How to Repair Floors


From under the floor, drive wedges into gaps between the subflooring and the joists to stop squeaks.
From under the floor, drive wedges into gaps between the subflooring and the joists to stop squeaks.
Image courtesy © Publications International, Ltd.

When you consider the punishment caused by everyday foot traffic, it's surprising that floors and stairs hold up as well as they do. Eventually, though, wear and tear take their toll. Squeaks develop, minor damage afflicts resilient tile and sheet flooring, burns dot your carpeting, or the entire surface begins to show its age and needs replacing or refinishing. Fortunately, repairs are much simpler than you might have thought. In this article, you will find solutions for solving all of these common floor problems.

Let's begin with how to get squeaks out of your floors. Squeaky floors aren't serious structural problems, but they can be annoying. If you have exposed hardwood floors, you may be able to stop the squeak by sprinkling talcum powder over the noisy boards and sweeping it back and forth to force it down into the cracks.

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If there's a basement or crawl space under the noisy floor, work from this area to locate the problem. You'll need a helper upstairs to walk on the squeaky spot while you work. Watch the subfloor under the noisy floorboards while your helper steps on the floor above. If the subfloor moves visibly or if you can pinpoint the noise, outline the affected areas with chalk. At the joists closest to your outlines, look for gaps between the joist and the subfloor; wherever there's a gap, the floorboards can move. To stop squeaks here, install shingles or wood shims into the gaps to reduce movement.

If there are no gaps along the joists, or if the squeaks are coming from an area between joists, there's probably a gap between the floorboards and the subfloor. To pull the two layers together, install wood screws up through the subflooring in the squeaky areas. Make sure you drill pilot holes before inserting the screws so you don't crack the wood. The wood screws must be long enough to penetrate into the floor above you but not so long that they go all the way through the boards and stick up through your floor.

Squeaks between subflooring and flooring can often be eliminated using wood screws to pull layers together.
Squeaks between subflooring and flooring can often be eliminated using wood screws to pull layers together.
Image courtesy © Publications International, Ltd.

If you can't get at the floor from underneath, you'll have to work from the top with spiral flooring nails. First, locate the squeak and try to determine whether it's at a joist or between joists. To eliminate the squeak, drive two spiral flooring nails, angled toward each other in a V, through the floorboards and the subfloor. If the squeak is at a joist, use longer spiral flooring nails, driving them through the floorboards and the subfloor and into the joist. Drill pilot holes first to keep the boards from splitting.

If you cannot access the underside of the floor, angle the flooring nails from above into a joist, then fill the nail holes with wood putty.
If you cannot access the underside of the floor, angle the flooring nails from above into a joist, then fill the nail holes with wood putty.
Image courtesy © Publications International, Ltd.

If the floor is tiled or carpeted and you can't get at the floorboards from above or below, you probably won't be able to eliminate the squeak without removing the floor covering. Before you do this, try to reset the loose floorboards by pounding. Using a hammer and a block of scrap wood as a buffer, pound the floor firmly in an area about 2 or 3 feet square over the squeaky floorboards. The pressure of the pounding may force loose nails back into place.

In the next section, we'll look at how to repair damaged tile floors.

How to Repair Tile Floors

Today's resilient floors are a real boon, but they can lose their attraction very quickly when they're damaged. Fortunately, even the worst-looking damage is easy to repair, whether the resilient flooring is tile or sheet vinyl. Modern resilient flooring products include vinyl composition tile (VCT), vinyl tile and sheet flooring, linoleum tile and sheet flooring, and cork tile and sheet flooring.

Tile repairs are very simple, because only the affected tiles must be repaired. If a tile is loose, it can be reglued with floor tile adhesive; if it's just loose at one edge or corner, there may be enough old adhesive left on the tile to reattach it. Cover the tile with aluminum foil, and then with a clean cloth. Heat the loose edges with an iron, set to medium heat, to soften the old adhesive and rebond it. When the adhesive has softened, weight the entire tile and let the adhesive cure for several hours or overnight.

