Water based polyurethane vs oil based:Which is better for refinishing?

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Contractor with Floor Coverings International Westchester NY & Stamford CT WC19920-H07 HIC619252
http://actvra.in/nCj

Westchest hardwood flooring - oil based polyurethane

Which type of polyurethane is better for refinishing hardwood floors - water-based or oil-based polyurethane?

We offer both options, but I strongly prefer oil based poly over water based because:

1.  It looks better

2.  It lasts longer

3.  It costs less.

So, it seems like a no brainer, right?  Well, usually it is a simple decision, but there certainly are some exceptions and different customers have different needs.

So, let's delve in a bit further.

Benefits of oil-based polyurethane.

1.  Oil based polyurethane looks better.  It has a more depth - both in color and shine and it looks the way we expect hardwood to look.  Water based polyurethane has both a duller color and a duller finish.  I wish I had some good pictures to demonstrate, so instead I'm going to link to the trusted authority in hardwood from the National Wood Floor Association water based poly vs. oil based pictures on domestic wood species.

Hardwood floors westchester NYPlease check out the above link and you'll see how different the colors look - the water-based polyurethane in on the upper left; the oil based poly on the lower right.  It's pretty dramatic.  The other issue when it comes to appearance is that over time the polyurethane amberizes and darkens a bit...usually giving it a richer look while the water based poly just continues to get duller over time.

2.  Oil based polyurethane lasts longer than water based.  There is no contest on the durability between the 2 options.  Water based polyurethane has lower VOC's - which is a bit of an environmental benefit (more about that in a moment) - but because it has lower VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), it doesn't last as long.  Water based poly is thinner, and you often need 4-5 coats to equal the durability of 3 coats of oil based.

While I do not have detailed analytical studies, most customers who call me to refinish their floors and previously had water based poly, call me after 5-6 yrs vs. most customers that call me to refinish their oil based polyurethane call me at around the 10 yr mark.  And, at those points in time, the water based poly looks way worse than the oil based - in fact, it's usually peeling off and the hardwood is starting to look gray.  What' s also interesting is that almost all of my customers who have had water based polyurethane tell me they would NEVER do it again.  They felt mislead by their previous flooring contractor.  While sanding and refinishing is not terribly expensive, it can be rather inconvenient if you live in the home.  You need to move all the furniture out and often go away for a week.  So, if you're going to go though the hassle of refinishing your floors, I recommend doing it right so it last longer.

red oak hardwood flooring westchester NY3.  Oil based polyurethane cost less than water based.  The water-based material is more expensive, so often you will pay around 10-25% more.  But, on top of the initial cost, you also need to consider that you will need to redo the whole job sooner...you will probably redo them almost twice as often.

Now, there are several benefits to water based polyurethane and in some circumstances, water based poly is a great option.

Benefits of water based polyurethane:

1.  Water based polyurethane dries faster.  In my opinion, this is the largest benefit of water based polyurethane.  Usually, water based jobs can be done in 2 cays and you can walk on it that night where as oil based can take 3-5 days (pending on humidity) and you need to wait at least 24 hrs before walking on them. This option can really make sense for commercial businesses such as restaurants or stores as longer drying time means the store is closed, and there is a true business cost to that.  But, for regular homeowners, usually, it's worth waiting the extra 2-3 days in order to have the job last longer.

oak plank flooring westchester NYI have many customers who are in a rush to move into their new home, but I always recommend that it's worth delaying move in by a few days and get their floors done right.  If they don't, they will spend more time and money paying for this later.  For customers already living in their home, I recommend that they do this while they will be away for a while. I would rather wait 6 months for their next trip and have them pay less and do it right with oil based.  Why do I feel this way?  Because they will be happier and save money, and I rely on happy customers who recommend me to their friends and come back to me years later for the other flooring in their home.

2.  Water based polyurethane doesn't smell as bad.  Because of this, many co-ops are now requiring their homeowners to use water based poly.  I think this is a bit of a shame, but I understand it due to all the neighbors.  For regular stand alone home, it will not make much of a difference to your neighbors, and I will also point out that both water based and oil based poly smell, and I still recommend that customers go away or stay somewhere else while this work is being done.

3.  Water based polyurethane is a bit better for the environment...but it does depends on how you look at it.  Since water based polyurethane has lower VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds), it is a bit better for the environment.  As mentioned above, the VOC's are lower not non-existent.  And, importantly, this environmental benefit only has an impact during the DRYING time.  Once the poly is dry, there is no difference in smell, off-gassing, etc.  And, yes, I did validate this with the manufacturer - and they offer both water and oil based (and they make more money on the water based so they have no reason to mislead here).

Now, the skeptical New Yorker in me always sees both sides of the equation, so I will point out that while water based is a bit better for the environment, remember that it doesn't last as long and the floors will need to be redone in a few year, thereby prob. eliminating that benefit and furthermore, leading to an ultimately earlier demise of the wood which in turn will result in more cut trees, so everything has a flip side.

So, in most circumstances, I believe that oil based polyurethane is a better option vs. water based polyurethane for refinishing your hardwood floors.

 

Posted by

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Debbie Gartner - Westchester Hardwood Flooring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Debbie Gartner, "The Flooring Girl" and owner of Floor Coverings International Westchester NY

 

Angie's List Super Service Award winners for 4 years in a row.

 

You can download our free flooring guide.  Or, visit our flooring selector - 2,000 options.  We install hardwood flooring, carpet and runners, tile floors and backsplashes.  We also refinish hardwood floors.

 

Call us for a free estimate 914-937-2950.

"We bring the store to your door."

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WC19920-H07, HIC619252

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Topic:
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Rainmaker
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Debbie Gartner
The Flooring Girl - Westchester hardwood flooring
Floor Coverings International Westchester NY & Stamford CT

Donna - Yes, eventually you will.

Debbie - I agree.

August 03, 2012 08:37 PM
Anonymous #68
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Vicki Tessendorf

I am going to refinish my maple floors and need to know oil versus water based which one is more resistant against compression scratching from dogs? 

September 23, 2012 12:17 PM
Rainmaker
1,490,884
Debbie Gartner
The Flooring Girl - Westchester hardwood flooring
Floor Coverings International Westchester NY & Stamford CT

Vicki - Oil based will resist that more.  But, please bear in mind that maple has light graining, so unfortunately, it shows everything more.  You may want to consider adding an extra coat of poly for protection.  Also, a satin finish will show the scratches and dents less.

September 23, 2012 01:42 PM
Rainmaker
62,018
Catherine C Capasso
Catherine Cornelia Real Estate
I followed the link to the site with the comparison of oil based versus water-based finishes. They also mentioned moisture cured finishes, which are extremely durable. Do you do this type of finish as well?
December 27, 2012 05:08 AM
Rainmaker
1,490,884
Debbie Gartner
The Flooring Girl - Westchester hardwood flooring
Floor Coverings International Westchester NY & Stamford CT

Oh gosh, they changed this page on me...it's not linking to the visuals I intended.  I'm going to need to use my own photo instead.  We can do other types, but they generally cost more.

December 27, 2012 09:34 AM
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Debbie Gartner

The Flooring Girl - Westchester hardwood flooring
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Additional Information

Author Bio: My name is Debbie Gartner, and I'm known as "The Flooring Girl." I own my own flooring store that serves Westchester NY and Fairfield CT counties. We install hardwood flooring, carpet, tile flooring, laminate, bamboo and cork flooring. We also refinish hardwood floors. We are a shop at home flooring store. You can call us at 914-937-2950 to schedule a free flooring consultation


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