Whether you’ve just moved in or have lived in the same home for years, you might consider doing away with that old carpeting and upgrading to hardwood flooring, a more sustainable, hygienic, and elegant alternative that can raise the value and comfort of your home. Luckily, you may not need to sink thousands of dollars into replacing the current floors in your home. If you’re living in an older home built before the 1970s, odds are your wall-to-wall carpeting is already hiding a hardwood gem.
Most hardwood floors under carpets can be restored—at a much more reasonable cost and with less labor if you choose the right professional service. But if you’ve opted to restore your hardwood floors on your own, then you may have a challenging yet highly rewarding task ahead of you. And if you’re working with a limited budget, restoring the floors yourself may be the most practical approach. Here are five tips for restoring hardwood floors under carpets to help you meet your project goals.
Tip 1: Time Your Project for the Season
Considering the timing of your project should be the first step. The Pacific Northwest experiences the year’s highest levels of humidity from fall to early spring. Starting a project in these months will make it more difficult to repair and refinish hardwood flooring for a number of reasons, including poor indoor air circulation, which prevents the finishing chemicals from drying and curing in the proper amount of time.
Since any floor restoration project requires the work area to be totally clear, moving back and forth between rooms or in and out of the house can be inconvenient in cold, wet weather. You’ll also have to contend with not having access to that room (or the entire house) for three to five days. And bear in mind that the strong odors of the finishing chemicals can take several days to clear up after they’ve dried.
Consider planning your project from late spring through the summer, when the weather is drier. Small, one-room projects can take less than a week to complete—sometimes only a weekend. While larger projects, such as an entire house, will inevitably take longer. Nevertheless, the majority of your time will be spent cleaning up after the last step while preparing for the next.
Tip 2: Assess the Condition of Your Hardwood Floors
This goes without saying: you need to remove the carpeting to actually see the hardwood floors. It’s also important to remove any foam padding, glue, tack strips and spikes, and/or nails left over. Once cleared, every plank should be inspected for damage. Depending on the condition of your floors, you might have to invest more time and money in your project or contact a local professional service, such as Wall 2 Wall Hardwood Floors, if individual planks or the entire floor needs replacing.
Problems such as rampant wood rot, black mold, discoloration, and physical holes in the wood may be beyond the scope of your project. On the other hand, minor scrapes and scratches to the surface can usually be repaired by sanding and refinishing the wood.
In older homes, hardwood floors were typically sealed and coated with natural varnish or shellac. This is likely what’s protected your hardwood floor under the carpet for years. However, to restore your floor, you’ll need to sand down that top layer, otherwise, your finishing materials won’t adhere.
Tip 3: Handle Your Sander Properly
Depending on the size of your project, you may opt for either a random orbital sander or a drum sander. For restoring narrow spaces, such as hallways and entryways, or for completing smaller room projects, a random orbital sander may be the best option. But for larger projects, you’ll have to rent a drum sander.
Unless you have experience with a drum sander, you should avoid operating one without first consulting a rental company and researching the proper ways to handle it. Drum sanders vary in size and weight, but for room-length restoration projects, a typical drum sander weighs over a hundred pounds—and can seriously damage your floor if used improperly.
When operating a drum sander, don’t push, pull, or swing the sander like you would a vacuum or lawnmower. Doing so can cause you to leave deep scratches and grooves in your floor, known as “stop marks.” Avoid letting the sander idle in one place, as it will grind into the wood. Where the hardwood floor meets the wall, use an edger instead.
Tip 4: Take Care with Finishing
Before applying finish to your hardwood floor, you should clean up all the dust leftover from sanding. Use a heavy-duty shop vac to remove as much dust as possible. Then wipe the floor with a rag, preferably a tack cloth, soaked in mineral spirits to clear away any lingering dust and debris.
As the mineral spirits and finishing chemicals have strong, potentially harmful odors, it’s best to wear a respirator, gloves, and safety glasses. Always keep your area safe and well-ventilated.
Once you’ve applied the stain and allowed it to dry—often in two rapid coats to help bring out the color you want—it’s important to immediately seal the stain with a urethane coating. In-between applications, stir the urethane mix to prevent it from setting in its container. Typically, two coats (the second may be applied after the first has dried and been lightly sanded) should suffice. But for areas of heavy foot traffic, a third or fourth coat may be more practical.
Tip 5: When to Call a Professional
Restoring hardwood floors under carpeting is a time-consuming process, but it’s definitely DIY-possible. And there’s nothing like the sense of achievement you get when restoring the hardwood floors of your own home. Still … don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If your simple refinishing job turns into a massive floor replacement, that’s where a professional service has you covered. Consulting a hardwood floor restoration and construction company, such as Wall 2 Wall Hardwood Floors, can turn out to be a real time-, money-, and life-saver. Getting a professional estimate for your project can also help you weigh your DIY costs. Check out these services for restoring damaged floors and bringing them back to life.