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If the old adhesive isn't strong enough to reattach the tile, use a floor tile adhesive made for that type of tile. Heat the tile as described above, and carefully lift the loose edges with a paint scraper or a putty knife. Scrape the old adhesive off the edges of the tile and apply a thin coat of new adhesive, using a notched spreader or trowel. Then smooth the tile firmly from center to edges and weight the entire tile. Let the adhesive cure as directed by the manufacturer before removing the weights.

If a tile is damaged, you can replace it. To remove the tile, carefully heat it with a propane torch with a flame-spreader nozzle, taking care not to damage the surrounding tiles. Pry the damaged tile up with a paint scraper or a putty knife. After removing the tile, scrape all the old adhesive off the floor to make a clean base for the new tile. Fill any gouges in the tile base with wood filler or floor-leveling compound, and let the filler dry completely.

Check the fit of the new tile in the prepared opening, even if you are using the same standard size as the old tile. If the new tile doesn't fit exactly, sand the edges or carefully slice off the excess with a sharp utility knife and a straightedge. When the tile fits perfectly, spread a thin coat of floor tile adhesive in the opening, using a notched trowel or spreader. Warm the new tile with a clothing iron to make it flexible, and then carefully set it into place in the opening, pressing it firmly onto the adhesive. Weight the entire tile firmly, and let the adhesive cure as directed by the manufacturer. Remove the weights when the adhesive is completely cured.

How to Repair Sheet Floors

When the floor is badly worn or damaged, use scrap flooring to patch it. You'll need a piece of flooring a little bigger than the bad spot, with the same pattern.

Step 1: Position the scrap over the bad spot so that it covers the damage completely, and align the pattern exactly with the floor pattern.

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Step 2: Tape the patch firmly in place on the floor, using package sealing tape all around the edges. Then, with a straightedge and a sharp utility knife, cut a rectangle through the scrap piece and through the flooring below it, to make a patch bigger than the damaged area. Cut along joints or lines in the pattern, if possible, to make the patch harder to see. Be sure the corners are cleanly cut.

Step 3: Once the flooring is cut through, untape the scrap piece and push out the rectangular patch. Soften the old flooring inside the cut lines by heating it with a clothing iron, set to medium heat. First, cover the patch area with aluminum foil and then with a clean cloth; press until the adhesive holding the flooring has softened. Carefully pry up the damaged piece with a paint scraper or putty knife. Scrape all the old adhesive off the floor to make a clean base for the patch. If there are any gouges in the floor, fill them with water putty and let it dry completely.

Step 4: Install the patch in the opening. If it binds a little, you can sand the edges slightly with medium-grit or fine-grit paper to adjust the fit. When the patch fits exactly, spread a thin coat of floor tile adhesive in the opening with a notched trowel or spreader. Then set the patch into the gap, press it firmly in, and wipe off any excess adhesive around the edges.

Step 5: Heat-seal the edges to the main sheet of flooring. Protect the floor with aluminum foil and a clean cloth, as above; press the edges firmly but quickly with a hot iron.

Step 6: After bonding the edges, weight the entire patch firmly and let the adhesive cure as directed by the manufacturer. Remove the weights when the adhesive is completely cured. Don't wash the floor for at least a week.

Resilient flooring is very convenient, especially in high-volume areas, but it's hard to beat the elegant beauty of hardwood flooring. Of course repairing a hardwood floor isn't as simple as cutting out a patch and gluing it in, as we've learned on this page. Still, with a little patience, the clean and understated look of hardwood flooring can be well worth the effort. Move on to the next section for complete instructions on how to repair a hardwood floor.

How to Repair Hardwood Floors

To sand a hardwood floor, you can rent a floor sander.
To sand a hardwood floor, you can rent a floor sander.
Image courtesy © Publications International, Ltd.

If you are tired of floor coverings and want to restore the natural warmth and beauty of hardwood under the carpet, the job is difficult, but it can be done. You will have to remove the old finish and strip the floor down to the bare wood. Only then can you apply the new finish.

