Note - If an in-experienced refinisher is hired to sand any given floor, they may unknowingly sand too much off of the floor - thus decreasing the life of that floor. Also, if a subfloor is not flat then consequently it may take more sanding in some parts of the floor to achieve flatness - which is required for a professional job. When we talk flatness, we don't necessarily mean level. Yes level is great, but a floor can be unlevel in areas and still be sanded smooth enough to appear "flat".
What should I be looking for?
With engineered hardwood floors, there may be wear layers ranging from .6mm - 5mm or thicker! 5mm = 13/64", which is comperable to solid hardwood floor wear layers. You need a wear layer of at least 2mm to be able to sand it once, if it's not too distressed.
Here's goes: if that 2mm or less wear layer is distressed very much at all (i.e. handscraped), you can probably forget about sanding it at all. If there is much bevel on the edges of that 2mm wear layer, you either have to find a refinisher willing to hand scrape the finish and color out of every single bevel or forget about sanding that floor. You must sand below the bevels or scrape them out to refinish the floor. So the only option in this case is to screen & re-coat, which will freshen up the floor with a new coat of finish - but it won't remove any deep scratches.
Bottom line, if you're looking for longetivity in a wood floor you should look for either an engineered product with a 3-5mm wear layer or choose solid hardwood.
Wear layer, what is it and why do I care?
by Brian Kelley
What is a wear layer?
At Kelley's Wood Floors we're so adamant about this subject I felt compeled to write a seperate article about it.
The term "wear layer" simply describes the uppermost portion of each wood floor board. In the context of engineered wood floors, the wear layer is the "real-wood" veneer. With solid hardwood floors, the wear layer is the portion of the board above the tongue. You may find many bargain retailers omitting this discussion from their sales pitch, so it's up to you to bring it up if they don't! It is the most important element that determines how long your floors will last!
Why is this so important?
Aside from the quality of the wood used to construct each board, the wear layer is probably the most important component of a wood floor! Basically the thicker the wear layer of any given hardwood floor, the better chance that floor has of a longer life, simply because thicker wear layers allow for sanding & refinishing. Solid wood floors with a 5/16" wear layer can be sanded 4-7 times, depending on the expertise of the crew sanding them and the flatness of the floor itself.
Solid floors will last 100 years or more.
Engineered floors with a 3-5mm wear layer are comparable to solid and are estimated to last 40-80+ years.
Engineered floors with a <2mm wear layer will last 15-30+ years.
Of course this all depends on how well they are maintaned along with the quality of the wood used.
Having said all that let's talk about something a little more uplifting! So now you're looking at floors with something like a 3-4mm wear layer, right? Great, that's almost 3/16"!! That can be sanded about 2-4 times, depending on all those variables we just talked about.
Q. How many times can a 2mm wear layer be sanded?
Q. How many times can a 5/16" solid wood floor wear layer be sanded?
A. 4-7 times
Q. How many times can a 4mm wear layer be sanded?
Q. Which wood floor is going to last longer because it can be sanded more, thus giving me the most bang for my buck?
A. THE ONES WITH THICKER WEAR LAYERS!
Good, now you've caught on. Here's my point, when shopping for wood floors don't get too caught up in bargains, colors, handscraped this, bullet proof finish that, etc... You need to think about your situation and find the floor that will last you the longest while fitting into your budget.
Approx. cost difference over time
Think about this, if you're looking for lifetime floors then cheap ones will actually cost you more in the long run. How's that?
Let's say you spend $5k on wood floors with a 1mm wear layer and $1k to install them
You have an average family so the floors get a fair amount of wear and tear
After about 15-20 years you've got areas of the floor that are scratched pretty deep or the veneer is starting to separate so you call someone hoping they can be sanded and refinished
oops! They can't because the veneer is too thin, now what? Well you either live with them, re-coat them knowing that won't take care of deep scratches and that little bit of water damage in the corner, or you replace them!
If you opt to replace them, now you're paying 1.) to have someone tear the floors out - which can cost the same or more than installation 2.) new wood floors - hopefully with a thicker wear layer this time 3.) someone to install them again
So now you're second round of wood floors costs you $1k for tear out, $6k for new wood, $1,500 for installation (taking inflation into account)
If you would have just bought wood floors with a sandable wear layer to begin with, these floors could have been sanded and refinished for somewhere between $1,500-$2,500 depending on the square footage.
But the floors I just bought have a lifetime warranty!
Well that's great, but you should read that fine print. Some manufacturer's give a 5-10 year warranty for their finishes and a limited lifetime on the strucural integrity of the floors, etc... Whatever it may be, you shouldn't neccesarily purchase a floor just because it has a good warranty. Another thing to remember is, you never know if that particular company will even be in business in 20-30 years. What then?
Alright, after saying all that I realize everyone has a budget. Yes higher quality floors cost more money up front, but you'll be investing in your future with a floor that can be sanded & refinished several times. They'll look brand new afterward, and you can even change the color with different stains - all without having to replace them.
Ok, I've finished my rant. The rest is up to you.
Good luck in your hardwood floor search!
This floor can be sanded & refinished 2-4 times!
This floor is not suitable for sanding & refinishing
Can be sanded & refinished 4-7 times!