17 Aug Diary of a Healthier Home Reno
Couple chooses chemical-free carpet, dustless sanding and low-VOC finishes for 1960’s ranch makeover, and gets it all done between closing and move-in.
The hardwood floor in the living room and front hall had been refinished. They were welcoming upon walking through the front door of the ranch home Pam and her husband, Jim, were buying in a Cincinnati neighborhood.
The spacious kitchen, with an older tile floor, also was inviting. But the great room, back hall and three bedrooms were covered with worn carpet and ready for an update.
Pam had a plan to pull it all together into a cohesive, flowing look. But like most people who contact the Natural Interiors® program, she had specific requirements: Any new carpet preferably would be made of natural fibers, and it would be free of stain-proofing chemicals. Any floor finishes or paint would be as low-VOC as possible for the application.
“I wanted help finding products and properly vetting them for chemicals of concern and hazardous air pollutants,” Pam said. “I wasn’t being a purist. I just wanted to take all reasonable steps to minimize possible toxins.”
Her vision for the great room was soft, warm carpet. For the back hall and three bedrooms, we would remove the old carpet, clean out any debris and refinish the hardwood floors underneath it.
Working around the painter and general contractor, we set a schedule for the flooring work, which had to accommodate a tight move-in date. Because of needed subfloor repairs that would arise in the family room, we would meet that deadline with no time to spare.
The selections: Nature’s Carpet and Bona Traffic HD
On May 1, we began looking at a number of carpet samples from two manufacturers. Pam’s attention kept coming back to chemical-free wool carpet. Pam and Jim eventually chose it in style: Everest, which is
made of wool and contains no synthetic materials, and no dyes, mothproofing or stain treatment. The color chosen: Mountain Mist.
Using the same company’s chemical-free wool underlayment, which is beautiful but expensive, was too much for the budget. Instead, we chose a carpet cushion that is made partially from soy-based fuel, and is lower in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) than a number of its competitors. We could not order either product until May 23, after Pam and Jim successfully closed on the home.
What hardwood floor finish to use was a longer discussion. Many hardwood flooring contractors would have recommended an oil-based polyurethane, particularly
because the living and dining rooms already were finished that way. Many flooring salespeople also would have recommended oil-based because it is less-expensive, and they want to get your order. This would not have complied with the homeowner’s goals nor any recommendation Natural Interiors ever would make.
Oil-based versus waterborne polyurethane
The legal limit for VOCs in floor coatings in the state of Ohio is 350 grams per liter, and there still are many coatings and stains out there that hover near, and over, that limit. The limit in the state of California, always stricter than the rest of the country, is 275 grams per liter.
Oil-based polyurethanes are much higher, around 50 percent, in aromatic solvents than waterborne
polyurethanes, which contain 5 to 7 percent. Odors from oil-based polyurethanes can persist for weeks to months, while VOCs
and HAPs (Hazardous Air Pollutants) continue to off-gas and affect indoor-air quality.
Natural Interiors recommended Bona waterborne polyurethane because the company is an international leader in avoiding dangerous formulas, and Bona’s waterborne sealants and finishes have GREENGUARD Indoor Air Quality certification.
We had hoped, once the old carpet was torn out, that the hardwood underneath it
simply would need a screening to abrade the surface, then a recoat with polyurethane.
But upon inspection, our hopes were dashed. The original finish on the hardwood was clouded over with a wax-like build up.
“There’s no way to get that out,” said Brett Hall, our hardwood sand and refinish expert. “It will have to be sanded down to the wood.”
To get an ambered look, similar to that of oil-based products, we would seal the sanded floor with Bona’s
low-VOC, Amberseal, then complete the finish with two coats of Bona’s Traffic HD waterborne polyurethane – the company’s lowest in VOCs at 150 grams of per liter.
Using an oil-based stain to ensure a better match would have introduced a product that contains more than 500 grams of VOCs per liter. Using one of our low-VOC water-based stains, which are applied with a technique different than oil-based stains, would have resulted in a different aesthetic that would not have improved the match.
“The floors are in separate area, so a perfect match isn’t necessary,” Pam said. “Not smelling chemicals on move-in day is necessary.”
Sand and finish first
After the closing, the general contractor and painter were the first ones in, with the general contractor tending to matters like installing a built-in over a stone bench in the great room, and the painter painting the living, dining and great rooms.
Sanding and refinishing usually is done before installing carpet or other floors. The sanding began June 12, under the supervision of Hall, a Bona-Certified Craftsman with 37 years of hardwood-flooring experience. To ensure that more than 99 percent of dust particulates would be removed from the home during sanding, the crew used JP’s Bona dust-containment trailer system, which suctions debris outside into a container.
The floor was sealed the next day, then two coats of polyurethane over the next day and a half. Experience counts here because waterborne products apply and dry differently than oil-based products, so finishers who are accustomed only to oil-based products often leave bubbles, streaks and other problems. We had none.
“The floors are pristine and inviting,” Pam would say when move-in day came.
Meanwhile, in the great room
But this project was far from complete. With the painter finished in the great room and now moving to the rooms with newly finished hardwood, what should have come next is a half-day spent installing the chemical-free Nature’s Carpet in the great room.
Instead, the schedule had to be delayed while the homeowner called in the company to evaluate some cracks in the great room’s subfloor – a concrete slab.
In some places, the cracks could be fixed by injecting them and using a self-leveler to level out the height differences on each side of the crack. In other places, including all along the entry from the great room to the kitchen, the cement had crumbled so there was no way to adhere the tack strip that holds the carpet.
The subfloor repairs were done on the 21st. But the schedule delay, now meant the carpet would have to be installed on move-in day.
Never fear, Ricky’s here
The installer was worth any waiting . Natural Interiors promotes wool carpets and knows how difficult it is to find an installer who is confident and qualified to install it. The construction differs from synthetic carpet, and basic steps like getting a row in order to make a seam can be perplexing to someone who usually only installs synthetic carpet.
When Natural Interiors installs wool carpet, it uses only certified wool installers. Pam and Jim had chosen chemical-free, wool carpet, a woven, loop pile.
Great Room After
Both backings are jute, and there are no dyes or chemical treatments.
Some people comment that the carpet’s construction is how they used to make carpet in the “old days.” Ricky clearly grew up in the business. He quickly got a row, and his seam was barely noticeable. Upon customer request, he also knows how to sew seams, which is how wool carpet was originally designed to be installed.
“Wool is the finest carpet fiber made,” he said as he worked on the seam July 3. “On very busy days, it can be all about quantity and dollars paid for an installer. But I said ‘no’ to that a while ago. I like to be about quality.”
The final reveal
Pam, Jim and their young daughter would be there that evening.
We waited to hear their reaction.
“The carpet is aesthetically beautiful and extremely comfortable to walk on,” Pam and Jim’s answer came in an email.
Are there any bothersome chemical odors?, we asked.
“There are no odors at all,” they said. “We can move in right away.”
We then asked a number of satisfaction questions, including: “What did you like most about this renovation?
“That Natural Interiors went above and beyond to ensure that all of our questions were answered about flooring and other household indoor-air quality concerns, and proactively coordinate the work with JP flooring, their installer,” Pam said.”They provided top-notch work in
an efficient manner. The floors are beautiful, and our new home is inviting.”
Great to hear that.
Thanks Pam and Jim, and welcome home! ©
Editor’ note: The homeowners’ names and the dates of this work have been changed for privacy reasons.