The short answer is "yes", but there are some pretty significant exceptions to note including the flatness of the underlying sub-floor and installing engineered, unfinished flooring.  

Most of our installations are in Manhattan and we're typically installing engineered floors over concrete with glue only and no mechanical fastening; there's often a rubber underlayment - typically a QT sound control mat - installed over the concrete first.  One of the most important things with these installations is that the concrete is completely flat.  It doesn't need to be level, but it needs to be flat.  The definition of a flat sub-floor is:

"The floor must be flat (not level) to with in industry standards (within 1/4 inch in 10 feet or 3/1 6inch in 6 feet). To check, we use an 8-foot-by-1 1/2-by-3 1/2-inch residential magnesium screed"

The full article from the magazine of the NWFA is here.  If the floor isn't flat within these tolerances prior to installation you'll almost definitely end up with hollow spots.

A major red flag item for us when it comes to glueing down wood flooring is when a customer asks us to glue down an engineered, unfinished wood floor.  We've tried it and haven't had a lot of success with glueing only as the floor tends not to stay down.  We've used a couple of different manufacturer's material and have found it fairly difficult to get a tight installation that's flush with the sub-floor without using some type of fasteners.  See below for a video that show why it's difficult to only glue down an engineered, unfinished wood floor.

 

 

 

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

This is a quick post with some pictures taken during the installation of a whitewashed oak, pre-finished, engineered wood floor installed over a rubber sound mat on a concrete slab in Manhattan.  This was at The Sheffield on west 57th street.

There are a couple of pics that show how we lay out the first few lines of the floor.  Notice that the boards are being taped with a blue painter's tape: this is to keep them from separating before the glue sets enough to hold them in place. 

In the next to last last photo you'll see a shot from down at ground level showing the board laying flat on the floor.  Occasionally we'll stop during the installation to check whether the boards are lying flat on the glue that's been applied to make sure there won't be hollow spots in the floor once it's installed. 

Enjoy!

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

One of the most common installations we do in Manhattan is engineered wood over a concrete slab.  With an engineered hardwood floor installation of this type it's not uncommon to end up with hollow spots in the floor due to concrete unevenness ... even after spot patching and flattening of the slab has taken place.  The video below shows a hollow spot we had in an engineered wood floor installation at The Sheffield at 350 east 57th street in Manhattan.  In addition to the concrete being very uneven, the floor boards being installed were about 7' long which made the finished floor more susceptible to hollow spots. 

I've only included video that shows a bit of the prep work, drilling of holes and how to inject the epoxy.  Once all the glue has been injected into the floor, the holes get plugged with small dowels provided with the kit and then get a pre-finished filler (in similar color to floors) applied over the dowel heads.

This is a list of materials I needed for the repair:

  • Dri Tac engineered wood floor repair kit
  • Towels/rags ... it can get messy, so make sure to have a few handy
  • Sharp utility knife ... for whittling down dowels
  • Pre-finished wood filler ... make sure it's similar color to the floor
  • Blue painter's 
  • Small drill ... the small cordless Milwaukee you see in the video is completely adequate
  • Hammer ... for sinking the dowels provided into the holes
  • Plastic bag ... for garbage

A high level overview of the injection process looks something like this:

  1. Tap the floor to identify hollow locations.  You can hear the difference between a hollow and solid spot in the video below.  I taped off the area that needed the injections but I didn't think it was necessary.  Make sure to use a blue painter's tape so that you don't damage the floor finish.
  2. Drill holes over the hollow spots with the bit from the kit.  I knew there was black rubber underlayment under the wood, so as soon as I saw black rubber coming out of the hole I stopped drilling.
  3. Clean off sawdust and apply tape over injection holes.  The glue came out of the holes a little bit with pretty much all of the injections I did, so having the tape down around the hole helped prevent glue from getting on the floor. 
  4. Mix glue.  I used one of the dowels they provided but I'd highly recommend using something a little longer as glue got all over my hands.  
  5. Pull the glue into the syringe.  This is harder than it looks even though in the kit they say the glue is "thin".  After you pull the glue up into the syringe, make sure to tilt it back a bit and even keep a touch of negative pressure on it to keep the glue from dripping out.  They say you can take the syringe apart and pour the glue in, but this seemed like a recipe for (messy) disaster with only one person doing the injecting.  
  6. Inject away!  I found I had to adjust the height a little bit once I put the needle into the floor to get the fluid to flow out easily.  I think I may have initially pushed a little too far into the rubber which prevented the glue from leaving the syringe.  VERY IMPORTANT: if the location of your injection site doesn't allow the glue to flow freely out of the syringe - could be a few things like floor glue blocking it, etc. - the glue could either a) come out of the injection hole or b) comes up through the cracks in the boards.  I played around with doing injections on seams that were really tight as opposed to more open and found that I had the same issues with glue flowing out through seams in both instances.
  7. Remove tape and clean excess glue.  I'd recommend doing this immediately after doing the injections as cured glue can be challenging to clean off of wood floors.
  8. Whittle down dowels and insert in injection holes.  You'll need a sharp utility knife handy to whittle these down as they're intentionally oversized and won't fit the holes.  They provide a metal sink with the kit so that you can tap the dowels into the holes.
  9. Apply filler.  Make sure it's pre-finished and similar color to the floor.  You'll never get an exact match so pretty close is okay.

 

This video shows the hole drilling and initial injections. IMPORTANT: make sure not to step on any of the locations where the floor has been injected until the glue is dry as it can come out of the holes and cracks in the floor.

We have additional videos of how to do the dowel insertion and also of more injections being done.  Contact us via the form on our site if you'd like the YouTube links to these.

A few random notes on this method of hollow spot repair:

  • Keep in mind that this injection method of fixing hollow spots in a wood floor is really best used with glued-down, engineered wood floor systems.  My experience has been that it's not really effective with solid, nailed installations.  They note this in the installation instructions.
  • The Dri Tac System is not an epoxy kit which I personally like because there's minimal mixing and it doesn't dry immediately, meaning the glue will flow out under the floor and secure a larger area.  The glue also comes off your hands pretty easily with soap and water.
  • Once you do your injections, don't step on the floor where you've injected:  the wet glue can come up through the holes or seams in the boards.
  • I put the syringe directly into the container and pulled glue into it.  My preference is to pour it off into a separate container so that the angle at which you need to hold the syringe is a little more natural.  When I got closer down to the bottom of the container it got awkward (and fairly taxing) to pull the glue into the syringe.
  • The glue can come up through the cracks once the cavity you're working on  gets filled up.  Sometimes the glue actually comes up under the blue tape that you've applied to protect the area around the injection.  MAKE SURE TO TAKE THE TAPE OFF THE FLOOR AS SOON AS YOU FINISH THE INJECTION!  If you let the glue dry by the injection site with the tape still on it you can potentially have a challenging time getting the tape off the floor.

Apologies in advance for any light profanity ... this was a little impromptu and is unedited ;-)

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

We've had people ask variations on the question "How much does it cost to install wood floors?" for years.   Unfortunately, this isn't a great way to figure out how much it will actually cost you to get the work done in your New York City apartment.   Keep reading to find out a better set of information to be providing when emailing around for pricing.

The inquiries we get for pricing usually look something like this:

"Looking to have exotic cherry wood floor installed. It is a first floor and vacant approximately 1400 sq. ft. How much do you charge a sq ft and what is your availability. 347.xxx.xxxx. Thank you."

Our response usually looks like this:

"$5.50/sf, --- week lead time ... install engineered wood flooring provided by client, glued to flat and clean sub-floor in location empty of furniture, people and other trades.  Assumes 8 hour work day.  Assumes paint touch-ups will not be necessary.  Does not include any demolition, molding

Price is ballpark only.  Additional pricing can be provided via onsite estimate; $50 fee (creditable to project) is applicable to this service."

But is this really what you needed?  A lot of the time there's confusion surrounding pricing for any contracting service and wood floors are no exception.  To avoid some of this confusion when it comes to cobbling together prices from wood floor contractors, start by asking the right questions.  We know you have a busy day - I promise you, we all do - but taking the time to provide a more complete set of information upfront will save you time and preserve your sanity in the long run.  So before you click send on that email to the next wood floor contractor, take some time to provide the information below:

  • What's the age of the building?  
  • Is the sub-floor wood or concrete? A lot of buildings built in the 40's and earlier have wood sub-floors.
  • Would the unit be furnished or unfurnished? 
  • What are your building's work hours?
  • What's the square footage for the space where the work is to take place?
  • Would you be living there while work is being done? 
  •  What's your desired/available window for doing the work (specified using a start and end date)?
  •  Will the space be painted after the floors are installed?
  •  Are there any other details you feel are pertinent that you'd like to make us aware of? 
  • Have you seen any products or finishes that you like?  If so, please include pic(s) and details or a description of color/look/feel you're going for.  

