What can we do with an older house with carpeted hardwood floors?
March 20, 2011 7:36 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are about to close on a house. Most of the rooms are carpeted and we're wondering what we should do; we'd like to rip out the carpets but are worried that the hardwood floors underneath (assuming that the floors are hardwood) might be covered with lead-based paint. Also, we pretty much have less than one month to do the floors.

We were able to pull up a very small amount of the carpet (less than 1/2 sq. ft) and that part was definitely hardwood flooring, but it also looked to have some paint on it as well. There's no way to know if the paint that was visible was lead-based and/or if the entire floor was painted.

We would love to have carpet-free flooring but don't want to rip out the carpet only to find out our only option is putting some kind of carpet back on. My wife is pregnant so that is a serious concern as well.

We get ownership of the house at the start of April and have to be moved in before May. So everything would have to be done that month. The house is nearby so it would not be a problem for me to get there most evenings if there is a DIY option.

Looks like the total flooring is a little under 1000 sq ft over three floors of the house (there is also an unfinished basement). Our budget is extremely limited but we are also very safety/risk conscious so health is a priority over cost.
posted by Deathalicious to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: The home inspector flat out told us: "If you test for lead paint, you'll find it, so you probably shouldn't even bother doing the test." A professional painter came in and painted over all of the chipped paint on the walls and ceilings. However, we don't know if the paint on the floor was applied before or after the 1970s.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:40 AM on March 20, 2011

Simply be prepared to overpaint with floor-grade paint. It will contain the lead paint. (And, yes, if the house was made pre-70's, it contains lead paint.) Ask the paint store salespeople what to use.

Don't go cheap. Buy major brand names, because in paint at least, the name brands stand for something: Bear, Glidden, Sherwin Williams.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:43 AM on March 20, 2011

Pulling up carpets in an old house is a crapshoot. Even if the floors are not painted you may find burns or stains or old heat register holes patched with plywood. I'd pull up a lot more corners and try to get a better idea of what you have.
posted by LarryC at 7:45 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If she's pregnant and you only have a month and there are this many variables I'd say screw it, buy an area rug and put it in the center of the iffy carpet and forget about it for a couple of years.

You'll have a kid who'll be learning to walk and spilling juice all over the place anyway.

Though that's taking the easy way out. Or opting for the path of less-stress, however you want to look at it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:59 AM on March 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yes, the big concern with lead based paint is in disturbing it. As long as it is sealed under other paint, and any chips that pop up along the way are cleaned up and painted over, it is fine.

But in my experience, floors aren't generally painted. I would think that you are more likely to find old asbestos tiles than you are paint. FWIW.
posted by gjc at 7:59 AM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: I would definitely just rip up the carpet. Old carpet (and someone else's old carpet esp) is gross. If you find painted floors, then you repaint them. If you find unpainted floors, you get them refinished. Or you are incredibly lucky and the floors look good straight away. You can rip up the carpet and pull nails/staples easily in a weekend of work (assuming you are buying an ave or less sized house). Then it takes a week for refinishing (two days sanding, two days coating, two days drying before you walk on it). Another 3-4 days for you to move furniture in. This whole thing is immensely easier before you move in.
posted by sulaine at 8:06 AM on March 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Painted hardwood? Are you sure? Painted softer woods like pine, maybe put I doubt it is a hardwood like oak or maple. Can you take pictures, close ups of the wood?
Regardless, here's an option. Pull the rugs and have the floors sanded and polyurethaned with water based poly. Wait, you say sanding will put all sorts of lead in the air... New hepa vac attached to floor sanders are virtually dustless. I saw it on TOH. Most floor refinishers can do the whole house in a week.
posted by Gungho at 8:17 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you really want to do this, this is really the only time you will have to do finished hardwood floors without the hassle.

So if you are buying the house, I would be prepared to put in some investment with a contractor and pay for whatever it takes to get the floors done. That's what we did. We did not regret it. We also had the whole house painted.

Time is hugely precious before a big move. You do not want to get into a potential time hole. If you want to do this, you have a tight schedule. Also, it looks like it is all or nothing, and if you rip up the carpets you will have to go on. As your wife is pregnant, she will probably want you at home to help packing up your old place, etc.

