Bad Idea? Probably. Do It Anyway? Probably
May 5, 2012 2:30 PM   Subscribe

Hardwoods under my yucky carpet. Just how big a pain in the ass is this going to be? DIY version.

I share a house with two other people. I have the top floor to myself which equals about 2 1/2 rooms or 375 square feet not including 13 stairs and a 5x5 landing in between flights.

I pulled some of the carpet around a heating vent and found every Portlander's wet dream. Hardwoods! Yeah! It looks like it matches what's on the main floor, so we're pretty sure it's hardwood and not fir.

The Ground Rules.

Owner of the house is okay with me pulling up the carpets and okay if I don't. She would rather not pay for the process. Her overall stance is that she's very flexible in letting others change their space within reason, but she does not pay for changes based on the preferences of the tenant. I am 100% comfortable with this.

My other housemate is okay with me pulling up the carpet and will help with the work as he is available, so long as I buy more area rugs to muffle sound. Since he's the one who has to live below me, I am also 100% comfortable with this.

The Constraints:

Time: How much? Some folks say I have a lot of furniture. I'd say they're right - about 12 heavy, largish pieces, 5 smaller, lighter ones. Is breaking the project into sections like: Bedroom; move dressers to this side, take out carpet, move bed to that side, remove carpet, doable?

Money: I don't have a lot to spend on gear, tools, hauling/dump fees, and finishing products for making the hardwoods all pretty. I have no idea how to begin estimating costs. Added challenge: I am habitually and forever overwhelmed by Home Depot.

Know How: I have less than zero, but would like to learn as much as I can myself as to A. feel like a badass and B. bug the housemate and dearests only when I really need to. Is it at all realistic to try this without doing any damage to the house and floors?

It's daunting enough project - enough to almost make me back down. But...the carpets are very light and pretty gross since I frequently spill things and have a dog in a very soggy, muddy town. As it is I spend a fortune every few months on carpet cleaners.

So, Dear MeFites:
Should I do it?
How should I do it?
You'd tell me if I was walking into a nightmare, yes?
posted by space_cookie to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I helped a friend rip carpet out of her very old house. Things to consider:

1) It's a filthy job. Filthy. You will kick up a lot of dust. You do not want this dust on your bed, etc., so you will probably need to remove everything from at least some rooms. You will use a sharp blade to cut the carpet into strips, roll it up, & haul it out to the dump.

2) You may find thousands of small nails or staples used to hold down the carpet & the wood strips it was attached to. These can take forever to remove.

3) You don't know what's going on under the carpet. Yes, the parts you saw are hardwood, but it's very very possible that there's a huge section of wood that is missing & has been replaced by plywood or some other non-matching wood.

My friend hired someone to sand & refinish the floors after removing the carpet. It looks beautiful, but it was a lot of work.
posted by belladonna at 2:48 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

(That said, if I were living there I would definitely remove the carpet.)
posted by belladonna at 2:49 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you pull up the carpet, what does the floor look like? Try to keep a part of the carpet away from the floor and clean it with a little water and paper towel. It could be that the floor was well protected and just needs to be cleaned.

My floors needed to be sanded and refinished and it took two days before you can walk on it and I had it done by a professional. The Smell is awful and where would you store all of your furniture? You'd have to stay someplace else until the floor is set.

I have used one step floor wax for many many years and it provided a beautiful finish on the floors of a place my family rented. Maybe try that first. You'll be putting area rugs down anyway so it won't be horrible if it's not perfect. Jut be sure you clean the floor with Murphy's oil soap or something like it (mixed with lots of water) go over with just water (I would use a mop for this) and let dry. Apply the one step wax with a sponge mop and let dry. This process should take you about an hour in your area from beginning of washing to completely drying of the wax (given that you're not too heavy handed with the wax.)

Oh, I used a generic brand one step wax from the big supermarket. All of them work very well.
posted by Yellow at 2:50 PM on May 5, 2012

Maybe a nightmare, maybe not. It depends a lot on what condition the floor underneath the carpet is in. I have refinished badly-damaged hardwood floors, and it is no picnic let me tell you. It involves hours and hours of work with loud, heavy, dusty machinery before you can even get to the point of putting on the sealer. The process renders the rooms in which it is being done uninhabitable.

If the previous owners carpeted over the hardwoods, I would guess that they are not in great shape. One of the main reasons that people carpet over hardwood flooring is that it is considerably quicker and cheaper than refinishing.

Maybe they're not too bad, though. Maybe you'd get lucky. By the time you know if you're going to get lucky though, you'll likely have ripped up a lot of the carpet and by then there'll be no going back.

