Four Reasons I’m Refinishing My Hardwood Floors First

The hardwood floor refinishing saga continues. 🙂 I finished up the sanding on Saturday, and then ended the day by sweeping off all of the walls. I took off on Sunday, giving the dust a day to settle, and then went yesterday to start the clean up.

I thought that I could get all of the dust cleaned up yesterday, and get the first coat of Waterlox on.

I was wrong.

I didn’t finish with the cleanup. That’s a huge job, and one that has to be done very thoroughly or I could ruin all of my hard work. Not only do the floors have to be cleaned, but also the walls, windows, lights, fans, light switches, curtains, vents, and anything else that can catch dust (which is basically everything from ceiling to floor).

cleaning up dust from sanding hardwood floors

(Awful iPhone photo, but you can get an idea of just how much dust there is!)
So I’m hoping that today will be the day I can finally see the first coat of Waterlox go on…but I’m not holding my breath. 🙂

In the meantime, I wanted to answer once and for all the single most asked question that I keep getting regarding my floors.

Why are you refinishing your floors first? Shouldn’t those be done last in a remodel so you don’t risk ruining them? Shouldn’t you have at least gotten all of your walls painted first?

So here are my reasons for doing my floors first.

1. That green carpet HAD to go, and one thing lead to another.

You remember the green carpet, right?

Entryway with old green carpet

Perhaps others are made of stronger stuff than I am, but there was no way I could live even one single day with that green carpet. Absolutely no way.

As soon as we closed on the house, the very first thing I did was start ripping up carpet. That stuff had to go. Immediately.

Well, one thing lead to another. With the carpet up, I realized that there was carpet glue all over the floor. And it wasn’t exactly something that could be easily cleaned up. It had to be sanded up. With 20-grit sandpaper.

So one thing lead to another, and here I am today with completely sanded floors ready to be cleaned and sealed.

2. This remodel will take years. I can’t wait years for pretty floors.

I know a lot of people who purchase houses like this either make sure they have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank earmarked for remodel so that they can get everything done immediately before they move in. OR they take out a loan for much more than the house costs so that they can have that money to work with. OR they max out their credit cards so that they can tackle the remodel immediately.

Well, Matt and I don’t have tens of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank earmarked for remodeling our house. And we don’t believe in taking out loans or running up credit cards for those types of things. (The only loans we have are for our two mortgages, and we don’t even have a single credit card to our names. Other than our two mortgages — one for the condo and one for the house — we live a completely cash-only lifestyle.)

So these projects are going to have to be done as we can save up the money for them. That means that a kitchen remodel might be two years away. Rebuilding the back room to create my dream laundry room and mud room might be four years away. Getting this entire house just the way I want it might be a 10-year project.

There’s simply no way I could have waited until the “end of the remodel” to do the floors, because that means I would have been living with crappy floors indefinitely. Perhaps for years and years. Who would want to do that?

3. Refinishing floors is completely disruptive to day-to-day life.

I’m a DIYer. That’s just all there is to it. I could spend an entire post explaining why I DIY instead of hiring out these projects, but instead of reading my ramblings, you can just read this post on Old Town Home. Alex pretty much sums it up perfectly.

When it comes to DIYing the refinishing of hardwood floors, the DIY version is a lot messier than the professional version. The equipment rental places don’t rent out those fancy schmancy dust-free sanding systems. So it becomes a very messy job. Dust ends up in every nook and cranny, crack and crevice.

In addition to the mess, I’m also refinishing the floors in the majority of the house — three bedrooms (plus closets), hallway, dining room, living room, and entryway.

And when it comes to actually applying the finish to the floors, I have to apply five coats of Waterlox, each 24 hours apart, and then after the last coat goes on, the floor can’t be walked on for seven days.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the DIY version would have been completely disruptive to our lives if I had waited until we were actually living in the house to do the floors. All of the dust everywhere would have driven us crazy (and would have been very dangerous — we’d have to wear masks any time we’re in the house), and once the finish started going on, we’d have to move out for about two weeks. That means we’d have to find a place to stay where Matt would be comfortable, AND where we could take our two cats and one dog.

