Slaying the Garage Dragon, Part 2

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During the initial drywall and paint phase of my garage makeover I moved most of the stuff to the basement, leaving the big stuff like a cabinet and bicycles in the garage since they could be moved as needed. There was a lot of back and forth carrying all those knickknacks down the stairs. It also made me feel like I was a hoarder every time I set foot in the basement.

Garage Door Openers

Once the garage was mostly cleared the next phase involved installing garage door openers and finishing the floor. Yes, the elusive clean and bright floor most garages sorely lack. But first there was the matter of clearing everything else out. Not only did I become a craigslist jockey for an afternoon to sell random junk I’d never need again, I also got to truly decorate my basement in what’s best described as modern hoarder-style.

In keeping with the concept of starting at the top and working my way down – the opposite of a career path I suppose – the next step involved ordering garage door openers from my local Home Depot. As with my electric go kart, I went with beltdrive for the 1/2 horsepower openers that are less noisy than chain drive units. After I picked out the units I scheduled the installation, which went really well. The installer exceeded my expectations.

The only thing I may have done differently had I known is that the wall panel for controlling the doors is not wireless, as I had been led to believe by the rep at the store, and I would have had installation occur before the new drywall went in since it requires a hole to be cut into the wall and wires to be run to each of the motors.

Seems silly but since I already had the drywall and paint done, I didn’t want to cut into the wall. Luckily, each opener came with two remotes. I put one in the car and will mount the other near the wall. The only downside is that the remotes can’t control the lights. But it’s not a big deal.

Even had I known, however, coordinating the electrician, the drywall crew and the installer would have been cumbersome. Anyway, I’mthrilled to finally not have to get out of the car each time I came home or left the house to open or close the door.

Garage Floor Finish

Next, I set out to have the floor finished. At first I was going to have it professionally done but had a hard time getting estimates. One place didn’t even ever return my calls. Another wanted to paint it with industrial paint. That’s not what I had in mind. Lastly, the one quote I did get for the kind of finish I wanted was between $4 and $6.50 per square foot. In the end I decided to attempt my own stunt: Finishing the floor myself with a Valspar kit from Lowes.

Surface Preparation

Many people I talked with said the key to success with epoxy floors is in the surface preparation. So I spent much more time on it and put in much more effort than I thought was needed. It took a total of maybe three full days of labor to prepare, and then maybe three hours to coat the floor.

In a nutshell surface preparation consisted of sweeping, scraping, sweeping, scraping, oil treatment, sweeping, hosing, drying, sweeping, powerwashing, drying, etching, hosing, and drying. Until there was no noticeable dust on the floor. It was smooth to the touch. That’s why it took so long. I may have been a bit obsessive about it but it seems to have paid off.

First, with the garage doors open for ventilation, I swept and then proceeded to scrape every bit of gunk I could find off the floor. A flat head screwdriver is okay but will take forever. A thin scraper works much better. It was hard to believe the amount of gunk on that floor. Dirt, oil, paint, and other random clumps just built up over time on the concrete, really highlighting the need for a washable surface. Concrete is really lousy for the final surface of a garage floor.

Then I swept again and used an oil stain remover (not included with but recommended by the kit). That seemed to work fairly well by pulling the oil content of old stains back up to the surface so they can be washed away. It may also have dried some of them out, depending on the extent of the stain I guess. Anyway, as you can see from the pictures the end result of the treatment seems to have made the surface more dry and uniform.

Next I taped 3M Pretaped Painters Plastic around the bottom edge of the garage walls to shield them while washing the floor, swept all the oil stain remover residue away and washed the floor with a powerwasher. The painters plastic was really easy to apply but since the bottom side was only attached to the wall by static cling, the turbulence from the pressure washer water jet would often blow the plastic away from the wall, letting the wall get wet. I should have taped the bottom edge of the plastic.

Then I set up a box fan and dried the floor out. By now I was more than a day into it and started to etch the floor with the chemical that came with the kit. The chemical gets mixed with an equal amount of water in a 50/50 solution. Applying it with a large, stiff bristle broom was easy enough but it didn’t seem to apply quite evenly. But it’s hard to tell. I was, however, frequently second guessing myself since I had no experience and didn’t know what I was doing. That much was obvious.

Once that was completed I hosed it off and let the surface dry again. Then I hosed, swept and dried the floor at least another two times to get it as dust free as I could. The corners are the hardest and drying takes a long time. But finally the surface was prepped.

Applying the Epoxy Finish

The instructions recommend painting in 2 x 6 foot sections. So before I mixed the epoxy I put down small pieces of painter’s tape to mark the corners of a grid of rectangles that size, removing them as I applied the epoxy. Then I decided the sequence by which I would apply the epoxy so that when I finished I would be at the door leading into the house and not trapped by wet epoxy. I also decided to keep the garage doors closed because otherwise insects and dust from outside could come in during the process.

Here’s the dirty little secret they don’t tell you until you’ve already begun. The warmer the weather, the less time you have to use each container of epoxy mixture. Above about 70 degrees F you will have about half as much time as at a cooler temperature such as 50 degrees F. And you will in all likelihood do this in warm weather so you are almost certain to be facing a time constraint and feeling rushed.

Further, you start off by painting along the edges of the floor. By hand. But this is hard and tedious, it takes place when you are least experienced, and it takes time; time you don’t have as the first container of epoxy – enough for a one car garage – has to be laid down before it dries. It helps if you’re willing to accept that the edges of the floor are going to be ugly if you paint them this way. Mine certainly didn’t come out looking like a contender for  any model home show.

The way the makers of these kits could help DIYers is to provide a smaller sized container of the mixture that comes with the kit to get started. A warm up kit, so to speak, specifically to give the user more time to cover the edges without running the clock on main containers.

Stunts Gone Wrong

The first thing I noticed was that the runoff from the etching process went right down the driveway and etched it too. So in addition to powerwashing the garage floor I also used a couple of gallons of gasoline to run the power washer until I could get most of the etching marks out of the driveway.

The hardest part about doing this is that when the surface was wet I couldn’t see where the etching was. Then when the surface dried out I could see all the places that I missed. It was not easy. Let’s hope eventually rain will just wash it out.

Second, the optional color chips that come with the kit help to mask these imperfections. But I prefer a plain, solid color floor so I left them out. Well, the floor certainly came out as one color but in more than one shade. Inexplicably, it wasn’t from using two batches of the epoxy (one for each half of the garage).

Rather it was just that a couple of adjacent areas came out a different shade during application of the same batch. And it wasn’t like I stopped in the middle and started again. So that was surprising. Still, it’s better than looking at those awful color chips.

Then, aside from the ugly edges, I found this other detail I didn’t like. Drops of epoxy dripped unseen onto the floor in various places as I pulled the roller from the paint tray to start new sections. So there are spots around the garage where these appeared. Am I going to try to remove them? No. I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

Lastly, as I came to the steps of the door to the house, I had to roll the last few strips in an awkward way and there are a handful of visible stripes in the floor where I stopped. So each time I walk into the garage now, if there’s no car there, I am reminded of this.

Despite these little imperfections, overall I am pleased with how the floor came out, with what I learned and did, and the money I may have saved. My total cost for the flooring kit and various supplies came to a tad over $200. Plus four days of hard labor, which allegedly builds character.

In the third and final part of this series, I’ll cover the finishing touches.

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