How to

4 ideas for white wooden floors with advice from the experts

Longing for pale timber floors? We ask the experts about the various methods of lightening existing boards and find out if it’s a job you can tackle yourself

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Whitewashing 

With Resene marketing manager Karen Warman

Floor type
Most solid-wood floors can be whitewashed – it really comes down to the look you are trying to create. If the floor has a nice wood grain then whitewashing is a good option as you will still be able to see the grain when it’s finished.

Prep and planning
Resene Colorwood Whitewash or Greywash may be applied over an existing clear-finished floor without the need to strip back to bare timber. These products have the tinter in them so you don’t need a separate staining coat as you do with blonding, so the process is much quicker (especially as there is no sanding either).

Timeframe
An average-sized room could be done and dry in a day.

Cost
A litre can of Resene Colorwood Whitewash is enough to paint around 12 square metres with one coat. You will probably need 2-4 litres for most rooms. The cost of the paint per square metre for one coat is around $5 (depending on colour).

Recommended products
Resene Colorwood Whitewash or Resene Colorwood Greywash. Traditionally the Whitewash has been very popular but we are finding that the greyer tones of the Greywash are perhaps a little more forgiving in a busy family home because the colour tends to hide dust and dirt better than the whiter finish.

Professional vs DIY
Most products are now water-based and can be easily applied by home decorators. Resene Colorwood Whitewash or Greywash is easy to apply; you just need to take care that you don’t end up with thin and thick patches.

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Painting

With Resene marketing manager Karen Warman

Floor type
Most wooden floors can be painted. Generally speaking, if the timber floor is very old or damaged, very uneven in colour or not that nice to look at, painting is usually the best option.

Considerations
Painting a floor is an easy way to harmonise it with a new colour scheme, or it can be the ideal stopgap while you save for a new floor. You can use any colour although we recommend avoiding white or very light or dark colours as they tend to show up dust more.

Prep and planning
Depending on the existing floorboards, you can often just clean them and then paint. But if the boards have a very hard solventborne finish they may need sanding and a coat of primer or sealer before they can be painted. The prep for painting a floor is faster than for blonding (staining), because blonding requires stripping the wood back to bare timber. For painting, you just need to go back to a sound surface that the paint can stick to.

Timeframe
It’s not much different to painting a wall. An average-sized room could be done and dry in a day.

Cost
A litre can of Resene Walk-on coloured paint is enough to paint around 12 square metres with one coat. You will probably need 2-4 litres for most rooms. The cost of the paint per square metre for one coat is around $5 (depending on colour).

Recommended products
Resene Walk-on (a satin waterborne paint), followed by a clear coat of Resene Concrete Wax. Resene Walk-on is similar to paint you might use on walls but is designed for the wear and tear a floor receives. The Concrete Wax provides extra scuff resistance.

Professional vs DIY
If you’re comfortable with painting a wall, then you could easily tackle a floor yourself. Painting is more forgiving than whitewashing because you can always do another coat if you need to even up the colour.

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Sanding 

With architect Nicole Butler or NJB Studio 

Floor type
Older polished floorboards would benefit from sanding. Oil-based polyurethane, found on many older floorboards, tends to turn orange with age. Sanding back to the bare timber is a simple way to remove the orange cast and achieve a lighter, more natural look. If you are happy with the natural tone of the bare wood, you won’t need to apply a stain and can just finish with a clear, water-based polyurethane.

Considerations
Water-based polyurethane is hard-wearing and will stay clear rather than yellow with age like an oil-based product. Other advantages to using a water-based finish are that it dries much faster and does not give off toxic fumes so the home is habitable immediately after treatment. Also, if the floor gets a scratch or mark, you can do a spot-fix (with an oil-based finish, you’d have to redo the entire room).

Prep and planning
You’ll need to remove all furniture before sanding. A fine layer of dust will settle everywhere so close off other rooms.

Timeframe
Sanding and finishing two or three small rooms would take two to three days. You’ll need to apply three coats of polyurethane. Each coat of water-based polyurethane takes two to three hours to dry; oil-based polyurethane takes two days per coat to dry.

Cost
This will depend on whether you do it yourself or employ a professional. Although water-based products cost more per litre, the shorter drying time means labour costs are lower.

Recommended products
Cabot’s CFP Floor Water Based is a good choice. According to the Cabot’s online calculator you would need 14 litres for a 70-square-metre living area.

Professional vs DIY
You could do this yourself if you had access to a floor sander, but professionals will give you an excellent finish.

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Blonding

With Resene marketing manager Karen Warman

Floor type
Blonding is a method of lightening solid-wood floorboards by sanding then using a light-coloured stain; it is suitable for most woods. A stain lets the wood grain show through, which is very useful because the grain and variation in the timber help to camouflage marks and dust.

Prep and planning
Blonding requires more preparation than painting or whitewashing as you need to remove all the existing coating to get it back to bare timber. You then apply the stain followed by a clear finish.

Timeframe
Blonding is a slower process than painting or whitewashing as you need to apply stain and then remove the excess. You need to do this carefully; it is not a job you can rush.

Cost
The cost of materials is similar to painting or whitewashing if you do it yourself, but will cost more if you get in a professional.

Recommended products
Resene Colorwood ‘Rock Salt’ finished with a protective clear coat of Resene Qristal ClearFloor.

Professional vs DIY
Blonding a floor is a job you might want to call in a professional for if you’re not comfortable operating a floor sander (you can hire these). The staining itself requires care as you need to apply the stain and then wipe off any excess, ensuring you don’t get ‘lap marks’ where the stain is darker because it has built up. However, as long as you allow time to prep properly, stain and apply the clear coat, you can do it yourself.

Most decorators use a waterborne clear finish which is easy to apply. If you opt for a very hard clear finish, using a product such as Resene Polythane, be aware that it will give off stronger solvent odours; in this case, we recommend hiring a professional. If you have a busy family life, pets or limited free time, you also might be best to call in an expert and go away for a few days so you don’t have kids or pets walking through the area while the job is in progress.

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Expert Q&A with Chris Lee of Swinard Wooden Floors, Christchurch 

What type of floors do you blond?
Blonding works well with most solid timbers, particularly oak.

How long does it take you?
It all depends on the size and condition of the timber floor, but on average a kitchen-and-dining area of 70 square metres would take five days.

How much do you charge?
About $90 (including GST) per square metre to sand, fill, stain and apply three coats of a commercial-grade, two-pot waterborne polyurethane.

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What products do you use?
Mainly Pallmann products from Germany.

What is your advice for those considering DIY?
Unless you really know what you are doing, it is best to use a professional. If you get the sanding and/or staining wrong or uneven, you have to sand it all off, right back to the natural timber. You would lose a considerable amount of the timber thickness doing this.

Words by: Fiona Ralph.

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