5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 2 Floors)

worst mistakes of historic homeownersLiving 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…


Wood Floors

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 Floor Restoration

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

restored wood floors

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

Get the latest posts emailed to you!

by Scott Sidler

I'm a historic preservationist and licensed contractor. 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 sons Charley and Jude.



  1. Randi on said:

    I’m trying to restore/refinish my 1 1/2 inch red oak strip flooring. The previous owners (roughly ten years ago) used outdoor carpet adhesive, in some areas 1/16in. thick, to glue down commercial carpet tiles directly to the original floors. Any suggestions on how to get the glue off?

    • There are some paint, varnish and glue strippers that can help remove it. Try searching for a product that will remove cured urethane.

  2. Sara on said:

    I just bought an old Victorian, tore up the carpet upstairs to find what looks like plaster instead of hardwood floors. Do I have to tear that out to put in hardwood or can we go over top of the plaster?

    • I doubt it’s plaster but it might be mortar used to level the floors from some damage previously.

      • Sara on said:

        Just had my contractor look at it and he said the same thing. Now we start sanding!

  3. Jenn Keyser on said:

    I am in the process of reclaiming the floors in my 1910 built Sterling Straitway Home. It has been a rental for decades, and at some point, an owner decided to glue the cheapest rental quality carpet directly to the main floor rooms. I am on my hands and knees scraping the glue off. The living room is good now, but I have discovered plywood patches in the dining room where the oak boarder should be. I am so glad that there are people like you showing how to repair this. I am pretty intimidated still, but I am confident I can do it. The house deserves it.

    • Chez Indiana on said:

      Jenn –

      I would suggest buying a wallpaper steamer. It made short work of the 2 layers of tarpaper and glue under our 1950s linoleum.

  4. Rebecca Hamilton on said:

    I own a an old stone farmhouse built in 1834. When I bought it in 2010, the first thing I did was rip up 3 layers of lanolium and all the carpeting. I sanded and stained the upstairs already. It was a rather soft wood with very little grain. I am just about to finish the living room, a hard oak. I have a termite problem I’m dealing with. Any suggestions on treating the wood for both termites and preservation?

    • Timbor and BoraCare are both good options for long term termite control and prevention on wood.

      • Rebecca Hamilton on said:

        Great. Thank you for the information. I enjoyed reading all your tips on “5 worst mistakes of historic homeowners.” It has been a long but enjoyable process of restoration. I was considering replacement windows, but will restore those as well. Again, thank you.

        • Yay! So glad you’re saving those Windows!

  5. Amanda Holbrooks on said:

    My house was built in 1912. There are hardwood floors throughout the house. Unfortunately there has been carpet covering them for at least 40 years. The previous owners had about 20 cats in the house. I need suggestions on how to get the urine smell out of the hardwoods. The floors appear to be wormy pine. I appreciate any advice! Thank you!

  6. Linda Tinker on said:

    We are building a new cabin in the Pacific Northwest near Mt Hood. We pulled the fir flooring out of the original cabin built in 1940’s that was neglected and the foundation was destroyed by a flood 4 years ago. The fir was not finished so it is bare. We found heaps of fine dust under some of the boards. We didn’t keep those because we are quite sure it is Powder beetle. Should we treat with Borax product or just starts over with new flooring?

    • Linda, to protect yourselves I would go ahead and treat all the wood with BoraCare that way you can reuse everything that is still sound and not worry about insects.

  7. Tricia on said:

    Our floors are original hardwood from the 1920s. It just has a polyurethane stain on it so it is the woods natural color. We are trying to stain new heart of pine to match the old. Any suggestions on how to match the new stain with the old stain?

    • Just test a few similar stain colors on sample boards and see what gets you closest. It’s usually trial and error even for the pros.

  8. Lisa on said:

    Our home was built in 1894 and still has the original wood floors…some covered and some exposed. It needs completly refinished. We can do the work ourselves, just wondering what the cost would be like to restore a 1600 square foot home (floors) the wood kinda has spaces between the slats…can that be filled in?

    • Some gaps can be filled and refinishing usually runs about $2.50 to $3.25 per square foot.

      • Justin on said:

        Scott, great site! I just purchased a house that was built in 1880. I pulled back the grubby carpet today to find pine floors on the second floor. They look pretty filthy and tired. I cannot wait to have them refinished! I’m sure they will clean up nicely. Thanks for all the encouragement to keep these old gems alive with pride.

