Planning to close down the house for the winter months

Q: My father has a 30 year-old, nailed down hardwood floor. This winter is the first time he is planning to close down the house for the winter months (drain water pipes and shut down the heat). He is concerned that if he does not leave any heat on in the house that his hardwood floors will be damaged.

The outdoor temperatures can vary from highs of 9 to 12C during the day to lows of -30C at night. The house would be closed between January and April probably. Is my father right to be concerned about his hardwood floors? If yes, what minimum temperature should he keep in the house?

A: I’m not as concerned with the cold temperatures per se as I am with the lack of any exchange of fresh air in the house. I would be worried about possible condensation eventually occurring throughout the house. Perhaps he could leave the heat set for around 40F-50F to keep things above freezing. Draining the pipes is still a good idea just in case something went wrong with the furnace.

It would be interesting to monitor the RH in the house under real world conditions, both when it is very cold inside and when it is above freezing. One thing I am sure of: Unless the house has a lot of windows exposed to direct sunlight, if it gets freezing cold in the house, it will stay freezing cold.

Turning the heat off in winter

Q: We had new oak floors put in 3 years ago. We would like to go away for 3 months in the winter and turn the heat off. What can happen to the floors?

A: Well, it can get damp in the house without fresh air exchange. The sun will pass in the morning and heat up certain rooms and then get cold at night which can cause moisture to condense. You could get some cupping of the wood. Couldn’t you just turn the heat down to 50F and have a neighbour come in every few days or each week just to air the house out a bit?

Here’s a longer answer related to this: What is the lowest wood floor safe temperature that we can have our thermostat set at (when away)?

Protection under the fridge?

Q: I am redoing a kitchen with wood flooring. Should I put some covering under the fridge to protect the floor from any drips, wayward ice cubes or condensation? The fridge will have some space between it and the surrounding cabinet, so I should have room. I hear ice cubes fall somewhere in it now and wonder what I’ll find when we move it from its current spot for the remodel. I just would like to protect the floor as much as is reasonable… thanks!

A: What did you have in mind to place on the floor? I think if the wood is well finished, that should be good enough. Ice makers cause problems often enough. And I don’t mean an errant ice cube now and then. I mean a full on leak. If that happens you will be looking at damage for sure. Whoever hooks it up needs to make sure it is not leaking.

Follow-up Q: I didn’t know if I should place some kind of plastic sheeting under the fridge on top of the flooring..

A: I think the plastic sheeting could actually be counter productive. If there is any moisture coming from below, as wood does tend to allow moisture to pass through it, you would end up with condensation under the sheet. Ample air circulation is a good thing.

Related Q: Is there a protective sheet that can be put over hardwood floor before putting in a built in refrigerator, to protect against water leaks?

A: A protective, water proof sheet to use under your refrigerator? Not that I’ve ever heard of. Tell your plumber to make sure it is connected correctly. I think covering the wood floor with a water proof sheet may cause more harm than good. Wood absorbs and releases moisture so you want it to be able to breath.

Hardwood floor in a barn

Q: I’m going to be putting a hardwood (probably oak) floor down in a barn. This barn has gaps and holes in the siding so it’s kind of exposed to the elements. It’s definitely exposed to the temperature. How should I treat the wood? Should I even bother letting it acclimate? Thank you in advance.

A: Quite an upgrade. I’d probably give it a couple of coats of Waterlox penetrating tung oil finish and a couple of coats of Marine varnish. All the best with that. I wouldn’t worry about the acclimation either. Let’s face it: this floor is going to take a beating and isn’t meant to look like a piece of furniture.

Related Q: What do we apply to maple flooring that is being laid on an outside wrap around porch, that is covered by a roof? To seal it up well for Wisconsin weather?

A: I would probably go with a couple of coats of Waterlox followed by a couple of coats of exterior marine varnish. Not the choice of wood I would use on an exterior porch.

Condensation under washer/dryer

Q: What can we use under our clothes dryer on my hickory floor to help with the condensation? We put a plastic tray under the washer, can we use the same under the dryer? Right now I jam a towel a few inches under the dryer & open the windows, but I still get that dang condensation.

A: I wouldn’t have thought you would get any condensation from the two machines. Is the dryer vented outside? I think L.L.Bean has mats for entry ways that don’t allow moisture to pass through.

Follow-up: Thank you. Lot of condensation from the dryer, it is vented outside. I will check will LLBean. I did not want put anything under the dryer just in case it would interrupt air flow.

