Wet Crawl Space Solutions

Wet Crawl Space Solutions

Wet Crawl Space Solutions to Stop Crawl Space Moisture : Outdated Building Habits Can Cause Big Problems

Wet crawl space solutions are often needed for your house. How much quality time have you spent in the crawlspace or basement of your house? If you’re like most people, you avoid going there and only do so when there is a problem. They’re often poorly lit, if not totally dark. They are usually damp and this opens the door for major problems. It’s not unusual to find mold or mildew or some other kind of crawl space moisture there. Termites have been known to colonize the space. And you just know there are critters down there ready to crawl up your pants or shirt as soon as you show up! Great place to hang out, right?

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Typical foundation vent, near ground level.

Foundation Vents Do Not Stop Crawl Space Moisture

Ok, so what has been the knee jerk reaction of builders for centuries to deal with these problems? They have been installing foundation vents, low and on the outside wall of a house. These vents are near ground level and the theory is that the moist air in the crawlspace or basement will exhaust out through these vents to be replaced with cool dry air. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case and the vents often make the situation worse. [Read more…]

Refinish Face Nailed Wood Floors

Refinish Face Nailed Wood Floors

How to Refinish Nailed Wood Floors with Passive Refinishing®

Refinish Nailed Wood Floors (see below). When houses are being built, decisions are often made that at the time seem perfectly logical.  Such was the case in a recent project in a gem of a house in Knoxville, TN.  When the house was being built in the mid-1930’s, a decision was made to install decorative face nails to a wide plank oak floor.  It provided a rustic look to a surface that all too often, especially at that time, looked too mundane.  If you have ever been around coastal houses, it is not unusual to see this type of nail in the exterior siding.  It is quite attractive and impressive.

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Rows of raised nails on discolored floors.

Face Nailing Hardwood Flooring

I’ve seen face nailing on many, many older floors.  It was a popular way of making sure wood stayed in place.  Even though the hidden nail in tongue and groove installation has been around for centuries, face nailing a floor gave you an added amount of structural integrity, especially with wide boards.  Typically, these nails were installed to be flush with the surface.  In the case of the house in Tennessee, the heads of the nails were larger, round and left raised above the surface of the floor.  And that works just fine.  Until the floors need to be refinished.  When metal objects are above the surface level of the floor, traditional sanding is impossible. To  refinish face nailed wood floors was a conundrum.

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Serious scratching from pets claws.

 

Refinish Face Nailed Wood Floors: Passive Refinishing

Fortunately, Passive Refinishing® offers an alternative to aggressive sanding.  When I developed the process, my focus was on old historic properties that had already lost too much wood or had some compelling reason for not losing any original material.  In the case of this house, it was the presence of the nails that created the problem and prevented traditional refinishing.  There was also some very serious surface abrasion from a pet in the layers of finish that had been dumped on the floor over the decades.

 

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Successful test sample for Passive Refinishing® works.

Working Around the Raised Nail Heads

When I did an onsite visit, I simulated the Passive Refinishing® process and the results were fine.  I was able to work around the raised nail heads, remove the old coatings and actually address some previous damage, especially the deep scratching from a dog.  Once the layers of old finish were removed, we saw the old oak floor was in good condition despite the issues it faced.  As I have said so many times, there isn’t a flooring material on this planet that can take the level of abuse wood can withstand and bounce back.  This was a glowing testimony to the “king of all building materials.”

Work commenced in October of 2013 and it went smoothly.  The products and the process removed the old layers of coatings and provided us with a totally renewed surface.  Once the old coatings were gone and we had finished our prep work, the homeowners chose the stain they wanted and we completed the project on time and within our budget.  We made four applications of a high quality waterborne urethane finish and the floors were ready for the homeowner and their furnishings.  Here is a short gallery of photos that showcase this handsome floor and it’s unique installation.

 

Bel-Mede A Williamsburg Restoration Project

Bel-Mede A Williamsburg Restoration Project

Mark Wenger is an architect in Virginia and I’ve recently had the good fortune of working with him on the restoration at Montpelier.  When Mark asked me if I wanted to look at another project, I jumped at the opportunity.  To sweeten the pot, this new project was nested right in the heart of Williamsburg, Virginia.  It will comes as no surprise when you find out the house had a great story to go with it.

A History of Bel-Mede

Bel-Mede was built around 1770 in rural South Hampton County, across the James River from Williamsburg.  The house was the centerpiece of a farm that stayed productive for many generations.  As you might expect due to its proximity to Richmond, it even had its own Civil War story.  Supposedly, the family that occupied the farm feared Union troops would confiscate their food so they took all their hams to the attic and hung them from the rafters.  Luckily the Yankees never showed up but that didn’t stop the hams from curing.  Over time the fat dripping from the curing hams fell on the second floor ceiling until it collapsed.

Eventually Bel-Mede fell into such a state of disrepair that the land it stood on was considered more valuable for growing corn and the sturdy old house was scheduled to be razed.  Lady Luck prevailed in the form of one Thomas E. Thorne, a Professor of Fine Arts and Chair of the Fine Arts Department at The College of William & Mary.  He and his wife Lelia intervened and bought Bel-Mede, then began the task of dismantling it for moving.  The house was placed on barges to cross the James River.  It was then brought to a lot near the college campus for reassembling and became one of the focal points of one of the Garden Club of Virginia’s tours.

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Library floors with old finish.

Restoring Old Hardwood Floors

Within recent years, new owners have sought to enhance Bel-Mede while keeping its mid-eighteenth century charm.  Mark’s challenge to me was to restore the original wide width pine flooring that came with the house across the James River.  The old finish was very dark and badly discolored.  Luckily when I did my sampling to make sure Passive Refinishing® was appropriate, we got a glimpse of a beautiful long leaf yellow pine that had aged to perfection.

The work began in earnest shortly after the 4th of July this year.  Collaborating with Mark was Peter Post out of Richmond and coordinating the various other trades was Jack Kniest of Van Kniest Construction.  Our focus was on all of the original floors on the first floor level.  There were issues to be dealt with on the second floor but they were cosmetic in nature.

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Library floors with old finish removed.

Passive Refinishing

The floors had been sanded before, most likely in 1947 when the house was moved.  But sanding is really too kind a term; it was a brutal removal of old paint and finish that resulted in a huge loss of original material.  With Passive Refinishing®, we were able to eliminate any additional loss of original material.  As we exposed the old pine, we saw that none of the discoloration was in the wood.  We also saw that most of the original wood went from one wall to the other without any breaks.  This was an impressive sight to see.

The final phase of the project dealt with the application of clear oil sealers to the surface and blending some replacement wood added earlier that was out of synch with the color.  By leaving the surface of the wood intact and not sanding, the aged pine puts on a colorful show when it starts the finishing process.  After matching up colors, we completed the process by making four applications of finish.  We were extremely pleased with the results.

Bel-Mede has led a charmed life for an old house.  The stories it could tell would keep us up all night.  It was around for the Revolutionary War.  It was already nineteen years old when George Washington was elected president.  When ham was being hidden in the attic during the Civil War, it was almost a century old.  Now, the house sits in a quiet neighborhood within walking distance of The College of William & Mary.  Because of the conscientious stewardship of the owners, Jim and Pam Penny, Bel-Mede is ready for another two or three centuries of watching America grow.

Let me leave you with a few final pictures of Bel-Mede.  Our work experience was exceptional and you couldn’t as for a better place to spend a work trip on an old home than Williamsburg, VA.

 

Problems with Wood Filler: How Not To Fill Gaps in Hardwood Floors

Problems with Wood Filler: How Not To Fill Gaps in Hardwood Floors

Problems with your wood filler? With older homes, one of the most common questions concerns the linear cracks that parallel the direction of the wood.  They don’t get a lot of attention until you get old finishes and stains off the surface and then you can see the dark lines because of how they contrast with the lighter wood.  At this point, some homeowners get somewhat fixated on the color disparity: They see the crevasse. They want to take action.  My advice is to learn how to fill the gaps in hardwood floors. You are going to have problems with your wood filler.

Gaps in Hardwood Floors: Why they are there.

First, this separation is perfectly natural for older homes.  You often see settling of exterior (and sometimes interior) walls and this action will pull the wood apart.  Another common location is around areas with a lot of weight, eg. hearths around a fireplace or a staircase.  Again, the weight or pressure will pull the wood apart.  A third cause is what is known as “compression set”.  Compression set occurs when the wood takes on excessive moisture and swells up.  This forces each piece of wood to push against its neighboring piece.  As the wood dries and loses its high moisture content, it begins to shrink and the gap starts to appear as each piece has shoved the adjacent piece away.  This can be a pretty destructive event and I have seen moist expanding wood cause cracking of handsome marble or stone hearths.  There is tremendous force there and you just don’t want to get in the way.

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Problems with Wood Filler

How Not to Fill Gaps in Hardwood Floors

Now that you have the separation, the question becomes “what do you do?”  The knee jerk reaction is to fill the void with wood filler of some type.  In theory this is the best way of making the void more acceptable. The wood filler goes into the opening wet, then dries and hardens and any excess is sanded away.  Problem solved …. right?  Well, not exactly.

Wood Never Stands Still

This is when reality settles in and you learn that wood never stands still.  Either because of moisture, sunlight or heat and cold, wood continues to move.  Even in houses that are well built, well-sealed and where the interior environment is carefully controlled, this will happen.  The variations are very slight but the outcome is the same.  As far as the wood is concerned, the filler is in the way.  So it will crush and pulverize the filler and the filler will begin to disintegrate.  This will not stop and at different times of the year, it will be accelerated.  Slowly, the crack or gap will begin to re-emerge but now it will have the look of the mouth of a seven year old as their teeth begin to fall out.  It is not a pretty sight.  Various manufacturers have made claims they can withstand this onslaught but I have yet to see one endure this punishment.  My advice – leave it alone or get a highly skilled carpenter involved.

