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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.

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.

Log Rounds and Wood Tiles for Antique Wood Floors

Large End Grain Tiles of Antique Heart Pine

Heart Pine End Grain Tiles

Entries and other transition areas present an opportunity to use patterns in wood flooring.  The distinctive appearance of end grain tiles with their circular grain pattern creates a strong impression in an entry.  Designs such as herringbone, chevrons, or an English weave used in transition areas create interest and elegance.

Antique Log Rounds

Log Rounds

Herringbone at Master Bedroom Entry

Antique Heart Pine flooring from Reclaimed boards

Inlay of log end

Occasionally we get calls from people who have some salvaged lumber and they want make their own flooring.  Here are a few details to consider.

The fit of the tong and groove is critical if the wood floor is going to perform well.  A loose fit can lead to squeaks while a fit that is too tight will make the floor hard to install.  If you put two short straight boards together and then hold them in the air by one of them the other should not fall off.  A quick shake should cause the boards to disengage.  A difference of a few thousandths of an inch can make a significant difference.

Almost all wood flooring is made with the top face slightly wider than the bottom. As the floor is installed the top touches first leaving a slight gap between the boards on the bottom. The difference in width between the top and bottom avoids cracks showing between the boards in areas of slight sub floor irregularity.

A groove on the top inside corner of the tong allows a space for the nail heads as an addition aid to a tight fitting floor.

Some individuals with good skill levels have been able to produce serviceable flooring from antique wood, but most high quality reclaimed flooring is made by experienced craftspeople.

Antique Wood Floor, Concrete, and Water

In the antique wood floor industry…

We often hear the comment that reclaimed wood flooring never needs acclimation. Unfortunately this is not the case. The high resin content of antique Longleaf pine diminishes the width changes driven by moisture fluctuations but does not eliminate them. Moisture concerns need to be addressed when using antique heart pine flooring just as with other wooden floors especially if the subfloor is concrete.Antique Wood Floor

Let’s start by listing a few observations
-Antique Wood floors, or any wood floors, are often installed over concrete subfloors.
-The majority of wood floor complaints are moisture related.
-Untreated concrete readily absorbs, conducts, and emits water.
The combination of concrete and wood flooring calls for planning before the installation begins to avoid problems during the lifetime of the floor.

One of the first questions might be ’is the concrete dry enough now?’ Moisture meters or testing water vapor emission from the surface of the concrete can indicate if the concrete is wet. In some cases these tests are not reliable indicators of conditions that will lead to a successful antique wood floor installation. Devices that measure the interior relative humidity within the concrete have been used in Europe for some time and are now often used here. If the moisture level is too high consider installing a vapor barrier or a penetrating sealer designed for use under antique wood flooring.

Concrete that is dry now may be exposed to water later. On-grade concrete can absorb water if exterior surface water accumulates or if the soil moisture levels increase. Once the water is introduced into concrete it travels to affect adjacent areas. If a vapor barrier was not installed the moisture can cause problems with an existing antique wood floor installation.

Non absorbing cushion such as closed cell foam is usually used under floating floors. Using porous padding material under floating floors introduces the possibility of retaining moisture if excess water is temporarily present.

Leaks from plumbing, appliances, roofs, or other building sources can result in wet wood floors. The National Wood Flooring Association suggests removing the water and drying a flooded floor promptly. For more details refer to the NWFA publication C200, ‘Problems Causes and Cures’. Some floors cannot be saved. If the concrete under the antique wood floor has been wet it is important to verify that it has dried out before replacing a floor.  Best wishes for a great longterm antique wood floor. Call if we can help with further questions.