Protecting wood floors from insecticide treatment

Q: I have bed bugs and everything I read says to seal all cracks in the room before using insecticide. The wood tile floor (Parquet?) has little cracks all round them. It’s very old and unfinished but I just want to seal it, not bothered by color or a bit rough or stains, etc. Ideally a one coat brush/roller job. Do you know of a sealer/treatment that will seal the surface and fill/bridge up to 1/16″ cracks? Many thanks.

A: Any coating you choose, whether it is solvent based, water borne or de-waxed shellac won’t necessarily bridge the gap but will flow into the cracks. There are safe treatments you can use for bug infestations such as Diatomaceous earth / clay. This very fine, talc like powder can be spread about and is harmless to people and pets if ingested. It should not be breathed in though.

Wood floor safe treadmill mats?

Q: We recently had maple engineered wood installed in our home. Can you recommend treadmill mats for hardwood floors? The manufacturer will not give me a straight answer. I am worried about moisture/mold problems, and do not understand what type of rubber to use.

A: Is this a mat to put under the tread mill? Why not just apply felt tacs and certain points on the supporting structure where it sits on the floor?

Follow-up comment: A mat will absorb the shock and protect the floor from dents.

A: I don’t know what to suggest for sure. What about these cheap interlocking sponge mats you can get at Walmart?

Note from Rachel: Here’s a link that mentions “Preserve Your Hardwood Or Carpeted Floor Under Your Treadmill. Pvc Plastic Mat Wont Leave Stains Or Marks. Black With Nonslip Texture.” We don’t have a treadmill to test that out with, though. Interlocking foam mats are also mentioned on other sites re:treadmills on hardwood.

Related Q: Hi, my treadmill rubber supports left block stains on my hardwood floor. They look like they are caused by moisture. What are the solutions for this?

A: If these marks are on the surface, on the finish, you should be able to rub them off with a mildly abrasive pad and some floor cleaner. Even alcohol should work. If it is actually moisture stains in the wood then the spots will have to be sanded or scraped to bare, clean wood. If they are very deep the boards would have to be replaced.

Cover that could be painted/laid onto the hardwood while potty-training the pup

Q: I am looking into getting a new puppy. Our apartment has natural wood floors from the 1800’s (the house was built in 1860). Someone in my office mentioned a silicone cover that could be painted onto the hardwood while we potty-train the pup, and then peeled off later. Does this actually exist and, if so, will it damage the floors?

A: It is possible such a product exists, though I haven’t heard of it. In any case, applying silicone to a wooden floor would be a very bad idea. Even if you could get it off later, if it left any residue at all you would not be able to apply a maintenance coat of finish. The silicone would repel the finish and prevent adhesion.

There’s a company called Paisley Protectives who carry a number of films you can roll onto the floor.

Safely moving refrigerator on hardwood floor

Q: Is it a good idea to install hardwood flooring in my kitchen? If so, how do you stop the weight of a refrigerator from denting the floor? Any tips for moving refrigerator on hardwood floor?

A: Absolutely, hardwood flooring in a kitchen is fine. I wouldn’t recommend pre finished. Have it installed and finished on site. Refrigerators are a problem. The simple solution is to buy a couple of small strips of masonite and when you need to move it out, roll it on the masonite, smooth side down.

Related Q: I just had my wood floors refinished and I have to move my fridge back in place. I read a previous response that said to use Masonite. Do I roll my fridge onto the Masonite and then drag it using the Masonite to move it into place? Or do I roll the fridge over several pieces of Masonite? Thanks for your help!

A: I would probably lay out a drop sheet first. Place the sheet of Masonite on top of that, smooth side down. You may be able to buy this is 2X3 sheets. Roll the refrigerator on the Masonite.

Similar Q: We have an area in our dining room where a fridge had been moved to temporarily, and now the hardwood is dented. Can this be repaired? The floor is approx. 16 years old.

A: How many times have I seen this disappointment happen when a sheet of 1/8 hardboard would have been very cheap insurance. It probably will need to be sanded out but you could try the wet cloth and iron trick to see if you can get the wood to pop back up. It is worth a try on a small spot to see if it will work.

Another Similar Q: I just had an Armstrong Bruce floor installed and when I moved the refrigerator back in place I scoffed the floor. The fridge is really tight in it’s cubby, and I had to take it in and out a couple times to get it to line up. I dented or scored a rather large X right in front of the fridge. Any help?

