Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to paint your subfloor...a temporary solution for the real world.

We were on the way home from dropping off Callie at summer camp when I decided that THIS week would be a great time to give her the room re-do she's been asking for. It hasn't just been a few weeks of asking for a new room. It's been a few years.

"Mom, you said you'd move me into the office."

"Mom, you said you'd make me a new room with hardwood floors."

"Mom, you said we could paint my room pink."

"Mom, you said I could move into the office so I can have two windows this summer."

"Mom, Brynn got a new room when she was eight. I'm nine."

Even the subtlest nod is taken for agreement when you're a kid who wants something, am I right?

And so without prior planning, without a budget, and without giving myself enough time to second guess it, on that car ride home I realized that I had to do the room NOW.

We have a few animals in our house (two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, and a mouse) and we just finished fostering five puppies. All of the animals had taken a toll on the carpet in the room where we were moving Callie, not to mention the kids and their craft projects (glue, glitter, paint...all over the carpet). I knew that tearing out the carpet had to be part of this redo.

The two guinea pigs reside in Callie's room and (I'm not sure if you're familiar with this experience but maybe you can relate) every time I would walk into Callie's room I'd step on stray pine shavings that the pigs had flung out of their cage during one of their daily games of "tag," not to mention guinea pig poops that I'd have to fight the dogs for. Scott initially bought Callie her own shop vac to deal with the mess, but dragging out the shop vac every day was too much for her to deal with. In order to maintain my sanity (what little of it I have left) I had to make it easier for Callie to clean up after her pigs.

So the carpet came out.

I've single-handedly ripped out at least 2000 square feet of carpet from our house over the years. First the dining room, then the family room, the stairs, the basement, Brynn's room. We still have a little more left to go and while I dread ripping it out (sandy, dusty, dirty mess), I can't wait to get rid of it.

But one thing at a time, right?

As I ripped out the carpet I realized it wasn't in good enough shape to put up for free on Craigslist like I've done in the past. I hate putting carpet in the landfill, but this carpet was not going to be reusable (except maybe as a weed barrier, which I've actually heard of people using it for). So Scott bought a Bagster and we tossed the carpet and padding in there.

I pulled out the staples, removed the baseboards, vacuumed ten times, and then started pricing hardwood to match the rest of the hardwood in our house. With no big sales going on, no clearances or any other deals, it was going to cost me about $1000 to lay hardwood in her 10' x 12' room.


I don't have a cool grand sitting around to lay hardwood in Callie's room, especially not knowing that her pigs will be kicking pine shavings and poo onto it for the next 8 years. (How long do guinea pigs live?)

So it was time to get creative. I'm no stranger to painting sub-floors. I did it in our basement and knew I could do it again for Callie to hold her over until we're ready to lay hardwood upstairs. It's not a great permanent solution, but it is a fantastic (and cheap) temporary solution.

Based on my experience painting the basement floor, here's what I did in Callie's room. These are the steps I'd recommend if you get fed up with your carpet and need a temporary solution.
  1. Rip out the carpet and padding.
  2. Pull out every last staple (I love to use an upholstery staple remover like this one to take staples out of the floor).
  3. Pull off the baseboards (which we saved to repaint and reuse until we upgrade the floor).
  4. Vacuum. And then vacuum a few more times.
  5. Fill the biggest gouges/nail holes with wood filler (I swear by Timbermate -- it is by far the best filler I've used).
  6. Sand the dry wood filler.
  7. Prime the floor with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-based primer (it seals out odors and bleeding better than Kilz). I used a regular wall roller to apply the primer. It took about a third to a half gallon to do one coat on Callie's 10' x 12' floor.
  8. Fill the rest of the holes. (I find that it is easier to see all of the imperfections in the floor after it's all primed. I filled most but not all of the cracks/holes/seams).
  9. Sand (by hand) with 220 paper. Yep, get down on your hands and knees with a sanding block and go to work. The primer will raise the grain a bit/make the floor feel a little rough and a very quick sanding makes a HUGE difference in the final floor texture.
  10. Spot prime any place that it's needed (i.e.: I spot primed all of the newly filled areas and there was a spot where someone barfed/pooed/had the runs/spilled something nasty that required a few more coats of primer).
  11. Paint. Apply using a foam roller for the smoothest texture. I only needed one coat of paint. You might need more. I used our white trim paint rather than a porch/floor specific paint because I had our trim paint on hand and didn't want to buy another gallon of paint just for this floor. When I did our basement floor I used a porch and floor paint. Meh. I wasn't really impressed.
  12. Vacuum.
  13. Faux finish/stencil/add a pattern to draw your eye away from any messes that might accumulate on the floor (or leave it solid -- it's up to you). I used a glaze that I tinted with some creamier white paint and a little bit of stain concentrate in order to get a tone-on-tone look. I rolled it on with a foam roller and then dragged my new faux bois (wood graining) tool through the wet glaze in order to get a wood grain look. There are ways to make the wood grain look more realistic on a floor (i.e.: taping off rectangles to look like wood planks) but I just wanted to give the floor a little bit of contrast to help hide messes and to enhance the natural wood grain texture of the plywood subfloor. Here is a great video so that you can see wood graining (faux bois) in action.
  14. Vacuum.
  15. Apply 2-5 coats of clear sealer, vacuuming in between each. I only did two coats because I was short on time. I used Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey floor finish in semi-gloss, applied with a foam roller. It took a little less than half a gallon to do two coats.

Callie's floor has been finished and in use for about a month now. She's tapped on it with her Irish hardshoes, but mostly she walks on it barefoot. It's been easy to keep clean with just a broom and a once-a-week vacuum, along with occasional spot cleaning.  The only downside I've noticed is that it is a bit louder in the room below the new floor (which happens to be our master bedroom). Brynn's room has hardwood and while I can hear her jumping around in her room when I'm below in the garage, Callie's finished subfloor definitely makes more noise than Brynn's hardwood. Do I care? Does it really make a difference? Not to me...but it is something to consider.

What do you think? Is painting a subfloor an in-between flooring solution you would consider?


  1. You know it is, because you know you inspired us to do the same! Just finished and put the baseboards on yesterday and it looks great. Thanks for giving us the perfect solution to our stinky dog peed carpets!

    1. That was fast! I'm looking forward to seeing it!

  2. Were you able to prime & paint the same day or did it take several days? Just wondering about the drying time of subfloor v. drywall.

  3. These floors look great! The nail pulling out is my least favorite part of floors. Ick. But what a great finish for this - even if it is a temporary solution.

  4. Fantastic temporary solution! I think I will have to do this in my office as my paint and glitter etc. have ruined my carpet. I can't even blame piggies just me!

    1. Hahaha...well, I witness firsthand (every day) the mess left behind by creatives and I always remind myself that without the mess, creatives couldn't create! So ripping out the carpet seems a small price to pay. :)


Thanks for reading! I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say.