What to Know for Floor Refinishing: Avoiding Costly Mistakes and Major Deadlines

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

As tough and beautiful as a wood floor is, it is really no match for a family. Every generation wears down the finish with spills, drops, grit tracked in on shoes, shifting furniture, and worst of all, the scrabbling claws of family pets. The good news is that the damage usually is not permanent. Most wood floors can be refinished, which involves sanding away a paper-thin layer off the top and then mopping on three coats of clear polyurethane finish. Here are five ways to avoid costly flooring errors when refinishing your wood floors.


Choose Your Flooring Professional Very Carefully

“You don’t want a crew learning the job on your floor!” An industrial grade drum sander is a powerful tool, and if it has not kept moving at just the right pace and in just the right pattern, it can remove too much material, creating an uneven surface, reducing the number of times the surface can be refinished in the future, and even weakening the floor. So, as with any home improvement, go through the trusted channels, like the NWFA, to find the best wood flooring professional for the job. A NWFA (National Wood Flooring Association) certification in Sand and Finisher designation requires passing a hands-on test and at least two years of experience, so you can trust that the job will be done right.


Ask Whether You Need a Full Re-finishing

If your floor does not have deep gouges and the finish has not completely worn through anywhere, you may be able to get away without a full refinishing job. Instead, the flooring professional will lightly sand the existing finish (a process called screening) and then apply the new finish if your choice right over the top. This is sometimes called a “screen and poly” job, or sometimes a “maintenance coat,” and it might save you about 50% off the cost of full refinishing. Plus, since it does not remove any wood, there is no limit to how many times it can be done to a floor.


Think About Color

If your floors have a deep, rich color (darker than, say, cardboard), it is most likely not the natural color of the wood. More likely, a stain was applied when the floor was originally installed or the last time it was finished. Having your floors screened and polyad will not affect the stain, but if you are doing a full refinishing, the stain will be removed during the process. So, your floor will be a much lighter color after the job is done—unless you ask to have it stained it to match the original color. Another option you have is choosing a new color. Natural and lighter toned colors are increasing in popularity, giving your space a modern and brighter look.


Make Plans to Move Out

You will need to vacate the premises for several days while the project happens, since you cannot walk on the finish while it is wet. Sanding will take only a day or two, but the stain (if you use one) and each of the three coats of finish will need to dry before the next coat can go on. Depending on the product used, and the current weather conditions, each coat could take either hours or days. Figure at least two days for a “screen and poly” job or three to seven days for a full refinishing project, plus at least one day if you are adding color.


Mind the Baseboard

Even the best floor guy will ding the baseboard (the wood trim at where the wall meets the floor) here and there with the sanders—and get a little stain and finish on it too. In other words, you are going to need to touch up the paint. Hiring a painter to come out for a small job like this is difficult but might only add a few hundred bucks to your bill if he is coming anyway to do some other painting job—and he might not charge you at all if he is touching up a large painting he did just before the floors got refinished (and you agreed at the outset that he had come back to do so). Just be sure to have your beautiful new floors covered and protected while he is there.


Time Frames When it comes to refinishing, one of the most frequent questions asked is “How long does it take to refinish hardwood flooring?” Smart customers ask this question and plan ahead; others do not realize the length of time and therefore need to postpone the project as they have not planned well.


First, it all depends on what type of finish you use – oil-based polyurethane vs. water-based polyurethane. The quick synopsis is that oil-based polyurethane takes longer and importantly LASTS LONGER (and more people prefer the look of oil-based poly, and it is less expensive. So, for these reasons, it is usually ideal to allow enough time to do oil-based polyurethane.


Oil Based Polyurethane – Length of Time to Re-finish Hardwood:

In general, it will usually take 3-5 days to refinish hardwood floors with an oil-based polyurethane (+ drying time), pending on whether there is a stain/how dark the stain is/how humid it is and how many coats of polyurethane you apply. Often, when, it natural (no stain), with 3 coats of polyurethane, it can be done in 3 sequential days (allowing 24 hours for each coat to dry) when the weather is dry/not humid.


Each coat of polyurethane usually needs 24 hours to dry, and a stain will need 24 hours to dry, but if it is a darker stain, it could take 36 or even 48 hours (about 2 days) for the stain to dry. So, in the case of a dark stain that needs 2 days to dry and if you apply 3 coats of poly, you are up to 5 days.


Most places can sand up to 1000 sq ft per day, so if you have a large area (e.g., 3,000 sq ft, about the area of a tennis court), you may add up to 2 more days. Alternatively, sometimes crews can be doubled up to reduce the elapsed time frame.


Please note that this general timeline can vary based on many factors, including the weather (if it is humid, it will take longer for each coat to dry), the species of wood (pine and maple will often take longer and require a conditioner and sometimes even another coat of stain), type of wood (e.g., herringbone and parquet can take longer) and whether any other additional work is needed (e.g., repair work, steps, ripping up carpet/tack strips/staples, etc.).


Drying Time After the Floors are Re-finished:

After you have refinished your hardwood floors, you need to wait before walking on them and/or moving (or returning furniture). At a minimum, you should wait at least 24 hours before walking on the floor; for hours 24-48, it is best to wear socks only (no shoes, no bare feet). Ideally, you should wait a total of 4 days before moving furniture back. This is to allow enough time for the floors to dry and cure. Can you move the furniture back after 2 days? Yes, but most professionals, including those at Go Green Wood Floors, would not recommend it.


It is ideal to keep area rugs off the floor until you reach the 30-day (about 4 and a half weeks) mark for proper curing. It is best to allow the floors to “breathe.” If you need to move area rugs back after 3 weeks, you can, but it would not be the professional recommendation.


Because the refinishing process takes a while and the areas to be done and you cannot have access to these rooms/nor move furniture in (and because the process is a bit messy and it smells), most people opt to refinish their floors BEFORE they move (ideal) or else wait until they will be away on vacation (for at least a week).


If you understand the process, you can plan ahead. Go Green Wood Floors works with many new home buyers, and it is ideal if you can get the flooring contractor BEFORE the closing, so that you can get an estimate and plan for the work to start a day or two after closing. And it is critical that you plan ahead so there is time AFTER closing and BEFORE you need to move in. Many can schedule these estimates with their buyer agent when there are already planned events (e.g., inspection, appraisal, walk through). Other times, floor plans and square footage are enough to do an estimate. (It is ideal not to burden the real estate agent with additional trips). It is unfortunate when a client calls right after they closed, needing to move in just a few days later, leaving it virtually impossible to do the work and allow for proper drying time. But, if they had planned, the hired professionals might have been able to solve them and save them money.


Water based Polyurethane – Length of time to Refinish Hardwood:

The largest benefit to water-based polyurethane is that it dries faster. So, if you are in a huge rush, sometimes this can solve your time challenges. It usually only takes about 2 days to refinish hardwood floors with water-based polyurethane. (Some places will do it in 1 day, but professionals would recommend staying away from those places, it will last longer if you allow more drying time, and each coat needs an extra 2-4 hours to dry.) You can usually move furniture 48 hours (about 2 days) later with water-based polyurethane.

As mentioned above, there are some other items that can lengthen the process (e.g., square footage, type of wood, rip up, repair work, etc.)


Conclusion:

Plan ahead for your refinishing project so that you understand how long it will take and can consciously choose whether you want oil based or water-based polyurethane, and so you can determine the best flooring professional (Luxury Wood NYC) you want to work with (rather than be forced into which professional is available and which type of finish can meet your time frame.)


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