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Refinish Oak flooring, or replace?

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tbayav8er

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Hi Everyone,

I have old oak flooring all through my house, and the finish is peeling/flaking off all over the place. We have a baby, 2 cats and a 75 lb Golden Retriever. I'm just wondering, is it better to refinish the wood floor, or tear it all out and replace with laminate or something? The floor also squeaks a lot, which is not ideal while the baby is sleeping. We would also like to have more of a grey colour in the floor, rather than the natural wood colour we have now. If we were to refinish the hardwood, we would be staining it a different colour as well. I have almost no experience in flooring, and I have no idea how long I could expect a refinished hardwood floor to last before the dog has the finish all scratched up again. I've attached a picture of the general condition of the floor.

Thanks!
 

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oldognewtrick

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I'm a big fan if keeping original wood flooring. In my opinion, it's a much better look and feel than laminates. If you have access from underneath, you may be able to stop some squeaks.
 

tbayav8er

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Thanks - I also just got some samples or SPC vinyl flooring, and it looks pretty good, it's waterproof and seems very well made. I agree, I don't like the idea of getting rid of the nice oak. I just don't want to go through the effort of refinishing it, just to have the dog scratch the heck out of it within 6 months. I could also just put the vinyl flooring over the hardwood, maybe?
 

joecaption

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In your case it may be better to go over it with SPC or LVP flooring but that's not going to address the real issue of the floor squeaking.
We have no clue how old this house is, was the hardwood just installed over the joist with no sub flooring?
If it's really old it could be over spanned, under sized joists, not enough piers and beams under the flooring to break up the spans, insect or moisture damage causing the real issue.
 

tbayav8er

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Thanks - Those are all good points. The house was built in 1964, there's a steel I-beam running lengthwise under the floor along the halfway point. It's a bungalow, with no ceiling in the basement, so I can see the plywood subfloor from underneath. There's no water, or any other damage to the subfloor from what I can see underneath. I had my Wife lean back and forth on the squeaky parts while I was looking in the basement, and seems that the plywood is just shifting up and down slightly when you stand on it. So here's how I was thinking of fixing it from underneath. Let me know what you all think. I was going to hammer shims between the joists and plywood subfloor where it's squeaking, break the shims off, and caulk along the seam of the plywood and the joists in the squeaky areas with construction adhesive around where I hammered the shims in.
 

slownsteady

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I'd rather see you pull the plywood down with screws. That's assuming that the joists have no significant sags.
 

Max Schaefer

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I’d try the shims since you seem to know where the movement is, and then, if the squeaks go away, lay the new flooring over the old floor. You don’t need a lot of skill to refinish a floor but it is a logistical nightmare-compounded with a baby in the house. If the Shims don’t work, you can always pull up the oak and attack the plywood with screws from the top.
 

mabloodhound

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Your method for locating the squeaks is correct. The noise is caused when the plywood moves up and down on the nail holding it, which has become loose over time. I would drill a pocket hole in the joist and screw up into the plywood. Maybe even 2 screws (one on either side of the joist). Look up Kreg Pocket Hole jig for info. You don't need the whole system, just the individual guide jig and the step drill and a bunch of pocket hole screws (do not us drywall screws). And you should be able to hold the jig in place while drilling without the need for the clamp. https://www.amazon.com/Kreg-MKJKIT-Mini-Jig-Kit/dp/B00065WPP2
 

curtis73

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Do you have access to the bottom of the floor, like in a basement?

As someone who just went deep down the rabbit hole of subflooring, I will warn you that this might turn into a pretty crazy endeavor. Mine was a simple job of replacing carpet with hardwood. It turned into tearing out the subfloor, replacing joists, and jacking up the house to replace the foundation. I'm sure yours isn't that bad.

If you intend to keep the hardwood, you can repair most of the squeaks from below if you have access. Shims and optional glue. Have someone walk around on the squeaks upstairs while you shim the joists where you hear the squeaks and see movement. Re-finishing a hardwood floor is not super easy, but definitely DIY territory. You can rent the sander, and if you can paint a wall, you can finish a floor. There are techniques I can show you. A properly-done hardwood floor with 3-4 coats of oil-based polyurethane should last at least 15 years. Water based poly, at least 10 years. We redid the floors in my childhood home. My sister and I would have been about 5 and 8 years old and we had it professionally done. [sidenote: that reminds me of my sister and I playing racquetball in the empty dining room with ping pong paddles and a super pinky ball] Long story short, I'm almost 47 now, so it has been 40+ years and despite two kids, three large dogs, one rabbit, muddy boots from the farm, and four decades of abuse, it still looks pretty good.... but due for another refinish.

