the process of living in a house while refinishing floors

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Living Room, My House, Room Makeovers, Tips and Tricks34 Comments

Well, we’ve made it to the other side of having new wood floors installed in the living room while also refinishing the kitchen & eating area floors.  And, we were living in the house through the entire process.  In fact, every time we’ve either worked on floors ourselves or had them done, we’ve stayed in the house through the upheaval.  Several people asked if I would share the process as well as some tips for how we made it work, so that’s what this post is all about!

DIY or pay the pros?

The first big decision when it comes to installing or refinishing wood floors is figuring out if you want to tackle it yourself or hire it out.  We’ve done both and the decision was largely dictated by budget as well as the scale of the project and availability.  There is a small portion of it that boiled down to desire, too.  We have both installed and refinished hardwood floors multiple times and we really don’t want to do it again.  We’d rather just wait, save up for it, and hire it out.

The main advantage of doing it yourself is the cost savings, but it can still be an expensive undertaking when you factor in the materials, the finishes, and the tools you need to buy or rent.  I would strongly suggest costing it out and then get a few quotes from professionals.  You might find that the difference isn’t as great as you would imagine it to be or you’ll have clear confirmation that the DIY route is the best option.  This prevents a lot of second-guessing when you’re neck-deep into the project and it’s not smooth sailing.

The biggest advantage when hiring a professional is they have the experience when they run into snags, which is pretty common in home renovation projects.  We installed one hardwood floor over layers of old linoleum and all of the layers slowed the nail from the nailgun down, so it stuck out and blocked the groove that the tongue would fit in.  We ended up having to hand cut around each of the nails, meaning a 1-day project turned into a 3-day project.  A professional probably would’ve had a better solution, but this was before the days of YouTube or Pinterest, so we were on our own to figure it out.

Pros know how to make sure the boards are straight and how to stagger the joints.  They can work around a curved hearth and a room that is 1″ wider on one side than the other.  They also have all of the gear.  I didn’t keep close track, but the gentleman who installed our floors had at least two nailers (a floor nailer and a finishing nailer), three saws (a table saw, a miter saw, and a Dremmel tool for cutting baseboards when needed), and four different kinds of sander/buffers, plus dust collection.  It was a lot of gear to get the job done right.

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

They also work quicker than you do, because they are not having to take the time to figure things out (unless there is a real conundrum.)  The house is going to be in upheaval while the floors are being installed and/or refinished and the less time it takes, the better.  Just make sure you clearly understand what they will do and what you’ll need to do or hire out to someone else.  In the case of this project, they replaced the 1/4 round they removed, but we needed to touch up the paint and purchase and install new 1/4 round in the living room.  In the case of the wood steps we had installed last year, we had to hire someone to fix the carpet where it met with the wood floor in the upstairs hall.

There is a hybrid option as well – do some of the work yourself and hire out the parts that are more technical or you don’t want to do yourself.  For example, you can do the demo and/or install the floors and hire someone to sand and finish them.  We’ve taken this route, too, and found that it can save some money.

For this job, we used Wagner’s Wood Floors and they are excellent.  If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area, I would highly recommend Andy Wagner (and his son helped, too.)

it will be disruptive

When you have to move furniture from one or more rooms into other rooms, it’s just going to be messy and disruptive.  We did the best we could to put the furniture in places that would allow us to still use rooms, but it was annoying nonetheless.  The noise from the banging, nailing and sanding as well as the fumes of the sealer can also be distracting.  I put on music and closed myself away as much as I could, but it was still difficult to do focused creative work.  I ended up working on other projects since those were easier to focus on.

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

dealing with the dust

The number one thing people have asked me about is the dust.  Surprisingly, the dust was not an issue!  I learned this from having the office and dining room floors done.  We were prepared for it to be a huge mess, having to tape off the rooms in plastic to protect the rest of the house, and Andy, the floor refinisher, said that wasn’t necessary.  He uses dust collection on every tool and it really minimized, almost eliminated the dust.  Most of the mess came from moving our own stuff (finding crumbs under carpets and cat toys under cabinets), not from the refinishing.

I even left my curtains hanging and just taped them up and they were totally fine.

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

the worst of it

The worst part of the entire process was the sealer coat.  It was so stinky and, if there wasn’t a pandemic happening, we would’ve stayed in a hotel for the night.  Since we were stuck at home, we opened the windows and set up fans.  It was a very hot and humid day in Rochester, so it wasn’t a great day to have the windows open and our air conditioner was struggling, but it helped a little.

