Do-it-yourself turns out pretty difficult

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller share the same small house (still), work in the same office (again) and somehow manage to cling to their sanity (barely). Older and wiser (she's wiser, he's just older), the Southeast Missourian sweethearts offer their views on everyday issues, told from two different perspectives.

SHE SAID: The Book says, "the perfect do-it-yourself home improvement project."

I'm not kidding. That's what The Book says. And The Book wouldn't lie. No, not the 511-page, full-color mother-of-all-do-it-yourself homeowners manuals (also known as the instigator of many fights in the Miller household). So what, you ask, does the 511-page, full-color mother-of-all-do-it-yourself homeowners manual proclaim to be "the perfect" project? Laying laminate flooring, that's what.

I can tell you from years of experience that the only "perfect" do-it-yourself project is one you don't do yourself. It's a lesson Bob and I learned early on, but we keep testing the laws of home improvement anyway. We're rebels that way. And by rebels, I mean too cheap to pay someone else to do it.

Ten boxes of beautiful fake-cherrywood flooring have gathered dust in a corner of our house for nearly a year now. Two weeks ago, we finally decided to do something about them. It was going to be a snap -- literally -- we thought. Any project that has fewer than nine steps from start to finish (with the main step being to simply snap planks together) couldn't be all that tough. Plus, we had that glowing review from the homeowners manual to encourage us.

We started by making sure our subfloor was clean and fairly level. I say fairly because nothing in our 1930s-era home is really level. And there are no right angles to be found on the entire property. Then we rolled out the foam underlayment. And pretty much from there on, things went downhill.

I "snapped" the first row of laminate planks together in a matter of minutes while Bob was setting up his table saw. We're going to finish this in a couple hours, I thought. Then we moved on to the second row. I'm pretty sure skilled contractors could have rebuilt the entire house in the time it took us to figure out that second row of laminate.

No matter how we snapped, pushed, cajoled, cursed, shoved, gently popped or twisted the second row of planks, it would not form a seamless line with the first row. Frustration got the better of us -- me because it isn't easy for a seven-month pregnant woman to bend over on the floor anyway, and Bob because it was his seven-month pregnant wife who talked him into the "perfect" project in the first place.

After several hours with no success, we gave up and went to bed hoping the floor would miraculously lay itself over night (now that would be the perfect do-it-yourself project). It didn't.

HE SAID: My father never had many tools, never had much handiness about him, never bothered too much with wrenches or saws -- a trait I admire deeply as I get older. But he had this phrase he used on the few occasions he did try to fix something.

"Why does everything always got to be so difficult!" he'd say, followed by an impatient sigh.

My youngest brother, who is 16 now, and I laugh about the phrases Dad uses today and used when I was a teenager. The Great Floor Installation of 2008 was a moment dedicated to my father. Unfortunately, the useless directions weren't clear that the handy snap-lock laminate mechanism neither snapped nor locked unless you were a body builder. As I am not, the installation of the easy snap material was not easy. Nor snappy. It snapped, eventually, but only after several of my joints did as well. (It's been rumored that the snappy-lock laminate floor engineers have privately orchestrated a multimillion-dollar deal with the American Chiropractic Association.)

Over the course of several HGTV-made-it-look-easy projects that Callie has assigned me, I've learned that there's no such thing as an easy home improvement project. Nothing's ever square. I can never find the tools that I need. I always seem to forget materials at the store. The screws are always stuck tight.

In this case, we simply weren't pushing the simple-click floor pieces hard enough. Some eight hours later, another Saturday gone, the floor was finished in all its fake-cherry glory. What a beautiful sight it was (I mean the heating pad, not the floor). The result was worth it, but I don't know why everything's got to be so difficult.

Callie Clark Miller is the online/special publication managing editor at the Southeast Missourian. Bob Miller is the managing editor. After dozens of potentially disastrous home improvement projects, they are still happily married. Well, they're still married. Reach them at bmiller@semissourian.com or cmiller@semissourian.com.

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