Filling Gaps in Hardwood Floors Because of  Too Much Sanding

Another occasion where filler seems to be the appropriate route to take is when you have major splitting from excessive sanding.  This is very different from the previous condition and you see this clearly in the adjacent photo.  We are no longer talking about linear separation between boards; we are talking about large voids created from hunks of wood disappearing during or shortly after sanding.  Again, the knee jerk reaction is to fill it.  The results here usually don’t last long at all for two good reasons.  First, there is the lack of support for the filler.  It doesn’t have the mass beneath it to stay in place.  Second, there is typically much more movement of the wood as the tongue and groove that is disintegrating is the mechanism that kept the wood in place.  The movement due to pressure from foot traffic and furniture will demolish the filler in very short order.  This is one of the strongest arguments for limiting aggressive sanding on old floors as the results can be disastrous.

There is a time and place for using wood filler and we use it a lot.  However, there are times when you need to know what the long term consequences are if used incorrectly or for the wrong reasons.  You may get less than desirable results or create a more unsightly looking floor.

 

 

Michael Purser

Atlanta, June 2013

Water Based Polyurethane Floor Finish: Been on my floors for 20 years

Water Based Polyurethane Floor Finish: Been on my floors for 20 years

Waterborne Finishes Are the Best Finishes

When I tell prospective clients that water based polyurethane floor finish is the best finish ever formulated for wood floors, I have proof to back it up.  All I have to do is look at what is under my feet every time I walk through my house.  I had the option of choosing any finish on the market when I refinished my floors.  At that time (1994), waterborne finishes had only been around for seven years and I had a right to be hesitant.  But I had seen enough in my own house to know that this is the future of site finished wood floors.  I don’t promote the virtues of these odorless and fast drying/curing finishes because some manufacturer pays me to.  I don’t point out how easy they are to maintain because I make money selling cleaning kits.  I simply tell homeowners what I have experienced over the last twenty years and what they can expect if they exercise reasonable precautions and clean them periodically.  I don’t preach the virtues of these remarkable finishes because of what’s in it for me.  I do it because of what’s in it for the homeowner.

Restoring an Old Home

When we bought our house in January of 1994, it looked ok from the outside but inside, it was a complete disaster.  There were frozen and ruined radiators and of course no AC.  The plumbing didn’t work at all.  The electrical was the old ‘nob and tube’ and looked primeval.  Plastered ceilings had collapsed from leaks in the roof and the ceramic floors in the bathroom were like a trapdoor, ready to send you to the basement.  The basement flooded at the lightest rain.  All in all, we had our work cut out for us.

We went at it like many other young couples with two very young children and our eyes on the future.  By June, we had made enough progress to move into the house.  I had refinished the floors and used a water based polyurethane floor finish called Pacific Strong.  Since that time, I have done nothing but periodically clean the floors.

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A Waterborne Polyurethane Finished Floor, After 20 Years

When I tell prospective clients that waterborne finishes are the best finishes ever formulated for wood floors, I have proof to back it up.  All I have to do is look at what is under my feet every time I walk through the house.  I had the option of choosing any finish on the market when I refinished my floors.  At that time, waterborne finishes had only been around for seven years and I had a right to be hesitant.  But I had seen enough in my own house to know that this is the future of site finished wood floors.  I don’t promote the virtues of these odorless and fast drying/curing finishes because some manufacturer pays me to.  I don’t point out how easy they are to maintain because I make money selling cleaning kits.  I simply tell homeowners what I have experienced over the last nineteen years and what they can expect if they exercise reasonable precautions and clean them periodically.  I don’t preach the virtues of these remarkable finishes because of what’s in it for me.  I do it because of what’s in it for the homeowner.

 

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Libby, expert tester of floor finishes

Wear and Tear On My Old  Wood Floors

Our daughters are now 23 and 21 and out of the house.  We are on our second boxer (Libby) and she expects, and gets, all our attention.  When Libby has friends over, it gets wild!  We have always enjoyed having friends and family over and enjoy entertaining.  We have hosted many parties and at least one wedding reception.  In short, we have demanded a lot of these old wood floors.

When we carried the area rugs out for spring cleaning recently, it was as if the old hardwood floors just grinned at me and said “hope you can age this well old man”.  They really look good.  The Pacific Strong finish has done a great job of protecting the floors.  There is good luster and no damage from water or the pets.  So the coating did exactly what it was supposed to do; enhance the look of the floors and protect them from every day wear and tear.  The finish has also been remarkably easy to clean and maintain.  Its appearance has added value to the house without extracting copious amounts of money to retain that look.

 

 

Michael Purser

Atlanta, June 2013

 

Waterborne Polyurethane Recoating: Rosebud Has Decades of Experience

Waterborne Polyurethane Recoating: Rosebud Has Decades of Experience

Now That’s a Spring Break

In what is now a popular cliché for the Rosebud Co., “we’ve been there, done that” many times before.  Over the years, it has been common for Rosebud to be working in a family’s home while they frolicked at the beach, traveled abroad or hiked/camped a trail.   For some, it isn’t enough to be “out of sight, out of mind.”  They want to be “out of state, having fun” and we have forty years of experience helping homeowners enjoy this option.

There are a few people who might question the decision Allen and Heather Sautter just made.  You see, they had a bit of a challenge: how do you refinish the hardwood floors on the first floor level and only stairway of their two-story home in Kirkwood with two young sons, a dog and an active lifestyle?  Their solution was two parts; first, load those two young cowboys into the family minivan and drive to Austin, Texas to visit some family for spring break.  (Round trip, that’s close to thirty hours of driving and almost 2,000 miles.)  The second part was to hand the house keys and the code to the alarm to a guy Allen had met twice and Heather only once.   There are many who are now rolling their eyes, predicting the worse and saying, “dude, what were you thinking?”

Waterborne Polyurethane Recoating

The key is having a solid game plan. Prior to leaving, Heather chose a color that would compliment the other wood surfaces in their home.  The stain was English Chestnut and to put it mildly, it is very handsome on oak. With two growing boys, you need something that is going to hold up and the choice was made for four applications of waterborne polyurethane.  When it comes to performance, you don’t get any better than this state of the art, environmentally responsible coatings.  Not only are they tough, but they are also easily maintained.

Technology also simplified things and helped put Allen and Heather’s mind at ease.  Not only did they get status reports via texting, I emailed them digital pictures to track our progress.  When I said we had stained the floors on Wednesday, they had a supporting picture in their inbox showing the changes in the rooms.  We didn’t have to do this but we felt it was another iteration of that old “trust but verify” thing.  If you want to relax on a vacation, it helps to know that things are going well back home.

Waterborne polyurethane recoating also gives you some other great options.  For example:  Allen called at 6:30 Thursday night asking me if they could walk on the floor at 3:00 AM the next morning.  (“Excuse me, could you repeat that?”)  The family had left Austin a day early and was already on the road.  He knew we had made two applications of finish that day.  If we had been working with any other finishing products, the answer would have been, “sorry, give it another eight hours or so…. maybe?”  But with the excellent drying and curing times of waterborne urethanes, the answer was a simple “yes.”

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Heather’s choice of English Chestnut was excellent.

When Allen, Heather and their two young cowboys got home, they had some great looking floors and the house didn’t smell like a paint shed.  In fact, it didn’t have any offensive odors or off-gassing of any type.  They were able to walk on the floors and within a short period of time, the furniture was back in place and life was becoming normal.  We worked cleanly and efficiently and managed to help this young couple get more out of their spring break than most people could ever imagine.  Challenges were met along with Allen and Heather’s expectations on getting some handsome wood floors.  A lot was accomplished in a very short period of time.

So tell me again, what did you do on your spring break?

Baby Boomer Houses: This Baby Boomer Was Hiding A Secret

Baby Boomer Houses: This Baby Boomer Was Hiding A Secret

Baby Boomer houses often come with distinctive floors. Beth Williams needed a house for herself and two dogs and the quaint little place outside Decatur fit the bill. It faces east and bathes in the morning sun.  The back yard is fenced in so the dogs had plenty of room to ramble.  And the deck on the back gave Beth a good observation point to watch the pooches during their rambles.

Baby Boomer Houses: Dating Neighborhoods

I get a kick out of being able to date neighborhoods based on the size/style of the houses and layout of the lots.  This particular part of Medlock Park looked like it might be at or around WWII and part of the housing boom that the greeted the returning soldiers.  The houses are squarish, with very little overhang on the roof and their entrances tend to be modest.  They are easily modified, remodeled and are popular with young adults starting families and people like Beth who don’t require much space.

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Discoloration from moisture damage

Damage to Old Floors from Mastics and Moisture

Beth’s issues with her floors were typical.  The finish had very noticeable wear in high traffic areas.  It also had some serious damage from mastics that had been used to keep carpets in place.  To make matters worse, moisture had gotten under the damaged finish and there was serious discoloration to the wood.  Her issues were nothing that a little TLC couldn’t cure.

But that isn’t what got my attention.  As soon as I saw the floors I knew the house had a secret; a secret that most people would never hear.  A house from this era should have oak floors and this house didn’t.  Beth knew the exact year the house was constructed, 1942, and for me, the story started unfolding and the secret was out in the open.