In your case I would see this as follows.

- Figure out the earliest date you can start ripping stuff out.
- Contact local floor contractors (ask friends, etc.)
- Get quotes ASAP. They should know how to deal with what is under the carpet.
- Give them a finish date 1 week before your move-in date.
- Be prepared to bite the bullet on hidden problems.
- Be prepared to stand over them and hassle them as they work.
- Post lots of followups to AskMe ;)

If the floors are damaged, I'd recommend patching and a dark stain.

This is if you really want to do this.
posted by carter at 8:33 AM on March 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also where did you pull up? If it is at the edge of the floor it's possible there is painted border, but not the whole floor.
posted by carter at 8:34 AM on March 20, 2011

If you want the hardwood look, but don't want to go through refinishing now, and are a handy guy, you could rip up the carpet and put down laminate flooring like Pergo. Lumber Liquidators or Home Depot or IKEA will have it as cheap as 60-odd cents per sq. ft. Installation goes pretty fast and is quite straightforward except for maybe around doorways and other irregularities.

That'd cover your paint for now, give you a hard-wearing surface, get rid of the nasty carpet and give you a wood look, and preserve the option of refinishing the actual wood at some later time.

If you decide to recarpet, Home Depot will currently install the entire house for $35. A day to rip out the old carpets [you do this and save a few hundred] and pull the pad staples, and a day to do the install.

No, I don't work for any of them. ;)
posted by chazlarson at 8:39 AM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: The ONLY time to redo hardwood floors without making your life incredibly difficult for a week or two is to do it BEFORE you move in.

Regardless what's underneath, remove the carpeting. All of it. Once it's up, you can determine what to do: repaint (eek), replace, or re-carpet. A lot of older homes will have floors that look ruined, but have carpet/tile glue from previous remodels. You can remove that gunk using some hot water, murphy's oil soap and a few good mops. Once that crap is up, you can determine what to do with the floors.

Generally, hiring a company to resand the floors (figure on $5/sq. foot) and restain is the best way to go. Do this BEFORE moving in because the dust will be everywhere. Even with good precaution you'll have dust everywhere and in everything.

If the floors are too far gone you have to make the determination whether you want to replace with pergo/hardwood or to carpet over. Replacing with new hardwood can be done one of two ways: adding a new layer on top of what's there, or ripping up the existing floor, leveling the subfloor and installing new hardwood. It's a better route to rip 'n replace because it guarantees a level end result, but it's a determination you have to make on your own.

As far as refinishing the floors on your own - it's definitely a DIY if you are competent with a drum sander (rentable at Home Depot/Lowes) and some smaller corner sanders. The key is not gouging the wood and keeping an even pace. It's messy, but doable.
posted by tgrundke at 8:47 AM on March 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh - and if you are considering paints, please do yourself a big favor and spend the money for very high quality paints and stains. Avoid the Gliddens, Bears, and other value products out there. I strongly recommend using Benjamin Moore paints and stains and as a distant second (but very good), Sherwin Williams paints.

BM paints are generally pretty expensive, but I learned this lesson through trial and error: I have several rooms that I used Bear paints on and several others where I used Benjamin Moore. The difference is significant - the BM paints just look better. Lots better.
posted by tgrundke at 8:51 AM on March 20, 2011

Sorry to keep following up - but I'll also second the recommendation to just hire a good flooring contractor to get this job done considering the project is time-sensitive. I removed the carpeting and the staples and then had the flooring grow sand and stain about 1000 sq. feet total.
posted by tgrundke at 8:55 AM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: we had carpet over wood in our hundred year old house. i thought it would be awesome to refinish the wood, and that was the plan till we ripped out all the carpet, and saw that it was quite damaged in spots, and patched with plywood in others. apparently the house had been rearranged at some point: walls moved around, rooms reconfigured. but even if that hadn't been the case, the floors were doug fir (old growth, but not has hard as oak or maple). so they would have been easily dinged by shoes or moving furniture or theoretical children. plus, back in the day, there wasn't this subfloor/real floor distinction. the doug fir was both. so it would have been incredibly noisy. there were also smallish gaps between the boards. not enough that you noticed it to the naked eye, but enough that dirt/debris would have gotten trapped in the little crevices every time we swept. we ended up putting subfloor on top of the doug fir, then brand new oak on top of that. my brother is a hardwood floor installer, so we got a good deal on it. i know it ain't cheap. but we're so glad we did it. the floors don't creak, they feel super-solid, and we've definitely added to the value of the house. we also did this after we moved in, which was a total nightmare. i definitely recommend getting a quote from a couple wood floor guys to do this professionally, and fast. there's no way we could have DIY-ed it as well as my pro brother, and we're up to tackle pretty much anything.
posted by apostrophe at 10:03 AM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: when you move in you will discover that the old carpets which looked ok when you did the walk through are actually gross and you don't want your baby crawling around on them: the time to do this is before you move in.

