Chipping away at others’ carelessness

#631 in a series of true experiences in real estate
October 2011, Hills Newspapers

We were getting a big old house ready for sale. We’d figured out a plan with the seller for work to be done but had decided not to refinish the wood floors. While a new furnace was being installed and many window frames and glass were being replaced, we concentrated on the cosmetics – paint colors, new grout in kitchen and bath tile, lighting.

The house was so large and there were so many details to look at individually that I didn’t notice until I’d been there many times that many of the wood floors had been spattered with paint. Once I saw it, I had to fix it. The floors were dark, the paint was white; to me, it looked bad.

I started by mopping a floor with Spic & Span on a wrung-out mop. Not much change occurred. Then I sat on the floor and washed with a cloth. Paint blobs were unaffected. Next I tried using a thin putty knife and a single-edge razor blade to carefully scrape off each spot of paint. This worked pretty well but there was a lot of paint, my back was sore from bending over and the wash water needed changing often. The floor was looking better but it was taking forever.

I still wasn’t sure what the best way to clean the floors was. I kept thinking as I worked that maybe we could hire someone to do the job, but short of sanding the floors and coating them I didn’t know who – or how. Plus, I kept thinking that if I experimented with different things, I’d find a quicker, easier way to get that paint off.

The hardest paint to remove is fine spray from a paint roller because the spots are small and there are a lot of them. Removing larger, thicker drops of paint is easiest. Often they can be popped off without marking the floor. That was my goal – to clean the floor well enough that someone walking through the room would not notice anything that sticks out; nothing stops their gaze.

I’ve had problems in the past when I used a chemical cleaner to remove spots of paint on wood floors. The paint came off ok but the finish was changed making the spots even more noticeable than if I’d left them alone. Most of the floors I was working on this time were raw and worn. Any protective finish they’d had on them was gone now. Too bad, of course, that past painters when painting these rooms had not covered the floors well.

I became obsessed with those floors. Day after day we’d go to the house and I’d work on the floors. Anet, is easily as compulsive as I, but about different things. Where I want to make everything clean, she wants to make things work. While Anet was making sure doors latched readily, locks and knobs operated smoothly and light bulbs were replaced and gave a sufficient amount of light, I continued to see little spots of paint everywhere I looked. I washed, chipped and vacuumed up every bit, and then again.

Then I moved on to woodwork. The house was built around the turn of the century, complete, as many houses of the era were, with unpainted paneling and door and window frames, window seats and pocket doors. Inevitably, as the years went by, the wood had suffered. Especially in doorways, there were nicks and dings. They are lighter in color than the surrounding wood which makes them stick out. I wanted to blend them in so that they didn’t show.

I tried Old English scratch remover first but it wasn’t dark enough to cover. I switched to a gel stain that was the closest color match, putting a very small amount on a paint brush and barely touching glitches, then immediately wiping the stain off with a clean cloth. This worked great, especially on edges. My goal, as with the floors, was to make the spots the same color as the rest of the surfaces.

On larger flat surfaces such as paneling, I found that using a little gel stain on a cloth dampened with paint thinner worked. This allowed me to wash the entire surface of an individual panel so a very thin coat of stain was applied. Glitches were covered quickly and easily and the wood looked “whole” again. Most gratifying.

We have visited houses where old woodwork was “born again” through chemical stripping and sanding. No doubt enormous amounts of money and time were spent in the process. The wood in these houses looked good as new, truly beautiful, and we were admiring, but that wasn’t what we were looking for in this latest house. Anet and I were trying, not for a “like new” effect, but for something juicier. The wood in this latest house is somewhat beat up, the effect of many years, many occupants. Feels good, looks right to us.

Maybe someone, someday will refinish the floors and possibly the woodwork too. Meanwhile, evening out the color and removing paint left on surfaces where it should never have been is a big boost to the look and feel of the house.

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