The Greatest Generation remembers 1942 very well as their world, and the world in general, was turned upside down with WWII.  This country was experiencing near panic as it tried to organize an army to fight two fronts and marshal our resources to keep them supplied.  All of this created war shortages and oak flooring in baby boomer houses was more than expendable as far as our government was concerned.  This wasn’t the first time I had seen floors of this era and the consequences of war shortages.  An old friend of mine from high school has a comparable house in Hapeville, GA with a 3 ¼” wide hickory floor.  And I vividly remember working on a pecan floor in the Marietta area that also dated to about the same time.  To make a long story short, when you went to the lumberyard for wood flooring in those years, you bought what they had, not what you wanted.

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71 years old but looking good after TLC

Beech Wood Floors

The wood floor in Beth’s house is beech.  Many have mistaken it for maple because of the grain pattern and color.  The difference is that beech acquires the rich golden tones of aged maple as soon as an oil finish hits it.  It may take maple twenty years to get that look.  Beech is hard, durable and it is drop dead gorgeous.  I was looking forward to dishing out some tough love to this veteran because I knew we would be repaid in spades.  I have worked on only one other beech floor and that was in Candler Park.  I remembered the look.

Waterborne Polyurethane Finish

We, and Beth, were not disappointed with the outcome.  The old floors responded well to our work and we made sure we that we didn’t put any products with any color or dye to distort the rich color tones.  Our one coat of an oil base sealer was followed by four applications of a top of the line waterborne polyurethane.  This was more than enough for Beth, her two dogs and anyone wanting to visit.  What really caught our attention were the wood floors that had been installed in two closets in a previous remodeling project.

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The difference between beech (foreground) and maple (background) in the remodeled closet.

Difference Between Beech and Maple

The difference between beech (foreground) and maple (background) in the remodeled closet.

The owners and their contractor had mistaken the wood for maple and my goodness, look at the difference in color!  It was an honest mistake as I would be hard pressed to find a 71 year old beech floor.

So once again, a story captured my attention and got me going when others would have simply shrugged it off.  I am a sucker for this kind of thing and I freely admit it.  That baby boomer house was keeping a secret but it is a secret no more. Beth has bragging rights, a great looking floor and a story I hope she passes on to the next owner.

Prevent Damage to Hardwood Floors:  Shame  On Consumer Reports

Prevent Damage to Hardwood Floors: Shame On Consumer Reports

Damage to Wood Floors

If you want to get people’s attention, just tell them you are going to save them money.  But sometimes, money saving advice can have some serious long-term downsides and eliminate any savings.  An article in ShopSmart magazine is a good case in point.

ShopSmart is a publication of the Consumer Reports Foundation.  They tend to be more proactive about advising consumers how and where to spend their money, based on testing and comparisons of products.  In their April 2013 issue, they claim that household cleaning products can be expensive and offer ways to cut back.  Then they do something I found very amateurish.  They advocate preventing damage to hardwood floors and reducing your costs by concocting your own “home brew” of cleaning products.  That’s bad enough but when I saw where they picked up the recipes for the cleaning products, the Internet, I was stunned.  Red flags, sirens and railroad crossing bells!

Prevent Damage to Hardwood Floors: Making It Worse

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Damaged Floor by Vinegar

In my opinion, where this article screws up royally is they totally ignore what these concoctions do to the surface being cleaned. Sure, vinegar/water or ammonia/water will cut grease but what happens to the surface being cleaned?  Brillo pads are good cleaners but there is a reason you don’t use them to wash your car; they will destroy the paint job.  And there is a reason most responsible manufacturers of cleaning products don’t add vinegar to their products and are very careful about adding ammonia.  They know that they can damage some surfaces being cleaned.  This point is totally absent from the DIY fanatics on the Internet.  Their cavalier attitude reflects their obsession with saving money and that produces amateurish (and often disastrous) results.

The most serious damage I am seeing to wood floors these days is from well-intentioned homeowners following this poor advice and failing to prevent damage to hardwood floors.  When vinegar or ammonia comes in contact with most wood floors, the damage is deep, serious and quick.  In the photo, you see the results of vinegar/water combo and it is very costly.

 

That damage is to the wood, not the finish and can only be removed by a total sand/finish.  That homeowner may have saved a few dollars by mixing their own brew but paid over $1200 in sanding and repair costs.  Where is the savings in that formula?  Plus, they had to live with a floor that looked like it was a petri dish harboring some fungus.

What makes this conversation even more trivial is the money saving idea of making your own cleaner.  I use a wood floor cleaner made by a well-known coatings manufacturer.  One gallon (a little over $20) will last me a year.  That’s less than $2.00 per month.  The April issue of ShopSmart magazine cost me over $5.00, more than twice as much.  If this is what we can expect from ShopSmart, I see an immediate savings of $3.00 per month.  Shame on you Consumer Reports – we expect better of you.

Decatur Old House Fair

Decatur Old House Fair

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About Decatur Georgia

If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now loud and clear: Decatur is one of the best kept secrets in the state of Georgia.  Whether it is world class dining, launching point for recording artists, music on the square or a book fair that has raised the bar to new heights all across the country, Decatur takes a back seat to no one.  It has never been keen on looking for the glitz and glamour; just the good old staples and basics that make life rich and rewarding.  So, when I get the email asking my company to participate in the annual Decatur Old House Fair (DOHF) early each year, I tell them to sign me up. It is a classy show and I always enjoy participating in it.  This year seemed to be the best ever.  Ticket sales were double last year’s, the weather couldn’t have been better and the crowds made good use of their time.  It is always nice to see familiar faces in the vendor crowd.

This success doesn’t just happen by accident.  Everybody needs to give Regina Brewer and her staff high fives, kudos and snaps for their hard work.  What few issues arose, Regina was on it like a duck on a June bug and things ran like a Swiss train.  I always enjoy having people come by my booth and discussing our work.  There is a lot to be learned in these situations and I am sure many vendors make good use of these opportunities to meet the public in a different context.

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DOHF Booth

Where I have benefited the most is just listening to what the homeowners concerns are.  The Rosebud Company is in its 40th year and I have worked on thousands of projects at all levels.  Some of our restoration projects have been the most complex and high profile in the country.  That may impress some homeowners but when they ask how to clean and care for a wood floor, you better be listening and make sure you have answers ready.  I gave a thirty-minute talk about what I look for when I put my experience and trained eyes on a floor and it was to a standing-room-only crowd.  That’s one of the reasons this show is so successful.  Like the city of Decatur, the DOHF sticks to the basics and provides their citizens a golden opportunity to become more informed and make educated choices when it comes to their older homes.  Thanks to all of the attendees and if you weren’t among them, don’t miss it next year!

Michael Purser

February 2013

Historic Restoration Jobs:  Advice of a Historic Preservation Specialist

Historic Restoration Jobs: Advice of a Historic Preservation Specialist

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Preserving an Old Home

from a Historic Preservation Specialist

“If you want to make people mad in the world of historic preservation, just make a living doing it.”  Andy Ladygo, a highly respected preservationist, made the comment at an Association for Preservation Technology meeting back in the 1990’s. It took me a bit of time to process the comment but it’s probably the most accurate comment I have ever heard about restoring old homes and structures.

Restoration of Old Buildings

There are tons of people who talk and write about historic restoration jobs but few who actually do it, and even fewer who make it their day job.  The skill set required to work on an older structure is many times greater than new construction or most remodeling projects.  This isn’t “plug and play”. The incentive to work on much more difficult projects under much more demanding circumstances often works against us.  Toss in the fact that many who own older homes don’t want to pay what it costs to hire highly skilled restoration workers and you begin to get the gist of what Andy was talking about.   I’m not going to argue wage scales for preservation workers but there are some legitimate reasons to consider when hiring workers:

  1. I can get all I need from the Internet.”  There’s a lot of information about historic restoration jobs out there by people who are better writers than restorers.  I have found a ton of misinformation about wood floor restoration (my area of expertise) from people who had no business writing about it and base much of their advice on assumptions.  Most people who do serious restoration are seldom good writers or experienced at public speaking. Experience trumps words every time!
  2. I can get that done for half the price”  What is your metric; what is the basis for your comparison? When someone gives you a price for work, get some idea of the time involved and do some simple division.  Invariably, serious restoration work takes more time and labor and you rarely pay exorbitant hourly rates.  However, the “half price bargain” usually is at a higher hourly rate, and the results can be quite marginal.  Arguably, this is the most common mistake made.
  3. This work has made my life a living hell?”  Few people have the resources or time to buy an older home and have it completely restored before they move in.  As a result, they are often living in the workspace, that is, living in chaos.  It is no fun to come home from work to a house that smells and is filled with dust and debris.  Rule No. 1 – Make it easy on yourself.  Carve out a comfort zone and work on the rest.  Or ignore my advice and hire a divorce attorney or spend your retirement on therapy sessions.  Again, someone who has restoration experience knows this and can help you survive.

Historic Restoration Jobs

People who seek out old homes to restore and live in are a different breed.  The same is true for those who like working on them.  I have been doing both for forty years.  The challenges are daunting but, in my opinion, the payoff justifies the investment.  And that is the key word, “investment”.  If you treat it that way, chances of making a costly mistake diminish.

 

The Grant Mansion Atlanta:  Atlanta’s History Under One Roof

The Grant Mansion Atlanta: Atlanta’s History Under One Roof

One of Three Ante Bellum Houses Still Standing in Atlanta

Some houses can pack a punch when it comes to historic credentials.  The Grant Mansion in Atlanta is a good case in point.  The house was built in 1856 by Lemuel Pratt (L.P.) Grant and was the centerpiece of his 600-acre estate just south of Atlanta. L.P. was a city pioneer, railroad magnate and generous philanthropist.  He donated 100 acres of his property to the city to build Grant Park, home of the cyclorama and Atlanta Zoo.