If you decide on plank, vinyl, or something else, I'm sure you'll be happy with that as well. I don't think it will save you any work, but it depends on how you want it to look. You could pickle/stain the oak to whatever gray you want with some additional effort, but sometimes that can have a negative impact on resale value.

If you refinish your current oak, be aware of the time aspect. I tell people to plan on a month of not fully using the room. That is excessive, but although polyurethane might dry in a day or so, but it stays soft for quite a while. If you put a couch and an area rug back in the room too soon, you'll have dents in the finish from the couch and a big section of floor under the rug that looks like the bottom of the rug. Patience and time-management are key. Some things need to be done quickly, others take time when it comes to refinishing hardwood. That same thing is true regardless of whether or not you do the work yourself or hire a pro.

Let us know what you plan to do. If you decide to refinish what you have, I can walk you through the process of DIY refinishing. I'm a little rusty (it has been 15 years since my last class) but I can dust off the brain and help you through it.
 

curtis73

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Your method for locating the squeaks is correct. The noise is caused when the plywood moves up and down on the nail holding it, which has become loose over time. I would drill a pocket hole in the joist and screw up into the plywood. Maybe even 2 screws (one on either side of the joist). Look up Kreg Pocket Hole jig for info. You don't need the whole system, just the individual guide jig and the step drill and a bunch of pocket hole screws (do not us drywall screws). And you should be able to hold the jig in place while drilling without the need for the clamp. https://www.amazon.com/Kreg-MKJKIT-Mini-Jig-Kit/dp/B00065WPP2
Kreg jigs are amazing tools. I use mine at least once a week in the shop.
 

bud16415

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I recommend refinishing them if at all possible. Sometimes they are just too far-gone.



As to first time DIY refinishing I strongly suggest the rental sander that is a big 2’ square that vibrates over the drum sanders the pros use. I have rented and used both types and the drum is the right tool if you know what you are doing but the square type will take it down much slower but the chance of gouging is way less. When you rent it get a big assortment of grits/sandpapers and they only charge you for the ones you don’t return. You will start with one much rougher than you think you will need. Start in a place that isn’t as visible and when you get the hang of it do the whole area and then step down to a finer grit. Another advantage of the square is it gets into the corners better and will require less hand sanding or use of the edge sander.



When finishing make sure you have the right tool to apply the finish. Some places will tell you that you can roll it on and that is not the case with water-based poly. Rolling will trap air bubbles in the finish. I have used the mohair type applicator and pan made for deck staining and they work pretty good.



If you are living in the house I strongly suggest water based as drying times are shorter and smells much better. you can walk on it fairly soon but the suggestion of giving it a good week or more before furniture is good.

Have fun with it and in the end you will have a better floor.
 

curtis73

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I will echo the not-drum sander part. They're very aggressive and best used by the hands of someone experienced. Kinda like getting your driver's license and buying an 18 wheeler.

I will highly recommend the Random Orbit sander. The big pads like Bud mentioned have two things (in my opinion... as I disagree with a moderator) going against them. First, they only orbit. They just go in a circle. This deliberately leaves circles in the surface. Once you get down to the finer grits, it mostly goes away, but not as well as the random orbit. The random orbit puts several orbiting pads on their own spinning bearings. This makes the resulting scratches it makes more random and much easier to get a finer finish. Second issue I have with the big pad sander is psi. When trying to sand a highly durable finish off the floors, they spread their weight out over too much area and it takes a very long time.

The ones I used to use were made by U-sand or Clark and they look like the picture below. On the bottom are four velcro pads that hold the paper, and you can think of it like a huge, 120-lb version of the 5" palm sander in your garage that you used to sand smaller woodworking projects.

1599771322155.png
Before you use that critter, test your floors to see what the finish is. If your house was built before 1960, there is a chance it has Shellac. if it was built before 1940, it almost definitely has shellac. Test an inconspicuous corner with a half teaspoon of fingernail polish remover or 90% isopropyl alcohol. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Go back and push your finger across the puddle. If the finish wrinkles up in front of your finger like pushing the skin off a tomato, it's shellac. Shellac can't be sanded. Well... that's not really true. It can't be sanded in the fast, high-powered manner that these floor sanders provide. You could use palm sander and likely be OK, but you'll get 3 minutes into using that beast above and your sandpaper will be coated with chunks of shellac that melted and stuck to the pads. Shellac melts when you try to sand it too aggressively and trying to sand it will just take forever. Simple solution that sounds labor intensive but isn't; just get some paint stripper. Mop it on, wait X minutes, squeegee it off. Just get the majority of it. Then rent your sander.

