How to Fix a Termite Damaged Hardwood Floor

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We knew we had a severe termite problem when they made their way through the middle of our living room floor. To address the problem we had the house tented and filled with a recitation of my lesser ideas. Believe me, those termites quickly left and ran down Sunset Boulevard! When it came to fixing the floor the pest control person suggested wood putty. Ugh.

Thankfully, when I installed our floor fifteen years ago I saved some scraps for such a contingency. So here’s how to fix a hole in a wood floor without resorting to wood putty:

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1. First, carefully remove the damaged piece. You could do this with a circular saw but I used a chisel and mallet to avoid the risk of damaging the adjoining, undamaged flooring. Living in the hipster capital of the West Coast I, naturally, used a bespoke mallet I made myself. Be careful to avoid banging your chisel into a nail (this is why I used a cheap chisel rather than, say, a bespoke hand hammered one). I chiseled down the center of the damaged piece of wood and then carefully explored the edge of the wood where you’ll find nails. Once I removed most of the wood I used a small crowbar to remove the rest.

2. Next, use your chisel remove the tongue on the adjoining strip of flooring. This will make it easier to put in the replacement piece. You’ll be left with a hole in the floor that looks like this:

IMG_34243. Now place your new strip of wood next to where the damaged piece used to be. Carefully mark where you need to cut the piece. For the sake of accuracy, I’m fond of a striking knife rather than a pencil. You could also use a razor blade. You’ve probably heard the adage, “measure twice, cut once.” But this repair is a perfect example of why it’s actually best not to measure things with a ruler but instead to hold the piece to be cut up to what it needs to fit into. And for this repair, since we need a precise fit, I cut the new piece a little bit long and filed it down.

IMG_34324. You also need to remove the tongue on the replacement piece. I did this with a chisel.

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5. Once you have a good fit you can nail the new piece down with finishing nails. You will need to use a small amount of putty to hide the nails.

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If I had a larger section of floor to repair I’d rent a floor nailer which places the nails at an angle through the tongue and groove. This tools hides the nail holes and keeps the flooring snug.

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If I were installing a new floor I would highly recommend renting a pneumatic flooring nailer. Our small living room and hallway required 1,000 nails and my arm hurt for a week after using a manual nailer.

And, at the risk of ascending the saddle of my very high horse, let me use this moment to express my disdain for laminate flooring. The interwebs are full of propaganda about how laminate flooring is, “better than it used to be.” The facts are still the same: laminate flooring doesn’t look like real wood and it can’t be sanded. It’s yet another disposable item to clog our landfills along with its laminate brethren, i.e. crap from Ikea. Go ahead and eat the meatballs but please pass on the laminates.

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14 Comments

  1. Very nicely done. I will say one thing for laminate flooring (which I also detest but came already installed in a vacation home we bought last year) – it doesn’t support termites!

    • A very good point. I have heard that they can get into the subflooring under laminates and cause similar problems.

  2. was the wood already finished? did you have to sand it down? there are termites in California? I thought they liked wet climates. Ugh.

    • The wood was already finished when installed 15 years ago. It’s due for a sanding, however. And, unfortunately, termites love Los Angeles since it never freezes here.

  3. That is a very tidy repair. You are fortunate that you have hardwood flooring. On the other hand, since our “subfloor” is a concrete slab, termites eating through it will be pretty unlikely. In my next life I will have enough money to afford real wood; after saving for ten years, we were able to remove the crap carpet from the two bedrooms here and replace it with laminate, hardwood would have required three times the cost, as it is not only inherently more spendy, but requires at least a plywood subfloor. We are currently saving to replace the carpet in the living room and hallway of our house, probably also with laminate. I don’t like it, but it is a lot less allergenic than synthetic carpet that holds all the dustmites and pollen and debris.

    • Termites certainly can get into a house on a slab. They come from the ground up under the wood on the outside. I think it is called the sill where they enter. Maybe not.

      Some laminate off gasses toxic fumes. So, be careful if you find a bargain. It might be something condemned.

    • I’d echo what PP says here–they can get into a house on a slab. In fact, in our case while we don’t have a slab, the termites seemed to have been in the oak flooring but not in the plywood subfloor.

    • While they were accused of shady practices a few years ago I have nothing but nice things to say about Lumber Liquidators where I got this flooring. It’s quartersawn oak and was a leftover deal–there was just enough to cover our small living room and hallway. I don’t remember the exact cost but it was really cheap–less than the cost of vinyl flooring. It wasn’t difficult to install (and I put in new subflooring and floor joists too).

  4. This house was built in 1902. I bought it in 1977 and had the heart pine floors sanded. In the living room were lots of grooves as the guy sanded. When I wondered aloud what those were, he told me they were termite runs but the termites were not there. I was horrified we had bought termite runs. He assured me that people pay big bucks for wood with termite runs. I guess it is like old barnwood for picture frames.

    He assured me I would never, ever have termites. It seems this house was treated after the termite attacks that someone treated the whole underside of the house with creosote. Creosote use is illegal now, but I have the recipe and there is always someone who will bootleg anything for the right amount of money.

    Good job. I always save bits and pieces of work done around here, even rescuing it from a burn pile the guy started in my yard. Burning is illegal here and he knew it! These bits and pieces save me money all the time.

    • The people who love the look of termite runs are the same people who buy old farm implements to hang on their walls in an effort to look like the country people they aren’t and to impress their city-dwelling friends with how all rural and Vermont-ish they’ve become. Sigh.

    • Along those lines I noticed that Home Depot is selling fake distressed wood, i.e. newly milled wood that has been distressed to look like it was re-purposed from some old barn. Sigh, again.

  5. We’re looking to eventually replace our carpet with ceramic tiles that have the look of hardwood. It’s supposed to be very durable and less expensive alternative to hardwood.

    • When we removed the crappy Pergo from the kitchen of the house we bought, we looked at both ceramic and porcelain tile. We decided for the porcelain, because we were told that the color goes all the way through; the ceramic tiles have a layer of color on top of terra cotta. When somebody inevitably drops something and it chips the floor, the porcelain won’t show the damage as much as the ceramic will.

      In the end, our porcelain tile kitchen floor turned out to be a very good choice: looks great and is holding up very well.

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