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Seven Tips For Stress-Free Flooring Installation

You’ve chosen plank flooring and love the look of a site-finished floor. If you’re building a new home or an addition, staying off the floor while it is being finished may not be an issue.  But if you’re upgrading an existing floor while simultaneously living in the house, you’ll need to prepare for the installation and finishing.   We’ve asked flooring installers to provide a few tips for making it through the process unscathed.  Your reward: a floor with architectural integrity and a finish that will look more beautiful with time, not less.

1. Make Room.

You will need to empty all of the furnishings and wall hangings from the room being worked on and you may also need to clear part of an adjacent room for the duration of the installation. The room being worked on has to be empty for the contractors to do their work, and an adjoining room may be pressed into service as a storage area.

2. Plan Ahead.

It is advisable to store plank flooring in or near the room where it will be installed for one to two weeks prior so the wood can adjust to the indoor climate.  You can’t rush nature. Make sure you stack the planks in layers separated by sticks of wood so they get maximum air circulation. Be patient. Remember that 1-2 weeks of hosting these bundles of wood is worth it because the acclimation process will prevent gaps from forming in the floor.

3. Choose Stains and Finishes.

While you’re patiently waiting for the wood to acclimate, compare surface and penetrating finishes and decide which type is best for you. One of the many advantages of job-site finished flooring is the range of choices you have for stains and finishes.

Some folks prefer a surface finish such as oil-based polyurethane for the amber glow it imparts to the wood, while others prefer water based polys because they remain clear, dry faster, and have less odor.

DIYers may be drawn to penetrating finishes that are forgiving for the novice, such as tung or polymerized tung oil.

The floor’s location in your home and your tolerance for wear should also influence the choice of finish as surface finishes offer greater protection from scratches and stains than penetrating ones.

Will the finish go on the raw wood or will you be staining the wood first? Either way, you should test the product(s) on samples of the wood to make sure you’re happy with the outcome. Your contractor can give you some cut-offs to use as samples. Consider how the floor will look with your existing wall color, trim, furniture, or the other floors in your house.

4. Prepare Yourself.

“It helps to prepare yourself psychologically for the transition,” says carpenter Phil Nowlan of Putnam, Connecticut.  Accept that there will be a temporary inconvenience, like 2-3 guys in your home each morning when you may be trying to get the kids ready for school. Plan accordingly.

5. Take a Break.

Depending on the scope of the job and how much the work may disrupt your routine, you might consider staying someplace else for a few nights during the finishing process. Once the finish is applied, you will need to stay off the floor until is has dried.  Dry time varies depending on the type of finish used. Most floors receive 3 coats.

How long it takes for the smell to diminish also depends on the type of finish chosen, with water-based finishes emitting far less odor than oil-based ones. Keep in mind, says Nowlan, that the smell will also vary depending on the square footage of your floor–a big room will be smellier during the finishing process than a small one.  Phil Delaney of Floorworks in Woodstock, Connecticut, advises that if 50 percent or more of your home is being worked on, you may want to stay someplace else during the finishing stage of the project. At the very least you may need to eat out a few times or stay away for the day during the application of finish coats.

How long will it take? “If it takes two days to put in a prefinished floor, an unfinished floor takes five days: two days of installation, three days of finishing time,” says Delaney. The pricing is very similar though. “Pricing is by the square foot, not the hour.  I charge $3/sf to install prefinished material that costs around $6-$7/sf. For a floor finished on-site, I’ll charge $4.25/sf for the install, and they’re paying $4-$5/sf for the material.  The labor costs more, but the material usually costs less.”

6. Schedule Smart.

It is not always feasible, particularly for families, to stay away from the home during the finishing process. In these cases Delaney advises a low-VOC finish and schedules the work around the family.  “If I am done sanding the floor in the afternoon, I won’t put the finish on until the following morning, that way they don’t have to smell the finish all night. I’ll put it on the following morning after they’ve gone out for the day, and when they come back to the home at 5 o’clock they have their house back.”

7.  Keep Your Perspective.

You may endure a few days of inconvenience, but the pay-off is that you get higher quality floors that will last a lifetime, and an incomparable finish.  Keep in mind that modern sanders with dust containment systems have significantly reduced the amount of dust generated during the sanding process. “I always tell people that this is not your grandfather’s 1970s desert sandstorm floor sanding experience.  It is a very manageable amount of mess when you have the right equipment,” says installer Phil Delaney. “To me, the short-term inconvenience is definitely worth it for the look of the job-site finished floor. When you’re dealing with large plank flooring, it’s material that speaks for itself, full of character and quality.  People interested in authenticity should be looking at plank flooring.”

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