For application of oil based urethanes, you want to stay as far away from a roller or sprayer as you can. Spraying will make the poly cloudy. As the droplets travel from the gun to the floor, the surface of each droplet "flashes" off it's volatile compounds, making each droplet kind of like a gel capsule. It basically puts millions of partially-hardened droplets on the floor and the refraction you get is hazy and cloudy. A roller will not only put it on way too thick (like ten times too thick), it will make bubbles. What you want is a lambs wool applicator, which kinda looks like a swiffer with fuzzy wool on the bottom. If you're doing water based poly, you want something called a Water Wiz. Same principle, just with a synthetic pad instead of wool. If you get that far along, reach out to me. I have some great techniques that make it easy, prevent bubbles and streaks, and will help you make it awesome.
 

curtis73

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The large pad sanders are great for large areas and softer finishes/substrates. They are great for sanding a deck where you have soft/aging pine that you want to refresh before re-staining. Rotary surface buffers (floor polishers) are really handy for very hard surfaces. Random Orbit like pictured above are the key for hardwood floors.

Whatever you do, don't jump to the end and just do the final grit. Of the following common grit sizes; 60, 80, 100, 120, 150, 180, 200, 220, you can skip one step, so if you start with 60, you can do 100, then 150. If you just do 60 and skip to 150 or 180, the fine grit won't be able to cut down the scratches left by the 60. 150 or 180 will be fine to end with if you're just putting down poly. If you're staining, always go to 200 or 220. You'll be tempted to look at the floor after 100 or 120 and say "that looks perfect" only to find a million "corkscrew" scratches when you put down the stain.

When you rent the sander, buy extra of everything. It seems like a waste, but you can return what you don't use. Nothing is more frustrating than renting a sander for a day and then having to waste precious rental time going back to the store for more supplies. That means LOTS of sandpaper. Also, buy a vacuum bag for your shop vac and use it hooked up directly to the sander's outlet. Without a vacuum bag, your filter will clog in a few minutes. Without a shop vac, the machine won't adequately move the sawdust to the bag. It needs help, otherwise you'll have sawdust EVERYWHERE.

Once it's sanded, you have about 1-2 days before you need to get it sealed with your first coat. Moisture in the air will soak into the wood and cause the ends of the grain to pop up and you'll have hairy wood. A sanding sealer will extend that, but I don't use sealer for two reasons: 1), as long as you're laying a coat of something, might as well make it poly, and 2) some sanding sealers can prevent the poly from soaking into the grain and making the contrast pop.

3-4 coats with ample drying time in between. You want it to have enough time to set and evaporate most of it's volatile compounds, but not fully cured. When doing multiple coats of anything; epoxy, paint, polyester resin, you want to catch it at the sweet spot where it has given up most of its volatile compounds, but is still uncured enough that the next coat "melts" in with the first. The molecules key in together. That will mean it bonds fully with the previous coat. If you wait too long, you have a fully cured plastic coat and the new coat won't adhere very well. Recoating too soon means you are trapping more of the volatiles in the lower coats and it will take exponentially longer for it to fully cure. Kinda like putting a wet blanket on top of another wet blanket. The bottom blanket will take forever to dry.

Also, beginning with your final sanding run, and the whole way through the poly process, socks only. No shoes, no bare feet. Shoes obviously carry dirt or scratchy pebbles and staples, and bare feet deposit oils on the wood. You'll put your first coat of poly on and see a bare footprint shadow in the finish.

Two pro tips. If you have any holes you want to patch, don't use wood putty. Take some of the sawdust from your final sanding and mix it with a little poly in a cup to make a paste. That way it will match the wood around it. Second: Not sure if you want gloss or something else? Do the first three coats with gloss. If you like it, do the last coat with the same gloss. If you don't, do the last coat with semi or satin. The final coat will determine the finish. A very interesting side effect is that your finish will be a tiny bit more durable. All of the sheens are the same stuff, but they get the less-shiny sheens by adding varying quantities of flattening agent. It's not really a measurable difference, but gloss poly is all poly and therefore a higher solids-per-volume product by a very small amount. That way you can try both sheens and build most of your coats with a slightly stronger product.
 
