5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 2 Floors)

Living here in the Sunshine State it seems that folks have an unusual penchant for $0.69 sq. ft. 20″ tiles. The most popular colors are blah, boring, and blech. People love to toss these tiles down over red oak, irreplaceable heart pine, and any number of historic floors. And these tile are spreading like a wildfire across the floors of historic homes. Something must be done! Which brings us to our number 2 worst mistake of historic homeowners…


Historic houses are having their floors covered up, ripped out, or trashed in any number of ways to make room for newer, inferior products. Only in America would we be ignorant enough to cover what would be a $15 or $20 per sq. ft. floor with a $.50 per sq. ft. floor. Are we really that shallow? Historic homes have some of the finest flooring available. Have you ever seen a 70 year old vinyl floor? I didn’t think so. How about laminate flooring that has made it even 30 years? Me neither. Todays floors, even the top quality ones, come with 25 and even 40 year warranties which isn’t too bad, but why would you replace a floor that will last centuries with one that lasts only a third that long?

And in today’s real estate market most of us are being ever mindful of home values. The typical buyer of an old or historic home is expecting hardwood floors. “Maintenance-free” tile is not a selling point for these kind of houses. And while a click-lock engineered wood or laminate floor may be considered an upgrade on a new home it is a definite cold shower to your historic home’s market price.


Wood floors are prime candidates for refinishing and restoration. If you have pet stains, loose/missing boards, rot, termite damage, or other issues these are simple repairs for a flooring professional. And if you get someone who says your floors aren’t repairable they are most likely either too lazy to do the work or trying to sell you new floors. Either way, RUN! I have yet to come across a solid wood floor that couldn’t be repaired. The same is almost never true for tile, laminate, vinyl or even engineered wood floors.

Before repairs

Probably one of my favorite jobs restoring a floor was this 1920s heart pine I came across. The home had been used as a business for a time and apparently there had been some damage to the original floors that was patched…well, let’s just say poorly, and then carpeted over. When the new homeowner found the damage she intended to tile over the entire house with the afore mentioned tile. I was referred to her when her tiling was about halfway done and convinced her (read: begged) her to save the remaining floors because they were not beyond repair. A week later after replacement boards were installed and the floors were refinished she had what looked like new floors! You can visit our website for more pictures of wood floors we’ve brought back from near extinction. www.austinhomerestorations.com

Repaired and Restored Heart Pine Floors

Solid wood flooring, like this, found in most historic homes is extremely resilient. It can handle multiple refinishings (done properly) over its life and is easy to repair in a way that is almost certainly unnoticeable. And what’s best, it can last hundreds of years with minimal care! So before you jump to “upgrade” the flooring in your historic home take a minute and think it over. Do you want a different color? Stain it. A different glossiness? Refinish it. You can even paint your wood floor to look like almost anything. The only boundaries are your own imagination. And if you are wondering if your floor can be repaired, the answer is almost always “Yes!” Search around for a hardwood refinishing specialist or restoration company and you will find someone up to the task of rejuvenating your floors. And trust me, it will be worth it!

Tired of the same old wood floors? You can make quite a statement with some stain or paint. I’ve included some fun ideas of what others have done with their hardwood floors. Get creative!

You can also learn more about the history of hardwood floors in our post A History of Wood Floors

Read the rest of the 5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners:

Part 1 Windows

Part 3 Siding

Part 4 Plaster

Part 5 The Details

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by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and author. I help old house lovers understand & restore their homes so they can enjoy the history and character that surrounds them more everyday! When not working, writing or teaching about old houses I spend most of my time fixing up my own 1929 bungalow with my wife Delores and son Charley.



  1. Sasha on said:

    Recently purchased a 1924 bungalow in Portland, OR. We have started our restoration and in the kitchen found hardwoods under 5 or 6 other layers of flooring. We plan to restore these. They also run under the tile in the hall and bathroom. Can they be salvaged once they have been tiled over, should I even try?

  2. Lesley Shneier on said:

    Hi, my house is 100 years old, with lovely wood floors and trim around doors and windows (all unpainted!). I’ve just started to remodel my bathroom. The contractor ripped out the tile, and then removed the tongue-and groove wooden floor boards that were under the tiles. I want to re-install these wooden floor boards. The contractor wants to put down “duro”. What can I tell him to convince him to put back the tongue and groove boards? Thanks for any advice.

    • Lesley, you shouldn’t have to convince him of anything. You are the homeowner which means you are the boss and have the final say. Just let him know it’s important to you and if he is a good contractor (and if the the tongue and groove boards meet code in your area) he will comply with your wishes. He likely wants to put down dura-rock which is a cement board base that gives a sturdy base for tile installation. Cement board is indeed better for a tile base and maybe you could have the best of both worlds by putting the T&G sub-floor down and then dura-rock over that. That’s why we usually do.

      • Lesley Shneier on said:

        Hi Scott, many thanks for your response. I had a long talk with the contractor about keeping the boards. In the end, it was a compromise – he was installing extra beams along each of the “studs” (are they called studs if on the floor?) to strengthen the floor. This meant that the wood I wanted to re-use didn’t fit in any more. Where they fitted, he used them. Otherwise, as you say, he used dura-rock, which he said he had to do to level the floor. Looking inside the old floor was a bit like an archeological dig, as we found old plumbing pipes, and even old tile! Thanks again for your advice.

