Should I paint my hardwood floor?
May 29, 2015 8:44 AM   Subscribe

We live in an 1877 Victorian house in the UK. We're trying to do it up, but don't have a ton of money to spend. We've just painted the walls of one of our bedrooms and they look great, but the carpet in that room is ugly and in poor condition. I've taken a peak underneath and there are pine wood floors. They look in good shape but don't look like they've ever been refinished. We're thinking of taking the carpet up and painting them.

I've been reading about this in a few magazines/sites. Basically you roughly sand down the floors with a hand sander, clean them off with some kind of detergent, then paint. We would use a paint made for floors such as Farrow and Ball floor paint. What do you think? Would we be ruining the floors?

I don't want to go through the hassle or expense of refinishing either professionally or doing it ourselves. Painting seems like a cheap and easy option. And I've seen it in an aquaintance's house and bought it looked good. Still. I'm nervousabout messing up those floorboards irrevocably. The other option is to change the carpet and pick something cheap and cheerful until we can have the floors refinished professionally. That would be years away as there's so much else we need to pay to have done in the house. And if painted floors would be good then it would be a waste of money anyway.

And a bonus question if anyone wants to advise on a floor colour - the walls are painted a knockoff mix of Fired Earth Pale Saxifrage which is a light pink. There also a cast iron fireplace in the room so a floor colour to set those off would be grea
posted by hazyjane to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
As a starting point, pine is not a hardwood. Are you sure they are pine?
posted by craven_morhead at 8:51 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They are pitch pine I believe. You're right, they're softwood, but denser than modern pine.
posted by hazyjane at 9:00 AM on May 29, 2015

The thing about painting a floor is that it's a one-way decision. You can never un-paint the floor, and you can never get it refinished as just wood. Just so you know.
posted by suelac at 9:00 AM on May 29, 2015 [10 favorites]

Best answer: (Pine flooring is common in older homes in my experience; I also have it under clapped-out carpet...)

I would not do this unless you really, really love the look and plan to stay in the house for ages. It is not a thing future buyers will be happy about.

It sounds like for the work you're willing to put in painting, you might be able to get a sort of roughly finished, serviceable wood floor that you could re-finish a bit better in the future? I'd probably do that, considering it the first half of the work for restoring them properly.

I do have a wee bit of painted pine floor in my house. It's white. It looks great, for 24h after you scrub it to death. Then it just looks dirty. The paint is not as durable as it likes to pretend, either. And removal would be a pain. And it is slippery. Not a fan.
posted by kmennie at 9:00 AM on May 29, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Kmennie, I'm intrigued. Would you be able to give me any tips on how to get a roughly finished, serviceable wood floor, please? This is a look I think I'd really like with an old worn Persian rug thrown on top.
posted by hazyjane at 9:03 AM on May 29, 2015

I think painted wood floors are tricky; it's a VERY specific look and isn't easily changed when you (or future prospective buyers) get tired of it. Plus I've never seen painted floors that aren't a hassle—painting them correctly (sand, prime, sand, a billion super-thin and perfect layers and sanding in between) is a huge project and even then will require frequent touch-ups to stay good-looking.

If you want to get rid of the carpet but hold off on a major restoration/coloring/sealing of the floors, I'd just put on a on a protective finish (old fashioned floor wax or a specialty product) for now and some big rugs if there are problem areas or you don't like the color.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can hire a sander for a day pretty cheap- it's a filthy job (lots of dust) but it's straightforward and won't take long.

Then, once you've sanded the boards you can treat/varnish them to enhance the natural colour.

I have a very similar house in the UK and recently did this to the downstairs floors (although I outsourced it because the boards themselves were in bad nick and I had to get some concrete removed). It looks BEAUTIFUL and has completely changed the look and feel. It's like pine but much warmer/deeper.

The guy I used only charged about £350 per room- which is less than carpet. Feel free to pm me if you want his details (I'm in the south east).
posted by Dwardles at 9:11 AM on May 29, 2015 [8 favorites]

I should note that anything you put down now will have to be stripped as part of a big refinishing - but if that's several years away I think it's worth it to keep the floors protected from further damage/stains/etc in the meantime.
posted by peachfuzz at 9:17 AM on May 29, 2015

I think painted hardwood is going to really hurt your resale on the house, since wood floors are one of their primary draws for buyers.