You'll need a drum sander with a dust bag attachment and a disk sander or edger, available at a tool rental store. The store can supply or recommend sandpaper. Buy open-coat sandpaper in 20, 40 and 100 grits.

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Before you start, move everything out of the room. This includes curtains and draperies, pictures -- everything. Floor refinishing is messy, especially during the sanding operation.

Caution: Be sure to wear a safety mask and safety glasses to keep finish and wood particles from eyes and lungs during this process.

Step 1: Seal off all heating and cooling outlets with masking tape, and seal around all doorways except the one you will use (seal that one, too, when you are ready to start). Some sanding dust will get into the rest of the house, but sealing doorways and duct outlets will help reduce the mess.

Step 2: Carefully remove all quarter round, baseboard, and other molding at the floor. Check the entire floor for nails, and countersink any that protrude. Open the windows.

Step 3: For the first sanding, use 20-grit paper in the drum sander. Go back and forth over the entire floor, with the grain, overlapping each pass about three inches. At the end of each pass, you will have to lift the sander and move it over -- but be careful in doing this to avoid digging into the floor. Go slowly. Use the disk sander or a sanding block in areas near the walls where the drum sander cannot reach.

Step 4: Repeat the procedure with 40-grit paper, and then again with 100 grit. When you are satisfied that you have removed the old finishes, you can return the rental equipment.

Step 5: Vacuum the room thoroughly, including the walls and around windows, to remove all the dust. If you do not remove all the dust, you will obtain an inferior finish.

Step 6: If your floor is pine, use a pine floor primer to seal the wood. Give the primer an hour to dry before applying your finish. If your floor is oak, rub some turpentine on a small section to see what the wood would look like with a natural finish. If you like the way the floor looks, you need not stain it. If you decide to stain the wood, apply the stain evenly and let it dry thoroughly according to the directions.

Step 7: Apply the finish. Clear-finish polyurethane varnish is ideal. The first coat will tack-dry in about 15 minutes and will be ready for the second coat in about an hour. When the second coat dries, buff the floor. For a high gloss, wait overnight and apply a third coat using a mixture of one part reducer to four parts finish. Let this coat dry overnight before use. After the third coat, the floor can be shined with a dry mop. If you prefer, natural varnish is a traditional finish coat that requires more care to apply. It is slower drying, and there is more chance for dust to foul the finish. It is subject to checking as it grows older, though when applied properly it dries water-clear for a beautiful finish. Follow it with a coat of wax and buff.

Note: If a prefinished flooring is installed, refer to the manufacturer's instructions for refinishing and maintaining the floors.

Now that we've dealt with the major operations, we can divide and conquer some of the minor floor repairs. In our next section, we will cover squeaky floors and stars and carpet burns.

How to Remove Squeaks in Stairs

Squeaks in stairs can sometimes be eliminated by installing wedges between the moving components.
Squeaks in stairs can sometimes be eliminated by installing wedges between the moving components.
Image courtesy © Publications International, Ltd.

Squeaky stairs sometimes can be fixed quickly with packaged graphite powder or talcum powder in a squeeze bottle. Apply the powder along all the joints in the area of the stair squeaks. The powder lubricates the edges of the boards and might take away the noise. If that fails, you'll need to look into the following more permanent methods.

Stairs are put together with three basic components: the tread, the riser, and the stringer (the side piece). In most cases, stair squeaks are caused by the tread rubbing against the riser or the stringer. If you can, work from under the stairs when fixing a stair squeak. You'll need a helper to walk up and down the stairs while you work.

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While your helper walks on the stairs, watch them from below, looking for movement and for cracks in the wood, loose nails, or other problems. One of the simple ways to fix a stair squeak is to wedge the components that are moving. Cut small wedges from wood shingles or shims. To install a wedge, apply carpenters' glue to the side that will lie against the stairs. Drive the wedge into the squeaking joints, either tread-riser or tread-stringer. When the wedge is tight, secure it with small nails, being careful not to split the wedge. The nails must be long enough to hold the wedge securely, but make sure they don't go all the way through the stair component and stick out on the other side.

