Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood Flooring

What is the Most Durable Floor Finish?

Consumers want the best finish available for their money. In this video I will discuss the factors that impact floor finish durability.

As a homeowner, the primary way to make your floor finish last longer is within the maintenance and use. Consider that regular cleaning to remove particulates and clipping your dogs’ toenails are very useful. Also, if possible avoid wearing shoes in the house.

Now, let’s get to the important part that you can ask of your wood floor contractor prior to hiring them. Durability of floor finish comes from three factors: solids content/resins quality, application rate, and sanding procedure.

  • Solids content of a floor finish has tremendous impact in the long run for your floor. Low solids content number tends to be in the low percent range whereas good solids content would be 40 percent or greater. Cheap floor finish tends to be filled with less protective resin, which is a material cost. It would be somewhat accurate to say that the price of a floor finish is correlated with the quality.
  • Application rate of finish is crucial to durability. Finish manufacturers have a suggested spread rate for their finish to be durable. Especially with contractors using waterborne products they tend to apply additional pressure to the applicator to gain an extra 100-200 square feet of coverage. An analogy I use is painting a wall: if you press on a roller you will need to roll more coats. Floor finish follows a similar rule, but because finish is clear it is not possible to see thin coats. Ask your contractor what their ideal coverage rate is for their finish. If they have no answer, then do not hire them.
  • Sanding of your floors impacts the quality of your job as well. If a floor is sanded too coarse, then the finish will “sink” into the open grain. If the floor is sanded well to a fine grit that still allows good adhesion, then you will get a better product.

I hope this helps explain the basics of how to evaluate essential elements within an estimate.

Big dogs and durability of hardwood floors

All too often I get the question about finishes and durability by people who have big dogs. There is no magic formula, except concrete floors maybe, but here are some ways to enjoy the beauty of your hardwood floors and still have a big loveable dog.

Grooming is everything– I know it can be a slight expense, but regular visits to the groomer will do a lot for keeping dog nails short and scratches minimized.

Tug of war and fetch are best left for outside your house or on the carpet.

Dark stains show scratches more readily. I have a 55lb, 2 year old Louisiana Catahoula Leopard dog and he is wild. Even my floor has scratches, but because my red oak floor is very light and a very flat sheen (ultra matte) the scratches are way less apparent. A lot of it has to do with the whole picture, not the floor finish.

Swedish finishes are “durable” because they wear well and scratch clear, but they WILL scratch. Optically speaking, scratches are hidden better and not because the finish is harder. By the way, there is a lot of misunderstanding that “Swedish” means no wax. Even Swedish finishes (conversion varnishes made by Glitsa and Synteko that smell more) have slight amounts of wax in them, and that is per a chemist at Glitsa (I’ve toured the Seattle factory and had this conversation).

All floor finishes will scratch and the best defense is a good offense. This means regular grooming and more frequent maintenance of your floor by screening and recoating your floor.  In the end all hardwood floors get scratches no matter what finish you use.

Who is providing your hardwood flooring?

In a recent discussion with a colleague he was talking with me about another retailer in town doing some “mystery” shopping at a competitor. The mystery shopper (another competing retailer) continued to drill the salespeople as to how they got their prices SO low. Apparently, the prices were at a level that were untouchable by any other supplier around.

Here’s the catch… The retailer is a storefront for the product manufacturer straight from China. That’s right, you’re buying direct from China and every single dollar spent goes directly back to them. That is pretty lousy for enriching the local economics.

When we talk about sustainablity we have to admit that product source is one part of the equation as well as economics. I won’t go into the whole quality issue, but let’s just say that the “mill direct” product is quite inferior to traditional solid hardwood flooring, or even a high quality engineered floor.

Don’t say you care about the environment if you’re having throw away products installed into your home. Our previous blog and video illustrate what a throw away product looks like.

Become a detective when you are buying a new product. You are welcome to email or call me if you have a question about whether you are buying junk. Let’s take back the quality that we so rightfully deserve in buying hardwood flooring.

Happy New Year!

Apples to apples floor finish

I do a number of estimates for my floor business and I am always perplexed by the lack of information other floor companies are providing for the homeowner. Let me bring about a few real world points for people in order to dispel the myths surrounding the “bidding” process.

1) Two coats versus three coats versus coverage rate

Honestly this is a six versus one half dozen comparison. Your average floor finish has a recommended coverage rate for application. Some finishes have an optimal application range of 300 square feet per gallon where others are at 500. This has a big impact on the “mil thickness” (durability) of the finish. Three thin coats will actually be less durable than a quality two finish coat job. Cheap contractors stretch finish thin when applying it. Three coats sounds like a better thing, but is only a repeat visit and more work for the contractor if the coverage is less than adequate.

2) Resins and solids content

This is a real hidden point of discussion for some floor companies, particularly low priced companies and large outfits. Waterborne finishes have a protective resin suspended in water that is the “thing” that provides durability. The chemical composition of this resin has a tremendous impact on durability. Cheap floor finishes have weak resins and are “watery” with coverage rates near 600-700 square feet per gallon.  They are lower in solids (the resins that provides durability).

