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5 Things Every Homeowner Should Know About Wood Floor Refinishing

February 27, 2019

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Consistent wood floor refinishing is the best way to ensure your home’s timber floors always look their best. Refinishing removes nicks, scratches, and other such imperfections, and prepares a timber floor for a fresh coat of paint, stain, or varnish, as well as a new sealant.

Here are five things every homeowner should know about hardwood floor refinishing:

  1. Refinishing a timber floor is not a DIY job. Floor sanders are heavy and cumbersome and difficult to control, and proper use of these machines takes training and experience.
  2. There are a few methods of hardwood floor refinishing available, including a light buffing which gently removes minor scratches while adding shine to a floor, as well as a full refinishing, which removes the top layer of wood.
  3. Timber floors should be refinished or sanded even if you plan on covering a dull wood color or damaged floor surface with thick or dark paint.
  4. Timber floors can eventually become too thin to sand and refinish. Attempting to refinish very thin wood floors can result in cracking and buckling, and a ruined floor.
  5. Investing in regular refinishing and sealcoating will prolong the life of your home’s wood floors.

Timber floors have a classic look and appeal and can last for many years, if not decades before they need replacing. Maintaining those floors with needed refinishing will ensure they last as long as possible, so note a few details about keeping your home’s timber floors in good condition and what every homeowner should know about refinishing their home’s wood flooring.

Refinishing Hardwood Floors Is Not a DIY Job

Floor sanders are not like standard handheld sanders that you might use to refinishing wood furniture. Sanders used for flooring have a large face so that you can sand a large section of flooring as quickly as possible, and are also extremely heavy. Once the sander is turned on, the motion of the belt or rotator makes it difficult to control the machine, so that it might work its way out of your hands, causing injury or damage to your home.

Sanding a timber floor also takes some training and experience; if the sander is not in motion constantly, it will leave behind unsightly swirl marks or deep gouges in the wood. However, moving the sander around too quickly or not applying enough pressure can result in uneven or inefficient sanding. A professional will know how to adjust his or her sanding methods, so they make quick but efficient work of removing deep scratches or thick layers of wax, versus just buffing the floor or roughing it up for new paint.

The techniques used during a refinishing process can also affect the appearance of freshly applied paint, stain, or varnish. Varnish might look dull and matted when applied to a floor surface that’s overly rough, whereas paint might not adhere to a smooth timber floor.

A professional contractor will know the right machine, sandpaper, and technique to use to prepare the floor for the application of various finishes. Don’t assume you can check online for videos or tutorials of “how to refinish hardwood floors” and learn the same information or become skilled at floor refinishing, but invest in the services of a qualified contractor instead.

There Are Several Methods of Floor Sanding Available

Floor sanding and refinishing hardwood floors are not as simple as many homeowners assume, as said. Note a few differences in floor sanding techniques, so you know which one might be the best choice for your home’s timber flooring:

  • Screening or buffing is a very light sanding that removes the sealant or coating from a wood floor, while the wood itself is often untouched. Screening is typically the best choice when a floor’s varnish, wax, or other coating is damaged, but the wood itself is in excellent condition and doesn’t need scratch or dent removal.
  • Lightly refinishing a timber floor will remove minor scratches and scuffs, and rough up the wood enough to hold a fresh coat of paint.
  • Full refinishing removes a thin layer of flooring but is deeper than a light refinishing. Full refinishing is an excellent option for wood floors with scratches and gouges.

Note that your floors may require more than a light buffing, but removing too much wood makes floors thin and brittle. Discuss your various sanding options and cost to refinish hardwood floors or damaged floors with a flooring contract, to determine which method of refinishing is best for your home.

Refinishing or Sanding is Needed Before the Application of Paint

Paint covers a multitude of imperfections on timber flooring and can cover dark or dingy colors that sanding won’t address. However, paint is not meant to be a filler or patching material for scratches, gouges, or cracks in timber flooring. These imperfections should be buffed out or sanded before the application of paint.

