Restoration Guide: Partitions, Walls and Finish Flooring

Shannon Lee

Editor's Note: This is article 4 of 6 in Chapter 5: The Partitions, Ceilings, Walls, Stairs Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Section 1--Preservation and Restoration of Wood Flooring

Wood flooring has been used in houses for centuries. Though the popularity of vinyl, carpet, and other flooring options has gained a foothold over the last several decades, wood flooring remains one of the most consistent requests of homeowners.

Wood flooring comes in many types, including hardwood, softwood, laminated, and acrylic impregnated flooring. It also comes in many different styles, including parquet, strip, and plank. No matter the type or the style, most wood flooring stands up to the test of time. Problems with wood floors usually stem from issues with the subflooring and underlayments, and not with the wood flooring itself.

Regular cleaning and maintenance of wood flooring finishes is usually all your wood floor requires. Small dents and tiny stains can be buffed or sanded away. Take care not to get too much water on the wood flooring, as this can lead to erosion of finishes and damage to the underlayments if the water seeps between boards.

1.2: Repairing Wood Floors

Flooring with serious problems, such as deep gouges, dark stains, or broken wood, might be restored by cutting out the defective flooring and replacing it with a new piece.

  1. Wood flooring and moisture damage. Small cracks between boards can be the result of fluctuations in humidity, and are usually not cause for concern. Severe humidity changes can lead to serious problems, such as buckling, cupping, and crowning. Removing a few boards for air flow might help the issue, as will eliminating the source of the moisture problem.
  2. Sanding wood floors. An occasional sanding of your wood flooring may help remove scratches, dents, stains, and other blemishes, thus maintaining the beauty of the wood. Carefully study the recommendations for your type of wood flooring to understand which sanding method is best.
  3. Refinishing wood floors. Wood flooring that has undergone damage can be restored with sanding and a new finish. Each finish has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages, and some should not be used with certain types of wood flooring. Still others require professional application. The more popular finishes for wood flooring include water-based urethanes, oil-modified urethanes, moisture-cured urethanes, "Swedish" finishes, oil finishes, and waxes.

1.3: Replacing Wood Floors

Despite the hardiness of wood flooring, occasionally damage can be so severe as to warrant replacement instead of restoration. Flooring that has cupped, split, or buckled significantly should be replaced.

Section 2--Vinyl Sheet and Tile Floors

Very popular in kitchens and baths across the United States, vinyl sheet flooring and tile are durable, easy to install, affordable, and available in vast arrays of styles and colors. Adhesive-backed tile makes the installation process faster and easier than ever before.

In the case of older vinyl flooring and linoleum, restoration is often recommended as a preferable alternative to replacement, thanks to the high levels of asbestos present in the material. Asbestos doesn't pose a health hazard if the vinyl flooring is intact; however, removing it can stir up asbestos dust, which is hazardous. If you do have to opt for replacement rather than preservation, call in professional help to deal with the potential asbestos issue.

2.1: Repairing Vinyl Floors

Vinyl flooring can develop rips and tears, especially in areas where heavy appliances have been moved over the area. A simple remedy is to cut out the tear and replace the area with a matching piece of vinyl. To avoid unsightly seams, keep the cut area as small as possible.

Vinyl tiles are replaced in much the same way, though keep in mind that cutting through them might release asbestos into the air. Before you choose a method that requires cutting into the old tile, ensure your tile does not contain asbestos, or take the proper precautions if it does.

The use of a heat gun can make removal of tile and sheets much easier. Leftover adhesive can be removed with soap and water, a putty knife, and a bit of elbow grease. To install new vinyl tile, start by dry-fitting the tile to make sure your pattern is true, and then set the tile with the appropriate adhesive. You can also purchase sheet flooring, which comes in rolls that are easy to install and require minimal cutting, thus eliminating as many seams as possible.

2.2: Removing Stains from Vinyl Flooring

Though it might be tempting to use bleach and other household cleaners to remedy yellow stains and spots on your vinyl flooring, keep in mind that those harsh chemicals could do permanent damage to your floor. If the stains are severe, contact a home restoration expert for information on your specific type of flooring and how to correct the stains.

Section 3--Ceramic Tile

When installed properly, ceramic tile is impervious to water. It is very low-maintenance and available in countless colors, shapes, and designs. Ceramic tile is not immune to cracking and breaking, however, and is not always suitable for high-traffic areas.

  1. Restoration of ceramic tile. Removing deep stains, grease, discolorations, and old coating and sealers is part of the restoration of ceramic tile. Some acids work well for this home restoration project, but take care in choosing the right one for your particular type of tile.
  2. Replacing damaged ceramic tile. If the substrate is in good condition, broken, chipped, or cracked tiles can be removed with a chisel, then replaced with a tile of like shape and size.

Section 4--Rugs and Carpets

Carpeting is very popular, and for good reason--it hides many blemishes, mistakes, and serious problems that other materials simply can't mask. Carpet is also great for sound reduction and feels good on the feet.

Regular cleaning with a vacuum cleaner and occasional deep-cleaning of your carpets can keep them looking new. If a carpet becomes wet, dry it thoroughly and quickly, as lingering moisture becomes a breeding ground for mildew and mold.

4.1 Repairing Damaged Carpet

  1. Water-damaged carpet. Only water damage from sanitary water can be treated effectively and safely by the homeowner. Carpet damaged by black water (water contaminated by dirt or sewage) must be disposed of properly, and carpet damaged by gray water (water from dishwasher overflows, dirty sinks, or other biopollutants) must be treated professionally.
  2. Stained carpet. Severe stains can be removed and patched with carpet of the same style. Discolored carpet sometimes responds well to dyes that can return the color to a uniform condition.
  3. Smoke-damaged carpet. Sometimes a thorough cleaning and airing-out works wonders for a smoke-damaged carpet, but serious damage should be handled by professional cleaners.

Carpet itself can be used to cover damaged floors. High-pile carpeting is usually best for covering underlying problems. A latex patching compound can be used to even out floors for low-pile carpeting.

About the Author

Shannon Dauphin is a freelance writer based near Nashville, Tennessee. Her house was built in 1901, so home repair and renovation have become her hobbies.

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