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How To Survive Refinishing Your Hardwood Floors

Cathy Urbanski By Cathy Urbanski on
Badge: Author | Level: 2 | Other Home & Garden Expertise:

You want to reclaim your once-beautiful floors, so you read up on the subject and ask around. This is the information you find, over and over: repair, sand, stain and apply two coats or more of polyurethane. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

In reality, it's not terribly complicated. It is complicated, however, trying to live in the same house where those floors are undergoing a serious make-over. We recently re-finished four of our seven downstairs rooms at once; the parlor, dining room, living room and a small bedroom. Plan though we did, there are just some things the DIY websites don't bother to tell you.

First, the room (or rooms) needs to be empty. You'll need to consider how much space you'll need to store the furniture, and how many people you'll need to help you move it. Do you have a spare room, a garage or barn where you can keep your belongings? Will you need to rent a storage unit and maybe also a truck to move things? If so, call around to compare prices, and figure these things in to the budget.

Next, think about what rooms will become inaccessible. You will be able to walk on the floors during most of the project, but you will have to wait a couple of hours for the stain to dry, and longer - at least six to eight hours - for the polyurethane. Consider what items you use often and keep them where you'll be able to get at them. It's easy to forget the phone, sitting on its dock, until it starts ringing. You'll want to think about your computer, clothes, medications and other items you use daily, and make sure you have them where you can get at them before you start working.

Also, it's not a bad idea to plan out a few meals. Not only are you busy with the work, but polyurethane fumes are highly combustible, and that means the oven is off-limits. Meals you can make ahead, freeze and pop in the microwave will save time and money in the long run. Having something decent and easy will mean you don't waste time and money running for fast-food, so when you take a food break, you can relax.

If you're considering a project like this and have young children, you're a brave soul. Keep in mind, you'll be using some rather dangerous equipment and hazardous chemicals. Floor sanders generally have safety handles, but even little kids can be pretty quick to figure these things out. Small children should not be exposed to the fumes from the chemicals or the noise and dust of the sanding equipment.

Keep pets out of the area as well. It's just as dangerous for animals as it is for kids, and even if your dog or cat doesn't shed much, any stray hairs will stick in your polyurethane, and trust me, they show. Consider if you'll need to board them off-site for that part of the job, or how and where to keep them at home. We were able to keep our dogs on the porch with a baby gate during the day, because the weather was mild. At night, we brought them in through the back door, and they slept in the bathroom. Even though they did not go into the rooms we were refinishing, we still had to clean up dog hair daily before we could get on with the project. We kept our birds in the basement with the door closed. This is not the best place for birds to live, but the fumes didn't get to them down there.

Last but not least, you might want to have some way of keeping people from walking on your floors while they're wet. You'd be surprised how many people can drop in - even after you warn them about your DIY plans. Not only did I have to run outside to stop visitors from coming in the door and stepping on a fresh coat of polyurethane, my husband and I both nearly walked right on it ourselves. A big sign, reading Wet Floor! or some Caution tape might be a good idea.

Refinishing a floor is a big job. A little planning makes it go a lot easier.