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To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

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To replace or refinish hardwood floors is a major decision balancing budget with aesthetics

Photos by Melanie Rees

When my husband and I finally decided we were ready to trade our condo for a house, we knew we wanted something with charm. One adjective realtors often use that translates to “needs renovations” or “old and dated.” We wanted something that wasn’t cookie cutter, and we loved the idea of updating a space to make it our own. After a lot of online searching and a handful of open houses, we ended up putting a bid on a three-bed, two-bath, single-family home north of Toronto. It’s charm: It was built in 1895. Original staircase. Window casings with Victorian-style rosettes. A basement cellar.

We saved money by removing the hardwood ourselves.
We saved money by removing the hardwood ourselves.

Nothing was in critical shape, but there was a long list of renovations we wanted to complete. First on our list was the room every homeowner obsesses over – the kitchen. Problem was we also wanted to redo the floors, and there was hardwood throughout the kitchen. What we quickly discovered is, the order you do your renovations in is critical.

Because we were going to gut the kitchen, if we wanted to do the floors we’d need to do them prior to our renovation. The house had the bonus of already having solid hardwood floors. Our initial plan was to refinish it, since it was solid hardwood and half the cost of installing new. I went back to my Pinterest board to reference the hardwood I was dreaming of, which was a light shade of wood, Scandi-style. It was a sharp contrast to the dark, red-tinged floors we currently had.

Little details such as stylish air vents really add a custom look to any home.
Little details such as stylish air vents really add a custom look to any home.

Before I could see if I could get the shade I was dreaming of, I had to identify what species of hardwood we had. Luckily, there were some scraps in the basement and I could see the unstained board. Bad news – we had red oak. I went online to discover that red oak could never become the white oak I was envisioning for our home. People do bleach it, but it’s impossible to truly get the red out and often you’re left with a subtle pink hue. That’s when we decided to look into replacing our floors.

We ended up going with Grand Floors because of its transparent pricing, huge selection of flooring and decades of experience. Another plus was that the company offered refinishing, too. After a thorough phone consultation, owner Gregory Olszewski could identify quite a bit from the photos I sent him, including the spaces in the wood (which indicated it wasn’t laid by a professional), the short planks and uneven colouring (again a possible indicator a mix of cheaper hardwood was selected). Still debating between both refinishing and replacing, I booked an appointment to the showroom to get the full scope of what new hardwood floors would look like (and cost).

Upon arrival, Olszewski suggested not to look at the brand of hardwood but its thickness (the thicker the actual hardwood, the more times you can refinish it) and the colour. Price wise, you will pay more for solid hardwood versus engineered hardwood, so that was a consideration when we looked at options.

Our new light and modern floors are a welcome change from the dark hardwood.
Our new light and modern floors are a welcome change from the dark hardwood.

With my soon-to-be sister-in-law Jessica with me, who also happens to be an interior designer, she helped me narrow it down to a handful of samples that would complement the plans for the kitchen.

We also decided to look at the hardwood staining samples, too, selecting a mid-toned hue that would also work with the designs.

Eventually, I settled on a shade called Pickled Oak from the Miller’s Reserve Collection by Fuzion Flooring. A beautiful white oak in an almost muted natural tone. It’s a touch distressed with contrasting wide and narrow planks. Being engineered hardwood meant it wouldn’t be as pricey as a solid option, but with enough hardwood on top to have one refinish done in its lifetime.

A week later, Olszewski came by to examine the condition of our floors in person and also complete the measurements to provide an accurate quote for both options. What he thought was true was confirmed: Our floors hadn’t been installed professionally and there were a lot of gaps between boards (plus tons of creaking and unevenness).

After discussing the two options, we decided to have the job done correctly and replace our hardwood. It would impact the overall reno budget for our home, meaning some things we wanted to do sooner would need to be put off, but it would mean the floor would be installed correctly (goodbye creaks, uneven colour and strange bulges) and be the exact shade we had envisioned.

TIPS

  • BRING SAMPLES HOME. You need to see the colours in your own space and with your lighting (not under the fluorescent store bulbs).
  • DIY TASKS THAT DON’T REQUIRE A PROFESSIONAL. Removing hardwood can save you hundreds of dollars and doesn’t require any skill.
  • SHOP AROUND. Don’t be afraid to get quotes from multiple businesses. Reputable places should be transparent about the cost of materials and installation.
  • BUY WHAT FITS YOUR BUDGET. Solid hardwood has a long life, but it can be double the cost of engineered. Plus, hardwood floors need to be refinished only every seven to 10 years at the minimum, so unless it’s your forever house, you can easily go with engineered and enjoy it for years to come.

One way we were able to save about $1,500 right off the bat was to do all of the hardwood removal ourselves. It’s not hard, but requires a few tools (including protective eye gear, gloves, crowbar and hammer), and a bin to dispose of the debris. The work was completed in an afternoon, but one major issue was exposed. There was very old vinyl tile uncovered upstairs. The concern? The majority of vinyl tile created prior to 1986 contained asbestos. The only way we could tell for certain was to have it tested. We rushed a sample to a nearby lab and got the news the next day we were asbestos-free. Massive relief.

Once the tile was removed, we were ready for the install. One extra we decided to splurge on was really stylish vents. We found a Canadian company called Aria Vent, which designs sleek, modular air vents and drywall returns. The company has a few models, including a professional model that must be mounted prior to the surface install. We ensured these were purchased prior to our hardwood installation and our floor installer could do it (they charged us a small installation fee per vent).

Due to the kitchen install date not until the fall and the front tile install date still unknown, we were only able to have only 40 per cent of the hardwood complete in Phase 1. The rest has to wait until our kitchen is demoed.

