I’m staring at a hole in my pantry floor that shouldn’t be there. This floor is only 25 years old. And I’m thinking that I’ve seen 150-year-old floors that were in better shape than this one. What the heck went wrong?
What went wrong is as basic as 9th grade science. Moisture versus wood. The roof does not leak. There are no water pipes in my pantry. Max is not taking a bath in here. The root of my problem came from an AC vent in the floor that over time sweated with condensation. The plywood subfloor is like a sponge when it comes to water. Even tiny little droplets.
Why this one vent, I don’t know. No other vent in the house has ever given me problems. I had a leaky toilet one time that caused me grief, but never an AC vent.
It was about a year ago that I first felt a little spongy movement under my feet as I walked into the pantry to get a bag of chips.
“Hey, honey. Have you felt this floor in here? It feels soft to me.” The husband will ask things like this of his wife. He assumes that she has prior knowledge because of the fact that she goes in and out of the pantry with greater frequency than he does. Surely, she must have noticed it before.
“Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to tell you about that,” she says.
“How long ago did you notice this?” I’m trying not to sound accusatory. I’m just curious how long this has been going on.
“I don’t know. It might have been sometime around last Christmas. Could have been longer. I really can’t remember.”
This is kind of like some of the conversations we used to have about the little warning lights on the dash of the car. I almost never drove her car, and when I did, there would be three of these lights flashing at me. I’d ask about how long they’ve been on, and she says, “Oh yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you about those.”
Now lest you think I’m throwing my wife under the bus here, my response to this spongy floor discovery was completely casual. If you’re old enough to remember Maw and Paw Kettle, you’ll get this.
“Hmm,” I said. “I’m gonna have to fix that one of these days.”
That was well over a year ago.
You see, the soft spot is just in one corner close to the wall. If I’m careful, I can go in and out of the pantry and never step there. I can retrieve the cornmeal from the top shelf and not even notice there’s anything wrong with the floor. I can grab a skillet off the peg board and miss that corner altogether. The chocolate chip cookies are on the opposite wall.
So, for a long time now, I’ve gotten by. I’ve ignored the warning lights. Until last week I forgot and stepped too close to the corner and nearly went through the floor. “Boy,” I thought to myself, “this floor has really gotten bad. I’m gonna have to fix this one of these days.”
I’ve been avoiding this project like the plague. Just thinking about how much work it would take just to get ready to cut out the floor and do the repair has caused me great agony. I don’t know what your pantry looks like if you have one, but mine looks like the storeroom from that really hot place where naughty people go.
Every shelf and every inch of floor space is crammed full. There are metric tons of canned vegetables and plastic storage containers and boxes of basic staples and jars of consumable products and small electric appliances from before the last ice age. There are Ziploc bags of stuff that I’m apparently saving for some good reason. There are unused cookie tins from every holiday season of the year. Bouillon cubes. Cupcake sprinkles. Toothpicks and plastic straws. Empty jelly jars cleaned and put away in case I need one. Paper sacks. Serving dishes. Mixing bowls.
I could go on. This is only a partial list.
Here’s the thing. You can’t just cut out the rotten spot and patch it. You could, but you shouldn’t. The floor covering is one solid roll of linoleum. Yeah, that’s old school. I know what you’re thinking. The 1960s called and wants its linoleum back. But, at the time, I liked linoleum. The pantry and laundry room were perfect for that 25 years ago.
If the repair is going to be done right, the whole floor has to be redone. That means that everything has to be moved out. Everything has to come off the shelves. All the shelve supports, which sit on the floor, have to come out. And all that stuff has to go somewhere else in the house for the duration of the job.
This is why I’ve waited so long. The dread of clearing out that pantry.
So, I talked my son into doing the work for me. He has a little free time on his hands right now, and I figured why not. He’s a good carpenter. He’s done remodel work for others before. I’d have to take a week off work, really, to get it done and not have pantry chaos that lasts for months.
Over the last two days, my kitchen and every flat surface in sight has turned into temporary pantry storage. The kitchen chairs have piles on them. Two folding tables from the attic are holding mixers and crock pots. The TV trays have been lined up for plastic containers and other light-weight supplies. The corner table holds the canned goods, along with flour and cornmeal and spaghetti.
I’m so confused. Making supper tonight, we both went into the pantry a dozen times to get something only to remember, “Hey, it ain’t in there no more.” It was like a treasure hunt.
“Where’s the tea bags?”
“On that table behind the sugar, I think.”
“I need a lid for this pot.”
“Try looking over there on the chair next to the window.”
But the work has progressed nicely. The pantry is naked. The baseboards are gone. The linoleum has been pulled up. And there’s a jagged hole in my floor.
The decay is not as bad as I had feared. But to be sure, we’ll cut out a decent size section to make sure we get beyond any rotten wood. We’ll be able to add a few braces between the floor joists and get the subfloor patched up with not too much trouble. And by we, I mean my son.
The new floor, I’m thinking, will be one of those composite waterproof materials that looks like a wood floor. The flooring industry has come a long way in the last 25 years. I wished this stuff was around when I built this house.
Then we’ll paint while the walls are clear. We’ll put all the shelves back. We’ll restock and reshelve everything. We’ll be done with this project in no time at all.
And by we, I mean my son.