VOCs

We hear a lot about VOCs, but what exactly is a VOC?

VOC or Volatile organic compounds are solvents that get released into the air.  These can be both human-made and naturally occurring.  They have a high vapor pressure at ordinary room temperature.  High vapor pressure results from a low boiling point that causes large numbers of molecules to evaporate or sublimate from the liquid or solid form of the compound and enter the surrounding air.

VOCs are all around us in our daily life.  Most scents or odors are of VOCs.  Naturally occurring VOC are produced by plants, animals, microbes and fungi, such as molds.  The smell of a freshly mowed lawn or peeling of an orange skin are good examples of naturally made VOCs

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Major sources of man-made VOCs are coatings, especially paints and protective coatings.  Solvents are required to spread a protective or decorative film.  VOCs can also be found in adhesive removers and aerosol spray paints.  Fossil fuels produce VOC’s either directly as products such as gasoline or indirectly as byproducts such as automobile exhaust gas.

Some VOCs can be extremely dangerous.  They have been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects ranging from the mild – such as respiratory irritation – to the more serious, such as cancer. VOCs are one of the main reasons behind Sick Building Syndrome.  This is where occupants of a building complain of headaches, fatigue and other symptoms that disappear after leaving the building.

Benzene is an example of a dangerous VOC.  It can be found in tobacco smoke and stored fuels, it’s used in some paints, adhesives, and furniture wax.  It is a known human carcinogen, particularly after long-term exposure, and can cause a range of other nasty health effects including harm to bone marrow, a decrease in red blood cells and a less effective immune system.

Formaldehyde, which is found in a variety of sources including paints, adhesives, floor finishes and some wood products, is another dangerous VOC. It is released slowly and will cause irritation of the eyes and any mucous membranes, particularly in humid environments, which may speed up its rate of release. The effects of temporary exposure to formaldehyde are reversible, but since formaldehyde is another known carcinogen, it’s definitely a compound to avoid.

Not all VOCs are necessarily carcinogenic. Acetone is a solvent used to thin resins and clean tools, and can be found in some paints and varnishes. Despite its strong smell, it’s not considered particularly toxic and is not classed as a carcinogen. It will, however, cause irritation to the eyes upon contact and can trigger respiratory irritation in some cases.

Despite the clear evidence of the hazards of VOCs, they are still legal and widely used in many products. The best way to minimize or avoid them is to look for products marked ‘low-VOC’ or, even better, ‘no-VOC.’ Many paints are marketed with such labels, so avoiding VOCs here may seem easy compared to other interior products such as furniture. Knowing that a manufacturer’s claims regarding VOCs are genuine is another matter. Evidence of third-party certification, such as the Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA) ecolabel, shows that a product has been assessed and that any VOCs (if present) are limited to safe levels.

Not everything that smells is a VOC (think ammonia) and not every VOC has a smell (think methane without the added odor agent). That said, there is a strong correlation between VOC’s and smell, but when the levels get low, it’s more about the odor of a few particular VOC’s and the individual’s sensitivity to those VOCs that make the difference. That’s why one person can walk into a room and smell nothing and another can walk in and feel overwhelmed.

The Epoxy Products that New Life Floor uses are 100% solids (100% active ingredients).  They do not contain a solvent, that means they have no VOCs, making them compliant with the toughest Low VOC Standards.

It Really Is 6 Inches

Tape measures come in a variety of sizes, from a few feet to over 100 feet and everything in between.   Some have a metal case and some have a plastic case.   No matter the length or material, they all have a few things in common.

tape

The end of every tape measure is metal hook.  Not only does this prevent the tape from irretrievably retracting into the case, but it can be used as a grab.  To make an outside measurement, hook or grab the edge of the object being measured then stretch the tape.

Did you ever wonder why the metal hook slides around?  No, the factory didn’t do a bad riveting job.  The hook slides back and forth so that measurements can be made either by butting the tape against an object or by hooking it on the edge of the object.  The sliding motion ensures an accurate measurement in either direction.  Notice that 1st inch isn’t an exact inch.  The thickness of the metal hook makes up the difference when pushed against something and the wiggle makes up the difference when pulled taut.

Not all, but some of the metal hooks have a serrated edge.  This can be used as a scribing tool.  Can’t find a pencil, just press and move back and forth to make a mark in the wood.