3) Two component versus one component waterbased finish

One component floor finishes have minimal scuff and scratch resistance. They rely simply on oxygen to link the finish resins. Two component finishes rely upon a chemical crosslinker to “matricize” the finish resins and form a really tough scuff resistant floor. In talking with several finish chemists during NWFA schools, I have found that two component finishes fare almost twice as well in taber abrasion tests that test durability. For a perspective single component finishes can be about $25-50 per gallon, where a quality two component waterborne ranges from $80-110 per gallon.

CHEAP  ONE COMPONENT FLOOR FINISH

 

DURABLE TWO COMPONENT FLOOR FINISH

 

My Point!!!!

Ask your contractor about these points. Why? Because if they don’t have an answer they are NOT a professional. They are a “guy with a sander” who can multiply a square foot price and use a tape measure. Please make a fair comparison when evaluating floor refinishing estimates. Otherwise you will be taken for a ride by a snake oil salesman and have a worn out floor in two years.

Real world waterbased finish

I get asked so often about finish durability. Honestly, my answer is always to explain the features of various finishes and suggest only the types of products I would use on my own home.

Two years ago in April 2010 I applied three finish coats of Glitsa HP two component waterbased finish to my floor (Matte sheen). Today while I was cleaning my floors using our suggested method and was really impressed with how they still look great. My children are two boys ages 4.5 and 2.5 (they’re wild and crazy) and they are my best testers along with my dog who is young and crazy. The photo below is pretty much the best proof I can give you for the real world performance of a finish. No hyped marketing behind this one, just real world for someone else to see if they are wondering about durability.

This isn’t that I am sold on only one particular finish, just that I have this product in my house on a daily basis and can personally vouch for how well it performs in durability.

The price isn’t right

One of the things I have been startled about lately is how the hardwood floor refinishing market in Sacramento has been subject to really large variances in price. At our company we try to deliver a service with considerable value that includes very personable customer service in addition to a quality product. We make a very disciplined effort to hide no element of what is included, which are the questions that consumers should ask in order to make an apples to apples comparison:

1) How many finish coats will be applied? This determines longevity to a great degree assuming that the coverage rate is equal between the coats.

2)What type of finish will be used? Home Depot polyurethane versus GlitsaMax 2 component waterborne urethane isn’t really a contest, the latter will start to outperform after 2-3 years easily. Just look at my floors, which are the test subject of 2year old and 4year old boys dragging toys and dropping everything. They look brand new one and a half years later.

3)How is the floor being filled? Is the floor being trowel filled across the whole area to alleviate gaps or simply spot filled in the large areas? This has a considerable impact on labor in the process.

4)How clean is the contractor? I think most people who want a refinish might care about a clean house. Does the contractor vacuum the house and vents after sanding and before coating the floor? Do they use dust collection? These are questions to ask when you want to know how MUCH service you are paying for.

5) Is the contractor licensed and CURRENTLY bonded? Do they pay their taxes? These may seem like simple questions but I assure you they are essential because if the contractor does not have a current bond, then any damage they are liable for upon entering your home comes from your pocket in most cases if there is no bond. Paying taxes is essential for supporting our parks, schools, etc… so it goes without saying that it is important for a community.

6) Do they contribute to any organizations or have ANY credentials beyond a license?
Our memberships and certifications alone cost us close to $2000 per year alone not counting any time for involvement with committees or helping educate other members. This may seem like a minor element, but I say that it is the fundamental building block for a quality contractor for two reasons. The esteem of being known for quality work goes with being in an organization and secondly the access to the latest information ensures better quality in your business.

I hope that these questions stay current amongst the consumers of Sacramento so that during the trying times we can all maintain or hopefully elevate the state of this industry rather than take the path of least resistance by lowering quality and price simultaneously.

How long will it last?


The title of this blog in my opinion should be the first question out of your mouth if you are a consumer or remodeler who preaches sustainability. The beauty of wood flooring is that it has the ability to last for well over 100 years depending on the wear layer thickness of the material.

Let us define wear layer as the surface of a flooring product that is in contact with foot traffic that can tolerate gradual removal of material without compromising the integrity of the flooring fastening system. Wear layer is a tremendously overlooked factor for people who are purchasing products. A minimum wear layer thickness for product that is serviceable through recoating or refinishing should be 3/16″. The wear layer of a typical 3/4 solid hardwood floor is 5/16″. That means that you may be able to refinish the floors typically 8 times. Some of the houses in Portland have fir flooring with a wear layer thickness that may have once been close to 1/2″ or 8/16″ in my estimate. That’s pretty amazing for longevity.

We recommend that in addition to the cost and the color, the primary consideration of your flooring material should be serviceability over time.

Hardwood finish and adhesion, the overlooked but critical factors

The tremendous range of hardwood floor finishes available these days has become almost exhausting to keep pace with any more. In the previous blogs we have discussed wood floor finish options and pro and cons. This blog has less to do with actual chemistry and understanding mechanisms of adhesion.

