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Amanda Harvey
Amanda
Harvey

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Choosing a varnish for your wood floor

Last modified: 2018/12/20 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Renovating a wood floor can completely change the look of a room and add some much-needed charm. While sanding is often the part of the project where attention is focused, choosing a varnish is actually more important to achieve your desired finish. To understand this project a bit more clearly, here are the different options available on the market.

How to choose a wood floor varnish

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source: unsplash

What is a volatile organic compound?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are substances that are derived from hydrocarbons and are released into the environment. Affecting both the air quality as well as the health of humans, VOCs such as acetone, ethanol, butane and so on, have serious effects and can lead to asthma problems and in the worst-case scenario, cancer. These serious consequences have motivated the Canadian Government to control the amount of VOCs available in varnishes on the market.

Effective as of September 9th, 2010, the new legislation imposes a limit of 350 g VOC per litre for all varnishes manufactured in or imported into Canada. Further, their sale has been prohibited since September 9th, 2012. This information is important to bear in mind when shopping for varnishes. 

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The different types of wood floor varnishes

1) Water-based varnish

There are many advantages to choosing a water-based varnish. We will start by emphasizing that water-based varnishes are known for containing a very low rate of toxic products. Also, these varnishes are known for their ability to avoid yellowing over time, while also drying quickly during application. In addition, they are easy to maintain. When first developed, it was widely deplored that water-based varnishes had issues with resistance. However, newer water-based varnishes do not face these challenges. Their current degree of resistance allows them to be on par with urethane varnishes.

However, it is important to keep in mind that water-based varnishes react to calcium. Therefore, if you’re using it in a place where the floor might accumulate a certain amount of calcium, then you should consider applying an anti-calcium sealant. In another vein, the application of a water-based varnish involves waiting at least 1 month before the floor can be washed. This is an important point if you plan on applying the varnish in an area which frequently gets dirty.

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2) Oil-based varnish

wood floors and chairs_renoquotes.com

source: unsplash

While oil-based varnishes once referred to polyurethane and urethane-based coatings, it is important to note that these have been banned in Canada because of how highly toxic they are. Currently, oil-based varnishes only concern polyurethane-based varnishes. If you find them being sold somewhere, we would suggest that you avoid them at all costs due to their high toxicity. 

Although an oil-based varnish will keep its lustre for many years, it often yellows. Also, it takes a considerable amount of time to dry, and this could be anywhere between 16 and 24 hours. Moreover, it is impossible to praise oil-based varnish's resistance. In fact, the main advantages to choosing this type of varnish are its' affordable price as well as the ease of application, which can be completed with a roller.

3) Alcohol-based varnish

Also containing a certain amount of toxic substances, alcohol-based varnishes stand out from the others mentioned because of their high resistance. Self-taught renovators appreciate the diversity of the finishes as well as its ability to preserve the natural look of wood. Additionally, alcohol-based varnish dries very quickly, usually needing approximately 1 to 2 hours.

From an environmental point of view, alcohol-based varnish is not an optimal choice. However, it is possible to counter the effect of its toxicity by opening the windows during the application process.

The price to varnish a wooden floor

Let us first note that the price for varnishing a floor can vary depending on the type of product used, the addition (or not) of dye and the work that takes place before the varnish is applied. Cost variations may also occur if the floor is already varnished and the finish needs to be removed. The prices cited in the following table are examples and only serve to give a general idea of what you can expect:

Type of varnish and/or work Average prices (products and labour)
Low-end varnish and sanding $1.50 to $1.75/ square foot
Standard varnish and sanding $2 to $2.50/square foot
High-end varnish (high traffic areas) $3 to $3.50/square foot
Adding dye approximately $1/square foot
Floor repairs $10 to $40/floor board

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