What to do about our long-covered hardwood floors?
July 12, 2016 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Mrs. Lattiboy and I just purchased a house. The previous owner has had the hardwood floors carpeted in 1986. We're getting rid of the carpet and would like advice on what to do to restore them without breaking the bank or breaking my back.

Here is a picture of a corner with the carpet pulled up. She is pretty sure they didn't use leveler anywhere. We get the keys on the 23rd, but would like prepare with advice from handy folk.

The house was built in 1963 and these are the original boards. Likely long-plank oak (according to people I've spoken with). They did use carpet tacks, but the holes (outside the tack strips) are very small. You can see them if you view the picture at full resolution.

We thought about re-finishing the floors, but we kind of like the color and with all the other work we have to do, it would be expensive and/or time consuming. So, we're just looking to clean them and to seal up the hundreds of tiny holes. I know I need to use wood putty on the larger nails that hold down the tack strips, but the minute holes throughout the floor are our concern.

Any advice from folks who've dealt with this before would be much appreciated!
posted by lattiboy to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Instead of a full re-seal, you might look into whether a simple top-coat would take care of the holes, as well as an abrasions from dirt/grit being trapped under the carpet. No need to sand down to fresh wood and do a full multi-coat refinishing -- just a light sanding pass, then a top-coat.
posted by misterbrandt at 3:33 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think I would just leave the tiny holes as is?

However, you might reconsider refinishing them, or at least getting some quotes for it. I had floors refinished (no carpet on them before) and when they do that, they sand off the top layer and then spread a filler type product over the whole deal with a trowel. It fills in all the holes like those. After it dries, they sand it off and then apply the finish. So refinishing them in this instance might take care of all those tiny holes that concern you!

You may also be able to get a finish that's close to the original color you like. Close to though probably not an exact match.
posted by purple_bird at 3:33 PM on July 12, 2016

You're not going to know whether or not you can get away with just cleaning up the floors until after you pull up the carpet. The corner looks okay, but there may be stains or damage in any number of places that will necessitate refinishing the floor. Pet stains, in particular, can be anywhere and may have damaged the wood to to a wide range of degrees.

You can pull the carpet and tack strips up yourself, if you want-- it's heavy work and can be gross, but it's not difficult. If the floors need to be refinished, my personal recommendation is to a) hire a professional (who will do a better job in 1/4th the time and with 1/100th of the frustration it would take any normal person) and b) do it now, before you move in.
posted by Kpele at 3:34 PM on July 12, 2016 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: I should note, we have about 7 days between getting the keys and moving in. We have to repaint most the inside of the house and do other random little things, but the floors are by far the biggest task..
posted by lattiboy at 3:41 PM on July 12, 2016

I've done this.

A - pull up the carpet. don't step on the tack strips.
B - pull up the underlay if it's there. There may be a billion staples holding it down.
C - pull the staples out of the floor with pliers. this will take a while.
D - pull the tack strips off the edges of the floor. this will take a while. Get a good long crowbar for this. You'll also need pliers.
E - sweep & vacuum the floor
F - remove any sticky gunk that remains with a putty knife or something.

And honestly that's it. yes, there will be a lot of tiny holes. They really don't matter as long as the floor is clean & smooth and there's no nails or staples sticking out of it.

Eventually you'll need to get the floor refinished. Honestly it's easiest to do it right away as it's a pain in the ass to clear out a whole room later on. Floor refinishing is relatively cheap - you can get it done for a thousand dollars-ish depending on how much floor needs to get done. Maybe a few thousand dollars. Maybe less where you are.

Floor refinishing I'd leave to a professional but simple carpet removal is a good handyman's weekend project assuming there's no terrible surprises under there.
posted by GuyZero at 3:44 PM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Also, the floor refinishing person will fill in the holes with the right kind of stuff and will color match the floor better than you can. You'd never know my hardwood floors used to be covered in robins-egg-blue carpet.
posted by GuyZero at 3:46 PM on July 12, 2016

You won't really know what kind of job you're looking at until you have all of the carpet up and can see where the finish may be worn off or where there may be damage. If there is finish worn off or areas of damage, I'd get the floors refinished and repaired now, before you move in. Refinishing floors is an important way to safeguard your investment and it's so, so, so much easier to do when the house is empty. I would choose to refinish the floors before I chose to paint if you're up against a time constraint. You can paint much more easily with furniture in the room by pushing it to the middle of the floor and/or covering it. You can't do the same with floors.

You can have them refinished to be the same color as well. That shouldn't be a consideration preventing you from refinishing.
posted by quince at 3:52 PM on July 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

nthing quince -- if you have 7 days before move-in, I'd have a pro do the floors over (anyone) painting every time. Going back to do the floors is terrible - you basically have to move out all of your furniture (unless you also have carpeted rooms) and evacuate while it cures.

