Poly started flaking and buffer circles started showing up

Q: We just went through a major renovation. We added new hardwood floors and had the existing ones refinished, so all would match. Due to some problems with the finish clouding and not drying properly, they were sanded at least three more times, with poly put on after each sanding. Two weeks after we moved back into our home, the poly started flaking and buffer circles started showing up.

Now 6 months later it looks horrible. The flaking has accelerated. The guy who did the floors says it’s due to the low humidity and we should get a humidifier and that all wood floors do that. I’ve talked with friends who have hardwood floors and they are NOT having this problem.

Please HELP! What is causing this? He said he may have to do the floors all over again.

A: Applying coatings can be difficult and technically challenging, since a number of factors can influence the final outcome. some of these factors include environmental elements such as temperature and relative humidity in the home. A floor having too low a moisture content won’t cause a polyurethane to peel. Though if a floor is actually wet with moisture reading well above normal, it can happen. I suspect some contaminant of some sort has gotten onto this floor between coats of finish and has caused this failure. Perhaps someone decided to “clean” the floor with something that has affected adhesion. A finish can and will peel off if the previous coat has not been abraded or scratched. And since you mention that you can see swirl marks, we can safely say the man did abrade the floor. I don’t think it is that these marks are just now appearing. They were there before, but you didn’t notice them because the lighting wasn’t just right at the time. This also is a vexing problem for floor refinishers.
Abrading or scratching the previous coat is not optional. If we don’t do this, we have no way to gain adhesion. It is even possible to buff with a maroon pad (320 grit equivalent) with a couple of 180 grit strips applied and still see swirls with gloss urethane under, for example, pot lights. The finer the scratches applied to the finish, the less the next coat has to grip onto. It can become a “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” scenario.

It can also cause problems applying too many consecutive coats of finish. What you have needs time to fully cure. I would allow at least 1 month before attempting another buff and coat. It will have to be a fairly vigorous screening or buffing to hopefully get below the coat that is contaminated (if that is what the cause is) without cutting into the stain. It may or may not work.