The floor squeaks, the carpet is crumbling. It’s time for a new floor.
Peeling back the layers of wall coverings and flooring in an old house is like opening a time machine. I pulled away the 1970 carpet and found a red and gold linoleum design. At one time this was a beautiful floor, but age took its toll. Linoleum shrinks over time and there were gaps that could not be filled. There was probably also an issue with asbestos. Asbestos can’t be identified by looking at it but asbestos backing on sheet linoleum was common through most of the 1900’s. As long as it is sealed with a good wax covering or sealed by laying flooring over the top of it, asbestos backed flooring is pretty safe. I chose to remove mine because I wanted to try to use the wood floor hiding under the linoleum.
A homeowner can legally remove asbestos material but there are some safeguards that should be taken. Avoid breaking the tiles because that would release asbestos filaments into the air. Keeping the tiles moistened will hold down any loose fibers so keep the tile damp throughout its removal. The tiles should be disposed of by wrapping them in thick plastic and taping the plastic closed. Check to make sure that your local landfill accepts asbestos materials. When you find a landfill able to accept asbestos you will need to transport it directly to the disposal facility. Don’t just put the material in a dumpster. These are general precautions but always be sure of the laws where you live.
My first step in redoing my sunroom floor was to remove the carpet and linoleum. A good method of removing carpet is to cut it into manageable strips that can be rolled up and easily carried out of the remodeling area. At first I hoped that I could just refinish the hardwood floor under all the layers. The wood was in good condition but the boards were not staggered and the appearance of the floor was not attractive. I ended up installing an unfinished knotty pine floor.
Time to think about the tools you need for this job. You’re going to need a tape measure and a staple gun to install the underlayment. If you plan to hand nail the flooring you will need a nail-set. Check the instructions that come with your flooring to get the right sized nail. I used 8D finish nails. The big power tools needed for the job were a table saw and a chop saw. I also used an oscillating multi-tool and a hand sander. I hand nailed my boards in place, but you can rent a blind nail gun to avoid all the hand nailing. You will need a rubber mallet to pound the boards together and I used my favorite nail-puller as a wedge to push the ends of the boards together. Again, there is an alternative to my nail-puller solution. You can rent a pull bar that will also pull the boards together. Maybe if I was installing a larger floor the expense would balance the time involved in the project and I would rent the fancier tools.
Begin a floor installation by stapling down an underlayment. The recommended underlayment is a 30 pound black felt paper. An underlayment, even on a pre-existing floor, is important because it evens out small imperfections in the floor. It also helps to prevent moisture in the foundation from damaging the floor. Installing an underlay is quick and easy. Just roll it out and staple it down.
Before going any farther bring the flooring into the room where it will be installed. The flooring needs to reach a similar moisture level as the room. It may only take a day or two, but in an arid area such as the area where I live, it may take a week. If you install wet hardwood into a dry room it will buckle as it dries and you will end up with an uneven floor. There are sensors that can tell you the moisture level of your floor and of the new flooring. I didn’t purchase one. Instead I took the advice of the flooring store and let the wood sit for a week.
Next, sort the flooring. Set imperfect boards aside to use where a short board is needed or where the board won’t be seen. Once the boards are sorted, plan your floor layout. Pay attention to the seams where two boards touch in the same row. You need to plan your layout so that these seams don’t form a straight line across the room. I kept the seams 8-inches or farther apart and used my best boards in the center of each row. By planning to use 1 or 2 of the best boards in each row, I was able to keep the appearance of the floor consistent across the room. As part of the planning, include an expansion gap along each wall equal to the thickness of the board. This gives the boards room to expand and contract with changes in humidity without buckling or twisting. An easy way to keep the expansion gap consistent is to use blocks as spacers along the walls. Once the boards are nailed in place the blocks can be moved and used again.
Time for the math. It’s pretty unlikely that you will lay a floor without having to rip a board. When I say “rip a board” I mean that it will need to be cut lengthwise. You don’t want to end up with a gap that will require a board so narrow that it will split or wobble when it is put in place. My sun room is 9 ft. wide (108 inches). I needed 3/4 inch expansion gaps on each side of the room, which reduced the width of the room to 106.5 inches. My boards are 5 inches wide so some quick division indicated that I could have 21 complete rows. But that would leave me with 1.5 inches of extra space. Too narrow! I solved the problem by spitting one of my complete rows in half. That gave me two boards that were each 2.5 inches wide. Then I added another 3/4 inch to the width of each of my 2.5 inch boards to make up for the 1.5 inch gap from my original calculations. The result was that I could use 3.25 inch wide boards to begin and end the floor.
You’re almost ready to start nailing down the wood, but don’t forget about any floor vent openings! I had one along my starting wall that required me to cut a hole in one of the boards in my second row. Plan your layout so that any openings are not too close to the end of a board. This is to ensure that there is enough room at the end of the board to firmly nail the board in place. The multi-tool was ideal for cutting the vent opening. I also ripped the starting boards to the calculated 3.25 width. The starting board had to include the tongue side of the board and the ending board included the groove.Lay out the first row against the spacer blocks with the tongue side pointing into the room and attach it by nailing through the top of the boards. The first and last rows are the only rows that will be top-nailed. In all the other rows the nails will be concealed in the tongue and groove joint. If you are hand-nailing the boards use a nail set to drive the nails deeply into the board.
When I reached the opening to the closet I cut the bottom of the door frame so that the floorboard slid under it. The oscillating multitool made this an easy job. By allowing the board to slide under the molding I avoided notching the board around the door frame. It also helped to avoid extra seams in the floor around the closet entrance.
After the initial calculations and special cuts, the rest of the project was pretty smooth sailing. Here is a shot of the completed first stage of the project taken as I sat happily inside the closet, having driven the last nail of the project. Kitty is wondering why I am sitting in the closet!
The next stage of the project was adding a finish to the floor. First I filled visible nail holes with wood filler. Next the floor had to be sanded with a fine-grained sandpaper. I used 120 grit. I brushed on sealer and then stain. Staining the floor was exactly like staining a piece of furniture; brush on the stain, allow it to soak into the wood and after 15 minutes wipe off any excess. After allowing the stain to dry overnight I applied polyurethane using a large flooring pad. I applied three layers of poly, sanding with 22o grit paper between each layer.
The trim was completed by adding 3/4 inch quarter-round to conceal the expansion gap. Upon reflection, it’s highly likely that I installed the floor upside down! There is a bevel at each tongue which led me to believe that the beveled side was the top of the boards, but I could have avoided the deep grooves in the floor by flipping the boards over. Oh well. The knots and grooves give the floor a rustic look that I can live with!