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The Dangers of Hardwood Floor Refinishing!

A few months ago there was another unfortunate incident where a house was almost burnt to the ground during a hardwood floor refinishing project.

1- house-fire-hardwood-floors

Stories like this really upset us. For one, people die in these scenarios and two, they are completely preventable if you take the appropriate precautions during the floor refinishing project.

You can read the newspaper write up here:

http://www.mcall.com/news/breaking/mc-f-south-allentown-fire-20150920-story.html

Thankfully this time nobody was hurt and the house was mostly ok (as you can see in the picture below)…

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Others have not been so lucky.

Most people have no idea about some of the potential dangers that come with having your hardwood floors restored. This blog post is to make you aware of these issues, so you can make sure they don’t happen to you.

Most floor refinishing contractors can tell at least one horror story about themselves or someone else they know and a floor sanding fire. There was even a hardwood floor refinishing fire in Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, so nobody is immune to the dangers.

We would hate for you to experience what these poor people in Allentown went through.

So what can you do to prevent this from ever happening to you?

Thankfully there are some very easy steps that can be taken to drastically limit or even eliminate the dangers.

1. CHOOSE SEALERS AND FINISHES WISELY

One of the easiest ways to limit the threat of fire is by choosing a low combustible finish for your floors. We’ll list a few types of finishes below starting with the most dangerous to the safest…

Lacquer Sealers (Most Dangerous):

High solvent content based sealers used in hardwood floor refinishing are highly flammable – especially lacquer sealers.

Most of the older stories of hardwood floor fires you read about were caused by lacquer sealers. The extremely strong vapors fill up the room very quickly and then it takes just one tiny spark to ignite and…

boom

If the floor refinisher you’re thinking of hiring says he’s going to use a lacquer sealer – RUN!

Thankfully, with the new VOC laws coming in around the country, this type of sealer is quickly being fazed out.

I won’t even bore you with all the details about how short the lifespan of a floor is with this type of sealer. In every way this finish is horrible. Businesses that use it are only doing so because of the fast drying speed and the money they can save themselves by rushing through the job and not using a better quality finish.

If you get a quote from a business that uses lacquer sealer, it would be a good idea to realize the huge risks and move on to the next business.

Solvent Based Finishes (Moderate Danger):

There are many other types of finishes that have solvents in them. These can be very good looking finishes and many refinishers use them without any incident.

But… these too need to be used with caution as they also give off strong fumes and vapors, some more so than others. As mentioned previously, there are new laws restricting these types of finishes now because of the levels of VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds).

When there is a build-up of these fumes and vapors in your home – especially in the cold winter days when the doors and windows are shut up during the refinishing process – it’s not hard to imagine what could happen if there is an open flame from a pilot light or a cigarette.

If using one of these finishes please be aware that you need to be more alert to potential dangers.

Water Based Finishes and Low VOC Hardwax Oils (Safest):

One way you can completely eliminate this problem caused by combustible finishes is by using water based finishes that only release water vapor as they dry. No (or extremely low) solvents = no chance of fire. This is what we have decided to do to protect our clients.

How to Prevent Finish Based Fires from Happening:

  1. Make sure all pilot lights are out in any of the rooms before any flammable solvent based products are applied.
  2. Have as much ventilation as possible to let the solvents escape for at least the first initial couple of hours.
  3. And make sure there is absolutely no smoking on the job site!
  4. Also make sure your refinisher always carries an up-to-date fire extinguisher with him at all times – just in case.

 

2. PREVENT SPONTANIOUS COMBUSTION

This phenomenon usually occurs either because of the wood dust and old finish combination created by sanding the floor, or by rags used to apply stain that are not disposed of properly.

“…fire investigators believe the blaze started in a pile of rags dumped in the kitchen after recent work to refinish the hardwood floors. Such chemicals can generate heat and spontaneously combust, according to the fire captain.”

This was thought to be the cause of the fire in Allentown as you can see in the quote on the side here from the article…

This happens because solvent soaked rags – from stain or finish – react with oxygen as they dry.

This oxidization gives off heat and if the heat cannot escape, the rags can become so hot they begin to smolder and burn without any external ignition source.

Also heat created from the friction of the machine and sandpaper on the floor can build-up to the point wood dust and old finish starts to smolder inside the cloth bag. Even if the dust bags are emptied regularly from the machines into a garbage bag, the dust and finish combination is still at high risk of spontaneous combustion.

How to Prevent It Spontaneous Combustion from Happening:

  1. The easiest way is by making sure your floor refinisher doesn’t leave any stain soaked rags or garbage bags of wood dust inside your home – including the garage – or outside your house on the porch or deck. Make sure all rags and dust bags are removed and properly disposed of every night.
  2. This should also include emptying the dust inside the cloth bags (if he hasn’t invested in a dustless system) on the machines if he leaves them at your place overnight.

There should be no reason why a hardwood floor refinishing project would cause a fire in your home.

The only reason is if the person you hire is not aware of the above cautions and does something foolish like they did in the house above in Allentown.

Please be careful who you hire to restore your floors and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions… it is your home and your family’s safety after all.

 

2 Comments

  1. Terry Brandsen says:

    Thank you for your article about the risk of fire on hardwood flooring projects. One item that doesn’t appear fully addressed is that the low VOC products (such as Rubio Monocoat) are excellent products, but because the have no solvents, they use linseed type oils which have a MASSIVE spontaneous combustion risk. People can be lulled into thinking zero VOC means low fire risk, but actually the opposite is true when we are talking about spontaneous combustion! Would love to see a blog on this issue specifically. Great posts by the way 🙂

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