To DIY or Not to DIY

My name is Debra, which is Hebrew for the bee. I am a worker bee.

Confucius said, “If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” Experience has taught me this is true. I’m kind of a Jacqueline of all trades so I usually am the one to “do the job.” I’ve seen more instances where people spend more time looking for someone to do a job or waiting for someone else to do a job, rather than just doing it themselves. Trust me, we have a virtual neighborhood forum and I read copious threads from people needing someone to hem pants, fix a faucet leak or pull weeds in the time it took me to do all three backwards and in heels. I’ve built about 95% of two house additions myself, do my own house repairs, landscaping, upholstery, minor auto care, cooking and cleaning. Am I foolish? Perhaps I am the one whose approach is flawed or so I have been told.

I had lunch with a group a while back and when I said I was tearing out old flooring and prepping the floors for new surfaces, one of them said, “That’s what I pay people to do,” and changed the subject. I had another husband of a friend of mine say my DIY approach is obsolete and of no value because we all specialize now in society. Of course, his husband called me when they had a mechanical breakdown on their furnace! But in both cases, no one had any interest in my work. I don’t want to think people I know socially look down on my work or those who work with their hands, but I kind of felt that way.

The do-it-yourself aspect of my character spills over in the workplace, too, for better or worse. This won’t make me sound like much of a team player but time and again, I am either let down by a colleague who drops the ball or my work is stolen for which another takes the credit. Trusting others are doing their jobs is often a disappointment and surprise. But employers love me because I will get the job done.

I was raise in a household where there was no discussion about who to get to do a job. It never occurred to me people did that. Truly. Dad had an I.Q. of 169 and really could do anything, effortlessly. Mom, too. I’ve never known a better painter, tiler, decorator or landscaper, for example. I learned from them and found the fewer hands involved, the better. Now, having someone working and bossing me around in my own house makes me uneasy. And there are some tender egos in the trades who can make your life miserable if you try to be boss.

I know not everyone is like my family or me. And I understand why those who have the money but lack the time, interest or abilities in touching anything mechanical. But does my approach really have little to no value? I have saved tens of thousands of dollars, if not more, and added immense equity to my property. I can’t even imagine what I’ve saved on my own appliance and mechanical repairs. I also think of my house as my canvass for my creative palette, with its recreated spaces. If not everyone appreciates my abilities or my house or believes I am foolish or out of step, I can feel accomplished everywhere I look. At least I have that.

I don’t understand anyone thinking people working with their hands is beneath them. I have a Masters degree and am a professional and I don’t think being mechanically capable is a weakness. In fact, I think it is quite the contrary. I wouldn’t like to think the one who dismissed my accomplishments may resent my abilities because I don’t want to appear arrogant or judgmental.

Well, back to my tiling project now that this blog post and the yard work is done. Silly me.




A New Journey for this Experienced DYI-er: Installing an Epoxy Floor to Concrete

My basement great room floor project has developed so many chapters and some curious friends who want to try it, it is easier to make it a blog entry than just Facebook updates.

Chapter 1

First, I am DIY wired. I’ve done two additions, about 90% entirely by myself, including framing, siding, floors, plumbing, electrical, etc. I would do all these things even if I could afford hiring out. And now, I actually find anyone working in my house awkward. I have never shared the steps of my work or the progress but thought it might be useful when I began the basement great room floor. So here’s a little amusement and the mental and physical acrobatics involved in what became an epoxy floor in my great room.

Once all the old tile was chiseled out, I scrubbed the sticky residue off the floor repeatedly with diluted bleach. Good times.

With a lot left to finish in what was my second addition and a lot of room renovations from the days I was a stay-at-home daughter and Dad lived with me. The basement has been largely ignored since I put in three large egress windows during this renovation, which drastically changing the lower bedroom and great room. After finishing my last full-time speaking gig, I decided to dedicate time to those two room floors. So for my Christmas vacation, I chiseled out 1000 square feet of industrial tile. I know how to party! That’s slow and arduous work, as you need goggles, a hammer and chisel – and lots of bags. Once all the old stuff was removed, I washed the floors with bleach repeatedly. Then I laid an inexpensive (but you’d never know) tile in the lower guest bedroom. Once grouted and done, I shoved ALL the furniture from the great room into the bedroom. There wasn’t even room for the cat to get in there and I’m wasn’t going to let him try. I’d never be able to rescue him!


Been-E-Doo recommends applying the mastic remover with a watering can. Not an easy hunt in Minnesota winter but I found one!
Hope and anxiousness to have this room back.


