Floors and Floor Coverings

Floors in the home must withstand weight and wear. Durability, ease of cleaning and attractive appearance, depending on the room and the “traffic” in it, are the factors to take into account when selecting floor surfaces or coverings.

Basic constructions

Hollow floors have timber floorboards laid across joists with space below, which should be clean, dry and ventilated. If the floor is old with signs of wet or dry rot, worm or beetle, call in a timber treatment firm. Solid floors are made from concrete, possibly finished with quarry tiles.

Faults and improvements

  • Squeaky floorboards. Locate the faulty board and screw it through to the joist in two places to make it tight. Lubricate its edges with talcum powder.
  • Gaps between boards. With an old knife work papier mach& made from glue size and newspapers, into the gaps. Add wood stain to match the colour of the boards if exposed. Use fillets of wood to fill large gaps. Cut the fillets to size, glue them into place and plane them flush with the surrounding floor.
  • Gaps between floor and skirting. Small gaps can be filled with a proprietary filler. Stop large gaps with quadrant moulding nailed with panel pins at 6 in. (15 cm) intervals. Mitre the corners.
  • Sanding old floorboards. The process gives an economical finish to an old floor when used in conjunction with a modern wood seal. Sanding is also useful as a preparation for other coverings. Floor drum-sanding machines with a vacuum attachment to collect dust are available on hire.

To sand a floor:

1. Nail down loose boards and punch down any protruding heads of old nails.

2. Remove any old paint or varnish with a scraper.

3. Sweep the floor thoroughly and sweep again several times during sanding.

4. Sand in diagonal strips, using a coarse abrasive, starting in the corner of the room and overlapping each strip by about 3 in. (7.5 cm).

5. Sand in the direction of the boards, using a finer abrasive.

6. Use a small edge-sander for borders and corners. Sanding wood floors. On strip floors, always sand with the grain. On block floors, sand in two directions at right angles to each other.

Sealing. Polyurethane clear seals rue available in shiny or matt finishes. Follow carefully the instructions on the can. Make sure the floor is free of dust. Fill any nail holes with a proprietary filler. Give the floor a final clean with white spirit. Apply the first coat of seal with a cloth pad. Use a brush for subsequent applications, allowing at least six hours between coats and sanding down if more than 24 hours elapse between coats.

Painting floors. Old floorboards (preferably sanded first) and old sheet coverings such as linoleum can be painted either with an oil-based polyurethane paint or with a special floor paint applied with a brush or a roller on a long handle. First, clean off dirt and grease with white spirit. Thin the initial coat of paint with up to 25 per cent white spirit for new or sanded wood.

Floor painting is an inexpensive way of creating your own designs. You can use the floorboards as a geometric frame for stripes or borders or make a stencil for free-form motifs.


It is best to select floor-coverings designed specifically for do-it-yourself laying. The range available includes vinyl, cork and ceramic tiles, cushioned and felt-backed vinyl sheet, wood strip and blocks, and various kinds of carpeting, including carpet tiles. In every case it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some do-it-yourself floorings have peel-off self-adhesive backings.

On the whole, floor-coverings are only as good as the sub-floor on which they are laid.

Solid floors of concrete or quarry tiles may be uneven. This could affect the wear and appearance of coverings you put over them. Level an uneven floor with a proprietary self-levelling screed or compound, poured on to the floor and levelled roughly with a steel trowel. After a while, the material smoothes itself out. The treatment is unsuitable for timber floors, wood block floors or damp floors. It will conceal only minor irregularities.

To test for damp. Place a small piece of glass on the surface of the floor and seal its edges with adhesive tape. Leave it in place for 24 hours, then remove it and examine its surface. If moisture has collected, the floor is damp. Take professional advice on the best way to deal with damp or old concrete

Hardboard underlay

Hardboard underlay is recommended for vinyl sheet and tiles, linoleum, cork tiles and some carpet tiles. It will insulate against sound and loss of heat.

Conditioning. Hardboard sheets used as underlay or as floor surfaces must have their moisture content adjusted to the room before laying. Stand standard and tempered hardboards on edge separated from each other. Expose them to the air in the room where they are to be used for 72 hours (48 hours for medium hardboards). In new buildings or damp situations moisten the mesh face of a standard hardboard with water, using a brush or garden spray, and leave the boards stacked back to back on a flat surface for 48 hours. For tempered hardboards in new buildings, extend conditioning time to 72 hours. Fix boards immediately after conditioning.

Laying. Lay hardboard for underlays mesh side up, unless it is to go under very thin sheet vinyl. Fix the first board in the most convenient square corner and continue laying full boards in line until there is a gap to be filled by a cut board. Start the second row next to the cut board to stagger joints.

Fixing. Use ring-shank or screw nails, rust-resistant and long enough to penetrate the timber base by not less than in. (12 mm). Set the nails in. (12 mm) from board edges and pair across the joints. Space at every 4 in. (10 cm) on edges and at 6 in. (15 cm) intervals everywhere else. Hammer the nails in well to prevent heads showing through the final covering. Before laying very thin floor coverings, skim over joints and fasteners with latex to avoid show-through

Hardboard surfacing

Hardboard surfacing can form an attractive, inexpensive floor on its own, especially if combined with rugs. Use standard hardboard, but tempered hardboard in damp conditions or a heavy traffic area such as the kitchen. Lay the board smooth side up. Begin laying in the centre of the room and work outwards. Stagger the joints and set nails in. (1.2 cm) from board eges and paired across joints. Space every 6 in. (15 cm) at edges and at 8 in. (20 cm) intervals in lines 16 in. (40 cm) apart elsewhere. Punch the nails below the surface. For securing board to timber and concrete, a suitable adhesive is preferable to nails.

