Home repair: How to protect floors in high-traffic area

Updated 12/11/2011 11:47 AM

Q. I need help with advice on refinishing my oak hardwood floors. They were professionally redone eight years ago, and he applied two coats of polyurethane on them. After eight years of a lot of foot traffic and four dogs, they need to be redone. I will have a professional do them again and want to have a more "industrial" finish put on them, something like what is on a basketball court. The contractor that is going to do them is not familiar with anything like that but will look into something different if I give him an idea. Do you have any? I am not as worried about aesthetics as I am about durability, but I would prefer a low shine if possible. I appreciate any help you can provide, as we are having the floors restained this January.

A. There are several durable finishes for wood floors. Here, for your comparison, is a compendium of the various floor finishes, with their pluses and minuses, taken from the Internet:

• Oil-modified urethane is generally the most common surface finish and is easy to apply. It is a petroleum base with a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients that produces a durable, moisture-resistant surface. It is a solvent-based polyurethane that dries in about eight hours. This type of finish ambers with age and comes in different sheen levels.

• Moisture-cured urethane is a solvent-based polyurethane that is more durable and more moisture-resistant than other surface finishes. Moisture-cured urethane comes in non-yellowing and ambering types and is generally available in satin or gloss. These finishes are extremely difficult to apply, have a strong odor and are best left to the professional.

This type of finish cures by absorbing minute quantities of moisture vapor from the air, which causes it to dry and harden. The curing process is very dependent on relative humidity.

• Water-based urethane is a blend of synthetic resins, plasticizers and other film-forming ingredients that produces a durable, moisture-resistant surface. These finishes are clear and non-yellowing and are different sheen levels. They have a milder odor than oil-modified finishes, and they dry in two to three hours. Water-based urethanes are generally more expensive.

• Conversion-varnish sealers are two-component, acid-curing, alcohol-based sealers. Because of their origin, conversion-varnish sealers are often referred to as Swedish finishes.

• Penetrating sealers are spread on the floor and allowed to penetrate, and they are solvent-based. The excess sealer is removed with rags or buffed in with synthetic or steel wool pads. This type of finish often has a color and can be used to stain and seal the wood floor. Penetrating oil sealers are made from tung or linseed oil, with additives to improve drying and hardness.

Q. I am a regular reader of your Sunday column in my local newspaper. I hope I will get a solution or clue to my problem. I bought a house built in 1982. I am sure the house has lots of dust issues. I can tell this based on how bad the dust was on the light fixtures in the bathrooms and other places when I first started cleaning the house.

Since I bought the house, I have noticed a lot of dust on the furniture and everywhere. When I vacuum the house, the dust cup is full every time. The exhaust fans in the bathroom are sucking out a lot of dust because I can see dust layers around the air vents from where the air is sucked out. It takes hardly two to three days to notice and a week for a layer of dust to form on the furniture.

I got the ducts cleaned by professionals. I use 90-day filters (ACE brand) and change them regularly. To my surprise, I don't see much dust collected by these filters, even by the end of their life (60 to 90 days). I bought a permanent filter, and even that did not catch much dust. I checked and made sure that air was passing through the filter at the return air duct.

We thought maybe we were opening the doors and windows a lot and the dust was coming through them. To test this, we have not opened the windows or doors in the last 45 days except while going out. Still no luck.

The only thing I haven't done is call a technician for the furnace annual maintenance in the past three years. The furnace is Rheem brand, 4 years old (95 percent efficiency).

The attic has blown-in insulation, and all the heat registers are on the ground level. None of them goes through the attic. But the dust that I see on the furniture is more like lint and is close to the blown-in insulation. Do you think the insulation is reaching my ducts somehow and the same is coming into the house? If so, why is the filter not catching any of it?

Do you think the blower assembly is dirty and is delivering the dirt? If I call a technician for annual maintenance, will he clean the blower assembly, too?

My wife and I are tired after three years of cleaning all the dust and seeing it come back immediately.