Now besides, time, money and career taking up my energy, a big reason for my delay was I had my heart set on terrazzo tile for the great room. Go ahead, Google it. OK, it’s an ancient flooring originated in Rome in which left over chips of marble are laid in a cement bed. Any institutional building post WWII has terrazzo. It’s very mid-century. It’s also pricey. I was looking at about $4000 for 380 square feet of tile and I was “settling” for the pattern. Plus, installing is not easy but I could do it. You’d be looking at close to $7000 when all was done plus my free labor.

So one Sunday morning, having finished the bedroom floor, I did another search on mid-century basement flooring. I wanted sophisticated, not rec room. I found stained floors, which are very sexy. So I decided on that instead of the terrazzo. But that required stripping all the old black mastic off the floor. Eesh! But when I explored that, within seconds I found a video on Bean-E-Doo. I watched the stuff take the old mastic off like butter and it was soybean based, so non-toxic to me and the cat. I ordered it and the accompanying degreaser cleaner.

Chapter 2

The 5-gallon tub arrived and I did a test spot in the bathroom (stay tuned for that upcoming project). It looked promising so one evening I applied it with a watering can and a large push broom and went to bed. The next morning, I had all the old mastic up, absorbed in piles with garage floor grease absorbing stuff (cheaper than cat litter) and all of it bagged and out of the house in 45 minutes! It came up with a squeegee just like the video showed. Amazing! I am not a spokesperson for Franmar Bean-E-Doo but I am available. Wow. Fantastic stuff.

Chapter 3

Ah but then the real work began. Once scrubbing in the degreaser, you need to rinse, rinse, rinse, wet vac every time. Then you have to wash with TSP many, many times, followed by more rinses, vac up each time. Days, folks.

Chapter 4

Now, my imagination began to wander. If I can stain the floor, why can’t I stain it in a terrazzo pattern? Let’s just say I spent a lot of time on line and then shopping for ways to apply the tiny faux chips of marble-looking specks in the many colors I wanted. Since I was not spending the four grand for terrazzo, I could get the colors I really wanted, right?

I knew the water-based stains offered a much broader variety of colors so I began to explore how to prep the floor for water-based stains. If you ever do this project, you are going to see how everybody emphasizes that it’s all about the prepping. Prepping wrong will destroy you. No lie. It’s not the product you use; it is always prepping. Well, almost always. So some of the stain manufacturers have specific instructions on how they want you to prep your floor to accept the stain.

If you do an oil stain, you don’t etch concrete. But I didn’t want the limited colors available in the oil stains. So I had to etch, which can be done in a variety of ways but some stain manufacturers advise or “require” you to grind the concrete. Either process, the principle is to remove the top layer of concrete, which is a sort of skin that creates the top player as it hardens and ages. Since (visit, love, recommend) says either process works, I deferred to their expertise but avoided the manufacturers that told me to grind. I didn’t want to rent the very heavy machine, industrial vac and the respiratory equipment, plus figure out a way to haul it down and up the stairs when the said either way would work.

Note: For those who ask how LONG this will take, now you know this is not a simple process!

Chapter 5

Etching is achieved through a muriatic acid or phosphorous process. And are there ever a lot of options and even more advice on line and at your big box stores. After buying various products, I opted for a less aggressive phosphorous clean and etch product. Turns out, a lot of paint sites sell similar products, too. And, I learned days later, you can wash it with these phosphorous products more than once.

You will see a ghosting of the former tile, a common issue on concrete. Staining over ghosting is tricky. But epoxy paint will cover it all up!

Every site or product you read will tell you achieving positive results is always and mostly dependent on preparing the concrete. So if you are inclined to obsess, you will excel. I probably went over the floor 20+ times, cleaning, spot cleaning, rinsing, rinsing, rinsing. But it’s worth it because two years and, hopefully, ten years from now, I won’t look down and see peeling.

While still hunting for stain and ones that come in a concentrate so I can have more control over the design and looking for thickening agents they make for more control, I stepped away from the computer one evening only to return to see a page on epoxy paint and paint flakes. You know, it’s the kind you see on garage floors. And I was absolutely averse to this product but when I saw the variety of flakes, including metallic, I completely changed my mind. Plus, stains wear off and I would have to redo in time. Epoxy for the traffic my floor gets will last me as long as I live here. And it needed the same preparation I had been doing so I wasn’t wasting time or effort to change my mind.

I decided on Sherwin-Williams’ ArmorSeal 8100 for the base and ArmorSeal 1K urethane enamel for the topcoat because it will never yellow. This is a basement but I have 5-foot windows and get a lot of direct sunlight. They also carry Torginol color flakes in many metallic and in sizes up to one inch. This obsessive could blend her own chips for a custom floor!