        • Congrats Justin! Good luck with the new old house!

  9. Mary on said:

    Hi, we had century old knotty heart pine floors installed on our first floor. We wanted the natural look and decided not to stain but just used 1 coat of minwax with a light brown tone to seal. However we are noticing, especially in kitchen, lots of spots and stains. What should we do?

  10. Jon Herring on said:

    We’ve been re-finishing the red-oak floors room by room since we moved into our ’30s home several years ago, and finally got to the kitchen. The kitchen had a couple of rough patches, and the previous owner had painted it. As part of our kitchen renovation, I stripped it down to bare wood and discovered that this one room is actually done with heart pine. Aside from the water stains which I’m hoping to address with oxalic acid – it’s in pretty good shape and the wood is beautiful. What I’m struggling with now is what to do next. I expect the pine will take stain differently than the adjacent oak has, so trying to carry the same cherry stain into the kitchen seems like a bad idea. I think I’d prefer to the kitchen to be unique anyway. Any thoughts or tips on using different woods with different stain selections in adjacent rooms?

  11. Ava Weaver on said:

    I am bumfuzzled. I love my old farmhouse built in 1929 and want to do some remodeling which of course will have priorities. The floor is wood and I think it is pine or fir. My problem is there is NO insulation or anything underneath but the 3-4 feet between the pin/fir and the dirt on this old pier and beam. I also have four dogs. I found some pet friendly flooring that has cork and filler then vinyl that looks pretty good but I love the real wood. I tried putting some linseed oil on after a good pinesol cleaning but it just sucked it up and made it a little bit darker there is no kind of finish just a funky patina fo many paint overs. Any suggestions would be helpful 🙁

  12. Elizabeth on said:

    I have a 1915 craftsman cottage style home and the floors are unsealed wormy chestnut. What is the best way to rejuvenate them without putting “poly” on them. I damp mop them, but they seem to be drying out. What is the best product to clean them and make them shine? Thanks!

    • For unsealed floors I would probably use boiled linseed oil and a wax or just wax.

  13. Carly on said:

    I have a home built in 1825, but the kids’ bathroom is probably from 1910 or so. It has fir floors. We are renovating the bath and the contractor is encouraging me to tile the floors. Should I do it to prevent water damage? I am hesitant to cover these beautiful floors.

    • If the floors are still beautiful after 105 years and you love them that much I would venture to say that you would be a responsible enough homeowner to protect them from standing water. I say if you like the floors and they’re in good shape then there is no reason you should tile over it.

  14. Charlene on said:

    I’m not sure how old my house is , only that it is an old farm house that was ripped apart numerous times by numerous previous owners -so sad- but the beautiful wide pine floors have withstood the attack.
    they are really fabulous – but have needed some help
    Wondering what to do about door sills between the rooms
    i would be great full for any suggestion
    Thanks Charlene

  15. Bob Garrett on said:

    This series has been very helpful. Just one question. We have an old 1901 house and are installing new red oak flooring and replacing the depression wood. Should pocket door jams be cut to allow the new boards to slide under or should contractor cut boards to form around door jam. Contracter doesn’t want to cut jams because they are old and might be brittle. Problem is there is a small space between the boards and jam that will need to be puttied. Will this look ok?

    • Bob, the jambs should definitely be cut to allow the flooring to slide underneath. I do it often and haven’t found anything too brittle or old that it can’t be cut with a proper saw. Honestly sounds like laziness on the contractor’s part.

  16. Rich on said:

    I recently replaced repair my 1.5″ red oak floor after removing a few cast iron radiators. After sanding a few of the old boards down to bare wood they are noticeably darker than the new planks I installed. My plan is to polyurethane the entire floor. Should I stain the floor or do you have another suggestion? I would like to get as close to the natural finish as possible.

  17. Coley Roszell on said:

    Hi! My husband and I have a bungalow/cape cod hybrid home built in 1941 with original EVERYTHING…wood floors, gorgeous vitrolite tile in the bathrooms and kitchen, light fixtures, appliances…all original. The previous owners had pets that left horrible large black stains on our wood flooring. I want to refinish/restore them, but my husband says it’s no use and wants to put carpet down. Can the black stains be removed or lightened, and if not, would a dark espresso-type stain color camouflage them? I don’t want to lose the character of the wood floors to bland carpet.

