Preserving Old Floors

Historic structures often have hardwood flooring installed and over time, these need some type of maintenance. To maintain a degree of authenticity, refinishing this flooring with catalyzed modern polyurethane would seem inappropriate. To provide some tips for this type of preservation or restoration, Bonita Mueller, a historical architect with the National Park Service, has this advice: “We have a lot of historic structures in the National Park Service which are open to the public. The areas that get a lot of wear are typically protected by some kind of sacrificial layer, whether that is carpeting, urethane, paste wax, etc. It depends on the significance and the use of the structure.


“I'd rather see projects start with a uniform surface that has been stripped and then either apply urethane or paste wax uniformly as the sacrificial layer. If you want to guard against flaking in the future, then paste wax would be the way to go -- or even paste wax on top of the new urethane. That might be overkill, however. Of course, the paste wax requires maintenance.”


Mueller urges people to think about the future when protecting the past. “Part of your solution needs to take into account the kind of maintenance you will have available on an ongoing basis. If it is practical and if this is appropriate to your final use, you might consider minimizing future wear by operational means once you have refinished your floor. You can request that people use booties that you slip over your feet before entering the structure.”