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Removing An Old Floor

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Uncategorized, Home Improvement Tips

Mark–I have a problem. I’m installing a new floor in my old house. But I have to remove what’s there first. What’s there is ghastly: a vinyl floor that looks like it was glued down sometime before I was born. And it was glued over another sheet or tiles or something. AND THAT is glued to a sheet of 1/4 inch plywood.

I helped a friend remove a floor like this once and it was awful. There were something like a trillion nails in the plywood. It took forever to get at it. Any tips for me?

Jon–Philadelphia

Jon–You’re right. You’ve got a tough job ahead of you. But if you use a few smart tricks and the right tools, it really shouldn’t take that long. Here’s how I do it:

Red Ripper

Red Ripper

1–Remove in reverse. The best way to get the sheet(s) out is to remove all the component parts in reverse order of how they were installed. Since there’s about a 317% chance the sheet’s perimeter is trapped under the shoe molding in the room, remove that first. Next, remove any vents, grilles, thresholds, or anything else that might trap part of the floor. (Note: in case you weren’t planning to re-install shoe molding…uh…plan to re-install shoe molding.)

2–The best way to get the floor up–in your lifetime!–is to get some steel under it. Sounds like the last time you did this you started from the edges and worked in. What I do is make a relief cut (a big + through the room) using a circular saw. I set the saw blade just deep enough to get through the 1/4 inch plywood but not cut through the subfloor. Sectioning the floor into 4 pieces also makes managing the pieces easier. EYE PROTECTION IS CRITICAL HERE. YOU’LL BE CUTTING THROUGH NAILS. And since this will be the end of this blade, a cheap-o carbide is the way to go. Also, gloves aren’t a bad idea either.

3–Once the cuts are made I dig in with my Red Ripper shingle removal tool. Yes, it’s designed to remove shingles (and it’s great for that, but I’ll go into that when I’m doing the roof in a few weeks). This inexpensive but made-for-the-roof- rugged tool has the best angle of attack for piercing into the work. And unlike a regular shovel or other roof removal tools I’ve used doing this, Red Ripper has the best “fetch.” In other words, when I press down on the handle, the tool head raises with maximum travel, aggressively breaking the bond between the nails and the subfloor, which you can check out in this video. This is one of those jobs where I think the tool pays for itself in time saved. And you can use it for other demo down the line.

4–Once you have the sections free, they are now mobile beds of nails. Heavy ones at that. Be careful of yourself and of the various things in your path like door jambs, storm doors, etc as you lug them outside.

I hope this helps.

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  1. 2 Responses  to “Removing An Old Floor”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    Ricky-I love that you call it "nonsense"... Awesome!
  3. Ricky
    Aug 29, 2011
    Good to know - I've seen floors like the one described in this article where there are about 3 glued layers of nonsense on the floor. I avoided helping because I knew that was going to be a job that would absolutely destroy my back. Go with the even lazier approach, and just add a 4th layer ;)