You can live in a house while painting it.
posted by janell at 4:21 PM on July 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

When my parents sold their first house the realtor took a look under the carpet and saw there was hardwood flooring in the living/dining room. He told us we should remove the carpet because the hardwood would be better than the carpet. We ended up removing it ourselves and the process was as GuyZero outlined. We didn't do anything else to the floor beyond the removal and it did look a lot better than the old carpet.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 4:37 PM on July 12, 2016

Re-sealing is cheap and fast and has the added bonus of cleaning the living heck out of the floors before you move in. Highly recommended if your time frame allows for it and you can find a professional to accommodate it.
That said, you will need to go in and pull all the carpet and staples, all the things that GuyZero has nicely detailed and then evaluate whether refinishing or a simple resealing is called for. Having just done this at my sister's house last week, I have two small bits of advice: use long nose pliers and wear gloves for the staples and tack removal... I got blisters on my plying hand... & there are always more staples lurking in the floor so do like 5 passes per room.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 4:41 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Take up the carpets, tack strips and pull all the staples. Clean with murphys oil soap. Use some 0000 steel wool or scotchbrite pads on the really bad spots. Put down four or five coats of holiday house liquid wax. You're done, go do another project.
posted by fixedgear at 6:22 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

You're not going to know whether or not you can get away with just cleaning up the floors until after you pull up the carpet. The corner looks okay, but there may be stains or damage in any number of places that will necessitate refinishing the floor. Pet stains, in particular, can be anywhere and may have damaged the wood to to a wide range of degrees.

I helped someone pull carpets once and it looked like some previous occupant had lit a camp fire indoors at some point, with a big burned patch in the middle of the floor. So be prepared for the risk of unexpected expensive decisions if you pull the carpets out.

If the floors are all in good shape, I'd ignore the tiny holes and enjoy the character, but if they are in rough shape then refinishing while the house is empty is far and away the best way to do it.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:53 PM on July 12, 2016

We did something similar, and were surprised at how affordable it was- if you pull up the carpet and remove the staples and tack strips yourself. We also ended up pulling off all the old quarter round ourselves too. In order:

We pulled off the old quarter round
Pulled up the carpet, staples and tack strips
Had a pro come in and sand and put sealer coats on
We cut and painted new quarter round and installed it

The floor, which looked very similar to yours when we pulled the carpet up, looked 100x's better once it had been sanded. Sealing wax can yellow over time.
posted by aviatrix at 6:58 PM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I just pulled up carpet in my hallway today! Everyone above has the general DIY procedure explained correctly. Here are my tips:

Pry staples gently with a flathead screwdriver, then pull them out with needle-nose pliers.
Use a short prybar rather than a long crowbar to remove tack strip.
When you think you've got all the staples out, turn the lights out and go over the floors with a flashlight. You'll find dozens more that you missed.
posted by jhope71 at 7:44 PM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

For the sake of efficiency, pull the staples, toss them into a corner of the room, then use a shop vac to suck them up instead of disposing of them individually.
posted by slateyness at 8:42 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

One other vote to have floors refinished if needed before you move anything in. The sanding leaves a fine gritty dust that gets everywhere, even somehow thru the sheets of plastic barriers in doorways, etc. Handle the floors first, then prep the walls and dust/clean the woodwork only once.
posted by readery at 4:42 AM on July 13, 2016

When I bought a 1923 house I too thought the hardwood under the carpet was in good shape based on peeking at multiple corners. Alas, there was water damage and who knows what else in various places, and the old, old carpet padding had sort of melted into the finish of the floor in some areas and was just generally disgusting. The hardwood in rooms that had never been carpeted was actually in better shape than the carpeted rooms.

We did save money by pulling out the carpet and padding, nails, etc. and doing the post-refinish quarter round ourselves. But once the carpet was up and the damage was revealed, refinishing was really the only option. One bonus was how nice and smooooooooth the sanded floors were!

The refinishing wasn't *that* expensive, honestly. Definitely worth it (even having sold the house unexpectedly soon after purchase, I think the nice floors helped sell it and it was nice to live in for the few years we had it) and definitely do it before you move in; that stuff is eye-wateringly fume-y the first day or two.

Here's hoping you don't need to refinish, but if you do, it can be a good thing!
posted by misskaz at 9:08 AM on July 13, 2016

Just agreeing with everyone who says to pull everything up yourselves and then have the floors sanded and finished professionally. You *can* do it yourself, but it is dusty and hard work and requires some big-ass sander (and little ones for edges and corners). The biggest problem is clearing the furniture for three days, when there's already stuff in the house.

Good luck. Also, when you use your short pry bar to get the strips up, you might want a piece of lathe to put under it to protect the floor. It is not impossible that when you're done and you've mopped it up, you'll be satisfied with the look. I doubt you'll even see the tiny holes from staples, and the larger holes from the nails really turn pretty invisible unless you're looking closely.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:49 AM on July 14, 2016

Response by poster: Update!

In the end, we just applied a LOT of FreshFloors cleaner using a microfiber and used some Uzine floor cleaner for the spots with gunk on them. They look great. Once you get furniture in the house it really becomes a non-issue. Everybody who has come over remarks on how beautiful they are.

Thanks for the tips folks!
posted by lattiboy at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

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