Reclaimed Wood Floors, Concrete, and Water

In the antique wood floor industry we often hear the comment that reclaimed wood flooring never needs acclimation. Unfortunately this is not the case. The high resin content of antique Longleaf pine diminishes the width changes driven by moisture fluctuations but does not eliminate them. Moisture concerns need to be addressed when using heart pine wooden flooring just as with other wooden floors especially if the subfloor is concrete.
Let’s start by listing a few observations
-Wood floors are often installed over concrete subfloors.
-The majority of wood floor complaints are moisture related.
-Untreated concrete readily absorbs, conducts, and emits water.
The combination of concrete and wood flooring calls for planning before the installation begins to avoid problems during the lifetime of the floor.
One of the first questions might be ’is the concrete dry enough now?’ Moisture meters or testing water vapor emission from the surface of the concrete can indicate if the concrete is wet. In some cases these tests are not reliable indicators of conditions that will lead to a successful wood flooring installation. Devices that measure the interior relative humidity within the concrete have been used in Europe for some time and are now often used here. If the moisture level is too high consider installing a vapor barrier or a penetrating sealer designed for use under wood flooring.
Concrete that is dry now may be exposed to water later. On-grade concrete can absorb water if exterior surface water accumulates or if the soil moisture levels increase. Once the water is introduced into concrete it travels to affect adjacent areas. If a vapor barrier was not installed the moisture can cause problems with an existing wood floor installation.
Non absorbing cushion such as closed cell foam is usually used under floating floors. Using porous padding material under floating floors introduces the possibility of retaining moisture if excess water is temporarily present.
Leaks from plumbing, appliances, roofs, or other building sources can result in wet wood floors. The National Wood Flooring Association suggests removing the water and drying a flooded floor promptly. For more details refer to the NWFA publication C200, ‘Problems Causes and Cures’. Some floors can not be saved. If the concrete under the floor has been wet it is important to verify that it has dried out before replacing a floor.

Connecting with Clients Who Love Reclaimed Wood

Green building is about reclaimed wood flooring and using reclaimed materials. See this beautiful River Recovered Antique Heart Pine reclaimed wood floor in this restored Key West home.

The owner noted that he chose Goodwin because he felt that we cared more about what he wanted than ‘just selling a floor.’

Call us and tell us about your project.

Key West Restoration Features Reclaimed Wood Flooring

Goodwin Organizes Green Halloween in Gainesville Fl

Goodwin’s heart isn’t just in our pine. As a Board Member on the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Heart of Florida Chapter, Goodwin arranged for Green Halloween to join with Boo at the Zoo at Santa Fe College. Sustainable minded groups showcased their products (which included Goodwin’s antique reclaimed wood flooring) and services in one location for 4,500 kids of all ages. See the video or look at the photos on Flickr.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/goodwin-heart-pine/

Quick action can minimize the damage due to a water leak

We occasionally receive calls about water leaks on wood floors. Many times the floor can be saved if the water is removed quickly, and the floor is dried right away.  If the floor buckles or if some of the boards split you will face a more extensive repair.  Heat, air circulation, and dehumidification can all help the drying process. Commercial drying services can also be an option.  Do not sand a cupped floor flat if it is still wet.  Without aggressive measures some floors can take months to dry out.  Use a moisture meter to check the final drying.

Once the floor is dry, check to see if the fastening is still tight by looking for board movement. If the floor was very wet often permanent cracks between the boards will persist once the floor is dry.  Using fill or small slivers of wood glued into the gaps and refinishing may be an option.  Cupping may also be permanent, and can be sanded at this point if it is not too severe.

If you install a new floor it is very important that the subfloor and building components below the floor are well dried out before you start.  Installing new wood flooring over a source of moisture can damage the new flooring.

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Reclaimed Flooring Installation

ow that you have made the decision to install heart pine, you are ready to go. Some suggestions we feel might come in handy throughout the process are included in this section. Please click on any of the headings for useful information on everything from site preparation to sanding and finishing your new hardwood floor.