also, you could do an inspection of the carpet before closing and check to see if it is are damaged or worn: maybe you can get some money for this out of closing.

taking off the carpet will be a crapshoot depending on what has been done to the house, there's no way to avoid that.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:23 PM on March 20, 2011

ennui.bz has a really good point. Next time you are at the new place, lie down on the floor and push your face into the carpet ... how does it feel? - This is what the baby is going to be doing.
posted by carter at 12:42 PM on March 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers everyone! Just talked to the agent and we will be going in this week to look at the house again to take exact measurements and see it without all the furniture. She said at that point we will be able to peek under some of the carpets and see what's underneath. I'll post photos if I think they might be useful.

It sounds like the general consensus is we should remove the carpet no matter what, and hope for the best.

Moving is going to be mostly very, very easy for us because we really don't have that much to move. We're hiring movers for the big items and everything else we can just cart over in small trips -- the house is just a few minutes away by car (hell, it's practically a few minutes away on foot). So I think that will make things a bit less complicated.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:44 PM on March 20, 2011

The home inspector flat out told us: "If you test for lead paint, you'll find it, so you probably shouldn't even bother doing the test."

I don't understand this at all. I've looked over a couple of lead paint inspections for houses. In one house they found some on the garage wall that was barely detectable, in another house built in the 1960's there was nothing found. A DIY kit found none in the exterior paint of another house. None of these places was built after the lead paint legislation.
posted by SandiBeech at 8:12 AM on March 21, 2011

SandiBeach, it can depend on the area. Here in Rhode Island, it's commonly accepted that every damn house in the state has lead paint.

Once you have tested for lead, you are required to honestly disclose that simple fact as well as the results. If you don't immediately move on to abatement, you're pretty much putting a scarlet letter on your property if you try to sell. And many people are squeamish about knowing that they have lead in their homes.

We had to move out of our house for a week to get the floors re-done in our last house, and it sucked. (We only had two little kids then; I can't imagine how traumatic a dislocation it would be, now we've added two more.) We moved last October, and we're hoping to put down new pre-finished hardwoods soon.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2011

Response by poster: UPDATE! We just revisited the house today and were able to tear up the corners of the carpets to see what was underneath.


It's a smorgasbord, really. Some floors are unpainted, some floors are painted, some of the floors are in excellent shape, some in lousy shape. One room is all plywood. So the plan now is to lay down floors in some of the rooms and refinishing only a couple of them. If we only have to refinish a couple of rooms, suddenly hiring someone to do this makes more sense. We'll have a much clearer picture once the carpets are completely torn out.

I'll be able to post pictures tomorrow.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:11 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Forgot to post the pictures. As you can see, wood floors but kind of a mess.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:51 PM on March 25, 2011

Best answer: OK These are all pine floors, and a couple of them look like they are only subfloors. refinishing will make them look nice, but this is a very soft wood, and will easily be damaged by furniture or appliances being dragged or pushed across the floor. Wooden or metal chair legs, bed legs etc. will leave tons of scratches and dents.
posted by Gungho at 6:44 AM on March 29, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, all of them were subfloors. We were able to find someone to install new flooring (Supreme Bamboo Horizontal Clear Finish Natural). I "helped" out the first couple of days, hauling the boxes around and laying down some tar paper. It was fun. I'll post some photos once it's all done.
posted by Deathalicious at 3:01 PM on April 19, 2011

« Older Fudge-like frosting recipe?   |   Searching for articles comparing efficacy of CBT... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.