We're firm believers that a picture is worth a thousand words, so we need to ask that you send a few over.  When supplying  pictures, send (2) shots or a panorama of each room as well as a couple of shots of the existing floor.   Shots should be focused 4' or lower on the walls.  If you have any questions how a particular transition or area might be dealt with, send a picture of that, too.

This is by no means a complete list of questions for getting a 100% accurate price, but it will at least get the conversation moving in the right direction.

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

When we do a floor replacement in apartments in Manhattan that have the original floors, we typically need to remove all the base molding as the existing floor runs underneath it.  See Figure 1 to the left for a diagram of what this typical floor setup looks like.  We've been asked whether we could leave it in place and cut the edge of the floor,  but unless it's very unique or expensive molding, it almost always makes the most sense from a cost-effectiveness standpoint to remove the base molding.

Occasionally we'll salvage base molding, but between taking extra care when pulling it off, labelling, cutting/bending back old nails and scraping off the old caulking, simply removing and discarding the old base molding and replacing it with new molding makes more sense.  We also typically work in apartments where the entire floor is being replaced which leaves us very little room to maneuver and having to shift around 150-250 linear feet of base molding during an installation can also add to the price.

Figure 1: Base molding sits on top of the floor and covers the expansion joint.

Figure 1: Base molding sits on top of the floor and covers the expansion joint.

Figure 2: Base molding sits below and 

Figure 2: Base molding sits below and 

If your floor runs next to your molding and there is a shoe molding covering the expansion joint - space left between wall and floor to allow for expansion and contraction of the wood floor - then just pulling out the shoe molding and replacing the shoe is fine.  The base molding could stay in place for the duration of the project wouldn't need to be removed.  See Figure 2 for a diagram of this setup. 

There are always additional details and exceptions to the rules, but this covers about 85-90% of the base and shoe molding setups that we see when we're asked to come in and replace a floor.

 

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

Yes.  Thanks for visiting ;-)

Kidding.  This is a video of things that we look for when inspecting an existing Kitchen where a client is looking to replace the floor ... 

 

 The video is 8 minutes long and a bit repetitive, but the highlights are as follows:

  • Keep in mind that you'll need to disconnect the appliances before you start and reconnect all the appliances at the end of the project.  Those typically involve water and gas as well as a waste line of some type for the dishwasher.  
  • The appliance heights will almost definitely change.  Will they fit in their original locations after the new floor is installed? Remember that you'll need to access them for service ... getting them into place after the installation is only half the battle.
  • How will you deal with the toe kick?  If it's removable, the video covers this.  If it's not removable, you'll need to cut the floor along the edge of the toe kick - best tool we've found for this is a multi master by Fein, the Dremel ones don't have enough power - and put a piece of molding along the edge of the cut after the new floor is installed.

Something not mentioned in the video: you'll need to move those appliances back into place over a finished floor.  Remember that broken wheel on the refrigerator you figured you'd never have to deal with again?  Might be a good time to take another look at it.

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

The short answer: with enough fairy dust, anything is possible ;-)

 

The long answer ...

When we're talking about a floor that's pre-war in an apartment building, we're typically speaking about a floor that's been down since the 1920's or 1930's.  In a townhouse or carriage house, if the floors are original we could be talking a floor that was laid in the late 1800's.  The thickness of the wood is *probably* 3/4" although parquet can often be considerably thinner and possibly not be locked into the neighboring pieces with a tongue and groove.  To keep things a little simpler, let's assume we're talking about a 3/4" thick piece of tongue and groove wood flooring, meaning the pieces look like the diagram below.

Very simple and poorly sketched profile of a piece of wood flooring.  Not the prettiest or most accurate, but you get the idea.

