Hardwood Flooring
Hardwood Flooring

Why floor finish VOC is a poor evaluation tool

I want to explain a critical item regarding site finished hardwood flooring… Despite all of the brilliant marketing campaigns by finish manufacturers, some finishes ARE GOING TO FAIL when you partner them with a poorly acclimated wood floor of the wrong species. A while ago there was an article written by the NWFA about white lines syndrome in which multiple contributors weighed in on the issue prior to the release of the article. In the end, what came of the article in my opinion is that the industry sort of acknowledged the issue, but didn’t really talk about the repercussions of how floor finishes need to be left alone by the ever tightening standards of the EPA on VOC. Just read the comments from real people in the industry and contractors who have been flustered over this issue and you will feel the real impact.

Architectural coatings account for less than 5% of the total VOC emissions worldwide according to this PDF.

Why are we attacking this side of things? So that other pollutants (from the gasoline consuming and hydrocarbon emitting hybrids people drive) can flow freely as a part of the bureaucratic emissions trading process. That’s right, if you are worried about the environment then cut your driving by 20% and you’ll be doing something good for the environment. Either way, just consider that wildfires (which we cannot predict) release lots of VOC.



Let’s not greenwash here folks, removing the solvents from floor finish has decreased coating elasticity and adhesion potential. This is why white lines claims are on the rise and will continue, because few contractors are willing to change into a finish system that is well married to the wood floor installation scenario. In the last blog post I discussed how not all wood species are equally stable. Rift and quartered white oak flooring is considerably more stable than exotic species such as cumaru. SO why would you apply a coating with poor elasticity to a wood species that is prone to significant seasonal movement? I’m calling out contractors here and also homeowners who are blindly sold on particular finish systems with investigating all finishing options.

Floor finishes fall within two arenas:

Penetrating finishes– These are traditionally known as being high VOC finishes. Recently there have been many new low VOC hardening oils gaining popularity such as Rubio Monocoat, Pallman Magic Oil, OSMO Poly-X etc… Penetrating finishes bind down into the grain of the wood and protect the wood in this way. Penetrating finishes are a great match for wood species that are prone to seasonal movement because they are considerably less likely to experience white lines syndrome (almost no cases at all).

Film finishes-Wood floor finishes that are applied to a floor and form one continuous protective “sheet” such as traditional oil modified polyurethane and waterbased wood floor finishes are in this category. These finishes CAN do a great job protecting your floor and will serve you well. However, when they are applied improperly or subjected to significant seasonal movement, then they will exhibit white lines syndrome. Another factor impacting film finishes is solvent trapping from too many successive finish coats with inadequate ventilation can make coatings brittle and greatly reduce adhesion.

This is simply my pragmatic experience in play coupled with research online. I want to warn consumers to become much better at questioning the type of finish being applied to your floor if your floor is a trick new wood species that is to be finished on site.

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