Floored

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After installing the windows, and patching and painting most of the walls and cieling, I was ready to put down the new floor.

I’d considered milled hardwood and laminate. The milled hardwood was going to run me about $5 to $6 a square foot not counting the varnish or oil finish. Laminate on the other hand was much cheaper: in a range from around $2 to $5 per square foot. After looking at numerous patterns and manufacturers, I couldn’t get around my prejudice towards the fake woodgrain in the laminate flooring. This was entirely in my head, because at a distance of a foot or more, you could never tell the difference between the better laminates and actual hardwood. I ended up kind of splitting the difference, going with engineered hardwood, which uses a real hardwood verneer glued to a laminate tongue-in-groove base, plus it’s prefinished, so no sanding and varnishing. It’s a little thinner than milled tongue-in-groove flooring, but installs in a similar fashion. And my materials costs ran about $3 per square foot.

Before pulling up the old carpet

Here I am beginning to pull away the old and smelly carpeting. I found lots of newspapers from the late-’40s beneath the padding, indicating that the carpet was probably 60 years old! It was in great condition considering. The newspapers were in good shape, too. I saved them for a later project.

Carpet gone. Get this sheetrock out of my way.

Carpet and pad all gone. I considered refinishing the rough plank floor in a clear coat or white for a rustic look, but there were too many cuts and scars from the original house. Also, the floor was very uneven. I had to put an additional floor jack in the basement and move the existing supports around to get it a little straighter. It’s a very solid floor, but there was a little sag in the center where a staircase had once been. The drywall in the photo is for the second story.

Putting down the luan subflooring

I put down a luaun subflooring. Luaun is a laminated sheet of wood from the Philippines. I don’t know a lot about it, but it’s so much smoother than thin plywood, and cheaper. Similar in strength, the outside verneer is actually attractive enough that it would work great as a finishing material.

Luan finished. Changed the door into a window.

Subfloor down. This view shows the new windows. The center window used to be the front door (see first image.) I’ll explain the reasoning behind that change in the window and siding sections.

Letting wood breath. Starting to put down floor.

You have to let the flooring aclimate to the temperature and humidity of the room for a day or two prior to installing. On top of the luaun goes a rosin paper. This stuff mostly prevents squeeks by giving a friction barrier between the wood.

Nearly done.

Corner to corner. I chose to put the flooring in at a 45-degree angle. In a house this old, almost nothing is square. Measurements showed a more-than-4″ discrepancy between the east and west walls. Angled flooring hides those imperfections better. Also, from the location of the new “front” door — which is actually in the back of the house — the long line made the room seem even larger.

Old furniture on new floor.

Done with this story. I screwed some things up that only I will ever notice, but overall it came out well. The lesson that I took from the experience is that I probably will never do engineered hardwood again. It’s a pain in the ass to install and I think I would’ve been just as happy with the cheaper laminate — which literally snaps together. A blind monkey could install the laminate, and after days of hunching over a floor nailer, I find that appealing. Also, the laminate finish is tougher. It’s easier to gouge and dent hardwood and engineered hardwood. If only the laminate came in a pattern other than fake wood.

ADDENDUM

Recently installed a laminate floor on a condo in Columbus, OH. Used a discontinued pattern from a clearance supplier and the total cost of the flooring came to about a dollar a square foot. The laminate was a medium-grade with attached backing and was pretty easy to install. Did the whole condo, every room including closets, in about two days. Very little waste. One thing to note, the dust from this particular laminate was much finer than the sawdust created by solid or engineered hardwood. In all cases, I wear a respirator when working with this stuff.

Here’s a shot of how the living room came out.