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tbayav8er

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Thanks everyone! I have decided to put SPC vinyl over top of the hardwood. Unfortunately, with my family's lifestyle, it's just not possible to maintain low traffic during the time it takes the polyurethane to dry. As for the squeaks in the floor, yes, I do have a kreg jig. I use it very frequently in my shop. It's actually my most frequently used tool. I never thought about using it for this. Thanks!
 

curtis73

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Suggestion, if I may. A floating installation might be really wise for resale value. I know if I were perusing your house and I found vinyl glued to hardwood, it would seriously reduce my interest in the house.

Glad you made a decision. I know how good that feels when you're faced with so many options.
 

tbayav8er

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Suggestion, if I may. A floating installation might be really wise for resale value. I know if I were perusing your house and I found vinyl glued to hardwood, it would seriously reduce my interest in the house.

Glad you made a decision. I know how good that feels when you're faced with so many options.
Thanks Curtis - Yes, we did go with a floating floor. I'm planning to start installation today. I'm just having trouble coming up with the proper width of the first row of boards to make sure the last row isn't only 1" wide or something.
 

curtis73

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Always a fun task. My hardwood install starts soon and involves a fireplace installation, so I was able to put the fireplace hearth parallel to the opposite wall and excactly 120-1/2" away. 5" boards. So if I don't screw it up, I should have 1/4" at the wall and a 1/4" left for a grout line.

.... if I don't screw it up :rolleyes:
 

rokosz

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Beware of LVP quality. Even the best won't last as long as a well done wood floor. I put mid-grade LVP in a kitchen that only gets about 60 days of use per year, 3 years ago. It still looks great, waterproof etc. But I can see wear beginning and abuse. LVP doesn't take abuse as well as wood (eg dropped knives. Stick!). IMHO, if you want longer term beauty: go with the top end LVP. Take a quarter (coin) with you to the showroom. Rub the quarter, hard, on the samples. The best sample will be obvious. As I recall the best has a "diamond" (literally) encrustation.
 

tbayav8er

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Beware of LVP quality. Even the best won't last as long as a well done wood floor. I put mid-grade LVP in a kitchen that only gets about 60 days of use per year, 3 years ago. It still looks great, waterproof etc. But I can see wear beginning and abuse. LVP doesn't take abuse as well as wood (eg dropped knives. Stick!). IMHO, if you want longer term beauty: go with the top end LVP. Take a quarter (coin) with you to the showroom. Rub the quarter, hard, on the samples. The best sample will be obvious. As I recall the best has a "diamond" (literally) encrustation.
Thanks for the heads up! I bought some locally manufactured LVP, and it seems to be very high quality. I took a coin like you suggested, rubbed it as hard as I could on a small scrap cutoff piece, and it barely scraped the protective coating. The scratch was unnoticeable after wiping it with my finger. It has 12 mil protective coating (I believe that is 0.12 mm). There are some that are 20 mil, which were actually cheaper at Lowes than the local product I got that's 12 mil. After doing some research though, even though the stuff I got has a thinner wear layer, I think the wear layer in the stuff I got is more durable than the stuff at Lowes of Home Depot. It has a 25 year warranty, and just seems to be extremely well made. The locking system is laser precise, and holds extremely tight. It was $3.99/sqft, but I got them down to $3.20/sqft. So I didn't go for the cheapest stuff, didn't go for the most expensive stuff, but I think the stuff I got is extremely durable.

Like I said, I would have loved to refinish the hardwood. The option is always there if this vinyl stuff wears out in 10 years. I can always remove it, and refinish the hardwood at a later time. Just with my family's lifestyle, having a baby, and 3 pets, it's just not possible for us to not use the main floor of the house while we wait for the polyurethane to cure. We would have to stay in a hotel for a few days, and board our pets during that time, which is just not possible. It would be different if we had a second floor, or a finished basement, but I'm in a bungalow with an unfinished basement, so space is very limited as it is. What we should have done was refinished the floors before we moved into the house 5 years ago, but we just didn't have the money at the time, since we had to redo the roof, install a fence etc. The floor just didn't make the top of our priority list at that time. Here's a picture of my progress so far, and a picture of my floorplan. I circled the corner I started in.
 

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