DIY Project? Luxury Vinyl Planks

As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, redoing some of the floors in the house has kept me busy (and my friends concerned about the integrity of my limbs). It was a task that was a long time coming.

Ever since I bought my dad’s old house, I’ve been meaning to remove the dull brown carpets from the bedrooms and my Man Cave (Nerd Cave according to the Houseguest) and replace them with laminate flooring similar to what’s in the living room (the rest of the house is tiled). I mean, these things were ancient. And by ancient, I mean disgusting. I’m not sure if they were the original carpets from 1980 when I was in junior high, but at a minimum, they’d been on duty at least 20 years and were a far duller brown than when they started out. They were so bad, I wouldn’t invite people over for fear they’d catch a glimpse of them and pass judgment on me.

These carpets had seen their better days sometime in the early 90s. Two decades of tramping feet had ground dirt into them. Vacuuming didn’t help — instead, it produced weird smells from the vacuum cleaner. When the carpets got wet, it resurrected faint scents of accidents by pets long gone. I occasionally borrowed a carpet shampooer from my friend The Todd (not to be confused with Stoner Todd from my post, Ridin’ Dirty) but still the carpets looked only marginally better. The carpets simply had to go.

Trouble pulling the trigger

Over the last few years, there have been numerous times I’ve haunted flooring stores or departments looking wistfully at the laminate flooring. However, I always left with nothing more than samples and a vague determination to do something — eventually.

However, as much as I despised the carpets, I never got around to replacing them. Things kept coming up, like my lack of will to undertake the project myself or not wanting to spend the money. When I did have enough money, I’d use it on something else. I thought about hiring someone, but that would be way more expensive — plus, they’d see my disgusting carpets and silently judge me. And, my Man Cave had so much stuff jammed into it it would be an arduous undertaking to clear it all out. If you’ve ever seen the Room of Requirement from the Harry Potter movies, you get the idea.

The crowded Room of Requirement from the Harry Potter series.
My Man Cave resembled the Room of Requirement — only slightly more crowded.

I could do the job myself but then that meant relying on me and, in my book, that’s never a good idea — especially since my handyman skills are rudimentary at best. I haven’t posted many of my home project follies here, but one time, I got stuck on my roof. And everyone I know cringes when they think of me renting a saw — and they aren’t the only ones. There was the chainsaw incident where I rented one to cut up a tree that fell over during a storm. I came this close to being in a tragic news report and, shaken, I ended up hiring a professional to finish the job.

Mortal enemies

As much as I hated the carpets, the Houseguest hated them more. She’s a Zoroastrian, so she takes the whole cleanliness concept seriously. (Well, compared to me she does — the rest of the Zoroastrians might kick her out of the fire temple if they saw her messy workspace.)

She has been renting a room from me for 3 years, and well before she moved in, I told her I intended to rip up the carpets. Lately, she had been complaining more often about their grodiness and blamed all her ills on them. Shortly after my employment ended, at her behest, I pulled up the carpet in her room. She reasoned that even a bare concrete floor had to be better than the hated carpet. Once I’d removed it, she looked at the exposed concrete with a critical eye, and I could sense her excitement ebb.

“Don’t like it?” I asked.

“I thought it would look — different. More…” her voice trailed off.

Her brow wrinkled as we stared at the stained, dull grey floor.

“It’s kind of — ugly,” she said.

Yes, yes it was.

It was not an attractive looking floor; the construction guys had slopped paint and other things onto the concrete and it looked quite unappealing. The Houseguest consoled herself that at least the carpet was gone and she could at least sweep. That sentiment lasted about two weeks and she began making more and more negative comments about the concrete.

A decision gets made

During that time, I began contemplating paying for new flooring with a credit card. I didn’t really want to add debt while I was unemployed and trying to get some freelance work going, but this ongoing floor situation had been festering far too long. The Houseguest told me not to be silly, she could deal with it.

A week later, the concrete floor finally wore her resolve down and she offered to fund the flooring project and I would pay her back when I had the money. Though I appreciated the offer, I declined because I hate borrowing money from (or loaning it to) friends because a financial obligation is an easy way to poison a relationship. But the Houseguest was persistent; she did not want to look at the concrete floor anymore. Plus, as she pointed out — now was the perfect time to jump into a project because I had a lot of free time. So, finally, I agreed to the loan and she wrote me a check for $1,900.

Gathering supplies

We drove to a couple of spots to check out flooring options. I had been set on installing laminate, but several people had mentioned that Vinyl Luxury Planks was the way to go these days. ‘Vinyl?’ I thought. No way I was putting vinyl on my floors. Oh, but this isn’t your father’s thin vinyl flooring. No, this stuff is created to mimic the look of wood and comes in textured planks. Nucore, the brand I settled on has a cork backing to soften footfalls and deaden sound. It’s not as hard as laminate, but it’s waterproof (I’ve had a broken water line before — no fun) and fairly easy to work with — you can even score it with a boxcutter and then bend it to snap it in two.