  3. Mary Lou on said:

    Hi Scott, we recently bought a house built in the 60’s and it has the original hardwood floors in pretty good shape. The problem is that they are very noisy (squeaking and cracking) and in places it feels like the sub floor has softened. Is there any way of fixing these problems without tearing out the floor? Thank you!

    • Mary Lou, if you have access below the floors either in a basement or crawl space you can investigate the cause of the issues and hopefully
      make some repairs beneath without removing the flooring.

  4. Cheri on said:

    Hello. I have a 1915 craftsman bungalow in san diego. The front living and dining rooms have maple. which could be refinished, but the rest of the house has douglas fir which has been sanded down the nails. Some refinishers say it is too thin and a couple have said they could do it one more time. Can you give me some advice on this project? Also this house will be a rental.

    • Cheri, it depends how you feel about it. If you want to save the Doug fir and you have a refinisher that feels they can take another sanding I say go for it. Just take good care of them moving forward so this last refinishing will last as long as possible.

  5. Pamela Walker on said:

    Contractors working underneath our 100 year old craftsman, earthquake proofing, drilled all the way up through the lovely old quarter sawn oak floors in the living room. there are only two long boards that are effected. year ago, in another old farmhouse we owned, i was told the floors had become too thin from too much sanding and couldn’t be refinished anymore, you could see the nails, etc. you can see the nails in our present home too and i’m wondering how best to work with this contractor, who i have questionable trust in, to repair and refinish. it’s on their dime, of course. just not sure what’s best way to preserve. thanks so much!

    • Pamela, I would have several wood flooring specialists (at least 3) come out and give you their opinion and ask the contractor to pay for the one you feel most comfortable working with. Hopefully, you’ll find someone who can come up with a good solution that can keep your original floors but patch the holes appropriately. It’s all about finding the right person!

  6. michael c,fox on said:

    I didn’t explain my problem clearly. I have solid oak plank flooring in my living and dining rooms and a hallway that leads to three bedrooms. Would it look ok to do the bedrooms in laminate that would be in a different wood and color. Would it transistion well?

    • Michael, What kind of flooring is in the bedrooms currently?

  7. michael c,fox on said:

    I have solid oak plankt afford to put flooring in m y dining and living rooms as well as my hall leading to three bedrooms.I can’t afford to put solid plan flooring in the bedrooms. would it look tacky to lsaminated flooring in the bedrooms that would be a different type of wood and a dfferent color.?

  8. Eric on said:

    I have an 1890’s brownstone in Brooklyn, NY and I’m in the process of ripping up a cheap oak floor that was installed over the original quarter-sawn oak parquet. The parquet seems to be in decent condition. Most of the damage to it is from the staples used to install the new floor over it. I have three questions: 1: Can you recommend a tinted wood filler to patch minor holes from the staples and a few larger holes about an inch wide? 2: The original parquet is made from small 1.25″ wide by 12″ long and 1/4″ thick boards which are face nailed to the sub-floor. Do you think the 1/4″ thickness is too small to sand and refinish the floors? 3: I need to replace a few boards that are missing. Do you know of a source where I can obtain replacement boards of this size, or will I need to have them custom made?

  9. Shaunna Huie on said:

    Hello my name is Shaunna. I just bought an old farm house built in 1989. I live in Texas and the winter’s here can be very cold. I’ve noticed in the kitchen, there is no subflooring or insulation underneath. The floor is cold and in many areas throughout the kitchen, air is coming through the floor. What is the best solution to fix this? Also at one end of the kitchen the floor is unlevel and it drops down. I need help with this please. I’ve had two ladies come out and look but they want to replace the floor and put new flooring over it. Please help me and tell me what I need to do! Thank you :)

    • Shaunna, it’s hard to say what is causing the sloped floor but I would take care of that issue first. Then you can insulate under the floors with either fiberglass batts which are DIY friendly or maybe spray foam down in the crawlspace.

  10. Brendan Mahoney on said:

    I have a late 18th century Georgian colonial in New England. The floors are wide plank (about 10″), but due to age-damage have wide seams. Some are real bad (i.e. you can see the basement through the floor). Is there a method or product designed for filling these? I was thinking of using custom cut wood for the large gaps, and stuffing the small ones with jute or hemp, before refinishing with a good oil-based poly. Any hints?

    • Brendan, that is just what I would do. Dutchman the larger patches using a high quality wood glue like Titebond 2 or 3 and then fill in the smaller pieces with hemp or rope so that there is at least a backing. Then you can fill those spots with stainable wood filler before refinishing the area.

