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Home with Wood Floors ~ FAQ's about Wood Floors



Purchasing a Home with wood floors


What to look for when purchasing a home with wood floors. Revealing old wood floors under carpet, tile, and other floor coverings can expose many concerns when trying to revive them.

If under carpet, pull back the corners in each room, check for squeaks, loose boards, any movement in floor boards. When was the floors last refinished? What type of finish is on the floor now ? What condition are they in, ie. - do they need some attention, refinishing, re-coating, re-waxing ? Look for pet and plant stains (dark areas in spots on the floor-see below).  For the most part, pet stains can be assumed if there is an odor from the soiled carpet. Most do not sand out. Wood replacement then refinishing will give best results. If the seller does not want the floor inspected before closing, make sure there is a clause in the contract to spell out who will be responsible for repairs and refinishing. There nothing more disheartening than to know you have hardwood floors, and have unseen damage after removing to carpets prior to move in. If the floor squeaks (off grade-wood sub-floor), odds are they have some age on them, have been effected by humidity (or improper carpet cleaning) thru the years or may have been wet at one time or another (excessive squeaking), or there may be additional underlying problems, sub-floor damage, foundation settling ? See FAQ's & Problems, Causes and Cures. Upon refinishing some of the squeaks will lessen due to finish penetration in the cracks. Excessive areas may require more work such as face nailing and filling nail holes in high problem areas. What finishes or product is on the floor now ? If the carpet is old more than likely its a seal and wax finish. If exposed and has worn areas with traffic patterns it maybe wax or urethane. Get an estimate from a certified wood floor contractor to help determine the type of finish you have. If wax has been placed on the floor at any time prior, refinishing must occur to have wax removed, and start with a bare , freshly sanded wood floor. Urethane will NOT adhere to waxed floors, or floors that have been contaminated by cleaning products and other foreign materials such as over spray of furniture polish. 

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FAQ's about Wood Floors

What type of finish do you have?
Here are some simple steps to help you determine if the finish is a wax finish, shellac or varnish finish or a surface finish. If the floor was installed, or last serviced, before the mid '60s, you should assume the finish used was varnish or shellac. To determine this, scratch the surface with a coin or other sharp object in a corner or other inconspicuous space. If the finish flakes, it is probably shellac or varnish. Shellac and varnish are rarely used anymore and require full sanding to remove before application of a surface finish or wax finish.

Next, check the floor for wax finish. In an inconspicuous area, corner or behind a door, apply two(2) drops of water. If, within ten minutes, white spots appear under the drops of water, the floor has a wax finish. To remove the white spots, gently rub the spots with #000 steel wool dampened with wax.

If the finish does not flake from scratching with a coin and white spots do not appear from the drops of water, the floor has a surface finish and should be maintained accordingly.

Refinishing your wood floors is dusty, timely process. Make sure enough time is scheduled for the wood floor contractor to properly do his job, without being rushed or having other trades interfere with his work (walking on the floors during sanding & finishing). This should be one of the last major projects before moving in. Paint first then refinish. It's much easier to sand the paint of the floor that it is to try and remove the paint off of the newly finished floor, with the trim being touched up after refinishing is complete. What type of finish do you want? This is very important, especially if you have wood floors in high traffic areas. See Finish Types and Customer Expectations .  


Area carpets , rugs, and under padding on newly finished wood floors - Most surface floor finishes technically take some 14-30 days to "cure" completely. Exotic take longer. Ask your wood floor contractor how much the product will change, and the time needed to not discolor the floor. Thus it is not advisable to lay area carpets over them until that time. According to the type of finish you have (most commonly oil based, unless non-yellowing) areas under the rugs , not exposed to the UV from the out side, may cause a discoloration in that area (some species more than others). Rotating the rug, often or removing (every 6 months) and allowing normal light to expose that area will lessen the UV effects. Requesting a non-yellowing (oil based) or latex (water based) finish will keep most discoloration at bay. A mesh grid type of padding should be used under ALL area carpets & runners. NEVER place rug directly on wood floor surface. This product can be purchased at most home warehouses, and carpet outlets/stores.

