Lifting felt paper

Saving Etta: Chapter 15 – What Lies Beneath

Saving Etta - One Woman's Journey to Save a House Built in 1900 | Pretty Handy Girl

Saving Etta: Chapter 15 – What Lies Beneath

This is the true story about a house built in 1900 that is in serious disrepair. It’s also the story about my journey toward becoming a general contractor and my attempt to save a home from being bulldozed. I hope you’ll follow along as I embark on a journey into the unknown perils and rewards of flipping a home in downtown Raleigh, NC.

If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters for more of the back story.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram as I share live updates about this project I’m calling Saving Etta.

A special thank you to all the brands that are helping to save Etta!

Anthony suddenly rushed out of the house heading straight toward Nathan, “Stop, don’t cut over there!”

Nathan froze and Anthony began pulling ivy up until he revealed a concrete pad that was completely hidden by the ivy and leaves. He explained that there had been a shed on the site a long time ago, but now all that was left was the concrete. We were glad he had been there to prevent an accident.

After a few more minutes of small talk, Anthony bid us a good day and drove off. We put in a few more hours of yard work before calling it a day. After five hours of work, we had accumulated a big pile of branches and weedy trees on one side of the driveway. All four of us, sweaty and pink-cheeked, loaded into the truck and headed home. The boys didn’t have to try too hard to convince us to make a quick stop at McDonalds for shakes.

Pulling Nails

Monday morning my muscles were sore after the weekend of yard work, but I was anxious to get underneath the particle board that lay beneath the carpet Mike had pulled the other day. If there were original hardwood floors underneath, I knew it could help my budget immensely. From the truck, I grabbed a hammer, a pry bar, and a three foot long wrecking bar. In my mind, it would be simple to shove the pry bars under the sheets and lift up the full 4 foot by 8 foot particle board with a little effort. Instead, small one foot sections broke off the lumber like little bites out of a big cookie. It was incredibly frustrating and time consuming. Finally I decided to pull all the nails from the particle board and then lift the full sheet up. The music blared from my little work radio, and a mixture of Cyndi Lauper and Bon Jovi filled the room as I scooted around on my butt pulling nails.

Lifting Fiber Board

After about 20 minutes, I pulled the last nail from the first sheet. Sliding one pry bar under the particle board allowed me to get my hands under the edge. I heaved the full board up from the floor. A layer of black felt paper lay underneath. I quickly rested the particle board against the wall and ripped a section of felt paper. Beneath it lay what looked like berber carpet at first glance, but turned out to be a big sheet of linoleum printed to look like carpet. I chuckled to myself, thinking that, long ago, people must have liked faux berber carpet-printed linoleum the way they like faux woodgrain tiles today.

Knowing full well that the linoleum needed to be tested for asbestos, I left it alone until I could find an edge to gently pull up and sample. The next several hours were spent alternating between scooting on my behind or crawling on all fours to pull nails. Sadly I only freed three more sheets of particle board in that time. To appease my aching back, I decided to change tasks.

Throwing Sheets into Dumpster

Although the door was closed to the room with the mold in it, the house still had a musty odor. Stepping outside, I took a big breath of fresh air, then wrestled the sheets of fiberboard over my head and threw them into the dumpster. Wanting to stay outside longer, I threw my energy into breaking down the big yard debris pile by the driveway. 

I had hired a woman named Sarah to come haul the limbs away to the yard waste facility and wanted to get it ready for pick up. I was curious to meet this woman who loved to earn cash by performing an assortment of labor intensive jobs. Raleigh has a yard waste processing center that will mulch the debris and resell wood chips or compost to city residents. We’ve frequented the facility many times (and it’s always fun to see the big trucks and equipment working), but my time was better spent working on the house.  On the phone, Sarah had told me that everything had to be six feet or shorter for her to be able to haul it away. Luckily there were only a few limbs that needed to be cut down. By the time I had cut the last one, a little white Nissan pick up truck stopped out front and backed into the driveway. From the driver seat stepped a woman with long sandy blonde hair pulled into a ponytail. She wore a white t-shirt, black exercise leggings, and running shoes. Sarah introduced herself and shook my hand. I was surprised by her appearance, but hadn’t been sure what to expect. She looked like me: fair skinned, medium build, with strong arms and legs. Her clothing suggested a day at the gym instead of a junk hauler. We quickly loaded her truck and chatted about ourselves. Sarah told me she liked the flexibility of her “odd jobs” so she could be home with her kids most of the time. The variety of jobs and the workout she got hauling things to the dump kept her happy and stress-free. I smiled and told her I completely understood.

Whenever I worked on Etta, I had that same feeling. I thoroughly enjoyed the break from the depressing news of the day and instead threw my anger and frustrations into the physically demanding aspects of rehabbing the old house. Each day I worked on Etta, I left physically and mentally exhausted, leaving no room for worrying or anger.

After a short time, Sarah’s truck was full to the cab, but there was still another load to take. She told me she’d be back later to take the second load and would collect her fee then.

