Two horrible floors - what to do about them?
July 18, 2018 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I live in a crumbling Victorian house which is being rehabbed by me, by hand, at a glacial pace. The basement floor is horrible, Victorian and gross; the kitchen floor is wooden, painted with outdoor paint and has some gaps. Neither will be really fixed in the medium term future - what can be done to stabilize and clean them?

Because the house is crumbling, it gets dirty really easily. In the basement, the walls themselves are flaking onto the floors. In the kitchen, the floorboards no longer meet the walls in a couple of places and dirt tends to accrue in a way that is hard to remove. Also, it's painted with outdoor paint which wears off every time you mop.

1. The basement contains the laundry room. The laundry room floor is a constant gross disaster no matter what we do - it is not a perfectly smooth surface, there are lots of weird corners and there is a constant accrual of dirt from the walls. If you had a crumbling cement Victorian basement floor and could not actually re-tile in the near future, how would you clean it? Is there a kind of matting that could be put down that would be damp resistant and easier to clean?

2. Can we repaint the kitchen floor? With what? How hard is this? What to do about the areas where the boards don't meet the walls? Basically, I'd like to have it be less horrible until such time - probably not for years and years due to financial issues - when we can redo the kitchen.

Assume that fixes need to be cheap and doable by me, an amateur. No matter how much better an idea hiring help would be, if we hire anyone it will be for other, trickier problems (like the plaster twenty feet up near the ceiling in the narrow back servants' stairs, frex.)
posted by Frowner to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't have any ideas for 1, but for 2 - Is laminate flooring a possibility? It would be more expensive than paint, but it would last you much longer, look nicer, and wear better. It is possible to do it yourself. My ex did it. It was tedious, but he did it. But it depends on your budget because it is of course more expensive than some cans of paint, although the flooring materials do come in different price points according to this random page I googled.
posted by like_neon at 7:42 AM on July 18, 2018


If they're just big enough to be obnoxious but not actual structural hazards, you could caulk the kitchen gaps. Caulk comes in wood-ish colors, or there's paintable stuff if the color is too awful not to match.
posted by teremala at 8:34 AM on July 18, 2018


What about an epoxy resin or floor paint for the cement floor? Hardwearing, easy to clean
posted by JonB at 8:37 AM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


For the laundry room, maybe you can patch the concrete and pour an epoxy floor over it?
posted by yeahlikethat at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2018


kitchen: For floor paint, outdoor or indoor is approximately equally likely to flake peel and give you trouble, and if the underlayer is peeling then any paint you put on top won't have a good surface to stick to anyway. Other people wtih more floorpaint familiarity may disagree, but I feel like painting is a lost cause.
I can barely believe I'm recommending peel-and-stick vinyl tile as a practical design choice, but here I am doing it. Example, under $1/sqft, applies like a sticker and although random squares will start coming up on their own in a few years there's not an easy way to undo the glue... but if you're planning to start over on that floor when you do the fix, rather than rehabbing the existing wood, then it's not an issue. You want something cheap/thin/crappy/flexible rather than "luxury vinyl" that you'd have to level the floors for.

basement: I have a damp New England cellar with cement floors and a constant supply of dirt that comes from nowhere - I keep my expectations low by using hte word "cellar" rather than "unfinished basement" even though it could certainly be considered on the basement end of that spectrum. We have some rubber mats in front of the washer and dryer so that it's not gross to stand there or accidentally drop a wet sock. We vacuum with the shopvac from time to time, but the actual traffic paths through stay pretty clean so I just don't look too hard at the corners and don't go down there barefoot. (Mats examples: 1,2,3)
posted by aimedwander at 8:41 AM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


The kitchen floor is wood, yes, you can repaint, use floor paint and let it dry well. I live in New England, many wood floors are softwood, meant to be painted and have rugs. I have some crappy softwood floor, and some painted plywood (with big rugs). If the current paint is a color you don't hate and is in okay shape, get some floor wax and test it on a spot to make sure it will not dissolve the paint. Waxed floors are easier to clean, just use mild cleaner and water. If the wax gets grotty, remove with ammonia & water, re-wax.