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

The sealer dried quickly, though, and we were able to walk on the floors that evening.  The subsequent coats weren’t fume-y and the fumes from the first coat dissipated after a couple of days.  We ended up having a nice day in the 70’s, so we opened all of the windows and really aired out the house.

animals & eating without access to a kitchen

Sebastian and the cats didn’t care for all of the banging and machines, so they mostly found a family member and curled up with them.  We did have to block off access to the rooms when they put the finish down, so Sebastian wouldn’t get in, and we shut the cats up in a room with food, litter, water, toys, etc.  Calvin would hang out in the “cat room” with the kitties most of the day, so they wouldn’t be lonely.  We could let them out in the evening when the floors were dry and they all did well.

The kitties thought this was all for them…

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

Before the project began, I moved the essential food items down to the basement wet bar and minifridge.  I also brought down paper bowls and spoons, so the boys could have cereal and snacks.  Each morning, I woke up about an hour before the work started, ate a quick breakfast, and cleaned up.  We would then eat out for lunch and dinner.  We were all sick of picking up food to go by the end of the week, but it was just for a few days.

the timeline

The entire process took 5 days – Monday through Friday.  Monday and Tuesday were laying the new floors and sanding.  Wednesday was sanding and sealing.  Thursday and Friday were putting on the finish, buffing, putting the 1/4 round back on in the kitchen, and cleaning up.  By Friday night, we were walking on the floors and we could (carefully) start moving furniture back in on Saturday.   We can put rugs down after 3-4 weeks.

That last day, I spent a lot of time just watching the floors dry!  They slowly changed from a glossy, wet coating to a satin, smooth finish.

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

tips on refinishing floors miss mustard seed

It was all worth it and really pretty short-lived in the grand scheme of things.  Installing or refinishing floors can be a good DIY project, but I’m glad we hired this one out and the floors look amazing.  I can’t wait until we can put the rugs down!

If there is a wood floor project on the horizon, here are some posts you might want to check out…

living with raw wood floors

tips on sanding wood floors

painting a wood floor

my floor refinishing story



the process of living in a house while refinishing floors

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34 Comments on “the process of living in a house while refinishing floors”

  1. The floors look amazing, and will look so warm when everything is back in place. I moved into a home with all wood floors except for the steps, I hate those steps! I noticed you installed a light above your painting of Bethe Morisot by Manet. Did you have an outlet installed behind your painting or is the light not electric? I am interest for one of my paintings, and since I rent I cannot install an outlet.

    1. You can replace the stair treads (the part you actually walk on) fairly easily sometimes. You could put a wood finish on it.

      1. We had our stairs done about 1.5 years ago and were planning to do them ourselves, but they were particle boards and not an easy DIY project like we were expecting! Sometimes you can get lucky, though!

  2. The first time we had wood floors installed my husband was out of town hunting and I worked all day. They used polyurethane to finish and it takes longer to dry. They told me they would leave the patio door open so that I could get in without walking on the floor, but of course, that didn’t happen, so I had to jump down the hall to get to the living room. I think I left two footprints on the 12 foot hallway. I was so upset. I went outside to get the dog and she came in and walked into the kitchen! The installers did come back and try to buff out the footprints but they said it is impossible to completely fix without doing it all over again. A few years later we had the floors refinished and we had it done while we were on vacation!

    1. Oh no! That is so frustrating! And yes, it would’ve been nice to have this done when we were away, but it worked out okay. Our house is situated so that we could get into all of the other rooms through other entrances. It was inconvenient but not as bad as not being able to get in the front door!

  3. I’m always amazed at how much time I spend in my kitchen when we do a project there. I’m currently doing dishes and making breakfast out of our laundry room (and garage fridge) while we wait til the adhesive dries on our new sink/countertop!

  4. I think you were smart to hire all this work out. Now it’s finished and you can enjoy it. The finished floors look beautiful!

  5. Hooray! The 5 disruptive days are soon forgotten when the work is so well done. We were so young when we installed floors in our house in Brooklyn NY, nothing was plumb anywhere in such old house. In the main rooms we even bleached, pickled the floor boards, it is still beautiful now, in less important rooms we used polyurethane but not glossy. Poly in gloss finish makes a plastic like look which we find cheap looking. And in France where we can’t go to now, we scrubbed each floor board on ours knees and applied a penetrated sealer, a rather organic oil, that is non toxic and dries fast; 2 to 3 coats made the floors look beautiful and not shinny. Your happy cats seem to enjoy the new beautiful floors as well.

  6. Looks great! I love hardwood floors and only have a runner in my hall. Hardest thing is keeping people off of them with shoes

  7. How does the light work over your picture? Cord? It looks so nice and have a few pictures I would love to do the same.

