Ask Andy 

Q & A with veteran building material dealer/distributor 
Andy Pace of The Green Design Center.

Do-It-Yourself Floor Finishes

Andy, my husband and I are interested in installing a new wood floor in our house, but we cannot decide on the finish. My husband wants to use something that he can do himself, yet, he has never finished wood floors before. I want a finish that is safe and natural, so I don't have to move out of the house for a month. What can we do? 
Anna F. – Oceanside, NY

A: Hi Kathy – Thanks for your question.
Finishing a hardwood floor is not as easy as some may think. It may also end up costing you much more than if you hired a professional. That all said, here are the two categories of finishes you should choose from and the pros and cons of each:

Polyurethane, Water-based
These are the typical wood floor finishes we are all used to seeing. Polyurethane is a plastic that acts as a “sacrificial” coating, taking the abuse we give it, while protecting the wood. Its usually applied in 3 or more coats to ensure proper coverage and film build.
Here's a look at polyurethane's pluses and minuses:
+    Provides years of protection without needing regular re-application
+    Glass-like appearance that is available in gloss or satin sheens
+    Is compatible with almost all wood species
    Can raise the grain of the wood, requiring sanding between coats
    Lap lines and brush marks are common with unskilled applicators
    Scratching of the finish is to be expected and repairs are not easily done.
Fixing a small area most often requires the finish to be applied to the entire room.
    Most water-based poly's usually still contain hazardous chemicals. Look for finishes that are low-toxin and safe for humans.
•    Recommendations: Safecoat Polyureseal BP (least toxic, DIY friendly) or CrystaLac Poly-Ox (DIY friendly, but contains some not-so-safe ingredients).

Natural Penetrating Oils.
While these products are similar to the wood floor finishes of one hundred years ago, the formula still works today. A blend of plant-based oils and waxes, these finishes penetrate into the wood to make the wood the actual wearing surface. Most penetrating oils are applied in 2 coats, wet on wet, to make sure the wood is saturated.
Here are some pluses and minuses for natural penetrating oil:
+    Won't raise wood grain, so sanding between coats is not needed
+    No lap lines, because the material does not create a film on the surface
+    Repairs are easy to fix. Just apply some of the liquid to the scratch and lightly sand in. Wipe off the excess and let it dry. Done.
    All the excess finish must be removed from the surface. If not, you'll end up with a messy blend of dull and shiny spots.
    Oils will leave a somewhat dull appearance. High shine is not achievable.
    Works best on open grain woods like oak and ash
    Although easy to repair, oiled floors tend to wear faster
    While these finishes are made from natural ingredients, make sure you avoid those that contain heavy metal or citrus drying agents
•    Recommendations: Rubio Monocoat, AFM Naturals Oil Wax

While there are many more factors to consider before making your decision, I hope that this at least gets you closer. Contact me directly and I'll go into more detail than we have room for here. Ultimately, neither of these finishes will be fool-proof and easy to do for a novice. Your choice comes down to the look you are trying to achieve combined with the level of protection desired. If all else fails, ask your local green supplier for some samples to test. Good luck!
As always, I appreciate your questions, so please keep them coming!

To learn more about The Green Design Center, you can visit the company's website at And if you have any questions or suggestions for a future column, drop a note to Andy at




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