How To Paint Your Floors and Not Screw it Up

Years ago when I decided to paint the floors in my small summer house, most people were shocked (including my parents). Bare wood floors were so chic and such a staple of 90’s style, that painting them over and covering them up seemed sacrilegious. I didn’t think so anymore. See how they turned out…

This is the first color I painted the floors in 2004: sort of a bricky, Chinese red, which was inspired by the red floors at my friend’s Shaker house.

The floors were cheap, solid oak floors, in great need of refinishing. It was either hire someone to sand and polyurethane (which would have been messy and cost at least $2,000) or paint them myself with polyurethane based oil paint (cost: $200 for the paint + 3 weekends of my time).

INSPIRATION

The inspiration came from visiting my friend Charles’ house in Massachusetts that had been part of a Shaker community. All the floors had been painted and repainted for years in the richest colors. The house was warm and bright without the aid of carpets or rugs, and the idea seemed perfect for any summer house, where all you want to do is walk barefoot for days at a time.

It seemed easy to maintain, and removed all hint of preciousness to the floors. They just seemed practical and lovely, reminding me, as well, of the bright colors in Monet’s house at Giverny where he painted both the inside and outside with the bright colors of his surroundings.

HOW I DID IT, SCREWED IT UP AND THEN CORRECTED MYSELF

Moving the furniture was easy, the problem was working with the paint. I made a big mistake in laying the second coat on too thick and painting on a rainy day. The humidity and the thickness caused the paint to wrinkle, clot and appear dull and matted. I had to work hard to undo my mistake. Here are my new tips on how to do it right:

CLEAN
1. Vacuum and wipe down floor thoroughly to remove all dust and dirt
2. Use polyurethane based porch and floor enamel
3. If you want to improve adhesion to the maximum, it’s good to paint down a primer first. I have never done this and haven’t had problems indoors, but the by-the-book rules recommend it.

NUMEROUS THIN COATS
4. After cutting the edges with a brush, roll on a thin coat with a 1/4 inch roller
5. Roll at least two more thin layers and allow at least 24 hours between coats

DRY WARMTH
6. Keep the heat on if necessary (@ 70 f) to insure quicker, dry drying
7. Don’t plan to stay in the house (bad fumes) and keep the windows open a bit while painting

I found that the white floor paint behaved much better upstairs than the red that I used on the first floor and attribute this to the warmth upstairs of both the air and the floor itself (these were the first colors I painted). The result? A shiny, clean, beautiful floor that establishes a new style for the millenium.

While I would rather use a less toxic paint, at the time I painted a number of years ago, oil based polyurethane was my best bet. Now I see that most floor polyurethanes have switched to a water based solution.

Anyone have good recommendations on these?

I’ve also started to play around with Farrow & Ball paint, which is totally natural (expensive) and has a floor paint solution that is said to work well with their primer. I will show you a demonstration of this shortly. 🙂

What To Know Before Refinishing Your Floors

After about 20 years, most hardwood floors start showing their age; scratches, dullness and discoloring are the most common signs that the wood is due for refinishing. Fortunately, the typical ¾-inch-thick hardwood floor can be sanded about six to eight times during its lifetime. So unless you live in a particularly old house, or a previous resident was an especially aggressive refinisher, chances are good that your wood floors can be brought back to life.

You need at least 1/32 of an inch of wood on the top of your floors to sand them. If your home has heat registers in the floor, remove a grille and take a sidelong look at the surrounding planks to see if that’s available. If that’s not possible, you can remove a plank from an inconspicuous location (like the inside of a closet) or ask a professional floor refinisher to appraise the situation. You can’t refinish laminated wood floors (such as Pergo); you might be able to refinish an engineered wood floor, depending on the finish and how thick the top layer of wood is.

Project: Refinishing hardwood floors.

Why: To restore the wood’s original appearance and shine, change its color or finish, or blend it with newly added wood.

