Historic Homes and Antique Floors: caring for hardwood assets

Perhaps one of the most endearing features of old houses are the old hardwood flooring – rustic and classic, it has history and has been seasoned to imperfection.

This is where most historic homeowners make the mistake of covering up or worse, ripping off and throwing out the original flooring all too hastily to make the house look new again. One thing to keep in mind about antique hardwood flooring is that they can withstand multiple refinishing (when done properly).

Most antique hardwood flooring are durable enough to last for a century or 2 and generally, historic flooring like these are rarely beyond repair. There are only two reasons flooring professionals would be too quick to tell you that the antique flooring in your home is beyond repair: one is that they are either lazy or unsure of how to go about the work; and 2, they are trying to sell you a new product.

In most cases, after restoration the routine will simply be a refinish once in a year or 2 and regular cleaning to keep them in great condition.

Hardwood Floor Cleaning

So how do we care for old hardwood floors? Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Sweep. Regular sweeping with a soft-bristled broom to avoid scratching or vacuum cleaning is one way to preserve historic wood floors. Not only does this remove dirt but also get off debris and other abrasive materials that might cause scratching off the floor.
  2. Wipe. Wiping completes the process by removing deep-seated dirt. When you’re not quite sure what cleaners would sit well with your floors, you can always be safe with mixing 10 parts of water with a part of vinegar and a terry-cloth mop.
  3. Wipe again. However, since water and wood don’t go well together, don’t forget to wipe the floor again. Wipe it dry this time to make sure water doesn’t seep in and moisture is immediately removed on the floor’s surface.
  4. Protect. There is no absolute way to damage-proof historic wood floors but this can help keep them in top shape despite daily wear: first, by having protective area rugs and doormats in critical areas like entryways and near the kitchen sink. Another is by applying floor wax not only for protection but to eliminate dullness.
  5. Repair. At the first sign of damage, quickly act on it. If it’s something you’re sure you can DIY, go ahead by all means. If its not, then get help and don’t risk further damage.

Choosing a Wood Floor Professional – 2

Legacy Select Antique Pine Wooden FloorPart 2 – Hints for finding a finisher for heart pine wooden floors
Many of the suggestions for finding an installer in the first section also apply to looking for a floor finisher for heart pine so you might want to look at Part 1.
A directory of professionally certified finishers such as NWFACP’s list at http://www.nwfacp.org is one place to look for a person or company to sand your wood floor. Websites will often list certifications for the individual or company and classes they have taken. Membership in a wood flooring association can also be a positive sign. A certain minimum amount of work experience is highly desirable, but this is not a guarantee of quality work. Another indication of a commitment to quality work is attending wood floor industry schools. Also the sanding equipment should be professional grade. This does not mean that it has to be new but well maintained high quality equipment is important for a top quality job.
A discussion of the look you want to achieve helps choose between the many types of floor finish available for wood floors. Natural oils, hard wax oils, oil modified polyurethane, water borne acrylic or poly, and Tung oil (fortified or not) are some examples of what is available. Talk to your finisher about the properties of the different products such as –
—overall look,
—ambering,
—gloss levels,
—drying times (walk on floor),
—durability,
—odor,
—time for full cure (replace area rugs),
—VOCs,
—film build,
—maintenance requirements, and
—environmental concerns.
Additional information is available on the internet at http://www.woodfloors.org/WoodFloorFinishes.aspx and other sites. The brand of finish should be designed for use on wood floors for durability and so that film forming products flow to yield a smooth surface. Saving money by using low quality finish can significantly reduce the life of the floor. Professional products cost more but usually only add a small percentage to the overall price. Discuss the finisher’s experience with sanding antique wood floors. River Recovered® heart pine sands slightly differently than most other woods. Some finishes darken antique heart pine floors as they are applied and continue to enhance the natural color change in the wood as it ages. Other products maintain a much lighter shade. Certain species have different reactions with different finishes so it is best to use a combination of flooring and finish products that your floor finisher has experience with.
Dust control and possible paint touch ups on the baseboard are other topics to discuss in advance. The temperature in the room, relative humidity, and direct sun light in the areas where the finish is applied will be of concern to the workers. Commissioning a new flooring project can be stressful, but finding a good team to install and finish your floor makes the process easier and gives better results.

Finding a Wood Floor Professional

River Recovered Antique Pine FlooringPart 1, Choosing an installer for heart pine wood floors.

Historic reclaimed floors represent a substantial investment that will look good for a long time if installed and maintained properly. A good installation is greatly aided by the choice of a good installer. Installers range from those with little concern for quality, to the reliable and experienced, and finally an elite few have a reputation that commands a premium.

Here are a few hints toward finding an installer for your reclaimed wood floor; however, there are no hard and fast rules.
• Talk to people you know who have had good experience with their wood floors.
• Find out if questions asked after the installation received the same attention once the bill had been paid. Was service work done promptly?
• References from repeat customers are especially helpful. Most accomplished craftspeople are proud of their work and feel good about providing references.
• Websites usually show pictures of past work, and general company information.
• Schedule ahead of time. Many of the best firms are booked in advance.