How long do you plan to live in this apartment? Are you OK with doing thousands of dollars' worth of free work for your landlord?
posted by Scientist at 2:52 PM on May 5, 2012

3) You don't know what's going on under the carpet. Yes, the parts you saw are hardwood, but it's very very possible that there's a huge section of wood that is missing & has been replaced by plywood or some other non-matching wood.

Yeah, you may want to consider whether you're willing to pay for new carpet in case you find something horrible under there.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:53 PM on May 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

If the wood underneath is damaged and needs to be sanded, you have a major job on your hands. Sanding of floors is probably a job best done by professionals. The equipment is big and powerful and requires a steady hand to do a good job. However, if it's only damaged in localized places, you could cover the damage with area rugs.

And you could always recarpet if the floor is beyond your abilities or budget to fix. However, laying carpet is also a job for professionals, but it is usually reasonably-priced if you catch a sale, and quick.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:53 PM on May 5, 2012

We ripped up the carpet and had our floors refinished when we moved into our house. The carpet removal wasn't that bad, although as others are mentioning: sh*loads of small nails, and we had a few sections where there were plywood and it had to be patched.

I've gotta say that the money we spent to let someone else do the refinishing was a good deal. And I say this as a guy who's finishing up re-plumbing my house today (really). I think our 768 square feet took several days, sanding (with the big walk-around sander that I would have had to rent, and that apparently involves some finesse to actually keep the floor fairly level), and then coats of 2 part polyurethane, nasty stuff you don't want to touch, at long intervals.

I don't particularly think laying carpet is all that hard, but you will have to rent a carpet stretcher to do it right, so there are some "oh crap, let's back this out" options, but refinishing hardwood floors is a damned lot of work.

On the other hand, if you peek under a few more sections of carpet and decide that the nail holes are only around the edges and you won't need to re-sand, then yanking carpet isn't nearly as bad as everyone here says. We did the entire house in a few hours, the night before we closed...
posted by straw at 2:58 PM on May 5, 2012

I did this in two different places over the years and it wasn't that hard, the ripping up part. Both the places that I did it had various levels of different linoleum. It felt kind of fun and rewarding to see what was under there.

I think it really depends on the condition of the wood, and how you feel about it. I decided I liked the funkiness of it all and didn't touch it. One of the apartments had this floor that had paint here and there and various imperfections like that, and I really liked that look, and it was way better (for me) than what was there before.
posted by miles1972 at 3:14 PM on May 5, 2012

My sister removed 30-year old carpet herself in her three-storey house. It was hard and dirty! Lots of small nails and staples that needed to be removed. The pad had fallen apart and she shoveled it up with a snow shovel.

She refinished the floors herself. She used an organic, nontoxic solvent and then sanded and finished with low-gloss polyurethane.

I think the floors look great. But it was a hard job and took her a couple of years, since she did it room by room.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 3:14 PM on May 5, 2012

I sanded the parquet flooring in a flat I used to live in and, while it was a bit daunting at first, was remarkably easy in the end. Fun, even. Took a day to do one reasonable sized room, including a couple of coats of varnish.

It was surprisingly cheap, too - I can't remember how much exactly, and it was in the UK and a few years ago, but something daft like £25 for day's hire of a belt sander, orbital sander and the varnish.

Laying carpet is a lot less difficult than people would have you believe, too.
posted by ComfySofa at 3:19 PM on May 5, 2012

The carpet is probably being held in with tack strips, which leave small holes in the floor when they're removed. This isn't a big deal, but it's one more pain in the ass -- you'll have to fill in the holes with putty, probably.

Once I tore out carpet and discovered that the floor underneath was covered with splotches of paint that a professional had to remove. We couldn't see that from the bit we pulled back around the vent.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:20 PM on May 5, 2012

We (me - total amateur, roomies - total amateurs) resurfaced the badly damaged hardwood floor in our kitchen about a year ago. The kitchen's about 20 square meters. It was about 2 full days of major PTA work, although I'm sure we made a whole bunch of mistakes.

The machine is about the size of a lawnmower, weighs about as much, and the noise makes a household vacuum-cleaner sound like a gentle whisper. Getting it from the store, into a car, and then up the stairs to our apartment was no picnic. Also, it takes quite a bit of strength to control the damn thing when in use or it will gouge crazy random patterns into your floor while dragging you behind it. Its not that hard - but it becomes tiring after a few hours. In the process, it also produced a good 20 pounds of sawdust which is actually quite dangerous and volatile stuff that you have to take care of. You need a heavy-duty power outlet, it'll probably blow the breakers on an ordinary one, at least it did in our flat. Also, the little staples and nail-heads that we didn't bother yanking out of the floor owing to the impossibility of said endeavour produced showers of sparks when the sander went over them, and did their part in wearing out the sand paper. We ended up spending a good 80 bucks just on the sandpaper.

