Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood Flooring

Can Bamboo Flooring be Refinished?

About 10 years ago the bamboo flooring market was on fire. This proliferation of interest in bamboo as a flooring material meant that there was also a surge in manufacturers selling the product and it has ended up in a lot of homes. If you own a home with bamboo and it’s time for a renewed look, then this post is a good practical guide for you.

Bamboo is a product manufactured buy assembling pieces of bamboo together with adhesive. Different methods of bamboo construction are:

  1. Carbonized- a process of steaming under controlled pressure and heat. The carbonizing process can reduce the floor’s final hardness significantly compared to non-carbonized bamboo, rendering it softer than some pines and softer than more common red oak.
  2. Natural (vertical or horizontal grain)- Strips of the flooring are cut and re-assembled with adhesive.
  3. Strand Woven- A process that essentially rips apart the wood fibers and re-assembles them with heat and adhesives and tremendous pressure. Strand woven products are exceptionally hard, but also are extremely difficult to install. 

 

Because the process of manufacturing bamboo evolved at a rate that far exceeded the intelligence of most retail salespeople, many varieties of the product were sold with bigger promises than could be provided by the material. So, if you were one of the people who was promised a 25 year warranty, but you’ve experienced a lack of durability you may be frustrated. Don’t worry because you can refinish the floor in most cases unless your floor is strand-woven or a very thin veneer engineered product. Attempts to refinish strand woven bamboo by my colleagues at the NWFA headquarters have proven unsuccessful because the fibers of the bamboo constantly pull up and away from the glue substrate in the board resulting in a never ending “fuzz”. Thin veneer engineered products of bamboo simply lack the available surface depth to be sanded.

SO………………..If you have natural or carbonized bamboo, keep reading for what refinishing factors influence your floor:

 

  • Changing the color– Bamboo does not absorb traditional floor stains very well at all. The color tends to look blotchy and dirty compared to something like an oak floor. If you want to go darker with your bamboo floor, then I advise a system like aniline dye and a tinted sealer coat. This will yield the most even look. This method of changing the color is very difficult to do, so I encourage you to prepare for a much higher estimate if you want to change the color of your bamboo floor.
  • Beveled edges– Depending on your flooring the edges were likely beveled. You might consider the degree of bevel and if you want it removed or not. Removing a heavily beveled edge will also remove quite a bit of life from the floor.
  • Adhesion– There are a variety of finishes on the market such as oil modified polyurethane, conversion varnish, waterborne, and hard wax oil. All of my conversations with colleagues in the industry indicate that hard wax oil such as Rubio monocoat and Pallman Magic oil will not absorb into the bamboo. In my experience waterborne finishes and conversion varnish finishes work great when applied to bamboo.
  • Sheen– Make sure to determine what sheen you prefer your bamboo floor when getting it sanded.

Recently we refinished the bamboo floors at the Capitol Grill in downtown Sacramento. The floors were finished with a waterborne finish system to ensure that the smell upon re-opening would be minimal. Here are a few before and after pictures:

 

 

This project was originally a factory finished aluminum oxide floor. It was a tough finish to remove. The floor was able to be completed within a two day window in order to achieve proper curing before customers returned.

If you have any questions, then feel free to email us or call us.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Hardwood Refinishing Cost

And the $64,000 Question IS…..

I have been operating a hardwood floor company since 2001 and even before then, the phrase “What’s your per square foot price” has been a popular consumer phrase for getting ballpark costs. I am not here to suggest a new pricing model for the industry, but rather to investigate the pricing of a refinish that is worthy of value for a consumer.

Exactly what goes into creating a really good sand job?

Pricing in general is made up of two primary variables: Materials and Labor Cost. I GREATLY encourage consumers to investigate floor finishes as they are one of the primary expenses on the material side of a project. I have written about that in great length and even created a video explanation. The labor side holds a few greater considerations that impact price that isn’t often put front and center:

 

Knowledge

Contracting is serious business and hopefully everything goes well, but products and techniques change and become outdated quickly. In fact, some floor finish manufacturers regularly review and revise application instructions for their products in order to improve job site performance. Sometimes manufacturers work with professionals at various trade organizations on joint studies and then release the findings. Although it may seem atypical, the wood flooring products industry is constantly changing and improving techniques. Being in top of trends for wood floors is no different than a CPA learning new annual tax laws; it requires time and often travel costs to attend industry conferences and educational trainings. While this is perhaps more optional for the wood floor contractor than the CPA, keeping your brain stocked full of information and a deep network of contacts is essentially like buying an insurance policy against job site problems. Considering that problems with floors tend to displace homeowners for days or weeks at a time, you might do well to hope for someone whose costs are reflective of being regularly educated rather than a bottom number.

