Flooring advice needed

Questions and answers relating to houses built in the 1800s and before.

Moderators: oldhouse, TinaB, Don M, Schag

Posts: 27
Joined: Sat Aug 27, 2011 9:08 am
Location: Kentucky

Flooring advice needed

Post by kingfarm »

Hi and Merry Christmas! Hubby and I are planning a kitchen renovation in spring/summer, and are engaged in a lively um, debate. The house is 140 years old. The original wood floor in the kitchen is buried beneath at least one (probably several) layers of linoleum, "new" wood floor installed sometime in the 30's or 40's, and poorly installed cement board and tile, added about six years ago by the previous owner. The tile is loose and coming up, grout is missing in many spots, and several tiles have cracked. There is about a 3/4 inch difference in height between the kitchen and adjoining rooms. We removed a floor grate and were able to see the different layers.

I want to try and salvage the original floor. Full disclosure: we have NO experience with or knowledge of flooring, old or new. I don't even know what kind of wood it is; all I know is the original floors are untouched throughout the upstairs, they are variable width planks and are gorgeous -I think they are much prettier than the "modern" narrow strips the family covered the downstairs with. Hubby, however, is extremely reluctant to tackle such a thing, no matter how many examples I show him of successful jobs here and on various blogs. He worries about our lack of skill, the increased time we will be kitchen-less, and the effort involved (neither of us is in great shape!) and he's afraid we may not be able to handle it. We are on a pretty tight budget and need to do as much of the work as possible ourselves. I'm still willing to try, but now he's brought up an issue I don't know how to argue: he's afraid the old floorboards,with no subfloor and without the added strength of the cement board that is currently there, will be too thin and weak to support the weight of, say, a modern fully-loaded refrigerator. Is this a valid concern?

We generally get along very well, and this is the first disagreement we've had about this house. I don't want to be unreasonable, but at the same time it seems such a shame to not even try to see if the floor is salvageable and just bury it underneath yet another layer (after removing the tile, of course). What are some of your experiences?

Posts: 571
Joined: Fri Jul 25, 2008 7:25 am
Location: Midcoast Maine

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by SkipW »

I might not be the best to answer your question because I am the type of person who is more than willing to invest a boatload of my time and energy (after all, it IS mine!) into a project to 'find out' if something will work. Luckilly, my wife mostly lets me and generally chips in and helps due to previous successes.

First question that came to mind was- Even if you have only one layer of flooring, assuming it has not been damaged by previous cutting, etc and not damaged by moisture (you don't say if you are over a crawlspace, cellar, or dry basement) I don't see an issue with restoring it to it's previous glory.

If you are lucky enough to have access and you have one layer, you might be able to sister floor joists to add strength if necessary.

If you do not try to reclaim the flooring, what is the alternative? If you are going to have a company come in and install a new floor, they will have to tear up some or all of the existing (unless you want layer #8!) so why not at least attempt to remove a small spot down to original and see what it entails? I seriously doubt you can do any damage that has not already been done by nailing or screwing new flooring on top.

Be bold! Be brave! Give it a shot! What have you got to lose?

See, I warned you......

Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you are right. - - - Henry Ford

Posts: 27
Joined: Sat Aug 27, 2011 9:08 am
Location: Kentucky

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by kingfarm »

LOL, thanks Skip! That's kind of how I feel - we can't possibly make it any worse, can we?

The kitchen is over the cellar. There is no sign of water damage or even mold or mildew, even though there is a wet weather spring that seeps in during wet season. There is never any damp or musty smell in the kitchen (although that could be from all the layers of flooring!).

I had wondered if the floor could be strengthened, if necessary, from below. We can see those boards from the cellar, and we can see one area where newer boards were placed - a previous owner told us there was a floor furnace (?) there that was removed and the floor was patched. Everything else looks good.

That is exactly what I told hubby - everything has to come out anyway, why not try it? I think he wants to take it down to the linoleum and cover that, which would make it more even with the other floors. If I can convince him the floor is strong enough I think he can be talked into it. I really don't believe a "fully loaded side-by-side fridge" is any heavier than our "fully loaded" king size sleigh bed that is being easily supported by the old floor upstairs! :lol:

Posts: 80
Joined: Fri Aug 06, 2010 7:26 pm
Location: Northern Indiana

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by superbeetle »

Well, one flaw in his argument is that cement board does not add any strength. It is only there to provide a stable surface for tile. (See the experts at the John Bridge tle forum, http://www.tileyourworld.com, if he needs proof).

Actually, given the state of the tile after such a short time, it sounds much more likely that the floor joist structure is not rigid enough to support the load of the weight of all that flooring without deflecting. Tileyourworld has a deflection calculator, and they will help you use it, so you can find out if that was the problem. Deflection is measured by the size and spacing of the floor joists only, the actual wood or plywood doesn't add to it.

Ultimately, though, if the original floor is not rotten or paper thin, there's no reason it can't support a fridge. The current load of all that cement board and tile is much heavier.

