Fixing a Hardwood Floor

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Do-It-Yourself Hardwood Floors

Hardwood Floor Refinishing

copyright 2000 G.G. Alonzy

Dear NH,
My 15-year old, but in good shape hardwood floor has some loose planks. It is laid over a concrete slab and I believe some of the planks have lost their adhesive bonding to the concrete. Maybe from moisture seeping through the concrete although we only get about 9 inches of rain in a year (this happened before El Nino) and the most affected planks are far away from the edges of the slab. The tongues-and-grooves hold them in place, but they move vertically. I thought about drilling small holes and injecting glue. Will this work?
RR from Encinitas, CA

Before I begin, just a comment. I discourage anyone from gluing any flooring material to a concrete slab that meets the soil. This is simply because few adhesives will form a lasting bond when subjected to the type of moisture that can rise through a slab. Though new homes usually have a vapor barrier installed underneath the slab to keep ground moisture away from it, these systems are not perfect and there is, of course, human error.

Today the manufacturers have gotten flooring installation down to a science with special products designed for use under these difficult conditions. For example, there are special tongue and groove wood floors that are installed over a special paper. The literally "float" over the substrate using no adhesive at all!

Back to your question you just couldn't inject enough glue to make a lasting repair. Plus there is probably dust and dirt under the floor that would prevent the glue from sticking well, even if you could inject enough. The only lasting repair I know of is to take the loose sections of floor up, clean all dust and dirt from the slab and reglue. You will have to sacrifice at least a board or two to free up the others in the loose area. Here is a short description of the procedure.

First, you will have to remove one or even a few of the strips to release the rest from the tongues and grooves. You should be able to decide which and how many pieces to remove by looking at how they overlap.

Drill a number of holes into a selected strip. Then break it into pieces with a wood chisel and remove it. Another method would be to use a hand circular saw with the blade set so that it does not penetrate the boards completely... again breaking the strip up. Please be careful with the depth setting of your circular saw and also with your drilling... the concrete below will destroy drills and saw blades and, even worse, a circular saw may lose a tooth or kickback! That can hurt! Now that you have removed the loose flooring, the following steps should be followed:

  1. Clean up any dust or debris under the floor.
  2. Apply a flooring adhesive to the floor and also apply a thin coat (called "buttering")to the back of each strip right before installation.
  3. Install the replacement flooring, piece by piece. You can start from either side, but I have found that starting from the side that has a "tongue" rather than a "groove" makes for a slightly easier repair. However, I understand that may not be possible in some situations.
  4. Apply enough adhesive to the floor to get a good bond, but not so much that it squeezes up between the boards. Using a notched trowel is recommended… the size needed is normally indicated on the can of adhesive.
  5. On the final piece or few pieces you install, you will most likely have to cut off the bottom of the groove and/or the tongue prior to reinstallation, depending on the order in which you re-lay the flooring. You might also find that they will not quite fit any more, and you may have to slightly shorten or even rip a strip or strips to make them thinner (with a table saw).
  6. Since the flooring is likely to expand and contract, you should not make the fit extremely tight. Instead the pieces should fit into place without any forcing.
  7. Get out that 3000 page Websters New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, that old Sears Catalog, and a few rusty barbell plates... they will make good weights to hold down the tongueless-or-grooveless pieces until the adhesive dries.

Hope this is somewhat helpful. Each repair of this type is different and I can't anticipate all the possible contingencies such as moulding removal, radiators and other obstructions. Nevertheless I think I have covered the basics to get you started.

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