The old house at #### - ## Avenue was built in 1910, so the property title says. Those were different and amazing times - I'm guessing that most houses had no indoor plumbing, and all heating was done by burning wood or coal in stoves.

As I deconstruct this house to make way for the Mill Creek NetZero Home (MCNZH), I've been encountering a lot of history. For example, when it was originally built, every square inch of the house was covered in 15-foot long, 3.25-inch wide planks of old-growth Douglas-fir.

Back then, we were busy mining the old-growth forests of British Columbia. This wood came from giants - some of them could have been 1000 years old.

I've been working hard reclaiming the fir over the last two week. My builder Peter recently inspected the huge pile of wood and declared that it is all usable as either trim or flooring. It's gorgeous as flooring, and we plan to install it in the loft of the MCNZH (we can't install it anywhere else because the first two floors will be made of concrete).

A refinished fir floor looks something like this:


So I've been feeling really good about this work. I'm extending the life of a precious resource, reducing the flow of materials to the landfill, and acquiring something that you can't buy new anymore to beautify our home.

Plus, with prices for this stuff starting at $5.40/square foot, it's nice that this labour of love makes economic sense, too.

Here's a picture of the kitchen floor being removed:

It may not look like much, but sanding does wonders for good wood.

I bet that many old homes that simply get torn down - especially those built around the turn of the century - have treasures such as the 700 square feet of old-growth Douglas-fir that I removed from this old house. Maybe we need to start doing a bit more treasure hunting before the wrecker arrives to relegate our old houses to the trash bin of history.

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We are in the process of refinishing a 1910 farm house with the same beautiful fir flooring but we are trying to do it in place so it will be alot of work. We are trying to figure out how to get the tar paper off the fir and the backing from the old flooring. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Ouch. That sounds tough. If it's just paper, you may be able to sand it off(?). If you can't scrape off the backing from the old flooring (is it glued on?), then you may be forced to remove the planks, run the pieces through a planer, and reinstall.

Good luck!


1. Wait until it is very cold. I know that chewing gum comes off of clothing far more easily cold than warm. may work here.

2. Use an ice scraper with a sharpened edge or a pealing spud (log home builders). A spud can be made from a car leaf spring attached to a shovel handle. Grind an edge on one end on the inside of the curve it so that the back side of the edge is flush to the floor when in use.

2. If there aren't many nails poking through the paper you can use a power plane. The key here is that you can't let it get hot, or it will clog. Might anyway.

3. The following should be done with a fire extinguisher handy, and an exhaust fan pulling air out of the room. You have a good chance of setting the tar paper on fire, and boiling tar fumes don't do anyone's lungs any good.

Try using a hair dryer to warm up the tar paper. This may be done in combination with the scraper method, #2.

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