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Floored : No Need to Pine for the Rich Wood Grains of Oak or Parquet When Choices in Hardwoods Make It Easy to Step Onto Laminated Wonders and Be . . .

July 03, 1993|SHARON COHOON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you are living in a house built before 1966, chances are you're sitting on a gold mine: solid strips of golden-hued oak.

*

Buried beneath the wall-to-wall carpeting of many of these homes, just waiting to be brought to light, are hardwood floors.

While a number of homes built after the mid-'60s do have hardwood floors, that was the time when a home began to be considered a home even without them. Wall-to-wall carpeting was becoming popular, and the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration stopped requiring hardwood floors for homes to be eligible for financing.

"Any home built before 1966 that had FHA or VA loan approval most likely has hardwood floors," said Stephen Guenther of Wood Floor Wholesalers in Orange.

Some who pine for wood floors are lucky enough to find them just waiting to be exposed; for others, realizing the dream of wood floors means installing them.

Hardwood flooring is a more expensive option than either carpeting or linoleum, but it's one that homeowners are returning to nonetheless.

If your home is built on a concrete slab and you'd like to add hardwood floors, you have three basic options: laminated wood strips, pre-finished or unfinished, glued down directly onto concrete; quarter-sawn strips or parquet blocks, which, though both solid wood, can also be glued down; traditional hardwood strips that are nailed into place over plywood subflooring. If your home already has plywood subflooring, you have all the options.

Joni Owen of Kitchens by Joni in Fountain Valley first noticed renewed interest in wood flooring about five years ago when clients started asking for it in remodeling jobs. Brought up believing wood floors meant paste wax and buffing machines, she was initially taken aback. "Who has time for that now?" she wondered.

But the polyurethane finishes installers use in nearly all cases today make hardwood floors as easy to care for as no-wax vinyl, Owen discovered. Interest in hardwood flooring has continued and intensified in the last two years, she says.

Style is one reason, Owen ventures. "The focus now is on beauty of materials rather than trappings, and wood floors fit right in with that," she says. "When you have the pattern and depth in a floor you get with wood, you don't need much else."

Practicality is another consideration. The sleek surface of wood, especially in non-beveled styles, is very easy to keep clean , says Owen, and its neutrality makes it suitable with any decor. Now that homeowners are upgrading more often than relocating, wood's durability is also seen as a plus, she says. "People seem willing to invest in quality as long as they get practicality too."

The price of refinishing or installing a hardwood floor varies with what you want to have done--from smoothing out rough edges to adding an inlaid design; from installing laminated wood strips to a sanded-in-place floor.

But the days when wood floors cost $1.75 a square foot for materials and labor--the prices Gary Stepp of Grange Flooring in Tustin remembers his father talking about--are long gone.

* REFINISHING HARDWOOD

The only way to find out for certain whether your home already has hardwood floors is to pull back some of the carpet and take a look. If you do, sanding off old finish, filling in cracks and applying a new finish is usually all that's required to make them look good as new. Unless the floors have suffered termite or beetle damage or been badly stained from over-watered houseplants or poorly trained pets, they can be refinished without repairs.

"If you have to replace a few boards here and there, it won't show, because you're sanding everything down to bare wood anyway," Stepp said.

Refinishing existing hardwood floors in a natural finish averages $2.50 a square foot for labor and materials, Stepp says. Staining adds slightly more.

Don't try to save money by handling this job yourself, Guenther advises. Sanding is the biggest part of refinishing, and it's not a job for amateurs, he says.

"Sanders are very aggressive machines. If you stop in any one spot, even for a few seconds, you may gouge out a trough it will take you the rest of the afternoon to sand out--if you don't make the same mistake again somewhere else, that is."

Once down to bare smooth wood, protect the

surface with a coating of paste wax or a clear polyurethane finish. Because of easy maintenance, most people are choosing polyurethane, installers say.

"Much as I love wax finishes--they get richer over time as the wax continues to penetrate the wood--I can't recommend them for most people," Stepp says. "There's just not enough protection against spills, and they require a high level of maintenance."

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