Dining room through cased opening into living room

Customer expectations will likely turn out to be the most important part of any project involving a remodel. In most every case you will be working with "imperfect" components of an existing structure. An addition to an existing structure can be a little more forgiving in that components will likely be new and a main area of concern will be the transition between old and new. Unreasonable customer expectations will create the "Project from Hell" that may never be completed or paid for.

Living room with dining room at left; areas under windows to the right were repaired when radiators were removed.

Some years back, I completed a project that required both remodeling and an addition. A kitchen/pantry/eating area was remodeled as a formal dining room. (Photo 1) A small bath and closet were changed to a larger bath, and an addition as a kitchen laundry room was added. During the bid interview the customer insisted that the flooring continue "seamlessly" through the cased opening of the living room (Photos 2 and 3) into the remodeled dining room and that the old flooring be removed and recycled. Also, the new full bath with tub and a separate shower was to have wood flooring (Photo 4). The addition was to have new wood flooring. There are no photos of the addition since the flooring was replaced with tile after a water leak flooded the flooring four years ago. My initial comments cautioned that solid wood flooring in a full bath was not a recommended application, that not enough flooring was available to reclaim for the dining room floor, and that reinstallation of the reclaimed flooring would likely not yield a solid, mostly noise free floor. My cautions were acknowledged but they remained firm in their wishes. I probably should have walked away from this one, but a good customer had referred me to this couple.

Living room looking into dining room; right jamb was starting line; laced area extended 4 feet into living room.

The bid included NOFMA Certified flooring for the kitchen, bath, and the dining room. NOFMA # 1 Common was chosen for the contemporary kitchen with distressed cabinets, NOFMA Select and Better Quartered for the bath to address the high moisture environment and NOFMA Select and Better for the 60% extra of the dining room since the original flooring was mostly select and clear. Time was estimated for removing, cleaning the edges, removing nails, and re-cutting the recycled flooring. Also time was allotted for lacing into the existing flooring. Additional cost for materials and time at the hourly rate was approved for any extra preparation of subfloor and transitions among rooms. Since the remodeling had not yet started I did not know the quality of the subfloor or what abuse would occur during the remodel.

Full bath with quartered floor; some edges show water damage after 8 years or so. A screen and re-coat is needed.

Separate from the installation was the bid for refinishing and finishing all the wood flooring. Also, as radiators were removed, areas of the flooring would need repair. There would be additional cost for materials and the hourly rate for repair of these areas, defective boards, and abused areas. I insisted that the bath and new kitchen be finished with polyurethane. Seal and wax was suggested for the refinished areas to prevent likely peeling finish because of the existing gaps, unknown use of wax, and the observed movement in the flooring. They accepted the suggested finish choices. Notes in the bid letter also reviewed the issues that a wax system would create the older desired look and moderate the noises associated with movement. Additionally a perfectly flat, blemish-free floor should not be expected. There were scratches and gouges that would require excessive sanding so they would remain, and existing gaps would mostly remain since movement between strips would loosen any filler.

Note gaps that were created at installation to maintain the straight runs through the opening. These gaps were not filled when finished.

Demolition began in August. In November the builder called for flooring installation. A pre-installation inspection revealed the flooring to be recycled had gotten wet during roof installation and the wet carpet and pad had significantly wetted and stained the wood. The builder was informed that carpet pad stains may or may not sand out. He said proceed, the owners wanted to have Christmas in their completed home. Before proceeding, the owners were notified of this issue and initialed the "go ahead". In addition standing water was present in the crawl space of the kitchen and the earth had not been covered. Subfloor moisture readings were 16% in the kitchen and the dining room flooring was 10-14%. Fans were bought in and turned on for about 10 days. Fortunately heated, dry circulated air reduced the moisture in the subfloors to acceptable levels and during this time the dining room flooring was removed, culled, cleaned and dried. The builder drained the crawl space water and covered the earth.

Three subfloor conditions in the same floor-old 1 by 6 boards, new 1 by 6 repair, and plywood.

A 7/8-inch fall was measured across the dining room subfloor, but since it was generally flat the owners agreed that additional "leveling" was not necessary. This subfloor had to be completely refastened using screws and ring shanked nails. Areas of the old kitchen 1-by-8 subfloor were rotted from water leaks and required replacement and shimming. 2-by-4 SYP scabs were attached to the existing joist where necessary. The starting run was located along the jamb of the cased opening into the living room. The "laced in" area had gaps and these were maintained across the dining room to keep the runs straight. (Photo 5) A slip tongue was used to reverse to the wall in the dining room. The recycled wood runs were alternated with new wood and some runs were mixed 2 to 1. Face nailing was often required to stop excessive strip movement. Extra sanding was required to address the overwood between the old and new wood and carpet stains.

The installer has used wood shingles to flatten the -inch variation.

As illustrated in this review, knowledge of the consequences of different options and communicating this to the customer to set up realistic expectations are critical in having an informed and satisfied customer.

Site conditions can be as severe as new construction when an HVAC condensate line floods the crawl space.

Each remodel is different and requires that you address many different situations. Establish what your job responsibilities are, but be flexible. If major leveling is required this generally is the responsibility of the builder. (Photo 6) You may decide to shim an area that otherwise would be the general's responsibility. (Photo 7) Many different subfloor conditions in the same floor will often be encountered. Make sure all are adequate for the installation. An existing house has had environmental controls but remodeling can disrupt them and create adverse conditions similar to or even worse than new home construction. (Photo 8)

Proper acclimation is critical with any flooring product.

Other conditions may maintain the lived in environment so acclimation to that condition can assure good performance. (Photo 9) Communicate with the builder, follow with written notes, and copy the owners as necessary. You don't have to be adversarial, just informative. Also, there are times when the best decision is to walk away from the job if there is doubt that you can fulfill the wishes of the customer.