June 10, 2010

Floor Refinishing for Dummies

I know you are not a dummy but, let me just tell you one of the biggest "bang for your buck" projects when you buy an old house is having the hardwoods refinished. Every room will have shiny new floors in the stain that you choose giving the whole house a quick face-lift. Check out this before and after in our Dining Room.
AFTERFloor Refinishing is dirty work. My best advice is do it BEFORE you move in! We closed on our house August 20th, had the floors done August 21 - 25th and moved in the next weekend (after a thorough cleaning of the house).
Here in South Carolina (and I've had floors refinished in Greenville and Columbia) you are going to pay about $1.25 - $2.25 per square foot to have hardwood floors sanded, stained and 2-3 coats of poly. Yes, you can do it yourself, just rent a sander, invest in stain and poly and prepare to work your butt off for about 3 - 4 days. BUT, unless you are a pro or have the hookup on a pro in the family you probably will spend more money paying a pro to fix your mistakes than you would have spent had you just hired a pro in the first place. This advice is especially true if you are doing 1600 SF like we did.

First up, the refinisher will rip up your old carpet (if you have any), remove staples and then sand your floors to take off old stain and poly(s).
A note about sanding: Floors can only be sanded a couple times in their lifetime. Each time the sanding takes off 1/8 - 1/4" of wood and thus after 2 - 3 refinishings you will need to replace the floor.

After a good vacuuming, they will apply the stain. Then (typically the very same day as the stain) apply the first coat of poly. Waiting overnight between poly coats is desirable. Day 3 usually is a quick light sanding and 2nd coat of poly. Unless you are doing a 3rd coat you can walk on the floors on day 4.
A good floor refinisher will work with you to get your desired color of stain - even staining a small portion of the floor with your choices so you can get a good idea of how the color will look in your house. We wanted a rich dark color that kept the traditional feel of the house while updating it a bit. In the BEFORE picture above the floors look a little yellow. This was not the original floor color but somewhere along the way the floors had been sanded and stained with a natural color and cheap poly that yellowed over time.
These are the 3 colors we chose from - we chose the one on the top, English Chestnut. Not too dark, not too red... just right.

Regarding the quarter round at the joint of the baseboards and floor you have a couple of options. 1. Leave it alone, we did. Typically unless you are going from very light to very dark or visa versa the color on the quarter round will be very similar to the new stain color. So leave it - it will save you lots of money and work. 2. Have it stained and polyed the same color - this is more expensive and may add a day or two to the work time because it is labor intensive. 3. Paint it white to match your baseboards. This is a very modern look and will really update the house. You can even do this yourself after the fact.
What a difference it made in our house - we will probably refinish the floors in every house we ever buy 'cause what an improvement!

So how to do find a floor refinisher? Well, you could do a google search in your area and pick the one with the best webpage BUT you would be missing the little guys who have been doing it for decades, don't have a webpage, charge less and do a better job the old school way [read: better]. So, ask your neighbors, go through the yellow pages and call every single listing. In Greenville, I got a recommendation from my Realtor but in Columbia I was on my own. I wrote down every company/name and phone number and called EVERY ONE. About 50% were out of business, miscategorized, or didn't return my phone call. I was left with about 8 guys who gave me a range of prices (most in the $1 - $2 range, some exorbitant like $6 a SF). I had the 3-4 in my budget come out, measure and give me a firm quote. Of the 4, one didn't show, one was really creepy, and of the final 2, the guy I chose was on time, good price and professional - plus he could start right away. HIRED! We were very pleased with our guys and if you are in Cola, SC and need a recommendation let me know.

Happy Refinishing!

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