How to Know When Your Hardwood Floors Are Beyond Repair
Hardwood might be able to stand the test of time, but it doesn’t always last forever. Like any other natural product, wood degrades. While hardwood flooring can last for centuries, there are circumstances like incorrect installation, high traffic, poor conditions, and pets that can require homeowners to replace their flooring sooner than anticipated.
A hole in the floor is an obvious sign that something’s up. However, you don’t need to wait until you can spot your basement from the living room couch before you get to work on a fix. In fact, that’s the exact type of situation this guide is meant to help you avoid.
So, the big question: When is the right time to replace your floors? Okay, one more question: When can you get by with a repair? Here’s what you need to know.
You’re Starting to See Nails. Lots of Nails.
Not all wood flooring was created equal, especially if you’re living in an older home. Since your house was built, those floors have seen decades–if not generations–of use and abuse. In high-traffic areas, it’s not unusual to begin seeing nail heads sneaking above the surface. The general rule for repair vs. replace with this issue is this: If you can see exposed nails over more than 30 percent of the floors throughout your home, it’s time to replace.
Pro tip! It might be possible to remove the existing hardwood only in high-traffic areas. Consult with a flooring pro to help you choose replacement floors that will complement your existing hardwoods.
Your Floorboards Are Moving
Unless you’re standing on a skateboard, a moving sidewalk or an escalator, the ground beneath your feet is not supposed to move. If your wood flooring is swaying, bending, shifting or buckling under your weight, it’s time to rip up the floors—or that section, at the very least—and replace them.
Some floor movement can be more subtle. Use a level or even a marble to check for floating or sagging floors. The root cause of these issues could be something as major as water damage or foundation cracks. In some cases, a contractor might be able to fix the underlying issue without touching the floors. In others, though, you’ll probably need to pull up the wood, repair the issue, replace the subfloor and replace the flooring with new hardwood.
Pro tip! Squeaking boards aren’t as much of a problem as they can sound like to homeowners. Are they annoying? Sure. But most squeaks come from boards rubbing up against one another or the subfloor rather than a serious structural issue. A flooring professional should be able to diagnose and repair squeaky floors easily.
You Want a New Look
You can’t click your heels together three times and turn oak into pine or parquet into a less-showy pattern. If that’s the look you’re dreaming of for your home, you’re going to have to replace the hardwood with new floors. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, a little warmer or a little darker, you can absolutely get that effect by sanding your existing floors and staining them. Paint is also an option—and it’s historically accurate for many homes, too.
The only barrier to the sand-and-refinish option is how many times your floors have been sanded and refinished previously. Most wood flooring can handle several rounds before it’s time to replace it.
Verdict: It depends
Pro tip! If you have engineered wood flooring you want to refresh, you can sand and refinish those surfaces, too. While the wear layer is thinner than solid hardwood, there’s still leeway for a round of sanding and refinishing, or a refresh of the finish, which is known as a “screen and recoat”.
If you’re noticing any of the scary “replace me!” warning signs we mentioned above, schedule a consult ASAP with a contractor who specializes in hardwood flooring. They’ll be able to give you an accurate, expert assessment of your situation, along with any stopgap measures you can take and how long you can afford to wait.
Twenty & Oak Experts
Twenty & Oak Experts are a team of flooring professionals with over 150 years of combined experience in the industry. They have hands-on experience with all flooring types and bring inside industry know-how to homeowners in the Southeast.