    • Coley, I would try refinishing the floors first. Once they are sanded you can try using oxalic acid on pets stains and that usually significantly lightens them or sometime completely removes them. Also, you’re right that a dark stain will help hide the stains. I say keep them!

  18. Dawna on said:

    We just bought a 1930 Bungalow and got down to the wood floors. In the bedroom they are really raw, but still good tong and groove. The second bedroom has some missing pieces and a lot of liquid damage of some sort, smells like cats were there. Is there anything that can take out that odor, as we really want to keep the floors. Tile is in the rest and will come up next year sometime.

    • Try oxalic acid on the pet stains. It doesn’t always work, but I have had success with it in the past. Try it in an out of the way area first to test how it will work on your floors.

  19. Ted Levering on said:

    I recently purchased house built in late 60’s, early 70’s that appeared to have hardwood flooring thru out (which I am almost positive because everything else in house is original pink baths, harvest gold appliances, etc). I started to make a repair at sliding door and behold it appears that this is some type of old veneer wood, maybe 5/15-3/8 thick. Decent shape overall, but lot of finish worn off. didn’t know they used anything but 3/4 t&g back then. Any ideas on what this was, can it be refinished, and how to fix rotted pcs. Approx 1500sf of this, hate to tear it all out, and certainly wreck my restoration budget. Thanks for any insight.

    • Ted, veneer and engineered wood floors were coming into use in that period. It’s not really my forte, but you will likely have a decent challenge trying to find an exact match. If the wear layer on top is thick enough you may be able to refinish them though.

  20. peter on said:

    Hello, I just bought a craftsman style house with dark trim throughout. The previous owners have put down qs white oak flooring that I am refinishing. Any suggestions about stain colours that would compliment the stained red oak trim? I want to go as light as possible. What’s there now doesn’t look quite right.
    Thanks and I love your blog.

  21. Angela on said:

    I’m in the middle of a kitchen renovation of our 1933 house. Under several layers of plywood and linoleum there is the original white oak floor. Same floor that is elsewhere in the house, only it’s dark and has gaps. Turns out the plywood was nailed down in a pattern of a nail every 6 inches one way and every 3 inches the other way. Some water damage too. A flooring specialist already came to see it and said you would see the nail holes after restoration, but he could do refinish if I was ok with that. i’m wondering, after checking some reclaimed floor websites, if the nail holes might add character? On the other hand, the regularity of the nail pattern bothers me a little. What if some boards get replaced, where there is water damage or other damage and that way the regularity is disrupted? Another question is how do deal with the nail holes? Checking out reclaimed flooring sites, it appears in the reclaimed floors they never mask imperfections, they might even accentuate them. If not wood putty or another filler how would you deal with the nail holes?
    Many thanks, this is a great site.

  22. Vanessa on said:

    We recently purchased a 1913 Craftsman Bungalow. At some point the hallway floor access to the crawl space had been nailed shut. This is a high crime area, in a historic district that is still in its way up (hence the good buy!)
    Having already had one break-in, Police alerted us to interior crawlspace access is also an access point IN for criminals.
    I would love to have this access ability restored so I can access the furnace pilot and plumbing at some point.
    Of course, my husband wants to keep it sealed and nailed shut.
    How do I restore the accessibility but ensure our family’s safety?
    I can provide photos if you email me.

  23. Chris on said:

    Thank you for this blog. We are debating replacing our fir floors in a 1911 heritage home. A reputable flooring contractor has told us the boards are too thin–and the gouging so widespread (it’s very bad)–that refinishing is not an option. Replacement is the way to go.

    How do you really know if floors are too far gone?

    And one other question if I may: if we want to paint the floors, is there a good material to fill in the broad and shallow gouges, like those made for example by people sliding the fridge in and out and in and out over the past 100 years? We’re talking wide, sometimes board-width gouges.

    Thank yoU!

  24. Sasha on said:

    I have unearthed original 91 year old fir floors. They have been sanded and stained, but wondering how many coats of poly to put on?

    • 3 full coats of oil-based poly or 4 coats of water-based.

  25. Renae on said:

    We own a 2 story Queen Ann style home built in 1912.
    The main floor has 3 different types of wood flooring and 2 large patched areas–kitchen/dining/office.

