Refinishing your wood floors can improve the look and feel of a room dramatically. But it also requires a lot of careful planning, particularly if you want to do it yourself. Here are five things to consider before beginning the project so you will know what to expect as well as the investments involved. This should help you decide between doing it yourself and hiring a professional.
Type of Finish
Oil-based finishes are the most common, and they're highly recommended for high traffic areas and kitchens. Esthetically speaking, an oil-based finish looks better to most consumers, giving the floor a high-gloss appearance. It tends to last longer and cost less, but it also takes longer to dry.
A water-based finish is the other option and tends to be better for the environment. It doesn't have the strong odor or the potentially hazardous VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that accompany oil-based finishes.
Duration of the Job
If you go with a 3-coat oil-based finish—which is highly recommended—plan on the project taking up to 6 or 7 days. Allow 24 hours between applying the stain and each coat of finish, with about two days to dry before walking on it or moving the furniture back in. Many homeowners choose to stay away from their house for an additional day or two due to the fumes.
If you forego the stain and leave the natural color of your wood, you'll save yourself an extra day of work.
Applying a water-based finish will cut your time in half. It only requires a few hours of drying time between coats, and most homeowners can move their furniture back into the room the next day.
The Right Equipment
Just because you're doing it yourself doesn't mean you won't need the same equipment as a professional. Here's what you'll need to have on hand.
Sander. You have a choice between an orbital or drum sander. Orbital sanders are a good choice for the DIYer because they don't require any expertise, and they're less likely to damage the floor from hovering over one spot too long. Drum sanders are generally more aggressive, grinding through the wood much faster, so there is greater room for error. Drum sanders might get the job done quicker, but they're also more difficult to handle and therefore more likely to cause injury to the user.
Sandpaper. Be sure to start with a coarse grit sandpaper, moving progressively to a finer grit. If you rush through, it can lead to a "rough" appearance and ultimately uneven staining. For example, you might go with a 40-60-80 progression. Consult a chart of different sandpaper grits if you're unsure.
Protection. It's vital to protect yourself with a respiratory mask, eye protection, and ear plugs when sanding and applying the finish. Don't try to save a few bucks and get a dust mask instead. You need something heavy duty that will block the wood particles and chemicals from entering your lungs. Think of this: the finish you'll be sanding away most likely contains lead, a serious health hazard. So you really can't skip this step. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an N95 mask. This will filter out about 95% of the air-borne particles.
Plastic sheets. You certainly don't want all that dust to get into other rooms. In order to prevent this, hang plastic sheeting over the doorways. Also be sure to cover any floor vents if you have them.
Making Arrangements For Your Pets
The Flooring Girl states that pets should be kept off of the newly refinished floors for about two weeks, unless you want them running around in socks. Just remember that socks can be slippery. So common sense dictates this is safe as long as you have no reason to be concerned about a large dog slipping and falling. An alternative is putting up a child gate to keep them out of the room.
Hiring a Professional
The most common mistakes among DIYers are letting the drum sander sit in one place for too long, resulting in uneven floors, and failing to remove the dust adequately before beginning the refinishing process. Beyond that, you may decide that doing it yourself is too much work, so consider hiring a professional for your hardwood floor refinishing project. It might cost more, but in the end you only need to make arrangements for a place to stay for several days, and you don't have to worry about damaging your beautiful wood floors.