Talk about a major pain in the rear!

To me, it just makes much more sense to get the floors done BEFORE we move in, while we still have the condo, and then move in after the floors are finished.

As far as painting the walls, I can just throw down a drop cloth when I’m ready to paint a room.

4. Scratches can be easily repaired with Waterlox.

Nope, this isn’t a sponsored post. 🙂 Waterlox isn’t paying me to say this.

I did quite a bit of research on how I wanted to finish my floors, and initially, I wanted to use tung oil. Not only do I love the way that an oiled finish looks, but I also love the fact that if you get a scratch or stain on an oiled wood finish, you can simply sand that one spot out, re-oil that spot, and it’ll blend in seamlessly with the rest of the wood. (That’s what I do with my butcherblock countertops that are treated with only mineral oil. It’s fantastic!)

Waterlox is pretty much the same way. It’s a tung oil finish, meaning that it’s a mixture of tung oil, mineral spirits, and resins. Just like tung oil, it soaks into the wood, penetrating the pores of the wood, rather than just sitting on top creating a plastic coating like polyurethane does. And just like an oiled wood, if I get a scratch or stain on the floor, I can just sand out that one area, reapply Waterlox, and it’ll blend in seamlessly with the wood around it.

You can’t do that with polyurethane. And that’s one of the main reasons I chose Waterlox over polyurethane. I know that as I start building cabinets, installing trim, replacing doors, etc., I’m bound to get a scratch or two (or twenty) in the floor. It shouldn’t be a problem like it would be with polyurethaned floors.

So, hopefully this answers that question once and for all. 🙂 I know it seems a bit backwards to do the floors first, but hopefully it makes a bit more sense now.



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  1. Make total sense to me! I have a friend who had all of her walls smoothed while she’d moved all of her furniture out to refinish her floors. Made everything so much easier.

    Can you use waterlox on cabinets?

  2. I agree with your decision … getting the house to a “blank slate” will let you move in and really get to know your house! Looking forward to seeing this Waterlok stuff … sounds like a fantastic option.

  3. we refinished our floors years ago, used the big sander, one running the sander and one holding the big shop Vac by the sander, it sure caught a lot of saw dust. also I hope you saved a little saw dust to be used for patching any hole IF you had any. that way you are using the same wood and it will blend in better. Keep up the good work, you are doing Great~!

  4. We bought a new last year and had to sand the floor in the living room, sure wish I knew about waterlox! I used polyurethane and it started peeling up this year, what waste of time!!!

  5. Makes sense to me! Also too much “orthodoxy” about the order in which things “must” get done can lead to DIYers block if the next proscribed task is one you are not ready to do. You explained this eloquently when you were working on your condo, Kristi. We have lived in a few houses with beautiful floors and probably too little furniture (because we were house poor) and the beautiful floors, in my mind, made up for the lack of decor and furniture.

  6. I understand your reason for doing the floors and I applaud you for doing your reno on a cash only budget…My uncle built a house out of an old barn frame on his wife’s family property and after about 7 years and a cash only budget they have a debt free beautiful home in TN…

  7. Go Girl! You have your plan and it certainly makes sense to me! I have hardwood floors also and can appreciate the “mess” factor.

  8. Floors first always made sense to me, but what about the kitchen floors? I thought they were slatted wood and just assumed you would refinish them too. ‘Kitchen’ was not in your list of rooms sanded.

    By the way, even through the dust the floors look great!

  9. When we sanded our floor years ago, we were living in the house. The sander picked up most of the dust, but, baby, it was still a mess! For months, every time I pulled a dish out of the cabinet, I blew onto it and checked for dust. It became a habit and still, almost 30 years later, I still check for dust. And I’m in a different house! Different dishes! Be glad you are not going to be stuck with this habit. A sad, sad true story.