Recoating/Screening (Pad & recoat)- If your floors have a surface / urethane finish, whether water or oil based (See mixing finishes) they can be lightly sanded (screened) and re-coated with additional coats of the same or compatible finish. Two coats are suggested for best protection. Make sure the floor has not been waxed or contaminated with improper cleaning products or oil soaps unknown to you. Special procedures for removing these oil soaps, cleaning solutions, and normal build up of grease, dirt and day to day wear, may need to occur first.  An experienced  wood floor contractor can help you in taking the guess work out of this technical issue that causes finish recoating failure. This is a VERY serious concern, and should be addressed with an experienced wood floor contractor. Cost for this procedure will vary by area, type and number of coats of finish used. Always get 2 or 3  estimates from qualified wood floor contractors, making sure they are bidding the same wood floor finish product.

Pet, Plant & Water stains: The general rule is "the darker, the deeper" the water or pet mistake has penetrated deep into the wood floor. For the most part, they will lighten slightly when sanded, and bleaching is not a suggested course of action, as this damages the wood fiber and can not be repaired without removal and replacement of the danages boards.. Staining the floor the help camouflage the stains, is one alternative. For sever stains, removal and board replacement before refinishing will give best results. Make sure the replacement boards are the same species and grade. Often if grade and species can not be located, they can be removed from an inconspicuous part of the floor in another part of the residence, like a closet, and those boards can be use for repairs. Another option is to have a painted wood floor with a design and/or patterns to fit your decor, or use area carpets, and runners.

Refinishing Wood Floors - How To?Removing carpet & tac strip: Gloves should be worn at all times. Pull the carpet off the tac strip, starting in one corner, pulling completely away from all walls. Use a utility knife to cut the carpet into strips of 3-4 feet wide (easy handling). CAUTION: Make sure not to cut through to the wood floor, as these cut marks may NOT sand out. Dispose of  the carpet & pad (NOTE: Most garbage services will NOT pickup entire rolls of carpet or padding, make sure it's cut into pieces that can be easily loaded). Padding many times has stuck itself to the hardwood floor. Remove as much as you can by hand, and if needed use a 4-6" putty knife to assist with stubborn area, always scrapping with the grain. Using a "wonder bar" ( Small crow/prying bar) run the flat edge under the strip where the nail is placed to the floor. Continue prying up with several prying motions. This will remove that nail, working to your right until the strip is removed. Don't worry about the nails holes, as they can be properly filled during the refinishing process with a matching filler. Use caution with the pry bar as not the damage/gouge the hardwood floor, as the sanding may not remove those damaged areas.

Tile and/or adhesives over hardwood: Tile removal is a time consuming task, and often can be very frustrating, as the tile does not come off the hardwood/felt paper very well. Hand working removal with a 4-5 inch putty knife, scrapping with the grain when possible, removing as much as possible, then several extra courses of sanding will be required to remove the remaining adhesive residue. ALWAYS using the proper safety equipment/protection & precautions. NOTE: This process should be done by a professional wood floor contractor as many safety issues can arise while sanding these adhesives off the wood floor. This SHOULD NOT be attempted by the amateur, do it yourselfer ! Also if the tile is of an older variety, it may contain asbestos, and proper OSHA standards for removal most likely will apply.

THE VACANT HOUSE - "Greenhouse Effect"

Security -conscious vacationers, a homebuilder's unsold inventory, whenever a wood floor is deprived of an air flow in the environment, it can and will misbehave. Sunlight through windows generates heat, lowers humidity, moisture vapor enters to balance, nights cool off, humidity builds and wood floors cup. Thermostats set at 60 degrees and outside, winter howls, heating system runs constantly with no moisture added, and floors shrink. To CURE the problem: Avoid problems by leaving windows "ajar", have neighbor air the house out occasionally. Treat floors as discussed under cupped, tented, or shrinkage cracks and only after environment returns to normal. Owner to pay. The above commonly ask questions will help you and your wood floor contractor resolve some of the everyday concerns about wood floors. By no means is this a sure method or procedure. If in doubt, get a second opinion. Also see FAQ's  Problems, Causes and Cures.

Remember, like may things in purchasing a home, the wood floors are a lifetime investment. There value (a solid select grade of strip oak is approximately $10 per sqr. ft. on today's market) add value to your home at resale time. Keeping & maintaining those wood floors from the start will ensure your investment is protected for years to come. ALWAYS get an inspection and/or estimate (if they need work) from two or three good wood floor contractors before you sign the contract on the house !

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See these Related Pages:
Wood Floors are Healthy for you
FAQ's  Problems, Causes and Cures
Refinishing Wood Floors
Refinishing Old Wood Floors
Customer Expectations
Do's & Don'ts
Maintenance on your Wood Floors
Types of Wood Floors


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