5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 2 Floors)

By Scott Sidler • December 13, 2011

5 worst mistakes historic homeowners floorsLiving 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.

These tiles 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…

Flooring

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.

damaged 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.austinhistorical.com

old 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 is that 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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187 thoughts on “5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 2 Floors)”

  1. I Totally agree!! My experience: I bought a small 1952 house 8 years ago for 77k. The house had carpet all throughout. I knew when I bought the house that there were wood floors under the carpet. The flooring turned out to be 1/2 inch solid oak – throughout the entire house in every room! It only took about a month to sand and refinish – the time consuming work was in getting the thousands of carpet staples out of the floor. I lived in the House for 8 years and made some other improvements (mainly getting rid of the 1980’s awful ‘renovations’) and sold the house last month for 162k.
    I recently bought another house – it’s in the same area and is even older – 1947 – and again there are wood floors throughout, I intend of restoring those as well, especially now that I know how to do it.
    Recently, since I was in the market for a house, I was driving though my neighborhood and I saw that someone had ripped out an entire oak floor and left the wood at the curb. I picked up the ‘junk’ for free and have enough solid wood for another room for free. It’s amazing what people do!

  2. Hi Scott
    I have a home from 1870. The upstairs floors have all been painted. Some are brown, some are black and some are grey. I plan to repaint them. Can you tell what color would be correct for the time era?

  3. Hey Scott,
    Our Historical Society is restoring a 1870 home. The hardwood floors are nailed straight to the joists and need some repairs. One of our members says we should remove all of the flooring, put down an underlayment an then reinstall the original flooring. Do you think this is a good idea, or should we just spot repair the floor where it needs it?
    Thanks,
    Greg

  4. I have a 100 year old (Glenwood) mill house, in Easley SC. It’s been remodeled and I’d like to know what style these houses were and what is mine now. Also, how do I find old windows like the ones that used to be in my house?

  5. I bought a 1910 house in Indianapolis that has original 1/8″ thick by 1 1/2″ wide red oak flooring. It was all covered with wall to wall carpet. Some of the flooring has been torn up for prior renovation, some boards are cupping from age or have lost nails. Most of the oak strips are finished nailed in pairs at seven inch increments and all nails heads have turned black probably from rust. Is there a place where I can get replacement strips or has anyone ever encounter this type of flooring and done a similar project? I think at 1/8″, it will be too thin for power floor sander. I’d like to keep the character of the house and the period in tact as much as possible. Any recommendations or advice will be appreciate.

  6. Hi Scott-looking for your opinion:
    We have a 1908 bungalow and are installing new 3/4″ thick white oak 7mm wide flooring in most of the original rooms. The sub flooring is red wood T&G that is perpendicular to the floor joists. We’d like to install the new flooring parallel to this sub flooring, nailed down. We will also have an underlayment for some additional noise, moisture, heat insulation. How often do you see new hardwoods installed parallel like this, does the redwood offer the stability we’d need for under?

  7. This happened to a newer home I renovated then sold. I installed tongue and groove hardwood cherry flooring in the home’s living room in 2007 over a plywood sub-floor. The cherry was outrageously expensive, costing $11./foot. It was absolutely gorgeous. Because the new owners wanted to remove the wall between the kitchen and the living room and could not match the cherry, they tore it out and threw it away. They replaced it with a vinyl fake wood. I was shocked.

  8. I just bought a 1912 California bungalow. it has heartwood pine floors. One of the bedrooms has floor covering on the heartwood pine. I was wondering if you have ever flipped the flooring and refinish the (what was) bottom side of the original heartwood pine flooring. I’m trying to be as sustainable as possible and want to keep as much of the original component of the 1912 home as possible.

    1. It’s extremely difficult to pull up on old floor like this without damaging the boards (especially the bottom of the boards) because of how they’re typically nailed at an angle thru the tongue. Plus you typically cannot flip wood flooring because it is machined differently on the bottom and the tongue/groove may not be centered in the thickness of the material. I would talk with a professional floor refinisher and see if they think they can salvage it. I’ve heard some people have hired sandblasters to come in and strip adhesive materials off wood flooring, maybe this or some chemical stripper would be an option? Again, in this case I would talk to a pro.

  9. Scott-

    Any suggestions for a 1923 kitchen floor replacement? It has old vinyl (not original) currently and just a wood base beneath.

    1. In my 1925 Bungalow in Tampa I used in the kitchen Armstrong Tiles (believe they are made of abestos). i used 3 different colors in a random looking pattern on the dinal. It looks amazing and very representative of period and very durable. Tons of colors. I ordered from Home Depot. I was not able to save floors in my house because of previous owner had very bad termite infestation and she thought it was just wood rot. 😣 Currently looking for pet friendly alternative for reat of house that works for raised foundation.

  10. HI Scott and all– What can I do about loud squeaks? I just removed carpet in my 1935 house and found very nice hardwood floor in very good condition, but it squeaks very badly all over the dining room. It can really stay as is but I would not want to lose the floor because of this.