  10. That definitely makes sense! I actually never wondered why you were doing the floors first, but your reasoning totally makes sense. The dust everywhere and having to move out later to allow the floors to dry or whatever would be a total pain! It would definitely be easier to paint a wall while you’re living there then to install/refinish floors. We really want to get our floors redone but man, thinking about having to move everything out into a POD or something seems like such a hassle! I agree that it’s something WE should have done before we moved in. Live and learn.

  11. Makes perfect sense to me! I’ll be putting in a wood floor in my kitchen within the next few weeks (myself, of course)…it’ll be unfinished oak, and I’ll be finishing it myself. Never done anything like this before. You give me courage!

  12. Agreed with you the first time you explained and still do! They are going to look awesome, Kristi and a big check on your done list! I think you did a great job of thinking through all this and am looking forward to each update.

  13. Actually….to me…your decision made perfect sense from day one. Pretty much for all the reasons stated. And seriously….major remodels are done with drop cloths and that sticky plastic. If pros can do it, DIYers can too. You go girl!!!!

  14. Doing your floors first makes total sense to me also…just think if you had done the walls first….the new paint would have dust all over it….and that would make you very sad I think…you are my # 1 DIY and I think you have very good ideas and you seem to plan everything so well and know what to do when plans don’t go as should….you and your husband are going to enjoy this house for years…

  15. When we bought our house, we did the floors last – big mistake. Our furniture was out on the lawn and people kept stopping by because they thought we were having a tag sale. We never did put enough coats of fabulon on the floors. I have cleaned them with TSP and re-stained them, put poly on them, etc. and I am still not happy with them. You did the right thing. I am going to look into the Waterlok. Thanks for the info and good luck.

  16. Doing floors is very disruptive to me it made sense to do it when the house was empty, everything else can be moved and closed off but not the floors.

  17. I think doing the floors before moving in makes total sense. Besides, those carpets were not only old and ugly, they were probably a health hazard (molds, dust, mildew etc) for both of you so its good that you ditched them. You will be glad you took the time to refinish your floors before you move in. So much easier to live in a home with finished floors than to move out for several weeks when the ‘time came’.

  18. You should be able to do your would floors when and how you dam well feel like it!

    They are YOUR floors, It’s YOUR house and YOUR hard work!

    I don’t understand why so many people voice an opposing opinion that you had to devote and entire post to set things straight! It’s not like you just started DIY’ing yesterday and you know what the heck you are doing! What are they thinking? Unless they are going to put their Big Girl Panties on and accomplish what you have in this very short amount of time, they should stick to positive comments only!!!. If your asking for help or ‘what do you think’, then go ahead and post your opinion , but if not people should really think about what they post!
    Kristi you shouldn’t have to justify your vision.
    Sorry …it had to be said.
    I love what you’ve done and your plans for your home are fantastic!!!

  19. I absolutely agree to do your floors first, could you imagine living in the mess of all that dust…………….right on girl, the floors can be protected or they gain some well deserved character….. ether way you win.
    Loving your blog I am still rehabbing my Fl. winter home. And yes we do it on our own so we can afford nice digs!!!!!!!!!!!


  20. You were absolutley right to do the floors first, especially in a remodel that isn’t happening in a short period of time. To minimize damage to the floors you can cover them with builder’s paper (taped at the seams). It will last long enough for you to get a room done without ripping. My dining room floor was covered for two months while I did some pretty rough building, and they only needed to be washed once I took the paper off.

  21. Thanks for the mention in your post! I’m so glad that my words resonated with you. I know not everyone can see eye to eye with all of us “DIY at all costs” type people, but it sure makes me feel good to know that Wendy and I are by no means the only ones out there.

    The floors are looking great. As someone who has refinished more than one oak floor, I know the mess it causes and the toll it takes on your body and energy. I swear my hands feel like they buzz for days afterwards. I’m definitely going to be watching your results with great interest. Our poly’d floors looked wonderful for the first several years, but now that we’ve developed scratches and dings, I wish there was an easier way to spot fix rather than refinishing the whole lot.

