Carpet over carpet
March 10, 2011 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Is it a bad idea to install new carpet over carpet that has been down for over a decade?

The existing carpet has been down for at least fifteen years in an area that gets moderate traffic. What should be considered before trying to lay down new carpet over the top of it (without ripping the old carpet out)?
posted by ainsley to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
I would say absolutely it's a bad idea--dirt, mold, etc. Why didn't you want to rip it up? I've heard of people laying wood/tile over tile (vinyl, esp. if it's aesbestos based) but never carpet w/ carpet.

IF you lay carpet over carpet, would say lay a base floor over it. But again, rip it up.
posted by stormpooper at 8:20 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here's what eHow says.
posted by amro at 8:20 AM on March 10, 2011

You can, but given the age of the carpet it's likely to be less than odor-free and given that it's a moderate-traffic area, it's not likely to be evenly worn. That could make the surface of the new carpet also uneven. If you remove the old carpet instead, you get a chance to inspect the subfloor and deal with any squeaks that have appeared over the years along with installing a nice new pad for a consistent, even surface. It's more work, obviously, but the payoff is usually worth it.
posted by tommasz at 8:30 AM on March 10, 2011

I ripped up a bunch of carpet that was around that age over the last few years. Things that would have been problematic if I'd just put new carpet over top:

1. Would never have found and fixed damage to the sub-floor, in the form of some large holes that something like a chair leg could probably go right through. I also put in a ton of screws to stop squeaks.

2. Old carpet/underpad was really flat and hard in some spots, and like-new in others where it doesn't get walked on. The new carpet would have been really uneven as a result.

3. If any doors open over a carpeted area, there might not be enough clearance and the door would have to be planed down to fit.

4. Old carpet stunk of cigarette smoke from the previous owners of the house, so I'd never be rid of that smell.
posted by FishBike at 8:34 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with everyone above, with the addition that any problems under, or associated with, the old carpet will probably make the new carpet wear that much faster.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:48 AM on March 10, 2011

If you are considering this option to save money (and I can't really see any other reason). Would it help to realize that you can rip up the old carpet yourself?

It's not very hard at all. I took up the old carpet in my house (1,200 sq. ft.) in one weekend, by myself.
posted by oddman at 8:50 AM on March 10, 2011

Seconding oddman, ripping out carpet is probably the easiest thing you can do.

1. Remove baseboards if the carpet goes underneath them

2. Rip out carpet. Cut it into smaller strips as you rip it out for easier removal

3. Remove remaining staples and such with a pair of pliers
posted by dripdripdrop at 9:01 AM on March 10, 2011

I would absolutely rip up the old carpet, for the reasons that FishBike points out. I had Scary Carpet removed from House: The Sequel shortly after moving in, and let me tell you, they found Even Scarier Padding.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:02 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it a bad idea to install new carpet over carpet that has been down for over a decade?

Yes. It is an extraordinarily bad idea.

What should be considered before trying to lay down new carpet over the top of it (without ripping the old carpet out)?

You should consider an entirely different plan. All you're doing there is hiding problems you'll eventually have to deal with. You might as well be painting over mold.
posted by mhoye at 9:06 AM on March 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

We put in new floors last Fall. When the carpet was taken up, there was up to 1/2 inch of dirt underneath. I am not kidding, I measured. My carpet was 16 years old. Just my two cents worth.
posted by annsunny at 9:17 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Think of it as putting clean clothes on top of dirty ones. Mmmmmm.
posted by tula at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just chiming in as somebody else who ripped up old carpet themselves, and who found a phenomenal amount of dirt underneath the old carpet. Sand...loads and loads of sand. Cleaning up the filth was more work than getting the carpet up and out. The eHow article mentions steam cleaning &c, and I just steamed some carpet and was really excited by how new-carpetty it became -- but I know it didn't do jack to the mess underneath.

I would be really wary of buying a house with carpet laid over old carpet -- carpet over carpet sounds like a good way to bring the value of your house down a bit.
posted by kmennie at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2011

When carpet is installed, the edges are tacked down using tacking strips, which are long thin pieces of wood or metal. Tacking strips are nailed down along the perimeter of the room, the carpet is stretched using a tool allowing the carpet edge hooked onto the barbed surface of the tacking strip. Then the excess carpet is trimmed away at the wall w/ a knife and the remainder pushed behind the strip.

None of this can be done easily or attractively if there's already tacking strips, carpet and padding from a previous installation in the way. There's just no room, nor a solid surface for the tacking strips to attach to.