  8. Marian, your floors are beautiful. If you don’t mind me asking what kind of wood flooring was used. We are contemplating having wood floors installed, but so many choices to choose from. 🤪
    My husband is disabled and uses a walker now but will probably be in a wheelchair before long. We need flooring that will stand up to the everyday wear and tear.

    1. It’s birch flooring (I think northern birch), but it does scratch. Since it’s lighter, it doesn’t show scratches unless you really look, but you might want to consider engineered hardwood.

  9. They look fabulous, I an curious as to why you need to wait for the floor to cure for the rugs yet you could move the furniture back?

    1. The furniture has very few touchpoints with the floor, allowing it to still breathe as it’s curing. A rug would cover too much surface and not allow the floor to breathe.

  10. Marion, Your first story about your DIY project brought back memories of our first home. We purchased it in 1974 for $7000 with a $3000 home improvement loan. Needless to say it needed a lot of work. Like you, I thought how hard can it be and with the energy and enthusiasm of youth I rented a floor sander and went at it. After going through numerous expensive sandpaper rounds I called it good. When I applied the stain, all the imperfections stood out and I cried. The next day I bravely applied the high gloss polyurethane and thank God, this hid all my mistakes. People always complimented the hard wood floor. Little did they know how bad they actually were!

  11. The floors are beautiful and post informative but not nearly as entertaining as when you refinished your floors yourself and thought to get the darker colors you had to put the stain on thick. If my memory is correct you mopped up the stain up scooting around with your feet covered in cloths like to wipe up the excess. And were you pregnant at the time? My heart went out to you as I could so see my daughter or younger self doing the same thing.
    You have come quite a ways. God has been gracious to you and multiplied your many talents!

    1. Yeah, it’s not as entertaining, but it certainly was easier! 🙂 And yes, I was 5-months pregnant at the time I finished those darn floors.

  12. Hi Marian: What a beautiful and satisfying project! We need to refinish the wood floors throughout every room of our 1920s home, and I’m most stressed by the idea of moving all of our furniture. How did you handle that piece of the project? We have some really heavy cabinets and dressers – too heavy for us to move ourselves. Do you move pieces between rooms and only refinish some rooms/floors at a time?

    1. We did move the furniture ourselves, but we were only having three rooms done and could pretty easily slide the furniture. If you’re doing the whole house, I agree with Carla. Rent some pods you can load the furniture into during the refinishing process and hire movers (or some teenagers) to help.

  13. I recommend you rent a pod and movers. Have it moved into the pod for the refinishing. When all is done have it moved back.

  14. A small point but I do love the direction of the planks. My flooring guy recommended that I install the bamboo flooring so it went across the L-shaped kitchen (similar to yours) instead of along the long edge as I wanted. Said it would make the rooms look wider. I thought it would make them look choppy. Since I was paying the bill, I won that toss. It is so important to have things done the way you think they should go. No regrets here!

    1. Floors are generally supposed to be installed in the direction of the longest wall in the space. I agree that it looks best.

  15. The floors are beautiful…one thing, what’s up with the 1 perpendicular board in the archway? They didn’t feather the boards?

    1. That was an option, but we decided to keep the dividing board. It was going to be a lot more time and money and, since we were refinishing the old floors, we weren’t’ as concerned about feathering the boards. I don’t mind that dividing board, since it’s right under the arch.

  16. I did exactly what you did as I wanted real wood and on site finishing . Alot of disruption but beautiful. Worth the inconvenience and cost

  17. Hurray! Your floors look gorgeous!! Best part: goodbye, old carpet. I most loved the photos of animals and people enjoying the empty rooms. My 101-year old wood floors were refinished last summer after a flood. When I came home, the first thing I did was to lie down on that beautiful floor and make “angels.” Hats off to the talented pros who do this for a living!

  18. The new floors looks amazing but how did you talk Jeff into removing the carpet that he loved? I remember you saying several times you wanted hardwoods but Jeff and the boys loved the carpet.

    1. It was finally looking worn enough that we needed to either replace the carpet or put in hardwood floors. He agreed that it wouldn’t be worth the money to replace the carpet and let me have my way with the wood floors. He loves them!

  19. Your newly refinished floors look so good! Are you glad you went with the professionals instead of trying to figure it out yourself?

  20. Thank you for your wood floor story! We are currently in the process of having our oak wood floors redone after a massive dishwasher leak. Your tips and experience are so helpful to reference as we are going through this mess! Planks are being replaced today and by the end of next week we’ll be done! Happiness! 🙂

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