Have you gotten estimates from refinishers? It's not as expensive as you'd think. You could also rent a sander for a few days and do it yourself, though that's a huge pain in the ass. You're going to have to sand it down anyway if you're going to paint it. At that point, it won't be any more expensive to just put some finish on there.
posted by Think_Long at 9:19 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

We're sitting on a P&S agreement for an 1880 Victorian house with floors that have been painted. The downstairs was pulled up and redone as hardwood/tile, but the 2nd and 3rd floors look like the circus threw up on them, well not that bad... but every room is a different color. The first thing we noticed is that many of the nails are up, because ... time. So I'll spend a day pounding nails in, and our kids will spend their next few years tripping over them and stubbing their toes as they loosen. As finances permit, we'll put down a real floor because the floor today has tons of problems, namely cracks that kids will lose their toys in, even if it has character. In certain upstairs rooms, we'll be putting down cheap rugs to minimize exposed floors (kid's rumpus room).
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2015

Best answer: Pine floors will usually have softer, rounded board edges. They are meant to be carpeted. I hate seeing actual hardwood painted. So, this is more work, with a potentially better payoff. Wash them, let them dry, sand, and instead of paint, varnish. If it doesn't look good, painting over the varnish will be a snap. Take some pictures; we may be able to tell if it's hard wood or soft.
posted by theora55 at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2015

Is the floor already finished and just scratched and a mess or is it bare wood under there? If it's finished and needs to be fixed, see if you can match the stain. In my old shotgun house with heart of pine floors that were scratched up and a mess when we bought the house, there was carpet in one room and glued down vinyl in another. The parts where we just matched the stain and slopped some down in the places where it needed it looked great. The bathrooms where we painted the wood floor look like total crap no matter how much we repair and repaint them. We've since gotten everything refinished except for the painted floors. They are totally crappy looking, always chipped, always look dirty, dirt seems to just stick in the paint and look gross. I'm considering covering up the pretty planks with vinyl or tile or something so I won't have to deal with the paint anymore. However, our stained floors are exactly the color of minwax cherry stain so ymmv.
posted by artychoke at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2015

Best answer: The house I grew up in was built in 1790 and had (gorgeous, once my parents refinished them) pine floors (with some 18" wide boards). There are pines that are definitely hard enough for a floor.

And having scraped a hell of a lot of paint off of beautiful wood furniture that well intentioned people painted back in the '70s when paint was cool: Oh, hell, no, don't paint it. Please sand it and use three coats of an actual floor polyurethane.
posted by straw at 9:36 AM on May 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've seen (US) Victorian era painted pine floors.
It can look good in a shabby chic way, but the wood is soft, and will gouge and the paint will probably flake (sometimes bringing wood up with it).
If you do paint it, get the strongest, probably most industrial and stinky paint that the paint store will guide you to.
Talk to a real paint pro. Getting the wrong paint will just give you a room full of paint chips in 3 weeks.
posted by littlewater at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2015

See, I think pine is too soft for flooring, I have it now in an old Victorian, the wide board kind where I can stick my finger between the planks. My office chair has gouged patches into it right through the varnish (?) and the nails are always popping up.

I would paint for the time being--and I would paint it white to make the room brighter. I know it's a hassle to keep clean but I turned down a place with red-brown painted pine floors once because: dreary. Eventually you can put another flooring on top and that will be your forever flooring.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:43 AM on May 29, 2015

Best answer: I have an old book on wood by the dean of British foresters of his day, H L Edlin, (What Wood Is That?, perhaps), which, in a discussion of hard and soft woods and the general unreliability of the conventional classification, mentions pitch pine as one of the hardest of all woods.

I have a feeling that, if your floor is roughly contemporaneous with the house, it is an irreplaceable treasure that would be a tragedy to paint or refinish except minimally, as necessary to protect and enhance its intrinsic beauty.
posted by jamjam at 10:46 AM on May 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have heart pine floors that have been in my house since 1840. I can assure you that if you sand and finish them properly they'll hold up just fine. Don't paint them, you'll never manage to keep them looking nice and ruin your resale value besides.
posted by lydhre at 10:54 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think that a light natural wood finishing product would be just as easy as paint and wouldn't be as polarizing to future inhabitants of the house as paint would be.

Sand it—or maybe don't even sand, if the patina is interesting, just scrape and clean it—and then go to town with some poly and rags. It's time-consuming but not especially difficult or anything. The difficulty in wood finishing is when you get into darker colors where you can really see any imperfections. If you stay with lighter colors it's not that hard.

Do make sure you have floor protectors on EVERYTHING, though, or you'll beat the floors up very quickly and it'll be noticeable as hell. I think less so with a clear finish than paint, though. But chairs, heavy furniture, table legs, etc. — everything needs little plastic feet on it if you want to avoid having deep gouges in softwood flooring. Put plastic protectors or use area rugs under rolling chairs. This is the big reason why I think softwood flooring is now out, and hardwood is in, although personally I've always liked the look of heart of pine wood flooring (it's very popular in some parts of the US still, and seems to be on the upswing a bit).
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:57 AM on May 29, 2015

I have a relatively recently painted floor in my late 19th century house. Admittedly, it was badly done and it's landlord brown (that brown color that you see on all the trim and stuff on cheapo inner city houses). We will probably eventually repaint because we've kind of got to now given the state of the floor, but it's a real PITA. It's old enough that some of it wears off when we mop, it shows dirt like crazy even though it's brown, it is harder to theory I love the look of painted wood floors, but in actual practice I don't like it.
posted by Frowner at 10:58 AM on May 29, 2015

Best answer: Pull up the carpet + tacks and reset any nails.