At the base of every tape measure is a number.  This is the length of the tape measure.  Knowing this makes is easy to take an inside measurement.   Bending the tape measure will distort the measurement. Instead, use the tape measure as part of the measurement.  The tape measure picture here is 2” in length, therefore the measurement is really 6 inches.6 inches

How to Find Out What Type of Wood Floor You Have – Part 3

Finished

Should you decide to restore or maintain the floor, the finish should be taken into consideration.  There are three types commonly used: penetrating, water-based and oil-based.  Rub your fingers over the floor.

  • If you can feel the pores or grain lines, it’s probably a penetrating oil finish.
  • If the floor feels smooth, it’s likely a topcoat.
    • Oil-based top polyurethane has a soft, flexible feel and is amber in color.
    • Water-based polyurethane has a harder feel and is more glassy than oil-based

Still not sure

Compare the floor surface with a catalog of wood species.  One useful online catalog is the Wood Database – http://www.wood-database.com/.

Find an inconspicuous part of the floor and sand or scrape the finish off part of a board if the floor has a dark stain or is painted to expose the wood, and compare it with pictures in the Wood Database.

If you are exposing a hardwood floor that has been covered with another type of floor covering, sand a section of the floor with a palm sander and 20-grit sandpaper to remove glue or tile mastic.   Identify the sanded area with the help of the wood species catalog once you’ve cleaned off all the glue.

How to Find Out What Type of Wood Floor You Have – Part 2

Grain Pattern

Because wood typically darkens with age, and is likely the wood has been stained, color can’t be relied on for wood identification.  Though it is not an exact science, the typical way to identify hardwood is to identify it by grain patterns.

Oak is traditional and can be recognized by a distinctive, recurring flame pattern. Oak has a wider grain than pine and looks rough.   Red oak is the most common, with bold grain lines throughout the pattern.  White oak, which is more exclusive, has similar patterns, but the lines are more delicate.

Maple has a creamy appearance and is distinctively different than oak.  Sometimes devoid of grain, the light-brown lines are thin and subtle, wander aimlessly and are more complex.  With its glassy surface, maple has more consistency than oak.  Used in bowling alleys or dance halls.

Hickory has the hardness of maple but lacks the glassiness.  Hickory displays thin, dark grain lines, with sharp, jagged points in random formations.  It might have the flame pattern of oak, but the pattern is inconsistent.  Blunt color variations, such as black streaks, may also be present.  Used in baseball bats and ax handles.

Cherry and Walnut round out the domestic hardwoods commonly used.  Cherry contains delicate, subtle grain lines that wander aimlessly and has a distinctive reddish color.  Walnut has few visible grain lines but may present lighter, almost white streaks or bands and is chocolate in color.  Used in fine furniture.

Mahogany is imported, but is typically grouped with the domestic varieties because of its availability. Mahogany has consistent, straight grain lines with few variations and has an orange tint that differentiates it from cherry.

Exotics are complicated to identify due to the unfamiliarity and wide assortment of imported hardwoods.  But, in most cases, the wood is harder and darker than domestic varieties.  The woo may have wild, crazy grain patterns that don’t fit common trademarks, straight, uniform lines or flat, ebony surfaces without obvious grain. Identifying exotics is difficult at best.

Pine and Fir are typical softwoods.  Both have bold grain lines that are far wider than the hardwoods.  Pine is one of the easiest to identify with a narrow grain with long, oval loops and dark spots scattered throughout the wood.  Used in lodges and cabins.

Red Oak
Red Oak

How to Find Out What Type of Wood Floor You Have – Part 1

Even professionals occasionally get stumped when it comes to wood identification. The good news is that only a handful of wood species are commonly used for wood floors in the United States.  Know this makes identification easier.

Tip – Determine whether boards are solid or engineered by examining their cross-section.  Solid wood flooring has grain patterns, holes and pores.  Engineered or faux wood flooring has a particle board, or layered appearance.

  • This can be done by removing the floor vent and examine the end or side for the exposed wood.
  • Also try a doorway after prying up the threshold or transition piece with a pry bar.
  • If these are impractical, pry off a baseboard and slip a mirror between the boards and wall.

Hard or Soft

First, determine if the floor is a soft or hard wood.

