Making a House a Home: Renovations on a DIY Budget

Making a House a Home: Renovations on a DIY Budget

No doubt about it, taking on your own home renovations makes the result much more rewarding–as long as your DIY methods are successful. Half the battle, though, is deciding which products and techniques to implement from so many articles and experts that each tell you differently.

To clarify, I’m absolutely not an expert on home renovations. I’m just a girl trying to make a house into her dream home while staying within a DIY budget. I’m only here to tell you what worked for me.

Unless a house is custom built, it is unlikely that any of us will find exactly what we want when shopping the real estate market.

In my case, when I first entered this home, everything about it structurally speaking was a yes for me. Unfortunately, the 20-year old, peeling laminate countertops, oak cabinetry, and plain southwest-style 12×12 tile, did not leave a good impression.

But after searching the market for another few weeks, I found myself adding up the pros and cons. Style and décor I could update, I decided. Layout, location, a decent backyard (for Phoenix, anyway) were invaluables I could not compromise on.

About a month later, I wasted no time unpacking. No use settling in when we were about to create even more chaos.

Although there are other small renovations on the ever-growing list, the two projects to focus on immediately were the flooring and kitchen. I worked on both simultaneously, but I’ll hone in on the floor first.

For some time, I’ve been impressed with stained concrete floors. Cost-effective, long-lasting, and easy to take care of. What can I say? Practicality is attractive to me.

Read on for pictures, tips, our step-by-step processes, and overall cost of my home flooring renovations.

Starting from the ground up: Removing tile and thinset.

After researching rental equipment and comparing costs of paying a crew, I knew we had to tackle this process ourselves. Staining concrete might be relatively inexpensive, however, the labor to prep the concrete for the stain is a different story.

But with almost 800 square feet of tile to uproot, there was no way we were going to manage with the handheld hammer and chisel method. I’m strong, but I’m not stupid.

Personally, I’m a Home Depot gal. The biggest reason in this situation was their only after you’ve done all the prep work below.

  • Remove all baseboards first, whether you like them or not. We forgot to do this in some areas and they were an inconvenience while trying to get tile up around the edges.
  • Cover up all vents, appliances, cabinets, light fixtures, and open doorways with painter’s tape and plastic sheeting; move it.
  • Taking a jackhammer to ceramic tile is LOUD! Plug in your noise-cancelling earphones or earplugs before revving it up.
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  • , either.
  • Shoveling tile debris is as backbreaking as operating a jackhammer. Bribe a friend with pizza (or a chiropractor visit) to remove the shattered pieces from your pathway. A
    • Lastly, depending on the tile’s conditions, you will still need to use a hammer and chisel in the hard-to-reach areas (i.e. closets and wall edges).

    How to prepare concrete for stain post-tile removal:

    We thought the jackhammering (probably a verb) was going to be the hard job out of all the renovations. Turns out, the most stressful part was grinding away the thinset.

    Remember what I said about defaulting to Home Depot? Well, forget it momentarily.

    We found out the hard way that not all floor grinders are created equally. No matter what we tried or how much manpower we used, the floor grinder HD offered was simply unstable and therefore dangerous. After 4 hours and $70 wasted (since we returned the tool after the probation period), we started searching and found Sunbelt Rentals nearby.

    I cannot give enough praise for this company’s customer service and products. For the same price as a one day tool rental at HD, we were able to rent a quality floor grinder and industrial vacuum (like this one) that connects right to it for the entire weekend!

    Not only was this grinder and vacuum hookup easier to control, it worked.

    The goal is to grind through the thinset and top layer of foundational concrete to make it porous and receptive to the etching solution that is needed next. This setup did that, and quickly, while also decreasing the dust cloud in my home.

    Once the thinset was eliminated, we filled larger holes and cracks with plain concrete. We went back over these areas the next day with the grinder to smooth them over as well.

    Side note, the Sunbelt guys also brought us a little hand grinder to file down the edges that the big one missed. Highly recommended!

    Etching process: Things you’ll need to keep on hand and in mind.

    If you’re at this stage in the process, there are likely still small cracks and uneven areas. Don’t worry about these just yet.

    Once the concrete in my home was exposed and as smooth as possible from the floor grinder, we vacuumed up all dust and grime so that the etching solution would be effective.

    How do you know the etching solution takes effect? When you spray the solution onto the concrete, it will fizz and bubble almost immediately.

    You’ll want to brush the solution in while it is freshly applied to really work it into the concrete’s pores. This works best if one sprays while the other brushes it in right behind them so they can continue working.

    Once the area you’ve worked isn’t foaming anymore but is still damp, use a wet mop (or pressure washer, if you are doing this outside) to wash away all of the muck the solution brought up. Then follow up with the wet vac to suck up as much of the water as you can.