Liability

While contractors are hopefully engaging in education to be problem free and quality consistent, we know that people are not always 100% perfect and must plan for problems that could arise. For example, if I was to refinish your floors and do everything properly, but suddenly there was an issue with a loose board that created a problem with the finish peeling, I feel I should help resolve the issue. Perhaps some people would argue that it isn’t my fault, but honoring the longevity of workmanship and quality carries with it the need to respond and address unknown issues accordingly even at my own cost sometimes. Planning for this liability and having a slightly higher cost allows good contractors to maintain operating reserves to fix problems promptly rather than being stripped of the resources to react. If you walk on your new floors with golf shoes though, it’s not my fault 😉

Insurance, Memberships, Licensing Fees

Operating a fully legitimate contracting business costs hundreds, to thousands of dollars in overhead monthly when you average insurance, bond, and licensing fees. Throw in worker’s compensation fees, payroll taxes, and costs to join organizations and you see that those essential fees add to costs in our business. However, all of these costs really do add up but they protect consumers in the event of a problem. Because of my involvement and relationships with contractors nationwide I hear stories all of the time about problem jobs. States without licensing requirements have lower average costs to refinish wood floors, but also the homeowners have very little chance to seek retribution outside of a court room. Licensing is a good thing because it provides opportunities at lower costs for things like arbitration and recommendation of remedial action by appointed professionals in the trades.

There are additional costs to labor that are specific to sanding sequence. While all of that gets a little involved to be really interesting it adds to time required for a job. And as the old saying goes, “Time is money”. What I will do though in this final segment is give a pretty accurate profile on nationwide average floor refinishing prices and give you my thoughts on what you’re getting for the price:

Hardwood refinishing cost list

  • $1.00-1.25/sq foot- These are definitely your trunk slamming guys that you’ll probably never see again once you hand them a check, assuming they don’t only work on cash. They’ll probably show up in a 70’s van with blacked out windows and an oil leak. You’ll probably get a quick one cut sanding with a rough grit followed by fast screening with a buffer to smooth out the floor a little. Because time is of the essence, they’ll thrown on a quick hot coat of 45 min dry sealer and final coat quickly with $10/gallon polyurethane. The upside is that things will look a little better. The downside is that you’ll probably wear through the finish in six months especially if you have children or dogs. Don’t complain about debris or they’ll probably charge extra for that.
  • $1.50-2.00/sq foot– This is about the starting point for any contractor with even the most basic skill set who just bought a belt machine at your local pawn shop. It’s a crapshoot if they have any insurance and licensing. Odds are pretty good at this pricing that you’ll be getting a two coat system of standard polyurethane that’ll hold up for a couple of years. It’s really not a bad value if you only want to list your house in a modest priced neighborhood.
  • $2.25-3.00/sq foot– Once you hit this pricing your contractor is likely to be a pretty reasonable and all around qualified guy. For this cost the odds are he’s up to speed on local licensing and insurance if required and has a pretty good reputation throughout your town. On the upper end of this he may start using some dust collection systems. Within this price range the finish systems will be moderately durable and if you move into a waterborne finish system it’s likely to be a single component finish. Not quite as durable as two component finishes, but still going to look good and last 3-5 years. This is a good pricing to rely upon if you’re listing a house or just moving into a home for a few years. The sanding quality will be pretty good and the value is pretty dang good too.
  • $3.25-4.50 sq foot– These are probably the best floor guys in your area for this pricing. Some of this could be heavy to cover overhead, but also just as likely to be the cost of keeping your wood floor guru up to date on every new technical training. Definitely you’re going to get a clean house when they are done and most definitely a high traffic two component waterborne, premium oil poly, or conversion varnish. They’ll be insured, bonded, and in almost all cases have a perfectly clean track record with local licensing agencies. If you hire someone in this price range, the person is most definitely going treat your house properly (no holes in the walls or stain on the cabinets) and done right on time the first time. A floor of this price range should generally last well into the ten year mark without much other than regular good cleaning and maintenance on your behalf.
  • $5.00-+ sq ft– Not too often do you see pricing this range in most places in the country for a refinish unless you start getting into custom color treatments, stains, and specialty finishes. When the price hits this number it’s because the application methods and sanding techniques are at a level of mastery that only a handful of people in the region could accomplish properly. I have seen guys command this number with average sanding skills, but believe me they are pure salesman to the bone.

