Remove old floor before adding hardwoods
QUESTION: I have a question about my 60-year-old home. I am in the process of choosing between upgrading my old flooring with real hardwood or engineered flooring. I would like your thoughts on either of these products, as they both have pros and cons.
My other question is whether or not I can lay my new floor right on top of the existing hardwood flooring that is 60 years old? My contractor says this can become my new subfloor. I feel we should remove the old and lay the new floor. The contractor says if we remove the old floor it well make a mess in my suspended floor in the basement. My old floor is all dried up and squeaks.
Thank you for your time. Gisele Boiteau
ANSWER: I have always been a big fan of hardwood flooring for residential use and often recommend it to clients who buy homes with deteriorated flooring looking for a good ideas for upgrades. Engineered wood flooring, or other types of rigid surface flooring, can also be good choices, but some caution may be required when selecting the right product for your lifestyle.
You’ve asked about two types of hard-surface flooring material, solid wood or engineered wood, but there is still another subcategory to consider.
Hardwood flooring is available in a growing number of species and styles, but can also be purchased in natural, unfinished wood or pre-finished. The benefits to unfinished wood flooring is it’s installed before the finish is applied, so it can provide an almost seamless look when completed.
The main drawback of this product, which has been used for decades, is the additional time for installation. Because it’s a natural product, unfinished hardwood should be brought into your home to acclimatize several days or weeks prior to installation. Installation also requires messy and time-consuming sanding prior to applying the finish. This is compounded by the time and cost for the flooring contractor to apply the finish, which normally requires several coats for a durable end product. Once complete, the flooring may have to be left untouched for several hours or days, depending on the type of finish, before it can be walked on.
Pre-finished flooring has a factory-applied finish that allows immediate use after installation. It also comes in a wide choice of colours and finishes, from almost natural to deep-tinted planks that give rooms a very rich tone. This is also true of engineered flooring.
Because these finishes are factory-applied, and allowed to cure in controlled environments, they may be more durable than those applied on-site. This prevents fine scratches and dents, often seen in many traditional hardwood floors. But the biggest benefit of pre-finished or engineered systems is that installation time and costs are much less than traditional hardwood floors.
One negative aspect of pre-finished flooring is that it normally has tapered or bevelled edges which do not provide as smooth a surface as finished-in-place flooring. This is usually a minor issue, but can compound the one biggest issue with these materials — what happens to it over time.
It’s common to see both types of natural wood flooring shrink slightly over time, due mainly to changing environmental conditions and moisture levels in the wood. When this happens with site-sanded hardwood it can be barely noticeable because the unfinished edges of the wood are the same colour as the surface. But with pre-stained wood, the edges of the individual boards may not be tinted the same as the top, so small gaps can reveal a distinct colour difference. This may not be visible on light-coloured floors, but can be very noticeable with dark-stained flooring.
For engineered floors, which are high-quality laminates similar to plywood, shrinkage is not as common as with solid wood, but separation of the layers can still occur. I’ve seen several of these floors where the surface layer, normally a hardwood veneer, separates slightly over time. This can cause unevenness, loose sections or even damage due to foot traffic as the surface deteriorates. Quite often, this is seen in only one or a few planks, which can often be replaced or repaired before the deterioration becomes too severe.
As far as removal of the old flooring, I would absolutely recommend that being done, no matter which style of material you choose. The main reason for this is to vastly improve the condition of your subfloor, and also to eliminate the squeaks. I’m quite surprised that the flooring contractor does not want to remove the old boards, despite the potential mess in the basement. Dust and dirt that falls through the cracks in the subfloor when the old flooring is removed should be easily cleaned up, or the basement could be covered with tarps to catch this debris.
The noise in your old floor is just as likely to be caused by loose subfloor boards rubbing on the floor joists as it is movement between these and the hardwood above. Removing the old hardwood will allow the subflooring to be resecured to the joists with modern flooring screws rather than old rusty nails, which will eliminate the noise. Without doing this critical step, there may still be substantial movement and continued squeaks.
No matter what type of wood flooring you choose to replace your old, deteriorated hardwood, removal of the old stuff to allow tightening the existing subfloor will be the only way to effectively prevent a noisy floor.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the President of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (www.cahpi. mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at (204) 291-5358 or check out his website at www.trainedeye.ca.
Tngineered floors, above, are very popular. They are essentially high-quality laminates similar to plywood.