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All About Houses: A Brief History on Flooring

What kind of flooring is in your house?  In the old days the floors in most houses were dirt and only the wealthy were able to afford flooring material. If you couldn’t afford a floor, you were considered dirt poor. The dirt floors were often covered with animal feces and blood that would congeal to a hard compact surface. The good old days!

 The pilgrims were ordered by the king of England to never touch the tall white pine trees that had the king’s mark cut into the tree bark. The mark was a vertical line with an upside down V above the line. All white pine trees with a 24-inch or larger diameter were marked by the king’s surveyors and sent back to England to be used as masts for the ship builders. The monetary fine for touching a marked tree was severe. When wide floor boards were in a house they were called kings boards.

The first type of actual flooring material was flagstone, slab stone, marble or cork. In colonial America, the most commonly used flooring was wood planking. The wood floors in the old days were not the shiny finished floors we see today. Back then, the wood floors were sometimes unfinished or  waxed and sealed with orange shellac. Most of the wood floors up until the 1900s were coated with bright color paints. Sections of wood floors were sometimes covered with expensive scatter rugs to protect the floor from damage. The common use of wood flooring changed in 1860 with the invention of Battleship linoleum which is made from linseed oil, cork, gums and pigments; it was used everywhere including battleships until the 1970s. In the 1970s, carpets were installed in most of the houses. By the 1990s carpets were being replaced with factory prefinished wood flooring. This flooring is very popular and more resistant to wear and tear due to the many coats of factory finish on the surface of the flooring. Wood flooring that is sanded and coated at the house have three coats of finish and the in factory finish is 5 to 8 coats of finish which make it more durable.  In the early 1900s, ceramic and porcelain floor tiles were popular in baths and kitchens but were losing popularity due to the much less expensive linoleum.

Flooring again changed in the last 15 years with the creation of laminate and engineered flooring products. Most floors we see today are not solid wood. The laminate floors may look like wood but are actually a picture of wood on a fiberboard material coated with a finish to protect the image. The laminate flooring is the least expensive, as it should be. The engineered flooring is a thin veneer of wood on a composite board with a top coating to control wear and tear. Engineered flooring is often more resistant to scratches and dents than solid wood flooring. In the old days when floors were dirt, the owner would spread hay down all over the floors to absorb moisture. In order to hold the hay inside the house a board was installed at the base of the doorway, this board was called the threshold. In the old days straw and  hay were called thresh. 


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ALL ABOUT HOUSES BY ANDREW B. CONSOLI