Before you email me about the following list, please understand that these numbers and averages are pretty well based on conversations with colleagues from all reaches of the country. There may be exceptions to the rule, but this guide will help you at least prepare for what to expect no matter where you live in the USA. It’s written with somewhat of a jocular touch for the cheaper pricing, but in the end will prove pretty reliable. Any questions? Shoot me an email. Thanks for reading.

White lines in Wood Floors

 

White lines syndrome on hardwood floors is the result of finish stretch and adhesion loss. The last five or ten years have seen the loss of certain solvents within finishes that gave the coatings better adhesion and elasticity. In this video I discuss the two types of scenarios that create white lines syndrome.
Adhesion loss across the seams of the boards in a floor will create the look of white lines. The problem exhibits itself particularly when a floor experiences minor cupping from excess seasonal moisture. Because finishes like oil modified polyurethane lay as a film across the floor, upward pressure from cupping pushes the finish off the floor at the raised edges. An additional culprit for adhesion loss is excess solvent trapped within finish coats applied quickly, in which the coating becomes more brittle.
Finish stretch is the other form of white lines syndrome that can happen. The finish that is most prone to stretching is isocyanate catalyzed waterborne finish. This type of urethane is very tough and unlike other film finish will stretch rather than break when seasonal gapping happens.
What you really need to know is where white lines can become an issue. The major issues of white lines syndrome in floors occur in wide plank floors, exotic flooring, and dark stained floors. If you are planning a project along these lines then you should be advised that this could become a problem. The only alternatives to avoid white lines are hardwax oils and conversion varnish such as Glitsa Gold Seal.

What is “Dustless” floor refinishing?


What exactly is all the hype?

I appreciate when people call me for a project. Sometimes in this business I need to hop onto the bandwagon and use industry invented marketing terminology so customers can evaluate services on a level playing field. Let’s talk about the origins of the word “dustless” and really dig deep.

To start, let’s quit using the hype word “dustless”, which is simply marketing speak for DUST COLLECTION.

Hardwood floor sanding used to be associated with huge clouds of dust that left your home a mess for months after everything was sanded. Despite the negative aesthetics of dust, the real problem is that wood dust is a carcinogen to contractors. So, about 15 years ago, manufacturers started experimenting with adding a vacuum to all of the sanders on the job site.  The results were pretty good, but ultimately the systems have some limitations that the industry does not like to discuss. To circumvent this reality and gain valuable PR points to sell machines, one manufacturer in the industry partnered with GreenGuard in order to market machines and market to homeowners. This forward surge in “keeping up with the jones” led to a proliferation of the phrase dustless as a marketing term. I want to investigate the machines involved and where dustless systems actually work and do not work.

What happens when you sand a wood floor?

In order to sand a hardwood floor to bare wood you need to use three or four machines:

  • Belt Sander (We use the Lagler Hummel)
  • Buffer or Lagler Trio
  • Edger
  • Orbital sander (optional)

Belt Sander Basics

 

The workhorse of the floor sanding process is the belt sander which grinds the floor flat. Belt machines have an internal impeller fan that collects dust. This fan is spun by a belt connected to the motor which turns the sandpaper. In the case of the Lagler Hummel the Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) that the machine produces is approximately 260CFM. That is a pretty huge volume of air. In order to evacuate the excess air, the machine uses a bag or connected vacuum to collect dust. Some belt machines actually produce more CFM than some vacuums can match. The problem is exacerbated once you split the vacuum and operate more than one machine at a time.

Essentially, adding “dustless” vacuums with hoses to a belt machine is for show and can lessen the inherit capabilities of the machine. 

Buffer or Lagler Trio

 

Buffers are essentially a round spinning disc brought from the janitorial industry to the wood flooring industry. To collect the dust, most buffers have a simple fabric skirt surrounding them with one or two ports to attach a vacuum. The trouble is that the skirt is not always in perfect contact with the floor and if the vacuum is inadequate (because more than one machine is in use) buffers can create dust. The Trio is different from a buffer because it contains a built in vacuum, HEPA filter, and skirting that extracts dust at a rate that exceeds the rate of dust production.

Edger 

 

The edger is another machine that has an impeller motor that captures dust in a vacuum or a bag. Using a vacuum connected to the edger or a bag is less important than ensuring that the edger has good dust pickup. Edgers that use gear driven impellers tend to run at a speed that provides sometimes inadequate dust collection. Belt driven edgers collect dust much more effectively.

Orbital sander

 

 

The orbital sander is occasionally used to do detail sanding and finer sanding for a floor prior to stain and finish application. Without a doubt all orbital sanders sold at Home Depot or Lowes DO NOT have effective dust collection. Good detail sanders are made my: Festool, Mirka, and Metabo.