  22. I’ve never posted before but wanted you to know that I look forward to your posts and watch for them. I’ve been a DIYer since before it was called DIY so I can appreciate your hard work and excitement. You go girl!

  23. I agree with you 100%! Now, I wonder how i can know what the finish is on my hardwood floors that came with my house? My mom said the scratches just represent life, so I’ve tried to look at them and so, oh what a wonderful life! But if I could easily fix them like Waterlox offers, boy would I fix that facet of life!

  24. Makes perfect sense to me! I moved into my old townhouse with passable carpets (at least they weren’t green!), but I always intended to get rid of them ‘someday.’ When I sold that place 8 years later, it was still the same tired carpet! When the new owners mentioned something at closing about doing a few things before they moved in, I said oh yes, anything big, do it now or you might not at all! Big projects like that are no fun when you are living there already.

  25. I am completely with you on redoing the floors. I’m willing to bet big $$$$ that the folks questioning why have never redone floors. I have and your reasons are exactly what my thoughts were. Plus, I love some paint!!! I’m going to paint and repaint constantly after the floors are done, so why wait? Excited for you guys and love the cash lifestyle too!

  26. God works in mysterious ways, Kristi….. so very HAPPY you still have your most beautiful
    condo to retreat to… You don’t need to be reminded that this is YOUR HOUSE and you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want….. ….as long as it is legal….. 😀

  27. I agree with you Krist! Not only would that old carpet given me the creeps, but if you waited to redo the floors, you’d be sweeping dust out of new kitchen cabinets, off of newly painted walls, you couldn’t have any furniture in the house, etc. You can always cover the floors with that heavy paper they use when constructing new homes. There’s always a method to the madness or a madness to the method, but it all works out in the long run!
    Have fun! Hugs, Leena

  28. I think that your reasoning is totally logical. Very few people remodel slowly, with cash. It’s a totally different approach. Once your floors are done (for now) you’ll love your home and feel great walking around in it, even though there’s a lot left to be done.

    I’ve made the mistake of living with ugly grossness until “it” could be remodeled “right” that I’ve now regretted the years of home-love I’ve lost while waiting (to do it perfectly and in order.) I did take the time to paint the insides of my 40 yr. old kitchen cabinets a semi-gloss white. Love it every time I open them. Nice and clean.

    I can’t believe that people are always pestering you about the order in which you do your projects.

  29. Christy,

    I think you’re totally correct for doing it the way you are. You couldn’t possibly sand and refinish the floors with you, your husband, your furniture and all your belongings in the home. To me, that would just be insane!!! EVERYTHING you owned would be covered in a fine powder!! And if you had waited til later, you’d have to practically pack the entire house before you could do anything! I would have done it exactly the way you are.

    I wish you luck on finishing your cleanup and getting the Waterlox on!!

  30. I find that an electric leaf blower works great for getting dust out the door. Once you’ve removed as much as you can, just open your doors and windows, plug it in and blow your heart out. About once a year I move my dryer to the garage and blow it out thoroughly. I blow my refridgerator motor out the same way…in the house and out the back door.

  31. Kristi,
    1. I think we had the same green carpet in our bedroom for 20 years (ugh!) until we finally could get our hardwood floors (underneath) refinished.
    2. I had no idea that a DIYer could not rent the dust-free sanders…I’m aspiring to become a DIY so it was probably a good idea that we had pros do the floors.
    3. It took a week of disruption (only time we could get it done was the week before Christmas!). 7 children studying for finals, all in the living room, dining room, and kitchen for a week! Yet it was a happy Christmas (and they all did well on their exams!)
    As always, I’m amazed and inspired by you.
    4. (Oops)…the idea of changing your air filters a lot this year makes great sense.

  32. you made the right decision. living with great floors will give you such a lift throughout the long years of remodeling. already – it looks so much better without the carpet! amazing. can’t wait to watch your new house transform!