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Community and Q&A

Old Subfloors

nynick | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

Our 170 year old home has 3 sections built at different times. The oldest looks to have varying widths of un-sanded 1x  pine(?) boards installed perpendicular to the floor beams, which are definitely not 16″OC. The later sections have nicely sanded (on the underside) 6″ width 1x boards installed on a diagonal. At this point we can only see these in the basement ceiling, so we have no idea what they look like on the house side. Both seem to be T&G.

Our current flooring is traditional narrow 2 1/2″ oak floors over both of these subfloors. Because of the scope of the upcoming renovation, it’s thought we may not be able to reuse these through moving walls, patching, re-sanding etc.

While visiting a nearby historic home, we were struck by the wide plank pine floors throughout. Clearly the oldest part of our home must have used the pine sub-floors as original flooring. We’re not sure of the later, diagonally installed sub-floors, circa 1920’s.

Is it conceivable and cost effective to try to use these old subs as floors? The basement will be finished with a new drywall ceiling, and we can use SafeNSound or similar to mitigate the noise.

New flooring is pricey.

We love the look of these type of floors, but are unsure of the viability of the job.



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  1. Expert Member
    DCcontrarian | | #1

    I'd say probably not. The boards were probably face nailed which means nails sticking out. And you're going to have the same problem patching gaps as with your existing floor.

    More important, the wood itself is probably not that great, with knots and cracks. It's kind of a myth that wood was better in the past. On the east coast the old growth forests got cut down pretty quickly, by 1920 it probably was second growth. I find boards of that vintage are often not as good as lumber you get today.

    ETA: have you talked to a floor guy about repairing and reusing the existing floor? I would think that's your best option.

  2. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #2

    You can definitely reuse the subflooring as finished flooring, as long as you want a lot of character. The floors in my house are eastern hemlock, built in 1830 and covered with carpeting or linoleum for much of their life. I've saved the plank framing the interior walls were framed with to make "barn-board" tables or something. Not everyone likes gaps, cracks, holes and stains in their flooring but others pay a premium for it.

  3. paulmagnuscalabro | | #3

    I'd second Michael here: If the old subflooring is in halfway decent condition and you want a *lot* of character, you can almost certainly reuse it as finished flooring. It'll probably be pretty labor intensive removing it and getting it ready for reinstallation, but could be a really great look.

    Fun fact that I learned recently: Although wide plank flooring nowadays is desirable and usually more expensive than thinner strip flooring, back in the day thin strip flooring was seen as the much nicer, much fancier finish floor because it was so much more labor intensive to install and required so many more fasteners.

  4. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #4

    The original thick floor is probably useable, just check for nails proud of the surface. The diagonal stuff may have plywood over the top, which used to be the common way to build a subfloor. Those planks are probably akin to furring strips, and might not make a nice looking finished floor.

    Once you have some of the various subfloors exposed on the top side, you'll be better able to figure out if they will be useable as finished floors. If they look good, sink the nails a bit below the surface, then use a floor sander to smooth things out and consider staining/sealing the old subfloor to use as your finished floor. If the existing subfloor doesn't look great, you can always run some thin plywood over the top to even things out, then put your finished floor over that.


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