Contractor won’t fix dirty finish job

Q: We had our old maple floors buffed and varnished with Bona oil varnish this week by a professional (in business 21 years). Unfortunately, he did not clean the entry adjoining the dining room before applying the second coat. (We had cleaned everything before he started the job, but due to the odor, we were told not to stay home.)

The second day it was windy and some grass, dirt, etc. had come in on his feet and must have blown over the 2nd coat of varnish when he left for the day.

We contacted him later in the day when we saw it. He returned the next day and called my husband. He said “it’s just a floor” and did not do much about it. He took out some of the grass and a big piece of hair, but all the raised spots in the varnish show. There are also a spotted areas that my husband thinks are fish eyes and another area that is rough to the touch and not the same sheen as rest of the floor. We are so disappointed. I have refinished a lot of wood in my time and know that dust and dirt are the enemies of a good beautiful finish. What advice do you have? Do we insist that the guy who did the job come and make it right? We don’t think that will happen and are willing to negotiate on our bill and fix it ourselves if needed. Any suggestions you have for us would be very much appreciated.

A: You are of course correct. When I do jobs I don’t really have any dust because I use a vacuum system on my equipment. And when I buff or screen between coats I vacuum and tac rag a lot. Not just the floors but any surrounding areas. Even the shoes I wear when coating I make sure are old with smooth soles so no debris can be walked onto the job. Of course, the floor sounds like it needs to be buffed, well cleaned and another coat applied. If you don’t have confidence in the person then calculate how much you think it will cost you in finish and time and materials and deduct that from the bill.

Follow-up Q: Thank you so much for your quick response to our inquiry. Do you think we could have the 3rd coat done now, or do we have to wait the full 14 days for 100% cure and then do it? Quite frankly, we were so shocked by the floor re-finisher’s response to our concern, that we are not sure how the 3rd coat would turn out if he did it. However, since we don’t own any equipment, our preference would be to have him redo it. In addition, we are sure it would be almost impossible to hire someone else on such short notice, and we are not sure if someone else would want to try to fix another person’s job. If he refuses to do it (and do it right), that leaves us with the options of doing it ourselves or finding someone else to do it at a later date. As a professional, what do you think would be best? We just want our floor to look the way it should after having a professional finisher.

A: The floor can be recoated as soon as the last coat is dry. If sanding the finish with fine sandpaper and/or fine screen mesh on a polisher the dried finish will create a fine powder. If it is dry enough it will powder. If rubbing with fine sandpaper you find the finish rolls up into small strings then it is not ready. If it is a small room, you might be able to tackle it yourself. I use Poloplaz Primero, usually satin. It is so good anyone could apply it and it goes on beautifully with a short pile roller sleeve.

Follow-up Q: Thanks for you advice. If you lived near us, we would hire you for sure! Our rooms are are large. The dining room is 18 x 14. Is it possible to do the part of the room that has the most issues (4 feet on one end), or do you have to redo the entire room? If the entire room needs to be redone, could we use the type of varnish you recommend, or is it necessary to use the bona finish the floor refinisher used? We know it was a bona oil, but are not sure of the exact one.

A: Given that the finish is fairly new you might be able to pull off doing a section. However, you have to stop along a straight line along the long sides of the boards if you understand what I mean. So, if you wanted to coat from one wall, 4 feet out, you would need to do all of it from one end of the room to the other. I’d probably apply painters tape along the board edge where you want to stop and as soon as you apply the finish, remove the tape. My main concern would be matching shine. If the existing coating is properly prepared, you can apply whatever finish you like. You can certainly use the Poloplaz.

Follow-up Q: Just a note to update you. It has not gone well with the person who did our floor. He has refused to do anything about the issues and is asking for payment. He has been accusatory and threatening on the phone. Because of his response we have contacted two other floor re-finishers. One is willing to fit us in his schedule in a couple weeks. He does not use the same type of varnish, but it is another oil satin product. (The other lives at quite a distance which makes the price substantially higher.) My question is this, how do you think we should proceed with our original person? Do you think it would be best to wait until the floor is fixed before agreeing to anything? We have noticed many other issues since returning home, so we will be so glad to get it done properly. Any advice you give in this matter would be so appreciated.