I almost went with a nice-looking brand sold through Lowes, but the online reviews were either glowing or scathing. Turns out the product was originally made in China, but after the trade war started, apparently they brought production back to the U.S. and the quality was terrible. People were scrambling looking for boxes of the stuff made in China and some people had got stuck with American stuff halfway through their project. I quickly scratched that one off my list and ended up going with Floor and Decor’s Spalted Maple NuCore.

Before I got the project rolling, I borrowed my friend Carlos’s miter saw to cut the vinyl quarter round molding that would cover the expansion gaps at the baseboards. I’m glad I did because I ended up actually using it to cut the vinyl planking as well. Even though they tout you can use a boxcutter, the first two planks I tried to cut, I kept screwing up and veering offline while scoring the boards and cutting scatches into the surface. No way was I going to end up with jacked up floors from the get-go, so I used Carlos’s power saw (as well a regular hand saw for lengthwise cuts and a hobby saw for small, delicate cuts). That miter saw totally sped things up.

Getting started

Once I had everything I needed, I sat around for a couple of days watching Youtube videos, nervous to start. I’d calculated the number of boxes of planking I needed and added an extra 10% for mistakes, but I wasn’t absolutely sure I had enough. I didn’t want to screw things up to the point where I’d have to scrap the project. Hence the obsessive video watching.

Finally, I decided to stop overthinking it and jump into the deep end and do the Houseguest’s room. I just needed a friend to help me move furniture out. The Todd agreed to stop by late Saturday afternoon and help, but as I had nothing else to do that morning, I thought I’d get a head start by removing all the drawers from the two dressers to lighten them and move the nightstands out, which went smoothly. But why stop there? I decided to see if I could move some of the furniture by myself. See, I don’t like inconveniencing other people (and in turn, don’t like to be inconvenienced). The dressers were solid maple but had small casters hidden underneath which made it easier. Then I decided to tackle the Houseguest’s queen-sized bed (she’d already agreed to stay at a friend’s over the weekend). Like a determined ant, I got the moving done by the time The Todd called. (Over the course of the project, I ended up moving everything out of all three rooms by myself — dressers, beds, bookcases, desks, etc.)

jammed hall.jpg
That’s my bedroom door to the left. I really hoped I didn’t have to escape the house in a hurry.

Hitting my stride — or so I thought

The first room took me longer than I thought it would. A professional could have prepped the floor and laid the interlocking planking down in a few hours, but it took me 3 days (not working straight through, mind you).

Once I finished the first room and moved everything back in, I figured my room would go more quickly now that I had a better idea of what I was doing. I continued to learn new techniques as I went along, like how to cut trim properly and make proper endcaps when the molding ends at an open space to make it look attractive.

After pulling up the carpet in my room, I began prying up the wooden strips of carpet tack that’s nailed into the concrete to keep the edge of the carpet from moving. However, I ran into an immediate setback. Most of the concrete nails holding the carpet tack in place were short, but on one 8-foot section, whoever had nailed the carpet tack down had used gigantic spikes — they looked like the nails the Romans used when they crucified Jesus. These spikes had demolished the concrete underneath, which I pulled it up in big chunks. They’d also caused an eight-foot long crack in the concrete stretching toward the center of the room.

Comparing a normal nail with a huge spile.
Normal nail and the nail from hell.

I bet some dude ran out of regular nails and used the spikes figuring no one would discover it for decades that he’d half-assed it. Luckily, I had a lot of quick-setting concrete leftover from my plumbing project and I used that to fill in the huge ragged gap along the wall — of course, I had to let it dry and that delayed me.

A pox upon your lazy ass!

Other than that, the main problem I ran into was my decision to go minimalist — I wasn’t going to move a lot of the furniture and extra bullshit back into my room and Man Cave. It was time to purge. But now that furniture and other stuff sat there clogging up my hallway, front room, and living room. As my mom would have said, it looked like a bomb had gone off in my house.

Sweet dreams

While I was working on my room, I ended up sleeping on my couch, which (luckily) consists of two day beds and is super comfy. I actually slept more soundly on it than my regular bed. The Houseguest was a bit bummed because she likes to watch CNN in the morning on the living room TV before going to work. I ended up sleeping out there for a week because when I started in on the Man Cave, I had so much crap to lug out I had to store a lot of it in my bedroom and some stuff ended up piled on top of my bed. The Man Cave floor I completed pretty quickly, even though the crucifier had been engaged in his favorite destructive past time and I had to put new cement down once more.

installing luxury vinyl planks
Yep, I have my knee pads on upside down.

Once the floors were down, I still wasn’t quite done because I needed Carlos’s nail gun and compressor to secure the quarter rounds. It was about a week before I got them, however, I decided to move some of my furniture and stuff back in and work around it once I got the nailgun because routines were too disrupted. Plus, furniture was blocking access to my washing machine and I was running out of clean clothes.

I have to admit, the project stretched out longer than I wanted it to and people kept asking when it would be done. Joe, the owner of Bigfish, my last place of employment, texted me after one of my umpteen updates.

“Rivers! (my nickname) What are you doing over there? Building the Taj Mahal?”

dragging a bedframe using a packing blanket.
Using a packing blanket to drag my heavy-ass bedframe without damaging the floor.