If you use caulk, use masking tape to contain it. When caulk gets old and grotty, which it will, it is a huge pain to remove.

Basement. The floors above create dust as dirt sifts through, and as your old house ages and the wood flakes. Spiders create dirt with webs and uneaten bit of flies, moths, etc. My previous house was old, and there was constant grunge in the basement. Quick-n-cheap? Get a big sheets of cardboard and staple-gun it to the ceiling above the laundry area. Foamcore would work, or poster board, and white would reflect light nicely.

I just visited a friend with a gorgeous old home. There was a crummy basement bathroom and she made a room around it with canvas, simple, effective, and cheap. She used some 2 x 4s to make a shell, but not actual walls. Shower curtains on the back and sides will help manage the dust. Clean your dryer vent. Congealed lint can cause a fire, and a clogged vent is ineffective, so you get dryer lint in the basement. And painting the basement floor will make sweeping a zillion times easier.
posted by theora55 at 8:43 AM on July 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Laminate flooring or vinyl or linoleum planks or sheet flooring would solve the kitchen problem. I like the vinyl planks that stick to each other as they make a waterproof and tough floating floor, and are super easy to install. I personally would not use the stuff that peels and sticks to the floor as it is a pain to remove and is not waterproof at the seams.

For the basement get mats meant for garage floors.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:45 AM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Laundry room: I would absoloutely go with interlocking rubber tiles until you can fix the floor. Our basement laundry area has similar (yet different) issues and these have worked well for us.

Kitchen: Painting the floor is actually pretty easy. You will want to buy porch and floor paint (there are other brands besides what I've linked here), for wood not concrete. Theora55's advice about floor wax is spot on. You may need to sand if they're peeling. The floors in my mom's house are a softwood that have always been painted (since the 1800s) and I think she paints about once every ten years. Don't worry about gaps between the floorboards. Vacuum every once in a while to suck up dust that settles in them.

I would also recommend getting some fancy floor mats (Etsy example, there are plenty on the market) for high traffic areas.
posted by anastasiav at 8:48 AM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


My husband and I used self-leveling cement on our crumbling basement floor and painted both floor and walls with 2 coats of the absolutely thickest waterproofing paint we could find. The floor is now smooth (-ish, we weren't as careful as we could have been) and the walls don't leave dust when you brush against them. You have to be careful if you're leveling, since you might lose a fair bit of head room.

For your kitchen, I would recommend vinyl plank tiles. We put them in an attic space to just last a few years until a renovation. They feel cheap underfoot but had an easy DIY installation and are holding up really well. My work even installed them in their cafeteria, which makes me think they would do well in a kitchen. They are fairly thin, so for any substantial gaps you will want to put in some sort of backing. We didn't do any leveling of the wonky floor, so there are still dips and stuff, but since it's just for now I'm just dealing with it.
posted by little king trashmouth at 8:49 AM on July 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


> basement: I have a damp New England cellar with cement floors and a constant supply of dirt that comes from nowhere - I keep my expectations low by using hte word "cellar" rather than "unfinished basement" even though it could certainly be considered on the basement end of that spectrum. We have some rubber mats in front of the washer and dryer so that it's not gross to stand there or accidentally drop a wet sock. We vacuum with the shopvac from time to time, but the actual traffic paths through stay pretty clean so I just don't look too hard at the corners and don't go down there barefoot.

All of this, seconded by someone with a turn-of-the-century Philadelphia rowhouse. Concrete floors in Victoria-era basements aren't going to be "clean," exactly, and, yes, there is a certain amount of wall/dirt/brickdust that collects at the base of the walls.
posted by desuetude at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2018


These options are giving me hope!

I definitely think interlocking tile for part of the laundry room floor is the way to go (the room is oddly laid out and oddly shaped, so covering the whole floor would be very tricky). In the long run, cementing the floor sounds good. For now, I think that if we cleaned the floors really well and laid down interlocking tile on the heavily used areas, the tiles would be easier to keep clean and then we could deep-clean the whole floor annually. The floor has such a rough surface that it never really feels clean no matter what you do, and mopping it is a nightmare.