The fact that he served with the Confederate army in the Civil War should have been the death knell for his home when Sherman’s army occupied the city.  However, legend has it that when Union troops searched the home, they found Masonic material in the attic. Evidently Sherman had a soft spot in his heart for Masons and the house was spared the torch.

After Grant’s death, the home stayed in the family.  In 1903 his grandson, Bryan, and his wife were sharing the house with Mr. & Mrs. Robert P. Jones when they had a son.  That son, Robert Tyre (Bobby) Jones, went on to become the greatest amateur golfer in the world, winner of golfing’s grand slam and help set the stage for golfing’s premiere event, The Masters.

In 1941 Margaret Mitchell loaned Boyd Taylor $3,000 to buy the old mansion and create a museum.  This proved to be the last hurrah before the mansion, like so many other fine old inner city homes, hit hard times.

Atlanta Preservaton Center

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Restoration being done on the Grant Mansion

In 2001 the Grant Mansion was bought by the Atlanta Preservation Center with the intent to provide Atlantans and visitors to the city with a connection to one of the most storied residences in the city.  Much of what they started with was just a shell of the former home and there was much to be completed.  The APC has taken a dynamic role in preservation in the city and excels in advocacy, education and walking tours to help interested parties better understand and appreciate Atlanta’s past and preserve it for future generations. It spiraled into a state of disrepair that should have done what Sherman’s army hadn’t accomplished – total destruction.

Aged Pine Flooring

The Rosebud Company was called in to handle the remilled aged pine flooring purchased for installation and refinishing in the drawing room of the Grant Mansion Atlanta.  The work has gone well and visitors to the Grant Mansion will now see a surface that compliments the look of the aged interior and provide a setting for functions of all types.  For me personally, it is always a joy to work in a home so steeped in history and that has played such a major role in the history of Atlanta.  If you should find yourself in Atlanta and want to relive some of Atlanta’s past, visit the Grant Mansion and talk to the staff.  You can select from one of several walking tours of the downtown or neighborhoods that will help you better understand what made Atlanta the success that it is.  Visit their website for all the information you will need at Atlanta Preservation Center.

Let’s end with a brief glimpse of the old pine floors and the transition they experienced at the hands of Rosebud Company.

 

The Mentor

The Mentor

the mentor imageWhen people ask me how I got into the hardwood flooring business, I’ve joked that I was genetically engineered.  There’s more than a bit of truth to that. My dad, W.B. Purser, went into the hardwood flooring business in 1947, not long after he left the army. He started his business in Mint Hill, NC by leaving flyers on the doors of homes.  In short order, his business took off. So did his family.  By the early 50’s, mom and dad had a typical baby boomer family with four stair step children – three sons in a row and then a daughter.

Growing up, my brothers and I were exposed to the wood flooring business a good bit.  We had no idea how valuable that exposure was till later.  We all three ended up starting our own, separate wood flooring companies.  Howard and David were in Charlotte where we grew up.  I migrated to Atlanta after college.  All of us have maintained small businesses.  Most of the time we were the only employees.  Between the four of us, we have racked up 165 years of hands on experience.  The meter is still running on two of us.

Dad had one of the most remarkable reputations of any tradesman I have ever known.  Deeply religious and a work ethic that few could ever match, he had the respect of everyone who knew him.  His clientele in Charlotte, NC covered a wide spectrum.  He often had a waiting list that spanned months.  They didn’t care.  They wanted W.B.  A doctor stopped my examination when he heard who my father was.  “Young man, as far as my wife and I are concerned, your father hung the moon.”  Five minutes later, the examination resumed.  It was more than loyalty; it was devotion.

the Mentor2 imagethe Mentor: What I Learned

It wasn’t just working with your hands that he taught us.  Riding shotgun in his 1965 Chevy Sportvan was a better classroom seat than most MBA programs offer.  He told me who the “boss” was on any jobsite.  Designers, architects, contractors, decorators, etc., they come; they go.  The boss lives there, they don’t leave. The boss pays the taxes on the property.  The boss is who you make happy. A happy boss will get you work.  That advice has served me well for forty years.  It is the foundation for word of mouth referrals – the Oscar of endorsements.

Dad passed away in 2002. None of his sons have ever tried to fill his shoes.  There was no need to try.  He taught us how to walk, how to buy our own shoes and how to lace them up and go to work.  When it came to hardwood floors, he taught us how to make the boss happy.  What more could you ask of a mentor?

 

 

What is a Flounder House

What is a Flounder House

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Flounder House in Alexandria Va.

There were a lot of impressive things to see and take in during my first onsite visit to 212 St. Asaph St. in downtown Alexandria, VA.  It was a drop-dead gorgeous three story townhouse located right behind the courthouse. It was on a double lot, a very big deal to residents of that area.  It had some phenomenal pattern floors that I knew would be stunning when properly restored.  But what really caught my attention was the reference to the house being a “flounder house.”  Huh?  This was a new term to me.  For a while, it was stumping the band until Regina Brewer (as in Regina Brewer, Preservation Planner for the city of Decatur, GA) whipped out her iPhone during a meal with some die-hard preservationists one night.  We were soon enlightened.

 What is a Flounder House: A sensible House Built like a Fish

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Rear of a Flounder House

As it turns out,what a flounder house is is a simple house with a shed roof that typically does not face the road.  The most well known examples are in the river towns of St. Louis, Mo. and Alexandria, Virginia.  Exactly how it comes by its name depends on whom you ask. Some say it is because it is split down the middle much like the fish that also bears its name.  As a part-time fisherman, I would like to toss out that since the bulk of its openings (eyes and doors) are mainly on one side, this also ties it to the fish.

But why this particular, very plebian design in areas that were being developed with the knowledge they would only appreciate in value and increase in demand?  Why not something more appropriate or elaborate?

The explanations that made the most sense usually involved time and money. One version has it that property owners were taxed on the number of windows or glass facing the street.  In an attempt to minimize this tax, they turned the houses to face the lot and placed doors and windows on these sides.  Another version has it that anyone buying a lot had to have a residence on it within two years or the property reverted back to the city.  Another version of “use it, or lose it.”

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Flounder House View

As a result, the initial flounder structure was built further back from the road and would allow for a more attractive structure to be added on at a later day that would face the road and more closely resemble the finer homes surrounding it.  This seems to fit with 212 St. Asaph as the flounder structure dated to 1815 and the three-story townhome addition was built in 1850.

We completed the restoration on the handsome floors in March 2012.  It was a great project and hopefully there will be more flounder houses in our future!

How Hardwood Floors are Maintained: Beware of False Prophets

The phone calls follow a typical pattern.  The caller says their floors were refinished within the last 10 – 20 years.  They were having scratches or dulling and they tried to deal with the situation on their own.  They found products at hardware stores, building supply centers or worse, on the Internet that said everything they wanted to hear.  They wanted the quick fix.  The appearance does improve, briefly.  Then the reality starts setting in.  As the appearance of the floor deteriorates, the homeowner realizes they have backed themselves into a corner and now need professional advice.

Let’s be very clear about this – many products homeowners are dumping on the floors in these situations are not true wood floor finishes.

Why Quick Fixes Don’t Work

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Quick fixes don’t work

They are maintenance products, acrylic waxes or a diluted version of some finish.  It may sound trivial but the difference is huge.

These maintenance products are not as durable or moisture resistant and few homeowners know this until it’s too late.  Scratches appear quickly and that is often followed by discoloration from casual contact with moisture.  If some of these products come in contact with the wood itself, you get very serious damage and discoloration.

That’s not the biggest problem.  Now you have to figure how to get this junk off your wood floors. That little tidbit is usually missing from the sales hype.  These maintenance products cannot be removed easily or inexpensively.  A total refinishing is often the only option.  So, what started off as a well-intentioned effort has backfired and your options are few and expensive.  In my opinion, most of these products are worthless and tacky looking.

How Wood Floors are Maintained: Cleaning and Recoating

What is the answer?  When you notice wear or scratching in the finish, talk to an experienced wood floor contractor.  Chances of getting honest and relevant feedback is better than believing the marketing hype that got you into this mess.  If you act in a timely manner, the best option is a Clean and Recoat.  This is a simple and inexpensive refurbishing that adds protection and extends the life of your floors.  Follow that with a preventive maintenance program, common sense and you will get much better service.

So stay away from the quick fix and rely on that age-old advice; if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum: How Old Homes Were Built

Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum: How Old Homes Were Built

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Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum

Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum shows how old homes were built. When did wood go from being utilitarian to a highly decorative?  What were the products used to finish old floors?  What maintenance products were manufacturers producing to protect and beautify the surfaces?  What problems did homeowners have to deal with?  When did wood go from being a utilitarian surface to a highly decorative one?  How did a homeowner end up with a walnut and cherry inlay floor around a field of quartersawn white oak in stunning parquet pattern?  You will find the answers buried in stacks of books, magazines, brochures, trade publications and just about everything that has been written on the subject.

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Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum

What’s So Great About Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum?

I don’t have any idea how many museums I have toured over the years but Winterthur Decorative Arts Museum Collection  is off in a category all by itself.  Nestled in the rolling hills outside of Wilmington, DE, Winterthur is the premier museum of American decorative arts and offers visitors the most unique collection of American home life you will ever see.  The 175 room museum puts on display every imaginable combination of furniture, furnishings and other decorative elements that have been on display all over our country.  I have never met anyone who has been there that wasn’t stunned by what they saw.  If you haven’t been there, it deserves to be moved to the top of your “bucket list”.