  11. We have restored (more like rebuilt) an old, late 1800s, rock cabin that was on our farm when we bought it 35 years ago. Interior dimensions are about 40×15 feet and it has 14-inch thick limestone walls. Windows are made from reclaimed longleaf pine and have the old style rope and pulley with weights. The floor is the last major step for completion. We have a very solid pier and beam foundation recently built within the walls. The subfloor is 3/4-inch Advantec with 1/2 inch added to the top to enable us to run the floor parallel to the joists.

    Except for the windows, it is pretty air tight. There is no AC and it will have a wood burning stove that will be used only when we use the building. Our question is what would be the best hardwood floor to use since the temps and humidity will be unchecked? Some sales people have said don’t use engineered because the layers will eventually peel apart. Others say use engineered because it is more stable than solid. One salesperson told us there is no way to use solid or engineered because of the lack of humidity control. We find that hard to believe since hardwood floors were around long before houses had AC.

    Do you have an opinion on this or any installation tips?

  12. Scott,
    Enjoying the site. I am a restorer as well. Currently re-restoring our 100 year old farm house in VA after a lightening strike and fire. Salvaged most of the 6/6 windows and found more across Virginia salvage yards. Rebuilding them is going well. It’s the floors I am stumped on.

    Salvaged the heart pine floors mostly. Demo contractor broke a lot of the tongues. They had been sanded and poly’d the first go round so they are now 5/8. I have a ton of 3/4, 1, 1 1/8, 1 1/4 100+ yr old T&G in various widths (2 1/4″-20″) and lengths. Some have a cup, some a bow. In order to have them line up with the old flooring I would have to plane them all down to 5/8″, a lot of material coming off and a lot of work. Also thinking of ripping them to 3 different widths then T&G on the router table for ease of installation, alternating the different widths in the layout. Wondering what you think of this approach. Alternate approach would be to straighten and rip as above and face nail boards with reproduced cut nails saving time on T&G.

    Finally, given that the old sanded and poly’d floors are so thin now, we were thinking of just cleaning them up and waxing the entire house, old re-installed and planed reclaimed wood. Really appreciate your response. Procrastinating because of this indecision of what to do with the flooring.

    Cheers

    Jim

  13. Hello Scott. We have a house in Nokomis Illinois that was built in 1920. It is the original plantation house for the 16+ blocks surrounding it. It has all of the original interior woodwork including 2 sets of very functional pocket doors with original tracks and frames. Almost every window frame. Interior doors and frames. Some door frames have the opening transom windows up top. The house is even complete with all of the original hardwood floors. I know people will absolutely hate me for this. But we want to renovate to my sons liking as he is buying the house from us after boot camp My husband and I know that when people are trying to restore an old home, the hard wood trim and interior pieces and the stained glass windows are the hardest parts to come across. We also know that if we try to take it out ourselves, or even if some crews with the younger workers take it out, it will inevitably be destroyed. Do you know of anyone that will but the stuff out of our house for a reduction in price and put in new door frame and such? can email some pictures

    1. Hi Pamela,
      Thanks so much for reaching out and reading our blog! We have a directory on our site ( https://thecraftsmanblog.com/directory/ ) with a network of people all over the country who do work similar to what we do. Hopefully you can find someone in your area who is better able to answer your questions upon seeing it in person than we can online. Best of luck to you!
      -Alyssa at The Craftsman Blog

  14. Hi scott! I’m the proud owner of a 1920s huge SpAnish multi unit in LA, who bought from a guy who always did the cheapest modifications possible. Judging from the weird lip that has been created at my stairs, my living room appears to have four layers of hardwood stacked one on top of the other (the most recent looks very 80s). Is it worth trying to peel away the layers or should I just refinish the 80s business? I don’t know much about laying floors… would they have been glued together? I’d gain a few inches of height back, but…

  15. I bought my first house! 1955 brick ranch. Looks like they carpeted the entire life of the house and from the corners I’ve pulled back the floors look to be in excellent condition. Is there any chance I won’t need to refinish them? I cannot afford that cost but need the gross carpet gone!

  16. Hi there,
    I just bought a 1950’s ‘cabin’/ranch in the mountains of Northeren CA. It’s a mojor fixer and tiny, but it’s home now! In tearing out the carpet at the back porch, I noticed that the porch flooring is the same as (and continues into) the inside flooring. The porch is painted but it looks to be 2X6 T&G fir. The inside is covered with 3/8″ plywood and I don’t want to pull that up until I know that it’s ok to refinish the fir and use it as my primary floor. Is that possible? A good idea? I’m a 43yo single mom who likes to do my own projects but I often get ahead of myself… ; )

    Thanks in advance!

    1. We have a fir painted porch and fir living room floors which we had sanded and refinished. Came out nice. New fir bought at a lumberyard was used for patching and has aged already (2 years) to blend in with the new floor. Floors were finished with semigloss polyurethane. Do it, you won’t regret it.

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