Sandblasting helps home regain a 1960′s style appeal

#542 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 2007, Hills Newspapers

We’ve just had our first experience with sandblasting and I can now say that it is, well, a blast! The stone fireplaces at our new listing needed cleaning. There was bad-looking black soot and such around the openings and on the surfaces of the raised hearths. Fireplace faces, floor-to-ceiling, were dingy.

It’s a double-faced fireplace between the large living room and the family room on the opposite side, and is a prominent design feature of the house. The stone is, I think, sandstone, a pleasant pinky-beige stone cut in narrow slabs that are stacked long-ways.

Both the fireplaces are perfect in style and color for this custom-built nineteen-sixties house. The living room extends to a dining room making a beautiful, very large room – almost 40 feet in length – with golden-colored oak floors. In the dining end are built-in cabinets, the upper doors glazed in original bottle glass.

The family room is paneled in large sheets of blond wood and the linoleum flooring is original in a pattern known as Terrazzo, small “chips” in shades of brown and cream. These rooms sport a good deal of pizzazz due to the finishes and detailing.

Because the surfaces of the fireplace stone are irregular and somewhat porous, they are difficult to clean with a cloth or sponge. The first thing I tried was washing the darkest black spots just above one of the fireboxes with a mild soap and a damp cloth. Some of the gunk came off but I could see that it would be a lengthy and time consuming job that would be only partially successful. I wondered if some sort of solvent would work better, and I began to ask people for cleaning ideas.

I tried researching on the Internet with very little luck, called stone suppliers and met a couple of cleaning people at the house who were at least willing to look at the job. The best I could elicit was a not very confident promise to try. For around $600, one cleaning person said he would stand on a ladder and laboriously brush with water and soap every inch of the stone. He thought it would look cleaner but it certainly would not be even close to what it was when originally laid.

Then someone suggested sandblasting, a very interesting idea, I thought. Definitely worth checking out. Fortunately, the timing was good. The house was about to be empty, painting throughout was on the schedule but hadn’t been started yet, plus the oak floors would be refinished after painting.

The sandblaster man, name of Lars, said that for $800 he could completely clean both entire fireplaces, all surfaces, even inside the fireboxes. It would take only a few hours. But the area would have to be masked off, doorways tarped with plastic sheeting and a wall of plastic put up at the dining end of the large room to partially confine the sand. Otherwise, he cheerfully informed me, sand would be all over every surface throughout the house.

Lars suggested that I “get one of your people” to do the masking. I told him that probably meant me, I had no one else to do it, and I’d much rather he do it himself. He was reluctant.

For $300 more, he’d put up plastic but he wouldn’t clean up the sand. On this last, he was resolute. We were out of time, I believed by then that sandblasting was what we needed, that it was extremely important to the overall look of the house, and so I agreed, Anet and I would clean up the sand if Lars would do the rest.

The day after the owner moved out and the house was cleared, the sandblaster man arrived with his truck, “sand gun” and helper. Some plastic (but not much) was hung, the blasting accomplished.

The result was nothing short of miraculous! The stone is almost pristine, very pretty, very pinky-beige, exactly nineteen-sixties.

And there was sand. Lots and lots of sand. Some of the sand was on the windows, walls, doors, but most was on the floors, in drifts. Anet and I, in old clothes and shoes and wearing paper face masks, used brooms and scoops to collect the sand. We swept and swept into small piles.

Sand is heavy, we found. About three scoops is about all a sack will hold and still be easily carried outside. Sweeping sand is like sweeping the beach. It is endless and seems pointless because there is always more.

But it was worth it. Even as we swept and scooped, and finally, shop-vac-ed, I looked again and again at the fireplace and I said to Anet more than once, “It’s gorgeous.”

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