    I absolutely hate the idea of ripping out these old floors and had planned on having them refinished but my hardwood floor refinisher guy suggested I just run new hardwood thru the main floor so it flows better.

    Will this ruin my home value if I remove the original floors?

    • Renae, I don’t think it would ruin your home value, but I almost always prefer to keep the original if possible. A new floor may flow better through the house and in the end look better but it’s hard to tell without seeing it. It can almost always be repaired if you have the desire.

  26. connie on said:

    Hi, I have a home built in 1923 with original stained oak trim, coffered ceilings etc.
    I have to replace my oak flooring and was wondering – I was going to replace it with 3 1/4 inch planks. Should I use red oak again, or can I use white (or red) quarter sawn oak.
    I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what would look best (I know 3 1/4 planks of red oak will look much more grainy then the 2 1/4 strips that were originally there, so maybe go quarter sawn instead?).
    Many thanks

    • Connie, if you can afford it quartersawn wood is always a better choice. It’s more stable and will wear better on floors. Is there a reason you don’t want to go with the standard 2 1/4″ boards?

    • connie on said:

      Hi, I wanted to have a slightly “updated” home. We’re keeping all the original trim, but installing a modern kitchen and I thought that slightly wider floor (3 1/4) would be a nice update.
      I just wasn’t sure if the white quartersawn would look good with all the red oak trim – does it need to match??

  27. C. Stinnett on said:

    Nice write up. I for one think that way to many people just don’t realize the long term value of a hard wood floor.

    When I go out and a carpeted floor is in to bad of shape to clean I always look under it. So often homeowners are surprised to find a high quality hardwood floor that’s been buried under carpet for the last 50 years.

    I have a deal with a local flooring guy. After showing the home owner some of his brochures and getting them interested. If he gets the refinishing job, I get a small kickback, he gets another refinishing job to add to his portfolio, and the both of us get a customer and friend for life.

    Everybody wins, and another antique wood floor is brought back where it can be enjoyed again.

  28. sergio gutierrez on said:

    I need to install whole new floor in a old wooden house. the prior owner removed all floor the current area has no floor at all. How should mach up the remaining floors/

  29. Thanks for great sharing. I’m your fan. I read and learn a lot useful information in your website and apply it for my home improvement.

  30. Anna on said:

    Hi we just bought a house built in 1890. I ripped up the 70s shaggy carpet in the entry way and staircase and hallway the plank flooring underneath appears to be in decent condition but is very dry feeling. What should we use to restore it?

    • Anna, a light sanding and add a stain and polyurethane or you could do a boiled linseed finish for a more natural feel.

  31. Brenda on said:

    I’m glad to have found this article as I met with a contractor yesterday about my kitchen floor. I have a 1910 colonial and have been trying to slowly getting the floors back.I was told that because there is a sub floor under the linoleum with another layer of linoleum under that before getting to the wood, there would be too much damage to save the floor.I am disappointed -Has anyone experienced this? What should I do?

    • You can’t tell if there is too much damage until you really get into the floor. Most contractors don’t won’t to bother with the work to restore the wood floors. It is likely restorable it just depends on the cost of the work you’re willing to pay.

      • Cathryn Selman on said:

        12 yrs ago we renovated kitchen in our 1911 home; our flooring sub burned up several sanding belts working through about 4 generations of varying linoleum, but FINALLY uncovered the original subfloor, gorgeous red heart pine. Sanded, stained and polyurethaned — it is gorgeous and was WELL WORTH the effort!

  32. Vandana on said:

    I have a 10-14 year old house. this has a ground floor is with regular termite treatment. I am planning to build 2 new floors on this. how safe it would be? what test should I get done before building new floors, so to ensure that the ground floor will hold it proper and safe?

    • Get a structural engineer to sign off on the plans before starting any work.

  33. Diana on said:

    I have a Craftsman home built in 1919 I am renovating. I removed the vinyl tile from the kitchen and went back to the wood flooring underneath. The bath has vinyl on top and looks like wood underneath too. What kind of flooring did they have back then in the bath? I know you’re not really supposed to have wood floors in the bath but wondered what your thoughts are on it.

    • Diana, bathroom floors in 1919 were usually either wood or small mosaic tile. You could stick with the wood if you like it.