If the floor is unfinished, start with pore identification.  Softwoods, such as pine or fir, typically have closed pores, resulting in a smooth surface. Hardwoods, such as oak and mahogany, typically have open pores, resulting in a porous texture with small divots, indentations or holes in the wood.  However, identifying by pores is not full proof.  Maple has a smooth surface, similar to pine, absent of obvious pores, contradicting the rule.

Next, try a couple the indentation tests.  Hardness is one factor to find out if the floor is hard or soft wood.  Find an inconspicuous area and try marking it with your fingernail.  If it can be marked your fingernail alone, it’s probably softwood.  Hardwoods, such as oak, maple, beech and walnut resist marks by fingernails.  Another test you can try is to step on the floor with a pointed heel or a medium tap with a ball peen hammer.  If either of these makes a dent, then the floor is likely made from a soft wood, such as pine, fur or cedar.  (Note, both of these test work best on unfinished wood, but if this is not available, sand a small spot in an inconspicuous area first.)

History of Parquet Floors

The word parquet (pronounced par-KAY) comes from an old custom, which was to place wooden planks under thrones and other seats of honor, in order to visually separate these areas above the floor. This decorative flooring was known as the parc (park) or parquet (little park).  The illusionistic 3D designs were made by hand cutting small pieces of various colored hardwoods into geometric shapes using squares, triangles, and lozenges (diamonds).  Then pieces of contrasting colored wood were then laid, scraped, scrubbed with sand, stained and polished.

parquet1

According to “THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE” encyclopedia, as late as 1625 the ground floor of most European houses were still a beaten earth floor.  Visitors were required to wipe their shoes on an entry mat to prevent this natural floor from getting muddy or dusty.  If the homeowner could afford it, the second floor had wooden joists and plank flooring sometimes 2 feet wide of oak or elm.

Prior to the 1600’s, only the wealthy and the Royalty had floors that consisted of Marble slabs. The marble required constant washing which quickly lead to the rotting of the wooden joints underneath the marble slabs.  It wasn’t until the Barouque Era (1625-1714) that wooden floors became elegant.

Thought still considered a novelty in the 1620s, Queen Marie de Medici of France installed an elaborate parquet floor in the Luxembourg Palace.  Over the next few decades, parquet floors became THE fashionable flooring in fancy Parisian homes and upscale hotels, including the hôtel de Lauzun.  By the time her daughter, English Queen Henrietta Maria installed parquet floors at Somerset House in 1661, the technique had become accepted as French style.  A 1673 issue of the Mercure Galant, the most fashionable society magazine in Paris, explained to readers that “people of quality” were forgoing dusty carpets in favor of parquet.

Parquet floors didn’t really become prevalent, though, until Louis XIV had them installed at Versailles in the 1680s. He spent the previous two decades expanding and renovating the family hunting lodge in order to turn it into a seat of power equal with all the glories of France.  Initially, marble floors were installed in all new areas, and replaced broken earthenware tiles in the bedrooms of the original hunting lodge.  By the 1670s, some of the marble floors were leaking when washed,  rotting the joists and floor supports  The decision was made to replace most of the marble with wooden floors — a decision that must have had plenty to do with aesthetics as well as engineering, considering that it was so ‘on trend’.

Versailles_Queen's_Chamber

Parquet continued to be popular in grander homes through the 19th century.  In the 1930s, the introduction of carpeting manufacturing made it possible for people to install carpet over wooden floors.  It looked as though wood floors would become totally obsolete as carpeting seemed to be the floor covering of choice.  But, the 1980s and 90s showed a renewed interest in wood flooring.  This resurgence was due, in part, with better floor manufacturing techniques and more durable materials such as laminates.  Today, Parquet floors are popular once again and are more affordable than ever before.

parquet2

How Do You Know If Yours Floors Need To Be Refinished?

One of the most noticeable and least expensive improvements a homeowner can make is to restore a dull, dirt wood floor.  Over time, the urethane finish on your hardwood floors will eventually begin to wear.  The key is to recognize this and have your floor recoated with an additional application, or “top coat” of urethane before it’s too late.

There are a couple of ways to tell if it is time to refinish / restore your floors –

First, a visual inspection – Have the high-traffic walkway areas lost their sheen or gloss in comparison to the no-traffic far edges of the floor?  You might also see graying in the floor in these areas.  The graying is caused by grinding dirt in to the open pores of the wood floor when you walk on the area that has lost its finish.

