Hardwood floors with no subfloor - is it too thin?

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Old 09-06-12, 05:09 PM
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Exclamation Hardwood floors with no subfloor - is it too thin?

Hi. I'm a fairly new DIY'er in a bit of a pickle.

I recently bought a new home and my one major problem in the house is the carpet. Not only is it ugly but I'm a huge germaphobe and carpet and cleanliness don't go well together.

Anyway. When I bought the house I was told that there were hardwood floors covered by laminate tiles covered by the current carpet. No problem! I ripped up the carpet and ripped up the tiles only to find plywood. At that point I stopped, not really sure why they would put plywood over the hardwood. Eventually I decided the floor might have been slightly uneven and they put plywood down before the tile just to make sure the tile was level.

Well, today I ripped up one of the pieces of plywood and found my beautiful original planked hardwood floor......covered in really really really old tar paper (or something of the sort).

My major concern right now is that when I pulled one of the nails that had been holding my plywood down out of the floor, I could see straight into the basement through the nail hole!

I knew there was no subfloor in my house since it was built ~1930, but is the thinness of the floor something to worry about? Should I lay down new plywood and just put new hardwood over that? Would it be safe to sand the original hardwood floors or would that make them too thin?

Thanks for your help. I'd be happy to provide pictures or more information if anyone needs it, I just really need help with this.
 
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Old 09-06-12, 05:49 PM
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Welcome to the forums! You can post pix like this: http://www.doityourself.com/forum/el...your-post.html
In homes of that era there wasn't much subflooring. I remember staying at my Grandmother's house in our unheated bedroom with 5 quilts on top of us and waking to a layer of snow that had blown under the unpinned house and through the cracks in the floor.
Do you have access to under these floors? Is it actually hardwood, or angularly installed 1x8's? They were sometimes used as subflooring. While it would be best to remove all the flooring and start anew, placing 3/4" Advantech subflooring over what is there (provided it is in good shape) would give you a good substrate for your new hardwood flooring. What size plywood was installed over the original flooring? Salvaging what you have underneath, would be futile, anyway, as it would have a kazillion holes and tar residue.
Post some pix and let us see what you have. There may be another solution.
 
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Old 09-06-12, 06:35 PM
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It's not like stuff is blowing in or anything. My house is sealed up nice and tight and my basement is waterproof though unfinished. These floors just worry me. I don't want to be walking to the kitchen one day on my pretty hardwood floors and fall through to the basement! The joists are only about a foot apart, if that, and the planks run parallel to the joists. They seem finely constructed.

It also appears that the floor planks have no seams - by that I mean they didn't have to put multiple planks together to span the rooms. It appears that the kitchen/dining room floors were made of cut planks that fit into the walls and again for the living room, though I can't exactly tell.

Do you have access to under these floors?


Well, like I said, when I pull up the nails I can see into the basement, so I have an entire basement underneath these floors.

Is it actually hardwood, or angularly installed 1x8's? They were sometimes used as subflooring.

I have no idea. I was told it was hardwood by the owner, the realtor, the appraiser, and the inspector. It's parallel to the walls, so I do not think it's subflooring, though it could be.

What size plywood was installed over the original flooring?

No clue. It's only three layers thick - the two outer layers and an inner layer that runs perpendicular to the grain of the other two. Maybe half an inch at most? It's not very thick. The sheets are approx 4'x8', as far as I can tell. They used little one inch strips between each piece of plywood - not entirely sure why.

So far I've only yanked up the tile in the dining room, but I assume the living room and kitchen are the same on that level (though the kitchen only has laminate atm) and the upper floor would be the same as well. Kind of scared to risk ripping them up, now.

I doubt ripping up the flooring and starting over is actually the best idea. If that's the original hardwood floors then they built the walls around that and I don't want to go messing with that at all. The floors are in really good shape, they're just under a layer of tar paper (which I read can be lifted by boiling hot water/vinegar in another thread on this site), should the floors be sandable.

Anyway, this is the view of what's under the plywood. imgur: the simple image sharer
This is a view of the floor from the basement. imgur: the simple image sharer
This shows the floor joists. imgur: the simple image sharer
And this is another shot of a different section of the floor from the basement. imgur: the simple image sharer
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:08 AM
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Wow, very well constructed old growth lumber and full measurements. Nice. The "flooring" you are seeing is what was applied to porches back in the day. It is pine. I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't either a porch or an "ante" room of some sort. It isn't good for today's standards, but I would leave it in place and apply a subflooring on top of it using construction glue and screws or ring shanked nails, to prevent squeaking. Your nice flooring can be applied over that. Have you figured what distance you need from these planks to finished floor height? I know you said you removed carpet and other layers. Sorry for all the questions. The pictures helped a lot.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 05:52 AM
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What do you mean what distance I need? I don't understand what you're asking.

