As hardwood floors age, the memories they retain can be priceless to their owners. Faced with homeowners unwilling to part with the history etched into their fire-damaged floor, Joshua Crossman of PTL Hardwood Floors in Yelm, Washington, faced a unique challenge.
“My sales rep told me he knew of a contractor seeking a wood flooring professional who was not afraid of a unique repair job,” says Crossman. “He told me a fire had severely burned a large portion of a home’s wood floor, but the homeowners were adamant the damaged area simply be patched.”
“The average contractor’s approach would have been to cut out the damaged boards, replace them, and then sand and finish the entire floor. Doing that would ensure a color match. The alternative had the potential to be very time-consuming,” adds Crossman.
Crossman was told that the homeowners were horrified at refinishing the entire floor, as they were highly attached to the floor’s color and character. The homeowners deeply cherished the time and the memories attached to the floor and the fact that the floor told their unique story. They would not agree to see their history sanded away in an attempt to repair the fire-damaged area and blend it into the rest of the floor.
“They were passionate about the wear and tear that was on the floor, minus the large burned spot,” explains Crossman. “I have made it a habit not to try to convince someone of something that is set in their mind, especially if it is something I believe I can do. The one caveat is that I make sure to under-promise and over-deliver.”
In addition to the burn that crossed five boards on the multi-width white oak floor, Crossman noted a lot of damage due to sun bleaching on the floor from a large number of windows that looked out to a lake. The floor also had been ammonia-treated during its initial install.
“Due to the years in the sun, combined with the ammonia treatment, I knew matching the color and making my repair work invisible would be a challenge. However, due to the homeowner’s adamant request, I would have to make it work. Thankfully, figuring things out is something I love about the job,” says Crossman.
Crossman’s first step was carefully removing the damaged flooring, which had been secured with an improper industrial adhesive.
“The floor had been Liquid Nailed and then stapled down. Boards also were glued together, so I had to be very careful to chisel out the damaged flooring,” explains Crossman. “I also was mindful that the floor sat on top of plywood, with concrete-embedded radiant heating underneath.”
Crossman carefully removed the damaged boards by using a Festool track saw set to the appropriate cutting depth. By removing in chunks, he was able to remove the floor without damaging the subfloor. He then moved on to making samples to get as close as he could to matching the color of the surrounding floor.
“We wiped down new white oak flooring with ammonia and let it dry. We repeated this process three times to get the color change that we wanted, and then experimented with different sealers, deciding on Pallmann Power water-based finish,” explains Crossman. “I also experimented with Amberizer to tint the finish to make its appearance more yellow. I was able to create a golden-amber tone that matched the existing floor.”
Once confident it was a near-match, Crossman installed the new flooring and saw that he was indeed very close.
“With the color challenge complete, we used Bona R850 adhesive to put the new boards in place, being careful to match gaps that existed in the rest of the floor,” he says. “To match the gaps, I slightly reduced the widths of some of the boards on-site using my table saw.”
The result of these efforts were repairs that were almost invisible, and homeowners who were ecstatic to have their floor’s character preserved.
“The average person would never notice the repair, and the homeowners loved it. It was a great way to push myself and persevere even though there was an ‘easier’ way,” recalls Crossman. “The key is to take your time and charge more than you think you should, especially when you find yourself doing something that an average person would not do. Always remember that people are willing to pay for your skills.”