By Mike Reynolds
There’s an awful lot of pine floors around the Gatineau Hills and many of them are in pretty rough shape. Some are varnished, some are painted and both are likely to have some great looking wood underneath.
Stripping floors down to the original wood is not a fun procedure; it first means stripping your house of all furnishings and preparing for a surfeit of dust and debris. You can rent equipment and sand it yourself, but there are plenty of good reasons to have it done by pros.
When it comes time to sealing the raw wood again, there are options worth looking into. Here is a quick rundown of some of the pros and cons of different finishes.
Water-based versus oil-based varnish:
Oil-based takes much longer to dry, and soiled brushes and rags are highly combustible. It used to be a lot more durable than water-based, but improvements in water-based products have made that difference negligible. Oil-based requires solvents for cleanup, whereas with water based you only need soap and water.
The smell from either may be gone in days or weeks, but the effects won’t be. It will take years before the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in any surface finish stop polluting your air, which can cause or aggravate a multitude of health issues from respiratory illnesses to damaging your central nervous system. Expect around 200 grams of VOCs per can of water based varnish; 450 per can of oil based.
Natural oils (linseed or tung oil)
Oiled floors are much more natural looking as they age and they are much easier to repair. Lacking the hardened coating of polyurethane, they are a bit less resistant to water, and more prone to denting.
However, it is pretty much a given that any softwood floor will get damaged unless you rope it off and only look at it. Scuff marks and dents on an oiled floor are arguably not as offensive as those on varnish, so I’d still score a point here for oil.
And when you do need to repair it, rather than stripping your home of all furnishings before stripping the floor and re-applying a finish, you can do a quick sanding of damaged or high traffic areas, rub on a bit more oil and you’re done.
Consumer demand and government regulations have led to a sharp drop in the amount of VOCs found in both paints and floor finishes. So ask a lot of questions when you shop and let us know if you find a great new product like we just did – a zero VOC floor oil.
If we promote individual brands, it isn’t for a financial kickback, but because they offer something unique for either health or sustainability reasons. We found both in a floor oil – Monocoat by Rubio – which is completely plant based and non-toxic. Application is a matter of spreading it on, waiting the allotted time and removing any excess.
While it may seem expensive when priced by the can, it’s called Monocoat for a reason: you only have to do one coat. In fact, applying a second coat is pointless as it bonds with the wood on a molecular level and will reject any additional oil.
Monocoat comes in at around 30 cents per square foot, and by the time you purchase enough varnish for three coats, you’ll be well over 40 cents per square foot. The final product is surprisingly durable and probably the nicest looking floor finish I’ve ever seen. Ultimately this means less work and less money for a great looking, easily repairable non-toxic floor.
And once you realize just how much it sucks to strip a varnished floor, oiled floors will be all the more appealing as you won’t ever have to endure that toxic dust storm again. We have more info about Monocoat as well as other solutions for improving indoor air quality in our building guide at Ecohome.net.
Ed. note: Mike Reynolds is a former area homebuilder, LEED for Homes inspector and the editor of Ecohome.net, a free web source for building green. For additional building guidance, contact him at email@example.com