Written by Matthew Power
Produced By Nicole Sforza
Redoing wood floors used to be a dirty business, filling your home with clouds of sawdust and fumes. but times have changed: sanders with attached particle collectors and quick-drying coatings now make the process relatively painless. How will you know if your floor needs refinishing? It’ll be obvious if the wood looks dull, or is gouged or badly scraped. In cases where you’re not sure, pour a tablespoon of water onto a suspect area. If the liquid beads up, it’s fine; if it soaks in, call a floor pro. Here, we discuss the issues to keep in mind when hiring a refinisher—the cost involved, the types of available top coats, and what the job entails. Remember: whether your floors are solid or engineered, they can only be sanded two to three times before they become too thin and must be replaced.
It is essential that you and your floor refinisher draw up a contract before any work begins. The pact should be dated, written on company letterhead, contain your pro’s license number (if your state requires one), and list both his and your contact information. It should also:
1. Provide a detailed description of the work to be performed, with a dollar amount associated with each task.
2. State an estimated start and finish date, with a clause offering financial penalties if the end date is severely overshot.
3. Outline a specific payment schedule.
4. Clarify how change orders will be handled. For example, will there be additional fees if the homeowner requests a different stain once the work is in progress?
5. Contain two clauses: one explaining the rights of both parties to cancel the contract, and the other protecting the homeowner from the contractor if he requests more money once the set amount has been paid in full.
6. Note if a permit is required for the work and, if so, whether the homeowner or the contractor is responsible for obtaining it.
Find a Pro
When deciding whom to hire, ask friends and family for recommendations. Call a few refinishers, explain the scope of the job, and get written estimates. before settling on your pro, check his references, and make sure he’s insured and licensed (although not all states require the latter). Also mention any special concerns you have before the work begins. For example, if you have allergies, ask the floor refinisher to use a dust-collecting system equipped with HEPA filters.
Regardless of wood species, expect to pay a pro from $1 to $5 per square foot to refinish a floor, a process that includes sanding, staining, and coating it with finish. Don’t just look for the lowest price; workmanship and the quality of products used will vary. Standard practice is to include three layers of finish. If you’d like additional ones to increase the floor’s durability—in a high-traffic area, for example—each should not cost more than $1 per square foot.
Choose your Stain and Finish
If you decide to stain your floor rather than leave it natural, you’ll need to pick a tone; there are various shades to consider. Next, it’s time to select a finish. There are two main types: oil-and water-based, both of which are available in satin, semigloss, and gloss sheens. Oil-based versions will make the wood grow richer and darker in color with age. Each coat takes five to 12 hours to dry. Most water-based coatings dry clear—so the wood retains its original color—and often in less than an hour; they’re applied in thinner layers than oil finishes, so they will require more coats. Since they are more scratch-resistant than their oil-based counterparts, they are ideal for pet owners. Water-based coatings also tend to be lower in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—toxins that can adversely affect your health. As with oilbased finishes, they off-gas (emit VOCs), but since this happens only during the drying and curing phase, they do so for a shorter period of time.
What to Expect During the Process
Before the refinisher arrives, remove furniture, drapery, and rugs from the room; cover the light fixtures and outlets; sweep the area; and move pets to another area of the house. First, the refinisher will cover your baseboards with masking tape to protect them, or, for a fee, remove them altogether. Then he’ll use a drum sander— which looks like a hand-pushed lawn mower—and a handheld edge sander to shave off the floor’s existing coating. From there, he’ll fill any holes with wood putty, resand, stain the surface if you choose, and seal it with however many layers of finish you have specified, resanding after each layer. Most pros will capture the airborne dust as they work with small, vacuumlike collectors attached to the drum sander. Eliminating these particles ensures that they won’t permeate the rest of the house, become trapped between layers of finish, or affect those with respiratory issues. Most jobs will take about three to five days. the level of fumes will be strongest during the drying period, so consider staying away for an additional 48 to 72 hours after the work is completed. The humidity index in your house will impact how quickly your finish will dry. If you live in a muggy climate or have your floor refinished in the middle of the summer, ask your contractor about supplying a dehumidifier. Make sure to give your new floors enough time to fully cure (harden). According to Andrea Noyes, former president of falmouth, Maine–based Noyes flooring, you shouldn’t put rugs or furniture down for two to four weeks after the job is done. “It’s still slow-drying over that time,” she says. You can walk on the floor once it’s dry (times depend on your type of finish, so ask the pro), but refrain from wearing high-heeled shoes that may dent the newly finished surface. follow these suggestions and your wood floors should provide years of use.