 

Compile leads from friends, the Yellow Pages or online listings like Houzz, looking for professionalswho have certification from the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA). Read online reviews, gather leads, then call and ask:

  • How long has the company been in business?
  • Do they use a dust control system?
  • What kind of polyurethane do they prefer?

Get three competitive bids, says Butch Kirk, owner of San Jose Hardwood Floors, Carpet & Vinyl in San Jose, California. Contact your Contractors State License Board to confirm that the company is bonded, has workers’ compensation and is not subject to any pending arbitration or claims. The Better Business Bureau is another reliable resource.

Who not to hire: Yourself. While many of us know people who have sanded their own floors, professional floor refinishers strongly caution against this. While their warnings might sound self-serving, they point out that you can’t get professional-quality results with the 110-volt sanders available from rental companies (pros use 220-volt equipment), and by the time you’ve acquired all the tools you need and invested the time, you’re not going to save a lot of money.

“In the end you’re going to screw it up, and you’re going to pay more money,” warns Roland Arjukese, owner of Royal Oaks Flooring in the Washington, D.C., area. And don’t be seduced by offers from painters or handypeople, either, Arjukese adds. “People should look for a professional who’s only doing one thing,” he says. “You don’t go to a shoe repairman and ask him to do an eye exam.”

Cost range: Most floor refinishers charge by the square foot, but prices will vary considerably, depending upon your region, your home’s accessibility, the size of the job and the work you want done (including the color of the stain — dark stains take more prep time).

Plan on spending anywhere between $2.50 and $5.25 per square foot for sanding, staining and three coats of finish. If you live in an apartment building serviced by an elevator, or someplace where parking is a challenge, prices could double.

Typical project length: Allow three to seven days, depending on the size and complexity of the project. Due to dust, odor and general disruption, it’s a good idea to move out of the house while the work is being done.

Permit: Not required.

Best time to do this project: You can refinish floors anytime. But if you’re planning on storing furniture outside while the work is being done, you’ll want to avoid rainy weather.

Considerations: If only a certain area of the floor looks bad, just do a light sanding and sealing in that section, rather than doing the whole floor.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to go to the hassle and expense of refinishing the floors, consider having them rescreened. In this process a machine roughs up the existing polyurethane, then the floor is buffed and a new coat of polyurethane is applied. This is not to be confused with “sandless” hardwood floor refinishing, a less effective process that simply cleans the existing floor.

How to: Choose flooring for your home

Choosing flooring for your home can be a confusing experience.

Lino or laminate? Bamboo or wood? The options can be daunting.

The best place to start is to speak with a professional so you get the information that you really need. We had a chat with Mr Amini at Collingwood Flooring Xtra and he gave us the lowdown of the different types of flooring available, the benefits and drawbacks of each type and helped us out with a handy list of questions to ask the professionals when you’re flooring or re-flooring your home.

Lino

What is it?

A synthetic material that’s sold by the square metre from a large roll. It can be cut to fit the exact measurements of the room you’re flooring.

How much does it cost per square metre?

Around $30 for supply and $55 laid.

Pros

  • Ideal for kitchens and bathrooms
  • Water resistant
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Has an artificial look and feel
  • Not recommended if you plan to sell your home as it devalues the property
  • If it gets damaged the only way to fix it, is to replace the whole floor as it’s laid in one large sheet instead of slats like other flooring materials
  • Not easily removable

Use it if…

You’re looking for a cheap and cheerful flooring option in a kitchen or bathroom. Be careful what you lay lino on top of because traditionally it’s secured to the floor with heavy duty glue, which may damage the under surface. It’s worth considering why you are relaying the floor. If it’s a renovation to attract new buyers it’s worth noting that many buyers have a positive view of wooden flooring, and a lesser view of lino, so it may not help you achieve your maximum sale price.

Laminate

What is it?

A synthetic and inexpensive flooring material that is traditionally designed to imitate wood. It’s sold in tile or plank form.

How much does it cost per square metre? 

