As we get ourselves ready for the colder months with warm boots, cosy jackets, hats and gloves we should also remember that, to get the best from our floor and of course to save on those ever rising energy bills it is important to get our wood floors ready for winter too.
There has been much recent TV coverage and infomercials on energy saving ideas such as lagging pipes, loft and cavity wall insulation. But there’s been considerably less information on how to gap-proof a solid wood floor, one of the most common ways to lose heat. Although the sanding floor board gaps may look tiny to the human eye, they are probably dotted all over the room, and some may even be large enough for you to physically feel the draught when you place your hand across the gap. Fortunately this is fixable – and with considerably less upheaval that either loft or cavity wall insulation too.
Because the coldest air in the home will naturally become trapped and move around underneath floorboards, any gaps between the planks will act just the same way as an open window and suck the hot air out of the room. Assuming an average sized lounge has small gaps throughout it is just the same as having a window open whilst the central heating is on.
If you check current status with the Energy Saving Trust (EST) you will see that it is estimated that by filling in spaces between floor boards and skirtings the average householder can save not only money but also reduce their CO2 emissions too.
If you already think the argument for gap-filling is looking pretty tight then the deciding factor should be that it is not difficult to do. Anyone with a little general DIY experience should be able to eliminate those gaps quickly and easily.
Method of gap filling
There are many products available for the job, from traditional epoxy resin-based solutions to the more modern draught-fill product, which looks rather like an elasticated frankfurter sausage! This can be purchased and cut into varying sizes to fill all sizes of gaps. This filler is available in different colours, so it should blend in well with most floor types.
Although gap filling is not rocket science it is pretty exacting work if you want to get it right, and will take some time to do. This is because floor board gaps are not obliging enough to be uniform in size, so you will probably find different lengths and widths of gaps throughout the room. If you are unlucky you might find every single gap is a different size, but even if this is the case it is important to take your time and do the job right.
You should put aside sufficient time to do one complete room before starting on another. Once you feel the benefit (and it should be pretty instant!) it will give you incentive to carry on throughout the house.
If you are thinking of a complete restoration including sanding and refinishing then it is best to sand the floor first if it has not been sanded in a long time. Then you can attend to the gaps once the floor has been sanded down.
Once the sanding and gap filling is completed then you can apply a new refinishing product such as oil, wax, lacquer or varnish or alternatively leave the floor bare and opt for clear sealant protection instead.
Wood flooring is nothing if not versatile so to get the most from your floor this and every winter, as well as saving money and energy get those gaps filled right away.
To get your wood flooring looking like new again, it’s time to get sanding! Sanding a floor basically means removing ancient coats of finishing by using an industrial sanding unit and reapplying a fresh veneer of varnish, lacquer or wood stain. Of course there is more to the process than that, but basically that is the refinishing procedure sanded back (pun intended) to the bare bones.
If you have never attempted to sand your own floor before but feel it is a challenge you could rise to them read on. If you would like to have your floor refinished but feel it is a bit beyond you physically then don’t worry. Instead of tackling the job yourself you can enlist the aid of a professional wood sanding outfit who offer a no-obligation quotation so you can see where you stand.
Sanding – the facelift for floors
Because sanding is absolutely integral to any successful wood floor restoration, it is essential – in every case – that old veneer is completely stripped away before applying fresh finishing products. Unlike paint, which can be applied on top of previous coats, wood floor finishing products must only ever be used on newly sanded bare boards.
The best place to start then is in a completely emptied room with interior doors you are not going to be using taped up to help prevent residual dust from creeping throughout the rest of the house. Keep windows open in the room you are working in throughout the process, especially when you are applying finishing and wear appropriate dust masks, goggles and gloves.
If your room is medium to large sized you will need to use a large sanding machine. These are available for hire at DIY outlets and plant hire premises. You can choose from a belt or drum sander. If you are unfamiliar with its use, make sure you receive a breakdown of the operating instructions (including health and safety guidelines) from the hire shop.
Before putting the sander anywhere near your floor, inspect the boards thoroughly and wood floor repair or replace damaged or worn planks as necessary. Gaps between the boards should be filled with wood filler paste applied with a plastic spatula. Take out any sticking up nails or tacks and secure any boards which are loose.
With these essential preliminaries completed you are now ready to sand – once you have thoroughly vacuumed the room, of course! Affix the coarsest grain of sandpaper onto the machine, switch on and slowly walk it along the floor boards. The machine will sand as it moves but (especially in the case of the drum sander) it will continue to sand when in a stationary position, so never, ever leave the machine on when it is not in motion. This large machine will be unable to reach flush into the skirting so leave an 8-inch perimeter around the room. This area you will have to sand by hand.