But I eventually got everything I wanted in the rooms dragged back in. My Man Cave looks like a minimalist’s haven — well, compared to what it looked like before. The front rooms are still a bit messy, but I’m going through stuff and putting it into the garage, throwing it out, or donating it.

I was happy with my work. The Houseguest stood admiring the floor of the Man Cave.

“You know, you got so much better at it as you went along,” she said. I looked at her.

“Are you saying you’re unhappy with your floor?”

She wasn’t. But she was right; my early work wasn’t my best. You could see a few seams in her room that could have been tighter. I’d made a couple of minor mistakes, but I wasn’t sure I’d have enough material at the time, so I worked around them. Once I’d finished everything, I ended up with a left over box of planks. I’d already decided I would fix the Houseguest’s floor, so I recut the problematic boards and have them stored away. When she goes out of town in November, I’m going to redo her floor. It won’t be hard. I’ll simply pull it up and relay it and insert the new boards. The hardest part will be dragging her furniture out, but it should take me no time at all. Honestly, it doesn’t look bad now, but I know it could be better, so I have to redo it.

Lessons learned

So, I learned a few things during this project.

  1. Getting up and down repeatedly sucks. I ended up bruising my left knuckles and knee against the concrete until I started wearing work gloves and bought some knee pads.
  2. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. My knee pads sucked and kept falling down. Worst design ever. Just as I was finishing up the row in the last room I realized I’d had them on upside down the whole time. Oops. I put them on the right way for that last row and they fit well and were super comfy. Better late than never — I guess.
  3. After much pain and tears, you’ll discover a super-easy way to do a pain-in-the-ass task, right as you’re finishing up.
  4. Having the right tools is super helpful. Not having them is really frustrating, though you can improvise.
  5. I suck at trying to cut vinyl planking with a boxcutter. Mitre saw for the win! My friend Jason’s brother saw me post on Facebook about using a miter saw and asked him if I realized I didn’t need a miter saw for vinyl planking. Au contraire, my friend. Bro, did I ever need it.
  6. Never take the easy way out. You won’t be happy. I was just using a straight cut on the end of my quarter rounds even though the flooring experts said it looked unprofessional. I’d tried to make a neatly curved end cap but failed and settled for a simple 90-degree cut. But the experts were right — it looked like shit, so I went back to YouTube and found a better how-to video and learned how to do end caps right. Then I redid all the ones I’d done so farl. They looked 100 times better.
endcap circle
Take a gander at that awesome looking end cap I made. Involved two 45-degree outside cuts and a regular cut and then some glue.

Anyway, so, the flooring is down, it looks good, and I love the new and improved Man Cave. It no longer looks like an orc den. Oh, and I just repaid the Houseguest her money after getting paid on some freelancing gigs. And there were no trips to the ER. I’m calling this a win for the Land Manatee.

my office with its new floor.
The new and improved Man Cave.

18 thoughts on “DIY Project? Luxury Vinyl Planks

  1. Congratulations on your new man cave! I wish I could be invited.

    I really don’t know what people thought when they used to install these wall to wall carpets. They get dirty and are responsible for allergies. My parents abandoned theirs too and went back to using wool carpets in the winter. So much better.

    I agree that when you do this kind of jobs, you shouldn’t take the easy way out. Since you got into the trouble, why not have the best results possible?

    Have a great day, in or outside your man cave!


    1. Sean D. Layton

      Thanks, Basilike. If you ever find yourself in AZ, stop on by. Yeah, carpets became the rage in the 1950s. The Houseguest said when her parents bought their house when she was a kid, when they pulled up the old carpet they found beautiful hardwood floors underneath.


  2. Looks great. And awesome work on the quarter-round.

    I’ve installed this kind of flooring, also. I agree about the boxcutter. I think that’s just bullshit hype to get naive people to try this flooring. I ended up using a small tilecutter saw. Getting the joints tight was the hardest part for me.

    Whoever put those long nails in ought to be hanged. It’s amazing the crazy shit people do. I’m going to be replacing our toilet real soon, and just discovered that someone used grout, rather than caulk, to seal it to the floor. So I get to have fun with a hammer and chisel when I take the damned thing out.

    I like your Lesson #3. It really is true that toward the end of a project is when you discover easier and better methods than the one’s you’ve been using.


    1. Sean D. Layton

      Thanks. Yeah, I watched a really popular video on Youtube and failed when I attempted it (the video wasn’t that clear), so I abandoned it. But I disliked how the simple way looked. So I found this other less-watched video and the guy’s explanation was easy to follow for me.

      I was just thinking the same thing about the boxcutter being hype to get noobs to like me to buy in.


    1. Sean D. Layton

      Me too. I did get hit in the eye by a piece of debris when using the saw, but luckily nothing serious. Where were my safety goggles? Perched on my head where I’d forgotten to lower them down.


  3. Congratulations!…you guys do it all by yourself. We have a lot of helpers…India being a labor intensive country. You sweat it out big-time… But it must be giving so much a satisfaction fixing it all by yourself the way you want it. An experience worth it all…


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