    Spray, brush, wash, dry, repeat. You get the idea.

    A word of warning: don’t belly ache over streaks of dirt at this point. Just get the etching completed and if necessary, do another round. Basically, if the solution just soaks right in without bubbling much, the task is done.

    Then, do a thorough mop and vacuum session on the concrete and let it dry 24 hours/overnight before attempting to stain.

    Materials needed for etching:

    Choosing a concrete stain: Acid VS. Water-based.

    If you lack artistic skills like me, this part will definitely up your anxiety.

    Thankfully, my boyfriend is artistic and was more than willing to assist. Although he practically threatened to break up with me every day because of my “suggestions” along the way. Hehe.

    Don’t worry, we’re stronger for it now. 😉

    The great debate on stained concrete is whether to go with an acid stain or a water-based stain.

    While I love the rich swirls of acid stain, I didn’t want the floors to be the focal point of my home. Rather, I wanted neutral, understated floors that would enhance the my décor and also blend with any changes I made over the years.

    Plus, water-based stain is less toxic and easier to DIY. So, after much research, I went with a semi-transparent white and a charcoal water-based stain.

    Applying stain to the concrete.

    Although the bottles explain the ratio, we mixed 6 cups of distilled water with one bottle of stain in order to get the most coverage.

    On a side note, we started this project when grocery stores began limiting water during the pandemic. I think I went back for distilled water three different times during the process.

    Everything I read said to apply the white stain first because it would not show on top of the charcoal if we didn’t. So we sprayed a heavy layer of white on and let it do its thing.

    After just one layer, though, we realized the lines of thinset were still visible. Yes, even after grinding and etching, you could still see the crisscrossed square patterns on the concrete!

    He applied a second coat of white stain to all 800 sq. ft. using the pump sprayer and let it dry for a full day.

    Lastly, Andrew attached a faux design sponge roller to an extended paint pole and lightly rolled on the charcoal stain. Adding a randomized, simplistic design with stain is actually a lot harder than it sounds.

    His technique was to start in one corner, then drag out the stain as much as possible to keep the shade consistent. This way, he’d avoid any hard edges whenever he had to reapply stain to the roller from the paint tray.

    Materials needed to stain:

    Final step of floor renovations: clear coat sealer.

    Since the stain has absolutely no shine on its own, I wanted a bit of a sheen to the surface to make the gray tones stand out.

    Eco-procote is local in Arizona and, like their etching solution, offers eco-friendly clear coat sealers. Essentially, clear coat protects the concrete by sealing its pores, locking in the stain and making the surface chip and scratch resistant. It’s also not slippery, as you might think.

    I purchased both Matte and Gloss finishes, which do differ in price. This stuff looks milky at first but spreads on thin and clear, with no bad smells!

    Applying the clear coat is fairly easy. But here are a few tips.

    • Like the stain, work your way out from a corner of a room.
    • Pull only in one direction in smooth strokes, then, before you get too far out, go back over it lightly in the opposite pattern.
    • Take your time rolling out the sealer to avoid creating bubbles.
    • Like painting a wall, overlap your previous stroke slightly to remove strict edges.
    • Like the stain, work your way out from a corner of a room.
    • Pull only in one direction in smooth strokes, then, before you get too far out, go back over it lightly in the opposite pattern.
    • Take your time rolling out the sealer to avoid creating bubbles.
    • Like painting a wall, overlap your previous stroke slightly to remove harsh edges.
    • Wear bags over your shoes, but try not to step in it either way!

    Overall cost of this flooring renovation project.

    In all, the amount I paid just under $1200 out-of-pocket for my stained concrete floor renovations. Give or take a little for your own budget, depending what you already have on hand.

    For the record, that total cost does not include the chiropractor adjustment and multiple takeout and coffee orders we placed to get us through it!

    While I generally try to find a deal and cut corners where I can, I also didn’t want to skimp on quality. Since I was saving a fortune with my DIY renovations, I didn’t mind spending a little extra on professional products which saved time and money in the long run.

    When I was running cost comparisons, I estimated that if I were to hire paid professionals, the job would have been at least $4000, minimum. $2800 in savings is nothing to laugh at!

    We are still debating adding another coat of sealer and then renting a floor buffer to improve the shine. But we’ll see.

    So far, I’m loving the smooth durability of my stained concrete floors and I hope you do too, should you choose to go this route! Feel free to send over any questions or comments if you’re in the midst of your renovations!

    The only things missing now are some fun runners and colorful, exotic rugs. Anyone have suggestions?!

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    P.S. This article contains affiliate links. If you click on my referral links, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend top-notch products that worked for me!