  11. Dani Torresan on said:

    Hi! We’re in Sydney, Australia, and have just begun renos on an old farmhouse from about 1915. We’ve pulled up the putrid 80s carpet, to find beautiful old hardwood floors in the original part of the house, but concrete slab under the newer section. SO, the big question…yes, the timber can be repaired and polished. But what to put on the floors in the other rooms that won’t clash? Plush carpets will look out of place, and there’s no way the timber can be matched…it’s VERY rough, which is what we like. I can’t stand shiny shiny white square tiles either. Would polished concrete look too modern? heeeeeelp! Dani

  12. Sara on said:

    Hi, we are about to commence a large scale remodel on my 1921 house in Austin, Tx and stumbled upon your site researching whether I should save my windows. Not sure if they even work since they have been sealed shut. Question – I have heart-pine flooring (which was covered up), there is no sub-floor. Have you used spray foam insulation under the house? Does it deteriorate the floor?
    Thank you for all of the information.

    • Sara, I love Austin, TX! There are lots of different types of spray foam insulation, but in my experience and studies I haven’t heard of any that cause deterioration of the wood they are applied too. It is an excellent way to insulate that crawlspace.
      And I would definitely encourage you to save those original windows. You’ll be glad you did. Keep Austin weird!

  13. Tom on said:

    Great site and what a valuable wealth of information. Our new-to-us 1904 home is being renovated and nearly complete. But there will be tasks to do for years to come that will benefit from information you have provided here.

    We have heart pine throughout the house and next week we see the “sample stains” that our flooring guy puts down as we strive to achieve a dark brown look. My GC has faith in the flooring guy.

    Whin I talked to the flooring guy his planned process is to just sand, stain, apply finish. I know we have mixtures of heart pine throughout the house but it is all over 100 years old.

    If the flooring guy is unfamiliar w heart pine,are we better off just going w it’s natural look and skipping the staining process? I understand that staining heart pine can be difficult and his work process description worries me that his skills may be limited.

    The GC has already signed a contract w him so I am stuck in that sense. Any thoughts are much appreciated, and a late Happy Birthday to you.

    • Thanks Tom! Even though your GC has signed a contract with him you can still request that he not do the work if you aren’t comfortable and the GC will have to abide. If you have any doubts ask to see some samples of his work in person. It’s hard to tell in pictures the quality of a hardwood floor refinisher unless they are really bad so you’ll have to go to former jobs of his.
      In our area the price per SF to finish and stain wood floors is between $2.25 and $3. If he is significantly lower than that be careful because you are likely going to get what you pay for. Before doing anything else I would need to see his previous work.

  14. Kristen on said:

    I own an unusual bungalow in Iowa. It doesn’t have the blocky trim, but delicate scrollwork and scalloped pillars, all in white oak. I just tore the carpet out of the reception hall type foyer and dining room. Both have white oak floors, but a big square section of yellow pine in the centers of the rooms like they ran out of money when installing the floor and left the middles to be covered by rugs or something? BUT they afforded to put crown trim over the doors on the INSIDE of the tiny closets? Anyway, how should I deal with these funny floors in respect to the house? Has anyone ever seen this done?

  15. Yvonne on said:

    I have a 1929 cabin with hardwood floors that appear to have never been stained, glossed or had anything done to them in the middle – probably covered by a rug. At the edges is some type of dark resin. The floor is not flat – there is an arch close to the walls. The room is 12×20 and I want to finish this floor myself. Please give me ideas.

    • Kristen on said:

      I have those weird floors, too! Have you come to a resolution? I have been looking everywhere for someone who has dealt with this!

  16. Karen Campos on said:

    I have a craftsman home built around 1917 and would love to refinish the original hardwood floors. However, in our hallway, the last owner put pergo over them (but they are still there) because the owner before them stained a carpet purple on top of the wood flooring dying the wood as well. Is there a way to pull the purple stain out of the original floor and refinish and stain them to a normal golden brown. They are white oak (I think). Thanks!

    • Karen, The floors can likely be salvaged if they are sanded down and refinished. It really just depends on what kind of dye was used on the carpets and how deeply it soaked into the floors. But I think you have an excellent chance of getting the color out and saving your floors.

  17. After Tropical Storm Alicia Houston flooded very badly. Many old floore were waterlogged and had to be pulled up. It broke my heart to drive by mound after mound of removed flooring. We salvaged as much as we could, but so much prime floring went to the andfill it made me weep.

  18. Valerie on said:

    I’m really enjoying this series and your blog. I’ll be doing a post on renovation dos and don’ts soon, and I hope you don’t mind me referencing this (don’t hesitate to let me know if you do mind).


    • Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the series. It’s been a lot of fun writing. I thought it would be a single article but after I started writing it turned out to be a bit more. ;-) And I would be honored to be mentioned or linked to by your blog!

  19. I am in the process of completely renovating a 100+ y/o farmhouse and the demo has been slow-go due to shoddy additions & cover-ups over the years, but the worst has been the nasty tiles someone along the way stuck down in the kitchen. I’m still working to get those things up. They covered up what was beautiful heart-pine flooring.

    Thank you for a well-written article (and series).

  20. You saved one! Nice. I hear what you are saying & wholeheartedly agree. I would take historic hardwoods over cheap ceramic any day!!


  21. Nothing like tile to date a house renovation. Much like shag carpet that makes you think, “70s renovation”, 12″ beige tile says 1990s+. Definitely not historic home appropriate.

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