Monday, October 29, 2012

A Waterproof Wonder: Allure Vinyl Plank Flooring (Part One)

Of all the things that annoyed me about the house I currently live in, the top two on my list are:
 1. Flooring
 2 .The trim and mouldings.

I dubbed this place "The House Where Laminate Came to Die" and vowed that every inch of it would come out! The previous owner evidently caught a sale on some laminate and went to town in installing it- incorrectly- then trimming it out in some sort of styrofoam moulding (not meant for the floor and in my opinion, shouldn't be used anywhere...ever.). The second floor was lovingly wrapped in what I like to call "Sea Foam Gray" carpet.

It was at least seven years old, and even my best attempts with my carpet shampooer couldn't bring it back to life (and I have more experience with a carpet shampooer than I like to admit- thank you world's worst pack of dogs).

(This is of the four scoundrels!)
So first on my list of things to tear out was the lovely "sea form green" carpet that covered the upstairs. My initial conquest was the master bedroom. I hadn't yet decided what type of floor I wanted to install, but I got to work on ripping out the carpet and tack strips and the 5 zillion staples from carpets past.

(Side note- to do the best job possible, remove all baseboard mouldings. My mouldings are positively stuck on the wall- after years and years of being painted over, and when I attempted to remove them I was doing some major damage to the dry wall. So I have opted to leave the baseboard and install shoe moulding over the new floors. Which I hate, but my hands were tied on this one).

Once that was finished, I was ready to go. In case you haven't done this before and need some advice, the best tool to use is your husband's expensive swiss army knife tool  thingy (who knows what it's really called?!) and don't tell him that you are removing carpet with it (and after you ruin that, use a good crowbar, hammer and long flat head screw driver). So I hauled myself over to Lowe's and meandered around the aisles looking for a good deal on anything that didn't include the words "carpet" or "sea foam green". Here is where I made my first mistake. You see, I have this life long bad habit of shopping the clearance aisles. Sometimes my thrifty purchases are a home run, and sometimes you just get what you pay for. This was the latter of the two outcomes with my .99 cents a square foot laminate that I found on sale. Big Huge Mistake.

So I stacked about twelve boxes of this stuff (for the record, it was Swiftlock Aged Gunstock Oak) onto the not-for-heavy-items cart and left the store with a small price to pay for a new floor. I did buy the expensive underlayment- thinking that would make up for the crappy product I just bought. That cost about $100 for two rolls. That was the only thing I got right about this project and I'll be sad to see that expensive underlayment going on the trash soon!

Very long story short and after over 30 hours of work, I got what I paid for. The laminate would NOT CLICK TOGETHER! I would get the first section all hooked together, then when I moved on to the next section I would notice that a few rows up things were coming apart. This continued numerous times and it became by far the most frustrating project I have ever done. I'm going to be honest, there were some exhaustion and frustration induced tears involved. By day three (of  job that should have taken half a day) I had given up, started gluing pieces together and concluded that this would be a temporary floor until I decided on a product that actually did it was supposed to. A huge positive that came from this project was my new flooring saw, which I highly recommend. It is the Skilz floor saw and it did an amazing job. I have since used it for many projects, not just flooring, and would highly recommend it for trim and small moulding jobs as well! Well worth the $120 it cost.

So back to the carpet and for the main reason on this post. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs and all of the carpet had to go. I spent a ton of time trying to decide what type of floor I wanted to install and it had to fit these criteria: Waterproof, durable, must not be a floor you "click" together, ( because that just doesn't work for me evidently), and did I mention waterproof? (four dogs and a toddler who loves to play with all things liquid, especially dog water bowls).

My first option was laminate, but I now have a healthy and abundant hatred for all things laminate, and it is far from being waterproof, so I scratched that off my list. My second option was engineered hardwood, which I think is a great product and was almost the big winner...except it is also not waterproof. Tile was third on my list. I love tile and if this was Florida or Arizona my entire house would be tiled. Every. Inch. Of. It. But alas, my real estate agent told me that an entirely tiled house in Virginia is a bit kooky and not so great for resale, so I scratched that idea. I remembered a product I had dabbled with a few years ago and wasn't very impressed with it back then: Peel and stick vinyl. A few years ago I installed this in a room and did not like it at all. It ended up being an expensive pile on the curb. However, after a few years and some research it appeared that they had improved this product significantly. And guess what? It's as close to waterproof as a floor can be. I read so many positive reviews about people doing all sorts of water experiments on this stuff- and it wasn't affected at all. One guy even left the boxes out in a hurricane and the product was still completely usable. That sounds like the right product for me and my herd of dogs.

This is perpetrator Numero Uno, Ernie:

Back to the floors. Home Depot carries a product called Allure. It now comes in two forms- peel and stick vinyl planks and vinyl planks that click together (both are "floating" floors, meaning that they do not adhere to the current floor but stay put by adhering to adjoining pieces). I was very impressed with the new look of this flooring! It comes in many shades...but I will warn you, this stuff isn't exactly cheap. The first floor that caught my eye was almost $3 a square foot. I don't know about you, but I have seen quality hardwood on sale for around that price. But alas, I fell for that hand scraped click together version and brought two boxes of it home. I sat out to do a little experiment with the floor to see if my luck had improved with snap and lock technology....and big surprise, I could NOT get this stuff to click together. I watched tutorials on youtube, I googled the heck out of it as well, no luck. So I'm pretty sure that the problem lies with me and my ability to snap and click. The product did look great but I returned it to the store. I did not need a second flooring disaster on my record!