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Early Parquet Floor Company

Winterthur Research Library

One of the most impressive components of Winterthur is its research library.  Put very simply, there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the country.  It is the place to go for finding out information about what Americans and the various groups who make up our country did in their homes and why.  The breadth of the material there is astonishing.  I have made at least three trips to the library over the span of 15 years for the sole purpose of researching wood floors.  And my time was well spent.

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Early Parquet Floor Designs

 

How Old Homes Were Built

One of the things I like best about Winterthur and their library is that it can provide a lot of answers to questions about how our old homes were built and maintained.  This gets to be a pretty testy area with those focused on restoring old homes and buildings.  Experience has taught me that many who write on a variety of these subjects sometimes take some creative license with their interpretations.  You also find out that some manufacturers claims about their products often fall short of their historic claims.  Whether you are knee deep in restoration or just looking for a unique and memorable experience, Winterthur is well worth the time and effort.  For more information, visit their website: http://www.winterthur.org/ and plan your trip.

Acrylic Wax for Hardwood Floors? There Can Be Problems

Acrylic Wax for Hardwood Floors? There Can Be Problems

Acrylic wax for hardwood floors? This can be a problem. Most homeowners with hardwood floors eventually get to the point where the original luster of their refinished floors begins to dull down.  This is normal, especially when small children, pets and an active social schedule get involved.  A few coatings manufacturers provide cleaning products to remove dirt and grime but these cleaners will not address a dull look acquired from constant use.  Even after the floors have been thoroughly cleaned, they still look dull.  You really want to be careful about your next choice.

The most natural course of action is to go to your local hardware store or even to search the internet for your options.  Without a doubt, the products that get the most attention are acrylic waxes.  They are easy to apply (usually mixed with water and applied with a sponge mop), cheap, look good and offer very fast turn around times.  However, what most homeowners don’t realize is that they are no longer trying to maintain a floor finish; they now have to maintain a maintenance product and folks – that is a whole new ballgame!

Acrylic Wax on Hardwood Floors Does Not Wear Well

Contrary to what the label may say, acrylic products do not wear well and much of their maintenance involves applying more of the same.  And that is where it becomes a problem because most of these manufacturers do not make a product to get the acrylic products off the floor.  Making matters worse is the fact that they usually turn an ugly grey as the accumulation increases.  Most people quickly realize that maintaining a maintenance product is not as easy as they thought it would be and certainly didn’t make the wood floor more attractive.

If you insist on using these products, let me give you this advice – any manufacturer you select absolutely must make a product that will safely remove the acrylics from the surface. Period; end of story, no excuses accepted!  If the acrylic products cannot be removed, you lose the option of recoating the floor and that is not acceptable.  You have to be diligent about this because there is a lot at risk here and you don’t want to be giving up many of your options.

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Key components of my recoating team.

I am not against people using acrylic products on their wood floors.  I just don’t like the negative consequences and how they can create a much more expensive problem than the one they solve.  If you have wood floors and notice they have lost their luster, recoating is probably going to be a much better option to look at that than some maintenance system.  The coatings available today are much more durable and easily maintained than any we have ever had.  There is stronger product support and homeowners are much more likely to adapt to these products than something that only offers a fleeting resolution to their problem.  So, if you want to use acrylic products to maintain your hardwood floors, be careful what you wish for!  You may be going down a dead end road.

What Are Floor Cloths? Their Rich History, Design & Color

What Are Floor Cloths? Their Rich History, Design & Color

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Kathy Cooper (Birds of a Feather)

Few surfaces present more of a design opportunity than wood floors. They make a perfect backdrop to add color, texture and design to a background rich in its own color and character. Many have taken advantage of this opportunity and produced stunning interiors.

So What Are Floor Cloths?

I think everyone is accustomed to seeing area rugs but there is another item that has been off our radar for some time that is making a comeback – floorcloths. For those not familiar with floorcloths, let me be the first to tell you they have a rich history and for centuries they were used to decorate the floors from royalty to the common man. Part of what fueled their popularity was the availability of the products used to make them – canvas and paint or coatings.

They were able to withstand the punishment of the footwear of the day and proved to be economical to produce. In the US, floorcloths were popular enough to grace the entrance hall of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. It was painted green in an effort to bring the exterior into the interior and replicate the look of grass.

Mariner's Compass Floorcloth image

Mariner’s Compass Floorcloth

I have always been attracted to floorcloths and I am extremely pleased by what I see when I look online for sources. When you combine the skills level of the artisans and the quality of the products available today to make them, you not only see why they are excellent décor, you also see why they are an excellent investment. They are much more durable, easily cleaned and maintained than in the past and the array of designs is limitless.

I have spent a little time looking for artists who offer some well designed and well made floorcloths and would like you to have their contact information. The most impressive are listed below and all but one have websites. I encourage you to visit their sites, check out their galleries and see what they offer. For those of you with talent and the motivation, you will find a couple that will help you design and create your own floorcloth.

When it comes to home décor, I think it goes without saying that wood floors offer homeowners the most complete and versatile palette of all flooring materials. Whether it is Oriental rugs, woven rugs or an attractive floorcloth; they enhance the look and value of your floors and your home. Used and maintained properly, floorcloths also provide additional protection for your prized wood floors. Give them a look. It is time well spent.

Lisa Curry Mair
Canvasworks
326 Henry Gould Rd.
Perkinsville, VT 05151
802-263-5410
www.canvasworksfloorcloths.com
lisa@canvasworksfloorcloths.com

Susan Mugford
Historic Design
3120 Towne Hill Rd.
East Montpelier, VT 05651
802-229-0268
historicdesign@aol.com

Kathy Cooper
115 Cascade Ave.
Winston Salem, NC 27127
336-245-3130
www.kathyooperfloorcloths.com
floorcloths@hotmail.com

Gracewood Design
6107 NE 32nd Pl.
Portland, OR 97211
503-229-0268
info@gracewooddesign.com

www.gracewooddesign.com

Saving Money with Recoating: A Tutorial on Recoating Hardwood Floors

Saving Money with Recoating: A Tutorial on Recoating Hardwood Floors

How to Recoat Hardwood Floors

Many homeowners are learning that recoating a wood floor is a practical and common sense approach to improving the look of a surface known to give them headaches. Typically, the floors have been refinished within the last 15 – 20 years and are simply showing some fatigue and in need of cosmetic improvement, not a full sanding. They are saving money with recoating.

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Lack of protection allows water staining.

The key is not to wait too long. In the photo to the right, the homeowner has waited until the wood has darkened from repeated exposures to water. As a general rule, if the floor has gotten lighter from wear, you should be good for a recoat. If it has gotten darker, you may need to look at a total sanding and finishing. So pay attention to the appearance of the wood to avoid being forced to sand it to get the look you want.

I don’t recommend “screening” a floor prior to recoating as this often leads to problems. I rely on safe, non toxic cleaners and bonding agents to get the best results. I make two applications of waterborne polyurethane to the prepared surface. Fast-drying and durable, waterborne polyurethanes are head and shoulders better than any products on the market. Recoating will not remove deep gouges and indentations but they will usually blend in better. If there is excessive discoloration from water damage and UV fading around area rugs, these may be visible after the new coatings have been applied.

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After: Recoating gives floors  a new lease on life

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Before

 

Why Recoating Could Work for You

The ability to refurbish and improve the appearance and durability of an older floor without sanding it and doing this around a busy lifestyle and active family is the strength of recoating. The process I use is completely dustless, the chemicals and finishes I use don’t create a hazardous environment and homeowners usually have good use of the rooms when the recoating is taking place. I will phase the work so that homeowners aren’t forced out of their homes or have to endure major inconveniences.

These two photos show an old pine floor in a bungalow. Sanding wasn’t an option as there wasn’t enough wood left due to previous refinishing. Once recoating was completed, the rich colors return and the wood has enough finish on it to outlive the current owners. Without any sanding these floors have recaptured their beauty and are protected for years to come. This is an excellent example of the utility and value of recoating. Don’t overlook this option next time you look at your tired, worn floors.

Interested? Contact me here.

Old House Junkie Discusses Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation

Old House Junkie Discusses Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation

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Old House in Madison GA

Preserving Older Homes

I am an old house junkie.  Working on older homes has always been far more enjoyable than tackling something that is just coming out of the ground and usually surrounded by a lake of red mud.  Be honest with yourself and you will probably realize that there is an old house junkie lurking around in you as well.  Would you rather work in a nice, tree lined neighborhood where people are living and walking their dogs or would you want to work on streets lined with pickup trucks jockeying for the next open spot on a muddy lot that is barren of trees and littered with every type of construction material imaginable?  It doesn’t take much creativity to see that the former trumps the latter in spades.  So any time I see a group that wants to preserve, protect and promote these old neighborhoods and buildings, they get my support.

georgia trust logo  imageGeorgia Trust for Historic Preservation

I am a proud card carrying member of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation (GTHP) and I think anyone who owns a house built before 1950 should be too.  These are the people that see the value and wisdom in keeping our past intact when every developer east or west of the Nile would love to eradicate the old and put up another Tower of Babel.  The only good old historic structure they want to see is a pile of bricks and rubble being hauled off to put up another nondescript repetitious symbol.  I can look at the Atlanta downtown skyline and not see a single structure that has the personality or character of any five story brick and limestone apartment building from the 1920’s.  Architecture has its limits and in my opinion, that limit usually stops around the 10th floor of most buildings.