Most of the time, the deciding factor on whether or not you can refinish is determined by how much of the wear layer - part of the floor above the middle of the groove - is remaining.  The piece of wood in the picture above is what your wood floor would look like when it's new.  The wear layer can usually take about 4-5 sandings before it couldn't be sanded and refinished again.  This is a diagram of what the the profile of the floor in your pre-war apartment probably looks like:

Don't let anyone touch a floor that's this thin with a sanding machine or ... well, call that guy that doesn't charge an estimate fee and you'll find out for yourself ;-)

Your next question is probably "so how do I know if my floor is too thin to sand?".  This is when I tell you gauging the thickness of a wood floor is more art than science and that a mere mortal like yourself could never understand the whims of the wood floor gods.  Only partially true.

This is what I look for when trying to gauge whether a floor is too thin in a pre-war NYC apartment with the original floors:

  • Cracking at the edges of the boards.  When the wear layer is almost completely sanded off, you'll start to see cracking along the edges of the boards.   Being the ever-inquisitive consumer that you are, you might be wondering "why?" ... or maybe you're, but I'll tell you anyway.  You get the cracking along the edges because every wood floor that has a non-concrete sub-floor is going to have some give to it.  As the floor gets thinner, the thin top edge of the wear layer overlapping the tongue will be more susceptible to cracking.  If you look closely, you'll probably notice that you've probably got more of this cracking - and possibly some splintering of the boards - in the areas that get a lot of foot traffic, like by the entry door to the apartment or in doorways between rooms.
  • You'll see nail heads.  If you're seeing a stray nail head - no type of pattern - then your pre-war wood floor is almost definitely too thin to sand and refinish.  Take a look at the diagram above to see how/why the nail head sticks through when the floor gets thin.
  • Noise or creaking in the floor.  This is a little more subjective and actually is more art than science ;-)

This isn't a one-size-fits-all type post for all pre war wood floors, but it should set you down the right path to determining what you can do with the floor.

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

There are quite a few buildings in Manhattan that have metal door frames in some or all of the apartment.  We recently had a client that was looking to remove a metal doorframe in their UWS apartment and before it came out, we had to do some minor removal of the surrounding floor boards.  This was an older apartment (20's), but we've also worked in apartment from the 70's where the customer was having the metal door frame removed and we had to do some floor repair/finishing around the lower edge of the frame.  The videos show the actual cutting of the floor and removing of the marble saddle.  We make cuts straight down into the wood (plunge cuts) with a tool called a Multi Master which is made by Fein.  These are some more pictures and videos of the board removal process:

 

There's inevitably damage to a wood floor when removing an old metal doorframe. This is some of the pre-demolition floor work that often takes place before the removal of the frame itself.

After all the boards have been removed and the opening has been closed up, we then went ahead and repaired the floor with new white oak.  Depending on how close a match you're looking for, new wood may not be the best route to go as the graining and color may be too big a mismatch.  The new wood may also not take the stain well.  If this is the case, we'll typically try to salvage from a closet or another floor that might be getting ripped up so that we know the wood will be a match.  In this case, the doorframe was being closed up and some of the repaired boards were going to be covered with base molding, so new wood worked out fine.  There are some more pictures of the repaired wood and then the finished product so you can see what to expect from repairs like this after the refinishing has been done. 

This is a shot that shows the repaired location under the doorway along with a partially sanded section of the existing floor.  An important to notice here - than can influence how well things blend together - is how different the color of the new wood and old wood are when they have no finish on them.  You can see that the old wood has a more of a yellow tinge to it than the new wood.  Going with a brownish and/or darker stain - see next picture - can help get help mitigate this issue.  Apologies for the light/shadow issue with the picture.

This is a shot that shows the repaired location under the doorway along with a partially sanded section of the existing floor.  An important to notice here - than can influence how well things blend together - is how different the color of the new wood and old wood are when they have no finish on them.  You can see that the old wood has a more of a yellow tinge to it than the new wood.  Going with a brownish and/or darker stain - see next picture - can help get help mitigate this issue.  Apologies for the light/shadow issue with the picture.

Cleaning up the doorframe after removal

Location where the repair was done at the old doorframe is to the left.  This shows a full line along the edge of the wall that was repaired with new white oak.

Location where the repair was done at the old doorframe is to the left.  This shows a full line along the edge of the wall that was repaired with new white oak.

