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Removing Hardwood Flooring

You might ask why would you ever want to remove hardwood flooring, as prized as it is by most homeowners. There are numerous reasons, including salvaging old hardwood flooring from a property that’s about to be demolished or totally remodeled.

One of the best methods we’ve found for removing old hardwood flooring is in a well-illustrated article from Popular Mechanics, by Alex Hutchinson. Alex says, “Old-growth wood – typically, Douglas fir, oak, and maple — has higher density and fewer defects than new wood, and often comes in lengths of 12 ft. or more, which you won’t find at a big-box store. Salvaging it from an old home takes time but saves money; boards wider than the standard 2 1/4-in. strips are particularly valuable.” The 1-2-3 step process he describes goes as follows:

  • Step 1: Pry up the first few boards to give yourself room to work. Alternatively, use a circular saw with a carbide-tooth blade to make a plunge cut along the length of the sacrificial board, and use a pry bar to tear it out.
  • Step 2: Working from the tongue side, use a pry bar to gently lift the adjacent board up and out in the direction of the nail in order to avoid breaking off the groove. Work your way down the length of the board with the pry bar, rather than trying to remove it in one go.
  • Step 3: Pull any remaining nails from the salvaged wood using large locking pliers. Then carefully patrol the subfloor and extract nail stubs. Renail any floor sections that have been damaged by the salvage process.

But what if the hardwood flooring was glued down when it was originally installed? This will require different methods and be a lot messier and labor intensive. Installers will tell you it all depends on how the flooring was installed in the first place. Flooring installed by professionals will have been done to last, and will be the most difficult to remove. If the flooring was installed without as much know-how, it may be easier to remove due to factors such as insufficient glue, the wrong type of glue, or inadequately prepared subflooring.

My Flooring Helper, another useful source for removing hardwood flooring, gives this advice: Before you begin the job, know the type of floor you want to install after you remove the current one. If you’re installing a floating floor afterwards, it’s okay if the subflooring is still slightly bumpy, but if you’re installing glued floor, then the subsurface must be absolutely clean and perfectly level.

If you’re planning to tackle hardwood flooring removal yourself, here are the tools you’re likely to need:

  • Pry Bar
  • Circular Saw
  • Claw Hammer
  • Chisel
  • Sledge Hammer
  • Flooring Scraper

You may discover that it’s more cost-effective in the long run to hire a specialized contractor to remove glued-down hardwood flooring, especially if you want to salvage the boards for other uses. A skilled contractor will be familiar with products needed to remove glue, have all the requisite tools to do the job – and will understand the need for adequate ventilation during the process.

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