A: Have the damaged boards removed and replaced. Hopefully you have a few left over from the install.

Related Q: I need a refrigerator repair. I have engineered hardwood floors in the kitchen. I saw your suggestion to try Masonite sheets from a big box store to protect the floor from dents. Nothing like that came up when I searched their website — just hardboards 3/4″ thick. This won’t work because the refrigerator case sits directly under cabinets which have zero space clearance. I assume the Masonite is a thinner hard plastic material. What thickness do I need and where can I purchase it in NJ?

A: Masonite is hard board or paper board such as used for peg boards. One side is smooth. Does your refrigerator have wheels? You should be able to get it 1/8″ thick cut in smaller sections such as 2X4 at Home Depot. Place smooth side down and make sure there is no grit on the floor underneath it.

Follow-up: I found it at Home Depot and learned the reason my search for Masonite didn’t come up initially was because it is called at their store luan board. Sales person said they would cut it to sizes I need. It comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets.

Temporary stair runner solution?

Q: I am renting a house with hardwood stairs. I have 2 large dogs and they are scratching them up. Is there anything I can put over the stairs without adhesive or anything else? I need something that is not permanent. Floor runners? I do not want to nail anything since I am renting.

A: Perhaps an inexpensive stair carpet runner, held in place with rods secured to the riser by a screw eye hook at each end?

Dirt basement and moisture issues

Q: My hardwood floors were refinished 4 years ago. In the past year the floor is darkening, and there is separating of boards. There are smaller, darker circular areas. Mostly in the living room, which was carpeted for many years, but also in bedroom which was refinished many years ago. Some of boards are separating in the living room, and I can feel a slight bowing. My basement is dirt – house built in late forties. Few of boards appear to be eaten. Termite inspection last year revealed no termites, but moisture.

A: You need to deal with the moisture issue. Laying a tarp over the dirt might help.

Large dogs and hardwood floors, best species and coatings

Q: I want to put down hardwood floors in the living room and dining room, but we have a 100 lb. Golden Retriever. What type of wood flooring would be our best bet against scratches on the floor? He gets excited and prances around about 5 min. when someone comes over…

A: Any wood will get “impressions” from dog nails if enough pressure is applied. Plain sawn oak (red or white) with heavy grain pattern will do a decent job of hiding these. Maple, though harder, doesn’t really work because of it’s pencil line grain and light colour. White oak is harder than red, as is ash. Hickory might also be a good choice.

Similar Q: Can you recommend a high quality polyurethane varnish, regarding large dogs and hardwood floors? I have two large dogs at home and I am looking for something that would have a resistant finish to scratches.

A: Any finish can and eventually will scratch. However, I have used Poloplaz Primero with great success over the last 5 years or more and it is a very tough coating.

Studio casters and wood floor

Q: I plan on having 3/4″ wood (oak?) floors refinished, probably with 3 coats of water based poly. Some of these rooms will be used as video editing suites and will house tall equipment racks on casters with a moderately heavy load. The nominal dimensions of the racks are 21″ x 30″ x 7′ tall, each weighing between 150-250 lbs.

Once placed, the racks will rarely, if ever, be moved. So, removing the casters is one option to spread the weight out over the entire base of the equipment rack – rather than focus it on the caster contact points.

How long should I let the poly cure before I move the equipment into the rooms, and what should I place beneath the racks to protect the floors from the weight, and the finish too?

Should I place a rubber mat under each? Or, would a thin plywood sheet the size of the rack base with felt on the underside be better?

A: How long you wait depends on the finish used. Why wouldn’t felt pads work?

Follow-up Q: I am considering using Bona Traffic as the finish, which according to the specs cures in approximately 7 days. I definitely want to be sure it’s cured before I place concentrated weight on it.

I am concerned that the weight of the racks, and the equipment they contain, concentrated and transferred through the four casters might possibly deform the wood floor over time. My thinking was that by placing something under the racks to disperse the weight there would be less potential for compression damage to the floor. In your experience am I being overly concerned?

A: I would say that it doesn’t matter how hard a finish is. If a lot of weight is applied to a small, concentrated area (say, for example, the end of a spiked heel shoe) the wood itself will dent. Perhaps, when the floor finish is fully cured, you could place one of those clear “desk mats” under your racks. There are 2 types: one for carpets, which has little nibs to hold it in place and one for hard surfaces, without those nibs.

Can I use rubber back rugs on a hardwood floor?

Q: Can I use rubber back rugs on a hardwood floor?

