Is There a Heaven for Hardwood Floors?: Part 1

February 14, 2014

Posted in macstaff

So you’ve read our post Refinish or Replace? Determining the Fate of Your Hardwood Floors, and you’ve decided that replacing a few boards or refinishing the floor just won’t cut it. Maybe it’s just too damaged to salvage; maybe you’ve got structural problems you have to address anyway; or maybe you just saw that Brazilian Cherry over at your neighbor’s house and have abandoned all sense of loyalty to your vintage pine. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided those old floors just have to come out. So what now?

Part One: To DIY or not to DIY?

To answer this question, there are a few others you should ask yourself:

1. What are your goals? Are you hoping to save money or are you seeking the satisfaction of a hard job well done? Removing your old floors yourself will probably save you some money, providing you are able to do it without damaging your subfloor. To have it professionally removed will likely cost between $2 and $4 per square foot, depending on whether it is part of an installation or just a removal (it may cost less attached to an installation, but you need to discuss this with your contractor/installer).

However, DIY removal will also require extra time off work and a certain amount of equipment, not to mention a full body massage to help you recover afterwards.

2. How much time/ energy do you have to spend? While finding advice on the internet about installing hardwood floor is about as easy as finding a local pizza place, you’ll be harder pressed to find much about removing hardwood flooring (some helpful hints can be found here and here). This is because removing a hardwood floor is a time- and labor-intensive project that most people prefer to leave it to professionals. For every 100 square feet of flooring, you should budget about 5-7 hours, depending on the factors in 3-6. This is assuming you don’t run into major problems like subfloor damage or equipment malfunction.

The process of pulling up boards also requires a decent amount of strength, which is going to have to hold out for hours at a time if you are going to finish before the turn of the century. You may also need to learn to use certain tools, like a circular saw and a pry bar and mallet combo. That said, it can be pretty satisfying to look at a clear floor and a stack of wood after a few days (very) hard work.

3. How is your old floor laid down? For obvious reasons, a floating floor is going to be much easier to remove than a floor that has been nailed down, which will be easier to remove than a floor that has been glued to a concrete subfloor. With each degree of difficulty, the advisability of removing the floor yourself (as well as your chances of salvaging the floor – see below) decreases significantly.

4. What is the area of the space you are needing to clear? The more rooms you have to de-floor, the more you will probably want to consider hiring someone with the equipment and experience to make quicker work of it. These folks do this every day. Unless you do manual labor in your profession, you are likely to get tired, and consequently slower and slower, as a big job drags on.

5. What is your level of experience? As we mentioned, you will need to be handy with a pry bar and mallet, nail claw, and possibly a circular saw to carry this project off. If you are asking as you read this what any of these things are, DIY may not be the path for you in this instance. Improper use of any of these tools could result in serious and expensive damage to your subfloor, not to mention yourself.

6. What are you planning to do with the wood when you’re done? We’ve mentioned salvaging the wood from your hardwood floors several times now. We’ll say more about that in Part Two, but for now, consider this: If you are hoping to resell the wood as flooring, you will need to take much greater care not to damage the planks, including their more delicate tongues and grooves, as you pry them from the floor, and you will probably want to try to keep them as unbroken and uncut as possible, making for a much more painstaking and difficult process. If, however, you are going to recycle or repurpose the wood, you may be able to cut it into smaller, easier to remove pieces.

For ideas about what to do with your wood once it’s been removed, check out “Is There a Heaven for Hardwood Floors?: Part 2.”