This past weekend, I had a chance to spend some quality time around members of GTHP over in Madison, Ga. We did a clean up on an old piece of property that the Trust is trying to sell.  A fellow named Frank and I filled up at least four 20 gallon trash cans with empty beer and vodka bottles from a transient resident who was not doing his liver any favors.  Others moved piles of old clothing, vines wrapping around the exterior, hauled off rotting timber and boarded doors and windows.  A lot of people would not see the point and would consider the work hopeless.  Maybe they don’t know about Inman Park, Cabbagetown, Kirkwood, Whittier Mill or any number of old neighborhoods that had fallen on hard times only to rebound and present many with a unique and rich living opportunity.  A lot of people see the same value in inner city living today as those who did decades ago.

Another Old House Junkie Finding a Place to Roost

I am not against new construction or development but I do draw the line when someone puts a price tag on our history and whistles all the way to the bank.  Some things are really worth fighting for and our history, heritage and old houses fall into that category.  Hopefully, the work that was done in Madison this weekend will result in another old house junkie finding a place to roost.  And if they do, you will probably see them out clearing and cleaning an old dump for the Trust somewhere in Georgia.  Don’t miss out on all the fun.  Go to their website and find out how you can help make sure our history stays part of our future

Bad Advice About Wood Floors:  The Unvarnished Truth

Bad Advice About Wood Floors: The Unvarnished Truth

Vinegar and water as a cleaning solution, pickled finishes, antique cleaning brushes, stiletto high heel shoes.  It is not unusual for me to hear a lot of stuff about wood floors that falls into the bad advice about wood floors category. One of the problems I have detected is that there are a lot of people with little, if any, experience writing or talking about wood floors. For me, it is kind of like watching an infomercial where you have groups of actors struggling to give you the impression they know enough to come in out of the rain. Believe me, they have spent far more time on their make-up than they have spent working or learning about the products or procedures they are hawking.

So, I decided to go through a list I put together over almost 40 years in the business and drop some pearls of wisdom on you. Let’s call it the unvarnished truth.

Vinegar and water are the preferred method of cleaning a wood floor.

Bad advice about wood floors. I happen to like vinegar a lot – but not as a cleaner for wood floors. It is an acidic acid and once it starts making contact with wood, bad things happen. This is especially true with oak which is the primary wood flooring material over the last century. Any liquid coming into contact with oak will react with the tannin and you will start to see the wood darkening very quickly. When vinegar is mixed into it, it happens very quickly. I see this most often in kitchen areas since it is typically cleaned more frequently. In the photo on the right you can easily see how the wood had changed color very dramatically because the homeowner allowed the maids to use vinegar and water to clean the floors. Instead of a simple clean and recoat, the entire kitchen floor had to be sanded back down to bare wood. You will also see this same pattern around major entrances and high traffic areas. You can avoid a ton of unnecessary expense by using cleaning kits that get much better results and do not pose the same threat to the wood.

Bad Advice About Wood Floors: I can’t decide between a white pickled look on my oak floors or ebonizing them?

More  bad advice about wood floors. Either one of these is an extreme look and typically proves to be problematic and generate tons of complaints and trouble for homeowners. The white look involves a pigment in the stain and there have been many problems with bonding properly with the surface. This usually means that any minor damage escalates with discolorations that are pretty much impossible to blend in. There will always be additional issues from UV exposure with some areas looking lighter and some looking darker. In terms of practicality, this look can have tons of issues.

As far as the ebonizing, it is somewhat similar. Every small scratch, piece of lint, cat or dog hair can be seen from across the room. The process requires a significant amount of skill and when it doesn’t work, you could not have an uglier looking surface. To make matters even worse, it seems that everyone who goes in this direction also wants a high gloss look. If you want to go in that direction, my honest suggestion is to get some high gloss black enamel paint and go to it. Just don’t call me!

I really wish they did floors the old fashioned way. It seems like they had a much better system.

And maybe you would like to cook on a wood burning stove or heating your house with a coal burning furnace?  Believe me, you would not want to trade places with any homeowner in the past because wood floor finishing was tough but the care and maintenance was beyond unreal. I have researched the topic extensively in the U.S. and Europe. The products were hard to work with, took forever to dry and cure, required a small army to do the work and in some cases could (and did) burn the home to the ground. There is a lot of misplaced nostalgia and more  bad advice about wood flooring, when it comes to refinishing and maintaining wood floors. Take a look at the 25 lb. polishing brush in the photo and think how much fun you would have pushing that around the house!  Within the past twenty years the quality of equipment, stains, finishes and training has improved dramatically. Homeowners today have the luxury of getting work that will last for decades and if they make good choices and stay in the same home, should only have to experience it once in their life.

You always stain floors very dark because that is what the wealthy used to do.

I saw this quote in a posh Atlanta magazine. A well-known decorator was given credit for saying this. I hope she has an umbrella because I am afraid I am going to rain on her parade a bit. This is a common misconception for several reasons. First, if the wealthy wanted darker wood, they installed darker wood, primarily walnut and other types. Second, around the turn of the century you had a lot of patterned floors being installed in a lot of upscale homes. This was a very popular move among the wealthy. The quality and caliber of the wood was exceptional. It was the best grade of wood and the best milling available. Staining a floor like this dark would completely destroy the beautiful contrast between the different types.

The two photos show the selection available from catalogs I found in the reference library at Winterthur in Wilmington, De.

Third, few floors would have been stained dark because stains simply were not that dependable or stable for use on wood floors. Simply put, the technology for good stains did not exist. Even today, it takes a lot of skill and very good equipment to master staining large expansive areas. The ability to do this was simply not an option. Finally, the most common reasons for a darker floor during the past was the accelerated discoloration of drying oils and not because the surface was stained at all. Linseed was one of the most popular drying oils and it tended to go very dark very quickly. To compound that, the oils and waxes used to maintain them collected dirt, dust and grime like a magnet and that added to the darkness.

The point I am making here is that if you want a floor stained, the color should be based on what you want, how it compliments your furniture and paint scheme and the amount of light the areas receive. Not on some misguided notion that has no historic validity.

Believe me ladies; the problem is with the finish, not your high heel shoes.

More bad advice about wood floors. This is a question that can really stir up some emotions and it is everything I can do to handle it diplomatically. You have several things going on here but the difficult thing to deal with is denial. Denial in that, in my humble opinion, high heels are a flawed design as far as foot apparel goes. First, high heels can, and have, destroyed marble and concrete. Second, they will easily indent any finish on the market today, yesterday or at any time in the future. And third, invariably women’s weight gets drawn into the conversation and that is a subject I would encourage any male who values his life, his marriage and/or his sanity avoid. Do not go there hombres. Just copy this information that comes to me from the National Wood Floor Association and use it sparingly and judiciously:  A grown and mature elephant has a force of 100 pounds per square inch (PSI) on a wood floor, while a 125 lb. woman in high heels has a force of 2,000 PSI. If they are stiletto heels, that can easily escalate up to 8,000 PSI. Like I said, be careful when and how you use this information as it can be like throwing a hand grenade into a crowd.

Golf Shoes in the House?

Another point I make in front of a crowd of women on this subject is how many of them let their husbands walk around the house in golf shoes. That usually gets the point across and creates a pretty good mental picture. Bottom line; the best way to reduce or eliminate damage from high heels is to keep them off the floors in the first place. Short of that, always go for low luster coatings that show less contrast with high heel marks. And for that lunatic who tells you to use a high gloss on a floor you know for sure will get high heel traffic, show them to door and tell them to go get a life!

Michael Purser
Rosebud Co.
September, 2010

Best Polyurethane for Floors: the Water Based Polyurethane Floor

Best Polyurethane for Floors: the Water Based Polyurethane Floor

Why Waterborne Polyurethanes Are the Finest Coatings for Wood Floors

In 1987, I attended one of the first National Wood Flooring Association conventions ever held, in Kansas City, MO. The highlight of the meeting was the introduction of a finish that has sent shock waves through the wood flooring industry ever since – waterborne polyurethane. The finish had been around for some time but its use, at least in this country, had been restricted mainly to maple flooring in recreational situations; racquetball courts, handball courts and bowling alleys to name a few. Its introduction signaled that it was now ready for use on commercial and residential wood floors. As soon as I returned to Atlanta, I took some waterborne finish into my warehouse space for testing and evaluation. I quickly found out that as good as the product was, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time and had some serious problems. I wrote about these problems for Fine Homebuilding and promptly got my ass chewed out by at least one manufacturer. (Not to worry. He was all about sales, had a lousy personality and for all I know may be selling widgets in China right now.)

Whether my article was the catalyst, I don’t know, but the major players in the waterborne industry started methodically addressing their products’ shortcomings and today I, and many others, consider waterborne polyurethanes to be the finest coatings ever formulated for use on wood floors. To say that they are good does not begin to describe the potential of these products. They are redefining the entire trade. Let me elaborate.

Three of the biggest problems that were hanging over the trade were noxious fumes and vapors, sand storm-like clouds of dust and the amount of time needed for finishes to dry and cure. As a result of the creative and forward thinking minds in the waterborne industry we have seen some dramatic changes:

  • Every single waterborne finish that I know of is VOC compliant meaning it doesn’t have the choking, sickening and flammable vapors of traditional solvent base finishes. Over the last 20 years I could count the number of people who even noticed the vapors from waterborne finishes on one hand. Smell and vapors are not a problem.
  • Ironically, it was the manufacturers of waterborne finishes (Bona Kemi in particular) that first addressed dust containment and collection. Their concern was to minimize dust getting in the finish and the easiest way to do that is capture the dust in vacuum systems. The manufacturers of the sanding equipment that generated the dust had been standing around with their hands in their pockets for decades. To me, this speaks volumes about the companies that have a vision for where the wood flooring trade is going.
  • The waterborne products I work with are dry to walk on within two hours of their application. Within 24 hours, they are 90% cured and totally cured within about five days. There aren’t any other finishes on the market close to these numbers. Most traditional finishes take close to a month to cure.