I'm not sure if we'd paint or use the vinyl planks in the kitchen - the previous owners used the wrong paint everywhere that using the wrong paint was possible, so I'm thinking that using actual floor paint will last a little better. If it's supposed to be waxed and have rugs, that would probably also improve things. The vinyl flooring also looks good.
posted by Frowner at 9:14 AM on July 18, 2018


In my experience, real oil-based floor paint wears like iron. Our cottage floors were painted with the stuff 60 years ago, and except for a couple high-traffic areas still look fine. I painted the wooden floor in our shed with the stuff 10 years ago and it still looks like new despite a lot of abuse. But you would have to sand and prep to get those kind of results.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:30 AM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


> I definitely think interlocking tile for part of the laundry room floor is the way to go (the room is oddly laid out and oddly shaped, so covering the whole floor would be very tricky). In the long run, cementing the floor sounds good. For now, I think that if we cleaned the floors really well and laid down interlocking tile on the heavily used areas, the tiles would be easier to keep clean and then we could deep-clean the whole floor annually. The floor has such a rough surface that it never really feels clean no matter what you do, and mopping it is a nightmare.

Is the basement floor tile (per your re-tiling comment in your original question) or cement (per your other description?) If this is just an unfinished basement with a regular ol' slab cement floor, I don't really understand how clean-feeling you're expecting it to get? That seems like madness, like mopping an outdoor patio.

You can look into polishing the concrete to turn it into a finished floor. It's doable DIY but you'll have to do some research to make sure that your concrete is suitable, how much grinding you'll need to do, what kind of sealant, appropriate grit of polishes, etc.
posted by desuetude at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2018


To add to my previous comment -- I don't know if you can still get oil-based floor paint anymore. The stuff is banned in Canada and a lot of US States for environmental reasons. All I can find now are water-based floor paints, and I don't know if they will wear as well.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2018


Is the basement floor tile (per your re-tiling comment in your original question) or cement (per your other description?) If this is just an unfinished basement with a regular ol' slab cement floor, I don't really understand how clean-feeling you're expecting it to get? That seems like madness, like mopping an outdoor patio.

It is old cement, except part of it was painted at one point. It seems to disintegrate a bit over time and it's almost impossible to sweep well. A big problem is tracking basement dirt into the rest of the house, since it sticks to bare feet and every kind of shoe - hard-soled shoes are a little better, but I know for a fact that I am the only one in the house who even owns hard soled shoes, so even if I designate a pair of loafers as basement shoes, the other people will still be tracking dirt upstairs.

If we had interlocking rubber tile on part of it, the tile's surface would be much easier to sweep clean of grit than the rough/pitted surface of the cement. It's not that it needs to be beautiful; I just really need to be able to put in a load of laundry without tracking the filth of ages upstairs into the kitchen.
posted by Frowner at 10:09 AM on July 18, 2018


Ah, that makes more sense, Frowner. If it were me, I'd go for the really cheap and easy solution of rubber mats (which can be swept/quickmopped) for the traffic areas and immediately in front of the washer/dryer, plus a doormat at the top of the stairs.
posted by desuetude at 10:19 AM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interlocking rubber tiles sound great for the laundry, and I would do sheet flooring in the kitchen. Words like "tiles" and "grout" are giving me hives on my brain because of the unimaginable horror of double work. First you have to DO it, and then in the distant future with the kitchen remodel you'd have to UNDO it, all the time remembering the agony of doing it in the first place. Uuuuugh...