  34. Stacey on said:

    I have a 100 yrs craftsman -ish home with what looks like original flooring. There is no floor boards and some gaps in which you can see through the floor. What is the best way to restore or repair the floor?

    • Stacey on said:

      Also wanted to add, there are gaps in the floor & dings in some spots, also squeaks & can see thru some gaps to the basement.

  35. Mary Schindler on said:

    We have a house built in 1950. Our hardwood floors are 2 1/2 inch wide planks but are only 15 to 18 inches long and are in groups of 5. Between each group is a gap. There are no gaps between the individual planks in each group. It almost appears that the floors were picked up and moved here from another location in pieces. These are oak floors. Any explanation would be appreciated.

  36. Karyn on said:

    I recently discovered that my house has hexagon tiles in the bathroom underneath new tiles and the tile adhesive. Is there a way for me to remove the tile adhesive so I can get to those hexagon tiles? I would love to have the original floor in the bathroom.

    • I have done that a couple times with good results. You’ll need a floor scraper and a lot of adhesive remover. Keep the area well ventilated because the remover can create harsh fumes. Use some rough scouring pads to get the small residue at the end and it can come out quite nice. It’s a lot of work though!

  37. richard holland on said:

    I’m restoring lizzy borden’s kitchen and sitting room with the same floors. can you tell me if they were wood or some kind of lanoiliam I have them stripped to the floor boards. looks like they were wood. and I’m about to refinish them but I need to know. want it a historic as possible with the owner. thanks Richard.

  38. Cindy on said:

    We just purchased a 1910 craftsman with douglas fir flooring throughout. The problem is a previous owner hammered flat head nails all over ~ presumably to stop squeaking. Our flooring contractor said we need to stain almost black to cover the nail holes. Do you think there’s any way to have a more natural color on the floors. I would love to see the grain of the wood more than an almost black floor.

    • Your contractor is right that a darker color will hide the nail holes best. That being said, if you don’t mind the sight of the nail holes you could go with a slightly lighter color and have visible nail holes. Which is less attractive to you?

      • Kevin on said:

        Cindy, another idea would be to take all these nail holes and fill them with real wood spools of the same variety of wood (or darker) and then sand them off. This will give the floor a hand pegged look, much more rustic, but would have a lot of character and allow you to enjoy the lighter stain and grain of the wood

  39. Christine on said:

    Our wood floors have boards that are 2″ wide, cupped, worn with spaces in between that collects dirt. Is there any way to save them?

    • KC on said:

      Finding this blog has renewed my hope in restoring the cherry wood floors in the bathroom of my 1846 Greek Revival Farmhouse in NW PA. Due to poor plumbing, the floor has suffered damage and the contractor cut a perfect square out around the toilet with the hopes I would just go with tile, and eventually tear all the wood flooring out. I would love to have the floor patched, in this area, with the same flooring to maintain the historic integrity of our home. Is it possible to patch within this area? Will boards need to be taken up and staggered to look right?

      • The floor can be repaired by weaving in new boards. Hopefully you can find replacement boards that look similar to the originals. If necessary you can pull boards from the backs of closets and use those to replace the damaged section.

        • KC on said:

          I am so happy to have run across your blog.
          Despite the well meaning advice of the contractor tempting me to sway away from restoration of the wood floor in my bathroom, it is now done and beautiful. I feel that we are conscientious of the water issues in a bathroom and will care for them accordingly. Thank you

  40. Brian on said:

    Hey guys thanks for posting all of this information. I have a home built in 1871 and finally had enough with the carpet. I ripped it up in the first floor stairwell area and found wide plank oak floors. Stain looks original, but i cannot tell. There is paint slashes and scuffs everywhere. I am pretty handy and want to refinish them. The boards are at least 3/4 inch thick. I am wondering how you can tell if there is enough board left to sand and refinish. Any help I’d appreciated.

    • Hey Brian welcome! If you see nail heads poking through at the joints then you have T&G flooring which has been sanded too much to be refinished again. If the boards were face nailed then you just have to sink the nails below the surface before sanding.

