Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tijuana Termites

Recycling and reclaimed are a couple of terms I've seen when referring to the practice of using not-new materials in home construction. Nowadays, or certainly post 2007, it has a very positive connotation and will be a noteworthy feature if used in a project. If done in a higher end project, the re-used material will be obtained from a Deconstructionist  (as DFW would say- those who refer to themselves as such understand themselves as capitalized).
This preamble is used to give context to the post's title.  The term originated with West Los Angeles construction crews  in the late 70's. It was noted that stuff was disappearing from tear-down sites of perfectly good structures before being hauled off by the disposal crews. It became known that the perpetrators were Hispanic and the construction materials and appliances were being used to build houses in Mexico. Thus came the label.  It most assuredly was not a complimentary description but it was also not regarded as illegal; the material was of no value to anyone in WLA and was destined for landfill. Being a Spanish ESL guy and from a modest SE background, I found the practice downright admirable even then. Which is why I remember it 35 years later; I tried researching the term in the LA Times to no avail.

DW's office and the guest bedroom needed new carpets in a bad way (cats...). But we had just finished a partial kitchen remodel, so I did not feel up to another significant cash outlay. I had been looking at Craigslist in the hope of finding flooring at a less than retail price for a few months. Don't ask why I was doing this while at the same time looking forward to a break from home improvement.
I found what I had been searching for and at lower price than I had hoped for, but packaged in an unanticipated way. Which is when Tijuana Termites came out of hard disk storage.
Not Deconstructionist condition, but not at Deconstructionist prices either. After a further price adjustment and the seller's son helping us bring the material to our home, I set to pulling nails. I had done hardwood floors before but with new material. Thus, there was concern about how well boards with less than pristine tongue and grooves would fit together and how significant the variation in thickness would be. The project developed into an economics exercise with the variables being cost, time and risk. Risk was the most worrisome aspect of the project as there was the possibility that end result would not be acceptable. I installed the guest bedroom floor first and was relieved that the boards had a tight fit in 95% of the floor surface. I had been hoping that the depth variation would allow me to use the boards in a "poor man's prefinished" fashion, but there was indeed too much of a thickness variation to allow for this (not to mention DW's veto).
The next risky part was sanding and finishing. I had successfully used an orbital sander previously along with a polyurethane finish. The polyurethane was DIY friendly but not very durable and gave the floor an undesirable yellowish tint with aging. We had decided on Rubio Monocoat as it has a flat finish and is nontoxic.  This would spare the need for a week of lodging expense for two adults and two cats. The supplier for the Rubio strongly recommended using a belt sander along with a buffer to apply the product. I had heard horror stories about novice screw-ups using belt sanders, so risk re-entered the project. As I was considering my options, one of my patients came in with prepatellar bursitis. I knew he was a carpet installer, When I asked him if he knew anybody who did hardwood floors, my floor finishing dilemma was solved (with the stipulation that I didn't want to see him on his knees).
The next leg of the project was over Labor Day weekend. It was warm and sunny and missing out on lazy mornings, bike rides and parties reminded me of another cost in doing projects- missed alternatives.

Installing the floor in DW's office was faster as she measured and cut the ends while I was nailing them down and the following day Don (my floor installer patient) and his friend Mark set to work on sanding the floors. We finished that leg early Labor Day morning. My plan was to use the buffer and apply the finish. Don asked- have you used a buffer before?- with my reply being no. He noted that there was a learning curve to using one and suggested that I begin in the middle of the room in case it got away from me. He probably would have been more forceful in his admonition if he had known that a step prior to applying the finish was to use a sanding pad with the buffer.
This was the end result after an hour playing mechanical bull with the (expletive) buffer. Or as the Germans say- no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

So I called Don and his friend Mark who are doing what sensible people do on a holiday- hanging out with their family and drinking beer- to ask for their help. When I pick them up, Mark mirthfully says, "normally this would call for triple time, but we like working with you". The cavalry was here; unfortunately, Don also had a learning curve with Mr. buffer with a sanding pad attached.

Thankfully, Mark got the hang of how to use the buffer and, between the three of us, were able to apply the finish in a couple of hours. Even though there was monetary compensation involved, it felt more like working with friends and colleagues.
The trim was a bit of an adventure as well. I looked at my usual places for stock door and floor moulding with the retail options being either expensive or boring and cheap (in every sense of the word). So I went to a local salvage place that has a nice balance between the Deconstruction approach and the complete "as is" condition. The Saab that I drive used to be my DW's and she continues to be dismayed by how it's used at times:
Here are the finished rooms after DW painted and I sanded, stained and installed the trim. I lost track of the hours we spent on the project, but the monetary output didn't strain our finances and the risks were successfully managed. And we have a story to tell.

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