Similar to lino, it’s around $25 for supply and $55 laid although keep in mind that laminate is easier to DIY than other types of flooring so you might be able to save on labour costs.

Pros

  • Easy to clean
  • Water resistant
  • Inexpensive
  • Comes in a variety of designs
  • Easy to self lay
  • Simple to remove and replace without damaging the existing flooring
  • Can be replaced slat by slat if the surface becomes damaged

Cons

  • Not recommended for areas of extreme moisture like bathrooms or laundries
  • Not appropriate for apartments as it provides little to no soundproofing for residents surrounding your home and this particular material is not compatible with acoustic filters.

Use it if…

You’re looking for a cost effective and easily removable flooring solution. It has a much better reputation than lino and won’t damage the existing floors in your home. Better steer clear of laminate floors if you live in an apartment though as it’s not very sound proof.

Bamboo

What is it?

A more cost effective alternative to solid timber, bamboo is layered flooring material that is cross-grained to counter act its natural tendencies to expand and contract with temperature changes. Ideal as an alternative to solid wood in areas that are moist and humid. 

How much does it cost per square metre?

About $45 for supply only and $80 to have it laid.

Pros

  • Won’t scuff or scratch like other flooring materials
  • A cost effective alternative to solid timber
  • Can be used in damp climates where solid timber is not recommended
  • Bamboo is a fast growing and renewable material source

Cons

  • It’s thinner than solid wood and as such doesn’t have the thermal benefits of timber

Use it if…

You’re looking for a cost effective and environmentally friendly alternative to wood. It’s also great for bathrooms and damp climates where solid timber wouldn’t cope. 

Solid Timber

What is it?

Exactly what it sounds like – solid timber planks. This also includes parquetry flooring which is a mosaic style design of smaller pieces of solid timber.

How much does it cost per square metre?

It really varies when it comes to solid timber but costs start at $170 per square metre depending on hardness and go up to $300 laid. Our experts say you’d be hard pressed to find a professional flooring store that will sell supply only as it’s very tricky to DIY timber flooring and can be really expensive if you don’t do it properly.

Pros

  • Natural and renewable material source
  • Extremely durable if sealed properly
  • Easy to clean and care for
  • Sound proof

Cons

  • High foot traffic areas need regular sanding and stripping for both appearances and moisture maintenance
  • Not recommended for kitchens, bathrooms or humid climates
  • Maintenance can be expensive

Should I use it?

If it’s in your price range and you can afford the regular maintenance. Solid timber flooring retains heat beautifully in cold climates and will give your home a warm and natural ambience. Not recommended for moist areas or humid climates though.

Questions to ask

How much does it cost?

Make sure you budget correctly because there can be hidden costs in flooring such as installation and maintenance.

Can I use it in my kitchen, bathroom and laundry?

Always ask if your flooring of choice is appropriate for where you want to lay it. Climate, sound control and heavy foot traffic can all have a significant impact on the correct choice of flooring.

How do I maintain it over the years?

It’s important to ask about upkeep of your flooring. For example lino is a very cost effective option but may not be easy to repair if it becomes damaged. Solid timber is extremely durable but only if it’s properly sealed after installation. Be sure to ask about the future of your flooring to save yourself money both now and down the track.

How durable is it?

Although the price of flooring can vary from $30 per square metre for lino to $300 for solid timber the durability varies accordingly. Cheaper flooring options will save you money in the short term but when their more durable counterparts outlast them by 20 or 30 odd years then it’s important to consider replacement in your budgeting.

Is it easily removable?

Perhaps the most important question if you’re planning on selling your home in the future. Difficult to remove lino flooring could be a deal breaker for a potential buyer of your home.

Just remember to take your time, ask lots of questions and talk to several different professionals. Do your research. Ask people in your area what type of flooring they have or speak to builders who work in your city. Don’t forget to provide your flooring professional with lots of information as well. The more they know about your home and needs, the better equipped they’ll be to help you find the best flooring solution. 

Do your research. Ask lot