After she left, I took a quick snack break and then went back to work pulling nails from the particle board. It was a slow process, but after a while I finally revealed the edge of the linoleum.

Lifting felt paper

I carefully pried up the sheet and found yet another layer of linoleum underneath. It was a brick red color and solid instead of the patterned berber print. Reaching into my tool box, I extracted two ziploc bags, a utility knife, my respirator, a paper towel, and a spray bottle. Using the technique that Jeff (the asbestos abatement professional) had showed me, I misted the vinyl with water from the spray bottle. Then gently cut a section out of each piece of linoleum with a sharp utility knife. I placed the samples into the ziploc bags and sealed them. Then I cleaned off the knife with a damp paper towel and threw the towel away in a sealed bag. I labeled each sample to differentiate them for the lab results.

Looking back at the hole where I had cut out the linoleum, a brown patch beaconed me closer. Using the flat end of my pry bar, I gently scraped away the years of dirt and grime. What I discovered left me with a range of emotions.


If you are just joining the story, you may want to read all the Saving Etta chapters.

Are you enjoying the Saving Etta chapters? I’d love to hear from you! What are you enjoying the most?

10 replies
  1. Toni OConnell
    Toni OConnell says:

    I just was attempting to allow my self to breath and move forward snd maintain my happy thoughts. Today i was supposed to be looking for inspiration. At first I waz so excited when an email about from someone about remodeling or renovating homes and I found your blog. Wow i was excited DIY and you seem to have good ideas for my hope of an antique them for my new 1900 hone I just bought in April in a small town near Goldsboro. I even got a glimpse of your house at some point and thought no way how weird am i crazy her house a lot like mine.. So i was excitedly looking to see what state you were from.and i found were in Raleigh. How crazy but still maintaining positive thoughts decided maybe you would have real understandable directions or thought on an issue I learned I sill surely be wanting to resolve with Lead paint. I thought i would have already be painting by now but as the do things have come up. Like for example the fire department for some electrical bad wires sparking burning i got to the breaker real quick Thursday morning at 7 AM I am a single mom and son in FL visiting his dad. So perfect time I wanted to be painting. I Never did see if you had help on getting rid of the paint because I pretty sure i am still processing your story of saving Ella. I domt know if i should run cry or keep reading. I feel like a kid sneaking a scary movie with my hands over my eyes. I am amazed how you have done it. My home is not in the same sport as Ella. Trust me the fear u am having are the signs are there and the contract issues not showing. one of my bathroom ceiling is only mayne 6ft. But most importantly as sick to my stomach in fear of the unknown of what really awaits me. Warning me they are here. But i am going to go back to wanting to figure out my colors and keep telling myself look how much you have learned and how beautifully your house is now. Mine will be as well. My contractor well ex contractor said to me you cant put lip stick on a pig. I should have known then because my thought was only if you are to lazy to do the job right. So to me today you are so encouraging and you have resource I can look to for help because you already figured it out. And i an sure will have to read all the Ella chapters.

  2. Amy
    Amy says:

    Brittany, I just wanted to thank you for creating a place online where we can go to escape the troubles of the day and celebrate along with you your hard work and dedication to a worthy cause. I admire you. Thank you. God bless.

  3. Colleen Taylor
    Colleen Taylor says:

    I found myself pulling, tugging & grunting along with you as I was reading this. You remind me of my younger self except you’re taller & stronger than I ever was. Can’t wait to read what’s next!

  4. Ann Greene
    Ann Greene says:

    Oh, my goodness. You are amazing with the intestinal fortitude of a whole football team. You are awesome and Etta will be too. Hopefully, you have found hardwoods but not the dreaded asbestos. I am eagerly awaiting #16, but not the end of your ongoing discoveries and even foibles of your beloved Etta. Thank you for taking the time to keep us up to date.

  5. Rhody
    Rhody says:

    Well done, particularly on all the necessary safety and health precautions. Readers are able to fully appreciate the time and care needed for a project of this scale, and the dangers that are often not immediately visible in an older home. Looking forward to #16 and more!

  6. Ivory
    Ivory says:

    OMG Girl, you work so hard. Your family got to be proud of you, because you are a ‘rockin mommy’. So excited for you. Can hardly wait for the finish outcome.

  7. Wendy Somerville
    Wendy Somerville says:

    I bet she found hardwood flooring! 😉 Am I right? Oak Hardwood was used a lot back then. I read an article once that said Oak was the “poor man’s” wood, go figure! Do to this it was used quite extensively for doors, door jambs, baseboards, etc. However, what would be even more kewl is if it was rustic pine planks complete with bug holes!! I have seen those used also in a lot of period turn of the century homes as they were cheap and usually readily available.

    psst… my hubby is in the flooring business (sales) so I have seen a lot of homes up here.

  8. Linda L Weeks
    Linda L Weeks says:

    I guess the fact that you don’t know what you’ll find until you peel away parts for the reveal; a vicarious pleasure I get as if I was doing that work myself! and I’m about ready for you to find a diamond ring or something for all of my I mean your hard work!


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