Last week we talked about styling rooms from the ground up…considering the flooring options. Let’s take a closer look at timber flooring, and a few things we’ve learnt along the way.  

Through our renovations we’ve installed floorboards on concrete subfloors in apartment blocks, over old floorboards in a 1930’s seaside apartment, on top of subfloors in new builds, and they’ve looked amazing.  

Ripping up carpet, or old flooring, and installing new floors seems simple enough, right. Just rip it up, dispose of it, and have the new floor installed.

Here are three things we now always consider; 

  • Is there magnesite under my existing floor coverings?
  • Do I need to level the floor before installation?
  • What are the acoustic issues we need to consider?

What is magnesite? We’d never hear of it before, but we’ve come across it a lot. From the 1920’s through until the 1970’s construction often used a product called magnesite on top of concrete flooring. It’s not unusual to find it when you renovate in older properties, especially apartments, and it must be removed before you install your timber floor. Magnesite is flexible and is not appropriate to put timber floors over, as you will have movement at the joins of the floorboards.  Also, in old homes by now a magnesite floor won’t be in the best of shape. Expect that your installers will want it removed, so you need to factor that into the cost and timeline for installation of your floor. There are several specialist companies that can remove magnesite to allow your fabulous new timber floor to go ahead. 

The next thing we learnt was about levelling the floor. Replacing carpet with timber is wonderful, just remember carpet is more forgiving of small variations in sub-floor levels, but timber is not. You need a flat surface to ensure the floorboards fit snuggly and you don’t have movement at the joins. Over time an unlevel subfloor can cause costly damage to your floor, which could result in the entire floor requiring removal and reinstallation. 

We have had this issue with concrete subfloors, but also with a 1930s apartment where the floorboards weren’t good enough to re-stain, so we installed a timber floor on top of them. In all cases we needed the floor levelled first. Levelling can be as simple as using a floor sander, or grinder for concrete subfloors, to take out small imperfections or it may need a self-leveling compound poured across the floor. In either case this is an important step to get the installation of your floor right.

Whether you’re in an apartment or a house, the acoustic issues of timber flooring are important. We’ve installed many timber floors in apartments, and the rules around noise transfer and types of flooring are extensive, but necessary. Our first apartment was a wonderful old place with original floorboards – a romantic ideal…until you felt like you were living in a drum! 

It’s also a consideration in private homes, as noise transfer between rooms or floors will impact your enjoyment of your home. Let’s face it, hard surfaces reflect noise and timber floors vibrate, even just a little. 

The underlay for your timber floor is important. It will absorb noise and vibration, but impacts the feeling under foot, so spend as much time on that decision as you do on the finish. 

Timber floor manufactures and installers all have data on the acoustic ratings for flooring, and the appropriate underlay to meet Australian Standards. If you’re renovating in an apartment, you may need more information, but that’s for another article! 

For installation think of your room like a drum. The ceiling and floor are the skins of the drum, and the walls the outer body of the drum. Vibration on the floor (skin) will transfer to the walls and amplify the noise, and often noise in rooms above and below will be much louder, the vibration transfers through the walls like a drum – like our first apartment!

When we install timber flooring, we always leave a 1-2 mm gap between the floorboards and the wall, so they don’t touch, and vibration can’t be transferred. Then a skirting board is installed, leaving 1-2mm gap between the skirting board and the timber floor. None of these surfaces touch. The small gap will look like a shadow line seen from a distance, but it removes the touch-points that carry vibrations into walls and create that ‘drum-effect’.

Timber floors are beautiful and worth the work to install them properly. They are a big investment but provide big return in style and maintenance. 

June 15, 2022 — Mark McKie

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