What to Expect From Site Finished Flooring

Definition:
Site finished flooring is referring to a wood floor that is sanded and finished after it is installed.

This method, as with any, has it’s pros and cons:
Advantages

  1. The end result is smooth across the entire surface of the floor with no detectable high/low points
  2. You spend less money on the wood itself than you would on prefinished wood
  3. Any conceivable borders, fancy inlays, or other carpentry tricks can be employed

Disadvantages

  1. The finish is not as hard as that of a prefinished floor
  2. Initially, the finish will have many small bubbles/imperfections. These will fade in 2 to 4 weeks
  3. The sanding process creates a lot of dust that gets everywhere
  4. The finishing process creates a powerful odor (in most cases) which can linger for several days/weeks (The odor is only strong for the first day or two)
  5. The entire installation takes around twice as long as it would with prefinished, costing you more in labor
  6. Because of the finish, you will be required to stay off of the floors for as long as 48 hours from the time the workers start to apply the finish
  7. Heavy furniture will need to remain off the new floors for at least 48 hours after the last coat is applied

What to expect

Doing Your Part. Although many hardwood guys will take care of some of this (for a price), it is generally considered your part of the job.

Site finished floors must be sanded and finished all at once, whereas prefinished floors can be installed room by room. So for the sanding/finishing, all furniture, cords, curtains, closet doors, etc. will need to be off the floors. Any pets, children or guests will also need to be kept from wandering onto the floors.

It is also your job to decide whether you will need to live somewhere else for the installation, sanding, and/or finishing processes. One reason you would need to live somewhere else is if every entrance/exit to the house is going to be cut off by new wood. If that is the case then it would be best for you to be out of the house for the entire finishing process since otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to leave. This is all basic common sense, but is sometimes easy to overlook. Be sure to talk with your installer about when you should/shouldn’t be in your house.

The Sanding. This step is what causes the most mess. Sanding creates sawdust. Fine sanding creates fine sawdust. This sawdust gets everywhere.

If you want, the installers can mask off the area that is going to be sanded (for a price). This will keep most of the sawdust out of wherever you don’t want it to be. Keep in mind that the only way to keep all sawdust out of an area, is to make an airtight seal.

Sometimes, installers will have vacuum systems on their sanders that will eliminate 90 percent of the dust. But don’t be fooled, there will still be dust and it will still get everywhere. The only exception is a very expensive vacuum system that requires a large vacuum trailer. Installers with these systems usually charge more to offset the cost to run such a machine. It is in your best interest, if the dust is a problem, to arrange to be out of the house during the sanding.

The Finish. This is the most sensitive part of the entire job. There are a lot of things that will affect the drying time and overall quality of the finish. Some of them are Humidity, temperature, air movement, and presence of direct sunlight.

Although it is nice when the finish dries faster than it is supposed to, this can cause quality problems like bubbles and overlap marks. Please be in communication with your installer about any decisions you make that will affect the drying time/quality of the finish.

The Finish (Odor). Oil-based finish emits very powerful (and not at all healthy) fumes for the first 8 hours or so. The smell may stick around for up to two weeks after the floor is completed, but will be significantly dilluted, and not at all harmful. A common mistake that homeowners make is to immediately open windows and doors after the installers leave. This can cause many problems having to do with air flow if the floors are still wet or tacky. Once the floors are dry, however, feel free to air out the house however you choose.

The Finish (Air flow). As a general rule, airflow over a wet floor is bad. Air movement moves dust, dog hairs, and other impurities… and as luck would have it, it moves it all right onto the floor. Now, it is impossible to stop all dust, hair, etc from getting into the finish during the 6 or so hours that it’s wet, but it is possible to cut down on it. Please talk to your installer about things like windows (Which should generally be closed), furnace vents (which should be blocked or the furnace should be off), and any kind of fans or air-moving devices.

The Finish (immediate result). Immediately after the floor is dry and you check it out for the first time, you will notice something about the finish: It’s not perfectly smooth! This is because your house is not a perfect (or even a very good) environment for applying finish. Floating around in the air is dust, pet hairs, and many other impurities that will settle into wet finish. There will also be several bubbles scattered about in the finish. This is normal and unavoidable. But fear not! Most (if not all) of these small bumps and imperfections will get smoothed out in around 2 to 4 weeks of people walking on the floors. After a couple months, your floor will be about as smooth as any floor you’ve seen.

