Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Floors!

Finally, the Floors!
This project has been by far our most eagerly anticipated endeavor. Before we made an offer on the house, I pulled up a loose corner of carpet in the office, and it looked like this:
I thought, “Hmm, this does not look like a classic episode of Trading Spaces.” I was disappointed and confused. On TV, they just roll back the carpet and the floor underneath is beautiful and breathtaking. Everyone cheers and wonders aloud how anyone could have covered up such a beautiful floor with carpet. Not this floor. After tearing out the carpet, this is how it looked:
We just lived with it until we could find a good solution, which was much more difficult than I expected. I looked online for wood refinishing specialists in my area and found none. The more I talked to people, the more discouraged I got. I heard things like this:

“You can’t refinish fir floors. It’s a soft wood. It just won’t work.”

“Your floors have probably been sanded so many times that if you try to sand them again, you’ll just ruin them. Then you’ll need a new subfloor to put down your laminate and that will be expensive.”

“There is no way someone put down fir as a floor. It must have been a subfloor with a hardwood over it.”

“I go into these old houses all the time where people have refinished the wood floors, but all they’ve really done is refinished the subfloors. They don’t get that what they are walking around on and so proud of is actually the subfloor.”

Talk about frustrating. I thought everyone thought that refinishing old wood floors is pretty much the greatest thing since sliced bread, but au contraire. There are a lot of naysayers out there. They think that if it is not oak over plywood then it just is not worth doing.

Because pretty much everyone was telling me the same thing, I decided to do my own research. What I found is that architectural practices 100 years ago were very local. The way they did floors in Williams, California was not the same as the way they did them in Vinton, Louisiana or New York City. There was no code, and there was no plywood. People worked with what they had in whatever way they saw fit. I had many reasons to suspect that my floor was not a subfloor. The most telling was that I could see that at one point it had been stained. You can see it as the orange spots is this picture:
It made no sense to me that someone would waste their time staining a subfloor. Also, my neighbor has the exact same floor. It did not make sense that the “real” oak floor on top of this “subfloor” would have just disappeared from both our houses without leaving a trace. Even if it was in poor condition, why go through all the trouble of removing it when you could throw a carpet over it as easily as you could the “subfloor.” It just didn’t make sense to me.
But there was still the issue of fir being “too soft.” I researched this as well and found that fir is indeed a relatively soft wood. But old-growth fir is much harder than modern fir which only grows a fraction of the time that old-growth was grown before being harvested. Even so, though wood hardness is something to consider in choosing a flooring material, the more determinate factor in floor longevity is the hardness of the finish, not the actual wood itself. I actually found a company that specialized in restoring old fir floors, which is where I got most of this information that gave me newfound hope, but unfortunately they were located in Oregon.
I went back online and searched for a wood floor specialist, but this time I broadened my search to Sacramento. That is when I found a couple of options. In total we had three people come to our house and give us a quote on the floors. When each person came we asked them an important question and got three different answers.
The question was whether or not to fill the gaps between the boards with wood filler. Our floor was in fairly good shape, but the boards were not as tightly connected as a new floor. Most planks had a small gap between them, about 1/16 of an inch or less in most places. Lots of people (regular naysayers, not professionals) told us that we would have to fill them. When we asked them why, they usually said something like, “Because if you don’t, you’ll have gaps.” We tried to figure out why these gaps were so terrible. They did not bother Richard or me. We thought it looked more authentic and less like laminate this way. At the time, we only had wood filler in one place (put there previously by someone else), and it was cracking and crumbling. We just did not want this all over the house. This is what it looked like:
The first person who gave us a quote told us absolutely not to use wood filler. He said it would crack and crumble within a couple years. He also gave us the highest quote, and was the only one who was not licensed, bonded, and insured.
Initially we only knew of this first guy before I extended my search to the Sacramento area, and we thought he was our only option. We were going to use him because he seemed to know what he was talking about until at the last minute he changed his verbal quote to about 25% higher. We then told him we would need more time to get that much money, so he said he would just come over and start the work and then we could figure out a new price together. That was pretty much our red flag and we canceled the job with him and got the other two quotes.
The second person told us that we absolutely had to fill the cracks with wood filler. When we asked why, we could not really understand his answer due to a language barrier. He gave us a quote significantly lower than the first guy.
Then the guy from Raphael Hardwood Flooring came and explained to us in full detail the pros and cons of wood filler. He did not tell us that it had to be one way or the other, but he did highly suggest not using it. He said that when they install a new floor in an old house, they use washers to intentionally create gaps between the boards so that it does not look too new and out of place with the rest of the house. Ultimately though, he said it was up to us. I liked that. He also put absolutely no pressure on us, whereas the first guy was really giving us the hard sell. Raphael Hardwood Flooring is pretty much the opposite of sketchy.
When I brought up the subject of payment with Raphael Hardwood Flooring, he made it very clear (and in writing) that absolutely no payment was due until all work was completed and that his written quote would be good for a year.
It did not take us long at all to decide to go with Raphael, and we are very happy with the results. Here are a few pictures of the process (these are all from the office):
Before Any Work

Initial Sanding

More Sanding

Bare Wood After Sanding Was Completed

After Clear Coat
Though we initially wanted a darker stain, we decided to go with the clear coat because of all the stains that were found after sanding. Igor (the guy who works for Raphael Hardwood Flooring) explained to us that stains (like from people spilling drinks) will soak up a lot more of the stain (as in color) than the rest of the floor. He said this essentially makes them look black. Because of the heavy staining in the dining and living room, we decided to take his advice. We were afraid of the wood looking too light, but the clear coat actually darkens up the wood a bit, so we are very happy.
Here is the room-by-room before and after:

We will definitely have Igor come back to do the stairs and the second story at some point in the future, though not any time soon. Our next big project is painting all the interior trim. That will probably not start until my brother comes here in a few weeks/months. For now I am still working on the downstairs bathroom. I also need to spray paint all the floor grates because now they look hideous next to the wonderful floors. I am sure I will be posting about that. That’s it for this time, folks. Thanks for tuning in to our lives.