I've seen too many homes torn down before proper deconstruction has taken place. With a bit of effort, there are many treasures to be removed from an old house before the wrecking ball arrives.
Harwood flooring is a beautiful thing. The old pink house that will make way for the Mill Creek NetZero Home (MCNZH) contained about 400 square feet of maple hardwood before I salvaged it. Here's how to do it.
Is It Salvageable?
The primary consideration when deciding whether to save hardwood is its thickness. I'm talking about how long it measures if you start measuring on the sub-floor and measure towards the ceiling. Some hardwood started out thin (3/8") and has been sanded once or twice. It's probably too thin to reclaim, because you need to sand reclaimed hardwood once it's been re-installed. If the tops of the nails/staples are showing, it's definitely too thin reclaim. The maple in the MCNZH is 3/4" thick - the thickness that it was when it was installed, so we're good to go.
The second thing that could kill you hopes of recycling hardwood is its condition. Miracles can be achieve by sanding, so surface damage is okay. The most common culprits are screws - luminaries in the 1970s decided that shag carpet was nicer than 100-year old oak hardwood, so they put screws into the wood every 3" to stop it from squeaking, then laid down the beautiful, luscious friend of disco music. The screws make the job twice as hard, and the holes all need to be filled - it's generally not worth trying to save a floor full of screws.
First, you make wedges. Take an old 2-by-4, and cut a length of about 12" with a chop saw (see picture). Then, set your chop saw to an angle of 7 - 9 degrees. You will have to experiment, depending on how easily your hardwood comes out. In the end, I was using 9 degree wedges, which pry the wood up pretty high. Cut as far as the chop saw will go, then flip and turn the board and eye the blade so that it meets up with the original cut (again, see picture)
Along with the wedges, you will need a sledge hammer and a good pry bar:
Peter Amerongen (the MCNZH's builder) showed me how to take the hardwood out.
You will want to lift the wood up with the wedges from the groove side of the wood (the groove is the indentation that the tongue slides into when installed). Note: Peter and I have gone back and forth on this. I now think that lifting it from the tongue side is better - it causes less damage if the staple or nail stays behind in the subfoor. Figure out which way the grooves and tongues are by looking at a register or peeking at the ends of the boards in doorway.
Choose a spot near the wall to start removing the wood. This is the most discouraging part, because you are forced to destroy some of it until you get room to swing a hammer at the wedges. The picture at the top of the post is of us starting out. Once the stuff near the wall was done, we turned the wedges around, and making it through the rest of the room was pretty easy.
The wedges are used to pry up the boards without breaking the tongues off. You will need to make quite a few wedges, because they get wrecked as they hit staples/nails when you are pounding them in.
Pound the wedges along the entire length of the hardwood. Once they are completely pounded in, you should be able to pull/wiggle the outermost plank off. You may need to gingerly loosen the plank with the pry bar before it comes out.
Once the boards come out, grind off the staples with an angle grinder (if they have nails in them, you may be able to pull the nails out with pliers) like this:
You get to make sparks! And your hair gets to look good to your millions of loyal readers.
Plus, you get to make cool-looking piles of nails:
Reclaiming a hardwood floor really is a labour of love - I enjoyed every minute, because every plank that I saved gave me a real nice feeling inside. If your taste for granola isn't as strong as mine, the job might be tedious. It does pay though - I estimate that I saved $15 - $30 worth of wood per hour. Not bad for an ethical job.
Here is about 350 square feet of maple hardwood that I saved from being wasted in the landfill:
We probably won't be using it in the MCNZH, because I found an even better prize in other parts of the house: 100-year old Douglas Fir.
(cross posted at www.raisingspaces.com)