If your floor has never been sanded chances are you will have to repeat the sanding process two or three times. Always vacuum between sandings though and each time upgrade the paper to one of a finer grain.
The final sand down
When your floor has benefitted as much as possible from sanding, the boards will feel smooth with no wood splinters, holes or ruts in evidence. Don’t worry if your floor is now a different colour from when you started. This is natural and will change again with the application of the finishing product.
When your floor has been sanded sufficiently it is always a good idea to let the wood ‘breathe’ for 24 hours before finishing. That way you can look at the floor again with fresh eyes and check one final time for flaws.
When you are happy with the finish then you can safely apply the varnish, wood stain, lacquer or oil you have chosen. Play safe and apply in small areas using a lint-free cloth rather than a brush, which may leave brush marks and stray bristles to spoil the final effect.
Dealing with Stains
As any pet owner will know, puppies and kittens do leave ‘calling cards’ where they shouldn’t! When they do this on your hardwood floor and it goes unnoticed for a while it will leave a dark stain (as well as a rather pungent aroma). Other enemies to your hardwood flooring are ink and crayon stains, coffee, tea and fruit juice spillages. Of course if you see a stain happening in front of you, then it’s relatively easy to deal with. You can simply whip out the floor cleaner and get right into removing it. But the stains we are talking about here are those sneaky stains left by Rover and Tiddles in those dark corners or under the sofa!
If the stain is on the veneer only and has not penetrated into the wood, all you have to do is take care of it right away by using a very fine rubbing pad and then buff it up with a soft dry cloth. If however the stain has seeped through into the boards then you will need a pH neutral floor cleaner. PH neutral cleaners will not leave a residual topcoat of film on your floor and can be found in washing up liquids and other associated products.
While persistent flooring squeaks are annoying, they are actually not difficult to remove. 99% of squeaks are caused when the floor joist, subfloor and hardwood flooring have shifted and that annoying little squeak you hear is the nails moving in the holes. Floors can also move naturally due to age or climate. For a permanent squeak solution the floor should be re-nailed.
Never underestimate the sanding process as it makes a major difference to the finished result. The better the sanding, the better the floor. Sanding can be undertaken by hand (very long job), or by a drum sander (quicker but can leave roller marks) or by the latest hi-tech sanding machines handled by professional floor sanding experts (infinitely preferable!).
Sanding will remove the current veneer on your floor to leave the boards with an all-round smoothness. It is important to the finished process that the floor is uniformly sanded, as over or under-sanding on parts of the floor leads to an imperfect finish.
When sanding is completed you can inspect the floor for protruding nails, gaps between the boards, loose boards etc. Now is the time to attend to these pesky problems before beginning the finishing process.
Wood stain should only ever be applied to a sanded floor. Never, ever apply stain on top of an existing stain or varnish; therein lies the path to ugly lumps and uneven finishes, and you will wish you had never started the process in the first place.
So let’s say the floor is freshly sanded and now ready for its coat of wood stain. There are many types of stain you can use, depending on the effect you want to achieve. Select from clear stain, white pigmented stain, dye stains, gel stains and lacquers. Stain must be applied evenly across the floor in order to avoid bubbling and blemishes. Certain stains can even be mixed to give a unique colour to your floor.
A regular and thorough cleaning will help your floor retain its good looks for longer. Use a soft brush to remove dust or a light vacuum cleaner if you prefer. Mopping your hardwood floor need not be done daily; once every 7 – 10 days is usually enough if you are brushing regularly.
When using the mop be sure to wring it out thoroughly to avoid making the floor sopping wet as this will, through time, warp the wood and may also cause discolouration.
Treat your floor to a polish by tying a dry duster over a mop head (again dry) and gently buffing the boards.
Still not convinced about replacing your soft carpets with the smooth elegance of a hardwood floor? If you’re just about at the end of your tether and ready to decide the matter on the toss of a coin, here are 8 very good reasons why you should choose a hardwood floor to grace your home, rather than carpets or any other type of flooring…
#1 – You’ve probably already got it!
Pull back the carpet and the underlay and what do you discover? Well, unless you live in a VERY old cottage with slate or stone floors, you’ll find a long-forgotten hardwood floor just waiting to be brought back to life. If you do need to install a new wooden floor then it’s a relatively easy procedure that a good floor sanding company will be able to do in a matter of days, or even hours!
#2 – Keep it clean…
Wooden flooring is so much easier to keep clean than carpeting, and it’s far more resilient to dirt, dust and even pet hairs. A quick wipe over with a damp mop and a monthly polish is all it takes to keep your wooden floor clean, hygienic and looking gorgeous.
#3 – Classy looks
Polished wooden floors simply scream class – as long as that sanding and polishing is done professionally! Once you’ve achieved that perfect polished look you’ll find that it raises the standard of your entire décor – particularly useful if you are in the process of selling your home.