The Finish (Drying time). With an oil-based finish, it is usually safe to walk on your floor as soon as it feels completely dry (about 8 hours). However, take note that it can take as long as 2 or 3 weeks to be completely cured. So it is good to wait as long as you can (up to 72 hours) to put heavy furniture back on the new floor.

The Finish (Water-Based). Water based finishes are getting better and better as technology advances. The immediate and obvious disadvantage is cost. A good water based finish can cost 5 times as much as its oil-based equal. The advantages are that there is virtually no odor, and the drying time is significantly lower (2 hours instead of 8, and 24 hours to get completely cured instead of 2-3 weeks). It is also more difficult to apply, so make sure your installer is comfortable with applying water-based finish before deciding on it.

The Finish (conclusion). Just remember not to expect a furniture finish. Be sure to talk to the installer about any possible concerns you have before the finish has been applied. This gives him/her a chance to fill you in on all the possible problems that are common to your situation.

Nail holes/heads. The installer should set all nails and fill all holes. As a result, there should be no visible nail heads or nail holes. However, if you kneel down and look closely, you should be able to find where the nail holes used to be, because no wood filler (or wood putty) can be a perfect match to a wood grain.

Also, there should only be a few nail holes in most floors. In fact, most of the time, a simple, square room can be installed without any nail holes at all. But keep in mind that many situations will require a board to be top-nailed, resulting in nail holes.

Cracks and Creases. Any time a board comes together with another board, it forms a crease. These creases are what make hardwood floors look how they do. On a site finished floor, if you close your eyes, you should not be able to find these creases. When you slide your bare feet across the floor it should feel like the whole floor is one peice of wood. One or two slight imperfections in this area are acceptable, but if it is possible to stup your toe, or even catch your sock on one of them, the installer should sand it smooth and refinish that area at no additional cost to you (if it was his/her fault).

When you look at a hardwood floor, there are the creases that go along the length of the wood, and go all the way across the floor (with the grain), and there are small creases inbetween boards in the same row (against the grain). The smaller creases, as a general rule, should be fairly evenly distributed around the floor, with none coming within 6 or 8 inches of eachother. Seams that are close together, or clumped in one area, leaving another area somewhat seamless, are the signs of a poor installation job. They are not, however, a good enough reason to demand that your floor be ripped up and reinstalled at the installers expense. Usually in those cases, you’ve hired a very inexpensive installer, and you got what you payed for. If it is a big deal to you, you might talk about getting the floor redone at a discounted cost.

Any crease in a wood floor has a chance of becoming a crack, for various reasons. One may a milling imperfection in some of the boards (such as one board being slightly thinner than another). Expansion and contraction may be another reason. In general, wood will expand in the summer and contract (shrink) in the winter. This causes gaps to open up between boards. It is not always good to fill these cracks, because when the boards expand again, it could push the filler out, or even buckle the wood.

On the other hand, cracks that are caused by milling imperfections or installation mistakes/problems, should be filled by the installer (with the possible exception of smaller cracks if significant expansion is expected after the installation).

After installation, there should be (in most cases) no visible cracks when viewed semi-casually from a standing position (and without a magnifying glass, please).

Scratches, gouges and other surface problems should not be visible when the installer is done. If the board was damaged when it arrived at your house, the installer should not have installed it. If it happened after the installation, but the damage was caused by the installer, he/she is responsible to fill it, fix it, or replace the boards affected. If, however, the damage is caused by another contractor or worker, or any residents, guests or pets in the house, the installer is not responsible to fix it, and is perfectly within his/her rights to charge extra if you want it fixed (However, charging extra to fix one small scratch that he/she can fix in two minutes, may be considered a little rude).

Expansion Gaps. Because wood expands and contracts (due mostly to changing humidity and temperature), installers will leave expansion gaps between the wood and everything else (walls, other floors, etc.). In general, these gaps are between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch, and are concealed by the baseboard. However, this can create a problem sometimes on remodeling jobs, especially in kitchens.

