Replacing Wood Floors In A Prewar Apartment The Dos And Donts

If you’ve purchased a prewar apartment and your hardwood floors are in less than stellar condition, you should do everything possible to repair and refinish for resale purposes since prospective buyers will most likely prefer original floors. If your hardwoods aren’t salvageable, however, you may have no other choice but to replace them. In this case, keep the following points in mind if new wood floors are your only viable option.

Do select the right type of wood and finish

Avoid selecting woods that wouldn’t have been used at the time your apartment building was constructed. You’ll do best if you choose a material true to the period. Otherwise, your floors might be an eyesore and detract from the overall space.

Say no to rainforest woods such as teak, rosewood, and mahogany since these will most likely separate (as a result of radiator heat) more than North American woods like walnut, maple, or oak. These woods tend to be the most suitable for apartments because they expand and contract less.

The finish should resemble the original, which is probably a medium tone –- don’t go too light or too dark. Avoid high-gloss polyurethane and stay with a more matte finish to avoid a “new” appearance, as well as magnifying dirt and imperfections.

Don’t rush the project


Wood needs to acclimate to space and should be delivered at least one week before the install date. During this time, interior temperatures in your apartment should be in the 65-70-degree range with humidity at about 30-40 percent. If not acclimated properly the wood could shrink after it’s installed.

Do stay true to the original floors’ character and specs


If your original floor design includes borders, you might consider replacing those borders if in the budget. If details such as this are more than you can afford, stay simple and use the same type of wood and pattern, minus the borders. For example, if you currently have a quarter-sawn oak with walnut borders, eliminate the borders and replace the entire floor with quarter-sawn oak.

Think twice before you install prefinished wood floors.


Prewar and prefinished don’t usually work together. Know that prefab wood floors could affect the resale of your apartment, and your unit could take longer to sell. Buyers searching for prewar are buying the details and expect them.

Engineered floors are less expensive, more dimensionally stable, and even more durable because of the six or more coats or poly vs. the three coats when finished on site.

Some will be more authentic looking than others, so if you choose to install prefinished flooring, do your homework and investigate all of the options.

Do prep the subfloor


One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make when installing wood floors is to ignore the subfloor. Be sure the layer below the finished flooring is leveled before you install a new floor. If you skip this step, your newly installed hardwoods could slope or roll. Once the floors have been finished, an uneven floor is a problem that is not easily fixed.


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