their University and travelling lives, and we wait until the coast is relatively clear to start some projects.
Upstairs Landing Before
There was nothing wrong with the upstairs landing before, it just needed a freshening up because the carpet was 25 years old, the top of the stairs had been the home of a kitty litter box, and the baseboards had been chewed on here and there.
…..and the dark carpet made Max kind of depressed……..
Removing Old Carpet
My husband set to work tearing up the brown carpet. It mostly pulled straight up – and he took it directly to the garbage dump.
Next came the carpet underpadding. He tore this up as well – there was a bit of scraping again of this – and more garbage disposal.
Once the underpadding was up, we also removed those nasty carpet tack strips that were along all the edges. Many band-aids were required……
Under the carpet and underpad there were areas with plywood over vinyl – or just the vinyl. Our old house has different levels of flooring – so the previous owners had just applied plywood layers here and there to hide the flooring level changes.
Tearing Up Plywood and Vinyl Floor
My husband pulled up the plywood with a crowbar – and then we thought about the vinyl floor for a bit. What was it exactly – and how would we remove it? It was glued down with the thickest nastiest layer of black epoxy.
We believe the house was rented out for a few decades – and the vinyl wood-look floor was perhaps practical and low maintenance for the landlord of the time. We weren’t sure which decade the floor was from, but we did consider stopping our work an slapping down some engineered or laminate wood flooring over the top. It would have been much easier than stripping the rest of what we had. – But that would have been fake wood flooring over fake wood flooring over real wood flooring – and we just can’t do that…..
We took some chunks up and sent them off to a local laboratory for asbestos testing. We realized that there would be a lot of scraping and digging, so we wanted to be sure that the adhesive wasn’t too toxic. Previously we learned that old vinyl flooring (along with plaster, popcorn ceilings, vermiculite insulation and pipe coverings) can contain asbestos – so we have learned to just grab a sample, bag them up and submit them for testing. The samples tested as all clear and we started removing the tile.
No Easy Way Out
There was no easy way to get the vinyl floor up. My husband dug out his crowbar, and pulled and pulled and pulled. This was not good for the back – but he got it done. Then we had to get rid of the adhesive, which was liberally applied to the vinyl floor way back when.
We Googled and asked around and discovered – we just had to dig and scrape and peel – a little at a time. There was no easy solution.
I worked at this – one square foot or so at a time – for about 3 weeks. This was not popular with the rest of the family – dust and debris was everywhere. Eventually I used various blades of a multi-tool, and then a circular hand sander.
The work was discouraging – until – more and more pine flooring was revealed.
We went over the whole floor with the sander, and scraped and applied wood filler to the baseboards and in a few places on the floor. We applied a mixture of Gel Stains to the stripped flooring and then three layers of Satin – not Gloss Varathane. (I think a Gloss Varathane shows the flaws and dust more than a Satin coating.)
The stain is uneven in colour – but we like it that way. If we had bought new engineered wood floor we would have bought “hand-scraped – antique” wood – but isn’t that the same thing? There were also a lot of nails and staples to remove. But the floor is done.
Old House Upstairs Landing After
I put down some non-skid Ikea runners to keep my kids from sliding too much at the top of the stairs! Sometimes I keep a small desk at the top of the stairs, and I’ve also had a comfy wicker reading chair up there. There isn’t really any purpose for the nook at the top of the stairs, but it is fresh and clean now.
We also painted the walls and baseboard and re-stained the bannister. This whole process was definitely the most time consuming and messy of any of our home improvement projects. I see now why people just put new flooring down over everything – but we didn’t – and now that we are finished, I’m glad we didn’t.
I don’t know if our kids will ever get over the amount of dust that got all over their things – but too bad! It’s been all done now for quite a while and we are happy with the results. I hope you enjoyed our Upstairs Landing before and after story!
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