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Blue Bungalow Farm

Heather Zydek writes about life on the east side of Tosa.

Hardwood floors or carpet?

hardwood floors, carpet, carpet recycling, indoor allergies, home improvement

Within hours of learning that we were going to host our very first family Christmas party in 14 years of marriage, I made plans to do something I've wanted to do as long as we've lived in our blue bungalow: rip out the dingy carpets in our living and dining rooms and expose the hardwood floors underneath.

I had a few reasons for this:
  • Aesthetics: Our house was built with oak floors. Wall-to-wall carpets weren't in style in 1918. I wanted those original floors, obscured under matted carpeting, padding, and an ungodly layer of dust, to be restored to their original beauty. 
  • Health: I have pretty serious indoor allergies. I'm allergic to dust mites and certain molds. Carpets are a dust mite paradise.
  • Sustainability: Carpets degrade much faster than wood, needing replacement every 15 years or so. And they require frequent vacuuming. I'd much rather sweep than run an electric vacuum. 
Despite lusting after hardwood floors for over five years, a couple drawbacks prevented me from making this move:
  • CostOne online source says it could cost $3.75 - $5 a square foot to refinish hardwood flooring. According to that estimate, our 435 square foot area would cost up to $2,175 to refinish. This is not exactly an amount we'd planned to spend on something largely cosmetic – not at this time, anyway.
  • Disruption: Packing furniture into other rooms, ripping out and disposing of carpets, and staying out of a good portion of living space until the floors were sanded, stained, and polyurethaned wasn't something our busy family of five (plus big dog) wanted to do. 
  • Soundproofing: We wondered: would every foot placed on a creaking floorboard ring through the whole house?
  • Insulation: We worried that stripping out carpets would remove some needed insulation from our floors. Does carpet really retain heat better than hardwood floors? A little. "Carpeting will provide a modicum of insulation to a first floor over an unheated basement or crawl space," said an article in Chicago's Daily Herald.) 
Nevermind all those things. We're talking about hardwood floors here. Hardwood oak is natural, alive. The wood grain is complex and stunning. A refinished hardwood floor is a work of art. And hardwood floors are permanent: well cared for wood lasts a lifetime. No need to replace every 15 years due to changing styles and eroding quality.
I wanted to expose that wood. So I grabbed a razor blade, a hammer, and a couple of flathead screwdrivers and I ripped out the carpets myself. It took me about three days to cut and remove carpet and padding and then pluck out staples and nails. 
What we "unearthed," or uncarpeted as it were, was a LOT of stained, damaged wood. It was actually much worse looking than we anticipated:
We didn't plan on dropping a couple grand on this floor right before Christmas. So at first we tried take the DIY approach. My husband did some reading and learned that hydrogen peroxide is a safe, mild way to lighten deeply ingrained stains from wood, stains left by pets, harsh carpet-cleaning chemicals, and overflowing plant pots. 
The hydrogen peroxide did work – a little. Slowly. But after a couple days of dabbing the spots over and over with questionable results, and after finding that a few attractive area rugs weren't enough to cover the ugliness, we decided to seek estimates from professionals.
We chose an Oconomowoc company called Norwegian Wood Floors. Their bid was the lowest (approximately $2.50 per square foot) and they were recommended to us by a few trusted neighbors. We are very happy with the results:
From an environmental standpoint I really didn't have time in this hasty move to research the safety of the stain and polyurethane used on the floor, the fumes of which I'm still inhaling days after application. Yuck. And I feel awful about throwing away all that carpeting. I hoped that by placing the carpet strips curbside, some creative person would nab them in the middle of the night. This worked for us when we had to get rid of our old upstairs windows: we stacked them on curb and they were gone within hours. 
No such luck on the carpeting. So my husband packed the carpet strips into our van and drove them to the dump. Had I taken the time to do more research, I might have been able to find another use for the old carpets, like insulating a space in my house or building cat scratching posts. I don't have cats, though, and these dusty carpets aren't exactly something I'd want to keep around. 
At the time we disposed of the carpets I was unaware of the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE). According to CARE's website, a place called Lippert Tile Company, Inc. in Menomonee Falls recycles reclaimed, post consumer carpets. 
Facilities Manager Mike Scardino confirmed that Lippert recycles post consumer carpets for a fee: $1 per yard. Once they've collected a trailer-load of carpets they drive them to a recycling center in Indiana, where the waste is used to make new carpeting, concrete filler, and plastics.  
"It does not get wasted," Scardino said. "Nothing goes into the landfill."
Scardino noted that carpets are refused if they're full of debris like tack strips, or are so wet they would ferment in the trailer as they await their journey to Indiana. However, he said, rarely do they turn anyone away.
Why did Lippert Tile take on this recycling project, which they've been operating at a loss for the last three years? Scardino said the company's owner, Les Lippert, felt it was the right thing to do. Lippert is located near a "huge garbage dump" in Menomonee Falls. As Lippert watched the hills get bigger and bigger, he felt it was time to divert some of that waste. 
His carpet recycling service is just now starting to take off.
I wish I would have taken the time to research this when we had our own carpets to dispose of, but I didn't. As my mom used to say, "coulda, shoulda, woulda." I can't go back. All I can do is make sure I recycle any other carpets I rip out of my home (as of now our entire upstairs is still carpeted).
In the meantime, my husband and I are very excited about our beautiful new floors. We can't stop looking at them, admiring the way the light hits the wood grain at different times of the day. The planks of wood serve as reminders of the beauty of nature during these winter months.
Are you trying to decide what to do with carpet-covered wood floors? You might find the following resources helpful:

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