Happy Chinese New Year! Woof! Woof! 2018 is dog year and we have several dog people in my family, including Slav. The Chinese tradition for people in their animal year is to wear something red, so my side of the family got Slav red thermals for skiing. It is so practical yet sweet.
The tradition also says that you are not supposed to work during Chinese New Year. Failing to obey this rule will lead to a whole year of hard work. But who are we kidding here – how could we stay away from our projects when the office looks like this after we framed the opening?
One urgent task we needed to address was the floor under the office opening. There was no hardwood floor under the old wall:
And now there is!
The Long Floor Story
Let me back up a little and fill you in with our floor situation. The whole ranch was carpeted when we bought it. And on the closing day, we found hardwood flooring throughout the main story. We were scheduled to move in the same afternoon, so instead of moving furniture in, we unloaded all of our possessions into the garage and started ripping off the carpet. It was the first renovation we did in the ranch and it was crunch time.
Our wood floor is not in a bad condition – there was no rot or significant damage, although the old carpet certainly left its mark. We plan to refinish our floors this coming spring, as soon as the weather is warm enough to leave windows and doors open. However, changing the office layout certainly exposed some bare spots, including the area underneath the old closet wall (now the opening entry to Slav’s closet):
And the area under the old office/living room wall (now the new office opening):
We decided to patch these sections with hardwood flooring. Our old floor was generic and easy to track down. We ordered a whole box several weeks ahead of time to let the new floor planks get acclimated to the room.
In the morning of installation, I laid all the planks out based on their length. We also inspected the planks for straightness and quality.
Roxie is always curious about whatever we are doing and usually sticks around during our work (until the vacuum comes out). However, Charlie is afraid of loud noises and always stays in the backyard. This time was no exception. Charlie was nowhere to be found whereas Roxie sat and guarded all the floor planks.
An Easy Start
This is our first time working with hardwood floors. So we decided to start with the section that is relative easy – Slav’s closet.
The existing flooring was cut down on both sides to meet the old closet wall, so we started by removing one row of the old flooring from each side.
As you can see, our flooring is in tong-and-groove style. To patch the flooring, we would be fitting our new floor planks’ groove into the tong of the existing flooring.
The long piece just outside of the closet was pretty damaged by carpet furring strips. So we took this opportunity to replace it. Slav removed it with a chisel.
Removing the two rows next to the bare spot enlarged the area we needed to patch, but we gained intact tong and groove to fit the new planks onto.
Our bed quickly became a work zone. We have a tarp dedicated for covering our bed, which we called our “bed tarp”. Whenever things are happening in the bedroom, the bed tarp is out!
We fit the new flooring planks on by gluing the tong of the new pieces to the old pieces’ groove. This is rather unconventional since the typical way of laying tong and groove flooring is to work from the groove side to the tong side. Ideally, after every piece goes in, the tong side should be stapled down to the plywood subfloor for stability. We had to work backwards because we wanted the narrower pieces to be hidden inside the closet. Since there was no tong for us to staple down, we had to use glue to joint pieces together.
After applying glue, Slav tapped the new pieces in with a hammer.
We made effort to fit every piece neatly, including tucking the new planks under the existing trims, baseboard, and drywall.
Slav and I worked as a team – I selected pieces with the right grain and length, while Slav glued and tapped each piece in. It went really quick until we hit the last row.
The last row is always a challenge since it is usually narrower than a full piece, and there is usually not enough room for the tong and groove to come together.
We ripped the new flooring down to the width on the tong side, then cut off the bottom groove so we could just dropped it in to place.
The first piece fit right in.
And the rest followed. The new flooring is a bit lighter than the old flooring, likely due to the discoloration of the old flooring overtime. After we refinish the floor, the new planks should blend right in.
The Real Challenge
Encouraged by the success in the bedroom, we moved onto the office opening. The flooring situation here is much more complicated. The first challenge is the direction in which the flooring runs. The easy way to go about it is to lay down some long pieces to fill the gap, which would lay perpendicular to the existing flooring. It would define the two rooms better by giving the office a clear “boundary”. It should also work well with the thick french door slabs we picked for this opening.
The other strategy would be laying the new floor planks parallel to the existing ones. For example, we could cut the new floor into short pieces and stack them from left to right to fill the gap. Since the existing wood flooring in the two rooms align perfectly, laying the floor parallel would give the entire living space a more connected look. We expect the office door to be left open 90% of the time, so having the two rooms feel like one would be nice.
We could also go one step further and remove some of the existing floor planks, in which way the seams between planks could be staggered (as shown below). This strategy gives the most seamless look between the two rooms. It would look like that the flooring was laid all at once and never patched.
The third option is obvious more difficult and labor-intensive, but it would give us the best result. It also provides an opportunity to replace some old planks that were scratched badly. So the decision was made! As always, the Sloniowski family went for the most difficult route, for which we would hate ourselves in the next two days.
We started by laying pieces of flooring over the gap, in order to determine how much old flooring to remove. Being dangerously close to use up all of our floor planks, we tried to concentrate on replacing the pieces with visible damage. We also wanted to stagger the seams so the final flooring is more stable.
This required some calculations on what we had vs. what we would need. I grew up calculating everything by hand and am still terrible at using calculators. Long worksheet is my friend.
Since almost all the new planks would be cut down into various different length, I made an effort to minimize scraps. For example, if I needed two pieces that are 20″ and 40″ long, respectively, I tried to find a plank close to 60.5″ to make these two boards.
While I was busy planning and cutting new floor planks to size, Slav was busy demoing the old flooring. He used circular saw to cut longitudinally, along the plank grain, then used an oscillating saw to cross-cut the ends. As the last step, he used a chisel to finish all the corners and clean around the tongs and grooves. It was a lot of work and required quite a bit of accuracy. It took Slav two entire afternoons (about 5 hours each afternoon) to chip away every bits of old flooring.
This is where we stopped at the end of the first day. Long hours on our knees.
Patching the Subfloor
While cutting away the old floor planks, we also made some repairs on the plywood subfloor. Some portion of the old subfloor was rotten and sagging, and there was a big piece missing under the old return vent.
Slav cut off the rotten part, and some more old subflooring around the vent so the new piece can go over the floor joints.
We added a block of 2″ x 4″ scrap underneath to support the new subfloor, then I cut a piece of 1/2″ plywood to fit.
Patching It Up!
By the end of the second afternoon, we had all the old flooring cut away to match the new pieces. We checked and double checked by dry-fitting every new piece before cutting the old planks to the final length.
Now it was time to patch! We used the conventional method of nailing down the tong down to the subfloor. I’ve been wanting a brad nailer for a long time and this seems to be the perfect excuse to get one. It was only $20 (!!!) from HFT and light enough for me to use. We used 2″ nails and you can see the nail holes in the picture below.
To fit longer pieces behind the grooves of the old piece, we usually cut off a portion of the tong. The pieces went in mostly OK, with a few that needed some hammer persuasion. Slav and I again worked as a team, with him cutting on the table saw and me tap the new piece into place and firing the nail gun.
Things moved along nicely but we still worked well into the evening.
It was definitely a push to finish, but it felt so, so, so good when I nailed the last piece in! Look what we accmplished!
This portion of our old floor was pretty beaten up, so the new and smooth flooring planks really jumps out. We are hoping to blend everything in by sanding and refinishing the floor. But for now, it certainly beats what we had before:
What do you think? We think it was definitely worth it to go with the parallel direction of patching and stagger the seams. Being newbies to this type of work, It was solid three afternoons on our knees. We are both pretty tired. But with the office looks nicer and nicer each week, we are pumped to push through the next big project – door framing. Stay tuned, friends!