The subfloor: Your wood floor’s foundation

Nearly all squeaks and cracks can be directly traced to an inadequate subfloor. A sound subfloor is the crux of a sturdy floor. A plank subfloor should be at least 6″ wide boards installed diagonally to the joists. When installing a plywood subfloor, 3/4″ exterior grade is recommended if your finished flooring is 3/4″ thick. If wood flooring is installed over concrete, check for wetness by taping down a square yard of plastic for 72 hours to see if condensation forms. Once dry, you can install a joist system or just a grid of pressure-treated lumber (screed system) over the concrete. Align the edges with the joists for strength and stagger adjacent rows four feet. You can even cut the plywood into 4′ squares to create a smaller area over which each panel can move. Nail every six inches along each joist with 8D or larger nails. You can use adhesive before nailing to further reduce movement and possible squeaks.

If you choose to put in a sleeper (or screed) system over a concrete slab, dry pressure treated 2x4s are preferred. These should be 18″ to 4′ in length and staggered on centers with an air gap on all overlap joints. Lay them perpendicular to the direction of the finished flooring and secure them with T-nails staggered side-to-side 4” to 6” apart.

Leave expansion joints of at least 1/8 inch between each panel, section, or board of the subfloor. Research has shown that two or three years after the floor is installed the subfloor will measure 2-3% higher moisture content than the floor. The subfloor has less access to heating and air conditioning than the floor, and will expand slightly from the additional moisture.

Use a 6′ to 10′ straightedge to check the subfloor for high areas, and sand any high spot so the subfloor is as flat as possible. Next put down 30 pound felt paper carefully butt-edged, not overlapped. The felt reduces the chance of squeaks and helps circulation around the floorboards.

Humidity

First of all, heart pine, like any wood, is a natural product. It is made up of tiny cells, which take on or give off water with moisture in the air, and will therefore shrink or expand somewhat with changes in relative humidity. The humidity levels inside a building will vary with heating or air conditioning seasons. As the humidity varies the dimensions of floorboards and any wood products will also change slightly.

Relative humidity in the dwelling should be stabilized at 40-60 percent. Be sure the drywall and sub-floor of the house are dry prior to installation. If the newly installed floor absorbs moisture from its surroundings it will expand and compress, but it will not decompress to the full dimension once the site dries.

Here’s how to best preserve your wood floor and all fine wood:

  • Turn the thermostat to your typical setting about three weeks before the flooring is due to arrive with all outside doors and windows in place. This will help to stabilize humidity levels between 40% and 60%, and establish an ambient temperature of between 50 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s ideal to maintain these humidity and temperature conditions as much of the time as possible throughout the life of the building.
  • Some buildings may need a humidifier to maintain a healthy humidity level and prevent excess shrinking of the building materials.
  • Beware of leaving a house closed up with the air conditioning off during summer months when excess humidity may get trapped inside the house.
  • Season all concrete, mortar, and plaster areas a minimum of 60 days. You can check if concrete is dry by using a few drops of phenylthalene (available at most drugstores). Or you can use a vapor barrier test. Tape a 3’ x 3’ piece of 6 millimeter poly-film securely to the slab. Allow this barrier to remain secured for 72 hours, then remove and check for moisture under the film.
  • Check that crawl spaces are dry and well cross-ventilated. Even an old house can have moisture in the slab or water under the house. All that is required for these conditions to occur is for dirt to be piled up around the slab for landscaping or for the ground under the house to be lower than the ground around the house.
  • Direct rainfall or excessive moisture away from the structure with surface drainage. Good drainage is a 3″ or greater slope per every 10 feet. Build up the ground level under the house so that it is higher than ground level around the outside of the foundation of the foundation.
  • If you do have the potential for moisture intrusion from underneath the flooring, the treatment may be as simple as a layer of plastic taped under the building or between the slab and subfloor. Tape the plastic anywhere there are seams. Be sure not to pierce this vapor barrier with nails or staples when installing the floor.

There are many, many solutions to moisture intrusion depending on the type of construction and area of the country. For example, some of the oldest houses in southern Florida were built without any subfloor to provide maximum circulation for the floor. This is an extreme example and requires the best drainage and planning. We do not recommend it, but it serves to demonstrate the diversity of options that are available if you investigate the natural construction techniques for your location.