Lightly sand with a high grit, like 600.

Linseed oil or wax if you are feeling like that would be worth it. Or stain and varnish. Or stain and oil. Use sponge mops to apply the protective coat you decide on. Done.
posted by jbenben at 10:59 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could put a hardwood floor (real or fake) over the floorboards. Ikea can supply the materials to do it yourself quite cheaply or you can pay someone. It removes all the difficult sanding and varnishing you would do to the actual floorboards and you are guaranteed a good-looking result that won't stick splinters in your feet.
posted by w0mbat at 11:02 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Unless the paint is specific for floor use and thick enough that you will never get it out, your painted floor will be just as easily damaged as a varnished or oiled sanded floor, perhaps more so. I'd sand as little as you can, then oil, then rug under the chairs/tables. With grippy strips on the rugs, of course, or you may as well set a mantrap.
posted by cromagnon at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If I had a time machine, one of the things I would use it for would be to go back in time and punch the people who screwed up a section of my (oak! quarter sawn!) hardwood floors back in the 70s. You would not believe the time and effort I have spent restoring them.

Don't do it. Get the cheerful cheap carpets for now, deal with more urgent problems, refinish them later.
posted by instead of three wishes at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think a better option than paint, is to strip down the wood then stain it before varnishing with floor polyurethane.
A key consideration is how to deal with gaps between floorboards, if you seal them up completely that can encourage damp, but if you leave them wide open without carpet you can have horrible draughts.
Sanding and finishing a floor properly will cost more than just buying a new carpet.
posted by Lanark at 1:10 PM on May 29, 2015

If you like the look of a hard surface, but want to try something different, you could install a click-lock floating floor over the pine. We just did this in our master bedroom (literally last weekend) with cork-planks and the results were great. The hardest part was cutting out the quarter-round to finish off the expansion gap between the edge of the flooring and the baseboards. We had some oblique angles to deal with and matching up inside/outside corner cuts to look nicely took a bit more trial-and-error than we'd anticipated.
posted by jquinby at 1:24 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Suelac - not true. We had painted brown floors in our bedroom, we sanded them back to wood and varnished them. It was a bit of a pain but I was doing it myself in my early twenties as a complete amateur, I have somewhat more competent friends who have done it since and they thought it was fine.

I say do it. But expect to find dust everywhere for the next three months, it is messy.
posted by tinkletown at 2:39 PM on May 29, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I'm convinced - we won't paint the floors. We don't want to do anything to lower the resale value or cause us to have to do more housework (sounds like keeping painted floors looking clean is a pita). I'll probably try a light sanding followed by poly or wax or something. Any more tips on how to do that without hiring a sander would be great.
posted by hazyjane at 11:28 PM on May 29, 2015

You will have to hire a sanding machine (look on the HSS website, they do packages with all the sandpaper and stuff. You should be able to do a bedroom in one day).

Instructions come with the machine. It's physically heavy dirty work but not particularly complicated.
posted by tinkletown at 3:32 AM on May 30, 2015

I would caution about using a floor sander yourself if you can avoid it. One mistake can leave a large gouge in the floor. Light sanding with a belt sander, sure, do it (it's hard work, particularly on the knees) but the stand up ones (like floor polishers) can do a lot of damage quickly if you let them get away.

But I have no idea what the cost of a tradesman to do the job is in your area.
posted by wilful at 4:17 AM on May 30, 2015

A small sander like this is easy enough to use yourself. A full size floor sander is much faster but they are heavy machines and need practice.
posted by Lanark at 5:55 AM on May 30, 2015

On doing it yourself without renting a floor sander.

I am a huge fan of Festool brand power tools. When I suggested these to my Dad, who is not strapped for cash, he went down to his local dealer and wrote me back "for that price they should ship you a German with them to use them for you!"

However... We recently had our house painted, and the painter said "I'd really like to take this siding down to bare wood". We said "okay", and got to talking about sanding technologies. He was looking at Fein, and Mirka, and I said "take a look at the current generation of Festool".

He came back with their small HEPA dust collector and ETS125 random orbital sander (the small one), and in an amazingly short amount of time (days, but not a lot of them) had sanded the whole damned house down to wood. Yeah, that was circa $800US in tools (plus consumables), and he listened to a lot of podcasts, but it's a sander combo that will definitely serve you well in homeownership.

It's small enough that it's light and easy to use overhead. It won't ever get away from you and gouge floors like a big upright sander will. It's the basis of an amazing woodworking and carpentry system should you get into your own home improvement, or furniture building. It manages dust really really well.

Sand it down, go to your local pro paint store and ask them what to use for a finish, I got a gallon of a floor polyurethane that was a little milky for furniture but is an amazingly hard and flexible finish that I've used for cabinets and how to apply it.
posted by straw at 9:03 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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