How to clean the gaps between floorboards

April 23

Question: Our house is 28 years old, and so is the wood flooring. It covers the foyer, kitchen, eating area and hallway to the family room. The problem is there is a 1 / 8-inch gap between the floorboards, and as a result, after 28 years, I am disgusted with the dirt and other debris that has collected between them. Is there a solution short of replacing the wood?

— Springfield

Answer: The gaps you see are actually V grooves, which were typically added by flooring manufacturers when prefinished wood flooring first became popular. The grooves helped disguise the fact that one board didn’t necessarily line up precisely with adjoining boards, often because the subfloor wasn’t level, and it eliminated sharp corners that could lead to slivers. The drawback, as you know, is that the grooves trap dirt.

Before you invest in new flooring, call a company that refinishes hardwood floors and ask for an assessment of whether the wood can be sanded down to eliminate the grooves. Tom Peotter, who handles technical support for the National Wood Flooring Association (800-422-4556; www.nwfa.org), said that flooring as old as yours is probably ¾-inch thick with about ¼ inch of wood above the tongue-and-groove joinery. If the grooves are 1 / 8-inch deep, they can probably be sanded out. “If you have to sand through ¼-inch, you’re into the nails, and the tongue and groove would become moot,” he said.

If you do spring for new flooring and stick with wood, you’ll discover that most prefinished hardwood flooring has what manufacturers call a “micro bevel.” Although this is typically less than 1 / 16-inch deep, it is still visible, so it might not create the look you want. To avoid a microbevel, you have two options: Buy “square edge” prefinished wood flooring, often an engineered product made with layers similar to plywood but sometimes also available as solid wood strips. But perfection is hard to achieve, so if the subfloor has any bumps or if the flooring thickness varies even a little, be aware that you will see the joints between pieces. Or you can buy traditional unfinished wood flooring and have the installer sand and finish it after it’s in place. The drawbacks of this approach: You might need to move out for a few days while the finish cures, and the finish might not be as durable as one applied at a factory.


One Chevy Chase reader is interested in restoring grids in windows. (Reader photo)

Question: In the 100-year-old colonial house we bought, some Andersen windows used to have grids that are missing. You can still see the holes where the grids were fixed once. The other windows in the house are Pella windows with structured wooden grids on the interior glass, which look very nice. Who can install those missing grids on the other windows so that it doesn’t look cheap (not too flat), and at what cost? Andersen told us that they won’t do this.

— Chevy Chase

TW Perry, an Andersen dealer in Chevy Chase (301-652-2600; www.twperry.com), can order replacement grids for you. Lou Skojec, the sales manager, said the best way to be sure of getting the exact parts you need is to go to the store with two bits of data for each window. Etched into the glass near a corner, you should find the letters AW plus a code that identifies the year the window was made. And on the edge of a window screen, assuming your windows have them, you should find a four-digit numerical code that a window dealer can use to identify the window size. For example, “2032” on an Andersen window means it is 24 by 38 inches.

If you don’t have screens, measure the daylight openings, the visible height and width of each glass pane.

Getting grids that fit requires both the date and the size because companies change their designs over the years, Skojec said. For a window with upper and lower sashes, expect to pay $30 to $60 for a pair of replacement grids, he said.

Once you have the grids, you should be able to install them yourself. Check when you pick up the grids, but the process usually involves placing the bottom tab in the slot, then bowing out the grid slightly to get the top pin in place. Then you repeat this process on the left and right. If you’d rather someone else do the installation, a window-cleaning company can probably help you.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s month-by-month roundup of home-improvement tasks at washingtonpost.com/home.

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