This is the location under the old door opening that had the new strip of wood installation.  This repair blended well although this has a lot to do with the color selected.  This is also wasn't a large repair in a central location in the room so if there is a color or graining difference, it's not particularly noticeable.  Another thing working to our advantage is that a good portion of the board will be covered with the new base and shoe molding.

This is the location under the old door opening that had the new strip of wood installation.  This repair blended well although this has a lot to do with the color selected.  This is also wasn't a large repair in a central location in the room so if there is a color or graining difference, it's not particularly noticeable.  Another thing working to our advantage is that a good portion of the board will be covered with the new base and shoe molding.

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

My personal experience with those felt pads you put on the feet of your chairs is that they almost always fall off.  Below I've included some pictures of the only ones we've found that don't fall off. They get hammered into the bottom of the feet of the chair and you're set.  You can pick them up at Home Depot for a few bucks and all you need to install them is a cheap hammer.



Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel

There are loads of issues that people run into when they're looking to get their floors replaced.  These are also a number of things that are unique to getting it done in New York City.  Feel free to contact us if you have any questions or want to learn more about some common issues we've run into over the years.

Insurance ... lots of it.

99.9% of buildings in Manhattan will require your contractor to carry insurance.  Most buildings will ask for General Liability and Worker's Compensation, but some will also ask for proof of disability insurance.  The thing that will dictate whether a contractor can get into your building to work will really be their General Liability limits.  We've found over the past year or two a number of buildings have started to require $5 million in general liability insurance.  Most trades contractors (painters, carpenters, floor installers, etc) only carry $1 million although some buildings might let them in if you're nice to the managing agent and clarify that the work is only cosmetic.

Wood deliveries: it won't end up where you think it should.

You've found a contractor that you like and they carry enough insurance to get into the building.  It took you a few weeks, but you've also found a wood floor you're happy with.  Hoping to save a few bucks you figure "eh, why should I pay the contractor a mark-up on the wood?  I'll just order it myself".  Excellent idea, just make sure the wood floor distributor will deliver it to your apartment.  Yes, most wood floor deliveries are only made curbside, not to the apartment.  While curbside check-in for a flight can be wonderful, the only thing you'll get out of a curbside wood delivery is a hernia.  Wood is unwieldy and very heavy.  Either have your contractor do the delivery or try to pay the porter from the building to do it.

Your front door: the only thing during a wood floor installation that can't be cut.

It's almost definitely a fire door and no, your building won't want you to cut it.  One of the first things I look for when I walk into an apartment is how how much clearance you have at the front door.  It dictates how thick a floor you can go with and what type of sub-floor setup you'll need to go with.  A common fix if you just don't have much clearance for wood but definitely want to replace the  floor: tile in your Entry Foyer area then put wood everyplace else.

Solid or engineered, that is the question.

This is a topic unto itself, but most new wood floors in apartments in Manhattan tend to be engineered.  This can be partially due to not having enough clearance at your front door.  One of the main reasons is that engineered wood flooring can be glued down to a sound mat or directly to concrete while a solid floor is typically nailed and requires a 3/4" plywood sub-floor to be be installed over the concrete.  A couple of quick points on why that plywood sub-floor can be a hassle (and expensive) to install:

  • All of the material for it needs to come up in the service elevator, which often can't accommodate a full 4x8 sheet of material.  This is a lot of large, unwieldy  material movement within the building that needs to be done without damaging the walls and you may have waste due to have to cut the plywood down to 4x6 or 4x4 sheets.
  • If your building does't allow the plywood to be bolted down to the concrete, you may need to build a floating sub-floor structure.  This will require two layers of plywood and more labor.

Tar: seriously?

If you have a parquet floor over concrete in a building from the 50's to early 80's, there's a good chance you've got black cutback adhesive (or essentially tar) holding the floor down.  REGARDLESS OF WHAT ANY CONTRACTOR TELLS YOU, THEY SHOULDN'T JUST BE GLUEING YOUR FLOOR DIRECTLY DOWN TO IT.  Contractors will tell you it's okay, but I promise you, this is not a good idea ... you'll have to read my next posts to find out how to deal with.  Good cliffhanger, no?

 

That's all for now.  If you want more, you'll have to come back and check us out again ;-)

 

Posted
AuthorMarc Ringel