Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hockey Night In Canada - Project #2-9 - Stairway to Hell

This project required many hours of serious, back-breaking labour. It's probably the biggest renovation sort of project I've ever done. 

When we brought Sweetie home, she immediately decided that our carpeted stairs were her back-up bathroom. She has made huge strides over the last while and her accidents have happened far less often. Up to now, I have spent many an hour cleaning the carpet with a Bissell carpet cleaner. I managed to keep it fairly clean, but over time it became harder because the quality of the carpet was very poor to begin with. Consequently, I feared letting anyone in the house  because of the mess of the carpet, and the smell. We did not have anyone over to our house for over a year, and it was probably one of the roughest patches of my whole life.

Anyway, one morning, I got up and decided I was going to rip out all the carpet and paint the stairs. This job took far, far longer than I ever imagined it would, and I have scars on my hands from blisters to prove it. But let me tell you, doing this has truly changed my life. I now spend about 10 minutes a week sweeping and wiping down the stairs, and a welcome by-product of this whole thing is that Sweetie has now decided to pee outside as much as possible. But never mind, if she pees, it gets wiped right up and cleaned right away, as opposed to never really getting the carpet completely clean. It's a miracle.

So, in case you ever decide to take on removing carpet and refinishing the wood underneath, here is what I learned from this experience.

Part 1- Removal
Ripping out the carpet is the fun and easier part. I strongly advise you to wear a mask, glasses, and work gloves. I also advise you to vacuum thoroughly before you begin. There will still be a lot of dust, but the vacuuming will help.   If you have a long staircase, you can cut the carpet into several pieces with a utility knife. This will make it easier to roll and put into a garbage bag or take out of the house. 
The carpet was probably attached to a narrow strip of wood across the back of each stair, with small nails facing upward that you will want to be careful of, so you don't cut yourself. 

Part 2 - Underpad removal 
Holy crap, this part was difficult. The underpad will be stapled all over with big staples. If you are lucky, most of it will rip away and roll up easily. Little bits will be left around the staples that you can pull away or just leave it for when you are taking the staples out. 

If you are as unlucky as I, you will discover that the underpad fused to surface of the stair, with a combination of pee and carpet cleaning solution having taken the effect of glue.  In this case, you will need a metal scraper and serious patience to try to remove as much as possible. 

It was during this process that I discovered that what lay under the underpad was nothing but pure evil:

I know, right? I cried. Seriously. But on I soldiered, and after many an hour, I had removed most of the underpaid and lots of the staples, and compared to what we had before, it was looking better already:
Part 3 - Cleaning stained wood
I had the amazing presence of mind to enlist my good old carpet cleaner to clean the wood.  I highly recommend this as it worked amazingly well. I can think of no other way that I could have gotten the wood clean enough to paint, because the filth really needed to be sucked right out of the wood. I filled the tank of the carper cleaner with hot water, vinegar, and a little tea tree oil. I probably cleaned each stair about 4 times, and each time, the wood became cleaner. Finally, for the last cleaning, I filled the tank hot water and bleach, and ran the cleaner over each stair once again. At this point, the wood was actually so clean that I contemplated staining the wood, instead of painting it. 

Part 4 - Staple removal
This is the part of the job that took the most time. There must have been a hundred staples in every stair. My husband helped with this part, and night after night, we sat on the stairs with pliers, a hammer and a chisel, and pulled out staples. The most heart-breaking part of this job was discovering that the carpet we had was not actually the first carpet that had been laid on the stairs, and we found this out because when the original carpet was laid, no under padding was laid, and the carpet was stapled directly to the wood, with a million, teeny staples, with extra long teeth. When that carpet was taken out, someone took the lazy-ass short-cut of cutting around the staples at the back of each stair, rather than pulling them out. Pulling this out was close to impossible and I very nearly gave in several times: 

I could not get a good picture of this mess; those are threads of age-old pink carpet, liberally stapled down.

In the end, we realized that getting the staples out was not going to work because we would ruin the wood. We pulled out as many as we could, and hammered the rest in. Finally, I had the idea to move ahead with painting the wood, and install a strip of trim to cover the remaining staples.

Part 5 - Painting
Again, fun and easy. I took a vacation day for this job. I chose to paint the risers white, and used an earth-friendly semi-gloss in two coats. I did the part you step on (?) in a taupe-y colour, because I figured it would not show every little footprint. I wish I'd done it darker now, but it looks good.  I used water-based porch and floor paint for that part, because I wanted it to wear and wash well over time.

Now, a challenge: we have a house full of animals, and no downstairs bathroom. I painted about 3/4 of each step first, leaving myself enough space to walk up and down. I kept the dogs downstairs, but of course they were in utter despair about not being allowed to walk upstairs. During this process, one cat ran through wet paint one time, and that was it. Then, once the paint was dry, I carefully went up and down in my bare feet and painted in the rest of each stair. By the time my husband was home from work, it was dry enough for him to be able to walk up. And voila:

Part 6 - Trim
My mom came up with the idea of using adhesive PVC trim to cover the staples that were left in at the backs of the stairs. This stuff costs $5 a roll at Canadian Tire. It is actually supposed to be for caulking tubs, but it works just fine for this purpose. The only issue is that you need a smooth surface for the adhesive to adhere, and we don't have a smooth surface, so sometimes I find that I have to stick the stuff back on, but it's fine. I could not get a good picture of it, because it's white on white. 

I swear, I hear angels singing whenever I look up there now.


  1. It. looks. fantastic.

    Great job, I can hear the angels singing too! Phew, don't envy you that job, but it's worth it, looks beautiful. We've got carpet all over, very popular in the UK for some reason, and I LOATHE it. Sadly, nothing nice underneath so it's a monster floor laying job. One day!

  2. That is so great Michelle. I don't think I could have done it, I wouldn't have known what to do with the dirty wood. It looks amazing!