Painting wood floors

Painting wood floors

Painting wood floors

Q. This week: After we moved into our house we tore out the carpets and planned to refinish the floors. Now we’ve decided it would involve too much work and mess, so we’re thinking of painting the floors instead. What steps do we need to take to paint the floors, and can this process be reversed should we decide at some point to sand the floors back down to the original wood? Also, what do we do about the gaps between the bottom of the baseboards and the floor?

S.W. — Brighton

A. Painted wood floors are enjoying a resurgence in popularity as homeowners seek to create a «cottage» or «farmhouse» feel in their homes. It’s relatively easy to paint a floor, and inexpensive compared to any other floor covering. But realize that once you paint, it is impractical to go back and sand the floors bare to achieve a natural look. Paint seeps into the cracks between individual boards and no amount of sanding will remove the color.

The gap between the baseboard and floor is usually covered with a small molding called base shoe, or just shoe molding. Conventional shoe molding measures 3/4 inch high and 5/8 inch wide at the bottom; the side is curved. Many people mistakenly use quarter round molding for this purpose, but because it measures 3/4 x 3/4 it sticks out too far from the baseboard and can look ungainly.

If you have tall baseboards it’s best to nail the shoe molding into the floor, not into the baseboard. That way the baseboard can expand and contract with seasonal humidity cycles and not take the shoe molding up and down with it. Shoe molding nailed to the floor stays put, and the baseboard can shrink or expand up or down behind it without consequence. You can nail shoe molding into narrow baseboards, as they are unlikely to move enough to matter.

To paint your floors, make sure you’ve removed all the exposed nails and staples that held the carpet and padding in place. Use a nailset to sink below the wood’s surface any nails that broke off when you tried to pull them out. Fill all the nailholes left by the carpet tack strips and padding staples with vinyl patching compound. Let the compound dry and sand off the excess.

Painting wood floors

Wash the floor with a mixture of TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and water in order to remove any grease or oils. Rinse, allow it to dry, and then sand the entire floor with 120 grit sandpaper. You don’t have to sand everything down to bare wood. The idea is merely to create a scratch pattern in the surface of the existing finish. That allows the new paint to flow into the scratches in order to get a secure mechanical grip. Vacuum and dust the floor and get ready to paint.

Using a latex or oil based floor enamel, cut in around the edges of the room with a brush, and roll the middle with a paint roller on an extension handle. Put on at least two coats for the best durability.

Better floor paints are tough enough to be left alone and used as is. To provide better protection, consider rolling a couple of coats of water based polyurethane paint on top. Water based poly remains clear throughout its service life, whereas oil based poly turns yellowish or amber over time. If you’re so inclined, you can also create geometric, «faux stone» or other patterns with different colored paints, protecting everything with poly upon completion.

Zolton Cohen is a former ASHI-certified home inspector based in Kalamazoo. Write to Zolton Cohen, Around the House, P.O. Box 2007, Kalamazoo, MI 49003, or contact him through Michigan Live at

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