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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.

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.

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.

Choosing a wood floor professional -2

Part 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.

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.

Be Aware of Water in Concrete

Wood Floors are Beautiful in the Bedroom TooWhen a client’s water heater flooded their Goodwin Heart Pine engineered wood floor the insurance company called in a restoration contractor. The contractor pulled up half the floor to the point where they said the water had gone in the concrete. After three days of dehumidification they declared the concrete dry.

Following the National Wood Floor Association’s procedure we used a concrete meter that requires drilling a small hole 40% of the depth of the slab. The meter readings were much higher than recommended to install a wood floor over concrete.

We pulled up the remainder of the floor so that the entire slab could be dried. And we provided the restoration contractor with the meter readings and a study on water movement through concrete. Fortunately, they agreed to bring back the dehumidification system and get the slab to the proper moisture content.

Wood floors are not rocket science; however, they do demand a scientific approach to water and subfloors of all types. Call if you would like us to send you the research paper on how to properly test concrete for moisture content.

Best wishes for great wood floors all the time for the longterm.

Love Reclaimed Wood

Reclaimed Heart Cypress Log Wood Slabs

Norm and George Looking at 1,700 Year Old Heart Cypress Log

I was looking across the breakfast table at George Goodwin this morning in his faded pink New Yankee Workshop sweat shirt that must be 25 years old by now and couldn’t help but smile. It’s great to have so many wonderful memories; sawing up that big ‘ol river recovered heart cypress log with Norm watching, cleaning reclaimed wood floors for the filming and then visiting the same client’s years later and hearing them say ‘I love, love, love my antique flooring from Goodwin. We are so very lucky.

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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Old Growth’s Meaning

By Kathy Fleming

Hardwood Floors Magazine

Ask most people how old a piece of furniture must be to be considered a true antique and most will know the answer. At least 100 years old.

Ask most car buffs how old an automobile must be to be considered a classic and they too will know the answer. At least 25 years old.

If only it were that simple with antique wood floors.

It was…once upon a time. Whenever the terms old-growth, original-growth and antique were bandied about, the vast majority of us unconsciously agreed that meant o-l-d. Very old. We knew we were discussing trees from America’s first forests and wood that provided denser, superior lumber.

None of us really needed an exact definition. It was mainly the foresters and scientists who investigated the topic. The customers of specialty antique flooring manufacturers knew what they wanted and would never have thought to ask for the definition of the “old-growth” wood they were buying. And vast majority of the time, they got wood floors that truly were very o-l-d.

But today, as antique floors become trendy, the marketplace is buzzing with more choices, sizzling copywriting and fuzzy terms…making it harder for consumers and flooring pros to understand the distinctions. While “original-growth” and “antique” seem to be retaining their true meaning, the term “old-growth” in particular is becoming ambiguous.

What difference does it make, you may ask. First of all, anyone ordering this kind of floor is expecting a certain look and quality, and that’s what they should get. They are expecting to live with that floor for generations. And you just can’t fake an antique floor. The wood is denser, tighter-grained, stronger and unusual. It’s a bit like the new Thunderbirds. They are cool cars, but any enthusiast with a 1963 in the garage is going to speak at length on the differences. He will never be totally satisfied with the new model.

It also matters from an historical standpoint. Consumers who specify this wood also tend to value nature, history and Americana. If they have gone to the trouble to understand, research and select an old-growth wood, that’s the floor they deserve.

The need to keep the terms—and the standards—straight have sent several manufacturers into the deep recesses of scientific literature. One of them, Carol Goodwin of Goodwin Heart Pine, one of the leading manufacturers of antique heart pine and heart cypress flooring, has a thick file of research to support clear cut terminology.

She and her colleagues share a wealth of information with each other, including this from a 1993 science conference: “Old-growth forests are those at least 200 years old and older. Most remaining old-growth forests are on federal lands. Nearly 90 percent of the region’s old-growth forests already have been logged. An estimated 8 to 9 million acres of old-growth forests remain today.”

Another study is from the 1989 National Old-Growth Task Group, which determined that “old-growth forests are ecosystems distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes. Old-growth encompasses the later stages of stand development that typically differ from earlier stages in a variety of characteristics which may include tree size, accumulations of large dead woody material, number of canopy layers, species composition and ecosystem function.”

Perhaps the most straight-forward definition comes from the USDA Forest Service, which said the approximate age at which old-growth features begin to appear is about one-half the maximum age of the predominant tree species.

No doubt, it’s a complicated subject that varies by species. In the case of longleaf pine, which can live 500 years of longer, foresters agree it takes at least 200 years for the tree to become mostly heartwood and be considered old-growth. They call any longleaf pine less than 200 years old “new heart pine.” Yet, there are heart pine flooring products on the market today that are about 75-90 years old and are called “old-growth.”

Another Forest Service report recommends that most stands with Virginia pine, loblolly, pitch pines and shortleaf pines that exceed 100 to 125 years with little human disturbance can be considered in the early stages of old-growth.

So, as always in a free market system, the buyer must be aware. Ask how old the trees were when harvested and ask about the color, the heart content, and the tightness of growth rings. And if someone tells you they are cutting down old-growth trees for flooring, that’s a problem. If these stately old gems aren’t protected, they should be.

After all, buying an antique floor isn’t so different from buying antique furniture. Antique lovers know what to look for when shopping. An authentic 1710 antique sideboard will bring them many more years of blissful enjoyment than a good reproduction. To them, it’s just not the same thing.