With any project, especially of the DIY kind, come great opportunities for learning. Learning through failure, that is. (You like where this is going already, don’t you?) DIY-ing on a budget, for instance an extremely tight budget -like ours, presents it’s own set of difficulties. You’ve heard the expression, “you get what you pay for”, right? Well, what if you can’t pay for hardly anything? What happens when you can’t afford to be very choosy?
Whew- it’s tough to know where to compromise. Neither you nor I want our homes full of cheap garbage and shoddy workmanship. I’m all too familiar with that internal struggle that takes place when you can’t afford to make something yourself – because you can’t afford the tools or the supplies. And yet, you’re not about to give up. If you’re anything like me, you do the best you can. You learn along the way, you acknowledge that the results aren’t perfect; but they’re usually an improvement. That’s a win! And when something fails, breaks, or tarnishes, you’re okay with it. You’ve got a chance to do it better this time.
Some of those fails are easier to handle. Some of them are downright panic-attack inducing. If a picture frame comes apart, or even a table, I can manage that. It’s a bummer, sure. But those things are fixable. It’s the big stuff that I fear. I mean, what if I wire a switch wrong and burn the house down? Yipes!
If you’ve been following along on our little bathroom makeover adventure, ( you can read part 1 here, and part 2 can be found here) you’ll know this is a teeny-budget project. At this point in the story, I’ve done the demo, painted the walls, and put up the shelves. What remains is the floor, making a few more more storage pieces, the plank wall, and trim.
Let’s talk about that floor. Remember how I prayed before I went shopping? He answered, my friends! I wasn’t banking on being able to put in a new floor. After buying hardware and some supplies, there wasn’t much left; maybe 30 bucks. I do wish I had kept track of all the spending, because the outcome was pretty amazing. Still, I checked the flooring department of every store I went to, looking for discounts and clearance items. At the very last store on my route, I came across this:
Again, I had a not-made-for-taking-photos flip phone at the time. So, bear with me a little longer. It’s hard to tell here, but this box was loaded with high quality peel-&-stick vinyl tiles. The style was called “driftwood” and it looked like old barnwood. As in, just like the wood I was using for my shelves and other storage. It was a special order item, for over $50 per box. But this was a return. It was leftover from a project, and so it was deeply discounted. See that price tag?
Uh-huh. Ten-dolla! No. Freaking. Way!!!! But~ (dun-dun-dunnnn)…there was only one box.
I had already measured our bathroom, and remeasured, and remeasured again. I even looked up instructions online for how to measure flooring space and calculate how much material was needed- just to be safe. Now, I’m not the brightest crayon in the box when it comes to numbers. I tell people all the time that I like numbers if they’re pretty. However, I felt confident that I knew how much flooring I’d need- extra included, when I stood in Lowes holding that box. It was just enough.
I couldn’t screw this up, because I couldn’t afford to special order another box! This was it, folks. I was going for it. I said a thank you prayer, and asked for guidance in the installation, and bought that box.
Dad taught me to work from the top down. So, in my little bathroom makeover project, that’s what I did. That meant that the floor was last. As my deadline approached, I realized that things like the trim and the plank wall wouldn’t be done before my Handsome Prince returned. But that was okay. He was coming home Friday afternoon. The wedding was at 4:30. Wednesday evening I stood in that little bath with a utility knife and a scraper in my hand. Game on.
My plan was to cut out the small portion of old vinyl that was peeling up, “float” the cut-out area, and lay the new vinyl over top of it all. The rest of the floor seemed pretty solid, so after asking both of our dads I knew this this was the way to go. They each recommended their preferred product to use. I bought both.
Dad-in-law recommended Durham’s Rock Hard.
(I found them right next to each other on the shelf at the big box DIY store. The Fix-It-All, or as we always called it, Fix-All, came premixed in a bucket. Bonus! One less step I had to do.)
I got to work cutting away at the old damage. Apparently, there had been a toilet leak at one point. That’s where the floor had been coming up. As I worked I noticed that the vinyl had been laid over another, older floor. It came up too. In fact some of the plywood base came up. Large, large chunks of floor were loose. Umm, this was not good. All those pieces had to be removed, which meant the entire area around the toilet.
Over by the tub, the small spot that “looked a little loose”, grew to be a third of the floor in that area! This meant almost half of our old bathroom floor was in the trash. (As was that awful stench I could never get rid of.) I’d never installed a floor by myself. My experience was limited to helping my folks on a few projects. But, even I knew this wasn’t something “float” would fix. I was in way, WAY, over my head.
If you’re asking yourself what floating is, it’s similar to fixing a hole in a wall before painting. Whatever surface is underneath your flooring needs to be smooth. Dips and holes will eventually be visible if you’re using a more pliable product like my vinyl tile, or may even compromise the durability of say, ceramic tile, causing it to crack or not lay properly. Special products are used for flooring, however. Your filler needs to work with whatever materials are going on top of it; and it needs to both fill the void it’s applied to as well as adhere. You don’t want it popping out. So neither joint compound, nor drywall spackle will work. This technique is used for cracks, small holes and dips; not for covering large areas.
So much of our floor was damaged that I really needed to add a layer of plywood for a new substrate. But I didn’t have time, nor the money. The Man would be home in about 36 hours and this room needed to be usable.
So I prayed again. There was no way I could have known our floor was in such bad shape when I started. It was an honest mistake… and a big education. I decided to go ahead with floating what I could and laying down the new floor. I would tell him what I ran into and admit my failure; we’d have to replace the whole floor soon. So much for my “cosmetic bandaid”.
Defeated, I set up for the float phase. I chose to use the Fix-All product. I started laying it down, and you know – it just wasn’t what I expected. It was a lot like a wall compound. I stopped several times and read the bucket again. Granted, it didn’t specifically mention floors in the small print, but this stuff is used on everything. The name is Fix-All, hello! But I had this gnawing feeling something wasn’t right. I finished filling the floor, smoothed it out the best I could, cleaned up, and went to bed.
In the morning I checked to see if it was dry. To my horror, the areas of plywood I had coated were warped! What the….? Something was very, very wrong, and I knew it. A cup of strong coffee in hand, I looked at the bucket once more. This is what it said:
Flexall. Not Fix-All or Fix-It-All. And yes, it was very much indeed a wall patch compound. Oh. No. How do I do this to myself? I sanded smooth any ripples. The dried product was porous – not at all something I could stick floor tiles to. I could add a layer of Durham’s over top. But how long would that take to dry and then sand smooth? I was running out of time!
A few panicked phone calls later and I I dug out the new vinyl. I spent all day, and some of the next morning, on my knees laying those babies down. I knew it’d never work. But at least my Love would see what I was going for. He’d get a nice shower, we’d have fun at the wedding, and deal with this mess over the weekend. Sigh… A mess I made with the best of intentions.
The floor in progress. In this photo, the patched areas are covered already.
The tiles were thick and laid down nicely. This part of the process was surprisingly smooth, especially with my number-ineptitude. When I finished. I had 1 full tile and several small pieces left. It was close! I caulked the gaps, re-installed the old, yet painted, trim, and hoped for the best. The photo below is what my Love came home to.
You know, he was actually impressed. I was completely honest about the whole mess, and he was very gracious. We had a brighter, cleaner, non-stinky space. And we did have a great time at the wedding.
So where does this leave the bathroom? What about the rest of it? And the floor? We’ll finish her up in part four.
Ever had your DIY project go from bad to worse? How did things turn out for you?