Maybe another big job – advice please

I was pondering that back door threshold and a thought entered my mind. Possibly a crazy one, possibly totally sane. Should I rebuild the kitchen floor from scratch?

I took 7 vinyl floors out of my kitchen and found old (but not original) pine underneath.

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The plan was always to have it sanded. But here’s the deal: my friend Chris told me that the pine floor in his kitchen is holding up poorly, and I have a feeling that mine is a similar material. (My upstairs pine floors are older and I believe harder than what’s in the kitchen.)

I always said dismissively that if the floors don’t hold up well I’ll replace them later. But the low corner of the kitchen floor is about 2 ½ inches lower than the high one. There’s no structural problem here; unlike Portland cement masonry, lime based masonry can settle without losing strength. South Philly used to be a swamp, so this is kind of a common thing around here. And although I can feel the slope, it doesn’t bother me at all. You see the sub-title to my blog. I wanted a quirky old Philadelphia rowhouse, and obliterating all the quirks is not the adventure I wanted.

So why am I considering this now? Because making a raised threshold to cover this awkward gap and bridge the level-to-crooked transition will take some work. Then installing cabinets and appliances on the crooked floor is more work.

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Leveling the floor would raise it to cover that vertical strip of wood under the patio door and the horizontal threshold under it.

Then there’s a structural reason. Apparently someone had to get something big in or out of the kitchen because there was an opening cut through here. The home inspector told me to sister these joists, but I put it on the long list because it doesn’t seem structurally unsound now.

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But if I level the floor, out comes everything. Then I will sister all the joists, and the sisters will go in level and support the new floor. This will be much easier than what we did in the back bedroom. Let’s look at a pro con list though. I kind of shudder at the idea of another project.

Pros

  • No threshold at the back door.
  • Easier to install cabinets and appliances.
  • Slope may bother guests and other occupants.
  • A level floor may be better for resale.
  • Doing more now means less disruption later and an easier job overall.

Cons

  • More work now means more work now.
  • A level floor and plywood subfloor erases some of the house’s weirdness.
  • The Irishman gets to say I told you so.
  • More pressure to commit to a permanent kitchen floor right away.

Now about that last point, some people have urged me to put down ceramic tile. I don’t want anything that hard and cold, so that’s probably not happening. I would consider vinyl or linoleum as long as it’s plain and not printed with the image of something more expensive. The vinyl tiles I had in school would be fine. Or I could run the same oak strip flooring as I have in the living room through the kitchen. Or I could have a small bump between the rooms and use thicker tongue and groove oak, which ironically would be cheaper. And if I can’t decide, the plywood subfloor will be fine for now.

So what do you think I should do?

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22 thoughts on “Maybe another big job – advice please

  1. Barbara H.

    Well, you’ve waited this long so my vote is to do it right and do it now. Better than kicking yourself down the line and having more upheaval and turmoil when you are not as used to it as you are now. I know – it’s hard. But it will be harder later.

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  2. Ross

    You have so little old material left in your home. I think a restored OLD floor would be so much better than anything else, and rich with character and history.

    And old pine is a TON harder than new pine (which is junk).

    Most old kitchens have pine floors. My 1894 big house has original pine flooring which I will be restoring. My carriage house has a 1921 pine kitchen floor which I will be restoring.

    You can also shim your new cabinets level, and scribe the kick-space base to fit the unlevel floor. Not hard. And appliances have built-in levelers.

    And so on.

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  3. Casey

    There’s no easy answer on this one. If you do wind up leveling, though, I’d probably run the thin top-nailed oak into the kitchen to match the great room. Even without the border continuing in, it would unify the small space. I’ve got a similar dilemma in my bungalow kitchen- you’ve got me beat on number of layers of vinyl & old linoleum, though. Only 3 here.

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  4. atkokosplace

    If money is not an issue I’d put in new floors. I do like the look of older wood. I laid about 2,000 square feet of 3/4 oak I my house. There was only plywood under the carpet. My previous house had original white oak and I just sanded it down and sealed in its beauty. If money is an issue ceramic tile is what I’d do and level the floor before laying tile down. You can always put down a couple rugs for the cold. But as a buyer of property an I level floor would make me walk away if I was shown a similar home with a leveled floor. The right answer is the one YOU can live with. Good luck. 🙂

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  5. Gayle

    I’d say fix it now instead of spending a lot of time and money making new, straight cabinets etc fit an old, crooked floor. You might consider cork flooring for the kitchen. I put it in two bathrooms that I remodeled and love it. Softer and warmer than ceramic tile, moisture and mold resistant, natural and neutral. I used a cork plank click-together product. Email me if you’d like more info. I’m not affiliated with the company or anything; just like the product.

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  6. coteetcampagne

    We gave a sloping floor, but it is full of character.
    Leans toward the bed so perfect if you have hsd a drop too much wine!
    Presumably you bought this old house because it was quirky and weird and characterfull?!