Why some wood flooring contractors dislike water based polyurethanes.

As impressive as these numbers and data are, there are a lot of wood flooring contractors who not only don’t use waterborne products, they can’t say anything good about them. I have heard these complaints and I think I can shed some light on what drives their criticism. Waterborne finishes are not easy to apply and if they are not used correctly they have one hell of a bite. You will adapt to it; it is not going to adapt to you and therein lays a big problem for a lot wood flooring contractors. They have their methods and are not inclined to change.

The Price of waterborne polyurethanes.

Best Polyurethane for Floors? I think you know the answer to that now. You also need to factor in the price. The lowest priced waterborne finishes I work with are in the $55 – $60 per gallon range. The top of the line products are $100 per gallon. Most traditional solvent products are down in the mid $20 per gallon range. So, let’s do the obvious – combine a negative attitude about a much higher priced finish and you can easily see why a lot of contractors might not want to use, or say a lot of nice things about a finish they don’t trust. I understand their complaints but I don’t think they are an accurate reflection of the potential of waterborne finishes when they are used correctly. Do you want the best polyurethane for floors or not.

What my clients say.

I get most of my work via word of mouth referrals so my litmus test for what finish I use is based on client feedback. If I use any product that isn’t durable or easily maintained, I am going to pay a very heavy price. It doesn’t matter how nice I am, how clean our work is or how prompt and reliable we are. If the finish doesn’t hold up and perform to the clients expectations, I am doomed. It has got to withstand the normal wear and tear of the demands of an active and lively household or I will have major problems. That has never been a problem with waterborne finishes. It meets and exceeds my client’s expectations and it generates work for me. There has been more than one phone call from a potential client that starts off – “do you use those new waterborne finishes?”  I have no qualms about saying that waterborne finishes are the best coatings ever formulated for use on wood floors. Period.

best polyurethane for floors imageFor additional information and reading, I suggest visiting the websites of the two manufacturers that were in Kansas in 1987 when waterborne products were first introduced and are still very much alive and kicking. They are the benchmark by which all other manufacturers measure their waterborne products.

http://www.basiccoatings.com/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.bona.com/en-gb/United-States

Michael Purser
Atlanta, Ga.
August 2010

Restoring 100 Year Old Floors in East Georgia: Gatey, Ghosts and the Gourmet Cook

Restoring 100 Year Old Floors in East Georgia: Gatey, Ghosts and the Gourmet Cook

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gatey-and-the-gourmet-cook

Those who know me understand that I have a bit of a problem. I’m something of an odd duck. I love to work on old floors. I don’t really care to work on new floors unless I can make them look like old floors. This can be confusing until you understand what makes me tick. Sometimes it just takes a story to do that, so let’s get started.

Doug and Susan Abramson (a.k.a. Gatey and The Gourmet Cook, TGC, respectively; pictured at right) came to me about 30 years ago. They didn’t live in Inman Park but like most people in Atlanta whose homes dated to the 1880s and ‘90’, they had connections there. I had started my wood floor business in Inman Park in 1973, at the front end of what proved to be one of the most successful inner city rebirths to be found anywhere in this country. It was chock full of some of the zaniest people you will ever see who differed in many respects but had one common passion – old homes. For me, being around a group of people who lived and breathed old homes was like a cat living in a fish cannery. I had a blast. [Read more…]

Rhodes Hall Atlanta : Changing Wood Floor Restoration Forever

Rhodes Hall Atlanta : Changing Wood Floor Restoration Forever

Rhodes Hall Atlanta, a Familiar Landmark

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Rhodes Hall Atlanta

Approximately 18 years ago, at Rhodes Hall Atlanta, I completed one of my first major restoration projects using Passive Refinishing®. The project was for the headquarters of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, Rhodes Hall. This was a major milestone for me and was a vital part of introducing Passive Refinishing® to the restoration world. The “before/after” shots of the beautiful parquet floors have been seen by thousands in talks I have given, articles I have written and via my website.

I have many fond memories of working on Rhodes Hall so when I was contacted in 2008 about doing some refurbishing of the wood floors, it was a call I welcomed. The issues were all too typical of a facility that is one of the premier locations rented for wedding receptions, corporate functions and other high profile social events. Any time you allow the public to eat, drink and be merry in an old home, something has to pay the price and usually it is the floors. That is not to say the floors had been neglected; they hadn’t. But after hundreds of events, the old floors were due some tender loving cosmetic care.

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Floor to be restored.

Rhodes Hall Atlanta: Cleaning and Preparation of Hardwood Floors

I was in a good position to do this. I knew what finish I had used on the floors back in the 1990s and what had been done to them since. The problem was that a ton of dirt and grime had attached itself to the finish and just wasn’t going to go away easily. In the photo on the right, you can see the color disparity caused by dirt and grime, on the right of the photo, and the cleaner surface on the left. I was able to determine that underneath this build-up of dirt, the finish I applied in the past was pretty much intact and protecting the wood. It was a matter of cleaning the grime off and then applying more finish to improve the appearance and add more protection.

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Floor Cleaners

Several manufacturers have introduced very good cleaners to the market and a very straight forward process to clean and recoat wood floors. The typical sequence is to scour the wood floors several times with pads and environmentally safe cleaners. The cleaners work to loosen the dirt and then the pads simply scrub it off the surface. In the photo to the left you get a good idea of how effective this is. The pad to the left is clean and unused. The pad to the right has been used to clean a little over 100 square feet (a 10 x 10 area) and it is loaded with grime. In addition, the floors were carefully rinsed to remove additional dirt from the surface. The floors were allowed to thoroughly dry and then additional surface prep was done to make sure any coatings applied would bond and hold to the old finish. It should be pointed out that while this was going on, Rhodes Hall was open to the public and it was business as usual. Traffic did have to be rerouted periodically but by and large, work went on without any major disruptions.

Rhodes Hall Atlanta: Applications of Finish Re Coatings

When all cleaning and prep was completed, the floors had a chalky look. This was a clear sign that the original finish was very much intact and still protecting the floors. The first applications of coatings started bringing back the rich color of the inlays. In most of the high use public areas, three applications of finish went down. Here are some good before/after shots to give you some idea of the change in appearance.

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Before and After

The handsome floors of Rhodes Hall Atlanta are ready for the next wave of wedding receptions and social functions. I don’t think you will ever find a more handsome setting for a memorable event than Amos Rhodes’s old home. During its heyday, it hosted Atlanta’s elite and that can still be true today.

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Rhodes Hall Atlanta entrance

Recoating Options

I am more convinced than ever that recoating offers one of the best options ever for extending the life of a wood floor. I have a lot of information on my website and would encourage anyone to seriously consider it for their wood floors. When it is an option, it is simply the best value available for refurbishing an old floor in an environmentally responsible and low impact manner. Rhodes Hall is proof of that. Here is a structure that is well over 100 years old and the floors are in excellent shape. Other than the original sanding they had when the floors were installed, they have never been sanded since. Since Passive Refinishing® allowed for the floors to be totally restored close to 18 years ago with no loss of wood, the 100+ year old floors have not lost any wood and have as much wood today as when Amos Rhodes walked on them over a century ago. Given what Rhodes Hall Atlanta has been through, that is an incredible statement to make.

Wood Floor Finishing FAQ

Wood Floor Finishing FAQ

rosebud_staging_7

Will I be able  to stay in my house?

Multiple Phasing Plans

Wood floor finishing frequently asked questions boils down essentially to two questions: Will I be able to stay in my house; and 2., How can I make sure my floors and furniture are protected. If you specialize in working in owner-occupied homes, you’d better have a plan ready to help homeowners through what is arguably one of the toughest things they will ever experience; having their wood floors refinished . . . while they are living in the house. This easily competes with root canals, IRS audits and all vowels on your Scrabble tray.

Years ago, I realized that if you had to go into houses, displace the occupants, create havoc and try and leave on friendly terms, you better have their best interest at heart. I started “phasing” projects so homeowners retain their sanity and I keep my business prospering.

Wood Floor Finishing FAQ: What  is Phasing?

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Organized Phasing Move

Phasing means that you break a wood floor finishing project up into multiple phases so that people can stay in their homes, get their floors refinished, and their objectives met. It often means that the project takes longer, cost a bit more and forces you to think outside the box. It means that the grand piano (the 800 lb. gorilla) no longer dictates the course of events. But most of all, it means the project gets done and the homeowners keeps their sanity.

Suppose you have a large house, fully furnished but in dire need of some better looking floors. Let’s begin with half of the large rooms on that level, completely refinish them and allow the finish to cure for a few days. Then you come back and wrap them.

Wood Floor Finishing FAQ: Professional  Floor Protection

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Professional Floor Protection

After you wrap the floors, you move the furniture that had been stored in the other rooms on this level. You want to be very careful not to damage the floors and this is done by using dollies, hand trucks and people who have respect for your furnishings. This comes close to doubling the amount of time for the work but hey, it enables you to do it! Over the years, I have found that the fear of the chaos of having wood floor work has stopped more homeowners from having it done than anything else. This helps eliminate much of the difficulty of the problem.