After the big machine, we went over the tricky spots with a handheld sander - which is a pleasure in comparison. And then we polished the floor with wood oil, which took 2 days to dry, so in total we had no usable kitchen for 4 days. It then took about a week for the smell of the oil to dissipate, and also about that much time for us to eliminate the sawdust from... everywhere.

Between the machine rental, the sandpaper, and the oil - the whole project cost about 200 euros but I'm sure prices are different in the states. And a whole lot of time. The result was great, but I think next time I might leave it to the pros.

YMMV. And may the force be with you.
posted by tempythethird at 4:11 PM on May 5, 2012

Removing carpet is easy-peasy. Well, not physically easy, because it is heavy and dirty and you will have millions of tack strips, and you have to move the furniture around, etc. But there's nothing complicated about it at all; you could do it all in one day or spread it out over months, your choice. You will need to take care of disposal, though -- normally that means hauling it to the dump in a truck, or paying someone to do the same. How much that will cost depends on landfill fees where you live; you'll have from a few hundred to maybe a couple thousand pounds to deal with, depending on how big your place is and how heavy the carpet is.

Refinishing the wood flooring, though, is a major, major operation. Dust and fumes, and you'll need to get all your furniture out (or at least out of each room if you are doing the rooms one by one. It's not a simple thing to redo floors while you are living in a place, and more so if you have pets.
posted by Forktine at 4:20 PM on May 5, 2012

It's a rental. A lot of the work described above is something you'd do if you owned the place, but not otherwise. I wouldn't plan on refinishing the floors, just deciding ahead of time that you'll live with/put an area rug on the not-nice spots.

Pulling up the carpet is gross and dusty. If it's been wet, the pad is likely crappy underneath as well. You can mitigate some dust by putting a box fan in a window pointed outwards, but everything (furniture, baseboards, walls, your stuff) will be dusty and require a wipe down.

You need: carpet knife, small crowbar, hammer, pliers, heavy work gloves, big rubbermaid-type trashcan, maybe a shovel. Shop vac is optional but would be great.

Cut the carpet in strips a few feet wide with carpet knife. Yank the strip off the tack strips, rolling it up as you go, haul it out. Carpet pad that's too destroyed to roll, you can shovel into trashcan.

Use a crowbar to remove tack strips. Wear heavy gloves to gather them into the trash. Remove any remaining nails from tack strips with a hammer. Use pliers to pull staples that held the carpet pad. This will take longer than you think. It's annoying, but not hard.

Vac and mop floor, deploy rugs strategically. Enjoy your much-better-than-it-was living space.
posted by donnagirl at 4:28 PM on May 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

As everyone is saying, the carpet removal is the easy part. You may be able to put it out with the trash, especially if you section it into small rolls. A good staple-removal tool is water-pump pliers. By grabbing the staple and rolling the pliers onto the rounded back of their top jaw, you can lever staples out with minimal damage to the wood. Even a small pair of these pliers works well. If you can't grip the staple, you have to pry it up with something sharp, which is riskier for the wood.

Refinishing the hardwood is a project, and you won't be able to do rooms in sections - the only sensible way to do it is to move everything out of the whole space and do it all at once. The finish takes days to dry, and you won't be able to move back in until it is dry. Urethane sometimes takes weeks to stop producing fumes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:31 PM on May 5, 2012

A lot of people are really into wall-to-wall carpeting and put it down on top of perfectly fine floors. If you're lucky, that's what you will find. Otherwise be prepared for all the stuff others have mentioned. I hate wall-to-wall carpeting and would definitely remove it, even in a rental. Cutting the carpet into small manageable pieces is key. If the floors aren't so great you could paint them instead of the endless costly inconvenient refinishing. Painted floors are easy and look good.
posted by mareli at 4:33 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

A good staple-removal tool is water-pump pliers. By grabbing the staple and rolling the pliers onto the rounded back of their top jaw, you can lever staples out with minimal damage to the wood.

Even better in many situations is a nice pair of end nippers. They are made for snipping things, but they work perfectly for grabbing on and using those big rounded sides for leverage. Because of their shape, they are very unlikely to mar or dent the wood while pulling staples and nails.
posted by Forktine at 5:08 PM on May 5, 2012

What everyone else has said, plus wee bit of hope.

It is more likely that you have perfectly fine floors under carpet on a second floor because of the same reason your downstairs roommate wants you to use area rugs--noise muffling. I have pulled up carpet on wood floors a few times and the upstairs was never a problem beyond staple/carpet nail removal and the dust/dirt sneezed all over the placed by the carpet.
posted by rumposinc at 5:20 PM on May 5, 2012

Get some plastic sheeting and tape it over room entries and closed doors to help with the dust. Wear a dust mask, good heavy gloves, and if you refinish you should wear a respirator. Absolutely rent a shop vac or buy one of the little wet/dry ones if you can store it. (They are not very expensive.)