Paint color can also look dull when applied over an untreated timber floor. Applying fresh paint over an old coat of color or varnish often results in a blotchy or uneven pigmentation, or a dull, yellowed shade or tone. Applying paint over a freshly sanded and thoroughly cleaned floor will then ensure a more accurate, even color tone.

It’s also important to note that a timber floor needs to be roughed up a bit before the application of paint, stain, or varnish, or a new coating might peel away. Paint applied over a smooth surface might also chip or flake off somewhat quickly, which is also why you want to have those floors refinished or buffed before the application of paint.

Timber Flooring Can Become Too Thin to Refinish

Solid hardwood floors, as the name implies, are made from a thick slat of a particular, desirable wood species, such as oak, cedar, or mahogany. Engineered hardwood flooring begins with a layer of plywood or other such pressed, cheap wood. This cheaper wood is covered with a thin layer of that desirable timber species. Engineered wood floors are typically much less expensive than solid hardwood, as they include just that thin upper layer of a preferred timber species.

However, engineered hardwood flooring can be sanded down and refinished far less often than solid hardwood. That thin upper layer of timber on an engineered floor is not as durable as solid hardwood; engineered wood becomes even more brittle and weak after so much sanding. You can also sand that upper slat of wood right off the plywood, ruining the floors!

If a flooring consultant or refinishing contractor tells you that your floors are too thin for refinishing, don’t assume you should do the job yourself or call someone else to refinish those floors. Thin floors might not crack and chip during the sanding process, but once you put the furniture back into the room, or the floors dry out after being sealed or painted, the timber might easily buckle or outright break.

Investing in Regular Refinishing Will Prolong the Life of Your Timber Floors

Wood floor refinishing will restore the appearance of those floors and remove minor scratches and scuffs. However, regular refinishing also prolongs the life of those floors. Removing old coatings and applying new paint or sealant adds a barrier of protection between the floor and damaging humidity, mud, and the like. Your cost to refinish hardwood floors is then an investment in their appearance and condition.

Sanding wood floors also removes ground-in dust, dirt, mud, and other such debris. Ground-in dirt and debris can cause wood to crack and splinter eventually. Sanding away dirt, mud, grit, dust, and other residues that a dust mop can’t remove keeps timber flooring in good condition for many years.

Removing layers of paint or stain can also reveal areas of timber flooring that need repair. For example, water stains on timber flooring might indicate a water leak under the floor, but you might not see those stains if layers of paint or varnish hide them! Failure to repair this type of damage can lead to warped or chipped floorboards, but sanding floors gives you a chance to inspect their overall condition and make needed repairs.

What to Do When Wood Floors Are Damaged

If your home’s timber floors are severely damaged so that refinishing is not an option, you can try to add a dark paint color over them. While paint is not a filler or patching material, as said, dark colors can hide many flaws in timber floors, including food or beverage stains, knots, uneven shades of wood, and the like.

You might also consider having a floating installed over the home’s timber flooring. Floating floors are not nailed or glued to the subfloor; instead, slats or tiles of flooring are snapped together over a layer of flooring foam. Floating floors are very affordable and install rather quickly, so you have a beautiful new timber floor without the cost, mess, and time needed to rip out the home’s current flooring.

Carpeting can also typically cover timber flooring. New carpeting with added padding provides a softer flooring surface, and can also create a quieter environment. Carpeting also helps to insulate a space, creating a cozy atmosphere in the home.

Related Questions

Can you refinish laminated wood floors?

Laminated floors are not real wood and cannot be refinished. A laminated floor is a photograph of a flooring material covered with a thin layer of protective plastic. Damaged laminated flooring needs repair or replacement rather than refinishing.

How long does it take to refinish hardwood floors?

Removing and replacing an oil-based polyurethane coating from a standard home’s hardwood flooring often takes three to five days on average. Removing and replacing a water-based coating often takes two to three days on average.

Can you change the color of hardwood floors?

Hardwood floors can be painted or stained a variety of colors. However, wood floor refinishing might not cover or lighten dark colors of timber; a species such as walnut might require painting rather than staining, and a contractor might need to apply several coats of paint to reach a desired shade.

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