If the joints aren't wide enough to take wedges, use 1x2-inch wood braces to stop the movement of the boards. Use one long or two or more short 1x2 blocks for each stair-width joint. Apply carpenters' glue to the sides of the block that will lie against the stairs, then set the block into the squeaking joint and nail it into place.

If you can't get at the stairs from underneath, work from the top. For stair squeaks at the front of a tread, where it meets the riser below it, drive pairs of spiral flooring nails, angled toward each other in a V, across the tread and into the top of the riser. Countersink the nail heads with a nail set, and cover them with wood filler.

For squeaks at the back of a tread, where it meets the riser above, apply carpenters' glue to thin wedges, and use a hammer and a wood buffer block to pound them in. Then carefully trim the wide ends of the wedges flush with the riser. If the wedges are noticeable, cover the joint with quarter round or other trim molding; treat all other joints the same way so they match.

How to Repair Carpet Burns

Use a pair of small, sharp scissors to cut off burnt carpet fibers.
Use a pair of small, sharp scissors to cut off burnt carpet fibers.
Image courtesy © Publications International, Ltd.

Professional carpet repair can be expensive. But what else can you do when your carpeting is damaged by cigarette or other burns? Actually, with a little patience, you can usually fix the damage just as well yourself. Here are tips to do it conveniently and effectively.

When only the tips of the carpet fibers are burned, carefully cut off the charred fiber with a pair of small sharp scissors. Lightly sponge the area with a mild detergent solution and again with clean water. The low spot won't be noticeable when the carpet dries.

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If there is a large area of damaged carpet, you'll have to replace the burned area with a patch cut from a piece of scrap carpet. Here's how:

Step 1: From scraps, cut out a rectangle or square of carpet a little larger than the burned area. In order for the patch to blend in with the existing carpet without being highly noticeable, it must match the pattern in the carpet or the pile must run in the same direction.

Step 2: Press the scrap firmly over the damaged area. Holding it carefully in place, use a utility knife to cut around the edges and through the carpet under it. Cut completely through the backing, but don't cut into the carpet padding.

Step 3: When the entire damaged area is cut out, lift the burned piece out of the hole. Check the patch for fit, and, if necessary, slightly trim the edges so it fits the opening exactly.

Step 4: To install the patch, stick a piece of double-face carpet tape or apply an adhesive to the padding on each side of the hole. Position the patch, and firmly press the edges onto the padding. Let the adhesive dry for several hours before walking on the patch.

Floors are often neglected in favor of painting the walls or hanging pictures. The truth is, the floor receives much more use than any other surface in a room. Repairing your flooring will keep it looking great and help it last longer. By following the detailed steps outlined in this article, you can be confident you are putting your best foot forward.

How to Replace Baseboard Molding

Pry the entire strip of molding away from the wall, wedging it firmly from one end to the other.

Cracked or c­hipped baseboard molding is ugly, but not irreparable. Replacing the damaged molding takes time, but it isn't difficult.

Tools:

  • Measuring rule
  • Putty knife
  • Pry bar
  • Wood wedges
  • Hammer
  • Pencil
  • Miter box
  • Backsaw
  • Coping saw
  • Magnetic stud finder
  • Nail set
  • Chisel
  • Paintbrushes

Materials:

  • Replacement molding
  • Replacement quarter-round or shoe molding
  • 2-penny finishing nails
  • Coarse-, medium-, and fine-grit sandpaper
  • Plastic wood
  • Touchup paint or varnish

Time: 3 to 5 hours

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Buying the New Molding

Measure the length of the molding to be replaced, and its height and thickness; take these measurements to the lumberyard when you buy the replacement molding. If you're replacing only one section of a long molding, remove the damaged section and bring it with you to be sure you get an exact match.