As for it being a porch or an anteroom, there's no way all of both levels of my house were intended as porches. This is literally the flooring of every room of my house. There have been no changes to my house since it was built. It also wouldn't make sense to make the room between the living room and kitchen an anteroom and thus different flooring (Which it isn't anyway because the beams run straight from the dining room to the end of the kitchen).

Also, what do you mean it isn't good by today's standards? As in, it's not good to walk on? It's not good for structural support?

Thanks
 
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Old 09-07-12, 07:23 AM
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Distance in this case means thickness or height - you removed height from the floor with all the layers you removed, do you need to build that back up to match molding heights and such? If so, how much buildup do you need?
 
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Old 09-07-12, 08:10 AM
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No. I don't need to build it back up.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 01:22 PM
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The point I was making is the flooring you have now, is not good by itself to walk on. You have no subflooring and the wood is spanning the width of the joists alone. It was acceptable in the early 1900's, but by today's standards a more solid subflooring is necessary. How thick was the plywood you removed? They applied it to give the floor more rigidity, which is what you need, now for your final floor installation.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 02:29 PM
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What do you mean the wood is spanning the width of the joists alone? Sorry, I just don't understand.

The plywood is 3 ply 3mm. It's not thick at all.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:04 PM
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Thank you for the pictures. That's lovely old pine flooring. While it was probably intended as the base, or subflooring, with an intention to lay a "better" wood over it at some point, it was, and is, perfectly serviceable as it is. And you are correct in your guess that sanding it will thin and weaken it.

I would not remove it, I would not cover it, and I would not sand it. What I would do is remove the carpet, plywood and tarpaper, as gently as possible. I would then clean it, several times. I would then refinish it with a liquid refinisher, as you would with a piece of furniture. It might need some stain or color added as you refinish it, with a Danish oil product. And then I would seal it with three coats of polyurethane - very thin, somewhat thinned, and unthinned.

You can always cover over it later. You can never un-sand it.

One word of caution: I would get everything out of the basement below the work area while you clean and refinish the floor, and spread tarps over the basement floor - disposable ones. The cleaner, solvents and finishes will drip through until the first coat of poly sets, and maybe a little bit as the second coat goes on. By the time the third coat is set, your floor should be waterproof.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:12 PM
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OK, here goes my best shot. You have joists running in one direction. The flooring you have is running in the other direction over the joists. The flooring has nothing else to help it span the joists except for it's own strength, which is minimal at best. In order to successfully install hardwood flooring, you will need to add at least 1/2" plywood over this flooring to add strength.
We're picking apples here, not building a rocket. You have rid your place of the offensive carpet, laminate and other stuff; put down 1/2" plywood and then your flooring. You may need to cut off door jambs and trim, but that goes with the territory of having a better home.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:23 PM
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Nashkat1:Thanks for the response. I really like the flooring but now I'm worried because I'm being told to cover it with plywood. Is 3 mm plywood really enough added strength? I think the floor is fine but I'm scared I won't put plywood over it and then refloor and then my house will cave in or something.

There's nothing in the basement atm (I just moved in a week ago with minimal stuff) so it doesn't much matter, but thanks for the advice on what to do with the polyurethane. Do unsanded floors look bad? Is that just a personal preference? Also, when would I add the stain? Just before the very thin coat of polyurethane (what would I use to dilute the polyurethane, anyway?)

chandler: I'm sorry if I offended you somehow. I just didn't understand what you meant. Like I said originally, I'm a brand new DIY'er and I've never had to give such technical responses. I apologize.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:33 PM
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Oh, you didn't offend me. I can't be offended. And I just made that comment in jest. I know you are new to DIY. I am afraid the flooring you have is not going to be serviceable, but my compadre thinks it may be. That's good. It could be that you can clean it up and see if it will work. I fear it will be too weak to handle traffic, furniture, etc. I agree it was beautiful, and could be made beautiful again. As Nashkat1 said, you can always go back and cover it later. May be worth a shot, just be ready for the inevitable.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:36 PM
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Right. I understand where you're coming from. As a compromise, is there a way to maybe add some structural support from below? Could I do the plywood but from the bottom instead of the top? Basically, nail the plywood into the pine planks and into the joists to add extra support while still giving me my pinewood hardwood on the top?