There are pretty much two ways by which hardwood floor finishes adhere to a floor, chemical or mechanical bonding. Chemically bonded finishes integrate into previous layers and essentially fuse into one layer of finish. Acid curing “Swedish” finishes will chemically bond to a wood floor and merge into one finish layer. The significant advantage of this type of bond is that it is virtually impossible for the finish to have adhesion problems to a wood floor regardless of the final burnishing steps or the species of the hardwood. Some species of hardwood contain a high content of oil and sometimes silica and this may create potential adhesion problems for a finish.

The second form of bonding of finish to a wood floor is a mechanical bond. A mechanical bond of a finish requires a roughed up surface so that finish can literally fall into the texture of that surface and “grab” the substrate. The layers of finish in a mechanically bonded system are much more sensitive to compatibility as they are applied in succession. For example, if you stain a wood floor with a penetrating stain, and then apply a weakly bonding quick dry oil sealer, followed by coats of waterborne urethane, there is a real chance for the finish layers to be torn off the floor following application of tape or some other sticky substrate. I have witnessed this firsthand and received many phone calls from distressed colleagues.

The final finishing grit of the sanding process can also affect adhesion. I know that there are sanding machines present that rotate with such significant speed that they may close down the grain of the hardwood floor at certain sandpaper grits so that a mechanically bonded finish will have problems sticking to the floor. In this case I recommend re-opening the grain by wetting or “water-popping” the floor.

A final and overlooked factor affecting finish adhesion occurs during abrasion of a finish coat layer in order to accept a new finish coat. The abrasives used to abrade the floor will typically become dull within a suggested square footage for usage. If a contractor continues to abrade the finish layer with a dull abrasive, the surface may again become too slick for the new finish layer to hold on. The result is that the finish will peel off the floor in big sheets.

Although this blog may not be particularly intriguing to all, it may serve as a reminder that there are sometimes questions to ask your contractor that go well beyond the price of the job.

Product expectations and sustainability

I was out for a run this morning and I saw a jobsite/retaining wall that looked like a hurricane had come through. In fact, it appeared that maybe the retaining wall was started and maybe the contractor was asked to leave possibly. It made me really think about how many projects, products, or services are partially or fully completed and then torn out for one of many possible reasons. Was the job oversold and under-delivered? Was the contractor’s experience not up to par with the requirements of the homeowner? I know few fellow contractors who would ante up for this one. Was there a good match of product performance with customer expectations?

Everyday I hear the words green and sustainable tossed around in an attempt to create customer buzz and sell a job. If the project was loaded with green and sustainable products, but had to be torn out and redone, this is in no way a sustainable process. I would urge readers of this blog who are contractors or retailers to consider that quality is a willingness to provide the best product and service ONE time for a price that provides a good living without compromising project fulfillment and product performance. In my eyes this is a vastly overlooked component of being a sustainable home services provider.

To salvage or not to salvage that is the question!

One of the latest rages in hardwood flooring materials is to use salvaged flooring materials. As you know we are all fans of the motto “reduce, reuse, recycle”. The word reuse is in play with salvaged materials and there are some things to consider when you reuse material that was already an existing floor.

Most hardwood floors have approximately 6-10 sandings available depending on the type of material and the aggressiveness of the sanding. Less dense hardwood floors such as old growth fir may be closer to six available sandings whereas a more dense material such as Brazilian cherry may be able to be sanded up to 10 times.

Keep in mind that every wood floor is connected to a subfloor, which is connected to the foundation of a home. While homes settle and shift over the years the hardwood floor follows suit. After a few sandings and a number of years your wood floors may be sanded to a thinner dimension in a hallway than in a bedroom, etc…

The salvaging process that we speak of is the removal and reassembly of an existing wood floor into a new area or home. When you remove and reassemble a floor that has been sanded multiple times, the true variances that are exascerbated by the settling process will be even greater. In reality when you reassemble a salvaged wood floor, there is an extreme amount of what we refer to as “over/under wood”. This greater amount of variance requires a greater amount of sanding in order to achieve a flat wood floor.

So what does all of this mean? If you install a salvaged wood floor in your home the consequences are good for the environment and possibly bad because you will need to pay more for the floor to be sanded because there is more effort to remove the necessary material to achieve a flat floor. A second consequence of the additional sanding efforts is that your floor will be closer to the end of its lifespan. This is especially important because with all of the interest in people requesting salvaged wood floors these days, after sanding I am seeing floors that literally have no more sandings available because there is virtually a paper thin wear layer remaining.

It is most important for me as an ethical wood flooring professional to advise you that salvaged wood floors have a lesser value for the life cycle of your project because of the greater reduction in wear layer. If you choose to use salvaged flooring, then I have two suggestions. The first suggestion is to either remill the flooring material or have flooring milled from dimensional lumber. The other suggestion is that if you choose to reuse salvaged flooring material without doing a remilling that you adhere to a very strict maintenance schedule of recoating the finish on your floor. This will greatly prolong the life of the wear layer of your floor and add more value to your efforts.