If you are considering new flooring and want a truly-green option, an oiled floor may be your best choice… especially if maintenance is a concern. As a US Green Building Council LEED AP (Accredited Professional) I’m routinely asked about green flooring options… and I routinely reference oiled wood as one of the greenest choices.
A natural oil finish cannot be compared with today’s more popular acrylic, polyurethane, and aluminumoxide finishes. Non-oil finishes protect the floor by forming a wear layer, in fact a plastic film on the surface of the floor. They scratch and get dull over time and cannot be spot repaired (though some have tried and failed). An oil finish penetrates the wood fibers to harden them while not altering the natural beauty of the wood. With no visual film on the surface, oiled floors are distinguishable by their elegant patina. They are easy to care for and are repairable. An oiled floor never needs to be sanded, only regular applications of a Maintenance Oil are necessary to nourish the wood and bring the luster back.
Remember the old Colgate toothpaste commercial where dye was shown penetrating the chalk?
That’s a pretty good analogy for oiled floors.
Penetrating Protection of Natural-Oiled Floors vs. Polyurethanes
Consider the following:
Natural oils have been used to finish wood for hundreds of years. Natural oil finishes are made with linseed oils, an old standby for finishing wood. Polyurethane is the new kid on the block, developed about 50 years ago and its primary design purpose is to make furniture shiny.
Polyurethane is a plastic made from petroleum, a flammable liquid often used in chemical energy sources such as gasoline and diesel, and which gives polyurethane its distinct “chemical” scent.
Zero VOC vs. Low VOCs
Rejuvenating a 325 sq. ft of a Navarre floor project will require one liter of Revol 30 maintenance oil, which will emit zero VOCs and leave you without that harsh chemical scent. A typical polyurethane floor will require three gallons of finish, one gallon for the sealer coat and two more gallons of the top wear layers. VOCs from polyurethane evaporate into your home at the rate of about 4 lbs. per gallon, which means that 3 gallons of poly used to coat 325 sq.ft equals 12 pounds of VOCs floating around in your home for your family to enjoy.
Bond and Strengthen vs. Surface Coatings
The natural oil used to finish oiled floors is not a surface coating, but is designed to become part of the wood by penetrating, bonding and hardening with the first layer of wood.
When wood is finished with natural oil, it will dent, it will scratch, and it may be repaired. To bring your floor back to a fresh state: first, lightly sand and clean the desired area of the floor with an appropriate cleaner, then apply a new layer of maintenance oil. It is not necessary to treat the entire floor, only the effected area. Typically, only spot sanding on extreme wear marks and scratches would be necessary, and a total wall-to-wall sanding is normally avoided.
It’s a much more laborious and disruptive process with cured surface coatings such as polyurethane.
Polyurethane is a plastic coating that sits on top of your wood, and acts as surface coating.
The purpose of a surface coating is to separate wear and tear from the wood, which polyurethane can achieve, however, a polyurethane floor will never look better then the day of the final finish application. Immediately polyurethane finishes begin picking up small and large scratches – abrasions that defuse the light and pick up dirt – and quickly become visible from all angles. (NOTE: all wood is soft enough to dent and scratch).
Recoating a polyurethane floor is the recommended maintenance option. When should this be done? It has to be a joint effort, as soon as you have a scar that penetrates the surface coating, or when the floor looks dirty after you wash the floor. This “dirty” look means there is an abundance of surface scratches holding dirt. Scuffing and recoating will remove most of the dirt and provide a smooth cleanable surface.
Living With vs. Living On
The vast majority of my polyurethane customers live on their floors. They take off their shoes at the door, they have floor protectors under all furniture, and care to have nothing foul left on the surface. A normal expectation of a polyurethane floor is that it is maintenance free. Homeowners with natural oil finished floors live with their floors. They know that wood expands and contracts with the seasons. Some believe this movement is a sign the wood still thinks of itself as being a tree. Feeding wood natural oils supports the notion that you are living with your wood and in turn, the wood responds to appropriate care that’s given.
Reparability vs. Durability
Wood is very durable on its own.
Natural oils enhance the durable nature of wood, and allow the floor to be easily repaired if damaged. While polyurethanes provide a durable barrier, this barrier also consumes a layer of wood each and every time it is applied. At best there are three to four sandings in a floor’s life before the floor must be replaced. Over time, reparability is more important than durability.
A multi-layer construction with a solid wood top layer, oiled floors provide exceptional stability and strength to withstand the abuse of time.
At Alexandria Carpet One Floor & Home, we are proud to carry the complete line of Navarre Oiled Hardwood flooring.
Call us today at 703-370-0000 or send an email to Chris for more information.
Chris Moline, LEED AP – Residential Group Manager