If that is possible, would it be good to put a moisture barrier between the plywood and the hardwood just in case or would the polyurethane be enough?
 
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Old 09-07-12, 03:51 PM
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Not really. Your support, likewise has to span on top of the joists. It also creates a "shear", but we won't go into that, right now. Try as Nashkat1 suggested by refinishing the floors, or at least get them cleaned up and walk on them, jump on them and see if it feels sturdy enough for normal traffic. If so, finish them. If not.....plan B.
 
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Old 09-07-12, 04:04 PM
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Alright. I'll let you guys know what happens once I get this blasted tar paper and black glue up. Ick!
 
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Old 09-07-12, 04:07 PM
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Good luck and post back with results and pictures.
 
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Old 09-08-12, 07:58 AM
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Okay. Another few questions.

I was researching more online and found that a few people said 3/4 inch planks were sometimes used as subfloors in old houses, but I thought all subfloors ran diagonal to the walls not parallel to them. Is that a misconception on my part or what?

I also read that plywood added on top of planks as extra support are supposed to go perpendicular to the joists but mine goes parallel to. Is that bad? Does it even matter? Does that mean that it wasn't intended as extra strength or does that mean the person who laid the plywood didn't do his/her job correctly?

I'm really hesitant about ripping up the plywood anymore than I have already if I'm just going to have to put new plywood right back down.
 
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Old 09-08-12, 02:44 PM
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Yes, 3/4 planks were used as subflooring. My house has it. They are 1x8's and are run diagonally to the joisting (walls). Yours was not intended as subflooring, but as finished floor (at the time).
Using plywood, I would run it across the joists. Remember, with plywood, every other ply runs grain in the opposite direction, so it has strength throughout.
As I understand, you only have 1/4" luan on the floor (whatever 3mm is). It is not offering any structural strength as compared to 1/2" or thicker plywood.
 
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Old 09-08-12, 02:50 PM
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The direction of the floor joists determine the orientation of the subfloor. Old subflooring [1xs] were either installed perpendicular to the joists or on a diagonal. Plywood is also installed perpendicular [the 8' lenght]

When a house is built, the foundation and floor framing comes first, then the subfloor followed by the wall framing.
 
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Old 09-08-12, 04:06 PM
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chandler: That's why I don't understand why they put it down in the first place. It seems to me that it doesn't do any good. Anyway, I'm still in the process of ripping up the plywood to see if the floor is bouncy.

marksr: I figured plywood was installed perpendicular, which means whoever installed the plywood on top of the hardwood was an idiot since they installed it parallel. Even I knew that one!

Thanks for the info about the order a house is built in, though. I would have thought it was done differently!
 
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Old 09-09-12, 08:23 AM
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I really like the flooring but now I'm worried because I'm being told to cover it with plywood. Is 3 mm plywood really enough added strength? I think the floor is fine but I'm scared I won't put plywood over it and then refloor and then my house will cave in or something.
You have 3/4" tongue-and-groove flooring, not 3/4" sheathing. It is installed perpendicular to the full-width, unmilled, 2X joists, which are X-braced - one of the most stable configurations known. These floors have remained stable and strong for decades, and they still are.

Do unsanded floors look bad?
That's a matter of taste. They look old, which I prefer in an old house. Refinished, they look old and beautiful, IMO.
 
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Old 09-09-12, 08:39 AM
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The inspector said that the floor joists were some of the best he had ever seen done. He said that unless I was driving dump trucks through my house my floor would hold up, and I honestly can't see the plywood that was there doing any good.

At any rate, I ripped up all the plywood and jumped all over the floor and it didn't squeak or bend or do anything scary, so I think I'm good. Now to get this blasted tar paper up :P
 
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Old 09-09-12, 09:05 AM
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Also, When I pulled the plywood up the nails ripped out of it and trying to pull them out of the hardwood is either 1) breaking the nailhead off or 2) splintering the wood all around where the nail was when I yank it out. (The nails have threads like screws but they're... well... nails and they're rusted as all get out.)

Anyway. Is there any way to get the nails out without damaging the floor? Should I suck it up and just pull them out and try to repair the damage later? Should I cut the heads of the nails off using one of these dohickymabobbers and then hammering any nail shaft that sticks up down?

I'm at a loss.
 
