Crappy carpet but no budget this year -- options?

Hi all,

Almost 10 years ago, we bought a house that had been a rental for many years and has LOTS of deferred maintenance. We've been chipping away at needed items but the number of outstanding items exceeds our single-income budget.  We fortuitously had bought quite a bit of paint before SiP started and plan to repaint several rooms over the next few months.  However, we are at a loss for what to do with the carpet. The carpet is low quality put in by the previous owner to sell the house. Add to that 10 years of a family of 4 and 3 pets, it looks really, really bad in the high traffic areas. We get it professionally cleaned each year but the stains are permanent. And at some room junctures, the carpet is coming up or frayed. 

The hope is that next year we can afford to buy new flooring. But wondering if anyone has ripped out their carpet (and baseboards)? Does the plywood underneath look crummy?  We already have area carpets in some rooms and could get a few low cost rugs for other rooms (but not the long hall) wondering if we would get splinters from the plywood?  Thanks for your insights and experiences!

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It depends on the age of your house and what the floor under the carpet is made of.

If it is plywood, you can paint it with Home Depot's very cheap mistake paint or see if you can get some from Alameda County for free, it will be grey or beige. (I don't know if there are any low income requirements to get it, but it's worth asking.) That will help seal the plywood and protect you from splinters.

If the floors are pine, sand them and you can just finish them with stain yourselves and if they are in good enough shape you won't have to replace it. Otherwise, just throw some rugs down until you are going to rip it all out and replace it next year.

Also, if you remove your baseboards, do it carefully and save them because they are expensive to replace and you can make them look nice again by sanding and painting them before you put them back on over the edges of your new flooring. We're about to replace our baseboards and it's going to be about $500. (The previous owners ripped it all out and never replaced it.)

Good luck from a fellow one income household with a fixer upper.

Years ago I pulled up everything in a house in West Marin...revealed lovely straight grain fir commonly used instead of plywood. It had old paint on it...stripped the paint and resurfaced the fir with a low VOC gym floor seal from MacBeath Hardwood. Did it with my partner. Not too much trouble for a younger couple, but had to live elsewhere for a while. All in all...result: gorgeous.

Also, I think Martha Stewart and others over the years have shown painted plywood floors, With nice effect.

But I recommend you look into the carpets from Hook and Loom. 100% wool with no dyes. Because I used them successfully to deal with your situation exactly: as a renter, I have old carpets that look horrible. I found a phenomenal rug company. Hook and Loom, and bought area rugs to strategically cover the greater expanses in the apartment. They lie right on top of the crummy wall to wall.  Incredibly inexpensive compared to labor to pull up rugs and refinish or install new wall-to-wall. Woven in lush thick patterns, or plain, they work with the various natural colors from the sheep. I have covered large and small areas with these rugs and obliterated  the ugly old rug from sight. These loomed rugs have no backing, so very spongy. Great for feet. I wondered about the rugs on top of carpet so I contacted the company and the owner and I discussed the situation. In fact, she had a gentle warning about not guaranteeing the ones I wanted if I was putting her rugs on top of rugs.  But the only rug that has slightly pulled is the 9 'x 2' runner, loom hooked, that my 6'3" son pounds up and down on, all day. Meanwhile, the 6x9 natural wool loom hooked rug cream rug in the living room is essentially the same as when purchased. Also, cleaning pure wool like this is super easy. Oils don't bond, the way they do in polyester based fiber. So, I spot clean, either water, or water and a little detergent. Rinse and good to go. I have gone from a stained cheapo carpet, to the hand loomed beauty of natural sheep's wool. 6x9 feet and only $475 dollars.It's classy, beautiful and light and clean looking.Be sure to order the swatches. They are really big so you can stand on them in your bare feet. Super helpful to make final decisions. And talk to the company. They really are very nice. And finally, if you move, you can take them with you. I am about to order more. (FYI: before I found Hook and Loom,  I searched and searched for ideas: like buying a bound edge piece of wall to wall carpeting. Many times more expensive than these rugs. Plus: out-gassing. But if you decide to investigate that route: be sure to check out Tradeway Flooring in Richmond for a big showroom with reduced prices. 

You can rip out the carpet, mop the floor with a damp mop and a little cleaner dish soap works the best for me to remove any residue from the old pets, and trust me there is some there I'm sure.
And just paint it with a satin/eggshell or semi gloss paint and you can get an inexpensive runner any size you need for the hallway (cut to size) at home depot. That will look and smell better until you can afford new carpet.

Unfortunately, no one on the internet will know what is under the carpet in your home.  Can you can lift a small corner of the carpet to see what is underneath without damaging the carpet?

If you have hardwood underneath, then you can use that without any real issues until you can redo the floors.

