Brett Miller, NWFA Vice President of Education & Certification
Look at any statistics showing the evolution of wood flooring sales during the past few years and you will notice a significant shift in the products being sold today compared to just a decade or so ago. Historically, most wood flooring sold in the United States was finished on the jobsite. Advances in technology, however, as well as a shift in consumer preferences due to today’s busy lifestyles, have resulted in increased sales of wood flooring prefinished at the factory.
One of the biggest reasons for this trend is convenience. When wood flooring is prefinished, it arrives at the jobsite ready to walk on. Once the wood is acclimated on the jobsite, it can be installed and literally walked on the same day. Furniture can be put back into place; throw rugs can be put down. There is little disruption to the normal home life or business operations of the flooring purchaser.
Another advantage: finishes being applied at the manufacturing facility are extremely durable. Many of the finishes being applied today are super hard, which makes them ideal for busy families with small children or pets, or for business offices that receive a great deal of foot traffic. The finishes are designed to last for many years, and many manufacturers provide multi-decade warranties for their products.
Those warranties may sound great, and many of them are, but it’s important to note that without proper maintenance, wood flooring can be reduced to little more than any other disposable flooring material that needs to be replaced once it starts to look worn out. This essentially eliminates one of the other huge advantages of wood as a flooring option, which is its long-term value as a floor covering. With proper maintenance throughout the lifetime of the floor, wood floors can last in excess of 100 years, so it’s easy to see how a little regular maintenance is worth the time and investment.
Regular maintenance of wood floors is pretty simple. In most cases, the floors can be cleaned using a microfiber mop to remove surface dust and dirt. Since many manufacturer-finished floors also contain micro bevels between the floor boards, regular maintenance should also include using a vacuum with the beater bar turned off to remove dust, dirt and grit from between the floor boards. Then, when the floor needs a little more than just sweeping, using a wood floor cleaner recommended by the manufacturer is all that is needed. It takes just a few minutes with the correct cleaner and a microfiber mop to clean the floor and maintain the shine.
Over time, however, it will be necessary to have a wood floor professionally refinished. This can include either a pad and recoat process, or a complete sanding and refinishing. When refinishing prefinished wood floors, there are some challenges that should be addressed.
Recoating a prefinished wood floor can be different from a traditional screen and recoat in many cases due to the different types of finishes being used and the variety of profiles of the flooring being sold.
Many prefinished wood floors today are engineered wood products. Resanding engineered wood floors poses a particular challenge because all engineered products are manufactured with different wearlayer thicknesses. The ability to resand an engineered wood floor is directly related to the thickness of its top wearlayer. If that top layer is very thin, it may not be possible to sand the floor at all because there is very little wearlayer to sand, so before starting a refinishing project for engineered wood floors, make sure to check the wearlayer thickness. This usually can be accomplished by removing a floor vent and looking at the exposed flooring layers.
Another challenge is that most prefinished floors contain micro bevels between the floor boards, which creates an issue when resanding. Any resanding may remove all or some of these micro bevels, and the new floor will be flat on its surface. This process is complicated even further if the floor is textured. Any scraping, wire busing or other distressing techniques will be altered during refinishing, and possibly eliminated.
As noted earlier, many of the finishes used on prefinished flooring are extremely hard, which creates yet another refinishing challenge. Some of the finishes applied at the manufacturing facility are extremely difficult to abrade due to their hardness and inability to accept a scratch pattern. There also are some Teflon-infused finishes on the market that are resistant to staining, as well as being resistant to a new coat of finish.
Maintenance coat options for prefinished floors vary significantly from one manufacturer to another, but generally speaking, there are two types of maintenance coat processes: mechanical adhesion and chemical adhesion. Intercoat abrasion ensures proper adhesion between coats of finish by creating a profile or tooth known as a mechanical bond. Chemical adhesion methods may include the use of a chemical etching agent, additive, or a bonding agent which promotes adhesion between two coats of finish. Some manufacturers also use hybrids of these two systems by using an abrasive pad and cleaning/etching agent to inhibit adhesion between coats.
The most important aspect of any of these methods is properly testing the flooring surface and removing any contamination from the surface. It’s also important to check with the flooring manufacturer for their warranty provisions as to whether they require annual maintenance coats or if they will void the warranty.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of square feet of wood flooring already installed in homes and businesses today. All those existing wood floors represent a potential windfall for companies that offer maintenance and refinishing programs. A 2013 survey of readers of Hardwood Floors magazine (April/May 2014), from the NWFA, shows contractors spent 79% of their time doing remodeling work. The other 21% was spent in new home construction. Think about that…more than three-quarters of their business is a direct result of work performed on wood floors that were already installed. Is that a market you’re pursuing in your business?
Learn more about maintenance and refinishing techniques for manufacturer-finished wood floors through training programs offered by the NWFA. Courses are available in a variety of locations throughout the United States. A full schedule of NWFA and NWFA Certified Professionals training is available at www.nwfa.org/tech-ed-schedule.aspx.
You also can learn more about refinishing options with the NWFA’s Sand & Finish Guidelines. The guidelines are provided to all NWFA members as a member benefit. The Sand & Finish Guidelines are available to non-members for purchase. For more information, contact the NWFA at (800) 422-4556 (USA and Canada), (636) 519-9663 (international), or www.nwfa.org.