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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Repairing Pet Damage to Hardwood Floors

What can you do about hardwood floors that have been destroyed by "pet damage" - read, urine?

You can steel yourself for a sharp blow to the budget, my friend.

Contrary to popular belief, you can't just "sand out" urine stains. If the stains have stood for any length of time, the ammonia in the urine will have seeped into the wood, burning it through. That's why the wood turns black.

And you can't just stain the floors darker. Not all wood accepts stain and the urine damage will always remain darker than the "clean wood" surrounding it, no matter how dark a stain you go. And how dark do you want to go? Chocolate floors look great in modern homes with white walls and minimal decor. But dark floors affect other design decisions, such as wall paint colors and fixture colors. And if you are restoring a period home, dark floors will not be in keeping with the styles of most eras.

The only thing you CAN do when confronted with severely damaged floors like those we have inherited is to hire a good floor refinisher and ask him to assess the damaged spots and make repairs. Repairs are going to entail sanding the whole house, cutting out the lengths of black-stained wood and replacing them with new wood, then staining all the floors to match and topping it all off with a coat or two of poly, depending on how much you like shine.

I prefer natural stain and minimal shine, myself. And here in NYC my go-to guy for floors is Richard at USA Floors. (Need Richard's contact info? Comment, below.)

You may be getting the impression that this isn't my first run-in with "pet damage" - and you would be right.

Back when I was a landlord - for a brief two years when I had moved in with my BF but hadn't sold my apartment - I got the shock of my life when my good-so-far-tenants pulled up their rugs to move, revealing 3 square feet of dog-urine stains that had set into the wood in the living room.

Now, moving into our new home in Jackson Heights, its like deja vu all over again.

Our building as I'd mentioned, was built in 1946 and retains some nice architectural detail -- I especially love the vintage hardwood floors. I don't know if you can tell from these photos but they are 3/4" slats and it's rare to come across those today. Also, rare (read, expensive) to replace.

The living room floors are in fairly decent shape:

But the master bedroom floors show distinct black burn spots - the hallmarks of pet damage. In addition, the perimeter of all the rooms are darkened by water damage. The previous owners had wall to wall carpeting, and regular steam cleaning darkened the wood along the walls - and also rusted the nails.

All those black spots are places where the previous owner's dog left puddles - hard to believe

The second bedroom - which we will be using as an office/guest room - also shows distinct signs of pet damage:

Think you can just sand away the problem? Think again. Here's what the floors in the bedroom looked like after sanding:

We applied some wood oil to two spots on the left, to see if it would help - it didn't

And here is one particularly bad spot near the entryway foyer.

Imagine, some poor doggie waited here - in vain - for his owner to come home and take him out for a walk

To replace all the damaged wood in our apartment and refinish it all to match would run us about $8,000. Unfortunately, with the renovations that are currently happening in the bathroom eating up much of our budget, that's just not feasible.

So, we're going to do the minimal necessary - sand, repair the worst spots in the entryway and living room, and put on a coat of poly. The worst sections of the master bedroom will be covered by the bed and a rug, we've determined.

And so ends my tour of the "pet damage" to our hardwood floors.

Want my advice?

If you are renting out an apartment that has hardwood floors, just say no to pets. I know that it sounds cruel, but hardwood floors and pets are a challenge that's best left to those who have equity in the home - i.e., homeowners. 

And if you are purchasing a home that has pet damaged hardwood floors, negotiate a good $8-10K off the sale price (as I did) because that is what it will cost you to properly restore them. Don't be taken in by the "just sand them" response you may hear.

Finally, if you are Renov8ing a home that has pet damaged floors, find a good floor refinisher and work with him to spot restore the original wood as best you can in areas that won't be covered by furniture or rugs.

In the end, congratulate yourself for salvaging what you can of your original hardwood floors. Because they just don't make 'em like this anymore: