Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Process Of Refinishing Hardwood Floors: Before and After

When we purchased our home in the fall of 1993 we had hardwood floors installed in the foyer, dining room and library. The stain was called Gunstock and it resembled cherry. In 2001 we removed tile and linoleum in the kitchen and laundry room and had the same flooring installed. We moved away for 4 years and when we returned in 2005 had the family room and living room completed. As soon as the floors were laid...I hated them. Except for the micro bevel, which felt so much better under foot. This version of Gunstock pre-finished wood flooring didn't seem all that similar. They were lighter and in the afternoon sun,  looked orange. The floor vents that were stained the same color practically glowed in some rooms! I was told they would darken over time like my other floors, but 6 years later that hasn't happened.  We finally got sick of waiting for ugly to fix itself! Even if we had been tolerate the color, the kitchen and laundry/mud room needed to be refinished. 

Now the two different profiles aren't nearly as visible and the transition board bothers me far less. It was impossible
 to blend these two spaces without laying new floors in one whole room. Given the savings, we can live with it!
It was dark and raining when I took this picture it and doesn't quite reflect the actual color.
So after nearly 6 years of looking at orange floors, damaged wood in the kitchen (where renters had let the dishwasher leak for days before calling the property manager) fading from the sun and 2 different profiles (standard bevel and micro bevel) I was so excited to finally get this project done!
 When the light comes in through the french doors, the floors look so awful.
The broken vent is such an awesome designer touch, don't you think?
 Without a doubt the most hideous and shameful part of our house! 

Before close up of damage hidden under the mat.

After close up!

 This was a truly remarkable transformation in this area. About 8 boards were replaced. In addition, the threshold for the french doors (installed last spring) was finally stained and the black plastic protector removed at last.
 The doors are by Pella with UV protection and have an Energy Star rating. 
The preparations:  Move everything! Furniture, artwork, accessories and rugs. As well as the washer, dryer and mud sink. I left the books in the bookcases and the horse prints hanging in the dining room. The crew covered them in plastic. We did all the moving ourselves (getting help only with the dining room buffet which is mahogany and a large capacity front loading washing machine) and though it was a lot of work, we saved approximately $800! Stuff went into the garage, upstairs in my office, the master bedroom and the rest went in the basement. For those of you who have a ton of accessorises...now is the time to seriously edit yourself. Otherwise, schedule a therapy session and have plenty of your favorite elixir handy! Plan on at least two days for this part.

Day One:  Floors are sanded on the entire main level of the house.  Removal of carpet and pad in upstairs hallway and wood cut and installed for a new floor there. Carpet and pad removed from existing stairs and new wood steps and risers installed. Each one had to be cut because I have an enclosed staircase and surprise....the walls weren't straight. The crew vacuumed the floors. At this point, I have brief moment where I want to keep the floors just like this and wish I had a beach house or cottage to try it out!!!

The range of colors in red oak is so apparent when in their natural state. The stain I chose is dark, but still shows all the colors from red to ebony and as well as the many beautiful brown tones. It also highlighted all the grain variations that were barely visible before. Some of the boards remind me of a tiger's stripes and I just love that detail!
Day 2:  Sand everything again. Getting down to the bare wood in the kitchen was difficult. My guess is the result of a combination of the water damage and the build-up from various cleaning products used over the years. Vacuum again. Replace damaged floor boards in kitchen. This should have been completed on day one, but they brought the wrong profile to blend properly.

A small sander is used for the perimeter. Goodbye orange!
 Day 3: Apply the stain in the morning. I thought I was going to have to go with a custom blend (which costs more as do darker stain colors), but the red oak has so many natural color variations, it wasn't necessary. The stain is called Spice Brown. Think coffee, chocolate and just a hint of cinnamon! Let dry for hours and come back later to apply the sealant.

After the stain, sealant and first top coat of satin finish. When it's wet it looks like high gloss.

Day 4: Apply the thresholds upstairs and shoe molding downstairs. Vacuum, buff and apply first coat of satin finish. Discover later that night, the crew took a little shortcut in the laundry/mud room and "forgot" to mention it to me or the owner of the company!
The difference in floor color is really apparent here. Guess they thought since it was under the bench we wouldn't
notice???  I love a striped wood floor, but two-toned? Uh....no thanks!

All Fixed!? Hardly, now it looks like water damage!!! The solution: start over and sand the whole room.
This is one of those times when contractors are so perplexing. Why would they do great work everywhere else, then take a shortcut at the end and cause delays and more work for everyone.  Not to mention get everyone really irritated.
After, That's more like it!
Day 5: Remove one threshold and 3 sections of shoe molding I don't like. Stain and re-install. Sand and apply second coat of finish in the morning. Apply third coat later in the day. Discuss laundry/mud room issues and after hearing excuses, such as they don't have a machine that fits under the bench, I suggest they do it by hand or find a tool that will fit. They look at me like I'm nuts, but say they will fix it. Find out later, they made it worse as shown above.

My husband and daughter(who was on spring break) return home from a little vacation. Right away he notices the problem in the mud room. I place a call to the owner and explain that it has not been remotely fixed. We schedule a meeting with the owner to come and look at the room Saturday morning. Naturally he doesn't like to hear there are problems. Problems equal delays. Delay of work equals delay of payment.

I am so happy that my husband and daughter are home, but the dog's vacation has to be extended due to the screw up. I have been living in the basement and note that my efforts to make it a really comfortable and functional space have paid off.  But, after being in "lockdown" for days I decide a small refridgerator and microwave would be good additions. I am seriously sick of Chipotle's Carnitas Salad. It seems there really can be too much of a good thing.
Here we go!  The week before, the new wood is delivered for the upstairs hallway.

Day 6: We meet with the owner of the flooring company in the morning. He agrees the work under the mud room bench is unacceptable and says they will need to re-do the entire room. UGH!  I am not surprised and feel good about a referral arrangement for the future. Remember in my previous post I said when final payments are pending and there is a problem, resources and a resolution will happen sooner rather than later? In this case they had to purchase two new types of sanders, including one used for radiators. The crew worked all day Saturday! 

New floor in the upstairs hallway. Smooth as silk, but I am going to add a gorgeous runner
that my husband brought home from his travels.
Day 7:  Apply second coat to laundry room. Come back later sand, vaccum, buff and apply final coat.

Day 8: The crew returned today to put the washer and dryer back in the room. Officially done!!!!!!!!!! The floors are 100% better and I am so happy with the outcome. Time to make that final payment and get busy tackling all that laundry...sigh.


I wish my camera could truly capture the depth and richness the floors now have after this process. 
 What I Learned: I was reminded that you can still work with a seemingly good contractor and experience  bumps along the way. For those of you like me that have endured renovations before, know that only in rare situations do things go off without a hitch. This flooring company has been in business for more than 20 years and also does retail spaces. Even so, they learned there are still situations yet to be tested and short-cuts are never the solution! We all learned something on this job and I consider that a bonus.

Regarding the dust.... I knew there would be a mess, but it was still worse than I anticipated. Even with the dust containment system, which looked like a hot water tank on wheels, it took hours to wipe down the walls, doors and moldings. I also knew there would be paint touch ups, but far more stain got on the door jambs and staircase wall than I had imagined. Significant painting was not something I had figured into my budget.

What I Would Do Differently: I would have made the installation of the new steps (a post for another time) and hallway a separate project to be completed at another time. It would have made things far easier logistically and I wouldn't have been as confined to the basement. For those of you without a finished basement, you are probably going to want/need to find acccomodations for at least part of this process.

I had plenty of reading material, and certainly watched way too much television. Chatting on the phone with friends also helped pass the time.  However, I stupidly told my husband he could take the laptop. Imagine being unplugged for days and you're not on vacation or busy...super annoying. On the morning of day two I was greeted with a dead car battery and was freaking out that I couldn't escape to Starbucks!  I quickly regretted that I didn't think to put my coffee maker downstairs. I had to wait till the middle of the day to retrieve it!  Between no java and the smell of the varnish, I had one big ass headache. Even with low voc products, there is a smell. And on the days it rained...worse! Fortunately, I always have Advil and Imitrex in my purse.  Bottled water, Laughing Cow cheese and crackers were the other mainstays of my meals.  Sad, I know, but a small price to pay for gorgeous floors!


  1. Wow, it looks great! I had to laugh at the broken vent as I have a couple of those as well, ah someday I'll get to them!

  2. Rebecca, the floors look just amazing. I am so glad you walked throught the process though. I really had no idea of all the issues involved!! Worth it though!!

    Art by Karena

  3. That is truly an amazing transformation. I can not believe that even the profiles look the same. You did a great job on your beautiful floors!! Kathysue

  4. Wow R, that was so worth all the hassle, your floors look SO good! That was crazy about what they did in the mudroom, so glad they fixed it! I know you must be wandering around your house just looking down at your gorgeous newly refinished floors!

    Kat :)

  5. Rebecca,
    I LOVE your floors...I want so much to do the same here. A HUGE job as you can atest, but definitely well worth it. I just need to convince the hubby, he doesn't mind that orangy color, I can't stand it.
    Well done Girlie!

  6. A terrific overview of a major improvement project. The floors are, indeed, much improved, and quite lovely, actually. Great post!

  7. What an ordeal...but wow, so worth it! I know you wished you had made more than one project out of this, but honestly, it must feel great to know its all done now and looking so beautiful too!

  8. A huge job , but so worth the effort. The floors are absolutely beautiful. Mona

  9. They came up a treat! Such a long process. I have done this once years ago. A couple of hours after it was done the cat escaped and ran down our newly polished hallway. Took hours to get the stuff of the cat and of course another day with the contractor

  10. Thanks for walking us
    through this, Rebecca.
    We need to have our
    Brazilian cherry floors
    finished and I've put
    it off far too long because
    I dread the mess. Also, ours
    are fairly shiny and I'd
    like to figure out a way
    to make them less so....
    need to get that detail worked
    out. Love how yours turned
    xx Suzanne

  11. The floors look amazing. So funny about under the bench!

    I'm sure it was hard being unplugged for a few days, but WOW......the results look worth the wait!!

    xo Elizabeth

  12. Wow Rebecca it all looks so wonderful! And I know what you had to go through since we had our whole downstairs refinished....UGH! Your floors look wonderful and I bet you're happy not to be sleeping in the basement any more huh?

  13. You are a brave girl for staying there! I still find 'dust' here and there in there in the most odd places and I don''t think I could have taken the smell...thank heavens they came out beautifully and the agony of it all was worth it. What a relief, such a huge *check* off the list!
    We have to completely replace our wood floors due to the flooding incident and 'they' keep trying to talk us into patching it...we know the colors won't match so we're sticking to our guns. We've heard the same thing, that they'll blend over time...HA!!! We know better don't we!
    You are an amazing writer by the way and put these post together so well, thank you!
    xo J~

  14. Thanks for this post! It's so helpful to hear the steps involved. The transformation is gorgeous! You must smile every time you walk in your home! :)

  15. Wow, you did a great job! After seeing this, I find it hard to believe that I was scared to perform a little finishing repair in our kitchen! I just love the way that the wood looks so much darker and deeper, rather than that orange color!

  16. Your floors look amazing, Rebecca. I really like how deep and rich the colors turned out. I was wondering what time of year you did the job and also which season is best to do hardwood floor refinishing in mississauga. I am needing to get that done soon

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