Tag Archives: flooring

Floor restoration – closing thoughts

Cathy put a lot of work into removing the paint from the living room floor. I now feel bad about all the effort that went into it.

During the floor sanding it became obvious that the paint removal wasn’t really necessary. The sander would have taken care of that in a heartbeat. The seemingly endless amount of small staples Cathy removed were, however, worth the effort. That is the kind of stuff you don’t want near a floor sander.

I also mentioned a number of water stains we had to contend with. The biggest one is in front of the kitchen back door.

If this one begins to bother us, we will have to hide it under a throw rug. That said, we like little imperfections like this. They are part of the house’s story.

Other, more minor damage to the hardwood floors was typically associated with the old cast iron radiators. Rather crude holes were punched into the floorboards for the radiator piping. I was able to fix most of those with a clean hole saw cut. The openings were easy to fill with wood plugs that I cut from salvaged boards.

Because of the radiator weight, the legs wore dents into the flooring, which partially came out during the sanding. Some remained and also become part of the house’s story.

Another issue, also associated with the radiators, was minor water damage due to leaking radiators or piping. Most of it came out during the sanding, but some stains still show.

The radiator in the dining room must have been the worst. Here the damage was so bad that we were unable to salvage or repair at the small scale. I had to replace the damaged hardwood floor boards with new material.


The contrast between the new and the 100+ year old quarter sawn boards tell a story about material quality.

I have seen similar repairs and patches in other beautiful old houses. They appear not that uncommon and provide sort of a chronology of the repairs, alterations and remodeling efforts.

Overall we are very happy that we were able to reuse the original 100+ year old hardwood floors. Considering their age, what they have been through, and that reusing is always “greener”  than starting new, we feel that we are pretty good shape on the 1st floor.


I am, however, not so sure about some areas on the 2nd floor any more. I think we will have to brace for more extensive repair there.

Putting it on

Once we decided what floor coating to use and once it was purchased, it was time to put in onto our spanking new looking old hardwood floors!

I had read the installation instructions, which asked for thorough dust removal prior to the sealer application. I started by sweeping all the floors, followed by meticulous vacuuming with our big shop vac.

That didn’t stop our contractor from vacuuming again in preparation for the first coat application.

Did I mention that the sealer was literally odorless, despite the 200 g/l VOC content? If you ever have been around the high VOC content products, you’ll appreciate the absence of fumes and the improvement to indoor air quality (IQA).

The day after the first coat, Frank, our flooring contractor, buffed all the floors with a fine 200 mesh. It was explained to me that the first coat typically raise the wood grain. Thus the buffing to smooth everything out again.

The buffing and vacuuming was followed by a second coat of the sealer, which was evenly applied across the floors.

This is all deadline work because we are using a two component based product. Once the catalyst (or hardener) is mixed in with the sealer, things have to move at a good pace. The working time of the Arboritec Avenue floor finish is limited to four hours.

One more light buffing followed by a third coat of the sealer the following day and the job was done.

We are very happy with the results. It was important to us to preserve the original color of the wood. The Arboritec Avenue floor finish did just that. It didn’t darken or stain the floors, but added a very slight gloss.

That’s the reward for reuse and we love every bit of it! Just couldn’t get enough looking at those old but new floors. Well, soon they’ll be covered up again, in preparation for the wall painting.

Floor coating – cost fuzz

Sanding our old hardwood floors was the easy part. Particularly for me, as my job was just to watch and learn, to get stuff out the way and to manage the power cords.

Getting things set up for the floor coating was a lot more complicated. Mainly because it involved a lot of research.

Most common floor finished are polyurethane based and have a very high VOC (volatile organic compound) content. Something that was not acceptable to us, as we are very conscious about managing indoor air quality (IAQ). And like with paint, we were looking for a VOC free option.

Well, the first thing I learned is that there currently is no such thing as a zero-VOC floor coating. But there are water based products that have very low VOC levels.

The current LEED system, which can be used as a guideline, permits a VOC content up to 275 g/l (grams per liter) for floor sealers. Some water based products are at the 275 g/l threshold, others have a lower VOC content. A look at the specifications usually tells how the product performs on the VOC spectrum.

The next lesson was about the product costs. Your typical polyurethane/high VOC products run around $40 per gallon. The water based options ranged from $40 to $120 per gallon.

Needless to say that I immediately focused on products at the lower price range. That didn’t last long, for two reasons. First, the products reviews that I found were non-conclusive. Second, our flooring contractor, Frank, flat out refused to use any water based product that was not two component based, i.e. did not come with a catalyst.