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Old 09-09-12, 12:48 PM
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Your link didn't work, but if you are referring to a pair of nail pulling pliers, yes. if the nail breaks, use a nail set and drive it down below the surface. That way you can use a light sanding machine to finish the floors without cutting your sanding paper.
 
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Old 09-09-12, 02:04 PM
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Hmm. It works for me.

Anyway, it's a wire clipper type thing? It looks like a tile cutter but it's sharp and closes all the way. However, I bought one and it doesn't actually break the nails.

My only concern is that because they're ring shank nails they keep damaging the hardwood when I pull them out, so I'm trying not to do that.

I ended up ordering a hacksaw to see if that would work. The people at Lowes were utterly unhelpful.

So, I'm probably just going to cut them off as close to the floor as I can and then hammer them in a little. I just don't want to ruin my floor pulling them up. Maybe it would be better to not cut them and to just hammer them in? Thoughts?
 
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Old 09-09-12, 05:24 PM
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If you are using the nippers correctly, you can put a piece of 1/4" luan (and you have plenty ) under the jaws and rotate them over the rounded part. If the nail breaks, set it below the surface using a nail set. Don't hack saw them as you will ruin the flooring. It may be better to nip them at the surface with your new found tool and drive them from the get go. I have found if your "help" has the "deer in the headlights look", move on.
 
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Old 09-09-12, 06:14 PM
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it's a wire clipper type thing? It looks like a tile cutter but it's sharp and closes all the way. However, I bought one and it doesn't actually break the nails.

My only concern is that because they're ring shank nails they keep damaging the hardwood when I pull them out, so I'm trying not to do that.
I would cut the heads off the ring shank nails using nippers, which may be what you're describing, drive them slightly below the surface of the wood with a nail set, and then use some putty, probably Durham's with color mixed in, to fill any small hole that needed it. I would do the puttying after the floor is thoroughly clean. Probably before the refinishing and definitely before the first coat of poly.

The good news is that leaving the shank of the nails in the floor will keep the floor sealed. The wood would probably relax enough to seal as you worked with the liquids, but this way you don't have to rely on that.

when would I add the stain?
I decide whether the floor needs some stain after I have it fully cleaned, de-waxed and dry. The stain, if needed, is added to the home-made refinishing formula that I use. Sometimes I decide to add a little for refinishing the center of a room, if the perimeter has been sun-darkened while the center was protected by a rug. Or where high traffic has scuffed the floor more than in other areas.

Just before the very thin coat of polyurethane (what would I use to dilute the polyurethane, anyway?)
The polyurethane you choose will have that information on the label. Be prepared to scuff the entire floor between each coat of poly, to give the surface enough "tooth" for the next coat to adhere. A steel wool pad under a floor buffer works best for this, IMX.
 
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Old 09-09-12, 09:18 PM
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chandler: Deer in the headlights they were indeed. It was sad. Thanks for the tips!

Nashkat1: Nippers! That's what I was describing! Mine don't seem to close all the way though, which is frustrating. Maybe the guys at Lowes steered me wrong. Looks like I'm going back tomorrow.

My only real issue now is getting this blasted paper stuff up. I swear, if I ever find out who did this they're goners!
 
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Old 09-10-12, 12:48 PM
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Nippers! That's what I was describing!
Well cool. Just remember, as Chandler advised earlier, to always protect the flooring by placing a putty knife, a thin piece of wood, or a piece of hard plastic where the nippers will bear on the floor if you're pulling. It doesn't sound like you'll be doing much of that, but just something to keep in mind.

My only real issue now is getting this blasted paper stuff up.
Would it help if you nipped the heads off the nails and countersank the shanks first? Another thought, if the paper has adhered to the wood, it to try wetting it with water from a spray bottle ant letting that soak for 10-12 minutes. You might test either or both of these in a small area to see if they help.

I swear, if I ever find out who did this they're goners!
They actually followed best practice when they did that. Nearly all of us who work with old houses run into things that we wish the POs hadn't done. That doesn't mean, though, that what they did was wrong - at least not always.
 
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Old 09-10-12, 01:20 PM
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It's definitely adhered to the wood. It won't come up for anyone's money and I'm afraid of doing something that would damage the wood to try and get it up.

I know they followed best practice, but it sure is a pain! :P
 
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Old 09-10-12, 02:49 PM
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It's definitely adhered to the wood. It won't come up for anyone's money and I'm afraid of doing something that would damage the wood to try and get it up.
Water or a solvent might help. If I were going to scrape it I would use what I call a "hawkbill" scraper (a two-handed paint scraper), thinking that that might be the most effective tool that would also minimize the chance of gouging the wood.
 
