If you've recently purchased and renovated a historic home, you may have been pleasantly surprised to discover that beneath decades-old carpet or linoleum lay well-preserved hardwood floors. However, even the most meticulously protected hardwood floors may need some touching up after centuries of use and environmental exposure. When (and how) should you refinish hardwood floors, and when may replacement be in order? Read on to learn more about the factors you'll want to consider when making this important investment in your hardwood floors' appearance and function.
Are there any local zoning laws or building codes that affect what you do with your floors?
If you own a home in a historic district, you may need to check with your state's registry of historic homes or local district or zoning board before making any major changes to your floors. Some of these historic boards may have strict rules on the types of replacement flooring you'll be able to install or could even dictate that you get an estimate on the cost to refinish your floors before pursuing replacement. Violating these rules and restrictions, even inadvertently, could subject you to fines and penalties or require you to redo (or undo) work already performed. By doing a bit of research into your area's historic home regulations before taking action, you'll avoid any delay in your flooring project as well as any extra costs.
When is refinishing the better option for your floors?
Once you've investigated the permits needed and any restrictions in place, you'll likely want to evaluate the potential benefits of refinishing your floors. This process involves gently sanding and polishing the top layers of your wood floors, removing any imperfections caused by years of exposure to the elements. Once this damaged wood is stripped away, the floors will be treated with a protective glaze or stain and should look as good as (or even better than) the date they were installed.
Modern hardwood flooring is often "engineered" -- either designed with a relatively thin veneer of solid wood atop a particleboard base or made by mixing together hardwood fibers and polymers into a strong, scratch-resistant surface. Refinishing engineered hardwood can be challenging, especially if these floors are damaged enough that removing all the problems can eat into the "wear layer" enough to expose the particleboard underneath. However, solid hardwood flooring boards have a much thicker wear layer and can be refinished multiple times without compromising their structure or strength.
When should you investigate replacement instead?
In some cases, a portion (or all) of your floors may be so damaged that refinishing alone won't be enough to give you the form and function you're seeking. If this is the case, you may want to consider having some of your flooring boards removed and replaced entirely. Depending on how your floor was originally installed (as a "floating floor" or nailed into the subflooring), you may need to temporarily remove a significant portion of your floorboards to access and replace the damaged section of flooring. You'll likely need to enlist the services of a professional flooring specialist to help you match the color, texture, and wear of your boards.
Many homeowners have been able to keep the historic charm of their original wood floors while replacing half or more of the flooring boards by having the entire floor removed and any intact original boards feathered in with reclaimed or hand-scraped solid hardwood panels. Because it's often hard to perfectly match floors that are hundreds of years old, the feathering approach allows for a consistent appearance throughout your home and won't give the look of a floor that has been patched or only partially replaced.
For more information, contact a local hardwood floor refinishing or installation company.