Unlike other types of flooring, with wood installations – be it solid wood or engineered wood flooring, you get the opportunity to revitalise the surface after years of usage. This way, you will be in a position to restore the glamour to your floor – but no two jobs are completely the same.
The different conditions of floors will call for varying modes of approach when working on the installations. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, thus the need to get your flooring worked on by a professional who has sufficient experience in dealing with the diverse scenarios.
Usually when dealing with the old floors, the base shoe moulding will need to be removed for the sanding to be as close as can be to the baseboards. Any carpet tacks and staples that are on the surface should be removed, and the nails driven deeper into the wood. This is to prevent damage to the sanding machines that are being used. When assessing the condition of the damaged floorboards, it will be determined whether it will be more feasible to repair or replace the boards. Asbestos also factors in, especially for the old floor installations. One needs to make sure that the paint, finishes, and adhesives used in it are not asbestos or lead-based. In case the treatment coats have either asbestos or lead – or even if you’re unsure, then the floor sanding should be put off until you’ve contacted the local authorities and obtained the recommended abatement procedures.
The type of flooring also matters. For instance, while a solid ¾-inch wood flooring can be sanded 4-6 times during its lifespan, the thinner engineered wood floors can be sanded once or twice. This will depend on the thickness of the wear layer. It’s also why it’s imperative to avoid oversanding the wood, where too much of the surface layer is removed, which is another common issue witnessed during the DIY floor sanding jobs. The goal should be to only remove as little wood as needed to prepare the surface for bonding with the treatment coats that will be applied. In case you’re not sure how thick the flooring is, you can always check in areas such as the heat vent, which can be removed and the thickness of the floor measured.
In some instances, the floor has been covered with a very thick finish coat – or it’s a case where there are paint layers that need to be removed. Here, the sandpaper tends to load up. As such, very coarse sandpaper is required for the first pass, even with girt levels as low as 24, 16 and even 12 in special cases. After the bare wood has been reached, then the usual grits can be used for the subsequent cuts – taking care to follow the appropriate grit sequence. How many grit levels will be required will be determined by the floor’s condition.
In addition to electrical hook-ups, power tools, heavy lifting and other physical dangers of floor sanding, there are also intangible hazards lurking beneath the surface, especially when dealing with old floors. Here, lead and asbestos are the main threat and a core cause for concern when dealing with renovation projects in older homes. The material is mixed with the sanding dust, and some of it gets airborne – which can then be inhaled. There are contractors who actually hesitate to warn the property owners about the risks involved, choosing to simply do the job, collect the money, and proceed onto the next task. However, everyone involved is exposed to potential health risks, from the workers to the building’s occupants.
Lead poisoning through inhaling the dust containing the particles, and even ingestion such as with kids who go touching the different surfaces and putting their hands in their mouths – these are not issues that you want to expose your family members to. It can even be in the paint, especially with the formulations that were used before the 1980s, where lead acetate was the main drying agent used for the clear coats being applied to the surfaces. Even when the floor varnish used contains lead that is within the allowed limits, during the sanding there will be a higher concentration of the particles in the immediate environment, thus more safety precautions need to be undertaken.
Asbestos, on the other hand, remained a popular building material through the 20th century, up until its health effects began being broadly documented. It was used across the construction industry, from floor backing and vinyl tiles, mastics, all through to adhesives and insulation material. When asbestos particles are inhaled over a long time (as can be the case with fine sanding dust particles that remain airborne for long), it accumulates in the lungs, resulting in conditions like lung tissue scarring – asbestosis, cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer. What’s worse is that it can take over two decades for the symptoms to start occurring with the conditions remaining latent within the body before then. Actually, many of those who are losing their lives today due to asbestos-related effects are due to exposure that occurred even over 40 years ago.
Finding out the history of the building is the first step to determine what’s on the floor – which is why you will find professional contractors asking for more information from the property owner. This includes aspects such as when the floor was installed, and when it was sanded last. For the old buildings, if the floor sanding has not been carried out since the 1980s, then there is a high probability that it contains lead. Another scenario is during the removal of linoleum and vinyl, exposing the wood floors underneath. These products may contain adhesive or mastic with asbestos. In some cases, one may need to get in touch with the linoleum manufacturer to obtain specific information about the adhesives used.