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Old 09-10-12, 02:53 PM
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would also minimize the chance of gouging the wood.
Providing you scrape with the direction of the grain! You don't want to scrape across the boards, that will cause a bit of damage that might be hard to sand out.
 
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Old 09-10-12, 03:27 PM
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Providing you scrape with the direction of the grain! You don't want to scrape across the boards, that will cause a bit of damage that might be hard to sand out.
Can't believe I forgot to mention that! Thanks, Mark.
 
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Old 09-11-12, 06:50 AM
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I knew to go with the grain! Yay!
 
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Old 09-11-12, 10:38 AM
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Glad you knew
Every now and then we have some that don't have a clue so we try to cover all the bases.
 
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Old 02-10-14, 12:52 AM
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You guys ALMOST helped with my problem...

Hello,

I ran across your conversation, and I thought I'd ask what I can do for my situation, which you almost answered. Basically, I do have old pine hardwood with nothing under it (only a crawlspace). It's very thin all over from being belt-sanded over and over again, and certain spots are very bouncy or creaky because they are so thin. It's been recently finished with a clear coat. I am pretty confident about how to fix some of the tongue-and-groove problems from the top, but I really wanted to know if there's anything I can do from below the bouncy areas to help support it and keep it stable. Any help you can offer is appreciated! (I'm a novice DIYer)

Ryan
 
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Old 02-10-14, 04:37 AM
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Welcome to the forums Ryan!

Is the bounce between the joists or is it the floor over all? If it just gives between the joists that means the flooring is too thin and needs to either be replaced or reinforced from below. If the whole floor gives - that indicates undersized floor joists. There are various ways to address that assuming you have access below.
 
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Old 05-17-15, 04:09 PM
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I'm in the same situation, although this thread is very old. I see some terrible advice here. First, that tarpaper will not come up with out 1) heat (as in a heat gun) and 2) a lot of elbow grease. It is a nightmare to get that stuff up. Forget about it. I am in a similar situation with a 100 year old house with floors that have just been sanded too much. You can tell if they've been sanded too much if you see any splits or cracks about 1/8" away from the edges of the planks - that is the wood splitting over the tougue of the adjacent board because it is too thin.

Don't even think about trying to take up that tar paper throughout the entire house. A 300 sf room will take about 20 hours of back breaking work with a powerful heat gun, and a scraper, and it will absolutely have to be sanded clean, as there will be considerable residue after pulling up the paper, and it will gum up the sander terribly. There is no solvent or solution that will get that crap off without ruining the wood underneath and don't let anyone tell you boiling water or vinegar will get it up - that is total nonsense. I've done this in two rooms before, nice pine floors under thick tarpaper under hard vinyl tile. I tried all the stupid things people suggested to no avail, hired someone to do it who ran away and never called me back after the first day, then finally got a Mexican guy who showed me how with a heat gun. It's the only way. One way or another, the tar has to be heated to be pliable, plain and simple. Throwing pots of boiling water on the floor is dangerous and silly. Heat gun!

My advice is to use the existing pine floor as a subfloor. It may be worn out, but even so it is much stronger than brand new plywood in any case. Leave the tar paper alone as it will be fine between the hardwood layers. A new 3/4" hardwood floor should not rise too far above where the existing carpet was, if at all. You didn't say anything about your moldings or what would need to be adjusted, so I assume when the carpet was laid down the moldings, doors, etc. were elevated back then. I can't imagine any benefit to putting plywood down on top of an existing subfloor. Rip off the plywood and use the old floor as the subfloor.

And pine floors are primo flooring, not substandard in anyway whatsoever. No one uses pine flooring anymore because there is no pine suitable for flooring left in the country, it was all used up. You need old growth pine heartwood for flooring. All there is today is pine sapwood, the trees are too young. That's all. Remilled / recycled pine is among the most expensive flooring you can buy.

My 2 cents.
 
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Old 05-17-15, 04:57 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

I see some terrible advice here.
Wow, I thought we were doing pretty good. You state in one sentence there was bad advice to use heat and a bunch of work to get it up. Then in your next paragraph, you state that is exactly what the OP would need to do. Need to get it straight, hoss

The advice we gave was exactly what you suggested, and hopefully he has solved his problem with the flooring. So I see no conflict, nor do I see any terrible advice.

Here's your change!
 
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