Hardwood strips

Solid or in bonded ply, hardwood strips are available in assorted lengths for random laying. Most types are conventionally tongued and grooved. As with other floors, the sub-floor must be clean, dry and smooth. Hardboard underlay is required if the strips are to run the same way as existing boards.

Laying. Start along the longest wall square with the room. Lay one complete strip at a time parallel with the skirting, starting each row with an offcut strip from the previous row to achieve a random effect. On tongued and grooved boarding, place a 1 ¼ in. (3.2 cm) pin above the tongue at an angle of about 45 degrees. Drive the pin into the sub-floor as far as possible without damaging the edge of the strip. Punch the nail home. Some wood strip floors can be stuck to concrete with a special adhesive.

Parquet mosaic panels

Felt-backed parquet mosaic panels can be stuck to almost any flat surface (wood, hardboard, concrete) using the adhesive recommended by the manufacturer.

Laying. At each end of the longest wall mark at right angles to the skirting the width of a panel plus in. (1.2 cm) expansion gap. Connect the two points with a taut length of string. Using a serrated spreader, spread the adhesive about 3-4 yards (2.7-3.6 m) at a time A in. (1.5 mm) thick and lay the panels carefully along this line. Start subsequent lines of panels from the centre of the preceding line and fan out both ways to the walls.

Sheet vinyl

Vinyl sheet is available in a wide range of qualities, including softer, more resilient cushion and felt-backed vinyls. A popular width is 6 ft (2 m). There is a good choice of colours and patterns, including many tile designs. Vinyl and cheap carpeting have largely superseded linoleum in the home but linoleum is still available. Some manufacturers recommend the use of thin resin-bonded plywood in preference to hardboard as an underlay. Grey paper felt as an underlay may improve the finish and reduce noise transmission under thinner coverings. Before surfacing with sheet vinyl, remove old sheet vinyl or linoleum if either is the existing covering. But vinyl tiles that are well fixed may be left, unless loose of curling at the edges.

Planning. Avoid unsightly joins in doorways and other heavy traffic areas. Preferably, lay sheet floorings at right angles to floorboards, unless putting down a hardboard underlay. Allow for cutting in to walls that are not square and 6 in. (15 cm) extra on each length of material, plus one complete pattern match when more than one length is needed for a large room.

Tools needed are a sharp short-bladed knife; household scissors; a ruler or steel rule; a straight edge of metal or wood; a’ scribing block (rectangular piece of wood convenient size) and a pencil. Preparation. Sheet floorings are easier to lay when warm. Store them in a warm room before laying and maintain the temperature during laying and for some hours afterwards. To avoid distortion, stand rolls of sheet flooring on end until they are laid.

Cutting lengths.

1. Cut the first length from the roll allowing a fraction of overlap at each end.

2. Lay the length along the wall, also with an overlap.

3. Cut the second length with in. (12 mm) overlap at each end.

4. Lay the second length to overlap the first length by ¾ in. (12 mm).

5. Cover the whole floor in this way.

6. Leave the flooring to settle for as long as possible. Vinyl tends to shrink back; linoleum tends to spread.


For complicated shapes around projections etc use a paper pattern.


1. Fit the paper roughly to the projection or fitment and fix it firmly with pins to prevent its moving.

2. Press a narrow piece of wood against the projection and move it around, so that you can trace its outline in pencil on the paper.

3. Lay the paper pattern on the sheet material and weight it to prevent its slipping.

4. Use the same piece of wood to trace the outline from pattern on to the sheet.

Trimming sides and ends

Flexible material can be cut by the knife-in method. Make a diagonal cut across the corner and try for fit. Enlarge until cut fits snugly into the corner. Then, holding knife upright, and pressing it into the wall, trim off excess sheet. With less flexible material, scribe flooring to wall before cutting. Starting in the corner, make a mark on both sheet and skirting of adjacent wall about 1 ft (30 cm) in from sheet edge to be trimmed. Use scribing block about 6 in (15 cm) long. Pull back sheet from wall so that the distance between mark on skirting and mark on sheet equals the length of scribing block. Keep sheet in this position for trimming. Place block against wall and use the other edge to trace outline of wall onto the sheet. Cut along this mark for a snug fit. Re-position sheet

against wall; two marks will once again correspond Trimming seams

1. Place the straight edge along its length over two thicknesses of sheet.

2. Cut through both thicknesses with a sharp knife.

3. Remove the narrow cut strips and the sheet edges will fit neatly.

Sticking down. For a permanent covering, follow the fitting instructions above. Then

1. Turn back each length of flooring halfway, and spread the exposed floor surface, which should be scrupulously clean, with the manufacturer’s recommended adhesive.

2. Lay flooring back on to adhesive and press down.

3. Repeat with the other half of the sheet.

4. ”Iron” the floor with a smooth weighty object (e.g. a bag filled with dry sand).

5. Repeat with subsequent sheets.

As an alternative to permanent sticking, you can use double-sided adhesive tape to secure the seams and edges, first testing the sub-floor for good adhesion. Use two widths of tape butted together under each seam.

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