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Built by Blue Sound Construction, designed by MaKe Design, photos by Alex Hayden

How to Restore Your Worn Hardwood Floors

Posted on Mar 2, 2017 in:
  • Seattle Times HomeWork
  • Maintain
  • Homeowners

By Cameron Poague

Q: Our hardwood floors have gone to heck over the winter, and probably long before that. Should we attempt to salvage our floors by refinishing them ourselves or are we asking for trouble?

A: Hardwood floors take the brunt of many blows, including shoe scuffs, heavy furniture scratches, dust, dogs' nails, and all kinds of assorted blotches. These floors, with their alluring old-school charm and increased home value, don't often get the respect they deserve (heck, we walk all over them!) until it's too late.

Let's change that.

How can you tell if your floor needs refinishing? The eye test is probably the most trusted method, but it isn't necessarily the best method. To be certain, isolate the most trafficked area of your floor and spread a few droplets of water onto the section. If droplets form, you're good. If the droplets soak into the wood slowly, it means the finish is starting to wear; when droplets quickly infiltrate the wood, you're due for a refinish.

When you reach the refinishing point, there's an easy way to find out whether you should attempt to take on the process yourself. Just remember: If your floor is less than 3/4-inch thick, get a pro to do the job. How can you find your floor's thickness? Find two floorboards that have a groove between them, enough to fit a business card in between. Push the card as far down as it will go, then mark where the floor surface is. Pull the card out, measure the mark from the edge, and there's your depth.

Other indicators that warrant professional assistance include warped, bent, or soft floorboards and discoloration or stains that won't rub out.

You got this—or do you?

So, you want to go at it alone? Before giving your floor a DIY facelift, you'll need to be aware of a few crucial things. For whole-floor refinishes, you'll be clearing the entire room of furniture, drapes, and any other items that might get in the way. Then cover your vents, lighting fixtures, and doorways with plastic or sheets, taping off the edges so nothing can sneak through.

Next up: Check for protruding nail heads and carpet staples, driving in nails and removing staples if necessary, so they don't tear your sandpaper—when you get to that point. After properly prepping, you'll need to clean the entire area with the right hardwood floor cleaner.

You'll then need to buff and finish your floor. It is paramount to use protection (dust mask, goggles or respirator, gloves, kneepads, etc.) and know with complete confidence how to handle the equipment you are using. Not knowing what you're doing before powering on a sander can lead to exponentially more damage to your floors than you started out with—thereby making moot the whole home-improvement thing you were going for.

Did you know?

It's optimal to wait a week after applying your last layer of finish before putting furniture back onto the floor. Water-based polyurethane finishes take about three hours to dry; oil-based finishes can take eight or more hours. To avoid additional scuffs and scratches, affix felt pads to furniture legs before setting them back in place.

If you couldn't tell by now, the consensus is that it's typically better to hire a professional, especially if your floors are in bad shape or have a lot of historical value. If you decide to go at it yourself, don't skip steps and, above all, be careful.

 


HomeWork is written by contributing member professionals of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you'd like answered by one of the MBA's more than 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.

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Photo courtesy Blue Sound Construction, builder; MaKe Design, architect; and Alex Hayden, photographer