We rolled on our second and third coats of floor paint this weekend, and we. are. done! Here’s how they look now:
So shiny! It’s hard to believe they used to look like this:
We’ve gotten a lot of emails & comments from people who are in the same boat — they were expecting hardwood floors and got ugly, old soft pine flooring instead. Our first word of advice: don’t panic! There’s hope. We’re going to share all the details of how we got our floors from gross-&-grungy to gorgeous. Remember that this is just what worked for us. It may or may not work the same for you.
It all starts with the right paint. Home Depot, Lowe’s and Cole’s (a local chain) suggested an oil-based primer followed by 3 coats of heavy-duty latex. The paint department employees at each of the 3 stores insisted that latex has come a long way and that the special (aka very expensive) floor paints are super durable. We were pretty skeptical, but decided to give it a show. We got a gallon of the recommended Benjamin Moore primer and paint to test out. Long story short: it sucked. And at $50 per can, that was an expensive lesson to learn. We’re still bitter.
So we decided to talk to a paint specialist instead. We went to a company in Brooklyn that sells only professional-grade paints, stains and other finishing products. These guys know their stuff. Here’s what they told us about painting soft pine floors:
- Never, ever use latex on floors. Ever.
Oil-based paints are much more durable.
- Make sure the floors are squeaky clean before painting.
We vacuumed twice, then used wet rags to scrub the floors. We tried using tack cloths, but they missed a lot of dust, left residue on the floors and made our fingers feel sticky. Wet rags worked just fine.
- We want the paint to soak into the wood, not sit on top of the wood. Sooo…
- Sand the floors really well to make them as porous as possible.
You can read about our floor-sanding adventure here.
- Don’t use a primer.
Yup. This totally goes against everything we’ve ever been told about painting. But we want the color to soak into the wood — not the primer.
- Thin out your first coat for maximum soakage.
Mix paint thinner into your oil-based paint to make it really runny. We did a ratio of 1/3 parts paint thinner to 2/3 paint and our first coat was very watery. Be careful not to splatter it on the walls. We have a little touch up to do in the guest bedroom from our overzealous rolling.
- Sand the floors really well to make them as porous as possible.
- Roll a paper-thin coat.
This is a general rule for painting, but it’s extra important when painting floors. We don’t want any clumps or globs because they might peel up later. Our first coat was so thin, we were worried we that we thinned it out too much. That’s how we knew we were doing it right.
- Lightly scuff the surface in between coats.
Don’t skip this step. It’s tedious and boring, but necessary. Glossy paint doesn’t stick to other glossy surfaces. Scuffing up the surface gives us a nice, rough surface for the paint to stick to. We used 320-grit sandpaper and an orbital sander.
- Second and third coats: use full-strength oil-based paint.
Again, roll paper-thin coats and scuff up the surface in between coats. Depending on the paint and the floors, more coats might be necessary. Just keep scuffing and keep painting until the floors are covered.
Our paint guy also gave us a little insight about why you shouldn’t buy your floor paint at general hardware stores. The VOC content of oil-based paint is much higher than latex, and a lot of people are buying low-VOC paints these days. Hardware stores stock up on whatever is selling, so you might have to go to a specialty store to get a durable paint.
We picked up a 5-gallon bucket of glossy black oil-based for about $90. Compared to the $50-a-gallon Ben Moore latex paint, this is a serious bargain.
Time to get to work:
We used a paint mixer attachment for our drill to give the bucket a good mix. The attachment is metal so it’s reusable, and it costs about $8. After that, we poured a little paint into our rolling pan, added paint thinner, and gave it another whirl. Then we rolled it on.
Here’s how our first coat looked after it dried:
Not bad! It wasn’t textured at all and looked more like a stain than a paint.
We let the first coat dry for a full 2 weeks. This is definitely not a requirement, but we thought it might help the floors harden up a little more. Oil-based paints can take 3-4 weeks to reach full-strength. And, sure enough, after 2 weeks of curing, our floors were feeling way better. We tried scratching up the paint in the closet and in areas that will be covered with trim — it didn’t budge.
We also stomped around on the floors in sneakers and work boots to see how the floors held up.
We managed to make them super dirty, but the paint stayed put.
Next step: scuffing.