All right – this will need some more dissecting:

Frank likes quality work and has a good business sense. He knows that using a economic product that has a limited performance span will eventually nip him in the butt. That explained his refusal.

What I learned is that the more economical water based products do not come with a catalyst (also referred to as hardener) and apparently wear off pretty rapidly. Only the higher priced options come with a catalyst, which is mixed into the sealer just prior to the application. These have the reputation to last a few years longer.

Still, the purchasing decision was anything but straightforward. Using the most economic two component water based product with the lowest VOC content would be the logical choice. Except that we ran into supply problems.

Water based floor coatings are not that commonly used, because of their price point. Retailers are hesitant to keep them stocked, because they have to purchase the product by the palette and then sit on it for several months, if not over a year, before it is all sold.

We had to investigate all the products that were locally available, and see which one was stocked at the quantity we needed. We finally settled on Arboritec Avenue, but had to source it across three different retailers to get the quantity we needed.

Here is a quick summary of the few products we investigated:

Arboritec Avenue
VOC content: max. 200 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 1/2 – 1 hour

Bona Traffic
VOC content: max. 210 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

Bona Traffic HD
VOC content: 125 g/l
Coverage: 350 – 400 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

VOC content: max 250 g/l
Coverage: 550 – 700 sf/gallon
Drying time: 2 – 3 hours

Lighten it up with floor sanding

The big day has come! Our flooring contractor has arrived with all of his equipment, ready to start with the floor sanding.

He quickly went through all the rooms to inspect the various floors. I don’t really have a good way of saying this – but his eyes were bugging out. He confirmed what had been indicated to us in the past.

All of the oak in the foyer, library, living room, dining room and office is very high grade quarter sawn material. This is something you couldn’t buy anymore in this quality these days, unless it had been salvaged from a house like ours.

The two bedrooms (master bed and guest bed) are very high grade and dense Douglas fir. The corridor and kitchen are maple.

I learned that maple flooring is used in high traffic areas because it is so hard. That explains why it was the first choice for kitchens, and in our case, the corridor that connects the kitchen to the dining room.

The kitchen floor was always the one where we had doubts whether it could be reused. It had suffered from quite some serious water damage. Most of the floorboards where warped up at the edges. You can make it out in the above time lapse. The board edges were cleaned up after the first pass, while it took a couple more passes to get down to the center of the boards.

We also had to contend with a number of water stains. To my delight, most of them came off right away … all except one larger stain in front of the kitchen back door. Cathy and I decided to classify it as “character.”

It was amazing by how much the kitchen had brightened up with the sanded maple floors. That said, I still wasn’t prepared for the amount of difference the freshly sanded oak floors provided!

I described what difference it made to have the drywall up, and how that began to brighten the space. The same and more can be said for the freshly sanded floors. Even though we still have to paint the walls, the first floor has suddenly begun to look like home.

Hardwood floor restoration preps

Let’s complete the transition from the bathroom topic to hardwood floors.

We have the original 100+ year old hardwood floors through most of the building. They are largely in surprisingly good shape, because they have been protected for decades by layers of tile and carpet.

Although, if you did take a look at them after we had removed the various layers, it would have taken some imagination to see the asset they were to us.



We found a number of clues that indicated their suitability for reuse. And reuse at this scale (about 1,200 square feet of flooring) can make a significant difference. Not only in economic terms (just imagine the cost of installing new hardwood floors versus restoring and refinishing), but also in terms of resource efficiency.

What do I mean by that? Three options are often thrown around: 1) recycling, 2) salvaging and 3) reuse. Out of these three, recycling (or better downcycling) is the least desirable option as it is the one closest to the landfill. Reuse, on the other hand, is highly desirable because it conserves the value and embedded energy of a product or material.

The more of the building we can reuse, the fewer the resources we need to pour into the building, the smaller the overall carbon footprint, the greener the overall project.

Such an easy way to earn some bragging rights!

Now that we are so close to restoring and refinishing the floors, I tried to determine what preparations were needed. We cleaned most of the floors from the mastic and glue that was used as a tile adhesive. The oak floor in the living room had been painted dark red at one point. We decided that we needed to remove the paint prior to any sanding.

As usual, when it comes to removing paint from wood, Cathy’s Silent Paint Remover became very handy again.

After about 12 hours of work (stretched over three days) the paint was gone, and with it an endless number of small staples that were used to attach the carpet backing.