March 9, 2012

Old Kitchen Floor: Problems & Preps

When we bought our house, the kitchen floor was ceramic tile. (Photos of original kitchen here.) Though this appealed to me when I first read the real estate ad, it turned out to be old, grungy, and cracked. It had to go and here's what we found underneath...

The original kitchen floor, 92 year old hardwood
The scoring was where the ceramic tiles used to be.

The original floor is oak tongue and groove, which has obviously seen better days. Besides the ceramic tiles, it has sported several different layers of linoleum over the years, of which there are still remnants.

Even though it's hardwood, it is not a candidate for refinishing like we did in the living room. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, it's the only floor, i.e. there is no subfloor. There's just this. Then too, over the years the boards have shrunk, so there are huge cracks between most.

Cracks between the floor boards. They're everywhere

Of course they're impossible to keep clean, but also, with no subfloor, there's no sense that this is, or ever could be airtight.

Other problems? Over the years some of the boards have sunk,


or buckled,


It's no wonder the ceramic tiles were so badly cracked.

Another big problems is dips, as in the floor sinks in some spots. This is likely because the joists were built on 24 inch centers. More conventionally, floor joists are spaced 16 inches part, measuring from the center of one joist to the next. That extra 8 inches in our joists means more bounce in the floor, and a greater potential for dips. In fact the worst one (which I tried to photograph but couldn't catch the "dip") is spans a width of 24 and is about 3 feet long. It is right between two floor joists in front of the pantry hallway. This is a high traffic area and so will have to be dealt with.

Not unsurprisingly, the floor also slopes. Some places it's only a quarter of an inch, other places, 3/4.


It is a 92 year old house after all and really, this isn't as bad as some floors we've seen.

Here's another construction oddity


What are we looking at? An exposed floor beam (in this case 2, 2x10s, true 2x10s mind you). We discovered this when we pulled up the old ceramic tile. This is where a wall used to be, which was later torn down to enlarge the kitchen. In modern construction, the subfloor is put down first, and walls are built on top of that. When this home was built, the walls were built first and the floor added afterward. When this wall was torn down by previous owners to enlarge the kitchen, it exposed the floor beam. Filler was added when the ceramic tiles were installed. We will also have to fill it in before we put down our new floor.

Options? We discussed several. One would be to tear the entire old floor out and install a new plywood subfloor. The subfloor could be leveled and this would take care of the buckles and dips. Dan did do this in fact, in two places: when he repaired the rotted rim joist under the kitchen window, and when he installed the floor protector for the wood cookstove. What he discovered in doing these is that not all the joists and beams are the same size. They have sunk, shrunk, or twisted over the years so that it would be impossible to simply put a piece of plywood over the top to level the floor.

The other option would be to use the old floor as a subfloor, put down a vapor barrier, and shim as we go to level the new floor. Though we may have second thoughts later, this is option was one reason we got a 9 inch plank floor.

At the moment I am scraping old tile mortar and linoleum adhesive, and then Dan will work on the uneven spots to smooth out the floor. He'll start by renting a drum sander to knock out some of those ridges, and then we'll go from there. It's going to be a huge job however we do it, so here's hoping it all goes well.

Next: sanding out an irregular floor



22 comments:

Suburban Gardeness said...

I did a similar job last year. A 100 year old wood floor with all kinds of dips in it including some patchwork from when wires and pipes were rerun. So I did lots of research into leveling old floors vs. replacing the whole thing. I found somewhere on the internet a method that I used and worked really well. First I sanded down a few high spots. Then I used roofing shingles staggered in the low spots to gradually fill the dips. On top of that I used 1/2 plywood screwed down to the boards below (screws are better, nails may squeak later). I then put my new hardwood on top of that. I can't say that the floor is completely level but it looks fantastic cosidering.

The Stay @ Home-Gardener said...

Horrible pain in the backside for leveling. Poor guys.

Jackie said...

We have tried a couple of solutions in our century stone farmhouse. The ground floor is hemlock planking laid straight onto tree trunk beams, yes really, still with bark on! The floor is far from level anywhere with huge gaps looking straight down into the basement. We screwed down 3/4" ply over everything to start with. In the kitchen we first tried commercial grade laminate flooring, looks great but what a nightmare to lay, even though the ply has evened the floor somewhat, it is still far from level. In the rest of the ground floor we have put vinyl laminate, it looks very good, is waterproof, easy to lay and copes with the extremely wobbly floors with ease. It has a tendency to buckle in sunny spots, but apart from that I would recommend it to anyone with iffy floors.

dr momi said...

I my back hurts just thinking about all that work :-)

Carolyn Renee said...

Looking forward to what you guys do as we have the same problem (although not due to an older home, but a shoddy owner-built home).