  41. Darcy Gray on said:

    It was this article on Home Owners Worst Mistakes that made me cling to the idea of saving our wood floors. We are renovating a 1930 Plantation Camp house on the Big Island of Hawaii, and our floors were covered with carpet and in the kitchen, 5 layers of sub floor and 4 layers of lino tiles. We talked to several wood workers in the area and it seemed like no one wanted to do the job, there was quite a bit of termite damage. We had to replace an outside wall (single plank) so we saved the planks from that and an interior wall we removed. Our new floor guy is using the wood we saved to patch our floor, I nearly gave in because it was turning into a huge hassle.
    We are nearly there, I will post photos when it is finished, but a huge Thank You for your information…we think the floor is redwood, but not sure. Any way wood is good…right?
    Mahalo from Papakiou, Hawaii.

    • Love it Darcy!! Historic restoration in Hawaii!

      • Karen on said:

        Darcy would love to know the steps you’ve taken. Trying to do the same project on original redwood floors, they do have some worn paint/stain trying to figure out best way to proceed.


  42. Tina O on said:

    Hi, Thanks for putting this great blog together! In my 1920s bungalow I have an old wood kitchen floor, possibly fir, which isn’t super hard. I had it refinished about 12 years ago after removing hideous textured sheet vinyl and adhesive. The putty has since come out from between the wood planks and the floor is impossible to keep clean of crud landing in the putty-less grooves. I just had a quote for a Marmoleum floor to cover this floor. However, if there’s any way to refinish the kitchen floor and keep the putty in place, I’d prefer to do that. Any ideas or suggestions? Thanks!

    • Tina, I can’t tell you if the floors can be refinished again without seeing them, but you can use an upgraded filler instead of standard wood putty which usually fails in a few years due to movement of the wood. You can spend some extra money and fill the gaps with an epoxy filler like Abatron WoodEpox prior to sanding and staining. The work is more labor intensive but the filler will last much, much longer.

  43. Lynda on said:

    I have a 1920’s home. I have oak hard wood floors in one room – the stairs & the up stairs hall & foyer The Living room has Oak around the out side of the room and in the center Pine. There are places on most of the floors that need replaced where the furnace grates were and an area that is pet stained and had primer spilled on it We just kinda spread it on the floor as we cleaned it up because we were getting ready to carpet. I don’t believe that the floors have ever been refinished but I would love to refinish them. I would love to get an idea of what it would look like to leave the pine or perhaps Replace a center piece with oak and leave the pine as an outside boarder in the middle is there any place I could look to get an idea as to what to do? and I’m sure that the wood that is there right now is thicker than anything you could buy out of stock. will I have to get custom milled flooring if I need to replace the middle?

    • Lynda, I would check with local architectural salvage yards for reclaimed flooring or try Goodwin Heat Pine which sells reclaimed and custom milled flooring from old-growth wood. Chances are that for the 1920s the flooring is 3/4″ thick and you can still find that around. Good luck!

  44. Linda on said:

    Hi Scott,
    I have an old farmhouse that was built in the 1880’s. The previous owner painted the wood flooring red. I’ve been told it can’t be sanded completely because it would have a candy cane appearance. Is this true?

    • We’ve sanded painted floor before with success, but it really depends on how the painted was applied and whether the floor was varnished prior to painting. I’d probably try sanding a small portion and if it doesn’t work you can always paint again.

  45. 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?

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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!

  50. 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?

  51. 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.?

  52. 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?

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

      • Maxine W on said:

        Hi please help as I am about to pull my hair out. I live in New Zealand have a wonderful home the living room is 20 meters by 10 meters (big room) wonderful timber floors however there are gaps between the timber where the T&G has pulled apart. I have talked to every tradesman who does floors, every manufacturer who produces flooring products or marine products and cannot find an answer to my issue, which is ….. New Zealand is an earth quake zone, any polyurethane product cracks and looks awful after not too long, marine products need to be removed from the gaps and redone regularly – and the cost of products and labour is very expensive. I need either a product which will not crack, OR a solution which I can re-do myself which is not too expensive. I am beginning to consider no wooden floor as this appear in the too hard basket – is anyone able to advise please ? Many Thanks Maxine

  55. 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

    • mo on said:

      I’d highly suggest slate if you didnt do something else–slate and wood looks very good next to each other, and slate is very easy to have–no slipping, no dirt shows…is my fav flooring.

  56. 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!

  57. 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.

  58. 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?

  59. 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!

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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!

  63. 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).

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


  65. 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.

Leave a Reply

(Don't worry, we won't publish your email address.)