Laying the subfloor

Laying the subfloor

Laying the subfloor

I took the first half of this week off to put in a new kitchen floor with my dad. I was struck by the similarity to overhauling an existing web site. Lots of prep work before you get to the surprisingly small amount of final work whose product you see directly.

My wife and I live in a small house, with a small kitchen — just 10'x12', including the counters. The house is pretty new, built in 1957, so we didn't anticipate major structural repairs.

But still, we had some discovery to do. What was the condition of the subfloor? Were there more layers of old floor between it and the surface? Were they glued to the subfloor, which would ensure a nightmare of scraping or possibly even replacing the subfloor? What would we need to do?

Day 0: Clearing

Technically not a construction day, we started by removing everything from the kitchen, from the furniture to the gas range. (Know where the gas shut-off nearest the range is? No? Go find it!) We also make our plan for the next few days, making our best guesses as to what we would find and how we would tackle each step, including some contingencies. We also make a shopping list and figure out what tools we're going to need and make sure we can borrow, buy or rent as appropriate.

Day 1: Explore and Demolish

Rip up the floor. We lucked out — there are only two layers of flooring until the subfloor. The vinyl top layer (vintage 70's and in remarkably good condition for its age) comes right up. It's mounted to pressboard (stop the insanity!), as well as leveling compound. The pressboard rips free with simple prybars. Under that is green linoleum tile; a floor scraper makes short work of that. Then more pressboard (you must be kidding me) and thin plywood. And then we're down to subfloor.

Day 2: Infrastructure

We've found the subfloor. It's mill cut lumber, over 1 thick, varying widths, and varies in height by over a quarter of an inch. We spend the day preparing an intermediate surface. We lay shims over the joists to bring up the low spots, laying asphalt paper (moisture barrier), then sheets of plywood to provide an even surface. Add some rosin paper to stop squeaks and we're ready to lay the floor you actually see.

Day 3: Build the surface

Not much to say at this point. Cut and face nail the first row, nail in the next row, then switch to pneumatic stapler once it clears the wall. Most of the work is in cutting pieces to fit weird corners and doorways. Takes all day but after about ten hours, the floor is done. Face nail the last row and call it a night.

Technically, I'm not done. I need to deal with three thresholds, cut down the back door to accommodate the extra half inch in height of the new flooring, flll the exposed nail holes with color-matched putty, repaint the walls, and move everything back into the kitchen.

So how's it like the web?

Laying the subfloor

Here's how a web site overhaul usual goes, more or less.

Define site architecture, identify project contributors (including authors, editors, approvers), inventory existing content, have a kickoff meeting. Set up a development environment, prepare code frameworks, define database schema, build a click-shell. Design the interface, review and tweak, cut it into component parts and start laying it into the click-shell. Hook up the content management code to the pages and build the back end management tools. Load in the content and format it all.

You're not done yet. Still got to test the site, flush out bugs, find inconsistent styles, make last minute content edits, get that missing photo, double-check the site map.

A web site under development looks pretty bare until almost the last moment. And then everything comes together and boom, almost overnight you have a site. There are still final tasks and finishing work to be done, but it's amazing how much work happens before you get to the obvious work of laying the new surface.

Or you can take a shortcut

You can just nail down a new floor on top of the cheezy old vinyl. It's fast and you get straight to the fun stuff. But you'll hear it squeak and feel it squish underfoot. It will never be as good, no matter how nice the wood you picked out, and you'll know it every time you use it.

It takes more time to do the job right. But it's so worth it.


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