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Do It Yourself: Floating floors for DIY-ers

Q. I want to install a hardwood floor myself, and talked briefly to a contractor. He said most wood floors aren’t for beginning do-it-yourselfers, but suggested a floating floor. What in the world is a floating floor?

A. Floating floors don’t actually float, of course. They are called that because they are not generally nailed, glued down or otherwise fastened to the subfloor underneath them. Instead, the planks are locked together at the edges, either with glue or with a system in which the planks simply snap together, tongue-and-groove fashion.

Floating floors are a type of engineered wood flooring, meaning the planks or boards are built up of a number of layers of wood glued and pressed together under high pressure. The top layer is an attractive, desirable flooring wood such as oak, maple or cherry, or some more exotic species of wood. The ends of planks butt together.

However, it is not all quite that simple. Most rooms have protrusions or recesses, such as steps, cabinets and closets that can require some tricky cutting and fitting. A one-quarter-inch space needs to be left between the edge of the flooring and the walls to permit expansion of the wood; the space is concealed by baseboard or molding.

The planks often rest on a foam mat that is spread over the subfloor. Installations over plywood, concrete, vinyl and even ceramic tiles are possible. Planks are available in a variety of widths (usually up to eight inches) and lengths (usually up to eight feet).

As with any DIY product, it is important to get and follow instructions. Prices also vary widely, depending mostly on the type of wood in the finished layer; a very rough estimate is $1 to $4 per square foot, not installed.

Q. My neighbor and I argue every spring about sealing our asphalt driveways. He says they should be sealed every year and I say that is excessive. Mine hasn’t been sealed for five years and looks almost as good as his, although it has turned pretty gray and has a few tiny cracks. Who is right?

A. Most driveway experts will back you up on at least one point – that sealing every year is excessive. Even many sealing professionals and seal-coat manufacturers agree on that point. Sealing every year can actually lead to problems, including seal-coat peeling and cracking.

However, letting your driveway go unsealed for five years might also be excessive, especially if it has turned gray and is developing small cracks. There is some controversy about how often an asphalt (blacktop) driveway should be sealed, but every three years appears to strike a good balance. When an asphalt driveway turns gray, it indicates oxidation of the asphalt and weathering by sun, rain and freezing. A coat of sealer should be helpful.

The small cracks are another sign that the asphalt is having problems. If the cracks are larger than hairline, fill them with top-quality crack filler before sealing. Picking good crack fillers can also be difficult. In general, avoid cheap products – they won’t last more than a year or so. Most dealers sell professional-grade fillers that cost more, but will usually last a lot longer. Very tiny (hairline) cracks can be filled by the sealer; many sealers contain sandlike filler material that will close them.

Before sealing, clean the driveway as thoroughly as possible.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.