Molding is sold in pieces 3 to 20 feet long. The shorter pieces are less expensive, but harder to work with; buy pieces that can be installed with as few joints as possible. Choose the molding carefully so you don't get cracked or gouged pieces, and buy a few feet extra to allow for mistakes.

Removing the Old Molding

Remove the old molding carefully; if it isn't already broken, don't break it. Insert a putty knife between the quarter-round or shoe molding and the baseboard molding and pry gently to loosen the shoe molding, working along the entire length of the molding. When the shoe molding is loose, use a pry bar or a chisel to finish prying it off. Loosen the molding gradually, working along its entire length so that the entire piece of molding comes loose at the same rate; leave the nails in the molding. When the quarter-round or shoe molding is completely loosened, remove it.

Pry the baseboard molding away from the wall, being careful not to damage either the molding or the wall. Work from one end of the molding to the other, loosening the molding gradually along its entire length. When you can pry the molding far enough out from the wall, insert wood wedges between the molding and the wall, wedging from one end to the other as you work, until the entire piece of molding is wedged. Pull the loosened molding carefully away from the wall, leaving the nails in it. Remove any nails left in the wall with a hammer.

Fit outside corners to a miter; measure the molding and cut it with a miter box and backsaw.

Measuring and Cutting the New Baseboard Molding

Using the old baseboard molding as a pattern, measure and mark the new molding to size. Mark outside, mitered corners exactly on the new molding and cut the miters with a miter box and a backsaw; be careful to hold the molding steady while you cut it.

Making Coped Joints

Inside corners must be joined in a coped joint, with one side of the molding overlapping and curving exactly around the other side. To make a coped joint, blunt-cut a piece of molding to fit tightly into the corner along one wall. Hold the blunt-cut molding in place in the corner, or fasten it lightly with a 2-penny finishing nail driven partway in. Hold a second blunt-cut piece of baseboard -- a scrap will do -- along the other wall, butted against the corner-fitted piece. Trace the outline of the second piece of molding carefully onto the side of the fastened piece, keeping the pencil at a constant angle so the traced outline is exact.

Butt one piece into the corner and set another against it; trace the curve and then cut it.

Unfasten the corner-fitted molding and cut it slowly and carefully along the traced line with a coping saw, following the outline on the molding exactly. To complete the coped joint, install a blunt-cut piece of molding along the wall you traced from; then set the traced and trimmed piece into place against it, jigsaw-puzzle fashion.

Attaching the New Molding

Attach the new molding to the wall at the wall studs; use a magnetic stud finder to locate the studs. If the old molding was properly installed, the nail holes left when you removed it will be at the studs. Set the new molding into place against the wall and join mitered or coped ends. Holding the molding firmly, nail it into place with two 2-penny finishing nails at each stud, one near the top of the molding and one near the bottom. Sink all nails with a nail set.

Replacing Quarter-Round or Shoe Molding

Measure and cut the new quarter-round or shoe molding, using the old shoe molding as a pattern. Mark and cut mitered and coped corners as above. Where quarter-round or shoe molding stops at a door frame, trim the exposed blunt end of the molding with a chisel to form a curve away from the door. Sand the chiseled edge to a smooth curve before nailing the molding into place.

Nail the shoe molding into place with 2-penny finishing nails driven through the molding into the floor; set nails about 12 inches apart. Sink all nails with a nail set. Fill all nail holes in both shoe molding and baseboard molding with plastic wood, and let dry.

Completing the Molding

To complete the job, paint or varnish the newly installed molding as desired.

On the next page, you will learn how to repair parquet flooring.

How to Repair Parquet Flooring

Remove the needed piece of wood from a parquet unit; if necessary, cut the wire spline that holds it.

Wood parquet is beautiful, but da­maged blocks can be a problem. For invisible repairs, replace the damaged wood with matching parquet tile.