If there is only subfloor (plywood or planks), then I would recommend against removing the carpet.  It’s unlikely that the plywood has perfect seams, and there could be small gaps.

The biggest issue with removing the flooring is that you can’t qualify for FHA funding with exposed floorboards or studs.  If you need to refinance or sell your home, then you would be in the position of needing to buy flooring before you (or a buyer) could get financing.

I found that the old carpeting in our house was not just hideous but also rather toxic to my allergic family. We ripped it all out and painted the floors! Mostly peach beige. I thought it would be temporary until we could afford new floors. However, I LOVED the look. In one room we painted a checked throw rug on the floor. With tassels.
In another room the dog walked across with painty paws in a different color and we left the perfect paw prints on the floor. It was easy to clean. We had no splinter issues, but I think painting helped all that.
We’ve since moved and have wood floors now. But remembering those floors makes me smile. Good luck!

Yes, I gradually ripped out my carpets in my 1927 fixer years ago. It's possible there are oak floors underneath if the house is older than 1950. Find this out before you go any further. If you have oak floors(or douglas fir) you have saved yourself a lot of money. So find a out of the way corner you can peal back a foot or so. Watch your fingers for tacks! There will be tack strips all along the perimeter of the room. Pull back the carpet far enough (1foot) to get past those 2" tack strips & past the padding underneath. Lift up the padding to reveal the actual floor. It may be very dusty & dirty. Take a scraper, dustbuster & damp rag & see what you have. If it's not plywood you may be able to strip it all out (one room at a time). If you want further instructions let me know. If not, tuck everything back in place & save your money to have it all done later. 

One more thing, I do have experience laying fresh plywood to use as the actual flooring. In a back section of my West Marin barn I build an artist's loft/studio rental from a very shabbily constructed workshop to work as an entry and living space attaching to the main artist loft space.. The old plywood floors were shot, completely uneven and splintered, so we tore them out and I went down to Golden Gate Lumber in San Rafael and personally selected 4 x 8 panels of veneer plywood for their unique grain patterns. I found some beautiful panels, laid them in and then, again, finished them with the low VOC, gym seal I found at MacBeath's in Berkley. Multiple coats later they were gleaming beautifully grained flooring. The seal I selected was not an oil based seal. Therefore it did not darken the flooring. It stayed it's natural creamy light color. Of course you can color and/or oil stain this wood if you prefer. The important thing, I found, was to get the construction guys to nail the sheets down along the seams in a perfectly evenly spaced series of nails, that matched on both sides of the area where the panels butted up against each other. Crew didn't get it at first. Had to persevere. To match your own aesthetic, know there are all sorts of veneer surfaces. Be sure to get panels thick enough they don't flex when folks walk and stand on them. 

What's under your carpet all depends.  We pulled up our carpet and found beautiful hardwood floors,  If you've looked under the carpet and have plywood I would leave the carpet.  If you can't afford new carpet, install tile.  You can do just as much as you can afford.  Over time you'll be able to replace all your carpet and have nice tile floors.  

Perhaps this is an obvious question, but have you already pulled up part of the carpet in each room to check what is underneath? Even if you see only subfloor in one room, it's possible that's not the story everywhere. If you're lucky enough to have hardwood underneath in some places, it is not hard at all to pull the carpet up. Getting the nails out is time-consuming, but again, not hard. Tip: use needle nose pliers. When I did this it was not necessary to remove the baseboards, but there was a gap left. The gap can be filled with small molding called "shoe molding."

What you do from there will depend on what kind of shape the hardwood is in. If you can refinish it, great. It's much less than a new floor. Alternatively you can paint it with a heavy duty paint made for decks. Definitely better than crummy carpet!

If you only see subfloor underneath, though I would WAIT to pull the carpet up. Subfloor is not comfortable. Better to buy the cheapest indoor/outdoor rugs you can find and layer them over the wall-to-wall. I've seen interior designers in rental apartments use sisal carpets that way -- basically as a second layer wall-to-wall to cover bad floors they couldn't permanently change. However I wouldn't get sisal in a house with kids and pets. Durable well-priced indoor/outdoor rugs are your friend. I think you can find some that will give you some relief from the bad old carpet look without eating too much into your future new floor funds. Good luck!

Original poster here--the house is mid-1970's and definitely does not have hardwood underneath (wish it did!).  Thanks to everyone for their suggestions.  I've since read/watched a few blogs about painting/staining plywood sub-flooring and it can turn out pretty nice (although area rugs still needed!).  However, I did see that in some states not having floor covering over sub-flooring could prevent a sale/refinance from going through.  Currently towards the end of a refinance but could conceivably refinance again depending on what interest rates do so definitely something to consider.