Hideous Floor in That New House? No Need to Rip it Out: Float a Better One Right on Top
When the tenant of the house we just bought finally moved out, we got a look—for the first time—at the wood floors under the carpet. Hard wood, promised the seller. And I guess they were, at one point...some point long ago in history. Since then, they’ve been tarred, layered over with linoleum, layered over that with glue, stapled with plywood, and covered in laminate. Over that went the carpet. Getting down to the wood, we nearly broke every tool we have (we’ve since made many runs to Home Depot), including our fingernails. We found the bottom layer destroyed, huge sections of the promised wood missing, stuffed with sawdust or just gaping open like the portal to hell.
First lesson of this blog then: if you’re thinking of buying a house and want to know what’s under the carpet, check. In our case, we didn’t, because tenants were living there, and we felt weird ripping the carpet aside as they sat on their couch, glaring at us. But we should have done it anyway. Even if we’d destroyed the whole carpet and decided not to buy the house, we’d have spent less re-carpeting for those tenants than we’re going to spend installing new floors.
On the upside, the other lessons of this blog are more positive, because flooring is really quite exciting these days. You can choose from a variety of textiles: cork, bamboo and, marmoleum are the three I’m most interested in for their eco-friendly, economical beauty. Best of all, these products can be floated over the existing floor (marmoleum needs a level surface, however, to be floated). That means we won’t have to learn how to install a sub-floor or pay for one in getting our home livable-- and maybe, hopefully, kind of beautiful.
How a Floating Floor Works
After a visit from the very kind, very capable folks at Portland’s EcoFloors, we learned that for floors like ours, floating the new floor over the existing floor is the best option.
To float the floor, the installer can either glue down or snap together via tongue and groove panels or tiles of the new floor. Cork, bamboo, and marmoleum all offer options for this process (check out my recent blog on cork and bamboo for more about these textiles); hardwoods and traditional tiles, on the other hand, can’t be installed like this, and are generall more expensive by the square foot even if you install them yourself.
Benefits of Floating Floor
- Unlike mortared or nailed down floors, floating floors allow for the natural changes of temperature and moisture that effect your home. The pieces can move or expand without causing damage.
- DIY adventurers can more easily install floating floors (though I qualify this statement after my meeting with EcoFloors. True newbies like us should take a lesson, perhaps pay the installation fee for at least one room and closely observe, Then we could be ready to tackle the other rooms on our own. (Maybe…!)
- If you get tired of the floor or want to change it, it’s easy to pull it up and you don’t destroy the material when you do so. You can use it somewhere else or even sell it.
Disadvantages of Floating Floors
- These days, with bamboo being made as strong as-- or stronger than-- oak, the idea that floating floor materials are thinner and less durable than hard wood may no longer be true. Still, that idea could lower your home’s value to future buyers. And if you do opt for a cheaper version of one of these textiles, it will indeed be thinner than hard wood or ceramic tile.
- No material is immune to wet or dry climates which can cause warping problems, uneven surfaces and/or cracks. When contracting, the boards can develop crack-like spaces from plank to plank. Make sure you or your installer allows the product to acclimatize in your home (before it’s laid down) for a few days to help combat this problem.
Cork, bamboo, and marmoleum all run in the approximate range of $3 to $10 a square foot, depending on quality, finish, and amount of material used. We found that if you plan to have it professionally installed, you can basically double that, in terms of guesstimating what you’ll have to pay. But again, if you’re handy, or at least a quick study, the possibility that you can install yourself is a very important one.
Here are a few photos of floated floors, using the textiles I mention. I also include one of a person installing engineered wood, which is not a laminate but instead an actual wood grain product, by floating it. She makes it look easy, so we’ll use her as DIY inspiration.
- Engineered Hardwood (not laminate!)
Anna Marie Erwert writes from both the renter and new buyer perspective, having (finally) achieved both statuses. She focuses on national real estate trends, specializing in the San Francisco Bay Area and Pacific Northwest. Follow Anna on Twitter: @AnnaMarieErwert.