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  7. E Oliver

    Question: if you level the kitchen floor, will it meet a non-level floor in the front room? That could be hard to resolve.
    Comment: there is pine and there is pine. Most of my house has good pine, refinished 40 years ago and still holding up well. The kitchen has terrible stuff and whatever I do, the finish lasts only a year, and then I hate it for five years before I can stand the hassle of refinishing it. Your kitchen floor looks a lot like mine. Next time, I am going with tile and in-floor heating. Did that in my bathroom and love it!

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    1. Leslie

      Chad, I say fix it now. If you go ahead and put the cabinets and appliances in, it will be hard to stop improving the space as time goes on. Much of that work will have to be removed and re-installed. Double work – risk of damaging cabinets, appliances, baseboards, etc. If you ever want to sell, a prospective homeowner will be concerned about the slope no matter what you say and that may take your house off their list. From a design standpoint – and I am an interior designer – I would install oak to match the living room.

      I’m enjoying keeping up with your project. I own an old craftsman bungalow. It is a labor of love! Thanks for sharing your story.

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  8. Mary Elizabeth

    I am weighing in on the side of people who say fix it now. You can sand down the pine and scribe all the kick plates and stand on your head, but without sistering the beams first, you might have more movement. Also, the old house (1900) I grew up in had pine floors on the second and third floors, and in spite of refinishing the one floor and painting the other, over the years we got a lot of splinters from it. They are not as glamorous in the flesh as they are in the abstract. As for ceramic tile floor, I personally don’t like it. (1) It is cold unless you put in an expensive radiant heat system. (2) It is more expensive than wood or vinyl tile and harder for a DIYer to do without help. (3) Anything you drop on it–a dish, a knife, a box of eggs–will crack, bend, nick, chip, burst or shatter. (4) And when you want to change out your decor, it’s a pain to tear up.

    I think continuing the same floor as the living room–maybe with extra layers of poly to protect it–is a great idea. Also, vinyl floor tiles are easy to put in yourself–you can make a simple checkerboard pattern or a solid pattern with a sailor course (thin strip) of a different color around the outside,just inside the edge. They are easy to remove should you want to go for something more expensive later on.

    As for the Irishman saying, “I told you so,” I think you can admit that he knows more about building than you do without losing face. You don’t always need to be right. You could just say, “Yes, you did, didn’t you? I owe you a beer.” And leave it at that.

    Finally, one of my daughters has an old house with a pitched floor (about 4 inches drop from one end to the other) in the kitchen. If you drop water at one end, it drips down to the other. A rolling pin dropped from the table rolls down to the sink. She curses the day she replaced the floor by going over the existing floor instead of ripping it up and installing shims.

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  9. Christine Harris

    If you replace the floor, I like a seamless floor for the kitchen — anything with grout lines tends to catch crumbs and stains. My personal favorite: sheet linoleum, especially the retro patterns you can get today.

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  10. Julia at Home on 129 Acres

    I say level the floor now. I’m with you on no ceramic tile though. We have it and hate it and can’t wait to get rid of it. It’s hard–hard to stand on and hard on dishes if you drop anything. It’s chipped. I just don’t see it fitting in with your house at all. I think you can have character along with a level floor.

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  11. GG

    Do it now. If you can’t commit to a floor yet, keep the subfloor (poly’d or painted) until you decide. Your house has PLENTY of character, a wonky floor and a high threshold are not necessary to maintain….

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  12. Mary Elizabeth

    I’ve been thinking about another point. Tearing up all that old tile and linoleum floor has possibly exposed you to what our friend Pam Keuber calls “vintage nastiness,” such as asbestos. It would be a good idea to level and cover (or rip out) that pine floor instead of sanding it and distributing whatever is left all over the house.

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  13. John Stewart

    If it isn’t dangerous and all is structurally sound there is not a lot of reason to change it. Maybe removing the house’s weirdness will make it less charcter filled. Besides it gives the next owners something to do.

    The kitchen we are using in our house has a significant slope from the front of the house to the back. The cabinets have been built to be properly horizontal so things won’t roll off them. This is how the house was and I suspect we will not be making a change. It is part of the history of the house. Also if we made that floor even then we would have to make the hall outside even and another room too. Way too much work.

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  14. Lisa Hassler

    I think leaving the original floor would retain the most character. A tip on the cabinet install is to order the base cabinets without the toe kick. You can install them level and have then scribe the toe kick to the floor (a lot easier than trying to scribe an attached toe kick). I also like the idea of linoleum (not vinyl) which was widely used for kitchens.

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  15. CindyH

    if you’re worried about resale, then you may as well do it now rather than later as you’ll likely have to do it before resale and now would be easier. Otherwise, do what pleases you!

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