I'd honestly be surprised if you found any pro carpet installers willing to install carpeting w/o taking the old one out first because the installation tools just don't work that way (the thought of trying to drive a knee kicker across a lumpy old carpet makes my bones hurt).

If you DIYing, not taking out the old carpet is going to make your installation exponentially more difficult than it has to be and that's even before we get to the idea that you're going to be putting your nice new carpeting on top of a 10 year old reservoir of dust and who-knows-what-else that was ground into the old carpet and pad or that you'll have to recut all your door moulding to accommodate the double thickness. If someday in the future you decide that you want to rip out both layers (because the top layer will immediately develop ripples from not having enough attachment points), you'll have to redo all of your door moldings because there will be giant gaps at the bottom.

So yeah, bad idea.
posted by jamaro at 9:59 AM on March 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is the kind of thing that, when you buy a house and start fixing it up, you discover it, and then you spend incredible amounts of time pondering why on earth the previous owners thought that was a good way to proceed with the project.

So the only way I could recommend not tearing the old carpet out is if you are planning to sell the house, and you feel it lacks a certain mystery appeal. Otherwise, you should probably just go ahead and do it right.
posted by padraigin at 10:09 AM on March 10, 2011

I saw this on a CSI once. Really. Anyway, the people put carpet down on top of carpet. And then there was an electrical short that caused the underneath carpet to smolder - never quite caught fire - and the fumes killed the people sleeping in their bed. It could happen, right?
posted by Sassyfras at 10:25 AM on March 10, 2011

I know a house where they did this. Several times, as was discovered during renovation. The floors SAGGED. One room looked like a skateboard park. That's a lot of weight on the floor, especially when you factor in the dirt and dust that's built up under the old carpet.
posted by galadriel at 11:04 AM on March 10, 2011

Pull it out. Removing carpet is simple, it's a hell of a lot easier to install carpet over subfloor than it is to go over old carpet, and you REALLY want to vacuum up the 10+ years of dust under it before you put down new carpet.
posted by jjb at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2011

Best answer: We bought a 1915 house in 2009 that had been sporadically remodeled over the years, consistently done on the cheap but with the best of intentions - it had some atrocious why the heck would they do that to a room shortcuts. Although we didd a lot of remodeling right off, one room we didn't bother to change at move-in was a small office with the short-loop "industrial" type carpeting. The floor tilty like the rest of the house; we assumed the strata were similar to the other bedrooms: slightly gapped wide pine 1915 floor boards as the subfloor, with a few layers of paint in varying colors, with probable vinyl/asbestos tiles in a border around the edge. The carpet wasn't the same as any of the other rooms in the house, but was a matching color; walking across it I could feel high and low spots presumably from wear patterns on the pine, and the padding seemed to have been beaten into submission. I assumed the pad was probably just the cheapest thing available when it was installed, probably sometime in the mid-90's. I didn't worry about it. We did remodeling on the room next to it last winter, and disturbed the threshold, such that I learned what was really under the carpet: more carpet. In fact, this wasn't really installed carpet, but a room-sized throw rug, not tacked down at the edges at all. jamaro is totally right, you can't stack two tack-strips on top of each other at the edge of the room. Our previous homeowners had gotten around this by using a piece of old carpeting as the pad for the new, cut to size slightly smaller than the room, then extending the new carpet all the way to the walls. So they didn't just install it over pre-installed carpet, neither one was "installed" as such. We didn't really investigate, as we don't plan on dealing with that room right now, just flipped both layers back down and started emphatically ignoring it. Probably will get recarpeted next year.

Anyway, my summary would be sure, go ahead and put new carpet over old carpet, if expediency is the way you want it to go, but don't plan on getting a nice-looking finished product, and assume that future residents of the house will be laughing at you years from now.
posted by aimedwander at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2011

Carpet has a grain, or nap. The next layer will also have a grain. The top layer is likely to 'walk' and develop ripples and folds that will trip you, wear unevenly, and generally be unsatisfactory. If layer 1 is glued down, which is common in commercial installations, but not residential, you might be able to use it as the pad for layer 2, if there were really compelling reasons.
posted by theora55 at 12:34 PM on March 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you very much, everyone. This is exactly the information I needed. The idea was to update the look of a room while keeping the "update" easily reversible. I do believe that the idea can now be taken off the table.
posted by ainsley at 6:08 PM on March 10, 2011

Just buy a rug
posted by tiburon at 4:51 PM on March 11, 2011

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