#4 – Tough as nails…
Although you can get carpeting that is designed to be hard wearing, the trouble is that it looks…well, like a carpet that’s designed to be hard wearing rather than elegant or sophisticated. Wooden flooring keeps its classy looks but also has the benefit of being one of the most resilient surfaces you can have, even in high traffic areas such as hallways and stairs.
#5 – Pump up the value…
Market research has shown that homes with polished wooden floors are considered to be more desirable, and this can push the value of your home up considerably, showing a healthy return on your initial investment. So no matter what it costs to get your wooden floor looking perfect initially, the investment value easily outweighs the cost and can make all the difference if you’re trying to sell your property in what is still a relatively sluggish housing market.
#6 – A healthier environment
For anyone who suffers from breathing difficulties, allergies or conditions such as asthma, carpeting can not only be problematic, it can be downright hazardous to your health. Many allergies are triggered by the presence of dust and particulates in the atmosphere, and carpets can make this situation much worse. Switching to wooden floors, which are easier to clean and leave no hiding place for dust and dirt, could actually create a healthier environment for you and your family.
#7 – Choose a look to suit you
Minimalist or traditional, cottage clutter or shabby chic – wooden floors are far more flexible than you realise and can form the focal point for almost any type of décor. Scan the interior design magazines and you’ll find a wealth of decorating ideas; all of which have a gorgeous polished or waxed wooden floor at their heart. And when you fancy a change, it’s as easy to transform your wooden floor as it is to change the colour on your walls.
#8 – Wooden floors just go on and on and on…
When your carpet starts to look a bit threadbare or the grouting around your tiles is starting to look a dirty grey instead of brilliant white, it can be an expensive process to replace or repair them. The beauty of a wooden floor is that it keeps its looks for longer with the minimum amount of maintenance. Wooden floors rarely need replacing (unlike carpets or vinyl flooring), so they can also save you money too.
Does ‘shabby chic’ ever go out of style? Or is it one of those interminable design standards that, admittedly when it’s done well looks fantastic, but is really coming to the end of its shelf life? And does our reliance on shabby chic actually turn it into some kind of design ‘comfort blanket’ – something we can always depend upon to keep us on trend with our interiors?
Well, whatever your opinion on the subject, shabby chic is still in vogue and filling the pages of home design magazines on news-stands around the country. So let’s take a closer look at the concept of shabby chic – what it is, why it’s so popular and how to achieve the look without tipping over into just…shabby…
What is shabby chic?
In its best incarnations, shabby chic is a celebration of all things retro. It takes the very best vintage ideas and brings them into a modern setting without losing any of the character of the original pieces. It’s a direct retaliation to the flat-pack monotony of generic interior design – a kick against the ‘burbs and a fight back against mundane magnolia. If the look is a little bit worn or ‘lived in’ then so much the better – it’s this slightly threadbare and used look that shabby chic attempts to achieve.
But take it too far and you risk achieving a look that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Grimebusters. Shabby chic has to strike just the right balance of pathos and intentional shabbiness to hit it spot on. Get it right and you’ve got a real French Provincial feel that’s light, airy and instantly relaxing.
Why is it so popular?
Shabby chic is quite an easy look to achieve for not much cost, making it a perfect look for budget-conscious homeowners who still want to stay on trend with their interior design concepts. Second-hand furniture from flea markets and slapping some paint around means that even a reasonably large room can be transformed from dull and generic to individualistic and unique on next to nothing.
What about the floors?
Achieving the right look for a shabby chic floor is key to locking together the whole concept. Sanded and polished wooden floorboards give a beautiful foundation from which you can build up your shabby chic look with miss-matched retro furniture and antique style wallpaper. The beauty of a sanded and polished wooden floor or a waxed wooden floor is that if you change your mind and suddenly decide to go modernist or minimalist, you already have one of the key areas covered. So waxed wooden floors that have been perfectly sanded are also an economic choice – especially if you change your mind about your décor more often than you change your socks!
Alternatively, you can whitewash or paint your floor boards. However, this needs to be absolutely right if it’s to work without ending up looking just plain ugly. There’s a fine line between shabby chic and out and out ‘distressed’… Whitewash will give you that ‘French farmhouse’ look that forms the basis of the whole shabby chic genre, but it quickly loses its appeal as it becomes much more shabby than chic through ground-in dirt, stains and general wear and tear. Be warned – an overuse of white combined with light coloured furnishings and walls can mean that your French farmhouse interior starts to look more like a run-down hospital ward; cold, clinical and rather drab.
You can use paint on your floor boards, but again remember that when you change your mind about your interior, the surface will need to be sanded back to bare wood by professional floor sanding experts before you can start again with polishes, waxes or stains.
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