Not gonna lie: we panicked a little when we saw how much paint we scuffed off. The floors went from a glossy black to a very dull grey. And then we remembered that we have at least 2 more coats to throw down.
We vacuumed the floors and cleaned them with wet rags:
Then we rolled on the second coat:
This is where we started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. The second coat rolled much more saturated than the first. We wanted a pure black — not a blue-black, but a black-black — and this paint did not disappoint. We were especially excited about painting the guest bedroom:
Those are the “old” floors and are in much rougher shape than the office floors.
With the second coat of paint, they were looking every bit as slick as the office flooring. Check out how the hallway looks with the black door at the end:
We were worried it would end up being too much black and the hallway would look really dark. The soft grey walls help keep things light, and we think the black floors and black doors look really old-school and sophisticated.
We let the second coat dry for 24 hours. This is how the guest bedroom looked the next morning:
And the office:
The floors were super glossy:
We think it adds a lot of dimension to the rooms. It also makes us want to hang our curtains, because we keep getting blinded by sunlight reflecting off the floors.
The best part is that the old floors still look like old floors. You can see cracks, imperfections and wood grain:
They have all the character you’d expect from 130-year-old floors without all the cracking, peeling and staining. You’ll never see that in new hardwood floors. So all you folks who emailed us about finding soft pine floors — embrace ‘em! They’ll make your house look and feel so much more unique.
We scuffed, vacuumed and mopped one more time, and then rolled on coat #3:
We’re going to let the final coat dry for at least a week before we go upstairs. And we’ll wait 3 weeks before we move any furniture upstairs.
A lot of people have warned us that black floors require constant cleaning, but we’re OK with that. We plan on throwing down some rugs, which will help. We also tend to hang out in socks or flip flops when we’re at home, so shoe grime isn’t a huge issue. We’ll just keep vacuuming and mopping like normal and deal with dusty footprints as they come.
And now for our favorite part of the whole project — the part where we realize how much money we saved!
Cost breakdown for painting our floors:
- 24-hour sander rental + sanding pads = $307.35
- 5 gallons of paint = $90 (we used less than half of the bucket, so we’ll count it as $45)
- Sanding discs for orbital sander = $20
- Paint rollers = $8
Grand total for 2 rooms + hallway = $380.35
Cost of buying hardwood flooring for 2 rooms + hallway = $3000
What we saved = $2619.65!
We’re seriously considering going to a bank to take out $2619.65 in pennies. Then we could fill up a room and swim around in money like Scrooge McDuck.
We should also mention that the estimated $3000 was for the absolute cheapest wood flooring we could find at Lumber Liquidators. And it doesn’t include tax. The total cost for buying wood floors for the entire house? $15,000. No thanks!
A few people have pointed out that we could have gone with an “engineered wood” flooring, but we’re not fans. No matter what HGTV says, fake wood floors never look or feel like the real thing to us. Either way, we’re guessing they would have cost more than 380 beans!
What we learned from our floor painting adventure:
- This could take a while.
Painting floors — the right way — is a long process. Don’t go into it thinking it’s a quickie weekend project. It’ll end in tears. Speaking of tears…
- Get knee pads.
They sell them at Home Depot in the same aisle as the the sanding pads….and now we know why. We’ve spent a lot of time on our knees the past few weekends. From scuffing the floors to scrubbing them clean, there was a lot of crawling going on. And, hoo boy, we are definitely feeling it now. So far, we’ve painting only about 1/4 of our entire house. We’ll be investing in some heavy-duty knee pads before we paint any more floors.
- Oil-based paints will stank up your house.
Obviously this means you should wear a respirator while you paint. But it might also mean not staying in your house while the fumes clear up. We’re pretty lucky because we can hole up in the living room downstairs. We leave the doors closed all the time, so we never smell fumes in there. We also don’t have any bambinos running around to worry about. And, best of all, we leave for Brooklyn the day after we paint. By the time we get back, the fumes aren’t nearly as bad.
- Floor paint isn’t forever.
While we love the look of our painted floors, we know this isn’t a permanent solution. We’re hoping to buy ourselves 5 years of use out of them. After that, if we have the funds, we’ll revisit the idea of installing hardwood floors. Or we could just sand and paint them all over again. We love the flexibility!