One of the most common questions is I get is "How long does it take to refinish hardwood flooring?" Smart customers ask this question and plan ahead; those that don't realize the length of time sometimes need to postpone.
First, it all depends on what type of polyurethane you use - oil based polyurethane vs. water based polyurethane (read this article for more info). The quick synopsis is that oil based polyurethane takes longer and importantly LASTS LONGER (and more people prefer the look of oil based poly and it's less expensive. So for these reasons, I think it's usually ideal to allow enough time to do oil based polyurethane.
Oil based polyurethane - length of time to refinish hardwood:
In general, it will usually take 3-5 days to refinish hardwood floors with an oil based polyurethane (+ drying time), pending on whether there is a stain/how dark the stain is/how humid it is and how many coats of polyurethane you apply. Often, when, it natural (no stain), with 3 coats of polyurethane, it can be done in 3 sequential days (allowing 24 hrs for each coat to dry) when the weather is dry/not humid. Each coat of polyurethane usually needs 24 hrs to dry and a stain will need 24 hrs to dry...but if it's a darker stain, it could take 36 or even 48 hrs for the stain to dry. So, in the case of a dark stain that needs 2 days to dry and if you apply 3 coats of poly, you are up to 5 days.
Most places can sand up to 1000 sq ft per day, so if you have a large area (e.g. 3,000 sq ft), you may add up to 2 more days. Alternatively, sometimes we can double up on the crews to reduced the elapsed time frame.
Please note that this general time line can vary based on many factors, including the weather (if it's humid, it will take longer for each coat to dry), the species of wood (pine and maple will often take longer and require a conditioner and sometimes even another coat of stain), type of wood (e.g. herringbone and parquet can take longer) and whether any other additional work is needed (e.g. repair work, steps, ripping up carpet/tack strips/staples, etc).
Drying time after the floors are refinished:
After you've refinished the hardwood floors, you need to wait before walking on them and/or moving (or returning furniture). At a minimum, you should wait at least 24 hrs before walking on the floors; for hours 24-48, it's best to wear socks only (no shoes, no bare feet). Ideally, you should wait a total of 4 days before moving furniture back. This is to allow enough time for the floors to dry and cure. Can you move furniture back after 2 days? Yes, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Because the refinishing process takes a while and the areas to be done and you can not have access to these rooms/nor move furniture in (and because the process is a bit messy and it smells), most people opt to refinish their floors BEFORE they move (ideal) or else wait until they will be away on vacation (for at least a week).
If you understand the process, you can plan ahead. We work with many new home buyers, and it is ideal if you can get the flooring contractor in BEFORE the closing, so that you can get an estimate and plan for the work to start a day or two after closing. And, it's critical that you plan ahead so there is time AFTER closing and BEFORE you need to move in. Many are able to schedule these estimates with their buyer agent when there are already planned events (e.g. inspection, appraisal, walk through). Other times, floor plans and square footage are enough to do an estimate. (It's ideal not to burden the real estate agent with additional trips). It's unfortunate when someone calls me right after they closed and they tell me they need to move in just a few days later...it's usually not possible to do the work and allow for proper drying time. But, if they had planned ahead, we might have been able to solve and save them money.
Water based polyurethane - length of time to refinish hardwood:
The largest benefit to water based polyurethane is that it dries faster. So, if you are in a huge rush, sometimes this can solve your time challenges. It usually only takes about 2 days to refinish hardwood floors with water based polyurethane. (Some places will do it in 1 day, but I would recommend staying away from those places...it will last longer if you allow more drying time, and each coat needs an extra 2-4 hrs to dry.) You can usually move furniture in 24 hrs later with water based polyurethane.
As mentioned above, there are some other items that can lengthen the process (e.g. square footage, type of wood, rip up, repair work, etc.)
Plan ahead for your refinishing project so that you understand how long it will take and can consciously choose whether you want oil based or water based polyurethane, and so you can determine which contractor you want to work with (rather than be forced into which contractor is available and which type of polyurethane can meet your time frame.
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