One question I have been asked time and again over the years working in the wood flooring industry is; can my old fitted wooden floor be sanded and refurbished? Many people have a wooden floor in their house that has been down for 6-10 years that is looking tired, dull, has scratches or stains in and has definitely seen better days. Most people know that parquet floors or original floor boards can be sanded back to make a lovely finished floor, but what to do with a fitted wooden floor is a bit more confusing. Well hopefully this little guide can shed some light on the problem.
Firstly you need to determine what type of floor you have, and most importantly that it is wood. If your floor is a wood effect laminate then I’m afraid the only option is to replace it. Laminate flooring comes in varying degree of quality, but most of the time it is essentially a wood effect print stuck to either an MDF or plywood board with a lacquer on top, sanding it would only sand off the print and ruin the floor. Also be sure that your floor is not a wood effect vinyl, they have become very popular in recent years because of their seemingly low maintenance qualities, they are very easy to clean but once they are looking old and dull or scratched, unfortunately the only option is to replace.
There are two types of fitted wooden flooring; engineered and solid wood flooring and the good news is, both can be sanded and refurbished to look as new as the day they were fitted. Engineered wooden flooring can sometimes be mistaken for laminate as it has a similar construction. Engineered wood flooring has a thin layer of real wood, usually between 3-5 mm bonded to a base of either MDF or ply board, because of its construction and that it is fitted together with a tongue and groove, it also stays very flat. This means if sanded correctly you should only have to sand off less than a millimeter, so the floor can usually be sanded up to 3 times. If your floor is solid wood flooring it will have a very similar appearance to engineered on the surface, but it will be constructed entirely of one piece of wood from the surface to the base. Solid wood flooring is more expensive to make and will inevitably cost more to buy, but in my opinion it is not as good a product as engineered as it is more prone to warping. Never the less and most importantly it can be sanded and refurbished many times, depending in the construction there is usually between 7-10 mm above the tongue and groove and as long as you don’t sand down to this the floor will be fine.
Engineered and solid wood flooring can be fitted in a number of ways usually determined by the type of sub-floor. If the flooring is fitted directly onto the floor joists, then it will probably be secret nailed. A floor nailer is used to drive a nail just above the tongue and into the joist, this creates a very solid floor and will feel like original floor boards. This method is also sometimes used on a chipboard subfloor. If the flooring is to be fitted to a concrete or screeded sub-base then the floor may be glued down, again this creates a very solid and acoustically sound floor as there is no void between the wood and base. Lastly and more commonly nowadays because of ease and speed, you could have a floating floor, an underlay is laid down and the boards are joined together on the tongue and groove either by a click system similar to laminate or by glue. The weight of the floor and the fact that it is fitted from wall to wall means it cannot move anywhere. If you have a floating floor you will likely be able to notice a very slight spring in the floor when walked on. Luckily in all situations the floor can be sanded the same.
Here are some pointers to help you work out what type of flooring you have. Firstly check if you had any of the boards left over when the floor was fitted, quite often the fitter will advise to keep some of the left over flooring in the loft in case you need to repair a section. Or you could find an area of the floor where you can see the edge, possibly pulling up a door threshold, air vent or a small piece of scotia or skirting board. By doing this you should be able to tell from the construction what type of floor it is.
So hopefully this will help you decide if your floor can be sanded and refurbished or if it is time to replace it. If you are still unsure then any experienced wood flooring contractor should be able to help you.