Posts: 1640
Joined: Thu Jun 23, 2005 8:36 pm
Location: Rural Eastern North Carolina

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by James »

I tend to agree with you, that its worth trying. Do realize tho that the old floor will have nail holes to deal with from the newer floor, tho that should not be a major problem.
The old floor could also be worn in spots, generally the traffic areas around doors. The space at my door between the hall and parlor(living room and dining room) is noticably worn and does cause me the same concerns he has. But you are right, since you have a basement it should be easy enough to go between the floor joists and install a plywood subfloor, and hold it in place with some 2 x 4 ledger boards nailed/screwed into the existing joists. That could also be done to the spot under the fridge if he would feel better about that then.
Locust Quarter, circa 1770 Georgian Gambrel roofed cottage.

Posts: 188
Joined: Mon Dec 18, 2006 5:35 pm
Location: SW Ontario, Canada

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by RioG »

I would say take it in steps. Step 1 is getting down to the original floor, to see what you have to work with. That's easy - it's a lot of grunt work, but it's easy.

Then you can evaluate and see if the original floor is salvageable. We found in our kitchen it wasn't. It wasn't in our downstairs, either, as a wall had been removed. But we were able to replace it with floors that were similar - in the kitchen we put in unfinished wide plank maple, with a Danish oil finish. It's very similar to what was there originally, and much more in keeping with the house than a tile or linoleum floor would be.

Anyone can do the demo part. And DH and I found out that the rest really isn't all that hard either, so long as you don't rush and can take the time to think things through. We were able to support the floor from the below with some jack posts, and that made a big difference.

Posts: 1
Joined: Wed Dec 28, 2011 10:34 am

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by perseus65 »

Hello Everyone, this is the "Hubby" (mentioned above).
I'd like to add a little more info to give a more complete picture.
The kitchen floor with all it's layers is nearly 2 1/2 inches thick at the moment. If I remove everything down to the original pine boards we'll be left with only a 3/4" floor. Now I walk on these original boards on the second floor everyday and I know how these boards give, flex, bow, bend and scar. It is not a "hardwood" floor. Because of this, I have concerns about placing a fully functional, modern kitchen on it.
The celler is beneath the kitchen and I can access some of the flooring from below however, the HVAC system is down there along with 75% of all the plumbing and the breaker box so all wiring leads to this area. I would not be able to add a plywood subfloor from below for most of the floor without some serious work and cash.
Left to my own devices I would remove everything down to the 70 year old oak floor and try to save that or re-tile but thats due to my concerned about the 3/4" floor. If I know ahead of time that a 3/4" pine floor is not going to work I see no reason to remove the oak floor above it. Modern homes have anywhere from 1.25 to 1.75 thick floors.
I'm open to restoring some things back to original but this concern me. Thank you for any assistance.

Posts: 75
Joined: Tue Dec 21, 2010 9:28 pm
Location: Minneapolis

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by shizzy »

I've always been one to want to get back down to the original floor before adding another layer to it. Most times the layers were NOT installed correctly. Even if the original flooring isn't usable, you would then be down to a floor that you know and can trust. At that point a new subfloor and flooring can be installed an you know for sure the work is quality.

Posts: 65
Joined: Tue May 03, 2011 5:02 pm

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by ivanho »

I've had a situation similar to yours, though you have more layers. I had Home Depot stick-on linoleum over a sheet of linoleum, which was secured with adhesive to 3/4 " plywood, which was screwed into maple flooring.

Some older flooring adhesive could potentially have asbestos, so you would have to determine whether this may apply to you and if you would be concerned. I had mine tested, and it did not have asbestos.

After much trail and error, I was able to use a very long crow bar to pry the plywood off the maple floor. Most of the screws did not come out though, and they snapped or the flooring came off in chunks. It was fairly hard work, but not impossible.

I ended up pulling the maple floor as well, buying some new maple, and mixing it together as I put it back down, sanded, and refinished.

If you have regular jobs and expect to do most of the work on the weekends, you can always find ways to have parts of a kitchen functioning during this type of work. I would think it unrealistic to think you'd have no kitchen for a couple weeks while you do the work, then you're done.

If it were me, and I thought the original pine flooring was the ideal, I would take up all the flooring, including the pine flooring, put down 3/4 " plywood over the joists, then lay the salvaged pine flooring over that. If you were able to get everything up, leaving the original pine flooring, it would be very little work relative to what you had just done to remove the pine flooring as well.

I would think the oak flooring (and everything on top of it) would come up fairly easily once you get under it a bit. You would not be removing one strip at a time; rather, you'd use large crow bars with something like a 3 " diameter black pipe under the crow bars for leverage. I used an old section of radiator supply pipe. You'd lift a little, and work the crow bars farther under. You'd get a feel for it once you started.

The wild card could potentially be any adhesive on the original pine floor, if there is some sort of linoleum floor over that. Hard to say what you'd find and what you could do about it.

Posts: 2355
Joined: Mon Feb 09, 2004 6:42 am
Location: Vienna, Austria, Europe

Re: Flooring advice needed

Post by Texas_Ranger »

I have to admit no matter how much I love wide plank pine floors, I'd be reluctant to remove an intact vintage oak floor. It's simply a big waste of resources. I'd take down the layers to the oak, check if it's salvageable and only remove it if the answer is no.
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.


Post Reply