Acclimation

Ideal acclimation time is two to four weeks, with a seven to ten day minimum. Air temperature and humidity conditions that will exist throughout the life of the structure should be established well before the flooring arrives and left on during the entire acclimation time.

When delivering wood flooring to the site, do not unload in the rain, drizzle, snow, or extremely moist weather. While the wood is acclimating, it should be stacked so that air can circulate around each board. Use a good quality moisture meter to check your floor. Be sure the floor and subfloor are within 2% of each other’s moisture content at installation. The moisture content should be consistent board to board and section to section within 1-2%. If there is a variation of more than 2% in the moisture content of the more dense boards from the lighter boards, this is one sign that the floor may not be fully acclimated.

Moisture

Check moisture content with a high quality, accurate moisture meter. The floor should measure 8 to 14 percent in most conditions and the floor and subfloor should be no more than 2 percent difference at installation. However, the moisture content of the floor should match the relative humidity of the environment in which it will be installed. If your indoor living areas are outside the range of 8 to 14 percent, you may want to consider special measures: additional acclimation time, a vapor barrier, or perhaps a humidifier or dehumidifier.

Site Preparation

All concrete, plaster and mortar projects should be seasoned at least 60 days before delivery of flooring materials. Always test concrete for moisture regardless of how long it has been poured. Check basements and crawl spaces to be sure they have good cross-ventilation. Wood floors require 1 1/2 square feet of ventilation per 100 square feet of floor. Surface drainage should direct rainfall or excessive moisture away from the structure. Keep sprinklers from spraying on the house around wood floors.

Plan the Layout

Take time to plan the layout of your wood floor so that the last few boards don’t have to accommodate all of the difference for an out-of-square room. Maintain a 3/4″ gap around the edge of the room. Never “zero-fit” the floorboards to the room. The floor must be able to expand in all directions without any pressure.

You can often hide any differences in dimensions around the room gaps around the edges of the room. Or you may be able to hide a tapered floorboard under a counter or along a wall that is not immediately noticeable when you first walk into the room.

Consider any special treatments such as “framing” doorways, fireplaces, masonry, or other protrusions into the room with wider boards and decorative effects. You can turn decorative boards perpendicular to the floor, screw and peg them, and join them at the corners with a 45-degree angle instead of a butt joint.

Board Selection

Select several straight boards for the first and last few rows. Some boards are naturally more crooked than others, and you can pull them into place easily when working in the middle of the room. The simplest way to get a crooked board into place before nailing is to drive a screwdriver into the subfloor for leverage. However, it’s easier to work with a straight board while you’re pulling up near the wall.

Laying the Floor

Lay the floor perpendicular to the joists if possible. If you decide to lay it parallel to the joists you’ll need an especially strong subfloor. Small marks at the base of the wall help locate the joists during installation. Stagger flooring during installation so that the end joints are at least 4″ to 6″, or farther, apart in any direction.

It is not necessary to end-match heart pine. Oak is often end-matched because the average board is only 2-4′ long. A heart pine floor usually averages 6-10′ boards. There will be some shorter pieces, but these can be mixed in or used at the walls.

Many professionals suggest that installation begin in the middle of the room. Flooring expands in the direction of the tongue, so any movement as humidity levels change will be from the center out instead of across the entire width of the floor. Use a center spline between the two facing grooves of the center boards. Others suggest that you install from one wall to the other, left to right if you are right handed. All agree that power nailers are faster and diminish the chance of hammer marks on the floor.

Always maintain a 1/2″ to 3/4″ air gap around all walls or protrusions. The floor must be allowed to expand without any pressure. You can cover the gaps easily with base and matching shoe moulding. Base and shoe moulding is usually nailed to the wall instead of the floor. Leave room for a business card (a very slight air gap) to slide on top of the floor and under the moulding. Undercut doorjambs for flooring to slide under.