Tommy’s Tips: Flooring

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We are approaching the end of summer, with autumn just around the corner, so I thought I would talk about flooring, and some of the do’s and don’ts with the change of weather soon to be upon us! Why, will soon be apparent!

It seems one of our favourite features in a period home is to have the old floorboards sanded and varnished, or painted! Here are some of the issues that need to be considered, before going down that route! Timber shrinks and may distort over time, hence the gaps between the boards when uncovered.  This is not such a major problem on upper and unvented floors, but on the ground floor where most livings rooms are located, having the icy winds of winter blasting through freezing the socks off of everyone whilst they are watching the television is not a very pleasant experience! Plus for whoever does the cleaning get ready with the “Mr Sheen” because you’ll be constantly cleaning the dust blown up through gaps in the floor!

There is also the issue of the uncaring plumber, or electrician, who may have indiscriminately sliced up, or even butchered your “period pine dream”!  There is really only one way to do the “job properly” however here are some useful “fix it tips!”  You must not replace damaged boards with brand new, as they will stand out like a sore thumb, probably be a different thickness and width, and will shrink quite unbelievably, and the colour will never ever match!  So the tip is; to lift the required amount of replacement boards from other rooms within the home, which will be covered with carpets, these you can use to replace damaged boards that you want to sand and vanish, they will match perfectly in size and colour, and you can fix the new boards, to replace the ones under the carpet’s, because they won’t be seen.  If you want to close off or block out the gaps between the existing boards, again using boards from somewhere else in the home, have them cut into lengths of wedge shaped strips, add wood glue and tap into place between the boards with a hammer and wooden block, when the glue has gone off, with a little block plane, plane off the excess wedge and sand the floor.  You will find the gaps simply disappear, and the floor colour stays uniform!  When sanding, finish with a fine grade sand paper, then vacuum all the dust and debris (I use my Karcher DIY vacuum cleaner, which you can plug the sander into, so you suck up the dust at the same time as sanding!) There are essentially two main types of floor lacquer; spirit, or water based (spirit based gives a harder finish, water based is easier to use and more eco-friendly!) 

Alternative Method (proper way!)

To do the whole job properly the skirting must be carefully removed and stored to one side for re fixing! All the floor boards have to be carefully lifted and stored in the dry (if in the garden, store flat, off the ground and covered with plastic sheeting)  check the condition and levels of the floor joist, replace damaged or rotten joists, and apply a suitable five star timber treatment to protect them. Ensure the joists are level, packing up or down to a string line stretched across all the joists. I then fix pressure treated roofing batten to the lower sides of each joist, then cut up sheets of blown polyurethane insulation into suitable lengths to squeeze between the joists, and sit on the battens (I normally use 100mm or 4inch insulation which allows an air gap of an inch or so between the floor boards and insulation.  At this point I would advise anyone to use a tongue and grooved hard wood floor board like oak, preferably engineered which is more stable and environmentally friendlier than solid hard wood.  The wider the board the more beautiful the floor (and the more expensive!)  If you want to be a show off you could include borders and inlays in a different type hardwood! 

Hardwood for floors is far more suitable than soft wood; apart from how it looks, it is far more durable!  If however you still want to use the old pine boards, carefully examine them and remove any broken nails, screws, or old carpet tacks/staples (try using a strong magnet to locate them!) Once de-nailed, any splits can be glued and clamped, or pieced in using a donor board from elsewhere in the house, then sand them individually, on a bench or table, first with a medium, then a fine sand paper.  If you want to make a real ace job of it, avoiding any waste, cut a groove all around the board with a router and use “loose tongue’s” (which are narrow strips of birch faced ply cut to match the groove) Old boards are normally fixed through the face with flooring brads (that’s cut nails) and are visible, where as hardwood T&G flooring is “secret nailed” through the tongue and not seen!

Importantly when fixing any timber flooring, always leave a clear 10 to 15mm gap all around, between floor and walls (allows expansion and contraction)  The gap will be covered by the re-fixed/new skirting’s, which should have a 2 to 3m gap between the new floor and skirting’s. (Use 2 or 3m packers underneath skirting’s when fixing, and remove them when fixing is complete) Apply a neat mastic seam all around between skirting and flooring to complete the job!

Installing a new or renovated floor properly will be the perfect face-lift for you home,  and makes your home so warm, it will feel like under floor heating, without the heating bills, whilst allowing the necessary air–flow to continue under the floor keeping it dry and fungus free!

PS Important note: NEVER cover air bricks/vents, and keep exterior floor or ground levels at least 100mm (4ins) below air vents to avoid rising damp and rotting floors!

Tommy Walsh

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