 

Why does dust collection matter?

  • Sanding Quality– If dust is present on a floor during sanding and not collected by a sander, then the dust particles from each successive sanding simply get ground around into the wood grain. This essentially counteracts the value of doing fine finishing sanding steps and can lead to unsightly scratches within the finish and stain. If you are having your wood floors stained darker, then you can get significant scratches and swirls. It is possible that the swirls can telegraph through the finish coats and create refractive “spider webbing” that appears under can lights. For this primary reason other than aesthetics, dust collection greatly elevates the quality of a floor finishing project.
  • Plastic Cannot Be Put Everywhere– If you live in a newer home with vaulted or open ceilings, then it would be extremely difficult to use plastic to mask off those areas prior to sanding. Open ceilings and vaulted ceilings in areas like Roseville, Rocklin, Folsom, and Granite Bay where the subdivisions and neighborhood are newer are impossible to mask with plastic. In this case, the only defense is to have a good offense and prevent dust from escaping.

Previously I have given a detailed example of how misleading advertising phrases like “99% dust-free” are for consumers. If you talk to me, I am going to give you one common reply no matter what:

Your House Will Be Clean When We Are Done

If you want to know specifics, then here is our approach:

We sand with a Lagler Hummel, Lagler Trio,  Lagler Flip, and Festool Rotex. The Lagler sanders have been tested independently at a German university in order to verify the effectiveness of dust collection. The data and certificates for the Lagler machines is available by reading this PDF. Here is a photo relating sanding to the common process of smoking just to reference levels of particulates.

 

We do NOT LIKE the term dustless, so if you were confused I hoped that we helped you understand “dust collection” that can be used in refurbishing your floors.

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.

Wood Floor Refinishing Essentials

This hardwood floor refinishing video explains some of the various types of wood floor finish available. In this video we talk about surface finishes, which rest above the wood flooring and provide protection. Understanding your finish choices is extremely important depending on your requirements.

The three traditional surface finishes you will hear about during contractor estimates are: oil-modified polyurethane, conversion varnish, and waterborne finish. If you are sensitive to chemicals, then you should consider catalyzed floor finish that ensures more rapid curing and consistent dry times. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) are not an accurate measure for the smell of a finish in many cases.

We discuss the pros and cons of each finish from the perspective of a homeowner and the practical impacts on your living situation. Adhesion, durability, optical clarity, and aging characteristics will be important in the long run for the value of your project.

It is important that you evaluate all floor finish from a level perspective based on your needs. There are some finish manufacturers out there that market to the homeowner in a very biased way. Evaluate things based on cost, durability, smell and listen to multiple sources. My experience has shown that contractors who do not understand how to apply certain finishes will badmouth those products.

I hope this is helpful and contact us if you have any questions.

 

Dustless refinishing myths explained

Whether people like it or not I’m a pretty straight shooter when it comes to evaluating products and procedures in the industry. It’s my job to provide the best to my customers. Better products are synonymous with better service. Marketing gimmicks are pretty useless in my eyes.

Last week we refinished a floor for a customer who had been the victim of a well-marketed franchise. Specifically they swore up and down that the job would be done on time and would be dustless. The opposite was true when they returned from their vacation in Mexico. There was apparently enough dust from the sanding that they dust traveled through a closed door and covered everything in one of their closets. We own a “dustless” vacuum and we found that our Lagler sanders actually do a better job at collection than adding a vacuum can do. Our dustless system has now been relinquished to the duty of dust vacuum in the shop when we use planers and saws. A big part of why “dustless” vacuums do very little is that good floor sanding machines capture dust and send it back to collection at a rate that exceeds the vacuum capacity of every “dustless” vacuum we’ve used. We have used “dustless” machines by Bona (including the trailer mounted vacuum), Clark, and Oneida and found that the extra setup time and equipment yielded minimal benefit in comparison to our fleet of sanding machines Lagler.

I took this photo really quickly while in traffic. The advertising promises 99% dust free. How exactly do you measure that? This phrase allows 1% of the dust to escape into your house. If you have two trash bags of dust from an average sanding job that weigh approximately 100lbs total, then that is one pound of dust that is allowable. Dust is not dense. 1 lb of dust would occupy roughly one large gallon Ziploc bag. What if I threw that in front of a box fan and told you it was acceptable? Remember, the refinish is still 99% dustless according to the marketing. Yes, this is where the homeowners who seek out information keep reading. The rest will click away and say that I’m a cynic.