Tools:

  • Drill or brace and bit
  • Sharp chisel
  • Hammer
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Putty knife
  • Wire cutters
  • Notched spreader or small mixing dish and stir stick
  • Scrap wood block
  • Weights

Materials:

  • Matching prefinished parquet tile
  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Tile adhesive or epoxy cement
  • Carpenters' glue
  • Cloth
  • Polish or wax

Time: About 1/2 hour per block

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To replace the damaged section of parquet, use a matching prefinished tile; if you can't get prefinished tile, finish the new tile to match before installing it. Use the whole tile or one piece of the unit, as required; replace as small an area as possible.

Removing the Damaged Wood

First, remove the damaged piece of wood. If the entire tile or unit is damaged, make a row of large holes across the block, against the grain, with a drill or a brace and bit. Drill completely through the damaged block, but not into the subfloor under it. Then, with a sharp chisel and a hammer, carefully split the block and pry up the pieces. Make sure you don't damage the surrounding pieces of wood.

Most parquet tile is held together with tongue-and-groove joints. At the grooved sides, carefully pull the pieces of the block out over the adjoining tongues. If the grooved sides stick, use the chisel to cut through only the top side of the groove; be careful not to damage the tongues of the abutting pieces. At the tongued sides of the tile, carefully pull out the tongue that held the damaged block to the next tile. If the tongue piece sticks, cut it off with the chisel and then carefully pry out the cut piece.

If only one piece of a parquet tile or unit is damaged, remove only that piece. With a sharp chisel and a hammer, very carefully split the damaged piece and pry out the splinters. If the pieces of the unit are held together by a wire spline, hold the damaged piece of wood with needle-nosed pliers; cut the spline with wire cutters to free the damaged piece.

Replacing the Damaged Wood

After removing the damaged piece of wood, prepare the gap for the replacement piece. Scrape the subfloor to remove any remaining adhesive; make sure all parts of the old piece of wood have been removed. If you cut a wire spline to remove the old piece, trim the cut ends flush and tap them lightly with a hammer to flatten the sharp points of the wire.

To fit the new tile into the opening, use a chisel to cut off the bottom edges of both grooved sides.

To replace the damaged wood, use a whole matching tile or one piece of a matching unit. If you're using a whole tile, match the tongued and grooved edges to the surrounding tiles. With a sharp chisel and a hammer, carefully cut off the protruding bottom edges of the grooved sides; the new tile will fit on top of the abutting tongues instead of locking around them. Test the tile for fit to make sure you've cut enough.

If you're using one piece of a matching unit, carefully take the unit apart to remove the desired piece of wood; if necessary, cut the wire spline that holds the piece into the unit. Trim the cut ends of the spline flush, and tap them lightly with a hammer to flatten them. Test the piece of wood for fit in the gap. If the piece is too tight in the opening, sand the edges of the replacement piece lightly with medium-grit sandpaper. Be careful not to damage the finish on the wood.

Completing the Repair

To complete the repair, glue the new block of wood into position. If you're replacing a whole tile, use floor tile adhesive; apply the adhesive to the subfloor in the opening with a notched spreader. On the grooved sides of the tile, apply a thin coat of carpenters' glue to the bottom edge of the top groove. Carefully set the new tile into place, tongued sides first, to lock into the grooves of the abutting tiles; set the grooved sides firmly down over the abutting tongues.

When the tile is correctly positioned, set a block of scrap wood over it and tap it firmly down with a hammer to bond and level it. The edges of the new tile should be flush with the surface of the surrounding tiles. Quickly remove any excess adhesive with a damp cloth.

If you're replacing one strip or one piece of a unit, use epoxy cement to bond it into place. Mix the epoxy as directed by the manufacturer, and apply the epoxy to the back and to the edges of the replacement piece. Set the piece into place in the opening and tap it into place with a wood block and a hammer to bond and level it. Quickly remove any excess epoxy with a damp cloth.

To make sure the new piece of parquet bonds firmly, cover it with a piece of scrap wood and weight it for the entire curing time of the adhesive or epoxy, as directed by the manufacturer. Let the adhesive or epoxy dry completely before removing the weight. Finally, if the finish on the new piece of wood doesn't blend in with the surrounding floor, polish or wax the entire floor.