A. Assuming that the people who cleaned the ducts did a thorough job, the issue is elsewhere. Living in a city or town or near an industrial or agricultural area, there may be lots of dust generated that gets into your house through cracks around dissimilar materials or around windows or doors. The stack effect in all buildings creates a negative pressure in them as the conditioned air sifts out through upper stories or higher levels in one-story buildings. This causes exterior air to enter the buildings through all available cracks in lower levels.

The stack effect would not draw cellulose insulation into the house unless the house is very tight and the bathroom and kitchen fans draw makeup air from the attic, an unusual scenario.

You may want to consider having an electronic filter installed; it catches 90-plus percent of the particles floating in the air that passes through it.

Gas-fired furnaces and boilers should be checked annually for safety, while oil-fired furnaces and boilers need to be serviced yearly to maintain efficiency. The amount of service performed by technicians depends on a firm's policy and standards, so be sure to ask.

Q. I have read your Q&A regarding water accumulation in the bottom row of concrete blocks. My house has had similar problems. The drain holes of the cinder blocks had a metal elbow inserted into each hole. These metal elbows became blocked with corrosion and debris and effectively blocked drainage! Unintended consequences may take a long time to develop. I like the idea of not waterproofing interior walls of block foundations.

A. I assume that you cleaned the debris in these metal channels to reinstate proper drainage as needed. Obviously, they need timely maintenance.

Waterproofing hollow-block foundations from inside is asking for major problems, as water that can accumulate within their cores will evaporate into the house and create an environment conducive to mold development.

Q. I am in the process of having a modular home built. The foundation crawl space is cinder block. I went out to the job site and there is a trench all around the whole house with standing water in it. The cinder block is soaking up the water like a sponge. The block is wet halfway up the wall. There is a vapor barrier in the crawl space, but the dirt under it is soaking wet. The barrier is not attached to the cinder-block walls and is only about 3 inches up the wall.

Should I be worried about this and doing something now? The house is complete; contractors are there just finishing up the HVAC and stuff. I have been given such varied advice I really do not know what to do.

A. There should not be a trench around the foundation without a proper drainage outlet. No standing water should be acceptable. But it is best to have the soil slope away from the cinder-block foundation if the general grade allows it. The block foundation should have been coated with cement parging and sprayed with a foundation coating, or a waterproof coating applied, on both sides if the soil is usually wet.

The job of the vapor barrier under the home is to keep moisture in the soil and prevent it from affecting the home. As long as the vapor barrier is effective and the air in the crawl space is reasonably dry, there should be nothing to worry about. You can check this out by smelling the air after a few weeks (if the air smells musty, the vapor barrier may not be doing the job it should) or by getting a moisture meter. (The relative humidity should be less than 40 percent.)

If the vapor barrier is tight against the block walls, it may be sufficient, but it is best to tape it to the blocks. For the tape to adhere properly, the blocks will have to be cleaned of all loose material.

In case of excessive dampness, there should be a way to ventilate the crawl space during the spring and fall. It is best not to ventilate crawl spaces and basements during high summer humidity and winter.

Q. The drain in my basement floor has an odor coming from it. I have snaked a hose down it and flushed hot water through it. The odor dissipated for a while, but it's back. What do you suggest I do next?

A. Run a bleach solution through it, one part bleach to three parts water to start with. Increase the bleach proportion if needed. Once the drain has been cleaned, make sure it is always filled with water, to which you may add some bleach from time to time. These drains dry up quickly, allowing sewer gases to enter the basement, which is why some building codes no longer allow their use.

Note to readers: I have just been advised that a rodent deterrent product previously available only to pest control professionals is now available to the public. The Xcluder Rodent & Pest Barrier (www.buyxcluder.com) can be purchased online for $9.99, plus shipping. It comes in a neat package containing several strips of a combination stainless steel and polyfiber material, a pair of gloves to wear while using the strips and a pair of scissors to cut the strips to the size needed to fill even the small gaps through which rodents can enter a house.

I have obtained a package, and it really looks like a brilliant idea and a great product. In the past, I have frequently recommended using brass or stainless steel wool to plug suspected openings. These strips make the job a lot easier, as they can be wrapped around pipes and expand once pressed into place.

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via email at henridemarne@gmavt.net. His book, "About the House," is available at www.upperaccess.com and in bookstores.

2011, United Feature Syndicate Inc.