But wait, there’s more.

Chapter 6

Before I found refuge with Sherwin-Williams, I spent a weekend online, thinking since the big box stores didn’t have the quality I wanted. And the chips make the money shot here so I found a couple of manufacturers or suppliers. But Torginol didn’t sell to the public so I gravitated toward the other brand. I figured I’d use their epoxy and topcoat, too. But when I called the Monday morning, after about 30 minutes on the phone, I was so spun around, I thought I’d lose my mind. He told me I HAD to rent a grinder and industrial vac and diamond grind the concrete. (Remember earlier how some stain, companies insisted on grinding over etching.) He said I would need at least two workers with me, to find them on Craig’s list, that we would all need shoe spikes and wanted me to buy a full kit which contained the surface etching product he just told me to dismiss in lieu of grinding. And shipping would be about $100 and chops were between $11 and $16 for 12 ounces.

Ya, I was confused, too. Don’t feel badly.

Now, the website said free shipping over $25 and this was going to be about $1000, if you include the shoes! I didn’t mention the primary reason for my call was the discrepancies on the website for coverage rates and chip sizes. He told me his tech guys have a stack of stuff to do and it takes about a years to correct these changes.

Now, a rational, awake person might call a guy like this on the discrepancies (red flag), not to mention the shift in the work of my project. I tried but he was the first expert I had informing me.

Not a good call. Not a good morning. After weeks of prepping the floor, a weekend thinking the epoxy was the answer, I was deflated! I didn’t want to ignore an expert and just get the answer I wanted to hear. But after how detailed and careful I had been, I didn’t want to hear what I wanted to hear – I wanted to get this job right!

I reached out to my only friend who gets the DIY stuff and tackles projects like I do. He suggested a couple local paint stores. So I decided to try Sherwin-Williams. Actually Abbott Paint in St. Paul was great when I phoned but they’re in St. Paul. Sherwin-Williams has a commercial shop about four miles from me. Charlie immediately talked me off the ledge. I didn’t need to grind the floor and the epoxy he recommended was a one-coat product. And they had the Torginol chips, the brand I couldn’t buy without a rep. They had metallic and one-inch chips, too.

It got even better when I drove to Sherwin-Williams’ only all-floor store in Little Canada in all of Minnesota. Tyson was there on a Saturday and I still regret not bringing donuts. He was patient and gave me awesome advice, the best of which was how critical it is to prep a floor thoroughly. It’s not like painting a wall at all; it’s a membrane on a surface that breathes and changes.

So I had to get different caulking products to fill some holes drilled for an radon abatement and another to seal the construction joints in the floor. Every bit of this matters to prepping right. You must use a two-component polyurea for the construction joints because it will move like the epoxy does and not created cracks. You want to level those out as much as possible. I went through four tubes at $36t a piece to fill 38 linear feet. But I am glad I did. The radon holes needed a mason caulk I got at Home Depot. FYI, while the polyurea dries in 24 hours, the mason filler takes a week to cure. Plan accordingly. I also laid a bead of clear silicone caulk under the gap between my baseboard and floor to serve as an “edge” to the epoxy and to prevent any bleed that might occur from the other rooms, should a water heater burst or a shower overflow. You may never need to do that but I felt it served as a good dam to the epoxy.

The polyurea is temperamental and pricey. My only advice is to ready the instructions thoroughly and be patient and concentrate!

I combined two metallic blends, a grey and a tan chip and large brown chips for a dramatic, terrazzo look.

I bought several buckets from the dollar store to mix the paint chips and two-component epoxy. Tyson told me not to apply the polyurea or epoxy until after noon, regardless of outside weather because concrete holds moisture and cold. So about noon, I applied the epoxy according to a predetermined map of application sections. And you have to work fast, as there’s about a 45-minute period before that stuff starts to set. I would leave a foot or two of epoxy on which I did not scatter the paint chips and cut in to that area with each section. That’s it. But you really should practice and have everything ready to work. But you can do it solo. Now, not everyone can do what I do solo but I have done two additions solo and a lot of stuff that comes with instructions showing at least two people. It was easy for me and might not be as easy for you. I figure you can do anything if you plan right.

I’ve cropped out the fireplace until I reface it. Now it’s just a distraction.

I used the top coat then next two days. And then I waited another two days before moving in furniture. That’s it. GreatRoomIII GreatRoomIIt turned out close to what I imagined. Feel free to contact me with any questions or tips. I am glad to help if I am able.