Take your time, stay hydrated, play good music when not using the sander, remember that area rugs over painted floors will be very nice as well if the floor is in bad shape, soak in the tub when you're done, and let us know how it goes!
posted by jgirl at 5:27 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing we did when we moved into our house (and I do mean the *first thing we did* - we unlocked the doors and went upstairs) was to remove all the carpeting on the second floor. Compared to everyone else here, our removal was awesome - yes, it was dirty and time-consuming, but the floors underneath were in fantastic condition - just a lot of paint splotches that we got up with Goo Gone.
posted by Lucinda at 5:57 PM on May 5, 2012

Took me a few/several days to take up the carpet in the front room of my apartment by myself, which I think is 12x15. I bought some gnarly shears and just worked my way across the room in ~18in strips, which I rolled up and put in the trash. Then I used a nail puller/screwdriver to take up the wood tack strips. I started with a carpet knife, but it was quite a bit slower than just plowing through with spring-loaded shears.
posted by rhizome at 6:17 PM on May 5, 2012

I pulled up carpet recently. Took me about an hour per room, and I did do it by moving furniture to one side and then the other. Then it took about another hour to get the tack strips up - although it went faster the better I got at it (and the less I started to care about gouging holes in the floor: YMMV).

I haven't refinished wooden floors, though. From what I hear it is horrible, and you really do have to move out for a few days.

I would only do this project if you are okay with potentially spending the money to recarpet if you've removed what's there and found something you aren't willing to deal with (and/or if your landlord decides they don't think the bare floors are an improvement after all.)
posted by lollusc at 6:35 PM on May 5, 2012

It took me a day or so to remove the carpet from my living room. The padding was stapled down, and I had to remove lots of bits of staple with pliers. I removed the carpet reasonably carefully, rolled it up, and offered it on Craigslist Free. Gone. I kept some padding to use under rugs; the rest was pretty shredded, and went in trash bags.

The plywood flooring beneath was in fine shape. Your hardwood may be just fine. Clean it well, then use some floor wax. I like waxed hardwood floors with patina way more than sanded and polyurethaned hardwood.

You will definitely need rugs and pads under them to soundproof.
posted by theora55 at 7:52 PM on May 5, 2012

Pulling the carpet is not hard, just time consuming. Be prepared to spend hours on your hands and knees pulling up staples with a pair of pliers.

Refinishing is a beast, and should be left to professionals if you are not the DIY type of person.

My concern would be noise. Even with area rugs, you are going to be making a LOT more noise for your downstairs neighbor once the carpet is removed. Carpeting doesn't just dampen the sound of where your feet hit the floor, it dampens the entire floor, and with the carpet and carpet pad underneath it, it does a good job. We pulled up the carpet in our house, and even with area rugs, the sound that transfers through the floor to the rooms below is at least twice as loud. If you are going to do this, you are going to have to buy lots of rugs.
posted by markblasco at 8:43 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

+1 "filthy" -- mountains of sand awaited under carpet here.

I take it you don't have access to a dumpster in which you can dump away, so the cost of renting a skip or making multiple trips to the dump with heavy and dirty bags of carpet won't be insignificant. I notice Groupon and similar sites sometimes have specials on firms that haul junk away for you, so that might be something to look out for...

I would not, under the circumstances. Roommate situations can change pretty quickly, you're up the creek if the flooring underneath is a mess, hardwood + rugs = messy living = lots of cleaning of rugs and sweeping; it's not like you'll free yourself of day-to-day maintenance hassles.

One odd thing to watch out for: do the baseboards go all the way down to the hardwood; is that nicely finished? Some people are daft enough to install flooring over flooring and then fix up baseboards at the level of the newest floor rather than the original one.
posted by kmennie at 4:52 AM on May 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

RE: shop vac: Lowes sells a small shop vac that fits on a standard 5-gallon paint bucket, for about $20. Home Depot probably has it, too, and they both sell the buckets.

All that dirt everyone is talking about is what you've been living with for the whole time you've been living on carpet. We once had one of those vacuum-cleaner salesmen (I think it was for Kirby) come in and demo his machine by vacuuming one room of the carpeted place we lived in. He pulled up huge quantities of dirt. This was in a place we'd had recarpeted a few years earlier and vacuumed regularly with a Hoover. Oh, and we always removed our shoes at the front door. When we moved from there to a place with wood floors, my wife's sneezing stopped, and we both had far fewer other symptoms of allergy. I will never live on carpet again; it's worse than having dirt floors.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:23 AM on May 6, 2012

To be sure, it took me several days because I was doing it after work.
posted by rhizome at 11:32 AM on May 6, 2012

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