Good luck!

icebear said...

my house is 106, so i feel your pain!

Sunnybrook Farm said...

Our floor had linoleum stuck down with tar like glue on hardwood so we are going to scrape it and put down new tongue and groove maple that I got at a sawmill. The rest of the house is so crooked that it looks like a drunk sailor built it before he got his land legs but the oldest part is from the late 1700s so it is to be expected. I know what hard work you are doing though!

Ngo Family Farm said...

Ay yi yi! That sounds like some serious work. It will be so wonderful when you have it finished, though :)
-Jaime

Anonymous said...

Why not just tear it out and put in a proper subfloor? Then it would be even and you could put tile or anything on it? Trying to even out an old floor is a bit like trying to flatten a mountain.

Leigh said...

Suburban Gardeness, funny but Dan just saw something today about that technique, I think on YouTube. That's good confirmation that it works!

Stay @ Home-Gardener, tell me about it!

Jackie, good grief your original floor sounds worse than ours. Sounds like you did an excellent job on it though. I only hope we're as pleased with ours when we're done

Dr. Momi, actually, the thinking is the worst part!!!

Carolyn, well, we've got some old combined with some shoddy. Too bad folks don't think what it will be like a few years or so down the road!

Icebear, then you know what we're going through!

Sunnybrook Farm, that's what it was like in our dining room. On our kitchen floor, they scraped off most of the tar to put down the ceramic tile, but they mortared that right to the wood! Sadly, the floor was too wonky for the tiles to remain stable over the years.

Old houses are really amazing. How do you like living in such a house? :)

Jaime, oh my yes. And we will be so glad to have it done!

Anonymous, well, like I said in the post, the floor joists are the problem there. They aren't the same size / height and some are twisted so that there would be no way to make a subfloor flat and level. We'd have to tear out all the floor joists as well and rebuild. Structurally, that just isn't going to happen. :)

Sherri B. said...

I'm looking forward to seeing how you work out the floor..the floor at the Little House is like that in certain spots and I thought we would just have to live with it. - Have a great weekend. xo

Renee Nefe said...

well I guess the silver lining is that your new floor will be air tight and hopefully save you some money on heating & cooling?

hummm maybe I don't want an old historical cabin. ;o)

The Mom said...

I lived in a similar house many years ago. The cross bean holding up the living room floor would come loose and we would have to knock it back into place.
It will be gorgeous when you're done.

Clint Baker said...

What a wonderful find. Lots of back breaking work but well worth it!

Mama Pea said...

Once again, I have to say you and Dan deserve so much credit for the work you're willing to put into your place. Your house is going to be lovely and, believe it or not, these first few years of living in the midst of construction will be a dim memory someday. But I hope you keep the pride in what you've accomplished forever!

Leigh said...

Sherri, I'll share as we go along. Even if it doesn't work, you can benefit from our mistakes! If it's a success, so much the better. :)

Renee, that's very true. For one thing there is air seepage from the crawlspace, along with humidity and smells. But! Your cabin may not be so bad. :)

Heather, I can relate! Shrinkage over the years takes its toll.

Clint, hopefully!

Mama Pea, I sure do hope so. The trade-off of course, is having a lower mortgage payment, though sometimes we would trade that for the time to do other things! At least most of this is a one time expense. And, we'll get the house the way we want it. :)

Crustyrusty said...

Ah, the joys of buying a house that was built before standardized building practices went into effect... BTDTGTTS

Stephanie said...

I know this is an oxymoron in home repairs, but here's praying it goes more smoothly than you anticipate:)

Foy Update said...

What fun! I love seeing what you are up to. As of yesterday our offer was accepted on a turn of the century Victorian cottage and I'm sure we'll be headed down some of these same roads!

Whiffletree Farm said...

The original kitchen floor in your house sounds like a hack job to me!! My house was built in 1785 and the floors were put down first with the walls on top of them. I am sure that's standard construction procedure, not just modern. You are a trooper to deal with the mistakes of someone else so well!

Leigh said...

Crustyrusty, ain't that the truth.

Stephanie, ha! (Prayers appreciated)

Foy, congratulations on your new cottage! What fun. It's work to repair, restore, & update; but it's rewarding too.

Whiffletree, I wish I had a $ for every time Dan has wondered about the idiot who built this house, There are sooo many things oddly done. Of course, who knows what they're getting into at first inspection?!?!?!?!

twebsterarmstrong said...

I am enjoying these comments. We have a ca. 1887 farmhouse which sports bowed hardwood floors, and an uneven kitchen (vinyl of what decade?)

We are OK w/ the hardwood floors, but the kitchen flooring needs to be re-done. And so I look forward to the next chapter on this subject.

I enjoy your blog.