But I have to insert this caveat: I don't know anything about sheet flooring. Maybe it's just as awful as tiles. Maybe it's expensive somehow. Seems like it would be fast and easy and cheap, but I don't know.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:46 AM on July 18, 2018


The old house I grew up in had gaps between the floor planks, sometimes wide enough to see light coming up from the basement. But this was considered normal for the period when it was built - floors would be covered with some sort of woven mats for insulation, with rugs on top. So if you'd like a normal more modern floor the thing to do is put it down on top of the existing planks. (This is also why we kids stunk at jacks - no good floor to practice on at home indoors.)
posted by lagomorphius at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I definitely think interlocking tile for part of the laundry room floor is the way to go (the room is oddly laid out and oddly shaped, so covering the whole floor would be very tricky)

Perhaps something like these Dri-Deck tiles would work well? They're very easy to cut to size and very easy to install; since they're designed for boats, they're durable, drain well, and can simply be hosed down for cleaning. I've tiled oddly-shaped boat decks with them, with lots of fiddly angles and curves, and it's a snap (as it were).
posted by halation at 11:04 AM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


also consider a serious (like -- farm and ranch supply serious) rug to put upstairs in front of the basement door if you don't already have one . i have a Water Hog mat in front of the old-ass basement door and it really helps random basement filth from joining us on the main floor
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


For the kitchen, if the floor you're walking on now if original and you'd like, someday, to restore it, I might recommend putting new thin layer of "subfloor" on top, so that it meets the walls, and then an inexpensive laminate or linoleum on top of the subfloor. That way your original floors are protected for when you do have the budget to reno the kitchen.
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:38 AM on July 18, 2018


To add to what apathygirl suggested above, you could put down 3/8 inch plywood over the whole kitchen floor and then paint it. If you do this get good stuff that won't splinter from your best lumberyard rather than the bix bos store. Don't use adhesive, use screws rather than nails so they can be easily removed when you get ready to redo it historically right. Look up painted floors if you want to get creative. (If I were any good at painting I'd love a floor painted like an ocean...)

Are the main gaps in the kitchen where the floor meets the wall? It might just be a matter of putting thicker baseboards or adding some quarter-round to the bottom of existing baseboards. I have an old house too and that's what mine has, but if someone at some point put down linoleum, or even, yuk, carpeting, in the kitchen they might have removed that bit of trim at the bottom.
posted by mareli at 12:14 PM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I agree with all the suggestions to use some kind of vinyl tile flooring for the kitchen. They have both click together and glue down. As long as the floor is relatively level, it'll go down easy and be very reliable. Even if you glue down, the modern glues aren't that big a deal to remove - just buy a $20 wallpaper steamer to get the tiles off. The steam plus a scraper is how you remove the excess glue.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:25 PM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


I also recommend interlocking rubber tiles, we did them in our garage with crumbling, cracked, and holey cement. I used masonry sand to fill the holes before putting down the tile and two years later the floor is still fine (though pointy things will mark it).

For the kitchen I'd just buy some inoffensive sheet vinyl and put that down until you can do what you really want.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:42 PM on July 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Re 1. - what about powerwashing the basement floor with a device from Home Depot? (They’ll let you rent expensive tools. They have powerwashers for concrete floors in garages, maybe that would work?) To dry I think you’d need to use large heaters and/or very strong fans (also rentable) for a few days,, to make sure you didn’t end up with a humidity problem. Then you could tile over that. (Are the actual basement walls crumbling or is it paint on the walls that’s falling? If it’s paint, I’d remove it, with whatever’s recommended at Home Depot for whatever kind of paint is there. Otherwise... I’d want to talk to a contractor or structural engineer.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:03 PM on July 18, 2018


Can we repaint the kitchen floor?
Yes.

With what?

Floor paint.

How hard is this?


Slightly easier than painting walls, because you don't need to worry about getting paint on the floor.

What to do about the areas where the boards don't meet the walls?

Paintable caulk.

IME floor paint lasts a year or two before it starts to seriously need a touch up.

Use primer first.
posted by yohko at 4:08 PM on July 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


I should have thought of those interlcking foam floor mats; I have some in my kitchen under a rug. I have CVT (Commercial Vinyl Tile) and it's cold in winter. Those mats are nicer than hard floor. Mine came from Goodwill and had Disney princesses, srsly, and I painted them because it was too weird when the rug is being washed. Another option if you are at all crafty is a painted floor canvas. Get a piece of canvas of the desired size, hem with Elmers or any other simple glue, paint, use like a rug. Can be hosed off. Cheap. If you are crafty, you could paint it in some creative manner.
posted by theora55 at 9:20 PM on July 18, 2018


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