That’s the thing about renos I’ve quickly learned. Don’t be surprised when nothing goes according to plan, and expect to live in chaos. What has been completed I’m beyond happy with, so I’ll just have to be patient and let it all come together.

A writer and editor for more than a decade, Stephanie Gray has covered everything from luxury travel to modern parenting challenges.

Her work has been featured in publications including Glamour, Elle Canada and Best Health.

She recently bought a century-old home north of Toronto, in need of updates, which she’s taking on with her husband (and toddler in tow).


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Hardwood flooring – Choose the right option for your home

Hardwood flooring – Choose the right option for your home

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Hardwood flooring – Choose the right option for your home

Now that we’re in the dead of winter, it’s a great time to think about changing or installing new hardwood floors. There are so many to choose from, and it’s not only the type of wood, but the layout that is also important. Hardwood is the foundation for your whole house: It’s what warms up your space and adds harmony to each room, tying everything together. I run hardwood everywhere, even my bathrooms, which sometimes shocks people, but to me, it counterbalances cold surfaces and adds a real depth of feel and comfort to my home.

So many options

Herringbone is a timeless hardwood, and it’s also quite trendy right now. If I were to use this particular hardwood, I would save it for one special room in my house, whether that be a foyer or a sitting room. Because it’s a bold pattern, you wouldn’t want to run it throughout too many areas as it can overwhelm your space. It’s also a little more expensive to lay herringbone, so you want to consider that as well.

From oak to black walnut (my personal favourite) and maple, you can choose several different hardwoods, but what you want to think about is the overall style and design of your home. Hardwood is a significant investment, and it’s something you will have to live with for the entire duration you stay in that home, so you want to make sure you take your time and select a hardwood that will stand the test of time, as well as your tastes. The hardwood is your base layer from which you layer everything else on top: Furniture, your soft furnishings, lighting, everything.

Types of finishes

There is a vast spectrum of finishing products, from penetrating oil to oil-like hybrids to polyurethanes, and most finishes fall into one of two categories: Oil or poly.

The oil penetrates the wood and has a soft, matte and natural feel – which is always my preference – but know that because of this, it won’t be impervious to damage or stains like a polyurethane, which creates this hard topcoat on the surface of the wood, making it much more resilient.

Even though oil finishes typically scratch more quickly, they’re straightforward to touch up compared to polyurethane. You would generally need to replace the whole board or buff and recoat the entire section of the floor, which is time-consuming and costly.

Decide the width

You can also select the width of your planks for your wood floor. Many homeowners are gravitating towards wider planks because it can give a sense of luxury: When you go beyond the standard size, it can make it feel somewhat special and unique. But, generally speaking, you need to take into consideration the size of your room: The bigger the room and the higher the ceilings, the wider the plank you should choose.

Lisa Rogers is EVP of Design for Dunpar Homes.

Lisa has shared her style and design expertise on popular television programs, such as Canadian Living TV, House & Home TV and The Shopping Channel.

Lisa is one of the most familiar faces on CityTV’s Cityline as a regular guest expert for fashion and image, health and wellness and design.


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Spotlight: Hardwood Flooring

What’s best for hardwood floors – solid or engineered?

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What’s best for hardwood floors – solid or engineered?

Stylish, hard-wearing flooring options are everywhere these days, and for some people, it can be hard for many to decide which product is best suited. Solid wood has long been the preferred option, and it still is among the purists. But for those who consider practicality and price equally, engineered wood floors have carved out a notch in the interiors industry – and it’s a deep one. Modern engineered wood makes up the majority of wood flooring products on the market, and gives its solid wood counterparts a run for their money. Here’s how these different hardwoods stack up.

With solid hardwood, what you see is what you get – a single, solid piece of wood, through and through. This also means that solid hardwood floors are susceptible to expansion and contraction due to changing temperatures and humidity levels, and can cause floors to shift and buckle, if not installed properly. Engineered wood is made with a plywood base, glued and topped by a thin veneer of hardwood, giving you the look of solid hardwood at a fraction of the price. Engineered wood can also be installed over different surfaces, such as existing wood. Cost aside, there are some other big differences to consider.

When it comes to finishes, both solid hardwood and engineered wood floors can be pre-finished, or finished on site. However, one benefit to solid hardwood over engineered wood is that it can be sanded and refinished numerous times, whereas engineered wood can only be sanded twice, before the veneer wears through. Keep this in mind. Most of us will refinish a floor only once or twice in our occupancy of a particular home, so this isn’t typically a deal-breaker.

In terms of durability, the battle between hardwood and engineered wood is a draw. When making your decision, consider how you intend to wear – and tear – your floors. Because engineered wood only consists of a thin top layer, it’s easier to chip or scratch than hardwood. When it comes to water, engineered wood wins, withstanding exposure to moderate moisture better than hardwood. This means in hallways and living rooms, solid wood works. In a kitchen, powder room or bathroom, engineered wood is more practical.

I seem to be singing the praises of engineered wood floors thus far, but remember that not all are created equal – “created” being the operative word. Engineered floors are manufactured, and quality can vary. If you’re considering engineered wood, ensure you’re sourcing a quality product from a trusted manufacturer.

One of my go-to choices for quality, colour and style options is Canadian brand Fuzion Flooring. I love working with this brand for their engineered woods, and many of my clients today have opted for this alternative, thanks to its price, practicality and beauty. Engineered wood now comes in a range of types, such as oak, maple, birch, cherry, as well as more exotic options. All wood products, solid and engineered, have their pros and cons. Make an informed decision and work with a professional to ensure you’re selecting the best product for your home and lifestyle.

Andrea Colman is Principal of Fine Finishes Design Inc.

With almost two decades of reno and design experience, her firm services clientele throughout the GTA. The growing boutique design firm is known for creating stylish, harmonious, livable environments.


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