Moisture issues are the cause of the majority of wood flooring complaints. Discuss the steps that will be taken to achieve the proper moisture content in the wood flooring with the installer. Highly resinous antique heart pine wood should be checked with a pin type moisture meter. Experience with local conditions helps determine the proper moisture level. Vapor retarders or barriers are a necessary part of most reclaimed wood flooring installations. Which product or system do they plan to use?

It is best to agree on your expectations of the final product prior to your purchase. This can include reviewing antique lumber grades for pine floors, species characteristics, installation standards (NWFA), and the time required to complete the work. A few detailed topics such as the proper nail schedule and checking the flatness of the sub floor are appropriate for discussion at this time.

Knowledgeable professionals are happy to spend the time to communicate with you in advance to assure your satisfaction. Written agreements can also help avoid misunderstandings. And don’t forget, workers should be insured to protect you from the potential liability of a medical claim.

Most good installers check the room lay out prior to starting the installation and periodically check that the floor is running true during the installation. Wood floor installation is a profession that offers easy entry for new workers in most localities. Experienced workers have had the chance to gain the knowledge needed for a proper installation.

You will not have all of the technical expertise to make the decisions needed for a good installation. Care in choosing the correct installer can help achieve the goal of long-term satisfaction. Contact Goodwin Heart Pine if we can answer questions about antique wood flooring.

Part 2, Wood Floor Finishers will follow

Solid Wood Floors Over Concrete

There are many questions about gluing down solid wood flooring to concrete.  The traditional industry standards for wood floor installation limited the direct glue down of solid wood flooring over concrete to short pieces or parquet patterns.  A well made engineered wood floor looks like a solid floor but avoids some of the installation difficulties.  The backer of the engineered flooring helps reduce the movement with moisture changes.  For many applications this is the best solution.

Flooring insert

Small Flooring Insert Including Antique Heart Pine

With the advent of elastomeric adhesives gluing solid flooring directly to concrete has become more common.  NOFMA produced a technical publication outlining recommended procedures for installing solid wood floors to concrete about five years ago.  Despite the inherently higher risks of gluing solid to concrete it has become an accepted practice for many people in the industry.  This installation method takes more effort to manage the risks.  Moisture issues are the primary concern.  Test to see if the concrete is dry enough.  The ASTM F2170-2 test is a widely accepted procedure which measures the relative humidity inside the concrete.  It is often prudent to apply a sealer to the concrete just in case moisture is introduced into the concrete at a later time. Then if the concrete gets wet in the future a trowel on moisture cured urethane vapor barrier or penetrating sealer such as Bone Dry which was applied prior to installing the floor can keep the water away from the wood. An alternative to a glue installation is to install a plywood subfloor over the concrete then nail down the flooring.

Restoring Antique Wood Floors

Cushion edge end grain

Reclaimed Heart Pine

We recently had an inquiry asking if more finish can be added to an old site finished floor to improve its appearance. This is what we used to call a buff and coat.  Recoating will not remove deep scratches or discoloration in the antique wood, but is a good choice in many cases where the finish is sound and not overly worn. The surface of the existing finish is abraded lightly to get it ready for additional finish.  If there are contaminates on the wood floor such as wax, dusting products, polish, etc. the new coat may not adhere in some spots and total resanding may be a better choice. The major water based finish manufacturers make pretreatment products which aid adhesion. The water based finishes are easy to use if you know what you are doing and are used by many professionals.  If you are doing the work yourself many first time attempts do not come out as well with these products. You might consider using a more traditional urethane floor finish with a slower drying time. Once you get everything cleaned up and ready two coats often looks better than one on an old floor. A finish with a low gloss level tends to help surface imperfections blend in. If you are not going to use water borne finish the old way to abrade it was to rub the surface with fine steel wool.  Go with the grain of the wood floor. It is a good idea to test the compatibility of the finish you are using with the existing finish in a small out of the way area before doing the whole floor.  Also the National Wood Flooring Association http://www.woodfloors.org/ has information on finishes and maintenance. Especially with antique wood, you can find small ways to improve any damage or discoloration that has happened over time, because much antique wood already carries natural imperfections!

Antique Wood Floors Over Radiant Heat

Antique wood floor

Decorative feature in antique wood floor

We are occasionally asked if antique pine flooring is a good choice over radiant heat.  Over the years our customers have had many successful installations over this heating system.  There are general guidelines such as turning on the heating system in advance for several days to make sure that there is no excess moisture in the subfloor.  Also the temperature of the subfloor should not go above 85 degrees F. Wider boards are prone to show larger gaps in the heating season.  Vertical grain flooring moves less than select grain flooring.  As with any installation starting with properly milled flooring and exercising care to get the moisture content of the flooring (and the job site) correct go a long way towards getting an antique heart pine floor which looks good for years and years.  The NWFA has also developed guidelines for installing wood floors over radiant heat see Installation Guidelines, Appendix H.