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I'm a little puzzled at the position of sideboards in this picture.

raised sideboards over hardwood

I am not covering with carpets. I will remove the sideboards, hopefully without breaking them. Then I'll paint them before re-installing them, and renovate the floor while they're off. I'm assuming that it's all right in the final look for a few nails to remain visible, and that I can be spared having to apply masking tape to the entire perimeter of each room on both sides of the sideboards. Leaving the sideboards high is not an option because it looks ugly and, more importantly, is a recipe for having dust and mites.

My question is: how did the sideboards reach this position. If initially a carpet was installed in this bedroom, I have a hard time believing someone would have used a reasonably decent hardwood (oak? I'm not sure) as a foundation for the carpet.

If the hardwood was initially installed, then the sideboards would not be where they are.

My conclusion is that when I spot this sort of thing (hardwood and elevated sideboards) it means that the room must have gone through three stages:

  1. Hardwood was initially installed.
  2. At some point someone decided to install a carpet. That person raised the sideboards.
  3. In a third renovation someone decided to get rid of the carpet. So they just ripped it and didn't bother to lower the sideboards.

Did the room really have to have gone through these three stages of renovation for the sideboards to be high over a hardwood floor, or is there a simpler explanation?

  • You should be able to tell if the molding was installed after the floors were renovated or before, just look to see if the current stain and varnish extend under the molding. – Jimmy Fix-it Mar 25 '16 at 1:22
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Plenty of homeowners put carpet over hardwood in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It's not clear why the baseboard and base shoe are elevated, though. Normally shoe isn't used with carpet.

To avoid unsightly lines left on your walls, I'd remove just the shoe, finish the floor, sand and paint the baseboard (in place), then reinstall the shoe tight to the floor.

  • Baseboard may have been elevated to hide carpet edges, which some find easier than trimming the carpet neatly and precisely to the wall. The whole purpose of baseboard is to hide the sometimes-messy transition from floor to wall, after all. – keshlam Mar 24 '16 at 14:55
  • In my experience, base is rarely raised when carpet is installed over existing hardwood. Not saying it doesn't happen. I was mostly referring to confusion over the shoe, though. Maybe it was a commercial-style carpet where shoe looked nice. – isherwood Mar 24 '16 at 15:06
  • Granted, it's more common to have the shoe handle the carpet transition. – keshlam Mar 24 '16 at 15:07
  • I didn't even consider that the "base shoe" is optional. So you're suggesting that the base shoe is decorative enough that I should really reinstall it over hardwood, even if it's not necessary with carpets (though I'm puzzled why it ceases to be decorative with carpets). – Calaf Mar 26 '16 at 6:40
  • Shoe is typically used with hard floors to cover expansion gaps and add aesthetic appeal. It's not typically used with carpet because it wouldn't be supported, and is likely to sag away from the base trim over time due to impacts and gravity. It also looks a bit odd because it's apparently floating over the carpet. – isherwood Mar 28 '16 at 13:08
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i am not sure how much simpler you could ask for. we see this all the time. many people historically have covered over hardwood floors with carpet for style, fashion or camouflage )stains, wear, etc). your description of events matches perfectly to my experiences of same. there are no elves or goblins that are doing this to irk you. you are just not seeing the perspectives of previous users of that space.

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Styles change over time, that's just a fact of life. At one time shag carpet was in, so folks tended to install it in their homes. In more recent times, hard surfaces seem to be popular. As folks rip out carpeting, they find that the molding also has to be adjusted to compensate.

Molding is a decorative finish material, and as such is normally installed very near the end of the construction process. This means that the molding is usually installed on top of the floor covering, and is used to make a more attractive transition between floor and wall.

Whenever the finish floor material is changed, the molding should be removed and reinstalled. This is a step that most flooring installers neglect. Fortunately, if you're installing a similar type of floor covering, the molding may not have to be adjusted. Other times, lazy installers use shoe moldings to avoid adjusting the molding.

You wouldn't expect to leave the molding around a window or door, if you were replacing the window or door. So I'm not sure why there's an expectation to leave base molding in place, when you're changing the floor covering.

A previous occupant of your home removed carpeting, but never adjusted the base molding accordingly. If you're not happy with this, it's up to you to make it right. Carefully remove the molding, and reinstall it at the proper height. Cover any nail holes with filler, and paint the filler to match (this may require painting the entire piece of molding).

  • You're giving me an important hint. I vaguely intended to either: 1- take out the baseboard and the base shoe (thank you, isherwood, for the proper terminology) and then install both, but lower, or 2- take out just the base shoe and lower just it (I confirmed in the closet that that would not leave the baseboard too high). From your answer I see that another option is to lower the baseboard and simply discard the base shoe. – Calaf Mar 26 '16 at 6:28
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I put baseboards 1/16 or 1/8 inch or so above the wood floor without touching it, using a thickness of cardboard as a spacer.

This is part of the sound-dampening system so the upstairs doesn't turn into a drum for the room below. The gap is meant to then be filled with a sound-dampening caulk, but it smells so bad that I might not bother with it for subsequent rooms.

In my case, there is sound dampening material below the wood surface. You may have something like that, or have a "floating" floor and want to keep it uncoupled at the edges of the room too.

  • In wood-frame homes I find that no parameter is more important than sound proofing. It's very tough to achieve. It seems that maintaining heat is the dominant factor in construction. So I'd love to follow your advice and keep a gap when lowering the baseboards, but I fear that without caulking doing so would be a recipe for harboring over the years any number of allergens and unsavory minuscule gremlins. – Calaf Mar 26 '16 at 6:33
  • So use calk. Even plain silicone will prevent vibration transfer; I don't know how much better is the stuff sold for that purpose. – JDługosz Mar 26 '16 at 6:51
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I observed a similar situation on the ground floor in a circa 1940 house I had just bought

The difference was that the quarter round had stayed attached to the floor as the floor sank, leaving a 3/4 inch strip of different colored paint on the baseboard, which was nailed to the wall. The previous owners had removed about twelve feet of load-bearing masonry wall in the basement, along the line of the ground floor wall, and bridged the resulting gap with three 2x4s on edge as a header.

Before following all the other good answers, eliminate slow structural collapse as an explanation.

  • Thanks for the hint. It's intriguing, and it's of course very important to keep an eye on whether structural deformation is the culprit, but the hallmark of that would, I suspect, be a nonuniform gap. As long as the gap is the same all around, there is no need to worry. – Calaf Mar 26 '16 at 6:22
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I've had the misfortune to experience this myself. It's possible that your foundation is sinking.

I discovered I lived in a house with a sinking foundation when after many years of carpets, the landlord approved and paid for a hardwood floor install. The installer had to add concrete in one corner to level the foundation. (The drying concrete was in the shape of a puddle.)

Now, a few years later, the baseboard is an inch or so above the flooring.

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This is how this happens. See Question - What height to set baseboards before carpet is installed? You're absolutely right that it should NOT be this way at all. And, you can't lower the shoe molding because there's no baseboard or anything to nail or screw to, sorry.

Only if there was a floating laminate floor should there even be a shoe molding & a corresponding gap. Not for carpet, unless you have an inept carpet installer.

You'll have to either remove them & re-install them correctly or spline fill & also caulk the gap into non-existence. The gap will not be perfectly uniform.

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