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4 Things To Decide Before Refinishing Your Wood Floors

If you're thinking about refinishing your wood floors, you want the end result to be as beautiful and flawless as possible. Before delving into the nitty-gritty details of who to hire and how much to budget, here are four main things to decide that will make your project flow seamlessly.

Are your floors capable of being refinished?

It seems like a no-brainer, but some floors are just that good at looking like true hardwood. So before investing a lot of time and money in beginning a project that will never take off, be sure you don't actually have laminate floors, which can't be refinished.

The best way to know if your floors are laminate is to examine the grain up close. True hardwood doesn't repeat grain patterns. Each board will look unique. If all the boards look the same, you're dealing with laminate. Hardwood floors are also attached by staples or nails, whereas laminate boards are glued to the subfloor.

Another thing to investigate is the thickness of your floors. Because they will have to be sanded down before the finish is applied, the top layer of wood should be at least 1/32nd of an inch thick to be a candidate for the project. If you're unsure your floors meet the challenge, you can remove a board and look at it from the side. Or if you have floor vents, remove the vent and check from there.  

Should you DIY or hire a pro?

Unless you've refinished wood floors in the past, it's probably a good idea to leave it to the pros. But if you decide to do it yourself, keep a few things in mind.

First of all, this isn't a job that requires you to get on your hands and knees to sand the floors. You'll need to rent a drum sander, an edger (to get the edges of the floor), and a polisher for applying the finish—machines that have a bit of a learning curve for using.

Additionally, the sander needs to be in constant motion so you don't over sand in one spot, leaving a dip in the floor. You'll also have to factor in the extras like sand paper, polishing screens, and buffing pads. And don't forget a mask for respiratory protection as well as doing a thorough vacuum job to ensure you've removed all the dust that didn't get sucked up by the sander. When all is said and done, the most important aspect is taking your time and not rushing through the project.  

What kind of finish should you use?

Deciding on a finish type comes down to choosing between oil or water-based polyurethanes. Here are the key differences between the two:

  • Water-based finishes dry fast, have a low odor, and give the floor a beautiful, clear shine. They basically accentuate the natural grain of the floor without adding any sort of tint. If you plan on applying several coats, this can easily be done in a single day. But here's a caveat if you're doing it yourself: because it tends to dry so quickly, you'll need to work fast to avoid having visible overlapping brush marks.
  • Oil-based finishes soak into the wood and add an amber tint to the floors. They also take longer to dry—anywhere from 8-20 hours per coat. And since you need 2-3 coats to get the desired results, this can tack on several days to your project. But the slow-drying feature also makes an oil finish ideal for the beginner since mistakes can be corrected easily. Oil-based polyurethanes tend to have a stronger odor, but they're typically less expensive than their water-based counterparts. 

Should you stay elsewhere during the project?

This is a big consideration because it necessitates planning in advance. Depending on the scope of your project, it can take more than one day to refinish your floors, particularly if you're doing every room in the house. In fact, from start to finish, you're looking at up to 5 days. And if a rainstorm moves in, it will delay your project even longer since humidity slows the drying process. 

Most professionals state that you can walk on your floors within 24 hours of applying the last coat, but you may want to remove your shoes and walk with sock feet for the first few days. After the 4th or 5th day, you can usually move the furniture back. If you have pets or a large family, it might be easiest just to steer clear until this time has passed. Therefore, you might want to stay with friends and family or book a hotel room.