It goes without saying that in a project like this, having never done anything like it before, that we’re going to make mistakes. As they say, the important thing about making mistakes is what we learn from them. I’m trying to learn from what we’ve done so far, both to help inform us on how to do things in the future, but also just as advice to anyone thinking about doing the same types of things.

Fortunately, most of the things that I would do differently have been small: I would use the “Q” column caps with the “SDS” screws for the LVL beam so I didn’t have the stupid through-bolts sticking out. Drilling those bolt holes was an unbelievable pain and furring and drywalling over them will suck. I would have checked for square when re-framing the bay, and done the rigid foam around the bay differently, since I’m not thrilled with the angled corners. However, these are small enough things that I don’t worry about them too much.

The damn subfloor, though. No project has offered so much “learning” as this. If I could go back in time, the steel beam in the basement needed to be about ¾” higher than we put it. When I was jacking up the old beam, I ran into a lot of resistance trying to get it any higher so I made it level where it was. If we had gotten it up a bit higher, the whole joist leveling project would have been considerably easier. Failing that, I needed to shim under all of the joists at the beam (Method 3). I should have held off making the stair opening down to the basement until the leveling was done. I should have brought all of the OSB in right away instead of letting it sit outside under a tarp all winter.

OSB in the snow

OSB in the snow

I needed to plan out the subfloor courses first, since the joists aren’t exactly 16″ on center. I needed to put down chalk lines for each course instead of assuming the outside wall was reasonably straight, or at least use the laser. I should have taken up all of the old floor right away, instead of a section at a time. That way I could have repositioned the joists that were just a bit off in the middle by using blocking. I should have checked the joists for being out of square, so I could plane down high edges.

I should have ripped the tongue off the first course and left the groove exposed instead of putting the groove against the wall and leaving the tongue exposed. Jamming the groove over the tongue when it’s already screwed down is a bad way to do it.  I needed to put glue into the groove before putting the next panel in.

Slow progress


More than anything else, though, I should have hired it out. It would have cost thousands of dollars, but it would be finished by now, probably a couple of months ago. Instead the subfloor isn’t finished, it’s not done as well as it could have been, and most likely we won’t finish the first floor this year as a result. Well, lesson learned. I’ll definitely be hiring out some things going forward to try and get this project back on track.

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2 Responses to Learning Lessons

  1. Don’t sell yourself short.

    Having an old home (built in 1914), I’ve gone through a lot of similar things as you have, though I’ll admit to not having to deal with the subfloor (yet, that’s coming though).

    There are definitely easier ways you could have done things, but on ANY project you do that’s always true. You can always look back and say “you know, I really should have done X, Y, and Z.” Don’t think for a minute that contractors will do things the best way, 99% of them will do things “good enough” that’s as quick and as cheap as possible. Very few contractors will go to the lengths you did, such as what you did to make your subfloor level. Most would have left it NOT level, as it would have been “close enough” and “that’s what you get with an old house.”

    Would it be done faster? Maybe. But maybe not.

    These old homes just simply aren’t square to start with, and trying to make them square is often an exercise in futility. When we were replacing a ceiling in a bedroom (removing a drop down), I first tried to make it level. Then I realized that level was WAY off from the floor. So then I looked at squaring it to the walls. I ended up basically going halfway between level and squaring it up to the floor, where each corner is 1/4″ of an inch off from the next (almost 3/4″ total difference between the two most extreme corners). This is in a fairly small room (about 12′ x 12′), so you’d think that much of a difference between one end of the the room and the other would be noticeable, but it’s really not.

    Anyway, next time you think you want to hire something out, go watch the show Holmes on Homes (I think Holmes Makes it Right is his new one). You’ll learn a lot about how to do stuff right (it’s where I first learned how to tile), and a lot about how to hire a contractor (it’s not as simple as just picking up the phone).

    The other thing to consider is sweat equity. If you’d hired it out, you will (almost) never get as much back out of it as you put into it. There are some things that I’ll hire out rather than do myself (just because you don’t really save much), but it’s really only a few specific things. Hanging drywall (but not mudding/taping/finishing), doing tile (mostly for the speed in which it’ll get done)…and that’s about it. Oh yeah, and the roof job that needs to be done will be hired out, but that’s mostly because I hate heights. 🙂

  2. Matt says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. It’s always good to hear from other people that have tackled these types of things.

    We’ve watched a lot of Holmes in Homes. That’s partly how we ended up doing this in the first place. I know a contractor wouldn’t necessarily have made it as level as we wanted. Some of them told us as much. Some even said it was fine the way it was (1″ dip in 8′). Mostly I just wish it took less time and that I’d read up on it a bit more.

    Thanks for reading and sharing!

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