 

Protecting your Floors with Professional Covering

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Working On Floors Doubly Protected

Here’s another example. Suppose you are finally getting that dream kitchen. You like the look of wood floors in a kitchen area, and you really want all the floors finished and protected, and that includes under the cabinets and appliances. How are you going to make that happen without doing major damage to the finished floor, esp. when you install cabinets? Here’s how. You go ahead and sand the floors; stain or seal the wood, and then make two applications of finish. You then wrap the floors with two layers of red rosin or building paper. (Always remember that you never ever, under any circumstances, apply any kind of masking tape directly to the floors. I don’t care how old the finish is — don’t do it. Got that?) Some people like to cover the floor with plastic but I am not too keen on that as it is often slippery. Now you can sit back, relax and just wait for the cabinets. And wait. And wait.

 

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Masonite Tracking on Refinished Hardwood Floors

Protecting Floors with Masonite

When the cabinets start to arrive (finally!) you now have plenty of protection and space to start assembling them. You still want to exercise caution just as you would over any surface. No major spills. Let’s not be dropping large objects. And if tears appear in the paper, repair them. Be careful not to let dust and debris get under the paper as it could damage the finish. I usually put down Masonite (some call it hardboard) for additional protection. In the picture to the right, you can see the Masonite underneath the sawhorses and cordless drill. This provides some excellent protection and is well worth the additional (minimal) cost and effort.

 

Protecting Floors from Moving Pianos

Speaking of Masonite, let’s make good use of it to deal with the 800 lb. gorilla that you often find lurking in living rooms; the piano. A few things you need to know — first, don’t roll a piano over a wood floor. Second, don’t roll a piano over a wood floor. And finally, third, don’t roll a

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Piano On a Masonite Track

piano over a wood floor. (Kinda reminds you of my advice on putting masking tape on a floor.) What I like to do is take strips of Masonite that I have cut from the original 4’ x 8’ sheet. I usually cut strips about 12” wide and 4’ long as you see in this picture to the left. I place the Masonite under the casters of the piano to form a track of sorts and then I roll to my heart’s desire. It is the Masonite that is getting indented — not the wood floor. Since Masonite comes in two thicknesses, 1/8 and 1/4, I always use the thicker version to make sure I don’t have problems. If it is a monster of a grand piano that looks like it is ready to plunge right through to the basement, I will double up the strips to buy a little extra insurance.

 

Finally, what about a little something else to help keep those workers shoes clean as they tromp through your home during your renovation project? Makes sense; they are there to help be creative, not destroy your floors. Here is a product that I have made good use of. It is 32” wide and comes in rolls from 50’ to 100’. It may seem a little pricey but I know a bunch of contractors who swear by it. It is called Dura Runner, it has a backing that helps keep it from slipping and you can check it out here: www.protectiveproducts.com/durarunner.html

OK, that’s it for this session. You now know a lot more about how to protect your floors before, during and after your project. What a wise use of your time!

 

When the Public Benefits from Tragedy

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Vera Purser

Tragic Deaths in the Family

My day came on March 23, 2005. My older brother called me to tell me that our mother and only sister, the youngest of the four children, had been senselessly killed in an accident involving a commercial carrier. In the subsequent months as we learned more about the circumstances, the kindest thing I can say about their deaths is that they had their lives stolen on a beautiful clear day on a rural North Carolina road.

Dealing with tragedy of this magnitude is no easy task. There is anger, grief, denial, self-abuse, self-pity – and the list goes on. Most importantly though, all these emotions require energy and the mental and physical toll can drain you and leave you hollow. I quickly learned that re-directing that energy can be the best use of emotions and might benefit those of us left on this earth. I realized that in the midst of tragedy you look for opportunity, not feed a negative drive. This is where the public benefits from tragedy comes in.

We are exposed to tragedy every day we pick up the newspaper or watch/listen to news broadcasts. It is part of life. We feel a vicarious twinge when we see the misfortune others experience but usually put the paper down or turn the TV or radio off and go about our day. Maybe we feel lucky or fortunate that we aren’t the subject of the tragedy. And sometimes our luck or good fortune runs out and we have to come to terms with a new norm.

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Sister Ann

When the Public Benefits from Tragedy: a Memorial Scholarship

My first act was to join with my nephew, Caleb Hannan, in endowing a memorial scholarship in the name of Vera & Anne Purser with the Jeannette Rankin Foundation. Based in Athens, Ga., JRF provides scholarships for low income women over the age of 35 who have been accepted to or are attending college or accredited vocational schools. Both my mom and Anne had attended college after turning 40 and used education to achieve their goals. Mom fulfilled her childhood dream of being a nurse and Anne found her mission in life with her educational degrees working with pre K children. Scholars of the Rankin Foundation reflect a determination and grit that mom and Anne would recognize immediately and I am proud to be serving on the board of directors of JRF. Since 1976, we have awarded over 800 scholarships valued at over $1,000,000. These hard working women use determination and will power to help themselves, their families and their communities. It is a fitting memorial of two of the sweetest people I will ever know in this lifetime.

Road Safe America

I also serve on the board of directors of Road Safe America, a group focused on improving the safety on our nation’s highways. Founded by Steven & Susan Owings after the tragic death of their son Cullom, RSA is focused on improving highway safety for truck drivers and everyone else sharing the road with these big rigs. We understand the consequences of poor and insufficient training, lack of oversight and putting profit before the public or their own driver’s safety. I feel very fortunate to be part of a group that will benefit the health and well-being of all using our nation’s highways.
My involvement with both organizations is born out of a tragedy I never thought would occur. I hope my contributions will make a difference and encourage you to take a few minutes to visit both websites and evaluate both organizations missions.

Thank you.

My Old Wood Floor: How Many Times Can My Floor Be Sanded?

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Visible nail heads mean big trouble!

Too Far Gone 
If you are a wood floor contractor and working on an older home you get accustomed to a frequently asked question; “How many more times can my floor be sanded?” Thirty years ago, the question might not have been considered too important. That is not the case today. With the increased popularity of wood floors and how much they appreciate the value of a home, homeowners are going to greater lengths to keep their floors in top notch shape. And this is taking a toll.

When do you know?

The most often repeated answer to the “how many times” question is that a floor can be sanded three times. But that is not telling you a lot if you haven’t owned the house the whole time. What I have found gives a homeowner a better indicator to measure by is the age of the house. The younger the house, the less likely it exceeds the magic number of three. More specifically, I use 1950 as the all-important time line. Anything built around 1950 or before has usually experienced multiple wood floor refinishing projects. As you would expect, as you digress (houses built in the1940’s, 1930’s, 1920’s and so on) you can almost be assured that your wood floors are at serious risk of not being able to endure anymore sanding at all. Homes built in the 19th century would be even at greater risk. Homeowners whose homes are 80+ years or older should exercise extreme caution and make sure that any wood floor contractor they consider has a high level of experience working on older homes. You don’t want to find out after they start that they are lacking this experience.

My Old Wood Floor: What To Look For

Knowing the age of the home is a good starting point but there are other ways of double checking how much wood you have left. One of the first things you will see with most tongue and groove floors are the tips of the nails securing the flooring to the subfloor. In this picture, just above the pencil is a line of shiny objects. These objects are the tips of the nail used to secure the flooring to the sub-floor. Notice that the row of nail heads are at a 90 degree angle to the direction the wood is installed. At the time of the original installation, these nails were well below the surface of the floor and not visible. But the loss of wood from repeated aggressive sanding has exposed them and they are bright because of the sanding process. This floor is about 90 years old. The wood in this photo is pine and has probably been refinished a total of four times.

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A Ruined Floor

Another very obvious sign is when the wood splits along the parallel seams following the direction of the wood. This split happens when the wood has become so thin that even small amounts of pressure cause the wood to break. This pressure would come from furniture, musical instruments, high heels and simple walking patterns of the residents. In this photo you can see that the break exposes a large gaping hole. You are looking at the actual tongue and groove configuration used to fit the pieces of wood together. At this point, the damage is catastrophic and the floor is ruined. If a homeowner wants a sturdy and structurally strong floor, they will need to replace this floor with a new one. This project had numerous other failures like this. Homeowners often ask that these cavities be fill with a wood filler but this will not provide a permanent solution and the wood filler will eventually crack and disintegrate.

Most old floors still have a very useful life

Replacing an old wood floor is very costly and extremely invasive to your home and your lifestyle. You really want to be diligent to avoid inheriting a floor that needs to be replaced or losing one with a well-intentioned refinishing project. The most important point here is to detect the warning signs before you see the wood splitting. Most old floors still have a very useful life and can provide decades of service. Most can still be refinished but not in the traditional manner. Homeowners really need to make sure they exercise caution in selecting a contractor and find one that has plenty of experience working on older wood floors. Most contractors are taught to attack a floor with aggressive and coarse sanding as this is the most time efficient way of completing the work. The excessive loss of wood always occurs as a result of aggressive sanding. Fortunately there are techniques and equipment available that dramatically reduce the amount of wood lost during the sanding process. The focus is on removing just the old finish and little, if anything, else. This approach will typically take more time and require a more skilled worker so be prepared to pay more but it beats having to install a new wood floor.

In summary, wood floors in any older home represent a significant and sizable asset. It is one of the reasons people covet these older structures and you don’t want to the owner who finds out they are at risk of losing this asset. Do your homework before you start a wood floor project. Look for the signs I have pointed out in terms of wear, erosion and damage. But your best insurance is simply finding a contractor who has the track record to take on the project in the first place. They know what to look for and have a better idea of how to handle the situation. This is no time to be betting on a lower price or cheaper work.

Michael Purser
The Rosebud Co.