FLOORS: Getting a Room Ready for a New Wood Floor
Laying a new wood floor is often easier and less time-consuming than laying many of the so-called quick and easy floor coverings of synthetic sheet or tile. Wood, unlike most resilient materials, does not require a smooth, carefully prepared surface. In most cases, you use the existing floor or a plywood subfloor covered with strips of asphalt-saturated building paper. A new subfloor is probably unnecessary if you have old wood or resilient flooring in reasonably good shape. In this case, drive down raised nails, renail loose boards and replace badly warped ones, and cement down loose tiles or torn sheeting.
If you suspect that the old floor may conceal damage or decay, check underneath it. Remove damaged flooring and subflooring and patch the hole with plywood equal to the thickness of the old finished floor. If the damage is extensive, remove the entire floor, check for and repair any structural damage; then lay a new plywood subfloor. Before trying to floor over concrete, check for excess dampness by laying a 16-inch square of heavy plastic over the slab and sealing the edges with tape. If drops of water have condensed on the plastic after several days, the concrete is a poor choice for a finished wood floor.
If the concrete is suitable, provide a moisture barrier for the new floor by covering the concrete slab with polyethylene film sandwiched between two layers of 1-by-2 sleepers. Then lay a plywood subfloor on the sleepers.
A ceramic-tile floor makes an unstable base for a new wood floor. Nailing tongue-and-groove flooring on top of ceramic tiles will loosen and crack the tiles -- even if they are covered with plywood. Remove old tiles and install a new subfloor before you lay the strip flooring.
To install a new subfloor or replace a damaged old one, use C-D grade plywood at least 5/8 inch thick. Check the joists underneath before laying subflooring, and if they are more than 16 inches apart, or are made of lumber smaller than 2-by-8, reinforce them, or install new joists in the spaces between the old ones. In rooms such as attics, where small joists may cover long spans, it may be necessary to increase the thickness of the plywood subfloor to 3/4 inch.
Always lay plywood subflooring with the outer grain perpendicular to the joists, and stagger the sheets so that the joints do not align. Where two sheets meet at a joist, trim them so that there is a bearing surface for both, and leave 1/8-inch spaces at the sides and 1/16-inch spaces at the ends to allow room for expansion of the subfloor.
Floating a Floor to Reduce Noise
Uncarpeted wood floors upstairs are noisy. The best way to muffle the sounds of footsteps is to lay carpeting, but for excessively noisy areas, you can adapt the "floating floor" techniques that were developed to soundproof apartment buildings.
To construct a floating floor, staple 1/2-inch insulation board, available from lumberyards in 4-by-8 sheets, to the existing floor or subfloor. Mark the position of the joists on each sheet and do not staple into any joists. Glue 1-by-3 furring strips to the board with subfloor construction adhesive, placing the strips parallel to one another between joists. Then fasten a 1/2-inch plywood subfloor to the furring strips and install the finish flooring. You can further muffle airborne noise by laying insulating batts between the open floor joists underneath the subfloor.
Installing a Wood Floor Board by Board
A floor of oak strip boards -- or of the less common hardwoods, such as maple, pecan, hickory and ash, that can be found at specialty lumberyards -- is durable and elegant in appearance, yet remarkably simple to install. And with the aid of a power nailer, available at tool-rental agencies, the job goes fast.
Flooring boards that are of conventional hardwood are 3/4 inch thick and 2 to 4 inches wide. The boards are milled with interlocking tongues and grooves on their sides and ends, and can be blind-nailed through their tongues, a technique that makes the joints between boards uniform and hides the nailheads. Broader hardwood planks, which may be as wide as 8 inches, must be screwed into the subfloor as well as blind-nailed to keep them from buckling.
Before they are nailed in place, floorboards are extremely susceptible to warping and swelling caused by moisture. Bring your home to its normal humidity before the wood is delivered: In winter, heat the room adequately, and in summer keep the air conditioner running. Insist that hardwood flooring be delivered on a dry day, at least three days before you plan to lay your floor. Untie the bundles and stack the boards in loose piles to let them adjust to the humidity and temperature of the room.
When laying the floor, you will have to nail the first few boards by hand before you will have room to use the power nailer for the rest of the floor. The nailer, which consists of a spring-operated mechanism that drives barbed flooring cleats, is triggered by the blows from a rubber-headed mallet. The cleats feed into the nailer like bullets from the clip in an automatic rifle: Each blow of the mallet drives home a cleat and simultaneously reloads and cocks the machine. To get the knack of working with the nailer before you use it, practice on a scrap of flooring set atop some spare plywood.
How to Buy Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood flooring -- no matter what the wood -- is graded according to the standards that are set by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association. The boards are rated in order of decreasing quality as "clear," "select," "No. 1 common" or "No. 2 common," depending on color, grain and imperfections such as knots and streaks.
All strip flooring is sold in random lengths. Individual boards range from 9 to 102 inches long, but the boards are always sold according to a "flooring board foot" formula, based on the premilled size of the boards. To determine the amount of flooring you will need, calculate the area of your room in square feet. If you are buying 3/4-by-2 1/4-inch boards, the most common size, increase the area measurement by 38.3 percent to convert to flooring board feet and to account for wastage. For example, a 16-by-20-foot room totals 320 square feet. Multiplying 320 by 1.383 gives 443 flooring board feet. For boards of other dimensions, ask your flooring distributor for the proper conversion factor.
Eye-Catching Patterns in Sheet and Tile
For centuries, the most common flooring materials in North America were wood planks, rough stones or dirt. Synthetics and modern industry changed all that. In 1863 a Briton named Frederick Walton invented a new kind of flooring -- linoleum, made by mixing linseed oil, ground-up cork and natural resins. It was inexpensive, impervious to most spills and colorfully decorated with built-in patterns, and its popularity inspired the development of other manmade resilient flooring materials.
As a result, when installing a new floor today, you can select the material best suited to the demands of a particular room. Durability and economy of upkeep can govern the choice for a workroom while appearance and comfort determine what will go underfoot in a living room or den. Although wood is still the most versatile material, synthetic floorings are the most popular for kitchens and playrooms. These floorings are called resilient because they cushion the impact of feet or dropped objects. They come either as tiles that can be installed in a variety of designs, or in rolled sheets that can be cut to fit irregularly shaped rooms.
Resilient tiles, generally 9 or 12 inches square, lend themselves to imaginative design and are available in a variety of materials. Wood tile, often called parquet, is installed in much the same way as resilient tile and also