It’s not my duty to make gimmicks and sales pitches as an NWFA certified professional. I have a duty to honor what I say. So here’s my take on the hardwood floor refinishing that we do: When we leave your house will be clean. Whatever methods we use to end up at a clean house is our decision but the end result should be a clean house. Hire your contractor based on the quality of their craftsmanship, knowledge, and enthusiasm. Gimmicks lack value and you may end up wasting time hiring companies with a slick salesman who has never sanded or installed a floor and simply passes work orders to the first guy who is available who owns a sander.

Jobsite conditions and rare finish issues

I’ve recently been scratching my head over issues that are so rare that it took some digging through contacts to resolve. Here is the full explanation of diagram of a phenomenon know as Benard cells:

 

Bénard cells: differences in surface tension

To achieve good flow, the surface tension must remain uniform over the complete surface of the coating layer whileit is drying. During the drying of a solventborne coating film, the solvent on the surface evaporates causing differences in temperature, surface tension, solvent concentration and density within the film. To balance the thermodynamic disequilibrium currents occur in the coating film. These currents produce eddies in the drying layer, a phenomenon known as the formation of Bénard cells. The surface tension ishigher at the edges of the cells than at their centers and coating material flowsfrom regions of lower surface tension to regions of higher surface tension. The resulting unevenness in the surface dries into the coating film. This produces an irregular surface as the coating shows marked texture.

 

 

I wanted to simply post about this phenomenon as a way to let people know that floor finishing can be a very tricky business and so many variables apply to coating a floor that it is often unfair to blame contractors for an issue this rare. It took a number of phone calls to various experts in the field to uncover this phenomenon and an appropriate fix. This is a case where even my experience was not enough. My network was the real strength in resolving the matter.

Problems will happen with any hardwood floor during installations and wood floor refinishing. The goal is to minimize the number of problems and if they do occur, then to quickly arrive at an answer to expedite the fix and get homeowners back in the home with minimal impact on their life. If we had approached the issue with recoating the floor, then the problem would likely have been the same with each attempt. We were able to fix the problem with a minor buffing with a polishing pad in a couple of hours.

Be very selective when hiring a hardwood floor refinisher… Here’s why:

This week in my business has been very busy looking at mistakes from a couple of hasty wood flooring companies. I’m not a certified wood floor inspector, but I try to look objectively at problems and be empathetic to the homeowner. It is not ethical for me to bash companies in an attempt to gain work for the company. Read on because I want to explain a few things:

When you hire someone to refinish your hardwood floors, particularly on a large project with a dark stain color there are a number of things you should know:

  • If you provide a company with a 50% deposit to begin a project, then the cost to  hire another company to fix and refinish an improperly stained or refinished floor WILL exceed the remaining balance you owe to the company at fault.

 

    • If your state has a contractors board, then it will take generally four to six months by the time the problem is resolved and you are awarded any monies to remedy the faulty work. Usually this is paid from the bond of the company at fault. If you hire an unlicensed contractor, then you are pretty much out of luck.

 

  • Most states have a “right to fix” clause that allows the contractor at fault to fix the problem. Usually this is 10 days. If you hire someone else to fix the work without following this procedure then you will pretty much lose your case against the contractor at fault.

I’ve witnessed a number of pretty defective floors lately. One floor project was a $9000 refinish that was pretty poorly done. It would not be possible for a quality contractor to fix the work for the remaining $4500. Who wants to lose $4500? Not me and I hope you don’t either.

My advice to you is to get references and thoroughly research your contractor’s background in doing similar projects to yours. I used dark stain refinishing in this example because it can be very high risk for failure, but this post applies to any project out there.

If you have any experiences, please share your thoughts.

    What are you getting for your money?

    Would you buy a car without knowing:

     

    • The color?
    • If it had a radio?
    • Whether it had leather or cloth interior?
    • If it had a reliable engine?

     

    Would you hire a contractor to refinish your hardwood floors without knowing:

     

    • The name and specifications of the finish being used
    • If they are licensed and bonded
    • If they have a reputation of reliability

    Every week I talk with consumers who don’t know anything about the finish being used on their floors other than if it is waterbased or oil based finish.

    In addition, I talk with various hardwood contractors in the field who never discuss the finish being used with their customers. The contractor just gives the customer a price and depending on the cost of the job and material costs, purchases finish that allows them to stay profitable. The customer generally gets the finish that is the cheapest.

    In the last year:

     

    • Insurance rates have increased
    • Material costs have increased
    • Fuel costs have increased

     

    How is it possible that you can get the best floor for the cheapest price?