2B

You can also try the water test – Pour a tablespoon of water onto the high-traffic section of floor and watch what it does.

  • If it forms droplets that rest on top of the wood, the finish is in good condition.
  • If it soaks into the wood slowly, the finish is wearing thin, but you can probably postpone the job if you need to.
  • If the water quickly penetrates the wood and leaves a dark splotch, the floor needs to be refinished right away.

Remove Adhesive Stair Treads

Have you have already made the mistake of using an adhesive backed stair tread?  Is it time to replace them?  I’m not going to kid you, it will take some time and elbow grease to remove the adhesive.  First, pull off the old carpet tread.  If it doesn’t pull off easily, use a plastic paint scraper between the stair and tread.  To get the adhesive residue off, start at the top of the steps and work your was down.  Stray the step with an adhesive solvent and let sit according to the directions.  Use a plastic paint scraper and scrape off as much residue as possible.  Please the scrapings in a small bucket lined with a trash bag (the grocery store bags work well).  Once you have gotten off as much residue as you can, wipe down with a wet soft cotton cloth.  (A word of caution – spray, scrape & wipe down one step at a time – if you spray more than step at a time, you could slip on the wet steps.)  This process may need to be repeats several time to ensure all the adhesive has been removed.  If so, let the steps dry for a day between each application.   For additional information on Removing Adhesives with Solvents

PRODUCT REVIEWDe Solv It

When the treads were removed from the stairs, we were left with a lot of very stick adhesive.  There are many different products that can be used to remove the residue.  Some can cause damage or discoloration to the wood.  Some smell bad and require ventilation.  We decided to use a commercial adhesive remover based on orange oil instead.   This has the lowest risk of causing damage to the floor.  There are several orange oil removers available either on line or at your local hardware store.  We choose De-Solv-it.  It is biodegradable, noncarcinogenic formula that contains no harsh solvents.  We followed the label directions and let the product sit for @15 minutes before scraping.  Because of the amount of residue left behind, we needed to do 2 applications.  De-Sol-it did a great job removing the adhesive from the steps.  Clean up was easy and left very little odor.

HOMEOWNERS, PLEASE DON’T

New Life Floors recently refinished a floor that had a somewhat strange issue.  When the current homeowner looked at the house before purchasing, the floors looks great – clean and shinny.  However, when they moved in, they discovered the previous homeowner varnished around the area rugs.  Fortunately, they were able to find area rugs to cover the unfinished sections.  Fast forward 20 years – the current homeowners are ready to sell.  Much of the varnish had worn off leaving the floors splotchy.  We were able to scrape off the remaining varnish and refinish the floors properly.  But why did this happen?  The previous homeowner applied a coat of varnish on the floor without prepping it properly.  There needs to be a ‘tooth’ on the floor so the finish has something to stick to.  This can be done by sanding, screening or sandlessly preparing the floors.  (Insert commercial for New Life Floors here).  When it comes time to spruce up your floors, PLEASE DON’T apply finish to an unprepared floor and PLEASE DON’T just apply finish around the area rugs.  Whichever method is appropriate for your floors, save yourself some aggravation and call a professional and have the entire floor done.

But wait – it gets better.  The current homeowners compounded the problem by putting adhesive backed stair treads on the varnished hard wood steps.  Very sticky residue was left behind when the 20 year old treads were removed.   With a lot of scraping, we were able to remove the residue off and refinish the stairs properly.  PLEASE DON’T use adhesive backed stair treads.  If you are like me and don’t like a bare step, there are a couple of options.  First, use small carpet tacks in each of the corners of the tread.  This will prevent the carpet from slipping. The tacks leave small holes in the floor, but this is less damage and less work to remove when it comes time to replace the treads.  The other option is to have a runner installed down the length of the steps.

NEW LIFE FLOORS COMMERCIAL

Our sandless hard wood floor refinishing method is cheaper, faster and cleaned than traditional sanding.  We use a buffer and clean & prep solution that removes paint splatters, surface scratches, scuff marks and the years of ground in dirt normal cleaning can’t get out.  This process micro abrades the surface and we apply 2 coats of urethane.