Re­move old floor be­fore adding hard­woods

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - RENOVATIONS - TRI MARANTZ

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.

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