Many houses do not have any trim (or baseboard) around the bottom of the cabinets in the kitchen. When wood floors are installed in these conditions, there will be a visible, ugly expansion gap left over. The homeowner should work with the installer to select (and pay for) a baseboard, trim, or caulk solution.

Baseboards. It is common for the installer to remove and reinstall baseboards when he is hired to install a floor (for a price that should be included in the estimate). This can sometimes cause problems with older baseboards. The installer is responsible for any damage done to the baseboards due to his/her own negligence or hurriedness. The installer is not responsible for any damage that already existed, or that occurred because of the brittle state of the baseboards or excessive fastening to the wall (ie too many nails and/or glue). Be prepared to deal with at least one broken peice of baseboard. Many times the damage can be fixed with a little painter’s caulk and a coat of paint, so don’t get too broken up about it.

In conclusion, please remember that it is a floor and it’s meant to be walked on. If you get down on your hands and knees and study the floor, you will find cracks, holes, scratches, and many other imperfections. When inspecting a floor, it should be done from a standing position in normal light. If you can see problems from that position, that is when you should point them out to the installer. People who refuse to pay because of common imperfections that are expected in wood floors are setting themselves up to be blacklisted or overcharged by other contractors in the future. Nobody wants to deal with an unreasonable customer.

And if you happen to be in Colorado Springs, check out Hardwood Floors by Thomas (formerly “Hardwood Cafe”) for great flooring info, advice and even installation.

13 Responses to “What to Expect From Site Finished Flooring”

  1. Sandra Mixon Says:

    Help. We have the real hardwood floors. The finish has raised grain all over the floor. The finish was a water based finished. The installer thinks there is mositure under the floor causing it. The floor is in bedron, den, dinning room and hall way and entry. I think it is because they didn’t sand correctly after the water based finish was put on. I was told it would raise the grain but after sanding and the 2nd coat the grain would not raise anymore. Your thoughts?
    Thank you so much
    Sandra

  2. Stevish Says:

    Sandra,

    Raised grain is fairly common with water based finishes. However, the finished product should not have a raised grain. Ultimately, if the installer has put on the final coat, and the grain is still raised, he made a mistake and should fix it.

    I have some key questions for you:

    Did the person/people who put finish on the floor also install it?
    If so, they have no excuse.

    Is the final coat on already?
    If not, let them finish, as it will typically even out as they put on more coats. They should really be putting 3 coats on, so if they only do 2, and the grain is still raised, you should insist that they put on a third coat.

    Have you paid the installer yet?
    If not, and they refuse, or are unable to fix the problem, then you should have another installer from a separate business come to look at it. Then if he/she decides they can fix it, you should pay the first installer for only the installation, and pay the second one for the sand and finish.

    Is there any warping in the boards?
    If so, was the wood installed on a concrete slab, or was there a subfloor underneath?

    Please let me know how everything turns out, abd feel free to write back with any more questions.

    -Steve

  3. Kathy Says:

    I started the finishing coars on my wood floor today and their is bubbles everywhere I did not smooth them out when applying do I need to start over and sand the floors

  4. richard j. currier Says:

    i have a few questions for you if you can answer them . 1 while finishing 3.5″ stip flooring birch, i noticed that the finish wasn’t adhearing to the floor properly can this be caused by moisture from a newly constructed home where the foundation was still curing ? after noticing this threw the second coat of finish it seemed the finish was drying un-even and leaving streak marks from the sheepskin applicator i applied two coats of oil base finish without any heating system in the home concerned about how the finish was drying i took moisture readings from the subfloor down in the basement which read around 22% moisture do you believe this affected the drying of the finish not haveing heat for one and high moisture in the new home. i figured that i would wait till the heat was in to apply my final two coats of finish will this remedy the problem of dust and debree in the finish? thanks for any input. r.j.

  5. Richard Bagley Says:

    I just installed wood floors in my house. I rented the gun from home depot for $70 per day. The install went pretty easy!

  6. Angela Says:

    Hi,

    We just finished maple plank flooring in our dining room, living room, and family room. Family room turned out great but dining room seems to have more bits and pieces of stuff imbedded in final coat. What’s worse is the dining room has bright sun and therefore impurities are more noticable. You had previously said that many bumps etc will smooth over time. What about actual things like cat hair and dust permanently in the surface??? Should we redo the final coat and if so, how is this best done? First 3 coats were gloss and final coat was satin oil based polyurethane.