A: I don’t think I would recommend that, but then, why would you? The rubber is, likely over time to stick to the floor and even “meld” into the finish.

Similar Q: Can you put an accent rug with a rubber backing on an oak wood floor or would that damage the floor?

A: I would be careful with rubber. The rubber can deteriorate and stick to the floor. Also, I don’t know what chemicals are in the rubber which might affect the floor finish, perhaps discoloring it. I think I would ask the manufacturer of the rug.

Species of wood that is best for dog owners?

Q: I was considering putting wood flooring in my home, my question is: What type of wood flooring is best for dogs to walk on and not damage? I have a Bulldog to two German Shepards who all seem to nail-walk on the tile floors.

A: I would suggest an oak floor because the heavy grain pattern tends to help hide claw marks. I would also suggest a penetrating oil finish over a top coat. The product I have in mind is Waterlox.
It is easier to maintain and re coat.

Large dogs and wood floors… best wood species, finishes / coatings

Q: I just obtained some pre-finished samples to help me choose the species, color and finish of my new floor. I have a dog. I tried to see how resilient the flooring would be by scratching the samples with my thumbnail. None of the samples seem very resilient, but what really seems to scratch is the finish, not the wood, and this uses the aluminum oxide.

A: First, I am not a big fan of factory finished floors for most situations. It is true that the aluminium oxide coating is tough and abrasion resistant. This becomes quite a problem down the road when it gets covered in surface scratches and needs to be re coated. Remember this finish is abrasion resistant, and we must abrade it to create a mechanic bond.

Being a dog lover as myself, of course, you won’t want to become a slave to your floor. Keep his nails trimmed and filed. The tendency is to get nail impressions in the wood without compromising the finish right away. This holds true even with my site finished jobs where I use polyurethane coatings. However, at least my coating can be buffed and freshened up later if need be.

With a large dog, I would tend to recommend a wood with heavy grain. This will help hide scratches. On the reverse, a floor such as maple, though harder than oak, has very tight veining and these nail impressions will really stand out. In a short time, that is really all you will see. Hundreds of claw impressions in the floor surface itself.

I have recently been working with a different kind of finish which I really like and am recommending. It is a Tung oil based penetrating oil called Waterlox. This product is so easy to apply and care for, touching up an area is as simple as making sure the floor is clean and either wiping a small amount over the area with a cloth or brush. It offers good durability and excellent water repulsion.

Similar Q: What is the best poly to use on floors we are finishing, with large dogs in mind? I found a lot of people are asking questions about large dogs and wood floors, but I can’t find the answer. Thank you.

A: I’ve been using Poloplaz Primero for a number of years. Excellent coating. Easy to apply with a roller and quite a tough finish also. The best I’ve used in this class of floor finish. There are harder finishes of the types moisture cured and acid cured. But believe me, you don’t want to even consider those. They are truly nasty and not easy to work with. I can recommend Primero:

Wavy appearance / waves on hardwood floor

Q: My hickory 4-inch-board floors were installed in December 2005 in a brand new home. The boards are not laying completely flat. They have a wavy-like appearance and you can feel the waves with your hands. I noticed the waves on hardwood floor probably a month or so after installation. I have been waiting, thinking they might flatten out in time. Also, I hear loud “cracking sounds” coming from the flooring from time to time. Could you tell me what caused this and if there is anything that can be done about it?

A: It sounds to me that you are describing “cupping” where the edges of the boards curl or raise. This is an indication of a moisture issue. The boards are expanding from excess moisture and pressure. Is this floor installed over a crawl space? I would do 2 things at this point. Go to your nearest electronics store and purchase a little device called a hygrometer, which gives you the temperature and relative humidity of the room. Place it on the floor for an hour or so to get a reading. Run a dehumidifier. If you had a moisture meter, I bet the reading of the floor would be over 9%.

Follow-up Q: The floor was installed over a poured concrete basement. The floor was installed in December, though, and it was not very humid then. Will it ever flatten out or will I just have to live with it? I doubt that the installer would do anything about it or maybe he couldn’t. I had been running the heat and air, however I live in Atlanta, Georgia area and it does get hot and humid here. I will buy a hygrometer and see what it registers. Will the dehumidifier make the boards lie flat again? I have a dehumidifier in the basement, but not the main floor of house where wood is.

A: One never knows for sure if a floor will flatten out. But the sooner you get on it and remove or expedite the transfer of moisture, the better are the odds.