Series: An 80's Kitchen DIY Reno - {Part 13- Refinishing Floors with Water-based Polyurethane}

Friday, July 24, 2020

During the Kitchen Reno, we actually had another project, a bathroom reno,  happening upstairs simultaneously because of a water leak.  So after the countertops were installed, we took a break from major work, but knew we would have to get them done sooner or later. 

We actually had the floors refinished twice.  The original refinish job ended up peeling in a few areas, unfortunately, which was disheartening.  But the company agreed to redo the floors, which was amazing.  So I'm going to share photos from the final job.  It was wrapped up literally a week before our area shut down for COVID-19, and I am forever grateful on the timing of getting back into our home.  And while it was stressful at the time, I can say it was totally worth it, because I L-O-V-E love the way they came out.  

For reference our floors are Red Oak and we used a 50-50 mix of Duraseal Classic Gray and Provincial. and finished them with Bona Traffic HD water-based polyurethane in Satin.  The pictures below are before polyurethane was applied, but let's talk process!

I got a great question on Instagram about the cost to refinish.  Although this job was covered by insurance, we had the floors refinished ourselves back in 2016.  I got several quotes and they ranged from $1.50 to $2.00/sf and $1.50 to $2.25/lf to replace the quarter round.  On our original refinish job, we asked the installer if we could reuse our quarter round and saved a bit that way.  Get several quotes and ask lots of questions. 

On our original refinish in 2016 and this time around, the installers did not ask what brand of stain or polyurethane we wanted.  If you don't ask, your installers will probably just use whatever they are accustomed too, and it may not be the best quality.  Try to do your research, to see what brand and type of stain and polyurethane you want to use.  Water-based polyurethane, as a materials cost, is more expensive than oil-based.  But it can also save time on the job because it dries quicker and can be recoated in less time.   

As a reminder, the floors had to be patched after removing some cabinet pieces to build out the fridge surround and peninsula.  

Sanding Down the Floors

After moving out, the first step in refinishing is to sand off the original finish.  The quarter round is removed first.  Then large floor sanders are used for the main areas, and a smaller handheld sander is used to go around the edges and stair treads.  A handheld scraper is used to get into corners and on the stairs.  The simplicity of the raw wood looks so amazing.

Next they use wood filler to fill any large gaps in the flooring and then sand again. And although the sander picks up most of the sanding dust they also use a shop-vac as they go with the hand sander. They then do a final vacuum before staining, so that there's no grit in the finish.

Choosing a Stain Color and Polyurethane

One of the most important things is deciding on a color. During the sanding stage, samples were put down to select a stain color.  This was especially important because ALL of our floors are hardwood.  I had picked up samples of pre-finished flooring to get an idea on color.  We'd had the floors refinished when we first moved in, and I wasn't totally in love with the color.  It was nice, but super traditional.  So since we were having a do-over, I wanted to tone down the warmth and go with more of a gray-brown color. 

(original stain)

You really want to put down lots of samples to get an idea of the color of the stains.  Stain colors will look drastically different in pictures and based on wood species, age of wood, and the amount of light that a room or home gets.  You also want to take into account any existing stained wood furniture and accessories you currently have if you plan on keeping them long-term.  You want your floors to compliment not clash with your decor.  An example being the darker wood samples in the photo below.  I liked them, but they veered too gray for the other wood toned furniture and accessories I have in my home. 

No color combos on paper looked the same as they did in my home, so sampling was important.  Also our floors downstairs are 30 years old, and the upstairs floors were installed in 2016.  As I mentioned earlier, our floors are all Red Oak.  I know when I was researching stains, it was helpful when the photos would list the wood species.  After many samples, we decided on a 50-50 mix of Duraseal Classic Gray and Provincial oil-based wood stain.

From our original refinish job when we moved in 2016, I also remembered how bad the fumes and smell was after moving back in.  It lasted for days even with the windows opened, and I'm sure it wasn't healthy to breathe in.  So this time, I looked into water-based finishes.  I wish I could say I thought of this ahead of time, but I only thought of it after the floors were stripped and had to do a lot of research on the fly.  Even though we used an oil-based stain, using a water-based polyurethane made a HUGE difference.  The stain had fumes so bad that it set off our carbon monoxide detectors. (Who knew that was even a thing?)  But the next day when the water-based polyurethane went down, it was a night and day difference.  And by day two, it was barely noticeable. 

With the smell set aside, there is a richness of stain color that is brought out with oil-based polyurethane.  I don't think it can be replicated with water-based polyurethane.  But the more matte/satin finishes you get with water-based polyurethanes are more in line with the sheen you find on pre-finished wood.  I don't think one is better than the other, it's just a matter of preference and how you will handle the off-gassing. 

Moving Back In

Besides low fumes, another advantage of the Bona Traffic HD polyurethane is the cure time.  It's safe to walk on without shoes after 24 hours.  And after three days, it's fully cured and hardened.  Whereas, an oil-based poly can take up to 30 days to fully cure.  We moved back in the day after the floors were finished, but waited the full three days before bringing back in all the furniture.

One recommendation I read from Bona is to use 'walk-off mats' at the doors to help preserve the finish on the floors.  This is meant to catch any shoe debris from the first few steps a person takes inside the home.  I'm a shoes-off person, but not everyone is.  So I have a mat at both the front and garage doors.  

It was nice to have this major project behind us.  We have had zero issues with the finish this time around. I still want to share painting the windows in the kitchen and adding the wood vent hood cover. 

We're also getting close to school starting in our area, so I'm thinking of sharing some of our prep for that.  How far out is school where you live?  We were already planning on schooling at home, but our county opted this week to cancel all in-person classes.  So prepping for school-at-home is something I think we're all doing.   Planning for it has been on my mind, but now is time to turn those ideas into action. I'll be doing a post about that soon too! 

KITCHEN SOURCES (linked below): 

{An 80's Kitchen DIY Reno Series}

-Part 12-Marble Tile Backsplash and Sconces