    Angela

  7. Caroline Says:

    Hello,

    We recently had jobsite finish floors done in a home we’ve been remodeling. It was water-based Traffic on 3/4″ rift &quarter white oak, sealer or something underneath but not a stain. My husband is VERY unhappy, he sees a lot of debris and little lumps, which he believes are congealed blobs of the Traffic product–not bubbles. To him it looks like the floors were finished with tapioca pudding. There are a few hairs, etc. too but what he’s the most upset about are the little lumps. I don’t see them the way he does, and the person who did the finishing job has said several times that the lumps he’s seeing will get worn in by foot traffic, etc., in just a couple weeks. My husband does not believe this because he quotes the guy as saying “[they’ll wear down] if they’re bubbles”, and my husband thinks they’re not bubbles but something solid, and therefore will not wear down. To my knowledge, the issue of lumps of congealed finish product has not been addressed. The first coat looked beautiful, the problem arose in the final coat. There was also some confusion about timing, the process took a full 7 days longer than we were told it would, and still the guys seemed rushed at the end. It was the same company–and their subcontractors I imagine–who did the whole thing, start to finish including selling us the wood, installing, sanding, finishing. Since my husband thinks the finish was messed up, he’s angry and can’t enjoy what looks like a lovely floor to me. Is it possible that the finish got lumpy or congealed, and will these things go away, or do we need to have it sanded off or should we try to get some money off the floor?

  8. RICHARD Says:

    We had a wood floor installed and are really disappointed. Is there,a reason the company installed a floor of busy grain. It was to match the other rooms. It does in color but not in grain. Is this type of wood lower in price?

  9. bonni Says:

    we just had a white oak site fin ins floor installed. i was very specific that i wanted very dark brown…now it is fininshed and it looks like a tiger and is not dark. finisher hash said it cannot be any darker
    Is it a fact that a white oak floor cannot be stained very dark brown ?

  10. Sue Says:

    New white oak floors installed in kitchen, dining room, office and hallway. We used a local company recommended by many contracters and designers as well as neighbbors. The floors are stained dark walnut. The final polyurethane coat was applied today. When I arrived home this evening I was rather upset because there are many overlap marks on the floor from the ployurethane application. Is this normal or am I being too picky. The marks are very obvious from certain angles in the light, and definitely darker. Before I call my contractor I want to know if I am being out of line.

  11. Dave Says:

    We just had our hardwood floors refinished (hickory). Overall we are very happy and they look great. However there are at least a dozen hairs that are imbedded in the finish. I understand that it’s hard to prevent all fibers or hairs but that seems sloppy to me. The installers did not wear hair nets or body suits and they never asked us to shut down the furnace or fan. Also, the heating ducts were not covered. Is this An acceptable outcome or should they redo the floors? I am not satisfied with the work but don’t want to be an unreasonable customer, either. Any advice? Thanks.

  12. Stevish Says:

    Dave,

    A dozen hairs is a little more than average, but not by much. Do you have any pets? Even if not, there are hairs in the air almost everywhere you go, especially inside homes. As for hair nets or body suits, I’ve never even heard of an installer doing that.We have body suits, but only for when we have to grind concrete to level it… it’s to protect us, not the floor.

    They should have asked you to turn off the furnace fan, but 12 hairs doesn’t seem too high a price for that oversight.

    Bottom line, they may be able to get some of the hairs out (there’s a trick with a bent razor blade that works remarkably well), and then feather in a little finish over the spot to make it look nearly perfect. But if they say they won’t fix it, there’s not much you can do but not recommend them to your friends. It’s not unacceptable enough to threaten legal action or withhold pay, but I wouldn’t recommend anyone who wouldn’t at least make an effort to fix the most obvious hairs.

  13. Leslee Says:

    Hello! We had our floors (red oak) refinished. It took a really long time to dry, I think because we did not have our furnace turned on. Now it is the summer and we have bubbles coming up at all the joins between the planks. It looks really awful. Is this a common phenomenon? Is there anything we can do to repair it other than re-sand?

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