Very long story short (too late, I know!) I left the store with Allure peel and stick vinyl planks in "Teak" and a sharp new utility knife. I think the darker planks look more like wood and the lighter planks look more like, well, vinyl. So I went with a darker shade.  I was now a gal on a mission to lay some floor! So without further adieu, here is my two cents and installing this floor!

Allure Vinyl Plank How To's, and How Not To's:

1. Think about what you are about to do. That sounds silly and counter intuitive, but trust me. Sit down in the space and think about your strategy from start to finish. Write it down if you need to. I guarantee if you do this, you will make very few mistakes, and hopefully zero catastrophic mistakes. Since I had installed this floor before and made some costly errors, I spent some time remembering what I did wrong the last time, and how I would avoid repeating those errors.

2. Decide which direction to run your planks. There are all sorts of design rules for this- like determining which way the windows face and how the sun hits the floor, or running the length of the room. Both are good ideas, but really it is a matter of personal choice. It is easiest to run the boards the length of the longest continuous wall, but since I was starting in a hallway with multiple complicated cuts I didn't have that luxury on this project. So I decided to run my planks length wise of the house.This would also allow me to run the planks directly into two of the bedrooms without transition pieces (side note: this is a very positive aspect of this product vs. laminate. You do not need to use transition pieces. Laminate needs breaks in the floor for expansion and contraction purposes, vinyl does not). The directions of these planks also say you can change direction, but I think that makes for a very busy pattern and I would not recommend trying to do this the first time you use this product.

3. Gather the proper tools. The instructions for this product state that you only need a sharp utility knife. That makes it sound super easy, doesn't it? Beware of this- I'm here to tell you that you need several tools to make this a truly successful endeavour. They are:

1. Sharp utility knife with snap off blades (and I like to snap off the old blades with a pair of pliers)
2. Carpenter's square
3. Heavy duty scissors or shears
4. Measuring tape
5. 100 lb roller or heavy books
6. Dust buster/broom/vacuum
7. Undercutting saw for door frames
8. Helpers- like my buddy Wrigley, who was sad to see his beloved carpet (AKA pee pee pad) going bye bye:
Helper Jackson with the broom and some snazzy striped pants:
4. Prepare your sub floor. Those product makes the claim that you do not need to do anything to your sub floor and can leave previous laminate or thin commercial grade carpet on the floor and simply floor over top of it. In my opinion, it is best to start with a total clean sub floor- free of all other types of floor, nails, staples, etc. My floor was plywood and I started by adding additional screws to the floor to get rid of some pesky squeaks. It was almost worth doing the floor to address the squeaks! Once all items are removed, vacuum, sweep, and repeat this step many many times during the process. There's no good reason to leave dust and debris under a new floor. Remove as much of the baseboards as you feel comfortable reinstalling. If your baseboards are hopelessly stuck, leave them and add a shoe mold after you done (it pains me greatly to say that as it looks MUCH better to remove the baseboard and not use a shoe mold..but it's not always possible).
5. Pick the corner you want to start in and go for it! Make sure you leave a small space for expansion between the floor and the wall.  Unfortunately for me, I started under a door, but it was worth it to take the time to do it right, which means undercutting the door frame.

(This wasn't my starting point, but I wanted to show a picture of undercutting)
6. These planks are very sticky and the less mistakes you make in putting them together the better they will stick. You want to try to have zero gaps between the planks, so use whatever means necessary to get those seams super snug. I found it helpful to sometimes use a pull, a tapping block and rubber mallet. But mostly I just used good ole' elbow grease and pulled the planks as tight as possible.  It doesn't hurt to have some leather tipped gloves to help you press the seams (and to prep the sub floor). As you work, you will get better and better at putting the pieces together. I found it best to start at an angle when attaching the new board- corner first, then press the rest of the plan into place.
If you make a mistake, gently pull the planks apart and start over. You have a small window of time to do this in, so don't wait a few minutes to pull the planks apart- more than likely you will rip the strips and will need to start with new pieces. This is also where sweeping the floor comes in handy, because you don't want to get a lot of crud stuck on the sticky strips. You can use a hand roller to press the seams, heavy books or even just walk on them and use your body weight to make the seal tighter.
7. Cut the last piece of the row to fit. I found it easiest to use a carpenter's square to scour a straight line with my utility knife, then simply snap the board. It's important to snap in a straight line because this last piece will be the first piece of the next row. (use both hands, unless you are trying to take a picture at the same time :-)
8. After completing the first row, use the last piece that you cut to start the next row. This will give you a staggered look. You do not want all of your boards to line up for aesthetic as well as functional reasons. This is also where it is imperative that you think about strategy and making sure you start and end each row with the right orientation of the sticky strips.
9. The success of this product really is in the execution of the small details. If you cut corners and don't do things such as undercutting door frames or getting your seams tight, this floor will look very bad. So take extra  time to make those complicated cuts, like this one:
For pieces around closets and under doors, I first made a template using the paper that separates the planks in the box. Draw what you need, measure twice and cut once! I found these cuts were easier to do with my heavy duty scissors.
Because this is such a long post, I will post a follow up with all the before and after pictures with a completed floor!