Carpet was stretched over what we referred to as hair pad that came in 12’ wide rolls, so flatness of floors had a bit more tolerance. Removal was also fairly easy with just disengaging carpet from the tackless strip, removing the pad and scraping the excess lines of pad adhesive. Glue-direct wasn’t something we did till a few years later.
On the tile side, a mud bed with a recessed subfloor was commonplace so a flat floor could be established. Removal of existing tile was done with a rotary hammer and jackhammer.
With subfloors for strip hardwood, either sanding down the high joints on a wood subfloor or sleepers over concrete with a nail-down installation was considered the standard practice. A pry bar of sorts was—and is still—used to remove existing wood floors. In the mid ‘50s, parquet floors were glued down with cutback asphalt adhesive. They are still glued direct to subfloors, but now with adhesives that are more environmentally friendly, with low to no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
With the introduction of adhesives and thin-set mortars, a lot has changed. Glue-down carpet is common in commercial applications and manual removal with a hand scraper requires a lot of man-hours. Hardwood installations now include solid strip and engineered glue down as an option. Ceramic tile and stone are now being installed with the thin-set method directly over a concrete substrate.
So what’s out in the market to make the job of removal easier? A lot. There are machines with an oscillating scraper that aid in removal that you manually push. There are self-propelled scrapers that are walk-behind, and then there are the ride-on machines (Photo 1).
With the ride-on type of machines, there are electric, clean-burning propane and battery-powered models. The battery-operated machines seem to be gaining popularity with no electrical cords, no worries about propane in occupied areas and longer-lasting batteries. All of the different types of floor removal machines have made the removal of carpet, hardwood, tile, resilient flooring and epoxy-type coatings much easier. Yes, they are an investment, but there are prices to fit your budget and the return on investment is well worth it.
With the advancements of floor removal tools, the surface preparation side has also made preparing substrates much easier and faster. For small areas you have the handheld type of grinders, utilizing diamond abrasive wheels (Photo 2). The next step up is the stand-up systems (Photo 3). If the stand-up grinders still aren’t big enough for you there is always the mega ride-on systems!
For removal of adhesives, coatings and profiling concrete, there are shot blasters. These machines blast the substrate with steel shot in varying diameters, depending on the amount of profiling or type of coating removal. Once it blasts the substrate, the shot is recycled through the vacuum system and deposited back into the shot container on the machine. Any loose shot can be picked up with a magnetic bar and reused. There are walk-behind machines that run on 110/220 volt for smaller to larger jobs, up to the ride-on type that are propane powered (Photo 4).
One tool that is a must have and cannot be neglected is a HEPA vacuum. Silica dust is a known carcinogen, meaning it is cancer-causing. Always wear the appropriate respiratory and safety equipment, and dispose of this dust properly.