Ways To save Old Flooring
If you are attracted to the warmth and richness of antique wooden floors but are concerned about the damage that the demand for solid wood causes on sustainable forestry efforts, saving an old floor could be the perfect DIY project for your home. It is always worthwhile to try and restore an existing solid wood floor, rather than buying and laying down a brand new one. Apart from the obvious costs involved, the story and character that old wood provides is always a key part of any room that features it, and is something that cannot be replicated with new wood.
Claiming a small piece of history
Every strip of reclaimed wood has a story to tell, one that you can easily weave into your home. Saving and restoring old flooring is a far more environmentally friendly option – reclaiming the solid wood flooring from old domestic and public buildings has become big business, particularly as the concerns over deforestation and sustainable wood resources continue to rise.
Reclaimed flooring can come from almost anywhere, except certain industrial sites where contaminants or toxic chemicals may have been used, and can include:
- Public buildings such as village halls and community centres
- Storm-damaged trees
- Small industrial units
Buying reclaimed wood
Of course you have to know where the wood is coming from as it may have been sitting outside in a salvage yard, absorbing rain, insects and fungus, none of which you want to invite into your home. Buying from a reputable salvage company or second-hand timber merchant will ensure the wood has been de-nailed, properly dried, treated for pests and generally cared for. It should also prevent against historic practices such as the use of creosote or lead paint.
Floorsave’s guide on saving wood floors highlights some of the ways that solid wood flooring can get damaged and how over the years antique wood has been the victim of a brutal campaign of attacks with Victorian pitch pine parquet and Georgian oak typically being subjected to the vagaries of changing domestic fashions and demand. Many insignificant-seeming things can significantly damage flooring, such as cleaning it with the wrong products or mopping with too much water.
In general try to avoid:
- Heavy varnishing
- Wood staining
- Harsh cleaning chemicals
- Water damage from soaked-in spills
- Pets’ claws
- Untreated insect infestations
- Cleaning damage
Off with the old
When you really scrutinise an old solid wood floor, it is striking just how dirty it really is. Antique flooring will usually have a natural sheen generated by years of wear called a patina but this can be covered with years of ground-on dust and grime, as well as inches of varnish, that hides the true colour of the wood beneath.
Sand another thing
It’s often a knee-jerk reaction to sand the life out of an old floor – sometimes just a light sanding will be enough. Try sanding a small corner of the floor to gauge how much you think will be needed; it’s heartbreaking to find a floor that’s been sanded to the point of near destruction. Any oils or waxes will need to be reapplied so that the floor is protected from surface damage and footfall.
Polishing your project off
Always use the correct cleaning products and polish on a timber floor. There are loads of wood polishes on the market but most will not suit an antique wood floor so make sure you choose the right one for your wood type. Understanding what you are applying is key to getting the results you want. A good varnish, properly applied, will protect the wood for years and prevent dirt, grease and water from penetrating the wood. They also come in varieties of finishes including matt and gloss.
Getting out what you put in
Using cheaper, modern lacquers and polyurethane varnishes can give the wood an orangey colour, which doesn’t suit antique wood floors and should be avoided. Some varnishes can also have a high gloss content which can yellow the wood, so it’s really worth taking the time to research the right product for you. When first applied, especially to bare wood, it is often best to thin a varnish down and make sure you let it dry overnight before continuing.
Treating damaged areas
Heat and moisture are not the friends of wooden flooring and ‘cupping’ occurs when the wood gets too dry or too wet and starts to bend at the ends or edges. It is caused when the ambient humidity is different on top from below, usually caused by damp from a faulty damp course, leak, or inadequate drying of the concrete sub-floor. People usually attack this problem by just sanding out the warped ends without actually addressing the damp problem. This obviously doesn’t fix the long-term problem and often leads to new issues.
If you are unsure about how to correctly treat your floors, always seek professional advice. There are some really good experts out there who regularly post great blogs and guides on how to save old flooring, so keep an eye on what they have to say.