A: I hope you have taken a few pictures along the way. I’m sorry you are getting a bad reaction from the person who finished your floor. Has he at least come back to view the issues and rough finish? All this needs to be documented. I’m not even saying it is his fault with the results, but if a worker is reliable, knows what he is doing, and cares about those he is working for, he should not need to be told about problems. As a professional, he would see the issue himself and start asking himself why this is happening and how can I fix it? Years ago as an employee, we started using Fabulon on our jobs. It was a decent finish that many companies were using. But it wasn’t a flawless product. Most of the jobs used satin which almost always dried very smooth. However, if it was not thoroughly mixed you might end up with a very smooth coating that had shiny lines like a pin striped suit. Or it would be more shiny on the edges than the main area of the floor. As for their gloss finish, we were afraid to use it because you never knew if it would dry smooth or with pimples. It could be a new 5 gallon can used and it would be rough on one job and smooth the next. I’ve been very happy with Poloplaz and both their Primero and Supreme coatings. Primero dries more reliably and faster than Supreme.

Can you get any referrals for the person who is going to coat the floor? I think I would deduct the cost of fixing this from what is owed to the original flooring company.

These times are becoming more unstable and people are prone to become somewhat edgy and desperate. I now live in a very humble rural location. After more than 45 years in this trade, I’m about ready to hang it up. I’ve done two difficult floors this spring. Everyone was thrilled. But my body is telling me it is enough. I’m poor but satisfied with a very simple life. I’m not sure if I will try an sell my equipment or keep it for an occasional job. Years ago I spent the money to include a dust extraction system, making my work very clean. I discovered Poloplaz Primero which is a dream to apply. Other floor companies laughed at me. The vacuum system is too much money and just another piece of equipment to haul in. The finish is too expensive. I use this cheap stuff, etc. The larger issue seems to me to be values. Is it all just about money? What about the homeowner who also works hard for their money who is going to pay you? What happened to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’?

Anyway, I hope you can finally get this fixed up. It’s probably better that the other company can’t get to you for a couple of weeks. It will allow time for the current finish to cure.

Follow-up Q: You have literally been a godsend as we have been dealing with all of this. Thank you so much for taking to time to answer our concerns.

What you are saying about a business person seeing the issues and wanting to fix them himself is what we had anticipated. Instead, when we called him with our concerns, he came and looked at the floor, removed some of the debris and has insisted every since that it is fine. He said the industry standard is that if you are at eye level and don’t see anything it is okay. My husband told him that it can be seen from eye level, but for some reason, he is not willing to admit the issues and fix it. It is so disheartening and stressful. We have taken a few pictures, but we don’t have a great camera, so it is hard to get detailed pictures of the problems. The fellow that his agreed to come has an excellent referral from our pastor’s wife. We just wish we would have hired him the first time. Maybe some people would be okay with the floor having some dirt and hair in the varnish, etc., but we don’t think it is acceptable.

Anyway, I will let you know how this all turns out. We want to be fair with the first guy, but we also feel his customer service is severely lacking and he has caused us a lot of stress and more inconvenience than we had planned. We are living without a stove, washer and dryer, and all of our furniture from the dining room and kitchen is in our living room. It is crazy!

You are so right that it is important to be kind to others and treat them as we would like to be treated. If we all lived that way, the world would be a better place.

A: Yes, please do let me know how it turns out. Your old farm sounds very interesting. Keeping dirt out of the finish is vital and takes effort. When I have finish left over from applying a coat, it always gets poured through a strainer. i have outdoor shoes and indoor shoes which are generally old with soles worn smooth so there are no heavy treads where stones and debris can get stuck and walked onto the floor. Even though I use dust containment, I still thoroughly vacuum the floor and all surrounding areas when applying coats. I also dry tac with a micro weave mop. No air should be blowing across the floor until it has set up and is about tac free. And I use a finish that I know will always perform with no surprises. It’s just attention to little details. And if Primero cost me $40 per gallon instead of $25 or $30 so what? How much is it going to cost me if I have to go back and recoat it if something goes wrong?

Follow-up Q: Well, I will give you an update on our floors. The other floor refinisher we have been waiting for came yesterday p m. He saw the issues and proceeded to buff/ screen and recoat. Even tho he had asked what finish we had, we found out he only had semi gloss varnish (the type you use) plus he is leaving for vacation tomorrow, so we would have had to wait at least three more weeks to have satin applied. Because we have been in a mess for so long already, we had the semi gloss applied. I think he did a good job, but all the imperfections ( dents, etc.) are more visible. Is there any way to make the surface appear more dull that you could recommend? I saw a post on line that suggested fine steel wool. Another note – the guy who came yesterday thought our original guy didn’t sand very much, so now we have 5 coats of varnish.

We plan to write a letter to the first guy explaining our check amount with the deduction for having 3rd coat. This has been a bad experience for us, so we are hoping he will be ok with this compromise.We appreciate your advice and expertise.

