In our latest project (Lake Erie Cottage) we decided to pull back the layers of flooring that existed and see what we would find. The cottage was very well built in the late 1940’s so my hope is that we would find a hardwood underneath that would be suitable to paint. My fear was that we would simply have a layer of plywood subfloor.
As I mentioned, the cottage was very well built. Because of this, it wasn’t simply a layer of sub floor that lay under the wall to wall vinyl. This was built as a normal house was (not a seasonal cottage). The sub floor material was tongue and groove on a diagonal and it was covered with a 6/4 (1 1/4″) pine floor. The pine has a wonderful grain to it, but it is not a stain grade material. In fact, you can still purchase a product that is nearly identical. I used the same material when skinning an old painted porch.
Most feel that it is a shame to cover a wood floor with paint. However, the grade of material is very blotchy, has streaks of gray, and many knots that don’t take stain well. You could stain this floor, but it might not provide the payoff that you would hope. Because there is such a strong grain on this floor, it shows through the paint. In fact, if you were to paint this floor with a brown paint that is colored very similar to a darker stain, most people would think that you had wonderfully refinished floors. You would be surprised.
A wood floor painted with a darker paint will give the impression of a very uniform floor with a dark stain. The pine lumber shows a lot of grain pattern. Since this is our cottage and we want a rustic/modern/clean look, the color we chose was a bright white.
The flooring that was down was 2 layers of wall to wall vinyl. In the late 40’s there were products (asbestos laden in most cases) that would lay flat when cut to room size. 60+ years later there wasn’t a curled corner on the product. On top of that was a more modern vinyl (1968) that did what a modern vinyl does…curl. To combat the curling of this vinyl the prior owner used transition strips around the entire exterior and at the seams. I was happy to see that since the alternative would have been to adhere the vinyl to the wooden floor. That would have been a horrible mess that left us very few options and a TON of work.
One interesting find was the use of newspaper in place of a rosin paper between the vinyl and the hardwood. It was cool to see the bedroom flooring that was done in 1948. The newspaper was our time capsule. The main living room was redone in 1968. Again the papers told us as much. What I also found interested were the headlines (Erie, Pennsylvania papers). I am paraphrasing here “Trouble in the Middle East” and “Romney Decides to Run”. Timeless, aren’t they?
After cleaning everything up and doing a small amount of filling, we primed the floors and then followed that up with 2 coats of a commercial floor coating from Sherwin-Williams. The Sherwin-Williams product retails for $58/gallon. In my opinion, it was well worth the money. The coverage was fantastic and the semi-gloss finish provided the exact look that we were going for. They don’t even call this a paint they call it a “coating”. It is smooth and not at all tacky like some lower priced paints seem to be for many months. It doesn’t require a primer, but we already had some of the area primed and felt it certainly couldn’t hurt. The S-W coating is a latex base so clean-up is simple.
If you are looking to paint your wood floors, I would encourage you to do so. Many older hardwoods (the 2 1/4″ oak from the 30’s comes to mind) are so thin that you don’t have the opportunity to sand. Many people try to, but the wood is so thin (1/4″-5/16″) that they end up sanding through the top of the “groove” section of the flooring. This will be a splintery mess. Don’t attempt that yourself, simply paint those floors with a QUALITY floor coating or paint. Spend the extra money on a quality product, you won’t be disappointed.