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5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 2 Floors)

5 worst mistakes historic homeowners 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.

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…


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. The jura hausarbeit ghostwriter shared one fact with me. Some homeowners, when selling a historic home, enter into a legal contract where they describe that the floor cannot be replaced because it is historic property.

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!

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!

old wood floors
Repaired and Restored Heart Pine Floors

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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204 thoughts on “5 Worst Mistakes of Historic Homeowners (Part 2 Floors)

  1. Hi Scott,

    We live in an old house (1790) in Maine, and we’re working to preserve it. Many of the tongue-in-groove floorboards in the oldest part of the house, which may be original, are are extremely thin. It appears that they have been sanded and refinished so many times that the top of the “groove” sides are gone or about 1/16 of an inch thick. From normal use, long, thin strips of wood (the tops of the grooves) are frequently breaking off, and what’s left is a large gap with just the tongue of the other board sitting in it. We’ve talked with two local respected old-house restorers, and they both recommended replacing the floors. Would you agree that this is the end of the road, or do you know of some way to restore instead?

  2. Hi Scott! I live in a First Period Colonial c.1750 in CT. I have a gorgeous native wide plank old growth original floor in my living room. How can I refinish it? I can sand most by hand, but what kind of surfactant should I use to keep the original floor protected? I heard a big block of beeswax and some hand polishing. What’s your suggestion?

  3. Hi Scott!
    We are in the process of renovating an old historic church built in the 1920s. We pulled up all the carpet and found douglas fir floors, but the problem is in many rooms and spaces they put in about 2 ft of plywood around the perimeter of the rooms for earthquake purposes. According to the mechanical engineers, this cannot be changed, Structurally the building needs this, leaving our options to new flooring over the old. This is so expensive and also seems sad to cover over a lot of original wood floors. Have you ever refinished and stained plywood next to hardwood floors? Do you think this is a viable option? Knowing we can’t change out the plywood portions for douglas fir or real wood floors, what do you suggest?!

  4. I live in Washington State and bought a 1940 house with oak wood flooring. How do I tell if it is white or red oak? I’m replacing a damaged section. The oak is the skinny 2.25 wide and the length varies from 8″ – 12-16″ inches long. Are these oak strips generally flush, no grooves to click/connect together?

  5. Hi, I am remodeling a bedroom and bathroom into one bigger bath. The old farm house was built in 1900, plaster walls and wood floor. I want to install floor heat and thinking of removing/ saving old floor and installing ceramic tile. Also knocking plaster off the lath and rewiring for updated use. Any advice on the floor and wall ideas?
    Thank you.

  6. I own a 1911 farm house in Natchitoches, Louisiana. I am currently having the original pine floors sanded and repaired. I need to know how they might have been originally finished? Stain? Number of top coats? Glossy? Satin? Waxed? The house is an Airbnb so there is heavy traffic. You can view photos at Airbnb and the name of the house is The Perrault House.

      1. What happens when they have already been sanded and refinished so many times that the floor board width is very thin and not really able to be sanded and refinished again? I have 90 year old heart wood pine floors with this problem. There are also many areas where the nails are showing and areas that need to be patched. But there is a lot of give and movement between many of the boards and I am being told any patch jobs will likely need to be redone in one or two years.

        1. Do a sandless restoration/screen-recoat (both are essentially the same thing but sandless resoration uses chemical which isn’t recommend as that may or may not fix the issue. Your best bet is the screen-recoat). Absolutely avoid sanding.

  7. Our house was built in 1843 we covered old wood floor with carpet years ago riped it out the floor were painted white I don’t know why looks terrible also water damaged and warping covered one room with laminate years ago
    And it’s got to go I call it my big ship with a deck wanted to replace cut outs on floor that was made over years for old coal heat I think it’s oak boards on the floor from there farm can it be sanded down and refinished

  8. We restored a nearly all original 1914 Craftsman Bungalow North of Dallas in small town Texas. the house had original pine floors that we had refinished about a year and a half ago. a few months ago we noticed the floors where cupping again. Last week my husband actually stepped through the floor in the living room. We had not noticed they where getting soft and now it looks like we have an issue and we are not sure what has caused this. the things we changed, thinking it was an improvement, added vents on skirting, added gutters- these floors have been here for over 100 years! is it the vents, or the gutters that have ruined these floors? any ideas much appreciated, my heart is broken

  9. Old home on piers. I have removed – 2 layers of sheet vinyl and the under layment and the felt. I found pine floors with center match under that. Half the room was at one time an open porch so the floor is not in real good shape. My question in about putting down a moisture barrier if I put a new unfinished wooden floor down. I think from my reading that floors need to breath or you have a moisture problem with the subfloor. What do you recommend. I did find a breathable finish to used after installing the floor.

  10. 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!

  11. 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?

  12. 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?

    1. Did you get a response to this? I’m in a similar predicament–all of the 2nd floor of my house (ca. 1880) has linoleum covering wood plank sub-floor. I want to finish the sub-floor, and have started with the smallest room. Would be interested in what you did.


  13. 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?

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

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