Although I alluded to having refinished the hardwood floors in my house in my before & after section, it was such a cheap and rewarding project that I wanted to dedicate a post to it to help convince other DIY’ers that it’s worth trying yourself (rather than hiring a company to do the job for $1.50-$2.50/sq-ft, or covering over it with new carpet for anywhere between $1.50-$4.00/sq.ft. or maybe more). The total area I needed to update in the house was about 1,000 sq. ft. (all rooms except the bathroom and kitchen). If I would have hired someone to do the refinishing, it would have cost anywhere between $1,500-$2,500 to hire a crew, by my calculations!
Where’d I start?
Well, all three bedrooms, the staircase, and the living room were covered with dog-cat-stinky, dirty, ivory carpet when I bought the house. All of that carpet was removed on day 1 so that I could assess the condition of the hardwoods (which were, fortunately for me, awesome). To prepare the floors for sanding, it’s mandatory that you hammer in each floorboard nail just a smidge so that the sander doesn’t take off the head of the nail (if they’re sanded off, it will result in weakened floorboards). How do you do that? Well, you take a tool like this (a nail setter), identify the nails in the floor (about every 6″ apart in my house), and crawl slowly across every… single… board… in the house and hammer the end of the tool into the nail, to get the nailhead recessed under the surface of the floorboard. Sure, it’s tedious, but mindless and essential, and something anyone can do while they blast Cake and The Beach Boys all day on a Saturday.
Once those nails were properly dimpled into the floorboards, I rented a floor sander from Home Depot for $80. I received a good tip to save money – I rented “for 4-hours” on a Sunday afternoon (as in, I rented it out at 5:15, when they closed early at 9, so I “couldn’t” return with my 4-hour allowance the same day), and got away with returning it when they opened at 8AM on the next morning. A good loophole. A little sneaky. But I used the sander for about 10 hours without paying the full day rate. Wink. Shh.
Renting the sander itself was cheap, but they also make you buy plenty of sandpaper pads – the thing is, you can buy plenty of extras like they recommend (they try and way up-sell you, at least at the location I visited, and I suppose it’s always good to have extras)… but keep in mind that you can return all of the ones you don’t use (returning saved me an extra $100 off my original bill).
What can I say about the actual operating-the-sander process? It’s heavy, and you have to keep it moving all of the time so that it doesn’t over-sand one spot, and it works MUCH better when you’ve got one person standing on the stander itself (to improve the contact of the sandpaper with the floor). Oh, well, and anyone involved with the project will have vibrating feet and legs for about 72-hours after finishing the job, so be forewarned. I took a lot of extra efforts during the sanding to make sure there were no pieces of grit underneath the sander circles, because I noticed one time that if there happens to be a little stone or something rough, the sander will force it into the wood and create a little unevenness (swirlies) in the boards. Not a big deal once the floor is polished, but when you’re trying to do things really nicely, you notice every little thing that’s a potential problem.
Sanding the open spaces were easy with the big machine, but I did take extra efforts to sand close to the edges of the walls, in corners, around radiators, and on the stairs with a hand sander. If I hadn’t done the extra sanding by hand, there would have been extra finish left on the floors when I went to apply new polyurethane, and that would have left me with discolored areas. After sanding, I vacuumed thoroughly. A lot. I shopvac’ed and swept like it was a full-time job. Last thing I needed locked into my new floor finish was bits of dust or dirt.
Since my house was two stories, I made the decision to do the downstairs polyurathane in Phase 1, and the upstairs poly in Phase 2. I was entering 4 weeks of DIY floor craziness.
Here’s what I had to do: I started by doing the downstairs area first. Clearing all furniture into the sunroom off the living room, into the kitchen, and into the upstairs bedrooms, I carefully polyurathaned using a lovely high-gloss finish. I actually applied 3 coats of the gloss, giving the floor 48-hours to dry in between coats (the poly company suggested no contact until it had 10-hours to dry, but I found that it was still a little tacky after that short a time). After all of the coats were completed, I still needed to leave the floors untouched for 5-7 days before I walked on them (with socks). And it was strongly recommended that I left them untouched by rugs or furniture until the floors had cured for 2-3 weeks. I was patient. And it was worth it. And it wasn’t too bad not using the living room and dining room because I have a convenient side door that leads straight into the kitchen… (but envision me… in my jammies… going down the stairs at night, out the front door, and in the side door to grab something from the fridge… and then going back outside… and in the front door… and jumping back up the stairs to my room).
When it came to doing the upstairs floors, I knew it was going to be a problem since the bathroom was upstairs. The bedroom, also upstairs, wasn’t as much of an issue, because I hauled the mattress into the kitchen for a few weeks (at this time I still wasn’t convinced that the downstairs floor were cured enough to deal with a mattress laying on top of it for an extended period of time). My solution for bathroom/shower access was to do the three bedrooms first – three layers, right in sequence over a week, and then I didn’t have anything to do with the rooms for awhile. The plan for finishing the stairs involved polyurethaning when I knew I would be out of the house for extended periods of time. One coat, I did early on a Saturday morning when I knew I was going to be taking a weekend trip and could allow it 48-hours to dry. Another time, I woke up and poly’ed before work, knowing that I could be gone 12 or 14 hours until 8-9PM (work, evening mall shopping and meeting friends out for dinner to kill time and let the stairs dry enough to walk on carefully when I got home).
It was really as easy as that (am I crazy?) – even if I had someone contracted to do the sanding and refinishing, I still would have been put-out when it came to having to shift my living arrangements around, but I would have paid for it. In all, I spent $180 for the sander and the sand paper pads, and another $150 for the polyurethane and special wide wool applicator. It was under $350 total, or around a mere $.31/sq-ft. A “win” in my book. Definitely a project I would recommend you guys to consider doing yourselves.