Have you put off having your hardwood floor refinished? Does the prospect of having a house full of dust, breathing toxic fumes and having your life turned upside down for at least a week have you procrastinating? If so, it is time for you to rethink refinishing. Technology in floor finishes has advanced to a point where most refinishing jobs can be completed in just one or two days with no mess or fumes.
Let’s break down the process. You floor will need to be sanded down to the bare wood. Since water based finishes are relatively new, your existing finish is likely an oil based urethane. The dust from the oil based finishes is more than an inconvenience. It is carcinogenic. Therefore, proper containment and disposal are critical. Lots of contractors claim to be “dustless”. Some merely hang plastic and clean up after refinishing. Others will attach a shop vac to sanding equipment to reduce the amount of dust released into the air. It is important to ask you contractor what type of dustless equipment they use. If they don’t have a dustless system that is manufactured for floor refinishing, chances are you will have fine dust particles floating in the air for at least a couple of weeks.
The next step is finishing. There are penetrating finishes that are worked deep into the wood and urethane finishes that are applied on top of the wood. The penetrating finishes, like linseed oil and tung oil, have to be re-applied on a regular basis. Therefore, most people have urethane finishes applied to their floors over a penetrating stain and a sealer. With proper care, a good urethane finish will last for more than 10 years without needing any maintenance. When the urethane wears down, you can simply add another coat or two of urethane to the finish without sanding. Traditional oil based stains and polyurethane finishes release volatile organic compounds into the air. They smell horrible and take a long time to dry. Generally, they it takes a full month for the oil based urethanes to cure.
The oil based urethanes are thicker than the water based urethanes. When cured, they form a plastic barrier on top of the floor. Some folks mistakenly believe that oil based urethanes offer better protection because they are so thick. This is a misconception. The more advanced formulas of the water based urethanes have higher chemical resistance and protect wood better than oil based urethanes. Durable, non-toxic water based urethane finishes are replacing traditional oil based finishes the same way latex paint replaced oil based paint which contained lead and other toxic substances.
Many floors that are refinished don’t have much damage and still have plenty of polyurethane. They have to be sanded down because they turned ugly. The stain color has been bleached out by the sun. Areas covered by rugs are dark and exposed areas are faded. The oil based urethane change from clear to a dark yellow or a light orange over time. They amber with UV exposure. Water based urethanes are clear and stay clear. Many water based formulas contain UV protection. The stain color you select will stay true for years. You may need to apply another coat of polyurethane in 10 or 15 years, but you won’t need to refinish the floor.
As if better performance isn’t reason enough to use water based finishes, consider the health advantages. Oil based floor finishes release VOCs into the air in your home. You should not remain at home while your floor is drying unless your contractor applies a non-toxic water based finish. You can gently walk on floors finished with most water based finishes within a couple of hours of the final coat. The furniture can be replaced sooner with a water based polyurethane finish. Most flooring companies will even move and replace your furniture to make the refinishing a little easier for you. Sure, you still have to move out of the areas that are being refinished. But, with water based floor finishes, you won’t have to vacate your home. And, you will only be inconvenienced for a day or two, depending on the amount of square footage being refinished. The inconvenience is well worth the transformation of your home. Your floors are the foundation of your home décor. Consider having them refinished.