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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 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.
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…