A: Wow, did the guy who came and applied the last coat not understand you have satin? I wouldn’t attempt any tricks like trying to dull it with fine steel wool. It may dull a bit over time and you must just want to get back to living in your house. The lower the shine the greater hiding capacity of the coating. So, a matte finish would camouflage most imperfections.

Follow-up Q: He had asked me on the phone what the finish was, and I told him satin, so I was very surprised when we waited for about two weeks for him to come and then all he had was semi gloss. He likes semi gloss more – says floors look prettier. I guess each person has their preference, right? What is your favorite type of wood? and/ or sheen? I am just curious. One more question, how often do you recommend putting on a new top coat with the product you use?

Thanks again!

A: I don’t like shiny finishes personally, and near 100% of those I’ve done work for over the years agree. Satin is a softer looking, more natural looking finish. A bit more like a hand rubbed oil finish that a layer of shiny plastic. Very odd that you told him satin and he applied what he liked. He isn’t the one living with it.

You should not have to think about another coat for a good long time. You will know when certain areas start looking worn and beaten up that it is time to buff and coat. In the mean time, stay away from so called cleaners such as oil soaps (which leave a residue which will likely interfere with adhesion of another coat), Swiffer (which contains wax-same reason), pine oils, orange glow etc. You can find cleaners made within the wood flooring industry that do a good job of removing residues and evaporate quickly. If you have nothing and the floor is dirty, then after vacuuming you can mist a weak solution of vinegar and water and wipe with a micro weave mop or mop with a terrycloth cover.

Follow-up Q: Yes, I am bummed about the shiny finish; I wish now that I would have waited for him to return from his vacation and order some varnish. We have been unable to use our rooms or sit at an inside table to eat for 3 1/2 weeks already..

I thought a lot about all of this overnight. I wonder if we could have one more coat applied of satin over the semi gloss? There is getting to be quite a bit of varnish on the floor. Do you remove most of the old finish before you recoat? The second guy who came said the first guy did not prep the floor like he would have.

I feel so sad about all of this. We have worked over 40 years restoring and fixing up our home and now our floors look so shiny–not really what I think old maple floors should look like. We don’t know if we should just live with the result or work on getting them done with satin or matte in the future.

A: Yes, I can imagine the frustration. This last one with the semi gloss is the strangest of all. He knew you wanted satin, yet he brought semi. In preparing a coat of finish, what we are doing is scratching the coating to gain a mechanical bond. The idea is to make the scratches fine enough that they don’t show through the finish. If it bothers you so much that you can’t live with it, you could try buffing it with something really fine like 1000 grit sandpaper attached to a 4X8 orbital sander or a 4X4 palm sander. I think I would apply something shiny to a scrap and test this out before using it on the floor. At any rate, if you mess it up, the guy can come back, screen it again and apply yet another coat. Maybe he will use hi-gloss next time! Ouch, bad joke.

Follow-up Q: You have been a wonderful sounding board through this; I can’t thank you enough!

How long do you usually recommend customers stay out of the house after you apply the finish? We are wondering about the fumes. We have spent the last 2 nights at a friend’s house, but didn’t know about tonight. The floors were re-coated about 48 house ago.

A: If normal environmental conditions exist, you know, around 70F or warmer with no killer humidity the finish should be dry over night with all solvents having left the coating. Go in, open the windows to ventilate the area for an hour and you should be fine. Once in a while a person pops up who couldn’t walk by a store selling dried flowers without having some reaction. I believe this is likely caused by toxic over load from a multiple of sources. I can usually know as soon as I enter a house, without seeing the floor if it is dry enough to coat and safe to spend time in the room. If there is a strong smell, and especially if it bothers your eyes, it’s not ready. 48 hours? I’m sure you are safe to move back.

Follow-up Q: Humid and rainy now. We had over 4 inches in the past week. We have back in our house for a couple of days. We moved our kitchen table and chairs back in today with all new felt protection.

The finish the 2nd guy used is the Poloplaz Supreme semi gloss. He is on vacation now, but I thought he said we have to wait 30 days to use rugs. Does that sound right to you? Also, what is the difference between the Primero you use and the Supreme?

A: It’s best to leave rugs off for 2-3 weeks. This allows air contact with the finish to aid in curing. Curing is what happens after the finish is dry and brings the polyurethane to maximum hardness.

The difference between Primero and Surpreme? The most obvious to me is that Primero dries and hardens faster than Surpeme. Both really good coatings but Primero is clearly the better of the two.

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